“What is Occupy Wall Street?” is not an easy question to answer. It is difficult to answer because, to me, one of the most defining characteristics of the movement is how it cannot really be defined. OWS is a large movement with many sub-groups, committees, and side organization that all have similar but different agendas. (An example of all of the sub-groups can be seen on the website for the New York City’s General Assembly website, with its 91 groups and counting) Since the movement is so varied, I decided to search for aspects of the movement that could be defined, along with shared commonalities. To start I decided to simply begin with the “about” tab on the parent website for the movement and quickly found that OWS stands for four basic principles: Unity as the 99% (Principles of Solidarity), being leaderless (Statement of Autonomy), carrying out direct action (Declaration of the Occupation), and equality for all (Everyone has the Right to Occupy Space, Safely). After reading these four statements, it became very clear to me what OWS is: a modern anarchist movement.
This may seem like a stretch or shock at first, but true anarchy is often misunderstood and it has, as most political theories do, become convoluted over time. However, the basic principles of anarchy are as follows: The rejection of the current system (usually capitalism), use and belief of direct democracy, use of direct action protesting, “workers” or citizen solidarity, being leaderless, having a loose organization, and lastly greater equality for all (including a reorganization of distribution of wealth). Sound familiar? *For a greater view of anarchy please visit the links at the bottom of the post*
I soon found that I was not alone in the relazation of the anarchist principles in use by the movement. In an article by David Graeber, for Al Jazeera, he explores the use of the anarchist principles in context of the movement. Several classmates came close to hitting several points that Graeber made. Graeber discusses how anarchy and marxism are easily confused, which reminded me of a post made by Erin where she discussed OWS’s similarities to communist revolutions in Russia. Now I do not believe that OWS is the beginning of a communist revolution, but there are still some same basic characteristics of anarchy and marxism involved. Graeber describes the main difference between the two comes from how they seek power. He states, “Most Marxists insisted that it was necessary first to seize state power, and all the mechanisms of bureaucratic violence that come with it, and use them to transform society – to the point where, they argued such mechanisms would, ultimately, become redundant and fade away.” while, “ Anarchist call to begin “building the new society in the shell of the old” with egalitarian experiments ranging from free schools to radical labour unions to rural communes.” In other words, marxism seeks to seize power and destroy the old system, while anarchism seeks to transition the old system into one that fits their needs. Graeber also touches on the leaderless leadership and the “refusal to create an internal hierarchy, but instead to create a form of consensus-based direct democracy.“ Jenna also posted about the leadership in the movement and how instead of direct leaders there are “key players,” which also falls into anarchist principles. To quote an anarchist website: “Anarchist psychology has encouraged the use of leaderless groups, or with a temporary leaders emerging from the group…” Following another anarchist principle,which is A main goal of anarchy is to reach a “widespread revolutionary consciousness,” Emma discussed in her post about the flexibility of the movement is, and how its main focus is to raise awareness of the grievances of the people. I have also previously posted about OWS’s use of direct action and direct democracy.
In conclusion, OWS shares all of the basic principles of anarchy. It has also become increasingly more aware to me that OWS understands and excepts its anarchist foundation. This became obvious to me when Savannah shared the avatar of OWS’s twitter on the blog, which actually has the anarchist symbol on it.
Lastly, I thank you for following our blog, and hope that you have been enlightened!
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