occupy melbourne… some notes

by tobybee

I’m part of a group of people – calling ourselves the ‘rooftop collective’ (because we sat on the roof of a house of melbourne to talk ideas and write) – who have written some thoughts regarding Occupy Melbourne. The Jewish connection? Well, half of the members of the group are Jewish, plus, as Occupy Judaism has clearly shown us, the Occupy movement (like any and every social movement) is, almost inherently, something which Jews should be, and always are, a part of. For our Jewishness is inextricable from other parts of our subjectivities, some of which are liberatory and some of which are oppressive. Some identity formations – and their material effects – we want to embrace, others we might seek to rebel against (so, we might love reading about the Cairo Geniza, but repudiate the idea that Jews control global capital – to give some basic examples).

So even though, if I’m honest, there was little which is explicitly Jewish in this statement, it was informed by a set of Jewish intersection values, politics, ideas and histories. The statement reads, in part (check out the whole statement here):

Transformative political action requires that we intervene in and change our political, personal and economic realities and our desired worlds; that we open our politics, language, relationships and practices to the possibilities of justice.

To do this we need to continue to recognise and take seriously that we occupy occupied ground. This country is in dispute, Indigenous sovereignty has never been ceded; Indigenous struggles continue. Decolonisation must structure the conversations we have about imagining a better future, and committing ourselves to working out what this means must be central to our movement.

We seek to act in solidarity with Indigenous struggles.

Things can and must change. We can create the spaces for change, we have the power to make change. We all have the possibility for kindness, solidarity and for hope. Occupy Melbourne embodies and symbolises hope: hope for direct democracy, the hope of turning public/private spaces into spaces in common, the hope of an open-ended process of experimentation with different ways of being together, the hope of laying bare the inherent antagonisms of society, and making them explode.

[…]

Who are the 99%. What is the 99%.

The 99% are united by the political and economic control that we lack in common, not by the sameness amongst us. We do not control the majority of the world’s wealth, nor the political systems that (want to) determine our relations, desires and lives.

What 99% of the world have in common is that we are exploited, albeit differentially, by the systems of capital, and that we share the power to change it.

We are comprised of myriad differences, experiences, identities and belief structures, both imposed on us and self-determined.

Capitalism stratifies the 99%. The inequities amongst us both involve and transcend class. We are divided by oppressive structures of thought and behaviours that determine privilege and marginalisation. Amongst us are the struggles of Indigenous people, women, people of colour, differently-abled people, queer and transgendered people, refugees, migrants and people of marginalised ethnic and religious practices and identities.

We are informed by the ‘differences’ we have learned, some of which we need to unlearn. There are some differences which need to be discarded, others which must be encouraged. Occupy Melbourne needs to embrace differences amongst people, but abandon any ideas of difference which rely on and produce hierarchies.

We all carry prejudice and inequity amongst us. We all need to face this and ensure it informs our commitment to listen, to re-think, to take responsibility for how our personal expressions and actions affect each other’s experiences, and to be willing to change. We come together through a subversive, unified practice of respect, not through striving for a sameness of experience and identity. We realise transformative commonalities through shared struggles.

The bankruptcy of liberalism

We should be wary of employing the liberal language of ‘rights’, as it divides and disempowers. We take action not because we have a state-authorised ‘right’ to, nor the ‘right’ to protest, the ‘right’ to freedom of speech, the ‘right’ to free-assembly. Defining ourselves as empowered by ‘rights’ plays into the hands of those who would divide the movement, where the person who is deemed to have rights by the state is the governmentally-defined ‘good citizen’. In effect it is the State that determines what our ‘rights’ are and when to end them. ‘Rights’ are just as often used to limit us, to create a false divide between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ protesters, and are cynically used to delegitimate resistance.

The actions of Melbourne mayor Robert Doyle and the Victoria Police demonstrated all too starkly the bankruptcy of liberalism and exactly how far our ‘rights’ extend. Our eviction from City Square, a ‘public’ space, which we legally have a ‘right’ to, shows that the conflict on Friday was not about whether or not we were ‘expressing our right to protest in a free society’, and who was actually observing the law and who was not, but was a clear political conflict between us and those who have the power to give and take away such ‘rights’.

Our ‘rights’ in the liberal order only extend to the dissent that the system can or will tolerate, not to dissent that fundamentally threatens the status quo. We need to create our own ways of expressing our need for justice, and alternatives that are not pleas to be re-included as ‘good-citizens’ within an oppressive system.

Just as on Friday we were reduced to symbols of disruption that needed to be brutally repressed, the system depends on its constitutive others: people, practices and ideas that are central to upholding the place of those who are included, through their very exclusion. These others are racialised others, gendered others and marginalised people generally. If we are to stand as the 99%, then we must all take a stand together as the ‘excluded’, as bad citizens or uncitizens, barbarians at the gate opposing the system rather than asking for inclusion within it or to reclaim privileges lost.

Part of resisting this inclusion is resisting representation. Occupy Melbourne doesn’t represent the 99%; we are not a vanguard claiming to speak on behalf of those without power. We envision a politics of self-determination and direct democracy without need for representation and with a disdain for governmental politics. We are in the process of creating ourselves as political agents, of working towards our own transformative commonality, of building our own power.

[…]

All of us have our time stolen in different ways by the daily grind of capitalism, patriarchy, heteronormativity, racism, colonialism. Importantly, all of us want to be involved. And while there may be differences in the time, energy and knowledge that we can each commit to Occupy Melbourne, we assert that this will never be the basis for hierarchies amongst us. We will not push people out because they have less time, disregard people because they are not sure how to articulate their thoughts, alienate people when they make mistakes. None of our politics is pure. We will embrace a willingness to make sure our patterns of organisation don’t align themselves with structures of domination. Occupy Melbourne is a continuous learning space, a space to make mistakes and together figure out how to do better next time, how to expand and how to continue, how to keep going and never stop. Occupy more, decolonise more, find each other, build larger and stronger networks and keep discovering new ways to experiment with social life, building consensus, and reclaiming our lives.

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