Friday 27 January 2012

To: Occupy Auckland. From: A Vacillating Leftist.

Who Should I Fight? The Police clear Auckland's Aotea Square, inciting anger and frustration. In the end, however, revolutions are not made out of testosterone or adrenalin, but from ideas people are ready to follow. Occupy Auckland identified the problem, but was less than successful in identifying solutions.

I’VE BEEN THERE you know. In that place where you are now. The place where frustration and anger overwhelm reason and the only questions are “How did it happen?” and “Why did it happen?” and “Who should I fight?”

The thing is, you can’t stay there. Frustration and anger are the flames of a mental fire that will consume you – if you let it. And when there’s nothing left to burn: when, politically speaking, you’ve been reduced to embers and ash; what good are you then? To the movement? To your comrades? To yourself?

Where do you think the expression “burned out” comes from?

It’s time to stop now. Time to take stock. Time to think about those questions.

How did it happen? That’s easy. You didn’t have a plan. Occupying Aotea Square wasn’t a plan, it was a beginning: a means to an end; a way of starting a conversation with the people of Auckland. But to have a conversation you’ve got to be ready to do two things: talk, and listen.

You had to be prepared to talk to everyone. Not just to the people who joined you in the Square, but to those who never came anywhere near the Square. And you needed to listen to everyone – including your opponents. How many of you tuned-in to the talkback shows? How many of you rang in? How many wrote letters to the Editor of the Herald? Or contacted Close Up and Campbell Live? How many got on blogs like this one to argue Occupy Auckland’s case?

And what, come to think of it, was Occupy Auckland’s case? That Capitalism is harmful to small furry animals, children, and other living things? That inequality sucks?

Gee! Who knew?

You must have known that simply naming your enemy is never enough. At some point you’ve got to decide how to fight him. I’m pretty sure I’m not the only person in Auckland who struggled to understand how erecting a dozen-or-so tents could ever achieve anything more than drawing people’s attention to the issues of poverty and inequality.

Did you ever think about inviting the Mayor to address one of your General Assembly meetings? Or the Prime Minister? Or the Leader of the Opposition? Did you ever consider asking CTU President, Helen Kelly, what her solutions to poverty or inequality might be? Or the Child Poverty Action Group’s? Or the Maori Women’s Welfare League’s? Or Plunket’s?

Did anyone ever consider asking the Mayor if he and his staff could identify any wasteland in the city that could serve as a camp ground? Or if there were areas that could be turned into community gardens? Did anyone ever think of asking Aucklanders to help Occupy Auckland grow food for families who were struggling to feed their kids? There are lots of good conversations to be had while making a garden.

How did Occupy Auckland end so badly? Easy. Not enough talking, and nowhere near enough listening.

The answer to “Why did it happen?” is even more straight forward.

Public bodies cannot tolerate a permanent challenge to their authority. Eventually they will take measures to demonstrate that they still have the power. You all knew that. I suspect there were some of you who were even looking forward to the City Council proving that it – and not you – had the power. Why? Because then you would have an answer to the third question: “Who should I fight?”

But revolutions are not made with testosterone or adrenalin. They are made by people with an idea so attractive, so compelling, so all-embracing that other people – thousands of other people – will pour into the streets to affirm it. Like they did in Tahrir Square – for Liberty. Like they did in Wall Street – for Equality. As they might have done in Aotea Square – for Fraternity.

If there had been anyone there who understood what it meant – or how to make it.

This posting is exclusive to the Bowalley Road blogsite.


brendonRS said...

While I agree with all of your major points, there are a few significant inaccuracies in the detail.

The occupiers did in fact invite Len Brown to their General Assembley. That fact featured quite prominently in their submissions in the District Court. And on at least two occasion members of Occupy travelled out of the CBD to offer assistane with existing community gardens.

The fact that this isn't widely known probably says more about the communication failings of Occupy more than anything else.

Technicalities aside though, I think the biggest problem for Occupy is what you've called "not enough talking". Not enough talking about the right things, to the right people, in the right way. It may be callous of me to say this, but the lack of talking has a deeper root cause: that, for many of the Occupiers individually and certainly for Occupy collectively, they simply didn't have enough to say.

In the end, it was this absence of meaningful things to say that led to the events of the past few weeks. As I've said in other places, if you want people to stand up for your rights to freedom of expression, you best have something more than "we're still here" to say.

I believe in the ideas that Occupy was founded to address. For a while there I believed they were actually getting somewhere too. But any influence that the movement had has now been lost. The longer they persist, the more damage they do to their cause.

