In Defense of #Occupy. One of the biggest and most frequent criticisms of the Occupy movement is its supposed lack of message. This criticism, of all of them, is marked as particularly damning because, if true, it signals a rhetorical difficulty for sustaining and maintaining the movement and because even if it isn’t true, movements’ messages vastly depend on the direction taken by media coverage in order to appear credible and consistent. It’s also a criticism that bears more consequence because it doesn’t just come from the mouths of defensive Wall Streeters, campaigning Republicans and television anchors like Erin Burnett and Megyn Kelly. It’s an accusation that comes from a number of liberal and socially progressive places as well.
I disagree with the idea that the Occupy movement doesn’t have a unified message or a demand acting as a political nucleus. “We are the Ninety Nine Percent,” is the centralizing statement. Occupy centers itself in a more radical position, speaking as the voice of a large group of people motivated to action by classism and inequality. The problem that Occupy serves to address are the embedded classist narratives in society that create pervasive and multi-faceted wrongs that need to be righted. The response to this must itself be broad.
The very notion of physically occupying space as representatives of the Ninety Nine Percent is a demand: a demand to be seen and heard and recognized. I think this is the primary demand of the Occupy movement: to have the endemic classism and the experiences of the middle, working and lower classes be recognized for the incredible problem that they are. It is a radical cry for the country to stand up and admit that the system we use grants too much power to the wealthy white men of the world and that is a problem to be solved, not a fact of society to be accepted. It’s a call for deconstruction and renovation of the unjust structures that continue to contain us. Perhaps some think that doesn’t count as a demand because it isn’t “actionable” in the sense that it isn’t attached to some piece of legislation or some request for specific regulations.
Social movements are built around the desire for deep rooted change and a broad approach to rejecting embedded unfairness and corruption. You don’t build big social movements like this around specific requests for government action, you build them around wanting a reawakening, an upheaval and a wide recognition of everything that has gone wrong. If that makes the Occupy movement broadly focused, that’s a function of the deeply embedded, broadly unjust system to which it is a response, not a function of the movement’s failure to be on point or cohesive.
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