Outside the Circle

Cindy Milstein

“Occupy Anarchism”: An Excerpt (for Now)

A whole big bunch of us radicals-who-write are bound together in the new anthology We Are Many: Reflections on Movement Strategy from Occupation to Liberation, edited by Kate Khatib, Margaret Killjoy, and Mike McGuire, and published by AK Press. I’m a mite skeptical about the “book industry” that emerged almost before the paint dried on the first cardboard sign at Occupy Wall Street over a year ago. Of course, I’m far more skeptical about Occupy Wall Street a year later, but that’s a post for another day. What I can say now is that I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the quality and good thinking of the pieces in We Are Many that I’ve read so far, and hope to manage to get to a whole lot more of the essays. I’ve a mind, in fact, to start ripping out one of the fifty essays a day and carrying it around with me so I can read various contributions while riding the subway — which seems in keeping with the DIY quality of the early days of Occupy.

Separate from the book as a finished piece as a whole, I can’t thank the editors enough — mostly particularly Kate — for letting me bring the same experimental flair to my own essay as I and so many others did to the plazas and parks we occupied a year past. Or maybe I should say: the same experimental unknown. I’ve wanted to write about my experiences around Occupy and anarchism for a while now. But the ending to the story of the Occupy encampment I was a part of (Occupy Philly) was, like every physical Occupy, an abrupt and bittersweet one, to put it kindly. And living in Montreal this past summer, as participant-observer-writer in relation to the Quebec student/social strike, only amplified how pretty awful (at many times) Occupy was in many ways. It’s still too early, I suspect, to make sense of the Occupy experience and its impact as well as legacy, and that’s especially true for those of us who spent every hour for weeks and months trying to hang tight to the potential it afforded and conjure social transformation from it. My skepticism right now whispers “What social transformation?” But other voices speak to me too, as you’ll see if you read my “Occupy Anarchism” piece. I know that Occupies everywhere did much, and still are; images from places like Spain and Greece, where people are engaging in different versions of occupying their lives, attest to how the “we are many” extends well beyond any nation-state border. So what this anthology allowed me to do, kindly, was experiment with a writing style that captured, at least for me, a whole range of feelings and thoughts, highs and lows, and even a “pick-your-own-ending” adventure in the final pages of my essay.

The process of writing for this anthology mirrored all I love(d) best about Occupy, in that everyone fell under the sway of some sort of magical elixir that can’t be quantified or manufactured, and for an all-too-brief moment — a moment so utterly closed, for now at least — believed that all was possible through the self-organization of all of us, with a pretty expansive “us,” notwithstanding all the appropriate critiques of who showed up to occupy. I’m grateful to the editors, and again most particularly Kate, for letting me recall that feeling and, now, letting me share some of my many thoughts about Occupy anarchism with you.

Well, share some of it, for now. The book was just released, so I’m pretty sure the editors don’t want me posting the full essay online yet. Buy and read the book; or buy one copy for your study group and read aloud; or read over someone’s shoulder and/or borrow their hopefully dog-earred copy. Books are commodities, but in the capitalism book industry, they by and large aren’t generators of profit. And in this case, anything that’s eked out from this book goes to sustain an anarchist collective book publisher and distributor, along with autonomous and indy bookstores; until “the revolution,” we need such presses and spaces. Sorely. Here’s a handy link, if desired: http://www.akpress.org/wearemany.html.

I will, though, give you a peek at what I penned. What follows are two excerpts. The first is the opening paragraph, or what is one of my five “prehistories” of Occupy anarchism — playful, personal, painful, and perhaps offering some insight. The second fragment is one of my five “future (im)perfects,” or the one I’m feeling most acutely after the one-year OWS anniversary day here in New York. The work as a whole is meant to open up questions and spark dialogue, and provide little in the way of answers, much less closure. If you read the entire essay, after buying the entire book, and run into me, I’m eager to chat about what Occupy meant for anarchists in particular, then and now.

