Occupy your life

By Andy Paine

Around the world, the “Occupy” movement has captured people’s imaginations, leading countless people in thousands of cities into city squares to make a statement about their dissatisfaction with the state of our society, especially the distribution of wealth. The pure size has caught everybody by surprise.

Here in Brisbane, I’ve spoken to numerous people who have come to the occupation, either to stay or just to visit. I’ve heard many people say things like “I’ve been waiting for this all my life”, and even more say they have been following the Wall St. occupation since it started on the internet. It’s clear that the movement has resonated with people on a mass scale in a way that other political movements have not been able to do in years. The reasons why could include the current economic state of the world, the rise of new media spreading information that traditional mass media would suppress, and just a hunger for social change from a generation raised in today’s world of hollow wealth and apathy.

The movement has not captured everyone though. The most frequently heard criticism is that the occupy movement is “aimless”, based on the fact that the movement has not nominated a specific end it wishes to accomplish. Corporate media and other critics of the movement have persistently ridden this theme, and the scrambling of the different occupations to formulate a set of “demands” suggests that many people involved hold the same critique, or at least have been significantly affected by its repeated use.

But it’s possible to view this “aimlessness” not as a weakness but as a strength of the movement. The occupy movement, after all, is not about a single issue like say the anti-coal seam gas or climate justice movements are; it is after a complete overhaul of society as a whole. This is a phenomenally complex issue, and to suggest that you can create a set of demands to find a solution is ridiculous.

A satirical look at #Occupy Movement— Click to zoom in on cartoon

It’s also easy to see that many of the aims of the movement are not compatible with a “demand” to accomplish them. For instance, one of the defining features and great strengths of the movement worldwide has been the emphasis on consensus based decision making as “true democracy”. The way this has worked out has been amazing, and this could well be one of the main legacies the movement leaves. But can it be articulated in a “demand”?

Even if you believed that a society-wide consensus to use this as our model of democracy could be reached, given so many people benefit from our current system, such a changeover would be logistically impossible. The rise of consensus based decision making in our society can only be a gradual one, led by smaller, grassroots groups using the model.

Similarly, one of the most frequently cited reasons for the Occupy movement’s existence is “corporate greed”. Now greed is an issue of personal responsibility, not of social structure. And as such you can’t legislate against it, nor is there a “demand” that can be made to address this issue. Again, change here will require individuals and smaller groups rejecting greed and instead embracing a lifestyle where the needs of others are considered to be at least of equal importance to your own.

So with this in mind, the lack of a single set of demands doesn’t need to be seen as a fault. But this doesn’t mean that a bunch of people camping in city squares is actually effecting the issues people are protesting. To actively address these issues will require people building grassroots alternatives to the sick society we are reacting against.

This is what I hope will be the outcome of the Occupy movement. Because even if the city square occupations could last forever, it’s hard to see how they could create society-wide change by doing so. In fact, it’s easy to envision the opposite; that it could be in the interests of the state to leave the protests in the city squares, while everywhere else business continues as usual. What I think is needed is when the occupations break up, people using the ideas and empowerment of the movement to begin building grassroots movements that actually engage the society around us, the “99%”.

Now many of these grassroots movements actually already exist. The Occupy movement isn’t something isolated that has appeared out of nowhere, but should be seen within the context of a wider movement. Two of the main driving forces behind the Wall St. occupation, Adbusters and Anonymous, are part of the already established Left media. The techniques and ideas the movement has used are similarly not new, but taken from existing sources. Many of the people attracted by the massive interest in the occupations will hopefully now be able to discover both the history and the present of the existing radical counter-culture.

Other alternatives don’t already exist.They will hopefully begin to materialise because the huge success of Occupy can both revitalise the existing movement and stimulate people’s imaginations to create new ones. It’s definitely possible to see the momentum of Occupy splintering into a wide variety of resistance movements. Some could emerge from the anti-capitalist element and analysis of our economic system. Some could come from the communal living that has happened in the camps. Some could just be against consumerism and greed, some could focus on protecting the Earth. As the blossoming of a small camp in Wall St. to a global movement has shown, imagination really is our only limit.

The feeling of empowerment that everyone involved in the Occupy movement has experienced can be a legacy much greater than any set of demands could ever accomplish. People who had previously been “waiting for this all my life” now feel like they actually can be a part of transforming the world; that they do have control over their own lives; and aren’t alone in thinking there are things that need changing. If everybody involved in the movement, either online or in the occupations, can commit their life to pursuing social change after the camps have ended, the potential is limitless.

