The Occupy Movement: Don’t Tell Us What To Do

occupy togetherEveryone, it seems, has advice on what the Occupy movement should do next, in the face of winter, dwindling and hostile press coverage, flagging public support, volunteer burnout, and police raids and brutality. We’re all armchair strategists at heart.

The corporate-owned media have worked furiously to discredit the movement by portraying us as dangerous, dirty, and aimless, and by dwelling on the kind of mundane events that inevitably occur in all large unorganized groups operating in public spaces: fights, drug use, petty crime, fire hazards, waste disposal etc.

Criticism of the movement is now coming from some progressives as well, who compare Occupy’s relatively small numbers and unfocused strategies with those of the Arab Spring uprisings and those of our sister Indignant movement in Europe (here is just one week’s remarkable schedule of events, venues and issues addressed by the Madrid, Spain Indignant movement, for example). These critics also argue that Occupy’s biggest challenge is winning over the rest of the 99% and getting them to join us in outrage and solidarity (this is much harder to do in North America, where the 99% is less informed and engaged in the political process than those in other parts of the world).

All these criticisms miss the point.  The Occupy movement has already accomplished an enormous amount. The people attending the general assemblies and camping out with others are creating a vital basis for long-term solidarity, and learning a huge amount about how the world really works, about consensus and cooperation, about self-organization, and how to create and live together in community. We are learning that we don’t have to put up with systems plagued with corruption, inequity and rot. We have learned that it just might be possible to create something new, together, to replace the systems that are crumbling, systems which do nothing for us and which are destroying our dignity, our humanity, and our world.

But we are just starting. As Matt Taibbi brilliantly points out today, we don’t know what we want. We just want the rest of the world to know that we’re outraged, and fed up with the 1% controlling our lives and our government and our economy and our media, and we want to urge the 99% to join us as we begin to begin to figure out what to do about it, now that we know the existing power structure is not going to do anything for us.

We don’t want to be led. We don’t want anyone in control. We don’t want anyone to speak to the media or governments for us or to represent us or make decisions for us. We’ve tried that system and it doesn’t work, at least not for the 99%. We want to create something new, together. We have absolutely no idea what it is, or what it will look like, or how long it will take. We don’t need anyone’s advice as we figure it out. If you want to help, come and join us, but speak with us and not to us. And most of all, listen and help us get organized. And be patient. It takes time to co-create something new, together, as equals.

So, thank you, Occupy comrades, in the camps, the streets, the houses and schools and workplaces and wherever we rise to speak truth to power and work to begin to bring the corporate and political criminals to justice, to re-enfranchise and re-empower us and return dignity and equity and what’s been stolen from us, and to create better ways to live and make a living. Don’t listen to what others tell us to do. Together, in our own way, taking as much time as we need, we are figuring out exactly what needs to be done. They can tear down our tents, and fill the jails and courts and hospitals with our bodies, but the Movement is not going away. Keep the faith. En todo el mundo, la lucha está en la calle.

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15 Responses to The Occupy Movement: Don’t Tell Us What To Do

  1. Paxus Calta says:

    What a hopeful post, i am pleased that Occupy is giving you a less pessimistic world view. Clearly, this is one of its successes. I read a lot of the popular press, and while it has definitely shifted from the honeymoon days of the first few weeks, the MSM is definitely not on the war path against Occupy. Plus there are lots of success stories out there (like Occupy Oakland returning after massive police violence, shutting down a Wells Fargo branch and then the port of Oakland in a general strike call. Or the Albany police refusing the governor and mayors orders to relocate Occupy, or the recent UK police arrest of right wing protesters planning to disrupt Occupy London). It is big and complicated in its own way working on building a model better world in its own actions. Here in Atlanta, homeless had never been allowed to be served food in Woodruff park until Occupy came along. Occupy will never come up with a set of demands and a program for changing the 1%, there is no consensus on that (local Occupys will come up with some demands, but the movement will will not ever even consider a single set of demands, much less agree on them, they are too autonomous and too locally focused). So we are not waiting for Occupy to figure out what they want.

