- Category: Occupy
- Created on Thursday, 27 September 2012 11:13
- Written by Jodi Dean
This was originally posted on occupyeverything.org.
How Occupy Wall Street is re-centering the economy is an open, fluid, changing, and intensely debated question. It’s not a traditional movement of the working class organized in trade unions or targeting work places, although it is a movement of class struggle (especially when we recognize with Marx and Engels that the working class is not a fixed, empirical class but a fluid, changing class of those who have to sell their labor power in order to survive). Occupy’s use of strikes and occupations targets the capitalist system more broadly, from interrupting moves to privatize public schools to shutting down ports and stock exchanges (I think of the initial shut downs in Oakland and on Wall Street as proof of concepts, proof that it can be done). People aren’t being mobilized as workers; they are being mobilized as people, as everybody else, as the rest of us, as the majority—99%–who are being thoroughly screwed by the top one percent in education, health, food, the environment, housing, and work.
Occupation as Political Form
by Jodi Dean
Editor’s Note: Jodi Dean presented the following text as a keynote lecture for the 2012 iteration of Transmediale, an annualnew media festival in Berlin. The theme of the 2012 festival was “In/compatibility…the condition that arises when things do not work together.” The section of the festival at which the author presented was titled “Incompatible Publics.” 1 The discussion that followed Dean’s lecture was moderated by Krystian Woznicki2 —the text of the discussion is included below. –MW
I’m going to talk today about Occupy Wall Street in light of our theme of incompatible publics. I claim that the occupation is best understood as a political form of the incompatibility between capitalism and the people. To call it a political form is to say that it is configured within a particular social-historical setting. To call it a political form of the incompatibility between capitalism and the people is to say that it has a fundamental content and that this content consists in the failure of capitalism to provide an economic system adequate to the capacities, needs, demands, and general will of the people. More bluntly put, to think about the Occupy movement in light of the idea of incompatible publics is to locate the truth of the movement in class struggle (and thus reject interpretations of the movement that highlight multiplicity, democracy, and anarchism—autonomism). So that’s what I hope to convince you of today.
The movement opened up by Occupy Wall Street is the most exciting event on the US political left since 1968—it’s like, my god, finally we can breathe, finally there is an opening, a possibility of organized mass political action. As in 1968, the current movement extends globally, encompasses multiple grievances, and is being met by violent police responses. From Egypt to New York, Spain to Oakland, hundreds of thousands of people have responded to capitalist dispossession by taking space, occupying sites that, ostensibly open and public, the process of occupation reveals to be closed to the many and belonging to the few. Also as in 1968, an economic wrong, the wrong of capitalism, is at the core of the political rupture. Recall that in May ‘68, a general strike shut down the French economy. Students occupied the Sorbonne and workers occupied factories. In September 2011, protesters in New York occupied Wall Street. They were inspired by revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, the February occupation of the Wisconsin State Capitol, and the 15 May movement of the squares in Spain (as well as by the occupation movements that in recent years have accompanied protests over cutbacks in education and increases in university tuition in California, New York, and the UK).
That Wall Street was actually the nearby privately owned Zuccotti Park didn’t really matter. What mattered, and what opened up a new space of political possibility in the US, was that people were finally waking up to the ultimate incompatibility between capitalism and the people—after forty years of neoliberalism’s assault on the working and middle class and after a decade of rapacious class warfare in which the top one percent saw an income increase of 275% (their share of the national income more than doubling) while most of the rest of the country saw an income increase of roughly 1% a year. Instead of continuing in the fantasy that “what’s good for Wall Street, is good for Main Street,” the occupation claimed the division between Wall Street and Main Street and named this division as a fundamental wrong, the wrong of inequality, exploitation, and theft.
Occupy Wall Street’s staging of the incompatibility between capitalism and the people was visible, material, and practical. Visibly, urban camping brought to the heart of New York’s financial district the reality of dispossession. It forced Wall Street to look homelessness in the face, both the homelessness of the New Yorkers that the city had been trying to repress, hide, and disperse and that of those across the country who had been evicted in the foreclosure crisis and left to dwell in make shift tent cities reminiscent of shanty towns and Hoovervilles of the Depression. Materially, the presence of people crowded into places where capitalism has determined they don’t belong was manifest in the array of physical needs impressing and expressing themselves in Zuccotti park—the absence of public toilets and showers, the impermissibility of gas-run generators, open flames for cooking, and the illegality of tents resulted in a series of issues encapsulated in the media under the headings public health, filth, and disease. Practically, Occupy Wall Street—and the police reaction to it—led to the proliferation of police barriers all over downtown Manhattan. Even more important, the daily activities of occupiers strove to bring into being new practices of sociality, new ways of living together, ways no longer coordinated by the capital but by discussion, mutuality, and consensus. Not surprisingly, in the course of these practical engagements, new incompatibilities emerged and were only beginning to be addressed when Zuccotti Park was evicted.
