Why Occupy Wall Street Has Already Won: A Poet’s Report from the Trenches

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The demands on Occupy Wall Street far outnumber the demands by Occupy Wall Street — because occupiers don’t demand, they exist and they triumph by using their existence to overwrite the host. But unlike an invading army, we don’t have to win over hearts and minds because we are the hearts and minds. There’s no more need for us to explain the occupation than there is to explain what it is to occupy our own bodies.

It’s like this: If the boy or girl of your dreams is about to kiss you and you demand an explanation you’re not getting either the explanation or the kiss. The reason we’re in the streets is no less mysterious or urgent. If you need an explanation, you are not paying attention to your own dreams.

The demands on us range from the insistence that we issue a manifesto to the suggestion that we just go home. The single demand by the movement is to live uncoerced in the equitable, participatory society we were promised. But our demand is less a demand than it is an intent — with or without the permission of the 1%, the 99% are going to do this. In fact, we already are.

The simple reason no proclamations are being rolled out nor old-school revolutionary communiqués released is because the movement is not an emblem of the people’s desires — the movement is the people’s desire. It doesn’t represent a thing — it is the thing. The leaderless, non-hierarchical structure of the movement is the structure of the society we most want. Its ability to continue meeting the needs of participants even as the number of protesters and encampments grow, reveals its sustainability. Its non-violent resistance to politicians, oppositional media, police forces and the corporations that overtly fund all three — the successful resistance to reactionary impositions shows that the movement is necessary.

It is also unstoppable: Traditional attempts to disrupt communications and freeze assets have had little toxic effect on the movement — and have actually enhanced it. Our economic precariousness as individuals brought us together — what better way to keep our common plight center stage than to limit the financial resources available to the collective? We are committed to avoiding the militaristic, corporate hierarchy that has improved the efficiency of other revolutions at the expense of their moral compass. What better way than to have little media coverage, coverage which tends to build manufactured leaderships from its emphasis on the personalities of experts and spokespeople. Corporate media blackouts and distortions have bolstered the already extant, completely distributed viral communication network that gave rise to the uprising in the first place. Even on the ground, laws against electronic amplification like bullhorns, have encouraged the development of unique communal, non-dictatorial consensus building. Nobody can steal the spotlight from within the movement because there is no spotlight to steal. Nobody can discredit, corrupt or topple the leadership from outside the movement because there is no leadership. No one person represents the occupation, but the occupation’s aims and methods exist within the suddenly awakened, blazing consciousness of every member.

We can gauge Occupy Wall Street’s success in two ways — its effect on the occupied and on the occupiers. That is, its effect on the existing economic structure and on the people struggling to bring about a new one. Its ultimate impact on the occupied, on capitalism and the oligarchy that amplifies its latencies, that impact remains to be seen. But the corporate responses — mockery and violence — are (unintuitively) heartening because it means the system recognizes in us the threat of the good example.

But for the occupiers, success has already manifested itself. Cultural success for having created a viable, self-perpetuating alternative. An autonomous society apart from the dominant, inhumane system. And individual success in the form of a matrix of new relationships and with it, new conceptions of how to live. Though they use some of the well-trod trappings of earlier social critique, this occupation is not a mob of chanting sloganeers, nor an institutionally-backed group designed to parrot its leaders’ talking points. It is nothing less than the spontaneous gathering of thousands of people to share and enact ideas. The moral society that we want, the society based on respect and cooperation, has emerged in camps from New York’s Liberty Plaza to the most isolated corners of the earth as a counterpoint to bleak societies based on inequity, coercion and brutality. A corrupt civilization may argue that the ends (control) justify the means (violence). But a civilization acting in the interests of the people need not argue anything at all. That’s because, in the case of the occupation, where peaceful coexistence is both the method and the goal, the means are the ends.

Let’s examine ways the movement is occupying new cultural spaces, how it is quantifiably expanding. Occupy Wall Street has been joined by unions and other institutions of the left which is both good and bad. It’s great because of the increased resources, visibility and momentum. We’ve become the lead story now, even if the coverage is still dismissive and the otherwise very nice people who form their opinions from the why-would-I-lie corporate media continue to denigrate it with silly arguments. The primary obstacle to the clear demands of the occupation has never been the banks — the banks like the government can’t function without popular support — it’s the New York Times moderates who up til now haven’t realized they are part of the 99%.

