On Nov. 17, protesters of the global “Occupy” movement marked the two-month anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street protests with marches, rallies, and various mass actions. They were protesting many things: corporate greed and its influence in our political discourse, a two-tiered justice system that favors the very rich and the very powerful, the massive bank bailouts funded by hard-working Americans, and the burdensome debt and chronic joblessness afflicting many Americans – the so-called “99 percent.” Yet in cities all across the United States, these expressions of the very American right to free speech and peaceful assembly were greeted with violence at the hands of local governments.
When one reads or watches news reports about these protests, one might think that these protests regularly devolve into a violent free-for-all that justifies or even necessitates the brutal police actions inevitable follow. “Objective” and “neutral” journalists of the corporate media too often describe these confrontations between police and protesters as “clashes,” as if the protesters are the aggressors. In truth, the violence in these so-called “clashes” are initiated by just one side: the police. In the confrontation between unarmed protesters and heavily armed and armored police, it is the police that are the aggressors and the peaceful protesters the victims. There is not an asymmetry in violence, but just violence inflicted by the State and its police.
It is understandable then why politicians and their police would react this way. The movement is a rejection of, and thus threat to, their model of society and governance. It is a dissent against the inherently violent and coercive State.
Consensus, not mandates
Despite the crackdowns, the arrests, the brutality, the Occupy movement has, for the most part, adhered to their oft-stated principle of non-violence. In their rhetoric and actions, the overwhelming majority of the protesters have been peaceful and non-violent. In their general assemblies, occupiers have adopted a decision-making process based on consensus, striving to reach near, if not outright unanimity in their decisions. The movement is leaderless, rejecting representatives to speak on their behalf. The occupiers choosing instead to represent themselves as individuals and choosing to add their many voices in this growing movement. What the occupations lack in hierarchy, they make up for in direct democracy.
Conservatives and libertarians with a desire for limited government will find their perfect government in the occupiers’ system of governance: the General Asssembly. The General Assembly, or the GA, is an open, participatory, and horizontally organized (as opposed to the traditionally vertical, or top-down, form of organization) in which every participating member has an equal voice and opportunity to affect the decision of the group. Participation in the decision-making process and direct actions are encouraged, rather than coerced. The GA is not compulsory and its directives are backed not by laws or the threat of punishment, but by voluntary association and individual action. Problems are identified by consensus and solved by the voluntary actions of its members. The GA and its direct actions are funded by charity and not by taxes, and while some in the movement profess dislike for free market principles, they are already participating in it.
It might be a surprise to the most hardcore and militant Socialists and Communists in the movement that they are participating in a grand libertarian experiment. At its core, the Occupy movement is an experiment in a voluntaryist model of society devoid of state violence and coercion. This is not mere political disobedience, but a dissension from the violent and coercive State. Whether it stays that is another matter entirely.
What have the occupiers wrought? A voluntaryist society, if they can keep it.
This editorial appears in the Nov. 21 issue of the student-run newspaper The Chaparral.