The movement’s early slogan, “We are the 99 Percent,” quickly went viral. It spread in part because of the Tumblr collection of images and testimonials to the hardships of debt, foreclosure, and unemployment, a “coming out” of the closet imposed by the conceit that everyone is middle class, everyone is successful. Conservative politicians bristled with indignation at what they depicted as the unfairness of the many who were now refusing to accept the one percent’s seizure of an outrageously unfair portion of the common product. Presidential candidate Mitt Romney scolded what he called the “politics of envy.” These privileged carriers of the 99 versus the 1 percent meme couldn’t quite grasp the change in the situation, the shift in the status quo whereby people no longer believed the myths that “greed is good” and “inequality benefits everyone.” They attempted to turn the issue around, making themselves into victims of exclusion and invective, as if the 99% were the criminals, as if our primary condition had been mutually compatible until some malcontents started to cause trouble, as if class war were a new rather than constitutive incompatibility between those who need to work to live and those who have enough capital not to. A fortunate effect of this tactic was the continued accentuation of class division—as a recent poll from the Pew Foundation found, 66% of Americans think that divisions between rich and poor are strong or very strong, an increase of 19% since 2009. Not only is this view held in every demographic category but more people think that class division is the principle social division than they do any other division.
The slogan “We are the 99%” highlights the division between the wealth of the top 1% and the rest of us. Mobilizing the gap between the 1% with nearly half the country’s wealth and the other 99% with the rest of it, the slogan asserts a collectivity. It does not unify this collectivity under a substantial identity—race, ethnicity, religion, nationality. Nor does it proceed as if there were some kind of generic and unified public. It rejects the fantasy of a unified, non-antagonistic public to assert the “we” of a divided people, the people divided between expropriators and expropriated. In the setting of an occupied Wall Street, this “we” is a class, one of two opposed and hostile classes, those who have and control wealth, and those who do not.
The assertion of a numerical difference as a political difference, that is to say, the politicization of a statistic, expresses capitalism’s reliance on fundamental inequality—“we” can never all be counted as the top 1%. Thus, the announcement that “We are the 99%” names an appropriation, a wrong. In so doing, it voices as well a collective desire for equality and justice, for a change in the conditions through which one percent seizes the bulk of collective wealth for themselves, leaving 99% with the remainder.
“We are the 99%” also effaces the multiplicity of individuated, partial, and divided interests that fragment and weaken the people as the rest of us. The count dis-individualizes interest and desire, reconfiguring both into a common form. Against capital’s constant attempts to pulverize and decompose the collective people, the claim of the 99% responds with the force of a belonging that not only cannot be erased but that capital’s own methods of accounting produce: as capital demolishes all previous social ties, the counting on which it depends provides a new figure of belonging. Capital has to measure itself, count its profits, its rate of profit, its share of profit, its capacity to leverage its profit, its confidence or anxiety in its capacity for future profit. Capital counts and analyzes who has what, representing to itself the measures of its success. These very numbers can be, and in the slogan “We are the 99%” they are, put to use. They aren’t resignified—they are claimed as the subjectivation of the gap separating the top one percent from the rest of us. With this claim, the gap becomes a vehicle for the expression of communist desire, that is, for a politics that asserts the people as a divisive force in the interest of over-turning present society and making a new one anchored in collectivity and the common.
Admittedly, the occupiers of Wall Street, and the thousand other cities around the world with occupations of their own, have not reached a consensus around communism (as if communism could even name a consensus). The movement brings together a variety of groups and tendencies—not all of them compatible. Many in the movement see that as Occupy’s strength. They see Occupy as an umbrella movement capable of including a multiplicity of interests and tendencies. For them, “occupy” serves as a kind of political or even post-political open source brand that anyone can use. Because occupation is a tactic that galvanizes enthusiasm, they suggest, it can affectively connect a range of incompatible political positions, basically working around fundamental gaps, divisions, and differences. The mistake here is not only in the effort to ignore multiple incompatibilities; it is also, and more importantly in the evasion of the real antagonism that matters, the one that connects the movement to its setting—class struggle. “Tactics as brand” neglects the way occupation is a form that organizes the incompatibility of capitalism with the people and emphasizes instead a flexibility and adaptability already fully compatible with capitalism. I’ll say a little more about this.
