Friday, April 20th, 2018

Where, oh where, has Occupy gone?

Posted on September 17, 2012 in Perspectives
By Kit Kelchner

Five months ago, every screen in America was occupied. From downtown Manhattan to Oakland, a new form of political expression for the 99% ruptured the landscape. Things seem quieter these days, but with the one-year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement looming, supporters are taking stock of its significance and regrouping for the next push.

Jodi Dean has spent most of her adult life supporting liberal politics. Between her work as a Professor of Political Science at Hobart-William Smith and publishing extensively about political and media theory, Dean is no stranger to the political landscape of the American Left. Yet she considers that work to be somewhat on the fringe. Like many others, it was Occupy that stirred her to become fully and directly involved in an opposition movement. From helping to coordinate artists, to blogging and strategizing, Dean has played an important and active role in the New York-based Occupy movement. On Wednesday, she was the guest lecturer at the University of New England’s Core Connections speaking series, discussing the movement’s importance and direction going forward.

Dean’s presentation, “Occupy Wall Street: Forcing Division,” highlighted both the impact of the movement as a rupture in American politics and its unique form.  Dean presented the  movement in terms of Badiou’s ‘evental site,’ discussing the transformation of supporters of the Left from melancholic bystanders to engaged activists. Drawing on her own involvement,  Dean made a case for the radical transformation activism brings the individual. In the case of Occupy, collective identification as the 99% galvanized a new vanguard comprised of, perhaps, the widest swathe of American politics of any movement. It’s new form of expression emphasized a unified division. The 99% would never be resolved, never happily accept that half of the nation’s wealth was controlled by just one percent of its people. It is the “irreducible incompatible gap between Capital and the people,” she asserted.

But where did Occupy go? The ideas people most identify with the movement —autonomy, horizontality and leaderlessness— have, in Dean’s view, contributed to both conflicts and disillusionment, preventing a wider awakening in the country. When asked if the leaderlessness has hurt the movement, Dean gave a straightforward, one-word answer: “Yes.”
USM Professor of Philosophy Jason Read, also an Occupy activist, talked about this challenge at this week’s philosophy symposium.

“It’s always about both separating and creating.”
Read explained that when tactics do not work well and adversity is experienced, they have to continue to work through the difficulties, finding new ways to impact the political scene.

The movement is in the midst of such reassessment. Problems with police infiltration and informants hinder the group. An in-built mistrust of collectivity within the group has to constantly be overcome as well. Some tactics, promising at first, have to be reconceived. One example Dean noted was the non-local mobile protest movement, which has not produced sustained local activism. It simply lacked the community roots to keep it going.

Dean believes the movement is at its very beginning stages, and it has a much longer trajectory than pundits are predicting: “10 years or more.” She pointed out, the movement may incorporate other aspects of leftist political reform such as student debt, corporate personhood and alternative banking.

When asked about this regrouping, Read summed it up: “People haven’t gone away. The issues haven’t gone away. If anything, it’s worse.”

For me, Occupy 2.0 is on the way.

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