[My letter to the Mayor on the subject, if anyone's interested: ]

XChequer said...

Wow. Great writing, Chris. Beautifully put.

Anonymous said...

Yes, the occupiers missed a few cover drives and shelled some sitters in the slips.

Thats not really a big deal, because Occupy NZ was always just a bit of a blip.

"revolutions ... are made by people with an idea so attractive, so compelling, so all-embracing that other people – thousands of other people – will pour into the streets to affirm it"


revolutions happen when people are so pissed off they don't give a shit about anything anymore, even their own life and they get out there and turn over stuff in a fury.

Practice comes first mate.

Then, much later you guys come in and write nice tidy theses about it.

Sanctuary said...

A bunch of aborigines in a camp in Canberra showed with great serendipity how you do it.

Unity of purpose.
Unity in group identification.
Absolute loyalty,

and only then a fuck you attitude to authority.

Gem said...

Chris, thank you for your insightful post. I, too, have blogged about this issue.

I feel that the occupiers totally misjudged New Zealanders’ mood, were out of touch and therefore failed to resonate with most people. Kiwis are doers; we prefer to take action rather than sitting around preaching about problems.

You comment, “And what, come to think of it, was Occupy Auckland’s case? That Capitalism is harmful to small furry animals, children, and other living things? That inequality sucks? Gee! Who knew?”

You’re right – the occupiers were opposing problems that are blindingly obvious yet abstract. Such abstraction leaves most of us cold – people will get behind a cause if they feel there are practical things they can do to help. Sitting around for months, being theoretical will not redress social injustices.

blueleopardthinks said...

You make some very positive and helpful suggestions here, yet you do sound a tad like you want this movement to turn things around without stepping on any toes?! Without anyone feeling any discomfort. “We want change, but please don’t rock the boat!”

It may help people to afford this movement more respect if one acknowledges a history behind it. There have been some seriously dubious political approaches taken over the decades throughout the western world.

It stands to reason that these approaches, although never followed up for the public to know about, affect people adversely; people talk and share their experiences and views. These dialogues started to be heard in our music over recent decades, seen in art and literature.

I posit that this movement hasn't happened as 'all of a sudden' as it might appear. I certainly hope it doesn't die out, I don't think that it is fair or accurate to say that it has. It is larger than simply the people in tents and I sincerely hope that it gets larger still.

I wish New Zealanders weren’t quite so unaccepting and shaming about people speaking out. ("Oh go away, its emBARASsing me!!) I really think that this worldwide movement is a necessary part of our western culture’s development, encouraging us forward in a positive direction. It's heartening.

Michael H said...

Just one brief observation. You say that Occupy Wall Street was motivated by a desire for equality but their call consistently has been for equity.

Despite the confusion between the concepts of fairness on the one hand and equal rights and conditions on the other, I agree with the sentiment of your article. Occupy Auckland protestors would better serve their purpose by facilitating, formulating, and modeling solutions rather than simply identifying problems. My apologies if they have indeed been doing this all along.

Reformers, who by definition are ahead of the curve, generally are treated with contempt or outright hostility by society, equally so activists and protestors. My reservations about method and process aside, I'd like to offer gratitude to all legitimate Occupy protestors for at least doing more than most of us to raise awareness of some of the structural and systemic problems that bedevil society.

The Veteran said...

Chris ... good post.

Frank said...

Perhaps we shouldn't view the Occupy/99% Movement in isolation - but as simply another indicator that our system of unbridled capitalism (like unbridled socialism/communism) will always result in extreme social and economic problems.

Other movements will arise, I'm sure. When when the Republicans (*crosses myself*) start venting anger that one of them hasn't paid enough tax, or made their millions by sacking people - then it's fairly clear that Occupy/99% has done it's job: They've defined the issues.

So let's not be too hard on our own Occupy/99%. I have a feeling that their role at this point in our history was not to "have a plan" - it was simply to remind New Zealanders one very simple fact; there is anger in our society, and things are not as hunky-dory as our smiling Dear Leader would have us believe.

Occupy/99% has fulfilled their role.

Time to move on to Phase 2 - whatever Phase 2 might be.

Watch this space.

cheesefunnel said...

'unbridled capitalism'?

Are you sure this is the environment in which we reside? To imply that the society in which we live is somehow the twisted opposite of the soviet block nightmare is a strange worldview indeed.

Given the fact that National have really done very little to change anything substantial, I find this idea that we have suddenly latched into some type of 'neo-liberal nightmare' quite farcical.

blueleopardthinks said...