Reduced to “tactic as brand” or “tactic as generator of affective attachment,” occupation responds in terms of communicative capitalism’s ideology of publicity. Communicative capitalism announces the convergence of democracy and capitalism in networked communication technologies that promise access and equality, enjoin participation, and celebrate creative engagement. Occupation understood as a tactic of political branding accepts that promise and demonstrates its failure. Communicative capitalism promises access? To whom and where? It promises access to everyone everywhere but really means to enhance and enable capital’s access to everything everywhere. The Occupy movement demonstrates this by occupying spaces that are ostensibly public but practically open only to capital; the 99% don’t really belong. Similarly, communicative capitalism promises participation—but that really means personalization; better to do as an individual before a screen and not a mass behind a barricade. And, communicative capitalism promises creative engagement—but that really means user-generated spectacular content that can be monetized and marketed, not collective political appropriation in a project of resistance. So the Occupy movement accepts the promises of communicative capitalism and demonstrates the contradictory truth underlying then. The resulting disturbance—pepper spray, riot gear, eviction—reveals the incompatibility at communicative capitalism’s heart.
Yet these demonstrations of contradiction rest uneasily against the acceptance of the promises of communicative capitalism. Like communicative capitalism, the movement also valorizes participation, creative engagement, and accessibility. One of the ideological features of “tactics as brand” is the idea that Occupy is an idea, practice, term accessible to anyone. And then there is equality. In the circuits of communicative capitalism, the only equality is that of any utterance, any contribution to the flow, whether it’s a critique of economic austerity of a video of baby kittens. Here, too, the movement can get reabsorbed as ever more informational and affective content, something which may appear on one’s screen, and be felt as good or bad before an image of the next thing pops up. At this point, the tactic of occupation is compatible with the system it ostensibly rejects. The same holds for the movement’s rhetorical and ideological emphases on plurality and inclusivity. They merge seamlessly into communicative capitalism and thereby efface the economic crisis at the movement’s heart. It’s already the case that there are multiple ideas and opportunities circulating on the internet. It’s already the case that people can hold events, form digital groups, and carry out discussions. People can even assemble in tents on the sidewalks—as long as they are in line for event tickets or a big sale at Wal-Mart. Communicative capitalism is an open, mutable field. That aspect of the movement—inclusivity—isn’t new or different. It’s a component of Occupy that is fully compatible with the movement’s setting in communicative capitalism. What’s new (at least in the last thirty years) is the organized collective opposition to the capitalist expropriation. Particularly in the face of the multiple evictions and massive police response to the occupations, the movement faces the challenge of keeping present and real the gap, the incompatibility, between occupation and the ordinary media practices and individualized acts of resistance that already comprise the faux-opposition encouraged in everyday life.
Thus, it is necessary to consider the gap between occupation and its politicization, that is to say, between occupation as a tactic and occupation as a form operating in a determined setting. The political form of occupation for us depends on its fundamental, substantial component of class struggle as what connects it to its social setting. In this setting, occupation installs practical unity where there was fragmentation, collectivity where there was individualism, and division where there was the amorphous imaginary of the public.
As the occupation movement unfolded in the US during the fall of 2011, it was clear that the occupiers were a self-selected vanguard, establishing and maintaining a continuity that enabled broader numbers of people to join in the work of the movement. Into a field more generally configured around convenience, ease of use, and individual preference—a field noted more for “clictivism” than any more strenuous or exacting kind of politics, occupation installs demanding processes through which protesters select and discipline themselves—not everyone can devote all their time to the revolution. Most activists affiliated with a specific occupation didn’t occupy all the time. Some would sleep at the site and then go to their day jobs or schools. Others would sleep elsewhere and occupy during the day and evening. Still others would come for the frequent, multiple hour-long General Assemblies. Nonetheless, occupation involved people completely, as Lukacs would say “with the whole of their personality.” As the occupations persisted over weeks and months, people joined in different capacities—facilitation, legal, technology, media, medical, food, community relations, education, direct action—participating in time-intensive working groups and support activities that involved them in the movement even as they weren’t occupying a space directly.
