Book review; This Changes Everything Occupy Wall Street and the 99% Movement
This Changes Everything Occupy Wall Street and the 99% Movement
Edited by Sarah van Gelder and the staff of YES! Magazine
The Occupy movement in this country was dominated by events at St. Paul’s in London, but smaller groups did exist in towns and cities beyond the metropolis. How Occupy has effected the politics of this country is probably too early to tell, in fact it could be said that in this country we are still reeling from the effects of the austerity agenda that the Con/Dems have been pursuing since 2010.
In the USA the impact of the Occupy Wall Street was immediate and dramatic and activists and writers, including Sarah van Gelder and the staff at YES Magazine, decided that they needed to not just post articles on what was happening but also produce a book which would articulate the views of people inside and outside the movement, highlight changes that would be needed to empower the majority of people and show how social movements can make changes.
YES magazine and Yesmagazine.org was started in 1996 and exists to provide alternatives to the status quo, covering key issues including the reform of health care, building local economies and promoting alternatives to the climate crisis.
They are not an unbiased organisation; they proudly take the side of the oppressed;
We decided to write in a voice that recognised that we, too, are part of the 99%
They wrote the book as a collective of activists and writers, which makes the book more interesting than many of the books and articles written about the Occupy movement, including those produced in this country.
Occupy Wall Street was important because it targeted the centre of world capitalism. It started because activists were moved by the uprisings of the Arab Spring and the protests in countries such as Spain and Greece. On 17 September 2011 Adbusters magazine challenged activists to turn up at Wall Street and “bring a tent” and a few thousand people did. By the end of the day some people decided to set up a camp in Zuccotti Park and began what became a national and international movement.
What were they protesting about? Sarah van Gelder explains:
The Occupy movement, as it has come to be called, named the source of the crises of our time; Wall Street banks, big corporations, and others among the 1% are claiming the world’s wealth for themselves at the expense of the 99% and having their way with our governments.
The movement was not just about saying what the problem and how it needed solving, but most importantly, challenging the orthodoxy of the American dream, that individuals were not responsible for the dire state of the economy nor their consequent unemployment, underemployment or personal debt.
It is also utopian in its belief that the majority of people (the 99%) are key to;
Unleash(ing) the political power of millions and issued an open invitation to everyone to be part of creating a new world
The figures for the unemployed in the USA are staggering; 25 million are unemployed, underemployed or have given up looking for work. Over 45% of people have been unemployed for over 27 weeks.
Other contributors to the book showed what happened next as thousands of people descended on Zuccotti Park. Andy Kroll explained that it was not just Adbusters issuing a call to the streets, but the work of a small group of people in the New York City General Assembly that laid the foundations for the creation of a community in Zuccotti Park.
Andy’s article addresses many of the issues that activists struggle with in setting up organisations that are democratic and inclusive. One of the problems in this country is the ingrained nature of the Left which is dominated by the trade unions and socialist organisations which are out of touch and struggle to attract new activists into campaigning and struggles. I have been an activist in trade unions and community organisations and the cultures are very different. I saw this clash of cultures recently in the Greater Manchester Community Union which was set up by Unite. Trade unions are large, rich organisations which do not want to give their power away to activists, inside and outside the union. This does not bode well for their future!
Andy explains what a people’s general assembly is about;
Put simply, it’s a leader-less group of people who get together to discuss pressing issues and make decisions by pure consensus.
Sounds good and it obviously worked to an extent in Occupy, but one of the major problems with these kinds of activist movements is the absence of working class people. In this book there are many references to the diversity of the constituency at Zuccotti Park. Unfortunately, and I think this is one of the weaknesses of the book, it seems that all the contributors are writers or political pundits of one kind or another. I would have liked to seen a contribution from the security guards of 9/11 site who shared lunch with the Occupiers or the marines who formed their own group.
And whilst supporting the spirit of we are many, they are few, I am not convinced by the basic premise that everyone is affected in the same way by the global economic crisis. Young unemployed working class men in this country have been affected over a long period by the changing nature of our economy. Their lives and experiences are very different from the majority of students, graduates and trade unionists who have formed a significant part of recent protests. Some of them took part in the riots of August 2011, where they showed their contempt for capitalism and the establishment. Any movement that calls itself representative of the 99% needs to bring those young people into a political movement that reflects their lives and hopes for the future.
Overall I think this is an important book. It shows the role that large corporations and Wall Street have played in the international crises and the fact that the political establishment have refused to acknowledge this. It captures the hopes and dreams of not just the people who took part in Occupy Wall Street but of many peoples across the world who want a better world to live in. It is a manual for change providing ideas and actions that can make a better, more humane society.