    And i am not sure the movement wont go away, i want this to be true, but increasingly police are forcing Occupy groups to move (Occupy Eugene has 4 times now and it has crippled it, Occupy Atlanta now has to close up when the park closes) and some groups will collapse because of internal struggles and cold weather. Occupy is still very much up for grabs and if people think it is important, then they should get out of their comfortable armchairs and get into the parks and the streets and help (especially process experts and mental health allies) and keep this baby alive.

  2. Raffi says:

    Dave, I’m surprised and inspired to hear that you are now calling yourself one of the Occupiers. If you did before, I missed that.

    As I said yesterday (with some edits), in a comment about your Metamovement post:

    ‘I find myself so confounded by what I prefer to call the Occupy Process that I find myself supporting, opposing, and being frighteningly agnostic about it all at the same time.

    “Having been eyewitness to two revolutions and – the Islamic one in Iran and the collapse of the Soviet Union- and having lived about half my life abroad (iran and russia and being US-born) -the tinfoil hat wearing part of me does believe that elites actually are *utterly delighted* that OWS is happening— it’s a *wonderful* distraction. A *great* way to channel anger and frustration without much getting done. Yes, yes, it has brought the Metaconversation into the public space. And that’s great. But then what??? So did the Teapartiers, who also were sincere and at first completely grassroots– and look what happened to them!”

    I like the general thrust of what Richard Moore, author of Escaping the Matrix: How We the People Can Change the World said in a recent comment on OWS:

    “What I am sure of, is that none of the grass-roots initiatives or movements currently on the scene have any hope of changing anything. In fact, activist energy is increasingly being channeled and managed by the very system we are hoping to change. As with Obama, who managed to fool all of the people some the time, and even now is fooling some of the people all of the time. ‘Hope you can believe in’, if you’re dreaming.

    “But someone like Obama can only channel those who see hope in the political system. More and more people are realizing there is no hope in the political system. So we are getting things like The Zeitgeist Movement and Anonymous, that cater to those who have given up on politics, and give them something to ‘join’ or ‘follow’ so they can pretend they’re ‘doing something’…

    “The latest of these vehicles of co-option is the Occupy Wall Street movement. This one’s really a humdinger. It has all the right slogans, and an appealing internal process. Its success is not surprising, because it is the latest version of a formula that has been thoroughly tested and refined ‘on the ground’. We might call it the ‘twitter formula’, and we’ve seen it in the ‘colored revolutions’ that were used to bring about various desired regime changes, and more recently in the ‘Arab Spring’ movements, that soaked up lots of energy and prevented unwanted regime changes.

    “Four years ago progressives found hope in Obama. This time around they’re finding hope in the Occupy Wall Street movement. In both cases, this ‘hope’ became available all too easily, was accompanied by all the right mainstream publicity, and offered easy ways to join in and become not only a follower, but an active participant. This is what co-option looks like.”

    My own reasons for pulling back from a physical occupation are here:

    I know, Dave, you think thinking like what is expressed in Richard’s words are over the top. And I hear you, too!

    That said, just last night Richard sent me yesterday the most encouraging piece thus far about the Occupy Process (i prefer the word “Process” to “Movement” or “Metamovement” to emphasize the emergent and out-of-the-box quality of OWS):

    Indeed, this post about Occupy Philly, in part at least framing itself as an initiative to recreate the Commons is very powerful. What if all of these Occupations were framed not as occupations but as Commons-creating activities?

    After having come across the work of the Portland placemaking organization, City Repair ( and, I’ve wondered if the City Repair folks have identified a large part of the way forward in a post-civ world: recreate the village effect right where we live? And in the process do an end run around all the injustice in the world, spend less time fighting the old and instead creating the new?