The continuity of occupation has been a potent remedy to the fragmentation, localism, and transitoriness of contemporary left politics. Occupation unites and disciplines via local, self-organized, assemblies. This “unity” has not meant accord with a “party line” or set of shared demands or common principles. Rather, it’s “practical unity” as an effect of the conscious sharing of an organizational form. Unity, then, is an affiliation around and in terms of the practice of occupation. One of the most significant achievements of Occupy Wall Street in its first two months was the change in the shape of the left. Providing a common form that no one could ignore, it drew a line: are you with or against occupation?
Given the collapse of the institutional space of left politics in the wake of the decline of unions and the left’s fragmentation into issues and identities, occupation asserts a much needed and heretofore absent common ground from which to join in struggle. In dramatic contrast to communicative capitalism’s promise of easy action, of a politics of pointing and clicking and linking and forwarding, Occupy Wall Street says No! It’s not so easy. You can’t change the world isolated behind your screen. You have to show up, work together, and collectively confront the capitalist class. Protest requires living bodies in the streets.
Virtually any place can be occupied. Part of the affective pleasure of the movement in its initial weeks was the blooming of ever more occupations. The spread of the form spoke to the salience of its issues. Without any coordination from the top, without a national organization of any kind, people asserted themselves politically by adopting occupation as the form for political protest, occupying parks, sidewalks, corners, and squares (although not a state capitol as had been done during the Wisconsin protests at the beginning of 2011). Yet more than political symbolism, the fact that occupation could be adopted in myriad, disparate settings meant that multiple groups of people quickly trained themselves in a variety of aspects of political work. They learned specific local legal codes and shared tactical knowledge of how to manage media and police. Occupation let them develop and share new capacities.
So, duration and adoptability are key benefits of the occupation form. In contrast with the event-oriented alter-globalization movement, occupation establishes a fixed political site as a base for operations. A more durable politics emerges as the claiming of a space for an indeterminate amount of time breaks with the transience of contemporary media culture. People have the opportunity to be more than spectators. After learning of an occupation, they can join. The event isn’t over; it hasn’t gone away. Implying a kind of permanence, occupation is ongoing. People are in it till “this thing is done”—until the basic practices of society, of the world, have been remade. This benefit, however, is also a drawback. Since occupations are neither economically self-sustaining nor chosen tactically as sites from which to expand on the ground (block by block, say, until a city is taken), built into their form is a problem of scale.
In addition to these two attributes of occupation as a form, some of the decisions taken in the initial weeks of the Occupy Wall Street movement added to its ability to establish and maintain continuity. Prior to the September 17, 2011 action, activists from New Yorkers Against Budget Cuts and the artist group 16 Beaver met together to plan the event. The consensus-based approach to collective decisions in meetings called “General Assemblies” was adopted at this time (it had already been a component of the 15 May movement in Spain). Subsequent occupations followed New York’s lead, calling their meetings “General Assemblies” and basing decisions on consensus. Consensus let the movement claim an inclusivity missing from mainstream politics in that everything had to be agreed to by everyone. Participants were doing more than giving money or signing petitions—they were making decisions on the most fundamental concerns of the movement. The emphasis on consensus also meant that no group or position was excluded from the outset. Breaking with tendencies toward the specification of issues and identities, the movement worked to combine voices so as to amplify their oppositional political force. More superficially, but no less importantly, the hand-signals used to guide discussions toward consensus—upturned hands with twinkling fingers to signal assent; cross-arms to block—became a marker and practice of belonging to the movement. Common slogans, especially “We are the 99%”, also linked disparate occupations together into a common movement.
Maintaining and extending this collectivity, this practical unity incompatible with communicative capitalism, has been and remains a challenge, perhaps the biggest challenge the movement faces. Counter-revolutionary tendencies work with all their might to close or conceal the gap of collective desire for collectivity, for collective approaches to common concerns with production, distribution, and stewardship of common resources. In the first days of Occupy Wall Street, the mainstream media tried to ignore the movement. After the movement was impossible to ignore, after the protesters had demonstrated determination and the police had reacted with orange containment nets and pepper spray, other efforts to efface the fundamental division opened up by Occupy Wall Street emerged. These continue to try to make the movement fully compatible with politics as usual and thus un-threatening to business as usual. They work to reabsorb the movement into familiar functionality and convenient dis-functionality, and thereby fill-in or occlude the gap the movement installs. I’ll mention three primary efforts to eliminate the incompatibility of Occupy with the status quo: democratization, moralization, and individualization.