“Occupy Anarchism”: The Excerpts!

*  *  *

Prehistory 1

Some say that anarchism is as old as human history; that people have been living it since they first, say, formed into a circle to deliberate about and then decide (with gestures, grunts, or language—maybe even twinkles) where to hunt and gather. Before it had a name, anarchism was practiced and preached by, for instance, Jesus. Maybe that goes partway to explaining why at Occupy Philly, and no doubt at all Occupies, the Occupiers acted like anarchists with a religious-like zeal from day one, even though most were and still are not anarchists. Indeed, a small but vocal bunch of them were vehemently anti-anarchist, which perhaps illuminates why one Occupier hijacked the thirty-thousand-person-“liked” Occupy Philadelphia Facebook page, and then posted a drawing of Christ with his middle finger raised and the words “Cindy Milstein EVEN JESUS HATES YOU” (hint: I’m a vocal anarchist; hence a convenient straw person).

*  *  *

Future (Im)perfect 4

Maybe it’s time we kill Occupy once and for all, in our minds and nostalgia, and bring something else to life—and not through wishful thinking, memes, or Adbusters, or adding “occupy” to everything. Maybe there’s a reason why the more powerful, inspiring, and longer-lasting do-it-ourselves revolts globally of this past year and a half have been attached to springtime, with its renewal, dynamism, and freshness: Arab Spring, Maple Spring. Maybe, in the United States, because we’re so behind the curve on rebellion, we needed to start with Occupy Fall—a surprising blaze of autumnal color to reawaken our senses, followed by a raked-up pile of downed crisp leaves to jump in, and yet all too soon blanketed by snow. Practice, with a bittersweet dose of self-reflection, might make for a bit more perfect uprising next time, but only if the next time isn’t simply a toothless pantomime of Occupy (or the Arab or Maple springs either).

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3 comments on ““Occupy Anarchism”: An Excerpt (for Now)

  1. Julia
    September 26, 2012

    Personally, I think OWS has essentially run its course. It was fun while it lasted, but I feel that it’s time for the people who participated to take what they learned and apply it to other aspects of our society – namely our schools, workplaces, communities, etc. and see what kinds of things we can accomplish on those levels.

    When I was at the one-year anniversary last week, I was talking with some very radical comrades who were very disgruntled at what OWS became. It’s not just the fact that the movement was “hijacked” by mainstream liberals who wanted to change the message from “abolish capitalism” to a mundane “tax the rich”, but rather that the movement – in most cases anyway – didn’t really go anywhere; it was all slogans with no solution. The militancy you see with movements in Southern Europe and South America (among elsewhere in the world) just wasn’t there. I wonder if it’s because Americans tend to be more privileged, or more afraid, or both. Even so, OWS has done a lot of good in the sense that it’s given people a taste of what a new society could be like and created some sort of feeling of solidarity.

    I’ll pick up the book at Red Emma’s.

  2. Dizz Locasto
    September 26, 2012

    Great writing, just had to add to one spot about AK press. Im sure you will hear it enough but they were around long long before occupy was ever though up. I personaly and many collective spots had shipping with that group.

  3. Eric Brooks
    September 26, 2012

    My call on this is to let go of the ‘occupy’ meme and get back to calling it what it was; the newest emergence of the Global Justice Movement, with all that this means – from stopping the WTO and all successive corporate ‘free trade’ deal attempts, to blocking home foreclosures, to fighting big ag and big oil, to bringing down Canadian, Spanish, Greek, U.S. et al austerity programs. Occupy was a great opportunity to teach a lot more organizers consensus decision making and to get them turned on to ending capitalism. Now it is time to tell those newly trained organizers that they can tap into a movement (a movement that they are already a part of) that has been going strong since the Zapatista uprisings in the 90’s and needs their voices and hands.

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This entry was posted on September 26, 2012 by in Dispatches from Occupy Philly, Essays.
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