Martin Luther King Jr. talked about those people in his letter from Birmingham jail where he said the main resistance to civil rights wasn’t the active racists — it was people who said they liked what the movement was, just not its methods — the so-called moderates who advocated that everyone just settle down and wait for things to get better on their own. But things don’t get better on their own. People have to intercede. The media may cast this uprising as extremist, but how can the concerns of almost all humanity be anything but mainstream? It’s the well-dressed gentlemen of Wall Street who are the extremists — as are the senators and presidents who have done their radical bidding for decades. And that extremism is infectious as evidenced by the misguided belief of so many Americans in the myth of economic mobility, the faith that someday I too will join the ranks of the 1%. In a perverse reversal of the old IWW motto, so many people believe an injury to the 1% is an injury to me.

So the involvement of large organizations with this movement ought to go a long way towards convincing the nay-sayers, foot-draggers and someday-1%ers that we are all in this together. But it does so perhaps at the expense of what the movement will actually ask for. With institutional support, we’re more likely to get something, but the something is less likely to be amazing. At best another Glass-Steagall bank reform and at worst a cap on ATM fees.

But what Occupy Wall Street really wants, the reason it exists as a spontaneous uprising beyond the bounds of political or economic institutions, what it really wants is to break a system that is inherently heartbreaking. We want to replace the current system with one reflected in the very structure of the movement itself—an egalitarian economy where cultural equity is prized above capital, where coercion is unneeded because everyone is able to articulate their weird, loving, unapologetic and unafraid potential to be human. Will it happen? I hope so. And I’m optimistic because in one way, in one big way, it already has.

Within the movement this world has already been created and is only becoming more alive. It was created the moment two people showed up here at Liberty Plaza, the moment that people sat down in the autonomous zone beyond the standard normative constraints of life. The moment they arrived here to discuss the mechanics of the system in which we live, to realize their positions within the 99% and to explore what new telemetry they could plot. The people coming to the occupations around the world are more likely, because of this experience, to pursue engagements with social justice, the environment and creative pacifism, to better themselves by enhancing the lives of their neighbors, and to base their days and nights not on making rent but on performing meaningful acts.

When the police arrested 700 people on the Brooklyn Bridge and hundreds more around the country, they disrupted local occupations for a few hours but they intensified people’s commitment to it, not just in the short term, but for the rest of their lives. Most of us had never been arrested before, never considered ourselves the kind of person who would get arrested. The experience changed this occupation from a exciting dalliance, a youthful indiscretion to be remembered fondly 20 years from now — changed it to a peak experience that altered our very identity. A before and after moment. Who we are is now directly connected to this movement. It is imminent — we aren’t just involved with it, we and the movement are one and the same.

So to recap: Looking outward, institutional support means we’re more likely to get something, but the something is less likely to be transcendent. Looking inward, the movement has been a success since day one and as long as it continues to exist without artificial structures, without limits on what the human heart truly desires, its success will only grow.

Every element of our society is arrayed against the possibility of viral grassroots organization. Occupy Wall Street should not exist. Yet it does. Its mere existence is a success because something in the prevailing cultural environment has to have changed to permit its birth. Its existence is proof that we are not just hoping for a new world — we have already created it and our creation grows every day.

We occupiers intend on living within a society that supports our fundamental rights and encourages the complete attainment of our potential. Within the encampments we have already achieved that — either the rest of society complies with what is really in their hearts — or the camps will swell and replace that society. Either way, the world will be occupied.

This isn’t what democracy looks like, for that word is, like socialism, terminally co-opted by the manufacturers of consent — this is libratory sweetness, this is the unguilded uprising of the spirit, this is dissent, dulcet toned and angry in the service of love. It looks pretty good from here inside the plaza — and I trust it looks just as bright from the plaza inside yourself. The space within you where those notions are also awakening and stretching their infinite limbs into what, a mere month ago, was impossible.

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The Acculorber Weekend Weather Forecasts on acculorber.com are uploaded directly from Liberty Plaza each Thursday night.


Brendan Lorber presents The Acculorber Weekend Weather Forecast every Thursday at midnight on acculorber.com. It is not, as you might imagine, about the weather. He is a poet, the editor of Lungfull! Magazine and the shadowy figure behind the Zinc Bar Reading Series. Right now he’s teaching a course on the poetics of trouble. More from this author →