I use “democratization” to designate attempts to frame the movement in terms of American electoral politics. One of the most common democratizing moves has been to treat Occupy Wall Street as the Tea Party of the left. So construed, the movement isn’t something radically new; it’s derivative. The Tea Party has already been there and done that. Of course, this analogy fails to acknowledge that the Tea Party is astro-turf, organized by Dick Armey and funded by the Koch brothers. A further democratizing move immediately reduces the significance of the movement to elections: what does Occupy Wall Street mean for Obama? Does it strengthen the Democratic Party? Will it pull it back toward the center? This democratizing move omits the obvious question: if it were about Obama and the Democratic Party, it would be about Obama and the Democratic Party—not marches, strikes, occupations, and arrests.
A related democratization advises the movement to pursue any number of legislative paths, suggesting that it seek a Constitutional Amendment denying corporations personhood, change campaign finance laws, abolish the electoral college and the Federal Reserve. The oddness of these suggestions, the way they attempt to make the movement something it is not, to make it functional for the system we have, appears as soon as one recalls the primary tactic of struggle: occupying, that is, sleeping out of doors, in tents, in urban spaces. In New York, protesters were sleeping in the inhospitable financial district, outside in a privately owned park, attempting to reach consensus on a wide range of issues affecting their daily life together: what sort of coffee to serve, how to keep the park clean, how to keep people warm and dry, what to do about the drummers, how to spend the money that comes in to support the movement, what the best ways to organize discussions are, and so on. The language of democratization skips the actual fact of occupation, reformatting the movement in terms of a functional political system and then adapting the movement so that it fits this system. The problem with this way of thinking is that if the system were functional, people wouldn’t be occupying all over the country—not to mention the world for, indeed, an additional effect of the democratic reduction is to reduce a global practice and movement against capitalism into US-specific concerns with some dysfunction in our electoral system.
Finally, an additional democratization begins from the assumption that the movement is essentially a democratic one, that its tactics and concerns are focused on the democratic process. From this assumption democratization raises a critique of the movement: occupation actually isn’t democratic and so the protesters are in some sort of performative contradiction; they are incompatible with the democratic public because they are actively rejecting democratic institutions, breaking the law, disrupting public space, squandering public resources (police overtime can get expensive) and attempting to assert the will of a minority of vocal protesters outside of and in contradiction to democratic procedures. This line of argument has the benefit of exposing the incoherence in the more general democratization argument: occupation is not a democratic strategy; it is a militant, divisive tactic that expresses the fundamental division on which capitalism depends.
The second mode of division’s erasure, the second attempt to eliminate incompatibility between Occupy and the generic politics of a generic public, is moralization. Myriad politicians and commentators seek and have sought to treat the success of Occupy Wall Street in exclusively moral terms. For these commentators, the true contribution of the movement is moral, a transformation of the common sense of what is just and what is unjust. This line of commentary emphasizes greed and corruption, commending the movement for opening our eyes to the need to get things in order, to clean house.
What’s the problem here? The problem is that moralization occludes division as it remains stuck in a depoliticizing liberal formula of ethics and economics. It presumes that it can work around the incompatibility of the movement with capitalist democracy by ignoring the fundamental antagonism of class struggle. Rather than acknowledging the failure of the capitalist system, the contemporary collapse of its neoliberal form and the contradictions that are demolishing capitalism from within (global debt crises, unsustainable patterns of consumption, climate change, the impossibility of continued accumulation at the rate necessary for capitalist growth, mass unemployment and unrest), moralization proceeds as if a couple of bad apples—a Bernie Madoff here, a rogue trader there—let their greed get out of control. It then extends this idea of corruption (rather than systemic failure), blaming the “culture of Wall Street” or even the consumerism of the entire country, as if the United States were a whole and as a whole needed some kind of spiritual cleansing and renewal. In short, moralization treats Occupy Wall Street as a populist movement, mediating it in populist terms of a whole people engaging in the ritual of repentance, renewal, and reform. It proceeds as if the division Occupy Wall Street reveals and claims were a kind of infection to be cured rather than a fundamental antagonism that has been repressed.
The third attempt to eliminate the gap of incompatibility comes from individualization. Here an emphasis on individual choice denies the movement’s collectivity. So on the one hand there is an eclectic, menu-like presentation of multiple issues. Occupiers, protesters, and supporters are rendered as non-partisan individuals cherry-picking their concerns and exercising their rights of free speech and assembly. On the other hand there are the practices and tenets of the movement itself, particularly as it has been enacted in New York: decisions must be reached by consensus, no one can speak for another, each person has to be affirmed as freely and autonomously supporting whatever the GA undertakes. In each case, individualism not only supercedes collectivity, but it also effaces the rupture between the occupation and US culture more generally, a culture that celebrates and cultivates individuality and personalization. Given that the strength of Occupy Wall Street draws from collectivity, from the experience of groups coming together to occupy and protest, an experience amplified by the People’s Mic (the practice of collectively repeating the words of a speaker so that everyone can hear them), to emphasize individuality is to disavow the common at the heart of the movement. It reinserts the movement within the dominant culture, as if occupation were a choice like any other, as if choices weren’t themselves fantasies that individuals actually could determine their own lives or make a political difference in the context of the capitalist system and the class power of the top one percent.
