Interacting with the Occupy movement

I’m still wondering what to make of the Occupy movement, and I’m not alone. There’s considerable interest both from outside and inside as to what it actually is and where it goes from here. It’s fascinating to see the commentary from various sustainability and “no/low growth” groups – Transition, the Post Carbon Institute and so on – wrestle with what how they can interact with Occupy, what they can learn from it and teach it. It has become a fairly dominant topic at the Energy Bulletin hub. As has been noted:

Just a word about why EB is devoting so much effort to covering the Occupy Movement.

The concerns we write about at Energy Bulletin are not being addressed by the existing political structures. Whether it’s peak oil, climate change, society’s lack of resilience, can anyone say that any government or any mainstream political party is acting in a way that we could consider adequate?

The Occupy Movement, and its counterparts in Europe and the Middle East, are shaking up politics in a way that we haven’t seen before. Certainly, neither peak oil nor Transition have caught the popular imagination the way that Occupy has done.

At this juncture, we can either retreat into our enclaves, muttering that Occupy doesn’t understand peak oil or the need for de-growth. Or we can learn what this scrappy, inspiring movement is all about, and take part in it.

It may mean giving up our preconceptions, but it is the way forward.

One of the key questions in my mind is how these interactions work out, and how open both sides are to listen to the other. Researchers and campaigners generally have some sort of idea as to what change is required, and a theory as to how it might come about. I don’t think any were forecasting anything similar to Occupy, so some swift thinking is needed to see how it fits into their models.

But the same goes for Occupy: they are predicated on being something new and different, outside the establishment and thinking things through for themselves. The following (taken from <a href=""here) is a fairly robustly expressed but not atypical viewpoint. (Italics mine.)

We don’t want to be led. We don’t want anyone in control. We don’t want anyone to speak to the media or governments for us or to represent us or make decisions for us. We’ve tried that system and it doesn’t work, at least not for the 99%. We want to create something new, together. We have absolutely no idea what it is, or what it will look like, or how long it will take. We don’t need anyone’s advice as we figure it out. If you want to help, come and join us, but speak with us and not to us. And most of all, listen and help us get organized. And be patient. It takes time to co-create something new, together, as equals.

Given this, how will they respond to those who have spent careers learning about and thinking through the issues, and have what seem to be relatively sane ways forward. I hope they won’t be ruled out of court for being part of the establishment, or not able to be a “full-time” member of the Occupy community – a commitment which is hard to fulfil, particularly for those not living in the main cities.

Having said this, the call for patience is a good one. Those Occupying have generally woken up to (at least some of) the interlocking problems in today’s world, but need the time to work through what this means more fully, and what options there are for a way forward.

It remains to be seen where all this goes. A heartening step in London at least is the educative side of the new community building, and the fact that they are welcoming in external speakers – I know Ann Pettifor has been down there amongst others.


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