I have to be honest - my initial impression of this movement to occupy Wall Street and other financial centers throughout the country was not good. Sure, I agree with their goals – setting aside, temporarily, the fact that there is no official list of stated goals. Word is that the protesters are against corporate greed, social and economic inequality, inadequate healthcare and education, and more, and they’re calling for the kind of social change that I would stand behind. So why haven’t I joined the demonstrations?
Well, first of all, I’ve been skeptical about this broad approach to creating change. I understand that all of these causes are interrelated, and to address one requires acknowledgement of the others, but I tend to believe that an action requires a stated goal and some kind of focus in order to effectively create change. “The end of corporate greed” seems too vague to me to state as an achievable goal.
Then again, the protesters may have a myriad of demands, but they seem to be having no trouble making them known. And rather than fizzle out due to a lack of focus, the demonstrations seem to be growing in size and influence. Was I wrong about them?
As an activist, I think it’s time to at least pay attention to what’s happening, to take note of what’s working and what’s still falling short. Clearly, one good thing is that at least the protesters are being heard. The demonstration is spreading, to more people and more cities, to everyone from celebrities to unions, and hopefully that means that somebody’s listening.
Will this create change, though? Perhaps only time will tell. One of my concerns is that the protesters’ declaration that “We Are the 99%” of those who are struggling dismisses the fact that there are some who don’t feel included in this movement. Protesters are speaking up about economic inequalities, so are they also addressing the racial and gender inequalities that contribute to these conditions? Some people of color say no. Many of the protesters have suggested that their feelings are “universal,” but as Kai Wright points out in this brilliant essay, “The problem with a universal framework is that what is dominant also gets called universal.” And without awareness of this, even those working toward the same purpose as I am can fail to see my perspective on the issue.
For me personally, one positive thing about observing all of this is that it’s given me a chance to step back and reexamine my feelings about approaches to activism. When considering art as activism, are stated goals and achievable demands required for a piece to be effective? Or is it enough to inspire hope and call for change, opening the door for whatever form that change may take?
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. For now, I’m going to keep reflecting, keep embodying activism as it works for me, standing in solidarity with those who are demonstrating, and hoping for this action to develop into tangible justice for all.