    And perhaps what Occupy Philly is doing is a form of more conscious placemaking (at least in part)?

  3. Ivor Tymchak says:

    “Dave, I’m surprised and inspired to hear that you are now calling yourself one of the Occupiers” ditto.

  4. Pingback: The Occupy Movement: Don’t Tell Us What To Do « how to save the world | Occupy Everything |

  5. vera says:

    Are there Occupy protests in Vancouver that you have joined, Dave? I am not clear from your post what exactly makes you an OWSer. So I am confused about where you are coming from.

    Nice post, though. They should probably tuck in for the winter and take a breather.

  6. Anonymous says:

    The movement is a bit hard to understand. Just so I have this correct you camp out and think about what should be done with the Government. All the while you speak of getting thrown in jail, drug use adn bodies being in the hospital.
    I am confused I guess I have always believed if you want to change something you have to work at it. If you don’t like it leave it alone or grow a backbone and make some changes yourself. Clearly you people are educated so you should know that there is a need for structure and recourse for wrong doing. I agree that currently we are circling the drain but I am not camping out to try to get them to change it.
    Here is my suggestion to your group get a JOB pay some taxes and take your money to lobby for change. Perhaps find yourself some candidates who are not in it for the money but for the people they will be representing. The world will always be in need of leaders without a doubt because just in this manifesto of yours. I read you have problems that arise from the lack there of. Find yourselves some great leaders who want the best for the country its not about you or me its about everyone. We already have enough seperatist in this country without you making it clear that we are going to push for more. Find yourself a spokes person or something.

  7. zwolf says:

    I agree with this last comment. This movement has no structure?? You say you don’t want anyone telling you what to do you don’t want to be led. You don’t want anyone in control??? Man really are you hearing yourself?? This county has had leaders from the very first and for good reason. If it didn’t we would have total anarchy!!! Most people in this country can’t lead themselves they can’t even follow simple rules let alone anything harder. You don’t know what you want but you want to figure it out for yourself??? On your own time?? Then go home and figure it out then present it the right way! Wow!!! I am not going to sit here and say our government is perfect by no means but we are a FAR cry better then many countries out there that’s for sure. If you don’t like it here get a passport and move out! You people are waisting so much time and energy and for what??? You don’t even know yourself what for but your going to try and figure it out sleeping in a tent?? There will always be haves and have nots in this country and rich and poor and whatever that’s just the way it is in this life. I know it’s hard sometimes but you have to make the best of it. And those of you who voted for this current president shame on you! You should have known better! And now your complaining about it! Go figure!!

  8. terrapraeta says:

    Hey —

    I see we have some “just DON’T get it” folks in the crowd.

    The 99% movement has no leaders because “leaders” are part of the problem.One person cannot speak for 100 or for 1000, or for 1,000,000 by definition. Because each of those numbers is a distinct person with distinct ideas. But what we are finding with this movement is that if the people involved actively resist the notion of a hierarchy a different social system emerges and it functions just fine. Better than fine. Because, apparently, this emergent system does not suffer from several of the more dramatic failings of hierarchical systems. Most notably The Tragedy of the Commons. (look it up)

    Now, as far as getting things done…. yes, it is much slower than hierarchical systems. My response? So what. What’s the hurry. Is it better to do the wrong things now or the right things sometime later? If we stop rushing around and doing things just for the sake of doing things, then perhaps we can create an opportunity to actually live. I know, its a novel concept, but there it is.

    Culturally, the OWS movement has sparked something that is truly amazing to watch. If you’re looking for it, it is clear to see that these people in their campsites, with their tents (and often with JOBS, too) are involved in creating an emergent phenomena that is fundamentally different from anything that we have seen before (I’m sure this has occurred before throughout history, but records have been expunged. The winners write the history books, after all). In the current environment of impending collapse things might be different this time. Even if OWS simply fades away, the lessons about what *can be* will linger in the hearts and minds of all that participated. And that could be a very good thing for the future of human kind.