Democratization, moralization, and individualization attempt to restore a fantastic unity or cohesive public where Occupy Wall Street asserts a fundamental division, the incompatibility between capitalism and the people. Whether as a democratic political system, a moral community, or the multiplicity of individuals, this fantasy is one that denies the antagonism on which capitalism relies: between those who have to sell their labor power to survive and those who do not, between those who not only have no choice but to sell their labor power but nonetheless cannot, because there are no buyers, or who cannot for wages capable of sustaining them, because there’s no such opportunity, and those who command, steer, and gamble upon the resources, fortunes, and futures of the rest of us for their own enjoyment.
The three modes of disavowing division miss the power of occupation as a form that asserts a gap by forcing a presence. This forcing is more than simply of people into places where they do not belong (even when they may ostensibly have a right). It’s a forcing of collectivity over individualism, the combined power of a group that disrupts a space readily accommodating of individuals. Such a forcing thereby puts in stark relief the conceit of a political arrangement that claims to represent a people that cannot be present, a divided people who, when present, instill such fear and insecurity that they have to be met by armed police and miles of barricades. It asserts the class division prior to and unremedied by democracy under capitalism. The incompatibility is fundamental, constitutive.
For all its talk, then, of horizontality, autonomy, and decentralized process, the Occupy movement is re-centering the economy, engaging in class warfare without naming the working class as one of two great hostile forces but instead by presenting capitalism as a wrong against the people. Instead of locating the crime of capitalism, its excesses and exploitation, primarily in the factory, it highlights the pervasive, intensive and extensive range of capitalist expropriation of lives and futures. As David Harvey notes (244) “the city is as a locus of class movement as the factory.” Occupy is putting capitalism back at center of left politics—no wonder, then, that it has opened up a new sense of possibility for so many of us: it has reignited political will and reactivated Marx’s insight that class struggle is a political struggle. As I mentioned before, a new Pew poll finds a nineteen percentage point increase since 2009 of the number of Americans who believe there are strong or very strong conflicts between the rich and poor. Two thirds perceive this conflict—and perceive it as more intense than divisions of race and immigration status (African Americans see class conflict as more significant than white people do).
How Occupy Wall Street is re-centering the economy is an open, fluid, changing, and intensely debated question. It’s not a traditional movement of the working class organized in trade unions or targeting work places, although it is a movement of class struggle (especially when we recognize with Marx and Engels that the working class is not a fixed, empirical class but a fluid, changing class of those who have to sell their labor power in order to survive). Occupy’s use of strikes and occupations targets the capitalist system more broadly, from interrupting moves to privatize public schools to shutting down ports and stock exchanges (I think of the initial shut downs in Oakland and on Wall Street as proof of concepts, proof that it can be done). People aren’t being mobilized as workers; they are being mobilized as people, as everybody else, as the rest of us, as the majority—99%–who are being thoroughly screwed by the top one percent in education, health, food, the environment, housing, and work. People are mobilized as those who are proletarianized and exploited in every aspect of our lives—at risk of foreclosure and unemployment, diminishing futures, increasing debts, shrunken space of freedom, accelerated dependence on a system that is rapidly failing Capitalism in the US has sold itself as freedom—but increasing numbers of us feel trapped, practically enslaved.
I want to close with the slogan “Occupy Everything.” The slogan seems at first absurd: we already occupy everything, so how can we occupy everything? What matters is the minimal difference, the shift in perspective the injunction to occupy effects. It’s a shift crucial to occupation as a political form that organizes the incompatibility between the people and capitalism. It enjoins us to occupy in a different mode, to assert our presence in and for itself, for the common, not for the few, the one percent. “Occupy Everything’s” shift in perspective highlights and amplifies the gap between what has been and what can be, between what “capitalist realism” told us was the only alternative and what the actuality of movement forced us to wake up to. The gap it names is the gap of communist desire, a collective desire for collectivity: we occupy everything because it is already ours in common.
To read the discussion that followed this talk, please go here.