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2011 was the year of the Arab Spring, the European summer and the American autumn. Will the Occupy Movement catalyse a mass action in 2012?
Last year saw the birth of a global protest movement against the age of austerity. Autocratic regimes toppled across the Middle East. Hundreds of thousands protested in Greece, Spain and Portugal against Eurozone spending cuts. Action across the Atlantic Ocean inspired a segment of the US population to reconsider the principles upon which their country was founded; and to wonder at how far their government, banks and society, have drifted from those original ideals,
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
As predicted by economist Manfred Max-Neef in Extraenvironmentalist #20, an American economic inequality movement materialised in what seemed like and instant. On September 17th, protesters took over the small concrete plaza of Zuccotti Park to draw attention to the reality that America is a far from fair place to live. From the online communities of Twitter, Facebook and Anon a physical representation of a nation’s identity crisis sprung up in New York’s financial district and then spread across the nation. The Occupy Movement was adopted by cities and colleges from coast to coast, showcasing the anger of Americans tired of loosing out to the governing classes and their bankers.
Occupy has succeeded in simmering awareness: it has grabbed and sustained the attention of the media, received a nod of recognition from President Obama, and won a permanent place in the national and international lexicon. People are now waiting for the catalyst which will spur them into action and reset the country on the path to change.
Awareness to Action
Critics are divided over the future of Occupy. Many have targeted the movement for not having more specific aims. Others have identified it’s anonymity as it’s strength – something that everyone can get behind, whatever their religious, political or philosophical dominion. Ultimately though, it’s future success must lie in presenting real alternatives to the systems it demands be transformed.
The culture of active protest has declined since the 1960’s summers of freedom, and come to be associated with an anarchistic minority: dreadlocks, drugs and ‘difficult’ characters who refuse to participate in society; to get up, get to work, and ‘get on with it’ like everybody else.
Images and coverage of the Occupy Movement can easily inspire cynicism. Yet, this youth-led movement is driven by courageous individuals who have chosen to reject financial debt and devotion to a system which they do not believe to be fair or sustainable. Many of the camp’s organizers have sacrificed a steady income to ensure the future of the movement and promise of reform.
In an era characterised by top-down authority, the Occupy Movement is leaderless. While the right and left jocky their extreme views, neither one is prepared to compromise in taking thoughtful action to consider future generations. Americans are now reviving a truer form of democracy, with Occupy General Assemblies presenting an alternative option for those willing to think independently while applying reason to a real situation of global economic meltdown.
Garden of Eden
Steve Lambert, co-founder of the Centre for Artistic Activism at the University of Boston, explains in Episode #36 of the Extraenvironmentalist, how he tries to instill in his students the notion that art can be used to change behaviour, rather than simply to raise awareness:
“One idea is to create small scale social utopias, which give people the chance to have that for a few seconds in their hands…and get people to think, well, why can’t I have this?”
The camps of Tahrir Square, Egypt; Puerta del Sol, Madrid and Zuccotti Park, New York, were all physical representations of societies run on the principles which their occupants imagine for a better world. Lambert calls for visual artists, dancers and comedians to find novel ways of “getting people to throw those ideas around which wouldn’t be acceptable in mainstream media or normal social conversation.”
“Activists can be sincere, funny and serious all at the same time”, he points out.
The success of the movement will lie in abolishing activist stereotypes and broadening its appeal well beyond the activist community.
Activating the USA
In the face of sceptics, organisers have already named the date for a nonviolent march on July 4, 12:00, at the symbolic site of the MLK Jr memorial in Washington DC.
As unemployment levels rise and more people become the victims of an unfair system, many will realise that no matter how hard they work, they might not be able to support themselves and their families. They will then be desperate enough to take to the streets. It is the number and the range of protesters in the Summer of Justice 2012 which is yet to be seen.
Molly Schaefer, a recent graduate from the University of Richmond in Richmond, Virginia, did not take part in an Occupy protest last year.
“I don’t understand what they are protesting against. And what I do understand I don’t agree with. I think capitalism is a good way of running a country.”
Molly represents the majority of the U.S. population who have never physically protested government and identify protest action with anarchists and the homeless – the sector of society who will protest instead of getting out and going to work.
What would make her join the 2012 march for justice? “Clear aims. A plan to get this country out of it’s current deficit. Sensible solutions to problems which the government, more concerned with popular policies, continue to ignore.”
The manifesto of Summer of Justice 2012, DC defines one overarching goal:
“To attain the most justice possible in an imperfect world which can apply equally to all Americans; none of whom are perfect either.”
The event organisers re-assert the Declaration of Independence, understood in it’s most direct form:
“The Declaration of Independence states that our Creator endows us with rights that no government can ever legitimately take away, because they are based upon the eternal, moral law of nature and nature’s God.”
They argue that today’s politicians and lawyers “reject natural law” and “prefer to assert the authority of positive law alone. But positive law, which is simply the legal decisions of a legislature or a court, must, according to natural law theory, live up to natural law.”
They demand a recognition that neither the right or left, stubbornly contrary, can be effective in creating just change for the whole country. They call for a new system of government which restores faith in the US constitution and the fulfillment of the American Dream for those who are willing to be active members of society.
The date is set but the numbers are yet to be seen. A true Summer of Justice must call for a revival of lost ideals, not civil war, in order to summon support and strike a chord in the proud hearts of the American people.
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