  9. vera says:

    Strange they don’t get it… the Tea Partiers get it. No leaders, decentralized, and trying to duck cooptation. (Of course there are some grasping aggrandizers who style themselves as leaders of the Tea Party. By doing that, you know they ain’t.)

    “Most people in this country can’t lead themselves they can’t even follow simple rules”

    Argh… zwolf has a point. :-) But that comes from a long tradition of FOLLOWING OTHER PEOPLE!

  10. travis says:

    I am the writer of comment 6 and I agree whole heartedly with zwolf. Leaders in this country are the very reason you can camp in a public place. While you think about what it is you stand for and what to do next. In there infinite wisdom they created a fighting force to protect us and our freedoms. From the tyrants of the world. There is a system in place for a reason. If you use it the right way you can make change that will better the country.
    Wrap your minds around this. Lobby for a flat tax concept for everyone say 25 percent. If everyone is paying there own 15 for social security and such. Then give 3 percent to your state to handle thier business. Give 3 percent to the federal government to handle thier business. Allow 3 percent to work on the infrastructure of the country which will create more jobs and more tax payers. The final 1 percent to subsidize fuel prices which will create more money for people to buy things. Which again creates more revenue for people to create more jobs.
    You say you want jobs to work right come up with something to create those jobs. Something that will better the nation as a whole. Don’t complain because you can’t find a job there is work to be had. You may have to take your expectations down till you can find something better. I have done plenty of jobs that didn’t necessarily appease me. At the end of the day I needed work so I took them. While continueing to look for a better one.
    Don’t think I am here trying to push an agenda because that is not the case. I am making some suggestions. Trying to initiate conversation that will help you to understand that there is not 99 percent. We all don’t want drastic change. Meerly 1 percent who want to live in tents. No I don’t have a lot of money but I am happy with who I am. The opportunities I have to advance myself are limitless. As is the same for all in this country who is willing to work for it.

    Respectfully Tavis

  11. zwolf says:

    Tavis you are right on!! This movement can only happen because of the system our leaders have put in place and the freedoms we / they have provided for us. This movement kind of reminds me of the parents who complain that their child is fighting a war and has been gone for 6 months now and he needs to come home cause he has been gone to long! When I raised my right hand to defend our country against all who attact it I didn’t say I would only do it for 6 months. You do it until the job is done! You stand a post and protect our people and our country to the death if need be! What you people don’t get is there will always be a lack of jobs because our country it growing by 1 person every 16 seconds. So there is always going to be people out of work. When i was in high school the USA population in 1986 was 275 million. now it’s over 312 million. We are running out of room and going the wrong direction. Here are the current stats.

    A person is born every 8 seconds.
    A person dies every 12 seconds.
    A international migrant enters our country every 43 seconds. (Thats a whole other story!!!)

    Thats a net gain of 1 person every 16 seconds. And you can only put so many apples in a basket and make so much room. This is a snowball rolling down hill no matter what!

    With 312 million people in this country do you really think we don’t need anyone to lead??? Lets just all get together and sing Kumbaya and hope it all works out?? I don’t care if you have 10 people in a group you can disscuss all you want someone or some people have to lead eventually to make things happen.

  12. terrapraeta says:

    Hey —

    Maybe this is brick wall syndrome but I will try one more time.

    Every other protest in this country that any of us has heard anything about had a very specific goal in mind. Women’s rights, Civil Rights, Union Rights. Whatever. (When you think about it, isn’t it a little disconcerting that in “the land of the free” everyone *except* for white men with money has had to *fight* for equality?)

    #OWS is different. There is no one thing that will make everything all better. The socio-economic system is spiralling out of control.The environment is almost completely degraded. The political system is corrupt — to the point that someone with the best intentions *still* can’t get anything done because they don’t have the power of the lobbiests behind them (or they cave in and accept that power block and then have thier hands tied and soiled beyond redemption). The poor have no access to healthcare, no access to education, and in an environment of high unemplyment they face a “buyers market”. In other words, $15/hour jobs now pay $10 — simply because some schmuck will accept it. And there are so many *more* things to be upset about… the systems are failing. Period.

