The first draft of this letter (for the Romanian magazine Decât o Revistă) was written on November 14, 2011, one day before New York City's Occupy Wall Street encampment was raided. The second draft was finalized on November 22 while I was traveling in Nicaragua. The letter was translated into Romanian and publishd in January. To see how it appeared in the magazine (with accompanying photos by Ahmet Sibdial Sau), click here. Savvy readers will notice that fellow Mantler Emmanuel Iduma published a letter from Lagos in the same issue.
REACTOR // Scrisori // OWS // Semne:
Letter from Occupy Wall Street
Between the time this letter is written – November 14th – and the time it is published, much about Occupy Wall Street will have changed. I’ve been participating in this movement since the beginning of October, and indeed, much has changed ever since. What started as a small, intelligent, protest in New York City on September 17, 2011, has blossomed into a global movement, with thousands of similar occupations springing up (and being knocked down by authorities) across the U.S. and around the world. By the time you read this letter, more occupations will have risen, others will have been demolished, and Occupy Wall Street, the original encampment, well … who knows?
And that’s what is so wonderful about the Occupation happening in the symbolic heart of global finance: nobody knows where this movement is going! We don’t have to know; what matters is that we be present. What matters is that we participate. In doing so, we will take steps toward remaking a global political and economic system that currently favors the wealthy 1% and leaves the rest of us to scramble to make a decent living. We will make mistakes, no doubt. But the democracy we practice is a learn-by-doing process. And that’s beautiful.
Many ask: who are the Occupy Wall Street protestors? To say that we represent the 99% is neither a slogan nor a cliché. During my time at OWS, I have met veterans from World War II, the Vietnam War, and the Iraq and Afghanistan wars; unemployed laborers from across the United States; libertarians, socialists, conservatives, anarchists, and people of other political persuasions; students, real estate agents, artists, community organizers, writers, librarians, and, yes, even bankers. The elderly, clergy, families, and immigrants. I have even met millionaires demonstrating alongside the unemployed. In short: everyone. Occupiers cannot be categorized by political ideology, race, class, or occupation. We are, literally, everyone.
Just as varied as the participants are our grievances. The chanting, the placards, and the debate revolve around a myriad of issues, and this is necessarily so: there is not just one problem at the heart of our economic and democratic crises: the issues are systemic. And so, within a one-minute walk through our demonstrations, you can find people demanding that money be removed from politics, pleading for environmental issues, expressing anger over xenophobic immigrant policies, lamenting American involvement in multiple wars, seeking financial sector reforms, and so … much … more. No particular politician is criminalized: an unjust, global, neoliberal economic and political system is seen as our common enemy. As I write this, the movement is at a crucial turning point. Police in multiple cities across the United States have violently repressed many Occupy sites, including the Liberty Plaza occupation, with military tactics and midnight raids. Many have been hospitalized, thousands of us have been arrested, and journalists are either being banned from the Occupy sites, or have been arrested alongside demonstrators, curtailing not only our freedom of speech, but also our freedom of the press. Such repression has had interesting effects: outraged by the increasing levels of police violence, more and more Americans are joining in our movement, but authorities are acting more aggressively to destroy us. Our struggle is difficult, but we have not lost our resolve. We will continue, and we will do so using nonviolent means.
At Occupy Wall Street, we are not naïve. We know that our protest is easier to maintain because, unlike our brothers and sisters in Syria or Bahrain, for example, we are not being shot and killed on the streets for voicing our opinion. And we know that we can maintain our protest because we do not need to spend a majority of our day looking for food or hauling clean water from a river. We know this, which is precisely why we must protest. We have a moral obligation to stand for those who cannot stand for themselves (even in our own country).
But our movement is only easier to an extent: because we are not protesting a singular issue (like, overthrowing a dictator), our job is made intellectually, philosophically, and morally difficult. There is not just one issue or policy that undermines the well-being of 99% of the world’s population. The problems are manifold: the financialization of economies, neoliberalism in global affairs, racism, sexism, environmental degradation, corruption, militarism, xenophobia, and on, and on.
Because of the complexities with which we grapple, our movement will take time to reveal itself. Whether this revelation comes in the form of designing alternative economic systems, suggesting policy reforms, or any other manifestation, I cannot say. Nobody can.
So, for those of you who are sympathetic to our cause, I urge patience. And I ask for your support. Right now, Occupy Wall Street may be the most important movement in the world.
Follow Shaun on Twitter @shaunrandol
This essay was originally published (translated into Romanian) in Decât o Revistă (Jan. 2012): http://www.decatorevista.ro/arhiva-revistei/dor7-2/.
Occupy Wall Street, Romania, New York City