Change might be constant but there will always be haters. And with the growing #occupywallstreet movement, it’s no different. There are those who criticise the Wall St Occupation because there is no clear demand, or that the occupiers are somehow hypocrites for using the goods and services of corporations. Both criticisms miss the point. Attacking an occupier because they are taking photos with a digitial camera or talking on a smartphone would be like attacking a Parisian revolutionary in 1789 for eating produce that was grown on the land of an aristocrat. Like fish we can only swim in the system we live in, but unlike fish we can change it.
We live in a world where all of the important decisions are made on the basis of one dollar, one vote. What we are seeing on Wall St and globally is the beginning of a new system. A system that places people over profit. Replacing a system as complex as global finance is today with its networks, institutions, and rules cannot be reduced to a single bumper sticker. We have gathered up our courage to begin a journey but we are not yet wise enough to know where it will take us. What is clear though is the process. The occupation movement is not a campaign as traditionally we understand it. The occupation is not just the collective action. The occupation is where together we can learn, talk, debate and decide. The #occupywallst movement is directed by the New York General Assembly. The NYGA describes itself as “an open, participatory and horizontally organized process through which we are building the capacity to constitute ourselves in public as autonomous collective forces within and against the constant crises of our times”.
As media theorist Douglas Rushkoff points out, the occupation itself models an alternative economic system. The occupation demonstrates “a post-market, collaborative approach to creating and exchanging value”. Appeals for assistance are sent out via Twitter. Participants donate their own time, resources and skills to building the occupation. Professors teach classes, tradespeople ply their craft and artists entertain. All for the good of the organic whole of the occupation that in turn supports the participants. No longer is another world possible, it’s under construction.
That might well be good you say for the United States. But in Australia it’s different. In the US 16.5% of the labour force is unemployed, and joblessness is a strong theme at Liberty Park with one clever sign reading “Lost my job, found an occupation”. In Australia though most of us still have jobs. There will be many who will claim sympathy for the Wall St Occupation but who claim that either it’s not needed here, not yet, or that it can’t work in Australia because things aren’t bad enough yet. To that I say Wall Street is everywhere, including Australia. And Wall Street’s grip has been slowly suffocating us as well.
We too have a system that can only be ‘healthy’ when over half a million Australians are unemployed. We too have a system that has pushed risk onto the rest of us in the 99%. The 1% have been busy making the rest of us suck up their risk. Australia is a world leader when it comes to ‘flexible labour markets’ – over 40% of us are pushed into insecure working arrangements as casuals, contractors, labour hire workers, temps, or fixed termers. The names and the different arrangements are potentially limitless but the result is always the same – short-term profit for them, long-term pain for us. And there’s no respite at home anymore either. Australian household debt ratios have sky-rocketed by a six-fold rate between 1990 and 2008 to reach $1.1 trillion. Who can afford to even contemplate buying a house anymore? And those who have managed to scramble their way into the property market continually pray to the Gods of the Reserve Bank not to raise interest rates. We’re close to the edge in Australia, and we shouldn’t have to fall off the cliff to discover its existence.
People are worried about sky rocketing levels of corporate power and now we know there is a language of resistance that we can start to learn toghether – it is the language of the occupation. Let’s not pretend that this is about a struggling nation on the other side of the world. Wall St is everywhere and we will only be free of its corporate grip when we occupy all streets.
In Australia it begins on Saturday October 15th. Click here to see what’s happening for Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth as well.