Some reflections on the “Occupy” movement,
1/ Occupy Wall St. grew organically from the NYC community, this is its inherent strength.
Every other “occupy” is just an internet fad, mimicking what what the Americans do in the (new social) media. This is its inherent weakness.
The internet occupy movement is totally vulnerable to astro-turfing and conflict propagation programs by state, corporate and ideological groups. Such manipulation and distraction by enemies of the movement is already obvious in the Australian online discussions.
We have recently seen the internet manipulation of the Australian (and most other “western” nations) peace movement and political left to itself become the frontline of the war machine’s propaganda machine justifying NATO’s war on Libya. The broader occupy movement is vulnerable to the same thing.
(google – “Pentagon persona program”. If the Pentagon is doing it you can bet the private corporations are too)
2/ Occupy Wall St. is tackling issues of racism and colonisation within itself through agencies such as the P.O.C. (people of colour) working group and the “Occupy the hood” movement. The diverse New York community including Africans, Chicano and native Americans are represented in Occupy Wall St.
The Occupy Wall St. P.O.C. working group and occupy the hood are not liason committees, not the occupation’s outreach to “other” communities. They are self empowered agencies of non-Anglo New York communities insisting that the agendas and modes of manifestation of the core of the movement represents the lowest socio-economic portion of the 99%.
This connection to P.O.C. agendas is of itself a transformative program, the nature of “the movement” itself is changing through education and extending networks, just as the new left of the 1960s changed through exposure to the black civil rights movement.
Across America, there has been some conflict as the non-anglo groups flex their muscle in the movement, or in some cases even dare to show up to a meeting or post an opinion on a facebook page. However the issues of racism and colonisation are firmly on the table because of the self activity of P.O.C. communities.
However in Australian internet discussions, such issues of the cultural homogeneity of the movement, its objectives and who it really represents does not seem to have been a serious issue of consideration.
I do notice that there have been various acknowledgements of traditional owners and I believe Melbourne and Sydney have indigenous liason groups. However this is not the same as a movement inherently relevant to the agenda’s of the local underclass, people whose interests cannot be represented by the usual class of self appointed advocates of the 99%.
Occupy Wall St. is defining itself by its own internal processes, the general assemblies and working groups. This self defining is grappling with issues of racism and colonisation because there are people of colour central to the movement and the New York community.
It seems that the apparent cultural homogeneity of the Australian movement has restricted the self definition of general assemblies to mundane organising tasks or platitudes – a process without substance.
A lot of commentators are saying Australia is different to the U.S. because the Australian economy is in better shape than the U.S.’s. While this may be true, a more significant difference between the U.S. and Australia is its cultural composition. In the US, African slaves and Chicano cheap labour has been imported for hundreds of years, their descendants constituting a large part of the U.S. demographic, especially in New York. Black perspective is acknowledged as part of American society, even if begrudgingly by some. Shit, they even got a black president.
However in Australia, up to 90% of the indigenous population were wiped out by smallpox, guns and poison food and water, just like indigenous Americans. Some South Pacific slaves were imported for a while but the white Australia policy, the central pillar of the new Australian federation, deported all foreign black labour. Surviving Aboriginal people were systematically rounded up onto reserves or state regulated rural slavery programs – a long way from the developing urban centres, until the 1970s in Qld.
Australian conciousness has developed as white colonial culture (not skin colour). Multiculturalism since the 70s has simple offered equality of all ethnicities within the white culture established in the 200 previous years. This is the purported cultural framework of the 99%.
In the U.S. millions of people were suffering poverty before the 2008 GFC. These people have been hit worst by the GFC. This underclass is a more significant section of U.S. society, especially New York, than it is in Australia. As such, Australia cannot maintain the fire started at New York because it lacks the involvement of the oppressed underclass.
If, hypothetically, the Australian “occupy” movement were to seriously apply itself to the needs and agendas of Australia’s underclass within the 99%, then perhaps the imposition of a New York template – tents in park near financial district, live streaming and general assembly democracy, etc. – might not be appropriate to the local circumstance. Perhaps some more basic discussions, perhaps in comfortable surrounds, would need to occur to harness the power and momentum of what is already occurring on the ground in our own communities, and how our pre-existing community movements might better pursue our own agendas and expand them rather than just mimicking the Americans. Perhaps if we were to engage with Aboriginal people, our own assumptions of what democratic process is might have to be flexible enough to accommodate eldership and tribal hierarchies inherent in Aboriginal cultural and political processes. The very notion of the 99% “owning” public space is an assertion of colonial rule that dismisses Aboriginal cultural perspective. Until the sovereign authority of Aboriginal families to any place is incorporated into a new democratic process (not just token acknowledgement of traditional ownership), then the new occupation is the same as the old occupation of Aboriginal land.
3/ Melbourne and Sydney have created for themselves a local issue – civil liberties and the right to protest. This is bourgeoise politics, the issue is the suppression of middle class dissidents and not the nature of the police and the state. The violence of the police towards demonstrators is tame compared to the business as usual policing of Aboriginal communities and individuals across the nation including the inner city of Melbourne and Sydney. Police violence towards the mentally ill, including lethal violence, too is business as usual. The prison system that millions of Australians experience as inmates or families of inmates, is brutal, systematic, dysfunctional violence. The occupy movement, like so many bourgeoise Australian leftist movements before it, has focussed on the rights of the middle class to engage in political narrative rather than challenge the deep rooted systemic violence of the status-quo. This is an indication of the irrelevance of this movement to the the real issues of domination in this country.
“I can’t believe this can happen in Melbourne” one bloodied protestor proclaimed to a television camera. I guess that depends on where you fit into Melbourne society, there are many who are all too well aware of the political violence of the police and its role in dominating and repressing sections of society.