It took the brutality of some New York City police to break through the mainstream media silence on Occupy Wall Street. First came the attacks on women exercising their rights to publicly demonstrate. Police leadership shot them in the face with pepper spray for no reason at all. Then came the massive arrest of non-violent protestors when 700 people were corralled on the Brooklyn Bridge and carted off to jail. In both cases police actions are being investigated.
Meanwhile, the mainstream media has been unable to grasp what is going on. Most have attempted the twin tactics of dismissal and demonization. When they cover the events at all we are told these are nothing but old hippies or youthful good for nothings. We are told they are making up stories of homelessness and evictions. Even the most friendly mainstream journalists muse that they can’t really support what is going on because they don’t know what the protestors “want.” Nicholas Kristof of the NY Times thought the protests so vague, he offered to some demands of his own to help them out.
But these protests did not begin on September 17 when people massed in Liberty Plaza. Nor will they end when they ultimately disperse.
These protests are a reflection of the growing efforts of the majority of people in this country to create a new democracy. They are slow, often clumsy, and frequently frustrating. But they are moving all of us in a more human, more socially conscious and responsible direction.
Occupy Wall Street has its roots in more than a decade of steady, sure challenges to the excessive greed and destruction wrought by global capital. In 1999 the resistance to the World Trade Organization burst onto the streets of Seattle. The Battle of Seattle held the promise of the first sustained effort to demand public accountability of private capital. The protest was possible because of years of work in communities around the globe challenging foreclosures, land grabs, exploitation, diminished social supports and a culture of greed and corruption.
The promise of that demonstration faded under the shadow of 9-11 and the decade of war that consumed us. But it’s spirit was kept alive through the consistent efforts to challenge the WTO at every meeting around the globe. It was nurtured in the plazas of Argentina in 2001 where people gathered to look to one another for support as their economy collapsed. It was supported by the World Social Forums, called in Brazil that same year. For more than a decade the WSF has been developing horizontal, open space decision- making processes. It’s People’s Assemblies have encouraged a new form of direct, participatory democracy. These methods informed the group decision making for the US Social Forums in Atlanta and Detroit. They have been nurtured and refined in countless progressive gatherings.
As the financial human and ecological crisis has escalated in the U.S., countless gatherings have emerged in communities to respond. Sometimes people gathered in protest, but most often in imaginative efforts to restore community and support one another.
In all of these processes we are inventing a politics that has never been seen before.
It is a politics emerging out of a global struggle to create a just, sustainable and joyful world. It is a struggle as one of the leaflets from #Occupy Wallstreet says, “Inspired by the Egyptian Tahrir Square uprising and the Spanish acampadas.”
It is a politics that proclaims, “We are the majority. We are the 99 percent. And we will no longer be silent. As members of the 99 percent, we occupy Wall Street as a symbolic gesture of our discontent with the current economic and political climate and as an example of a better world to come.”
The creation of a living democracy will take many forms. But it is a process that is gaining momentum.