How to occupy the world

Jason Hickel writes: The leading tagline of the Occupy Wall Street movement reads: “Protest for World Revolution.” This is an ambitious claim, to be sure. And in most respects it seems to ring quite true: the movement has successfully taken root not only in cities and towns throughout the United States but also in major urban centers around the world. On October 15, Occupy Wall Street’s success inspired a broad wave of coordinated occupations across Europe. I was a founding participant in the one that began in London.

But the Occupy movement has been notably absent outside of North America and Europe. Not for want of trying, of course: in southern Africa, where I am originally from, small groups of committed activists tried to instigate occupations in a few key regional cities, but without much success. In South Africa, a society divided by violent inequalities that proceed directly from neoliberal policy, Occupy managed to attract only a few dozen souls – a poor showing for a country known for one of the highest protest rates in the world.

What accounts for the failure of Occupy to capture the imagination of the global South, which comprises precisely the people whose lives have been most brutally affected by the recent global financial crisis? And in what sense can Occupy claim to be a world revolution if it leaves out – and in some cases even alienates – the vast, non-white majority of humanity?

Occupy is “international” at the moment only inasmuch as it exists in many different countries at the same time. But each of the occupations is primarily concerned with particular local or national issues. For instance, Occupy Wall Street is focused on corporate personhood, the Glass-Steagall Act, and collateralized debt obligations, while Occupy London is worried about tuition hikes, preserving the National Health Service, and reversing Thatcher’s 1986 financial deregulation bonanza.

Yes, the occupations communicate, and yes, they stand in solidarity with one another. But they are not united around concerns that are recognizably global in scope.

True, Occupy protestors and their sympathizers have helped sound the alarm on issues of international concern like fossil fuels and climate change, as we saw recently at the COP17 meetings in Durban. But as it presently stands the Occupy agenda is rather provincial – even Eurocentric. Aside from its radical elements, most of the movement’s American and European supporters simply want to reclaim their rights to live decent, dignified, middle-class lives. [Continue reading…]

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