A worldwide shift in revolutionary tactics is underway right now that bodes well for the future. The spirit of this fresh tactic, a fusion of Tahrir with the acampadas of Spain, is captured in this quote:”The antiglobalization movement was the first step on the road. Back then our model was to attack the system like a pack of wolves. There was an alpha male, a wolf who led the pack, and those who followed behind. Now the model has evolved. Today we are one big swarm of people.”
— Raimundo Viejo, Pompeu Fabra University, Barcelona, Spain
The beauty of this new formula, and what makes this novel tactic exciting, is its pragmatic simplicity: we talk to each other in various physical gatherings and virtual people’s assemblies … we zero in on what our one demand will be, a demand that awakens the imagination and, if achieved, would propel us toward the radical democracy of the future … and then we go out and seize a square of singular symbolic significance and put our asses on the line to make it happen.
This interview with David Graeber expands on this simple idea.
“One thing that helped a lot was a smattering of people from Spain and Greece and Tunisia who had been doing this sort of thing more recently. They explained that the model that seemed to work was to take something that seemed to be public space, reclaim it, and build up an organization headquarters around that from which you can begin doing other things.”
EK: This movement is organized rather differently than most protest movements. There isn’t really a list of demands, or goals, or even much of an identifiable leadership. But if I understand you correctly, that’s sort of the point.
DG: It’s very similar to the globalization movement. You see the same criticisms in the press. It’s a bunch of kids who don’t know economics and only know what they’re against. But there’s a reason for that. it’s pre-figurative, so to speak. You’re creating a vision of the sort of society you want to have in miniature. And it’s a way of juxtaposing yourself against these powerful, undemocratic forces you’re protesting. If you make demands, you’re saying, in a way, that you’re asking the people in power and the existing institutions to do something different. And one reason people have been hesitant to do that is they see these institutions as the problem.
EK: So if you say, for instance, that you want a tax on Wall Street and then you’ll be happy, you’re implicitly saying that you’re willing to be happy with a slightly modified version of the current system.
DG: Right. The tax on Wall Street will go to people controlled by Wall Street.
EK: By which you mean government.
DG: Yes. So we are keeping it open-ended. In a way, what we want is to create spaces where people can think about questions like that. In New York, according to law, any unpermitted assembly of more than 12 people is illegal in New York. Space itself is not an openly available resource. But the one resource that isn’t scarce is smart people with ideas. So we’re trying to reframe things away from the rhetoric of demands to a questions of visons and solutions. Now how that translates into actual social change is an interesting question. One way this has been done elsewhere is you have local initiatives that come out of the local assemblies.
EK: It also seems that the tradeoff here, from an organizational standpoint, is that if you say you want, say, a tax on Wall Street, then the people who aren’t interested in a tax on Wall Street stay home. So remaining vague on demands can make the tent bigger. But it also seems that, at some point, people are going to need to be working towards concrete goals and experiencing dicrete successes in order to sustain the energy of a movement like this.
GB: As the thing grows, new organizational forms will develop. At this point, the New York occupation has 30 different working groups for everything from handling sanitation to discussing labor issues and tax policy. So we’re trying to set up ways that people with different interests can plug into the movement. There’s even a newspaper. The ‘Occupied Wall Street Journal.’ Of course, this is nothing compared to what happened in Tahrir Square, where they even had dry cleaners…