But it’s important to recognise what the greatest impediment to this kind of movement will be. It won’t be violent cops, nor the mysterious 1% of corporate elites. What will stop the Occupy movement turning into genuine change from the ground up will be people leaving the occupations and waiting for the next mass movement like it to emerge; scouring social media for developments and pining for the good old days of 2011.

The revolution was going on long before the first tent was pitched at Wall St., and will be long after the last one has been torn down. But for it to grow into the kind of movement that can implement society-wide change of the type being talked about around the world presently, people will need to realise that it takes place not on a Facebook or Twitter page, but in  our relationships, in our actions, in our hearts and minds. It’s easy to occupy a city square (at least for a little while). It’s a lot harder to occupy your life.

12 thoughts on “Occupy your life

  1. [caption id="attachment_13002" align="alignleft" width="500" caption="Brian William Haw (7 January 1949 – 18 June 2011) was an English protester and peace campaigner who lived for almost ten years in a camp in London's Parliament Square from 2001, in a protest against UK and US foreign policy. He began his protest before the 2001 United States attacks, and became a symbol of the anti-war movement over the policies of both the United Kingdom and the United States in Afghanistan and later Iraq. At the 2007 Channel 4 Political Awards he was voted Most Inspiring Political Figure."][/caption]

    I read the news today oh boy
    And though the news was rather sad
    A crowd of people stood and stared
    Nobody really noticed that
    The English army had
    Just lost the war
    But now they know
    how many holes
    It takes to fill
    the Albert Hall

    (with apologies to John Winston Lennon but thanks to Graeme W)

    Here is the list of the GA’s approved bills as of 18 October 2011:
    GA = General Assembly

    1) GA’s will be held twice a day, once at 1:00 AM and again at 7:00 PM.
    2) The GA has the ability to divide into smaller “break out groups” for discussion. Afterwards, break out groups will all then select a representative(s) and report back to the GA.
    3) During a “mic check” the person speaking will not be interrupted until an end word such as, “thank you,” has been spoken.
    4) The hand gesture “raise the roof” is a request for the speaker to amplify their voice and speak louder.
    5) The Info Booth shall have a list of all roles and the definitions of those roles used in the GA.
    6) Consensus is based on a “90-10” model. When 90% or more voters agree on a proposal it is considered to be an overwhelming majority and a consensus. A proposal cannot be passed if more than 10% of the voters disagree on that proposal.
    7) The official term “postpone” shall be used when referring to scheduling proposals for a later date.
    8) Moderators must say, “We have consensus,” when a bill is passed in order to prevent confusion.
    9) If a point of process hand signal is raised from the crowd the moderator may represent the crowd and articulate the point of process. If the moderator is unable to do so, a crowd member who raised the point of process and is chosen by the stacker may speak out and articulate the point of process themselves.
    10) If, on a proposal, there are no disagreements or blocks and therefore, 100% consensus has been reached, the moderator may proceed without opening the floor for questions.
    11) Moderators may make suggestions for proposals if the proposal is seconded by the floor. This proposal must also relate directly to the GA.
    12) If there is a strong disagreement during a vote a member of the disagreeing party may “champion” the cause and initiate a grievance tent. The disagreeing party may then retreat to the grievance tent to collectively compile their arguments. A representative(s) will then present their arguments to the GA.
    13) If, while voting on a proposal, the GA enters a discussion phase the proposal shall be restated by the moderator before being voted on again.
    14) A “3 Block System” is in place. If a proposal has any blocks a discussion period is required. If, after the discussion, the proposal is blocked for a second time, the GA will go into break out groups. If, after the break out groups protocol has been followed and there is a third consecutive block, the blocking member may choose to either leave the occupy Vancouver movement or stand aside from this proposal for the benefit of the group.
    15) A Namaste (hands folded as in prayer) hand gesture shall be used to request that the GA take a short break in order to calm the nerves.

  3. This article by Andy Paine expresses an interesting stream of the occupy movement but it does suffer from repetition of ideas of previous movements that influenced the society for a time but did not achieve real and lasting change.

    The new left movement of the late sixties and early seventies set about to create an alternative society by actions and deeds.

    Its failure is measured in the reversion to the unbridled capitalism of recent years.

