Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
Photo: Elvert Barnes (Flickr)
Few foresaw 17 September 2011 as an auspicious date. Only readers of Adbusters magazine, networks of mostly East Coast activists and Anonymous hackers knew what was planned for the day. And the NYPD, of course. But even as a thousand people descended on Wall Street, protesting the corporate stranglehold on US politics, no one predicted that ‘Occupy’ would become the buzzword of 2011.
Now the ubiquitous ‘We are the 99 per cent’ slogan has galvanised the nation. Groups around the country continue to take up the banner and set up camp, in solidarity, protest and anger. As of mid-November, there was at least one camp in every US state, with daily protest actions emerging from Occupy hubs. Active supporters number into the tens of thousands.
For most, social inequality is the primary motivator. ‘One in five children in the US are living in poverty – and that’s according to official numbers. That is not a society I want to be part of,’ explains Hilary Lizzar, an anti-poverty campaigner who helps run the People’s Library at the Occupy camp in Washington DC. ‘I came here on the first day feeling, “thus far, no further”. Action is long overdue.’
In Washington DC’s McPherson Square, over 100 tents make up ‘Occupy K Street’. Among them are two kitchens, a library, media and tech bases, and sanctuaries of worship. Larger, more eco-friendly community structures are planned, and measures are being taken to ‘winterise’ the camp for the bitter cold ahead. A much-needed volunteer-staffed medical station acts as a pointed reminder of pervasive social neglect.
Occupy DC is a hive of activity: teach-ins, skills shares and musical performances run throughout the day. Every evening at 6pm, the general assembly provides the platform for committee (working group) updates and whole group decision-making. The Occupy-wide commitment to non-hierarchical organising is strictly adhered to.
Fittingly for DC, an eternal hotbed of lobbying activity, initial actions were focused on economic policy and corporate influence in government. Increasingly, however, emphasis is shifting to demonstrations of solidarity with unions. Concerted efforts are being made to link up with established community organisers, from urban farmers to advocates for homeless rights. Broader social justice issues are being addressed.
Despite its generally positive atmosphere, harmony does not always pervade at the camp. Yet there is vociferous dedication to recognising and redressing frictions. New groups have formed over recent weeks, including the People of Colour Caucus and Women’s Meeting, to ensure that no one is disempowered and that demographically representative voices are heard. ‘We need to tackle structures of oppression that operate in wider society – patriarchy, racism, homophobia – here and now,’ explains Jen, one of the camp’s participants.
Occupy everything, demand nothing
The confidence within the movement is reverberating. Initially, as swathes of tents appeared in public plazas across the country, mainstream media coverage veered between alarmist and dismissive. Blogs, independent news sources and social media, however, lit up with activity, creating a space for debate.
The camp broadcasts live-stream video daily and the occupiers are now publishing their own, free newspaper, the Occupied Washington Times. ‘It’s necessary for any movement to create its own image. We can’t rely on others to represent us.’ says newspaper committee member Sam Jewler.
Yet it seems journalists’ scorn has transformed into fascination, with the Washington Post celebrating local protesters’ ‘vibrant brand of urbanism’ in a recently published centre-page spread. ‘At the beginning, no one knew what to make of Occupy – like anything new it was attacked,’ says Sam. ‘Once we were seen to have legitimate concerns, that we are really a social phenomenon, the media have realised that there’s infinite potential for stories here.’
One media storm that seems to have been weathered is the call for Occupy Wall Street – regarded as the head of this avowedly leaderless project – to issue a concrete set of demands or grievances. For one of the protesters, Jarred, calls for policy proposals undermine the real power of the movement: ‘The goal of Occupy should be to raise awareness about the suffering of the 99 per cent. A conversation can be started that will educate and connect the people. This process will eventually lead us to solutions.’ Summing up the challenge Occupy poses to the political establishment, he concludes: ‘The answers to the world’s problems won’t be found in a soundbite.’
Through the Occupy camps, Americans are creating space for reasoned debate – a vital element of democratic participation. Politicians have, for the most part, been deafeningly silent in response. For Sam, their hesitancy to speak is not surprising. ‘Politicians can’t respond to us because they already know exactly what we want and exactly why we’re angry. That means we’re going to win, because we’re not going away.’
All occupiers stressed that they speak for themselves.
The Spanish state is seizing ballot papers and raiding meetings, write Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte – but it is being met with united resistance
The crunch executive meeting ahead of Labour conference agreed some welcome changes, writes Michael Calderbank, but there is still much further to go
Dipesh Pandya speaks to documentary film-maker Sanjay Kak, who for 30 years has been working outside the mainstream to tell a story rooted in the struggles of those excluded by India’s militarism and its narrative of neoliberal growth
Jeremy Gilbert on how radical Labour politics can be inspired by the utopianism of the counterculture
Disasters have unequal impacts – it's the poor and marginalised who suffer most. David Harvey writes on Hurricane Harvey
Survivors of the fire are still relying on thousands of community volunteers, writes Dan Renwick - but the failed council is plotting a comeback
What if it's not us who are sick, asks Rod Tweedy, but a system at odds with who we are as social beings?
