First Steps: Occupation as Self Realization

Since the first days of Wall Street's occupation the question of the protesters' demands has dominated discussion. However, fixating on the lack of specific demands completely misses the significance of the moment. Nevertheless observers, and even some participants in the rapidly growing occupy moment have incessantly wondered about demands. Based on this obsession that the occupiers should have demands, many are now suggesting how to channel this nonviolent uprising into electoral or organizational muscle. Others have dismissed the growing wave of occupations because of their "spontaneous" and "structureless" nature exemplified by the absence of pre-existing demands.

Social movements capable of transforming society in fundamental ways do not begin with demands or organizational drives, however. They start with encounters. They grow from meetings. They flourish when relationships are cultivated. And they succeed when people exercise power in broad and strategic ways, across lines of difference that are only possible after you learn who you are together, and what you are capable of as a collective.

If the occupy moment is anything, its an encounter among the self-proclaimed 99% who have finally left their "personal problems" behind to find one another in a social and political setting. And they could not have picked a better setting, Zuccotti Park, which as Peter Marcuse points out "is a privately–owned space, coincidentally named after an aggressive real estate development lawyer who has been active both in governmental affairs and in private development [...] owned by Brookfield Properties, in conjunction with its ownership of One Liberty Plaza, the adjacent high-rise commercial tower, which, in Brookfield’s terms, 'is home to many leading financial and professional services firms[....]'"

The 99% is seizing space in the rotten core of capital to learn about the struggles of each and all. To discover their commonalities they have created a space of differences. Consider the words of one occupier, Yotam Marom:
"we have taken steps to define ourselves, to write documents to that affect, and to move toward a collective consciousness that is bold and uncompromising. Those documents that define us take forever to write, because we all participate in their writing (yes, it's a bit of a drag, but revolutions aren't so easy when we are fighting for the type of liberation that demands self-management). Now, to be clear, I have always been a strong proponent of clear demands. They help define our struggle, point the way to actions we want to take, give us tools for measurement, communicate with people outside of the occupation, and represent those busy struggling elsewhere. However, I do want to point out that we have been able to continue to grow and bring new communities in despite a lack of demands, and that those people and groups will bring their own. I also think our demands really aren't as mysterious as some people are letting on; I think our critics are playing dumb."
Note the fact that new communities have joined the occupation because it is sufficiently open in terms of what it will demand. It's the encounter that is the most significant aspect of the occupation moment, and everything else that has happened is a profoundly radical break full of immense potential. What matters is not what we think we want to demand prior to our gathering, but rather what we might come to demand once we collect ourselves and realize who we are together as the 99%.

Even the naysayers represent a revolutionary shift in our political trajectory. Simply consider the very obvious fact that the mass media and prominent politicians and pundits have been wondering about demands. "What are their demands?!" Just three weeks ago no one was asking such a question. The 99% was shuffling along, head down, disorganized and alone, bewildered and exhausted by the contracting economy, outraged by a very gruesome and publicized legal lynching, weary of a decade of war, and so much other hell. That powerful commentators, sympathetic and otherwise, are even asking about the possible "demands" the dispossessed might now make on the ruling class is amazing. It recognizes the radical potential that is fermenting there in the streets of America's cities. But what is the essence of this potential?

It's important that seasoned activists, organizers, and intellectuals don't jump the gun right now. We think we know what needs to happen, what the demands should be. We think we know how the occupy moment should focus the energy and outrage it has gathered up in order to become some kind of "progressive" or "revolutionary" movement that will wage specific campaigns. Wrong. We don't have the answers. How could we? You can only make demands if you have the power to fight for them.

All the tactics of movement struggle —electoral campaigns, strikes, civil disobedience, boycotts, fasts, education, mutual aid, exodus, etc.— are only possible when you know what you are capable of, when you know what forms of power you can manifest. As the collectivity grows day by day, as we meet one another, again or for the first time, as we learn about each other's struggles, as we listen to each other, only then will our demands take shape, because only then will we know who we are, what we want, and what we are capable of. The occupation is the attempt of the 99% to define itself as a political subject capable of fighting back and making history.

Consider perhaps the most important encounter had so far at Occupy Wall Street: the arrival of labor unions to meet and support the youth who sparked the whole thing. Union support was recognized by the corporate media as a sign that the occupation had become a force, but the occupy moment has drawn in a true multitude of movements. Wall Street is now teeming with thousands daily who represent the 99%, and they are joined in solidarity by dozens of other cities. Our identities and our struggles are as diverse as the quantum we have chosen to represent all of us implies. Our anger at the inequities of capital are equal, even if the means by which our exploitation occurs are different. What will we demand? Who will we make demands upon? How will we enforce these demands? We don't know yet, but in meeting one another we might find out.