    I am not downplaying the significance of this movement it achieved much in liberating many aspects of our lives. There were attempts to engage in change of the corporation as well by establishing alternatives, from the outside, cooperatives and communes. The failure was in changing existing workplaces’, occupation of workplaces and workers control. Hence democracy in industry was limited or failed.

    This is the real challenge of the occupy movement to occupy workplaces and achieve democracy where it counts – in our daily working life.

    Real change will come if workers start to occupy their workplaces and the general assemblies in the city centres become part of this democratic movement.
    What the new left period taught is that change is not just a mindset.

  4. age-of-people-at-occupy-syd.jpeg

  5. #Occupy Araluen Spirit! says:

    Seafarers occupy Shell owned Product Carrier – Tanker, Araluen Spirit at Botany Bay/Sydney’s Gore Bay facility because their jobs have been sent offshore by huge profit making transnational… youtube removed by originator.

    thanks EB 🙂 xi

  6. Union supports Occupation of Ship says:

    MUA Gives Solidarity To Workers’ Action Aboard Araluen Spirit
    Araluen SpiritPhoto SMH

    MEDIA RELEASE 27 Oct 2011 The Maritime Union of Australia has expressed solidarity with the crew of the Araluen Spirit, who are taking a stand for their livelihood – and the broader principle of Australian jobs – by refusing to sail the vessel on its last Australian voyage.
    … Read more @ MUA Gives Solidarity To Workers’ Action Aboard Araluen Spirit

  7. There has been yet another Aboriginal death in custody in Queensland. He was only 25 years old. Aboriginal leader Sam Watson will be coming down to Occupy Brisbane in Post Office Square at 2pm to let people know more, so please come down and show your support.

    There will be a rally outside the State Government Executive building in George St at 12 midday on Monday to demand real action and proper, transparent procedure to bring these negligent or deliberate uniformed thugs to justice.

  8. A friend has asked me the following question about the problems faced by homeless people at #Occupy Bris

    Do you think it would work to have the General Assembly (GA) consider the problems – enumerate them and agree on procedures eg a list of health and safety rules around food and if people don’t abide by these decisions made by majority vote/ or consensus they could be asked to leave.

    That way it’s getting people practicing taking responsibility.

    Maybe the GA’s have already done this. I think it’s ok for any group of people to make their own rules.

    It would only work if everyone agreed.

    My response is as follows:—

    Abstention is the problem – homeless and youth abstain from the GA. So it is hard to get agreement (either concensus or majority)

    For example, one person raised the issue of the failure of the kitchen roster at a recent GA with little practical response from people resulting in little change. Although some effort has been made to address the problem recently as reflected in General Assembly Minutes – Saturday October 30 2011:

    y: basically presenting j’s idea which was to have a cooking class to encourage people to volunteer more in the kitchen. i can’t cook. if you want to take part in that hit up j. all learn together.

    chair: anymore?

    f: kinda related to participation i the kitchen. all like tea and going in and making coffee. while waiting for jug to boil do some dishes.

    je: w/o nitpicking but when we do the kettle the lever goes down, put it up again otherwise we go through canisters too quickly.

    ?: one thing, this whole movement, it’s a community people living here. we all deserve the respect of each other and responsibility to help each other. take responsibility and wash your own dishes. go find out if you can help, help on trash, kitchen. if hold ourselves responsible we’ll make a thriving community.

    chair: help out, keep everything tidy and clean.

    With a few exceptions the Brisbane Left has abstained from organisational tasks associated with #OccupyBris.

    Some groups recognise the new dynamic of #OccupyBris and wish to speak at the GAs, sell books, conduct open Uni and raise pressing issues of refugees, environment, protest groups and so on. The single issue still dominates our thinking on the Left. We have failed to integrate our understanding and our organisation remains weak relying on(often herculean) efforts of individuals. This is too much and must change.

    Only one left group has thrown their resources behind #OccupyBris and they are feeling the strain – despite their efforts, we are unable to deal with the multiplicity of issues raised: unemployed, homeless, drug and alcohol abuse, self harm, petty theft, and failure of the system to care for intellectually disabled or at risk people without locking them up or making them unwilling clients of the system.

    #OccupyBris as with previous struggles (i.e. those of the 1970s) the organised Left failed to come to grips with similar issues. Idealism, opportunism and populism still abounds (for expalnation of these terms see From Popular Front to United Front in ‘Live to Fight – Fight to Live’ by LeftPress 1977.

