Op-Ed: Occupy Wall Street is Winning, So What’s Next?

| October 13, 2011 6:40 PM

Yotam Marom is an organizer, educator, musician and writer. He is a participant in the Occupy Wall Street movement. Marom is a member of the Organization for a Free Society.

Marom (center back, in the blue jacket and scarf) teaches a class on social justice in Hoboken, N.J. He took his students to interview people at Zuccotti Park about "why they chose to occupy Wall Street." MetroFocus/Sam Lewis

The Movement Is Growing

Liberty Plaza is teeming with people gathering for assemblies, talking politics or meeting in work teams. Three hundred people are listening intently to a lecture on participatory economics, while others are posing for pictures with a golden calf sculpture donated by local interfaith leaders.

There are people passing by on their way to work, travelers getting off tour buses to take pictures, students from local high schools being toured around. There are people from the Bronx and Bed-Stuy, Minneapolis and Madrid. There are drag queens networking with transit workers, rabbis leading a thousand people through a Yom Kippur ceremony and members of the People of Color Caucus planning to “Occupy the Hood.” People are doing yoga, teaching composting techniques, cleaning the square, and livestreaming the occupation to its million viewers worldwide. Some even manage to steal a few hours of sleep amid all the commotion.

Downtown Manhattan is an occupied zone, a bustling revolutionary city-center. People are taking the struggle on the road, expanding it, pushing it forward. We are making the movement part of our lives, and our lives part of the movement.

Over 100 cities in the US have active occupations right now, with more than 1,300 cities hosting formal meetings to plan for them. At the rate of change in this movement today, by the time this piece gets edited and published in a day, the numbers will be higher. Unions and community organizations have joined the fight, and national organizations are trying to decide how to best join the movement without thwarting or co-opting it (which frankly, they couldn’t do, even if they tried). The pundits are conjecturing their heads off, while politicians of all stripes scuttle about, trying to figure out just how to try to use us. And yes, they are talking about us in Congress and in the White house, even sending their messengers to the occupation itself.

They would be fools not to. We are winning.

We Are Winning

Every once in a while, in the course of some enormous struggle, those driven, tired, frazzled fighters have a moment or two to stop and think, to pick our heads up and look ahead. I had a moment like that a few days ago, and that’s when it hit me –- like a blow to the head: We are winning. We are winning.

We have helped to unlock the hidden and slumbering potential of millions of people, ready to believe again that there is an alternative.

Sure, we haven’t captured government institutions, haven’t smashed the banks and the classes that control them, haven’t even won concrete reforms or come up with solid institutions to protect our gains. We aren’t even close to finishing the fight or creating the world we wish to live in. But – alongside revolutionaries around the world – we have helped to unlock the hidden and slumbering potential of millions of people, ready to believe again that there is an alternative. We have reignited hope in the possibility of a free society, punctured a small hole in the hegemony of cynicism, liberated some space in our hearts and our minds to gather the strength to fight and to dream. What was inconceivable just a month ago is now so very real.

And then the second part of the thought hit me: If we are winning, then what do we want?

What Do We Want?

The media and politicians call us muddle-headed, and confused. They claim we have no demands or purpose. Well, let’s set the record straight. It’s not that we don’t have demands; it’s that we speak them in a different language. We speak our demands through our struggle. Our movement is made up of people fighting for jobs, for schools, for debt relief, equitable housing and healthcare. We are resisting ecological destruction, imperialism, racism, patriarchy and capitalism. We are doing it all in a way that is participatory, democratic, fierce and unwavering. There is nothing very vague about that.

After Marom and his students reflected about their experience, they posed for a group shot in Manhattan's Zuccotti Park. For the past four weeks the public-private park nearby Wall Street has served as a home-base for the growing movement. MetroFocus/Sam Lewis

We want a political and economic system that we all actually control together, one that is equitable and humane, one that allows for people to self-manage but act in solidarity, one that is participatory and democratic to its core. We want a world where people have the right to their own identities, communities and cultures and the freedom from oppression and constraint. We want a world in which community is not a hamper on individual freedom, but rather an expression of its fullest potential.

