The politics of Occupation: Notes on #OccupyMelbourne, What it might mean. Where we might take it.

(This is edited version of an article  orginal published by the Rooftop Collective. This is a political contribution to the occupymelbourne movement. Yet it is made in the spirit of active engagement with  the international movement and in order to provoke debate about the movement’s political development.)

Transformative political action requires that we intervene in and change our political, personal and economic realities and our desired worlds; that we open our politics, language, relationships and practices to the possibilities of justice.

To do this we need to continue to recognise and take seriously that we occupy occupied ground. Australia is as a country is in dispute, Indigenous sovereignty has never been ceded; Indigenous struggles continue. Decolonisation must structure the conversations we have about imagining a better future, and committing ourselves to working out what this means must be central to our movement.We seek to act in solidarity with Indigenous struggles.

Things can and must change. We can create the spaces for change, we have the power to make change. We all have the possibility for kindness, solidarity and for hope. Occupy Melbourne embodies and symbolises hope: hope for direct democracy, the hope of turning public/private spaces into spaces in common, the hope of an open-ended process of experimentation with different ways of being together, the hope of laying bare the inherent antagonisms of society, and making them explode.

Friday On My Mind // The Shocking Predictability of Police Violence
On Friday October 21, 2011, Occupy Melbourne protesters were targeted and assaulted by the Victorian police, as marginalised people are targeted and assaulted by the police all of the time. By being dragged out of the square or the demonstration on the street, restrained, hit, detained and arrested, regardless of opinion or motivation, but simply for being there, we were reduced to symbols of disorder and opposition. For this reason we became ‘legitimate’ targets.

Anecdotally the violence landed disproportionately on people who are the usual targets of police violence: people of colour, queers, Indigenous people. As with the poor and the homeless, and those with mental illnesses, these groups are the every-day stand-ins for a symbolic threat to state ‘order’, and they routinely bear the brunt of policing, criminalisation and punishment.

On Friday we all came to represent this symbolic threat to order.
The violence the police exacted was malicious, traumatic, painful.
It came as a shock to many of us. It should be shocking. However, this violence was not a political aberration, not the result of mean cops on the force, or simply stemming from the direction of a megalomaniacal mayor. This is how the power of the 1% is enforced. This is how it reacts when its legitimacy is challenged. Police ‘force’ is its weapon. When they say ‘order’ they mean their order.

Despite knowing the brutality that the state is capable of, we must not let ourselves become so desensitised to this violence that it fails to shock. We must never forget that for those who are treated as permanent others, permanent threats to order, such violence is an everyday affair.

However, the response by the State, as embodied by the actions of the police, also gives us reason to be hopeful. It is clear that this fledgling movement is a threat. The authorities are scared of Occupy Melbourne because it names and confronts injustices, it voices a rebellion, it has tangible potential, it’s part of something global and it’s scaring them.

Joining those already involved, new layers of people turned out to defend and stand in solidarity with the City Square occupiers. Many who joined the protest on Friday had not spent a large amount of time at the occupation; a lot of people didn’t come to the city that day prepared to be part of a protest. Many joined after we called out to them in the street. This was the strength of the protest. Robert Doyle, Ted Baillieu and the hypermasculine force of the Victorian Police drew the battle lines between the 99% and the 1% more starkly. Friends and enemies were made that day. It is becoming increasingly clear exactly who these two groups are and what it means to be on either side.

Who are the 99%. What is the 99%.
The 99% are united by the political and economic control that we lack in common, not by the sameness amongst us. We do not control the majority of the world’s wealth, nor the political systems that (want to) determine our relations, desires and lives.What 99% of the world have in common is that we are exploited, albeit differentially, by the systems of capital, and that we share the power to change it.

We are comprised of myriad differences, experiences, identities and belief structures, both imposed on us and self-determined.Capitalism stratifies the 99%. The inequities amongst us both involve and transcend class. We are divided by oppressive structures of thought and behaviours that determine privilege and marginalisation. […]  We are informed by the ‘differences’ we have learned, some of which we need to unlearn. There are some differences which need to be discarded, others which must be encouraged. Occupy Melbourne needs to embrace differences amongst people, but abandon any ideas of difference which rely on and produce hierarchies.

We all carry prejudice and inequity amongst us. We all need to face this and ensure it informs our commitment to listen, to re-think, to take responsibility for how our personal expressions and actions affect each other’s experiences, and to be willing to change. We come together through a subversive, unified practice of respect, not through striving for a sameness of experience and identity. We realise transformative commonalities through shared struggles.