The people could reach a democratic and non-violent solution if they were freed from US meddling, argues Boaventura de Sousa Santos
A decade after the start of the crash, economic power is in our hands – we must take it, writes Ann Pettifor
Acid Corbynism’s next steps: building a socialist dance culture
Matt Phull and Will Stronge share more thoughts about the postcapitalist potential of the Acid Corbynist project
Flooding the cradle of civilisation: A 12,000 year old town in Kurdistan battles for survival
It’s one of the oldest continually inhabited places on earth, but a new dam has put Hasankeyf under threat, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson
New model activism: Putting Labour in office and the people in power
Hilary Wainwright examines how the ‘new politics’ needs to be about both winning electoral power and building transformative power
What is ‘free movement plus’?
A new report proposes an approach that can push back against the tide of anti-immigrant sentiment. Luke Cooper explains
The World Transformed: Red Pepper’s pick of the festival
Red Pepper is proud to be part of organising The World Transformed, in Brighton from 23-26 September. Here are our highlights from the programme
Working class theatre: Save Our Steel takes the stage
A new play inspired by Port Talbot’s ‘Save Our Steel’ campaign asks questions about the working class leaders of today. Adam Johannes talks to co-director Rhiannon White about the project, the people and the politics behind it
The dawn of commons politics
As supporters of the new 'commons politics' win office in a variety of European cities, Stacco Troncoso and Ann Marie Utratel chart where this movement came from – and where it may be going
A very social economist
Hilary Wainwright says the ideas of Robin Murray, who died in June, offer a practical alternative to neoliberalism
Art the Arms Fair: making art not war
Amy Corcoran on organising artistic resistance to the weapons dealers’ London showcase
Beware the automated landlord
Tenants of the automated landlord are effectively paying two rents: one in money, the other in information for data harvesting, writes Desiree Fields
Black Journalism Fund – Open Editorial Meeting
3-5pm Saturday 23rd September at The World Transformed in Brighton
Immigration detention: How the government is breaking its own rules
Detention is being used to punish ex-prisoners all over again, writes Annahita Moradi
A better way to regenerate a community
Gilbert Jassey describes a pioneering project that is bringing migrants and local people together to repopulate a village in rural Spain
Fast food workers stand up for themselves and #McStrike – we’re loving it!
McDonald's workers are striking for the first time ever in Britain, reports Michael Calderbank
Two years of broken promises: how the UK has failed refugees
Stefan Schmid investigates the ways Syrian refugees have been treated since the media spotlight faded
West Papua’s silent genocide
The brutal occupation of West Papua is under-reported - but UK and US corporations are profiting from the violence, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson
Activate, the new ‘Tory Momentum’, is 100% astroturf
The Conservatives’ effort at a grassroots youth movement is embarrassingly inept, writes Samantha Stevens
Peer-to-peer production and the partner state
Michel Bauwens and Vasilis Kostakis argue that we need to move to a commons-centric society – with a state fit for the digital age
Imagining a future free of oppression
Writer, artist and organiser Ama Josephine Budge says holding on to our imagination of tomorrow helps create a different understanding today
The ‘alt-right’ is an unstable coalition – with one thing holding it together
Mike Isaacson argues that efforts to define the alt-right are in danger of missing its central component: eugenics
Fighting for Peace: the battles that inspired generations of anti-war campaigners
Now the threat of nuclear war looms nearer again, we share the experience of eighty-year-old activist Ernest Rodker, whose work is displayed at The Imperial War Museum. With Jane Shallice and Jenny Nelson he discussed a recent history of the anti-war movement.
Put public purpose at the heart of government
Victoria Chick stresses the need to restore the public good to economic decision-making
Don’t let the world’s biggest arms fair turn 20
Eliza Egret talks to activists involved in almost two decades of protest against London’s DSEI arms show
The new municipalism is part of a proud radical history
Molly Conisbee reflects on the history of citizens taking collective control of local services
With the rise of Corbyn, is there still a place for the Green Party?
Former Green principal speaker Derek Wall says the party may struggle in the battle for votes, but can still be important in the battle of ideas
Fearless Cities: the new urban movements
A wave of new municipalist movements has been experimenting with how to take – and transform – power in cities large and small. Bertie Russell and Oscar Reyes report on the growing success of radical urban politics around the world
A musical fightback against school arts cuts
Elliot Clay on why his new musical turns the spotlight on the damage austerity has done to arts education, through the story of one school band's battle
Neoliberalism: the break-up tour
Sarah Woods and Andrew Simms ask why, given the trail of destruction it has left, we are still dancing to the neoliberal tune
Cat Smith MP: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has authenticity. You can’t fake that’
Cat Smith, shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs and one of the original parliamentary backers of Corbyn’s leadership, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali
To stop the BBC interviewing climate deniers, we need to make climate change less boring
To stop cranks like Lord Lawson getting airtime, we need to provoke more interesting debates around climate change than whether it's real or not, writes Leo Barasi