As we keep fighting, we will continue to ask ourselves difficult questions. What world do we envision? What values do we want to live by? What institutions do we need in order to live those values? What structures will we build to protect what we’ve won and create a platform for continued struggle? What will we win for ourselves, and what will we win for generations to come? How will we fight these enormous battles in a way that is both effective and reflective of the new world we are ushering in?

What’s Next?

Make no mistake about it, we are not aimless; we simply speak a different language –- a language of mutual respect, participation, self-management and action. We make our demands in this language that screams that we are here for the long-run, that our goal is not merely reform, that our vision is deep and radical, that we will not be bought off or co-opted and that we are prepared to struggle in order to win not only those gains we can pronounce now but also those we can’t even fully articulate yet. We claim our space through actions that shout that we are here to stay, that this movement isn’t going home, that we are winning already and that there is no turning back. We build this movement through the firm and fearless declaration that another world is possible, and that anything less is unacceptable.

You will see our demands plastered on subway walls, scrawled on hanging banners, tweeted across oceans, marched on the shoulders of hundreds of thousands, shouted in unison from millions of streets, windows, and computers screens. You will see them all over the world, from post-industrial cities to the country-sides, from capitals to shanty-towns.

Yes, we speak a different language, a fearless and visionary one. We are shouting, with every ounce of passion and strength we can muster: Of course there is an alternative. It is us.

  • Chris

    You have some very legitimate demands, however, there are too many, and many of them are too extreme for broad swaths of the “99%” across the rest of the country, so the message comes across as unfocused or too radical for wide acceptance. Good luck getting middle America, the upper middle class or most of us living in Manhattan to participate or actively support you, because while we may agree with some or even many of of your concerns, the rest of them are untenable or just plain unappealing. You may wonder why there are not more New Yorkers out supporting you? It is because in Manhattan, the mean annual income is around $126k – that makes most of us living here in the “4%” or so – somewhere in between you and the 1% you disparage. While we may lean progressive on many things, tearing down everything and starting over is not something most of us would support, since the system works well in most areas in our eyes and needs targeted, not radical improvements.

    • Mike

      Chris — you’re right “Occupy Wall Street has some very legitimate demands”. But I went to Zucotti Park to see and hear for myself; and I did not hear anyone advocating “tearing down everything and starting over”. What I heard them saying was: let’s have real democracy where you can’t buy yourself a Senator or Congressman (or several) if you have the money; and then begin to work all the problems in the interests of the 99%, not the 1%.

      I’m one of that middle layer of business and professional types in Manhattan you’re talking about, Chris — and I am a total convert to Occupy Wall Street. What they’re saying is true; and they’re changing the terms of the nation’s political conversation for the first time in years away from how to rip off teachers, nurses and retirees, stigmatize and terrorize immigrants, and deny poor people health care. I salute them for that; I appreciate their sturdy courage and perseverance; and I’ll do whatever I can to help them. So should you.

  • Rosemary

    I was too young to demonstrate in the 60s and I am too old to sit with you now.
    I support you 100%, change is needed to bring about fairness and equality to the 99% that live in the USA.
    You are amazing! I will keep praying for you all and be with you in mind & spirit!
    It is time to take our country back from the Greedy Corporations, Selfish Insurance companies& our Government Leaders who are in power to help them & leave us out in the cold!

  • andrew

    Ban US Corporations and companies who are shipping jobs to oversea. Create jobs in here (USA) , not in oversea. Minimum wage is $ 10 per hour and home rent is $ 400 for 2 people , $500 for 3 people . Tax is 30% for rich people who are making between $ 300000 and 1 million per year . Tax is 40 % for rich people who are making over 1 million per year.

  • andrew

    Ban US Corporations and companies who are shipping jobs to oversea. Create jobs in here (USA) , not in oversea. Minimum wage is $ 10 per hour and home rent is $ 400 for 2 people , $500 for 3 people . Tax is 30% for rich people who are making between $ 300000 and 1 million per year . Tax is 40 % for rich people who are making over 1 million per year. Tax is only 5 % for people who are making under $ 50000 per year.

  • marlene nunberg

    I am very interested in helpingto keep the movement alive and progressing, I have had many years of experience with political and sociaal movements over the yyears. I would like to knowhow I can become involved and useful. I live on the UWS and have time to work for, what I think, as a vibrant and essential cause. Marlene Nunberg, PhD

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