BUILDING A WORLD THAT WORKS FOR ALL
A Speech Given to the Minnesota Alliance of Peacemakers in November 2012
by Scott Thompson
The theme of our gathering tonight is “Building a world that works for all.” This phrase is not just a nice thought or a hopeful intention; it’s the whole spirit of Occupy condensed down into a single sentence.
The name “Occupy” might have been coined by activists planning the first camp in New York City, but the movement is actually a global one and always has been. It began—depending on how you count these things—either with the brave actions of activists in places Tahrir Square in Egypt occupying public space in defiance of their unelected governments, or with the 15M movement in Spain or the Syntagma Square movement in Greece, doing the same thing in defiance of governments corrupted by the power of big banks and multinational corporations.
The thing that set movements like 15M and Syntagma Square apart from traditional models of political advocacy was their commitment to direct democracy, their practice of consensus decision-making, and the symbolic power of occupying public space. This act set them in direct opposition to the political and economic model in which everything from the ground we stand on to the water we drink is a commodity to be divided up, privately owned and disposed of for the profit of a few without consulting the many who will inevitably be affected.
It seems that regardless of which political party is in power, today’s normal model of doing things tends to pit people against each other in the pursuit of private interest. It presents life as a zero-sum game in which only a few can be winners and the vast majority of people are condemned to be losers. Not only is it NOT a world that works for all, it is designed not to be. It’s a world defined by scarcity and conflict, a world in which war over limited resources will always be the norm rather than the exception—and yet we’re constantly told that it’s the best we can do. All the variations on the Occupy movement are united by the fact that we reject this model; we reject the idea that it’s not possible to build a world that works for all.
When Occupy Wall Street officially began in Zuccotti Park, they weren’t so much creating a new movement as joining a global movement already in progress. For some reason, the name “Occupy” struck a spark, and hundreds of Occupy camps sprang up in cities and small towns all over the world, including here in Minnesota.
Initially given tremendous amounts of attention by mainstream media bent on sensationalism, Occupy managed to worry the governments of the world, of our cities, and of the corporate boardrooms, just enough that they decided to break up our camps.
Then a coordinated series of raids by heavily armored riot police destroyed camps in New York City and Oakland and elsewhere, followed by a sudden and almost total media blackout of our ongoing activities…with the exception of an occasional story either wondering why we had proven so ineffective ( in the face of police violence!), or demonizing us as terrorists, extremists or common criminals. For many of us who had believed in the promises of American democracy, this was a brutal wake-up call. But it didn’t stop us—despite incessant and sometime illegal police harassment in our own community.
As Occupy enters its second year, the intoxicating energy and optimism of those early few months in the camps has been transformed into a sober understanding that building a world that works for all will take years, decades or even generations of ongoing work by many, many people if that world is ever to become a reality. The different Occupy groups you will hear from tonight have committed to that hard but very rewarding work in its many facets. And as we do so, we must face our own challenges as a community… in regard to internal dynamics related to race, class, gender and ways of thinking and comunicating we might not have thought to question until we saw how they affected our interactions with each other. Ultimately, Occupy will fail if we attempt to build new systems based on old models. We address these issues every day. We will also fail if we work too hard, and neglect to nurture ourselves and our community.
In the world as we now know it, people often have no sense of community. They enter into business relationships with powerful entities such as banks, without any leverage to guarantee their rights. If banks lie, forge paperwork, or commit fraud on a massive scale, the government bends over backwards to make sure no banker is held accountable. But if a borrower misses just one payment, the bank can evict, with the sheriff’s department as its enforcer. In a world that worked for everyone, people would know each other. They could stand in solidarity, and create the leverage to ensure their rights through unity and and shared courage. Occupy Homes is working to create that world with their newly developed concept of Foreclosure Free Zones.
In the world as we know it now, most people know little about how their food is grown, or what goes into it. They have no control over what it costs or how healthy it is. Many people around the world have no control over whether they get any food in the first place. Control of the food supply is one of many issues related to control of public space, or what used to be called “the commons.” In a world designed for the benefit of a few, every inch of the earth can be owned and rented and fenced off and privatized. In a world that worked for everyone, people could have food by growing it themselves, in communities dedicated to reverence for the earth and for each other. The Whealthy Human Village is working to create that world.
In the world as we know it now, the word “democracy” has been perverted to mean the freedom of hypothetical corporations to buy and sell entire governments to suit their needs, making laws for the benefit of a tiny minority, without even a pretense of concern for the will or needs of the people. In a supposedly democratic society, a government that ignores the wishes and needs of its people in order to serve the corporate interest, simply proves that democracy is no longer a reality in that country. In a world that worked for everyone, all voices would be heard. Occupy Minneapolis is working to create that world, through direct public activism and educational outreach through leafleting, demonstrations, and weekly open meetings.
I often hear the opinion expressed that what Occupy needs is to adopt a more traditional organizational structure, with leaders and clearly-defined goals, and political candidates. In other words, business as usual. But business as usual has not, and will not Build a World that Works for All.
On the other hand, our allies in the Quebec student movement won a sweeping victory on every single one of their major points, by staging a highly targeted protest campaign designed to get specific and tangible policy changes. While Occupy works to build a better world on a number of different and broad fronts, we need to be able to point to specific victories like the one in Quebec, both for purposes of our morale, and for the public perception of our ability to make change that benefits people’s lives.
For this reason, I believe that Occupy’s next step must be to take on smaller-scale, winnable struggles which we can learn from and repeat. As we start to point to a growing list of victories, our clout and leverage will increase in every area. Occupy Homes with its always-expanding list of successful foreclosure defenses is a nationally regarded pioneer in this regard. The recent decision of Occupy Minneapolis to focus on the Tarsands blockade is another good example. Like the Occupy Sandy hurricane relief efforts going on out east right now, Occupy is poised to get the job done!
Sometimes people say that they are interested in Occupy and would like to HELP get the job done, but don’t know how to access it or fit in, or if they would be welcomed. I have been involved in Occupy from day one, and I am no more Occupy than you or or anyone else. If you show up tomorrow with your sleeves rolled up, ready to help us build this world, we will welcome you! In fact we can’t wait to work with you!