    So how does one correct a systemic failure?

    Zwolf — do you know? How would you fix it? Tavis? How ’bout you?

    You both have lots of personal responses. GET A JOB. A lot of these people have jobs. Some are even comfortable. Some are retired. Some have not yet entered the job market. They are not camping in Zuccoti Park (neccessarily) because they cannot find work. And even if some do “get a job” that does absolutely nothing to address the failing systems.

    Amazing innovation can emerge from diadectic process. Innovation that was not even conceived of at the start. Innovation IS happening, in fact. This is the part that makes me excited. So far there is no innovation to prevent the systemic failure that is at the heart of the problem. But personally, I don’t believe there is any solution to that. But alternatives… of alternatives there are many and that is what the 99% is starting to discover. And that is a good thing.


  13. travis says:

    What do you propose we do let the country fail while we enjoy this learning experience. I don’t believe that the government is perfect but think of the consequences those $15 jobs will start paying $7 if this nation fails. It is because we the people have say in this country that keeps it somewhat afloat right now. Not because of massive failure I believe we can learn and grow as a nation without total failure. Change takes time I agree we need to take care of our country recycle, look for cleaner energy,and things such as that. But there are many things we as a nation can do to stabalize the economy. Start a nationwide recycleing plan, bring troops home from all over the world. But guess what that one may cause a lot more problems in the rest of the world. I guess that don’t matter to anyone here does it because its all about us. We just do what needs to be done to get us more money like retailers charging three times what something costs to produce, driving up the prices in the fuel market up. What else have we inflicted upon ourselves with our greed? Thats the thing about being a part of something bigger than ourselves. You know you can’t fix everything yourself but you also know it’s not something you can lay at any one persons feet either so you have to take some responsibility of the situation instead of playing the blame game.

  14. terrapraeta says:

    Hey Travis —

    I don’t think I have said anything that could be characterized as “the blame game” so I will assume you are talking about people in general with that comment.

    So… If this nation fails, there won’t be jobs paying $7 — there won’t BE dollars anymore. We will be faced with addressing our needs in a fundamentally different way. But that was part of my point. The Occupiers are experimenting with different ways as we speak. Bartering for stuff or labor. Making sure everyone has their basic needs met. mExploring community, communication and consensus. Its good stuff.

    Overall, I wasn’t really “proposing” anything. But personally I don’t think there is any real alternative to “this nation failing” Civilization itself is in the process of collapse. The US of A won’t survive that collapse any more than any other nation-state. So the question really becomes what are you, and I and that girl over there gonna do about it? This is why I think Occupy is a good thing because it is creating the opportunity for people to think a little differently and explore those thoughts in a (relatively) safe environment. IMO, this is why the powers that be have become so aggressive toward the protestors. They know this as well as I do and the one thing that civ itself cannot abide is an escape hatch. Especially now when collapse is upon us. So we have to see where the momentum lies… if it is with the protestors then the more violence the system throws at them, the bigger and stronger they will get. If it is still with the powers that be — well, then they will eventually succeed in crushing the protests and establishing a police state….


  15. vera says:

    What is striking – and successful – about this leaderless protest is how it resists the meanings outsiders try to impose on it:

    “The problem is, first, spatial. Normative statements about Occupy Wall Street – claims about what the movement should do – are functionally inaudible unless the speaker is physically occupying an Occupy space. Peter Hallward cannot audibly tell anyone what Occupy Wall Street should do – any more than the Wall Street Journal could – unless Hallward is physically “occupying” an Occupy space. And you can’t “occupy” while sitting at your computer or publishing an editorial. You cannot “occupy” at a distance from an Occupy site.”

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