    Strange that the entire weekend at #OccupyBris went by without any serious discussion of the lockout by QANTAS management of its entire workforce and the inevitable loss and offshoring of jobs. Despite the connection between the banks airlines and government (e.g. are we being softened up for a bail-out of the the non-profitable parts of QANTAS using taxapayer funds?) QANTAS even has a building on the edge of post office square and another only a 100 metres away with domestic and international call centres. Some of those workers are likely be out of work soon — sinking still lower in the hieracky that makes up the 99%. The irony is some of these workers lost their jobs when Ansett was sunk.

    What a bizaare dispute QANTAS is and how different to the lockout by Corrigan of the MUA workforce 13 years ago. The union leader at the epicentre of this dispute wants to be the next ALP president. John Coombs never displayed the breathtaking opportunism of Tony Sheldon.

    I tried raising the occupation by seamen of the Aurelian Spirit @ Friday’s GA but received no response (just a request to speak more quietly). The GA minutes state:

    chair: news from global occupy. been following twitter. all know oil tanker, oakland getting heavy hand, veterans for peace… forget the name.

    wounded veteran in fairly bad condition. read today that in egypt marched in solidarity with oakland. in solidarity with occupations all around the world. any more news?

    ?: what’s with the oil tanker? (followed by other business) — General Assembly Minutes – Saturday October 30 2011

    Despite all this, the occupation continues, many individuals have given time effort and resources and withstood a take-over by a right wing group (so far) to sign up to a sovereign foundation using meagre finances donated by supporters. During the last 24 hours (Sat – Sun 29/30 October) ambulance and community groups have responded to calls for help by organisers. Aboriginal leaders and murris have given support – they know all about parkies. One such person said at a recent GA:

    “I’m an aboriginal man from Woorbinda. What we do is walk down one side of the street. work together look after each other.”(General Assembly Minutes – Saturday October 29 2011)

    Also local community workers have given advice and suppport. All these efforts are much appreciated.

    Ian Curr
    30 October 2011

  9. Who do these people think they are to walk into the lounge-room of the homeless and lay down the law? Not even the Salvos are this arrogant, only the police are.

    How would the nouveau-occupiers feel if someone came into their home without a warrant and told them what they could and could not do?

    What help are the “local community workers” offering? Will they help the bottom 1% to have a voice equal to the other 98%?

    Or will the community workers protect the occupation from the underclass, sweeping them into the filing cabinets of Murri Watch, St. Vinnies and the Salvos just like police and social workers do in all the other city parks to enable the middle class uninterrupted enjoyment of public space?

    Occupy Brisbane is just another brick in the wall.

    If the hard realities of poverty and marginalisation is too hot for them to handle then they should set up camp in a nice quiet suburb away from where the riff-raff congregate.

  10. Green Left Weekly says:


    Panel of speakers involved in Occupy Brisbane discuss the vital issues of the worldwide, Australian and local Occupation movement. What is the meaning of this new democratic struggle with far-reaching implications? Where is it going now?

    TUES NOV 1, 7pm.
    Brisbane Activist Centre, 74B Wickham St, Fortitude Valley.
    Meal from 6.30pm.

    For more info, phone: 3831 2644/0423 741 734.

  11. Mich-Elle says:

    Lateline business with Paddy Crumlin last night if you missed it

    Tensions between unions and stevedoring companies seem to be mounting once again with an escalation of rolling stoppages and work bans and talk of lock-outs…- 02/11/2011: Waterfront dispute raises old fears

    The Maritime Union of Australia represents around 14,000 Australian men and women – stevedoring workers (wharfies), seafarers, divers and port workers. They work around the clock, up towering cranes on the nation’s docks, below in the ocean depths and at sea on ships.

    As a key affiliate of the International Transport Workers’ Federation, the union also helps represent 320,000 of the world’s seafarers fighting for wage justice and protection against human rights abuses.

    Poor behaviour and abuse will not be tolerated in this group and the Admin reserve the right to ban anyone not behaving in the spirit of the MUA which is solidarity to Australian and International unionists and friends.

    Racism, Sexism, Bad Language and threats will be deleted. see more at http://www.facebook.com/groups/16231019735/10150372623114736/?notif_t=group_activity.


    Thanks Mich-Elle

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