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More than a structured post, here are a few thoughts regarding the #OccupyWallStreet movement, including the arrests in NYC on Saturday 24 September 2011, related effects on the treatment by media, and the articles and blogs I have read lately not only on this specific operation but also on linked previous movements and protests. Indeed, for this episode of the age-old struggle against those who hold the key to liquidity (cash), the origin of the idea to fight bankers and the power of markets can be traced back to the Spanish Manifesto of the Indignados (published at the latest by May 17 2011), and to the recent events in Iceland.
Media, attention and … “martyrs”
It is good that mainstream media start paying attention to what is happening, but, as previously underlined, where were they in May, June, etc. for Spain, Greece, and the various movements that started then, not only Europe but also throughout America?When the #occupywallstreet demonstration started on #sept17, only CNNmoney and Al Jazeera were there and reported. Again, where were they for Europe? Obviously arrests in a symbolic place were needed to see wider coverage. As any student of political mobilization and revolution knows, getting “martyrs” – everything being equal – is a crucial time for movements to develop, getting support, coverage, attention, etc.
Thomas Jefferson against Leftist labels?
It seems that an interesting – still – low key struggle is emerging, at the level of ideas and legitimacy.
Some – the majority? – absolutely want to categorize the operation with what could be qualified of usual categories: anti-capitalist, left, leftist, etc. Yet, shouldn’t we wonder if those categories are not also or rather old, corresponding to the word of the end of the 19th and 20th century and to the Cold War, and thus most probably outdated? Note that this categorization, very interestingly, is done both inside and outside the movement – the most vocal being maybe Tea Party supporters and established Marxist/leftist elements.
Meanwhile, within the “movement,” other participants either do not pay attention or start looking for legitimating references, e.g. Jefferson on private banks (legitimacy is seen here in the American framework, but Jefferson, as a child of the Enlightenment, could very easily be adopted elsewhere, notably in Europe). The stream of tweets on Jefferson started on September 17 with some favored quotes and also sometimes with mention of blog posts, e.g. “A Den of Vipers and Thieves” by Scott Johnson, Sept 15, with no direct affiliation between posts and “movement.”
Towards an emerging new normative setting?
My take is that we are seeing here many things unfolding and coalescing: recuperation and hope for a renewal, thinking habit, fear to see part of one’s rhetoric and thus partisans stolen away, plain fear of what is happening, and, first and foremost, something new being created. We are most likely witnessing the first weak signals of the making of a new normative system. Hence, this ideological evolution must be followed. Even if this specific protest recedes, it does not mean it will completely die. It is most likely to come back again, transformed, stronger, better and differently defined, elsewhere. This is exactly what has already happened with the European movements of the Spring and Summer (although hardly documented), which, after the Arab (Winter-)Spring, and in conjunction with the markets’ evolution create the right conditions for transmission and mutation of ideas and their corollary, actions.
Very interestingly, right now, it would seem that all actors (from movements to institutions, including governments and international organizations) are unable to think clearly anything else than “less state” – in American parlance “less government,” although to think in these terms is fraught with complication. If this hypothesis is correct, then it would mean that all, probably unconsciously, abide, on the one hand, by the ultra-liberal ideology according to which less state is needed and that has dominated the world since the end of the Cold War and, on the other, have an ultimate faith in a Democracy that would not need a state (despite all the research done depicting a much more complex picture).
Shall we see with real life and concrete threats, with practical needs for mobilization and organization, with interactions within the “new opposition nexus” and between the latter and political authorities, ideas change, evolve and being re-imagined?