We will ask nothing. We will demand nothing. We will take, occupy.
(graffiti: Paris, 1968)
For nearly four months, we’ve heard some version of this simplistic gripe about Occupy Wall Street (OWS): But what are their demands?
Please allow me to first address this distasteful demand for demands: To ask such a question is to willingly succumb to the craven compliance that conscientiously cloaks a commodity culture. If only OWS would just put itself in a damn box—with a familiar, easily identifiable label, of course—it would make life so much easier for those who’ve long surrendered the capacity for critical thought.
A list of demands allows lazy thinkers to categorize, to compare and contrast, e.g.
“Oh, I see, it’s like the opposite of the Tea Party.”
“Ah, they’re just like the hippies in the 60s.”
Un-American, extremists, selfish, unwashed, anti-Semites…blah, blah, fuckin’ blah…
Anyone—from individuals to entire movements—who strays from the predetermined path forces others to question their presumptions. The central supposition being challenged here is that the “problems” exposed by OWS are merely flaws within an intrinsically fixable system.
Which brings me to the far more essential concern:
Demands do not challenge the power structure. Demands validate the power structure. If we have to ask the 1% to modify some of their behavior, we are acknowledging and accepting that the possibility of change is their choice and we thus authenticate their freedom to exercise their power over us. (Plus, of course, they’ve long figured out that offering the occasional minor concession further reinforces this tacit arrangement.)
In addition, a demand often removes an issue from its larger context. The 1% have little problem with the rabble focusing on, say, the treatment of gays in the military. While this debate certainly has its place, it’s still only a symptom of a disease now in its terminal phase.
Isolating military-related symptoms does nothing to address larger maladies like 24/7 war around the globe, dizzying amounts of money spent to wage such war, increasingly repressive tactics in the name of national security, and the lethal reality that the world’s largest polluter is the US Department of Defense.
To repeat: The “problems” exposed by OWS are not merely flaws within a basically fixable system.
Each day on our beleaguered planet, 25-30,000 children under the age of 5 die from preventable causes while 2,660 US children are born into poverty every 24 hours. This isn’t some bewildering defect in the well-oiled global machine.
Eighty percent of the world’s forests are gone, 90% of the large fish in the ocean are gone, and 200,000 acres of rainforest are destroyed every single day. This is not because of a minor glitch in an otherwise workable system.
Economic inequality isn’t a hiccup. Epidemics of preventable diseases are not an anomaly. Institutional racism, sexism, speciesism, homophobia, and patriarchy are not systemic blind spots. Capitalism—hell, all forms of industrial culture—cannot be tenderly reformed into sustainability.
Be realistic, demand the impossible.
(graffiti: Paris, 1968)
To varying degrees and on varying levels, OWS gets this big picture view. As I wrote while the original encampment was still evolving at Liberty Square/Zuccotti Park:
“What’s happening is the cultivation of an alternate model of human culture. … Several man-made hierarchies, constructs, and barriers have already been (at least) temporarily smashed. What OWS is modeling is a far more cooperative, creative, participatory, tolerant, and downsized way of living.”
The predictable—I’d even say, fearful—response to this holistic and revolutionary approach goes a little something like this:
“What you’re talking about is Utopia.”
“You gotta stop dreaming. Get realistic and learn how to play the game.”
“Don’t you understand that things just don’t work like that?”
Blah, blah, fuckin’ blah…
Eduardo Galeano sez:
“Utopia lies at the horizon.
When I draw nearer by two steps,
it retreats two steps.
If I proceed ten steps forward, it
swiftly slips ten steps ahead.
No matter how far I go, I can never reach it.
What, then, is the purpose of utopia?
It is to cause us to advance.”
My friend Rick the Cartoonist has equated attempts to “repair” the existing structure with “trying to fix a burst balloon.” Following Rick’s dead-on analogy, I’d suggest to all those occupying a list of demands: Don’t waste your breath.
#OccupyNoDemands. #Occupy4theFuture. #OccupyUtopia.