OWS: A 21st Century Revolution
We shouldn’t be surprised that the occupiers don’t have a nicely polished plan of action, says Mary Keck. In fact, the openness to evolving platforms and solutions may be its greatest asset. Mary Keck is an instructor of English and Gender Studies as well as an associate editor of Southern Indiana Review. As a freelance journalist and fiction writer, she explores issues of class, labor, and gender in contemporary American life. Read her Open Salon blog, where this piece originally appeared.
By Mary Keck
Bill Maher whined about pronouncing “Occupy Wall Street” recently on Real Time. For him, five syllables across three words are a mouthful with too much substance and not enough sound bite.
His jibes reflect the anxiety pundits experience trying to categorize OWS. Some say it is like the response to the Vietnam War, while others draw similarities to the Tea Party. The occupation spreading across the United States has been equated to many other protests, but its amorphous structure and methodology defy easy comparisons.
With a closer look, one can see that the occupation’s agenda does not emphasize individualism like the Tea Party. Rather, it insists on compassion for one’s fellow citizens. According to the Declaration of the Occupation of New York City, they speak “as one people, united,” and they believe “the future of the human race requires the cooperation of its members.”
The unity expressed in this declaration resists categorical analysis in part because this organization’s demands can’t be satisfied by outdated methods of representative governance. It is important to remember that our democracy’s founders didn’t have a draft of the Constitution written when they began their campaign, nor could they refer to civil disobedience exemplars like Henry David Thoreau, Susan B. Anthony, and Martin Luther King Jr. Therefore, we shouldn’t be surprised that the occupiers do not have a nicely polished plan of action. In fact, the openness to evolving platforms and solutions may be its greatest asset.
OWS’s resistance to definition demonstrates a 21st century mindset. Our founders’ overthrow of monarchial rule was an advanced notion at the time. Likewise, this occupation may mean a true revolution that posits a contemporary alternative to democracies modeled on ancient Rome, and so a resort to an upsetting and untried structure shouldn’t surprise us.
The existing rule of the land does not appeal to OWS citizens who are fed up with the failure of both Republicans and Democrats to represent majority interests. Glenn Greenwald explains, “efforts to exploit these protests into some re-branded Obama 2012 crusade” will meet with little success because alleged “progressives” have betrayed the American people. The occupation does not have goals easily divided along profit-driven, two-party lines. Even its methods do not reflect a business as usual mentality. As Andrea Schmidt’s recent blog post points out, the use of a “human mic” shows a desire for a more “direct democratic process.”
Like some women’s movements, Occupy Wall Street’s fluid composition has resisted the traditional hierarchical schema. Members are treated with fairness, varying perspectives are readily heard, and no single leader has emerged. This structural alternative to patriarchy would truly be different from our current phallically-shaped governing body, which places our president at the top of the pyramid as “commander-in-chief.” The citizen’s voices are far below, removed from him by the bickering and posturing of the House and the Senate made up of representatives who do not reflect or symbolize the diverse majority for whom they purport to speak.
Unlike the documents of our founders, this occupation’s declaration incorporates the views of individuals who are not rich, white, or male. For example, the protesters feel that corporations have “perpetuated inequality and discrimination in the workplace based on age, the color of one’s skin, sex, gender identity, and sexual orientation.” Voices of many disenfranchised groups are heard in the sentiments of OWS, and in fact, the movement embodies traits of many who have been oppressed by a privately funded democracy.
Their environmental interests show qualities classically labeled as feminine, for instance. The occupiers believe corporations have “poisoned the food supply through negligence, and undermined the farming system through monopolization.” This perspective comes from a collective epiphany that recognizes homo sapiens’ connection with nature and stresses the significance of relationships, a characteristic also often associated with women.
Interconnectivity is advocated by eco-feminists like Vandana Shiva of the Earth Democracy movement, “which provides an alternative worldview in which humans are embedded in the Earth Family.” OWS extends Shiva’s ideas to argue that Wall Street is not only connected to Main Street but also to the rural routes and all of the earth surrounding the roadsides.
The activists see a deliberate affront to that connectivity when the government “continue[s] to block alternate forms of energy to keep us dependent on oil.” Reforms packaged in Tar Sands exploration, so-called clean coal technology, and XL Pipeline landscapes are not acceptable. Instead, the way of the Occupy Wall Street crowd is to redesign our use, creation, and storage of energy through truly innovative means such as efficient technologies, bio-mimicry, and self-sustainability.
These activists are also thinking of connections beyond our national borders, arguing that the government has “perpetuated colonialism at home and abroad [and has] participated in the torture and murder of innocent civilians overseas.” These declarations of international peace were birthed by an organization that shows a dedication to nonviolence not only in their statements but also through their methods of protest. This platform against aggression and violence is another example of this movement’s break from typically masculine notions.
On the other hand, there are also traits associated with men to be found in our occupiers. Mainly, in their stereotypical desire for power. Not the power of one, but of many who are unified around a common concern: mass injustice.
Due to its androgynous structure and methods, it seems that OWS desires something new, something “radically democratic,” Paul Rosenberg says. Therefore, it is no surprise when pundits struggle with the complexity of this movement, for it is not typical of the simple, black and white world in which they thrive. Instead this occupation reflects a multicolored, multidimensional, and multifaceted reality.
As Paul Krugman noted recently, the plutocrats are panicking as a citizenry previously fast asleep has awakened and will no longer consume, work, and keep quiet. But the occupiers of Wall Street may have more planned than fixing a system rigged in favor of the wealthy. The specter of a democracy that does not operate on binaries and see gender, race, and age as flexible may also haunt supporters of the status quo.
While a movement in resistance to patriarchy strikes fear into Wall Street, the protesters have allies like Cornel West who encourages us, “Don’t be afraid to say revolution.”
These modern activists don’t seem at all frightened, and they shouldn’t be. If the pundits and politicians want to disrupt this movement, they’ll have to first catch up to OWS’s nuanced worldview.