I think it is more than that Frank,

Based on the relatively small amount I have gleaned on an array of the issues arising currently, I have come to the view that for the corruption and systemic faults in our system to be corrected, ordinary people must be made aware of them. (Which is why I was delighted to see this movement arise!)

I surmise that if ordinary people knew just how much our system has been eroded, how much of the inefficiencies and problems are stemming from corruption, and dubious political approaches (not lack of money, unemployment, lack of alternatives or any of the other fallacious reasons we are lead to believe) I truly believe most people would be FURIOUS!!!!!!! They would no longer be susceptible to opinion manipulation and the corruption simply wouldn't be allowed any more air to breathe.

We have to remove the 'oh they know what they're doing, it can't be that bad' thought from our minds, just for the time being, because I really don't think this type of thought currently is at all accurate or helpful to anyone.

It would be great if Occupy came up with answers, I think in a way they have; yet merely raising awareness is a very important part of the process toward addressing the problems we are facing. The awareness needs to be present in all levels of NZ. There may be high levels of this awareness in the blogosphere, yet don't be misled into thinking "oh everyone knows that, let's be moving on now." No, it has to reach ordinary people ...everywhere.

Anonymous said...

Mixed thoughts on this post, Chris. Definitely the theoretical bases of the movement were woefully underdeveloped, but could anything else be expected in an age wherein statistical modeling and broad-scale social theorizing have been supplanted by tight media control, empty aesthetics and a groundless, presumptuous sense of entitlement. And to decry passion and indignation I would think is widely off. Power is too consolidated and determining of the social narrative for one to expect that anything short of mass strike or wholesale rebellion would result in genuine reform in political economy. If anything the moments of this movement have confirmed that, even as the bourgeoisie is being rapidly eradicated as a class, the revolution will not be bourgeois.

The likes of yourself, with your access to mainstream media, should be setting some groundwork for a sweeping change in perception. The bigoted middleclass despise a bloated bureaucracy, and you could use this address what is necessary and economically desired in respect of central planning and localized organization. The internationalist “centrist” parties have been getting hypothetically excited about research and development since the 80s, and you could address economic justice from that frame; where wealth will be concentrated in consequence of “intellectual property rights,” etc. When “the market” is again trod out as ideology’s cloudy pillar you could point the manner in which over automation and mechanization in production, instead of being a liberator of human time, has played a role in moving from quantity to velocity of capital, and how this in turn leads to destructive competition and unemployment; also address how low wages stifle the circulation of capital. Even at the most basic you could suggest that the economic paradigm is broken beyond repair in that, given peak oil, there is, on its own terms, not enough raw material to continue producing to an extent necessary to service existing world debt.

You could even suggest that the likely ports of call for disaffected Labour voters (the Greens and Mana) are both predicated on reactionary elements of ideology (“free-market”-based environmentalism and sovereignty / property ownership respectively), and that maybe it’s time for an egalitarianism-focused party. Castigating Labour is an absolute waste of time—they’re unequivocally in the service of capital, committed to taking big business’s money and slavishly tagging along with the internationalist agenda. It’s more the likes of yourself that can set the groundwork an agenda about ethics and social responsibility, as we nobodies haven’t a hope of breaking through the inevitable negative media frame.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

I noticed my post about the long-lived futility of the aboriginal embassy has not appeared. Either you're running behind? Or it had something to do with my question about the use of the word fuck? Not that I'm a great one for using it, but it would be nice if we had a rule? It's obviously not totally forbidden, so I'd like to know when it is appropriate and when not.

Chris Trotter said...

To Guerilla Surgeon: Never received the post, sorry.

adam said...

As a crusty old anarchist - I was torn. This seemed to be on the surface something that was worth helping. Instead it came across as arrogant, exclusive and full of miss direction.

Why am I so critical? For stater's the camping, in a compound - hello lets just ignore 10% of the population right off. Sleeping on the ground is so good for disabled people.

Oh lets see, none of my female friends felt safe enough to stay in the city over night - Bang another 51% gone.

Occupy, what again? So the council has created the growing gap between the rich and poor. So we take what is ours and destroy it? 10% will not like that.

Small business is suffering in this climate, and maybe they could have been a partner - but no. 10% gone.

How about you alienated people by your presence and the longer you kept crowing over nothing - the last 4%.

Oh wait you tell the 99% you represent them and all the time you turn into your exclusive club. Sound like Marxism or Liberalism much?

No thanks - go home occupy - just go bloody home.

guerilla surgeon said...

Chris. Interesting article.