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Notes on Occupy Melbourne. What it might mean. Where we might take it.27 October at 11:50 from atlas
(This is a political contribution to Occupy Melbourne. It is a contribution made in the spirit of active engagement with and attachment to the movement and in order to provoke debate about the movement's political development.)
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.
Friday On My Mind // The Shocking Predictability of Police Violence
On Friday October 21, 2011, Occupy Melbourne protesters were targeted and assaulted by the Victorian police, as marginalised people are targeted and assaulted by the police all of the time. By being dragged out of the square or the demonstration on the street, restrained, hit, detained and arrested, regardless of opinion or motivation, but simply for being there, we were reduced to symbols of disorder and opposition. For this reason we became 'legitimate' targets.
Anecdotally the violence landed disproportionately on people who are the usual targets of police violence: people of colour, queers, Indigenous people. As with the poor and the homeless, and those with mental illnesses, these groups are the every-day stand-ins for a symbolic threat to state 'order', and they routinely bear the brunt of policing, criminalisation and punishment.
On Friday we all came to represent this symbolic threat to order.
The violence the police exacted was malicious, traumatic, painful.
It came as a shock to many of us. It should be shocking. However, this violence was not a political aberration, not the result of mean cops on the force, or simply stemming from the direction of a megalomaniacal mayor. This is how the power of the 1% is enforced. This is how it reacts when its legitimacy is challenged. Police 'force' is its weapon. When they say 'order' they mean their order.
Despite knowing the brutality that the state is capable of, we must not let ourselves become so desensitised to this violence that it fails to shock. We must never forget that for those who are treated as permanent others, permanent threats to order, such violence is an everyday affair.
However, the response by the State, as embodied by the actions of the police, also gives us reason to be hopeful. It is clear that this fledgling movement is a threat. The authorities are scared of Occupy Melbourne because it names and confronts injustices, it voices a rebellion, it has tangible potential, it's part of something global and it's scaring them.
Joining those already involved, new layers of people turned out to defend and stand in solidarity with the City Square occupiers. Many who joined the protest on Friday had not spent a large amount of time at the occupation; a lot of people didn't come to the city that day prepared to be part of a protest. Many joined after we called out to them in the street. This was the strength of the protest. Robert Doyle, Ted Baillieu and the hypermasculine force of the Victorian Police drew the battle lines between the 99% and the 1% more starkly. Friends and enemies were made that day. It is becoming increasingly clear exactly who these two groups are and what it means to be on either side.
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.
Negotiating Change, Sustaining Change
We cannot ask governments to fix capitalism. They will subsidise it, sometimes lightly reform it, largely celebrate it, but they will not check it, and they cannot fix it. So how do we change our social structures if not through the government? We have to do it ourselves. We have to build our collective power to re-imagine and re-create our world.
Changing society involves participating in changing methods of relating to one another. Because capitalist logic is not only external to us, because it is what we have been brought up within, because it is a logic through which we have learned to think, act and self-identify. Creating different relations is an intensively active and necessarily transforming process. It cannot happen at once, it is something that needs to keep happening every day. There will be constant failures, and this requires active generosity and forgiveness: unceasingly.
Occupy Melbourne is in the process of creating a common language through the General Assembly. But the challenge of consensus is not that of working out what we all agree upon, but is instead the challenge of a commitment to a process of working with our differences and coming to new and unexpected conclusions and solutions.