Quantifying Occupy

In the ‘Supporting Occupy Toronto‘ segment tonight, Steve Paikin grilled – as nicely as pie – the young, well-meaning pinstriped lawyer dude who spoke in support of the Occupy Toronto movement. Other than the latter’s point about demonstrating solidarity with other Occupy movements (that I get), I quickly tired of uttered generics like “the larger issues“, “dialogue“, “change“, blah blah blah. No amount of prodding would bring about any further elucidation.

And y’know, it’s this inability to consistently and categorically state its mission that is one of the perplexing things about the Occupy movement. For you see, it had a mission, but the mass media was sufficiently underwhelmed by it that it spun an entirely new mythology for the whole thing. One that even the protesters themselves might have bought into. After all, the media (and the rest of us left-leaning 99%-ers) had a vision where the Occupiers themselves did not – and a vision is how you instantiate a reality, folks…

On PointLESSness

Because of what quickly came to be THE BELIEFS about Occupy Wall Street and related protests, the movement seemed to make less and less sense each day that went by.

To a casual observer, it’s either that the Occupy movement has achieved a level of political subtlety so nuanced that it is completely lost on our collective feeble attempts at comprehension…

Or, Occupy is possibly a truly pointless political movement, no matter how drenched with meaning it might be. Timely, symbolic and POINT LESS, as in, lacking a point.

Perhaps I’ve been embedded in these reductionist, capitalist worlds for too long; gotten too used to looking for metrics, and measurements. Too used to correlating words and actions to professed value systems and peering squint-eyed at the deviations. Perhaps it is in fact a sorry thing that I have come to expect there to be a point to things at all. It’s not impossible. But as it stands, I don’t see any concrete, QUANTIFIED demands at the heart of these Occupations.

Trust me… I’ve looked. And I’ve looked some more. I’ve even listened. And what I find evidence of is a sort of auto-analytical, bootstrapping phase of “figuring-out”. Which at least explains why Occupiers (at least in the United States) haven’t made any quantifiable, measurable demands to their governments: turns out they are still talking amongst themselves. Still attempting to figure out what alliances they can make with other community groups to… to, figure out what they can do together, if anything.

Hmm. Where’s all the championing of the underdog that the telly sold this movement as? Meanwhile I keep encountering the “self-organize“, “mobilize“, “consensus“, “voices“, “sharing our stories” memes. (Disclaimer: I am ALWAYS skeptical of these: I encounter them too often, and they resonate quite well with social-media-fuelled, web 2-point-oh hype from whence, as far as I can tell, very little of anything meaningful has come).

Besides such talk, there is mainly talk of HOW to organise groups and HOW to carry out an occupy protest… as in, the raw logistics of being on the ground. Very scant rhetoric however, about WHAT the movement itself is FOR. Certainly no real economic policies to speak of.

Alas: It might never even have been about what is was supposedly about.

I realised after a while (and in writing this post), that the questions we ask of Occupy and the questions it asks of itself are 180 degrees apart. We think of Occupy and presume, mostly thanks to the media, that they wish to tackle the wealth gap, or rein in banks, or hand out jobs to the jobless, or something. But as far as I can tell, what Occupy actually is at this point in time is a free-for-all, massively distributed, iterative inquiry into the viability of spontaneously designed methodologies for activism. It is for all intents and purposes a research project conducted on a grand scale, having recruited people instead of machines for its moving parts, and the people believe (or at least would have the rest of us believe) that methodologies for activism, once thus distilled, will provide the basis of new forms of political process which might then be used to tackle such things as the wealth distribution power law. On paper it’s actually quite smart. It makes you wonder why Occupiers themselves seem unable to condense their woolly messages down to this core point.

I had formed this conclusion, and written the above paragraph before I discovered Occupy Dataran and it’s precursor, the Spanish protests. And as the first bunch of “occupy”-esque events you have to admit that they cast a very different light on things. Those events were about democratic reform… but by the time this ethos had spread to Wall street, the media started hitting us over the head with “wealthiest 1%” this and “debt” that. And of course, the proceedings on wall street were bound to gather way more attention, eclipsing anything that had gone before (when America sneezes, the rest of the world catches a cold, and all that). Everyone forgot that precursor events were, in a material sense, also POINT LESS – they were not about making quantified demands to the government of the day. It was about exercising and demonstrating new forms of participatory action. The moment the US jumped aboard and kick-started Occupy proper, everyone kind of temporarily forgot that. It was the media that insisted that there be a point. They needed headlines and regular instalments of concrete chess moves between the status quo and these new Occupy upstarts… that would’ve been newsworthy.

Does it matter that there’s no identifiable, quantified “point” at this time?

I don’t know if it matters, but sometimes it certainly grates. It makes it seem as though the whole opportunity created by the Occupy movement is being wasted by either political inexperience or too many expectations from too many different groups. On the other hand, it’s THEIR movement, and if they want to look like they’re pissing it all away, they are totally entitled to. Only time will tell if the appearance of political disarray/inexperience was actually foresight and political astuteness in disguise. To turn up and spend one’s precious time protesting, to camp out of doors, to risk jail… is probably to have earned the right to do whatever the hell one wants with this window of opportunity granted by time and fate and mass media. I personally haven’t camped out there and earned that right, so ultimately I don’t get to tell them what to do with their activism.

I wish them well, but I also wish the media-induced fugue would dissipate…

0 Replies to “Quantifying Occupy”

  1. Of course, when the Occupy Wall Street gathering began, it was receiving ZERO mainstream coverage, which just made it look like big media conglomerates were callously avoiding any mention of what could potentially be seen as an anti-capitalism message.

  2. [context:toronto]

    Well, p’haps this whole post is moot now, being as the law seems to have turned against the movement, paving the way for anyone else who wants to call bullshit on the whole thing (and boy, did they ever come out in droves to do so).

    The “best” comment I read somewhere was the suggestion to, instead of evicting people, to go in there and just offer people jobs. “that’ll clear ’em out plenty fast” had said the commenter; in other words it was a joke about the presumed work ethic (or lack thereof) of protesters who seemed to just want to sit about and play bongos. And, I admit (I admit, OK?!) to laughing out loud when I read that. Still: callous cynicism aside… that isn’t as stupid an idea as it sounds. I dunno if anybody went in there and asked them what they wanted. It’s kind of surprising that / sad if nobody did. Hmm…

    [EndContext:Toronto]

  3. Actually, at least some folks did, amongst them Naomi Wolf, who claimed that they had quite an explicit list to anyone who’d ask. Except that five minutes after that showed up in the Guardian, everybody and their dogs shat all over her for various purported errors and outright fabrications, so who knows.

    Regardless, this entry is another example of why you’re one of about four people I link to.

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