Part of resisting this inclusion is resisting representation. Occupy Melbourne doesn’t represent the 99%; we are not a vanguard claiming to speak on behalf of those without power. We envision a politics of self-determination and direct democracy without need for representation and with a disdain for governmental politics. We are in the process of creating ourselves as political agents, of working towards our own transformative commonality, of building our own power.


Negotiating Change, Sustaining Change
We cannot ask governments to fix capitalism. They will subsidise it, sometimes lightly reform it, largely celebrate it, but they will not check it, and they cannot fix it. So how do we change our social structures if not through the government? We have to do it ourselves. We have to build our collective power to re-imagine and re-create our world.

Changing society involves participating in changing methods of relating to one another. Because capitalist logic is not only external to us, because it is what we have been brought up within, because it is a logic through which we have learned to think, act and self-identify. Creating different relations is an intensively active and necessarily transforming process. It cannot happen at once, it is something that needs to keep happening every day. There will be constant failures, and this requires active generosity and forgiveness: unceasingly.

Occupy Melbourne is in the process of creating a common language through the General Assembly. But the challenge of consensus is not that of working out what we all agree upon, but is instead the challenge of a commitment to a process of working with our differences and coming to new and unexpected conclusions and solutions. Consensus doesn’t require that we retreat to the lowest common denominator, but rather that we admit that there are important differences in our approaches to political questions. This is a space that must be open to debate and argument. Particularly when the General Assembly is divided, political or controversial questions should not be avoided or relegated to working groups. Debate shouldn’t be narrowed to a choice between two tactics, but instead broadened to a discussion of strategy and the overall politics, direction and purpose of the movement.

In light of this, we now put forward some ideas for future strategy, informed by these thoughts.

Where do we go from here?
The camp at City Square was a means not an end. It was a moment and a series of actions that gave space to our rebellion, to the commons. Now that City Square has been violently fenced off and enclosed by the 1%, we need to think about how we can keep achieving our ends, and not fetishise the means that were previously used.

The camp to be established at the Treasury Gardens should be seen as one part of a wider strategy. What Friday showed us was that the Occupy Melbourne movement has grown into so much more than just the camp at the City Square, or elsewhere. City Square and what we made of it was central to the beginnings of Occupy Melbourne, and to its ongoing conception, but something is lost in confining it to that. On Friday we moved our struggle into the streets, into the media and firmly into the public realm. The danger of remaining solely located in the Treasury Gardens is that the risk that a tent city becomes the sole site of the movement. For what do we do if we are confronted with a State, embodied in Robert Doyle, which does not allow us to set up a tent city anywhere within the city of Melbourne? Our decisions shouldn’t be determined by the limits set by the state. We need to be in a position of choosing our times and spaces of confrontation with the state, rather than adopting a strategy that sees us always acting in defence.

We need to keep returning to various sites in the city and turning them into places for common decision making. We need to find ways of making the antagonisms in society visible, in a way that draws more people into the creation of a dynamic, growing movement that can challenge the rule of the 1%. We need to build a movement which strengthens its means of self-constitution and can position itself as a counter-power.

We should hold regular demonstrations through which we target the Town Hall and demand that Robert Doyle resign, and challenge the fencing-in of City Square. We propose that Occupy Melbourne uses these targets to build a larger movement. We should challenge the symbolism of the fences around City Square by organising a day for the tying of thousands of ribbons to them, and keep holding rallies that take people to the fences in an attempt to push them over. We should keep building these rallies until we have the numbers to dismantle the fences and take back our Square.

If we can’t institute a permanent tent city, we need to think about ways of making our Occupation mobile – creating a moving kitchen, library, art space, discussion space, childcare, roving General Assemblies and more. That is, creating spaces and practices which are organised around the logic of solidarity, not profit. And if we’re mobile, we should also move towards organising neighbourhood assemblies outside of the city centre. We should expand the communal spaces of Occupy Melbourne to the suburbs.

We do all these things knowing that we each have different things to offer. All of us have our time stolen in different ways by the daily grind of capitalism, patriarchy, heteronormativity, racism, colonialism. Importantly, all of us want to be involved. And while there may be differences in the time, energy and knowledge that we can each commit to Occupy Melbourne, we assert that this will never be the basis for hierarchies amongst us. We will not push people out because they have less time, disregard people because they are not sure how to articulate their thoughts, alienate people when they make mistakes. None of our politics is pure. We will embrace a willingness to make sure our patterns of organisation don’t align themselves with structures of domination. Occupy Melbourne is a continuous learning space, a space to make mistakes and together figure out how to do better next time, how to expand and how to continue, how to keep going and never stop. Occupy more, decolonise more, find each other, build larger and stronger networks and keep discovering new ways to experiment with social life, building consensus, and reclaiming our lives.

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