Occupy Melbourne (OMEL) is in a dire situation.
For many reasons, some of which I shall go in to, we find ourselves in the situation where our numbers have been decimated, several of our most active members can not or will not come on-site and where a significant numbers of Occupiers are suffering malaise.
If we are to recover – and I am not at all confident that we can, or will – we need to decide whether OMEL is a protest or a movement, change or maintain our structures and processes accordingly and, in any case, take a more proactive role in finding solutions to the problems we perceive in Australia and the world.
The Occupy Movement came from a feeling of disenfranchisement and disillusionment with the system and recognition that conventional forms of dissent had proved fruitless. By Occupying, our discontent took on a physical form and we could create a community where like-minded people could come together, we could educate the public and through collaboration we could find solutions.
However, since the Eviction I feel that we have concentrated on voicing our discontent without taking real steps to have our concerns addressed. At first we could get away with dismissing people’s enquiries about what solutions we were proposing by inviting them to take part in the discussion and by relegating the need to find solutions to the more immediate concern of survival. Yet in doing so we lost the chance to attract and engage the large part of the population who were interested in OMEL and who might have supported us in person or otherwise. It is interesting and important to note that there are quite a number of people in the public who will admit to sympathising with the Occupy movement without explicitly supporting it.
More importantly, it is vital that we take stock of how OMEL is viewed by the public and written about in the mainstream media (MSM). When we have a mere handful of people loudly disparaging OMEL we might afford to ignore them; however, when the aggregate view of OMEL is that it is a movement for people who really like sitting in parks we need to accept that this is how we are viewed and act accordingly to fix it!
It is my belief that one way to fix this is to move from a position where we, as a group, say, “We are ANGRY!” to one where we say, “This is what we want to do about it!”
I do not expect us to have answers for everything, nor do I expect us to try and find a solution to every problem. Sometimes our role might be to lobby MPs, Unions or other people/organisations to pull their finger out and do something. Other times we might be able to put forward a solution and fight to have it enacted. When we discuss problems we need to quickly move from discussing the point that we agree it’s wrong to finding a way to rectify it.
Apart from anything else I cannot see how we could achieve anything by solely concentrating on making sure that people know we’re dissatisfied. I think they get it now – what people want to know, and what will get people back into the fold, is what we plan to do.
As I wrote in the Geelong Advertiser OMEL is a movement unified by a target rather than a doctrine and this gives us unique challenges. Apart from anything else it means that we don’t have a default position to fall back on when trying to find solutions. Taking the example of the Qantas lockout, other activist bodies might have been governed by a philosophy that would enable them, at the drop of a hat, to come out in support of re-nationalising the airline; others might have been able to immediately call for the dismissal of the Directors and the CEO. OMEL needs to take all of these positions into consideration and through consultation arrive at a policy that we can push through Direct Actions and Occupation. That we have not done this is a serious failing of OMEL.
We also need to make the decision about whether OMEL is a protest or a movement; are we using the tactics of Occupation and Direct Action to address a specific complaint or are we a movement concerned about a wider range of issues that can use various tactics as part of targeted campaigns against certain issues?
Both options have their merits, both have their problems. The second option (which I will openly say I prefer) opens up the possibility of OMEL assuming an educational role for the public while seeking change through action. If OMEL confirms itself as a movement we can create campaigns to educate the public about how greed, corruption and transparency affects them as Australian citizens; it means we can educate people about the follies of paying little attention to your Superannuation. Etc., etc.
And finally, I want to remind people that Occupying is only a part of a means to an end. It is a tactic. As the last month at Flagstaff and South Melbourne have shown, Occupying by itself achieves nothing. Occupying for the sake of Occupying is as dangerous as abandoning Occupying altogether.
Given our serious problems with numbers, the loss of prominent members of the movement for various reasons (temporary and more permanent) and our waning presence in the public consciousness we are in danger of reaching the point of no return or where, if we can return to some level of activity, we will be greeted with the response of “…you still exist?”
Going on my experience of how quickly things change in OMEL I believe that unless sincere and effective moves are made to revitalise the movement we will not survive in any appreciable way beyond a week, or two weeks at the maximum.
For those most invested in the movement this will be devastating but for the hundreds of people who have come and gone already, it will not be that surprising.
I think it would be a great pity to see OMEL fall apart like this and I think we can be proud of the huge cultural impact we have had in the past few months: when activists hold sit-ins the news and the people now say that they are “Occupying” something; the 99% has entered our cultural lexicon; and, above all else, people are actually thinking more about the economic unfairness of our world.
I suggest that we accept our past, refuse to dwell on it (though this doesn’t mean fail to learn from it) and instead plan for the future. If we don’t, we are doomed.