November 2011, Week 3


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Wed, 16 Nov 2011 17:06:06 -0500
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The 99%: A Community of Resistance

    The Occupy movement's exhilarating potential
    lies in forging a unity that can make a new
    majority of the old minorities

By Angela Davis
Guardian (UK)
November 5, 2011


Angela Davis at Occupy Philadelphia, 28 October 2011.
Video: YouTube

When the Occupy Wall Street movement erupted on 17
September 2011, I happened to be reflecting on my
remarks for the upcoming International Herbert Marcuse
Society conference. By the time the conference convened
on 27 October at the University of Pennsylvania, the
encampment in Zuccotti Park was well-established and
similar encampments had emerged in hundreds of
communities around the country. On the opening day of
the Marcuse conference, there were over 300 tents in
the plaza outside Philadelphia city hall.

The organising theme of the conference - "Critical
Refusals" - was originally designed to encourage us to
reflect on the various ways Marcuse's philosophical
theories push us in the direction of a critical
political practice located outside the proper realm of
philosophy, but nevertheless as anchored in philosophy
as it is in a will to transform society.

So, while we were certainly prepared to ponder the
connection between Marcuse's philosophical ideas and
his association with the movements of the sixties, we
were struck by the serendipitous affinity of the theme
with the emergent Occupy movement. As presenters
arrived in Philadelphia, we repeatedly expressed our
enthusiasm about the confluence of the Wall Street and
Philadelphia occupations and the conference theme,
which seemed to us to emphatically enact the 21st-
century relevance of Herbert Marcuse's work.

I don't know whether any of us could not have predicted
that on the second day of the conference, the plenary
audience of more than 1,000 would be so riveted by this
historical conjuncture that almost all of us
spontaneously joined a night march, which wended its
way through the streets of Philadelphia toward the
tents outside city hall. At the site, I reflected aloud
- with the assistance of the human microphone - on the
differences between the social movements with which we
have become familiar over the last decades and this
newly-grown community of resistance.

In the past, most movements have appealed to specific
communities - workers, students, black people,
Latinas/Latinos, women, LGBT communities, indigenous
people - or they have crystallised around specific
issues like war, the environment, food, water,
Palestine, the prison industrial complex. In order to
bring together people associated with those communities
and movements, we have had to engage in difficult
coalition-building processes, negotiating the
recognition for which communities and issues inevitably

In a strikingly different configuration, this new
Occupy Movement imagines itself from the beginning as
the broadest possible community of resistance - the
99%, as against the 1%. It is a movement arrayed from
the outset against the most affluent sectors of society
- big banks and financial institutions, corporate
executives, whose pay is obscenely disproportionate to
the earnings of the 99%. It seems to me that an issue
such as the prison industrial complex is already
implicitly embraced by this congregation of the 99%.

Indeed, it can be persuasively argued that the 99%
should move to ameliorate the conditions of those who
constitute the bottom tiers of this potential community
of resistance - which would mean working on behalf of
those who have suffered most from the tyranny of the
1%. There is a direct connection between the
pauperising effect of global capitalism and the soaring
rates of incarceration in the US. Decarceration and the
eventual abolition of imprisonment as the primary mode
of punishment can help us begin to revitalise our
communities and to support education, healthcare,
housing, hope, justice, creativity and freedom.

The Occupy activists and their supporters have brought
us together as the 99%. They call upon the majority to
stand up against the minority. The old minorities, in
effect, are the new majority. There are major
responsibilities attached to this decision to forge
such an expansive community of resistance. We say no to
Wall Street, to the big banks, to corporate executives
making millions of dollars a year. We say no to student
debt. We are learning also to say no to global
capitalism and to the prison industrial complex. And
even as police in Portland, Oakland and now New York,
move to force activists from their encampments, we say
no to evictions and to police violence.

Occupy activists are thinking deeply about how we might
incorporate opposition to racism, class exploitation,
homophobia, xenophobia, ableism, violence done to the
environment and transphobia into the resistance of the
99%. Of course, we must be prepared to challenge
military occupation and war. And if we identify with
the 99%, we will also have to learn how to imagine a
new world, one where peace is not simply the absence of
war, but rather, a creative refashioning of global
social relations.

Thus, the most pressing question facing the Occupy
activists is how to craft a unity that respects and
celebrates the immense differences among the 99%. How
can we learn how to come together? This is something
those of the 99% who are living at Occupy sites can
teach us all. How can we come together in a unity that
is not simplistic and oppressive, but complex and
emancipatory, recognising, in June Jordan's words that
"we are the ones we have been waiting for."


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