Occupy Wall Street : A Kind of Postmodern Social Movement

Occupy Wall Street : A Kind of Postmodern Social Movement

Tori Nuariza Sutanto


“We are the 99% that will no longer tolerate the greed and corruption of the 1%”, is a popular slogan of Occupy Wall Street (OWS) Protesters means, that if economy get better those (1%) take the advantage, while if the economy get worse We (99%) that inevitably have to be responsible. We Are the 99%, is the central message that represents the symbol of U.S majority and word that faced same experience and struggle caused of ruling class and capitalist exploitation in the economic, social, and political structure (Iqra, 2013). The idea of choosing Wall Street, a street in the Manhattan New York that the basis of world financial corporations where many Bankers worked, Bankers was blamed as the actor caused crisis that academically called monopoly-finance-capital. The state reacted toward the crisis by forcing bail out to collapsed companies and corporations, while on the other hand, U.S majority became jobless, a lack of housing settlement, low income, and felt the higher cost of education and health caused by the crisis. Therefore, The consequence of U.S 2008 economic crisis, triggered ‘Occupying’ movement by thousands of U.S citizens with background of ; old, young, middle class, jobless, intellectual, student, lecture, and activist. The topic of Occupy Wall Street has been a debate and popular topic on the scope of social studies, Marxist, Social-democratic, Left-wing activist, social sciences, and etc. that it not only became U.S phenomenon but also a global phenomenon since it spread out rapidly worldwide. Following This, this paper objective is to find that Occupy Wall Street can be considered as kind of post-modern social movement. I will employ the Robert Walker (1992) modes of social change and analyze whether OWS classified as the Walker modes of social change in the context of post-modern framework. This paper distinctive with previous research, essay, or arguments, are 1) its insight of anatomy of the OWS in the context of philosophically postmodernism discourse and the practically in the impact  of post-modernity (reality of post-industrial society) framework 2) its analysis of the dynamics, characteristics, and actors of the movement 3) using Walker modes of social change to see historically same spirit, form of characteristics of Reform and social change in the U.S that there is a possibility of new modes of social change.


OWS : Response, Critics, Dynamics, Characteristics, and Goals

            Following the response of the U.S Society, critics, media representation toward the Occupy Wall Street, there were many misunderstanding and simplistic point of view, that merely resisted the growing and the potential of this movement. After its first ‘Occupying’ action on the September 2011, Occupy Wall Street accused as whether it was kind of civil disobedience or political disobedience, whether it was 21st century communist movement or neo-marxist movement, whether it was American version of  the Arab Spring or the depiction of OWS as well as the Lenin Dictatorship of the Proletariat , besides that is it moreover showed as demonstration, protest, political festival, or movement ? Yes it is. To be more objective, for a comprehensive analysis, it is important to understand the dynamics, characteristics, and goals.

            Concerning to the parties or groups involved in Occupying movement, there were coming from many political mainstreams and professions. Some progressive intellectuals, Slavoc Zizek, Noam Chomsky, Cornel West, Naomi Klein, and Judith Butler, joined and supported this movement even following the masses to protest on the street. Also some political mainstreams activism, Anti-war, anti-globalist, feminists, and environmentalists, have participated. People from middle class, lower class, student, lecturer, jobless, also shared the same feeling to diminish the culture of greed and take down the corporate domination. Therefore, Occupying movement collected people with distinct background, different political mainstream, and professions, with same feelings and common enemy. Socialist Democrat, Marxist Humanist, Left-Wing activist claimed OWS as the rise of the fall of global capitalism that the 2008 crisis was the final crisis of questioning capitalism since its problematic symptom in the 1930 Great Depression, 1973 Recession, and 2008 Great Recession. Laissez-faire politic-economic policy, progressive state-interventionist policy, or Free market and neoliberal ideology have been failed practically to the end of capitalism, at least those represented what Left and Marxist think of those gradual historic events.


 Here, I would like to describe the characteristic of Occupying movement ; 1) its heterogeneouity of the movement (participants coming from many political mainstreams) 2) its diversity of demand or protest (even there were no clear goal or objectives 3) its globality held in locale (cities) but shared global feelings worldwide by using virtual communities to provoke in cyberspace (social media, internet networks, online editorial journals  4) its idea of radical democracy (direct and participatory democracy) lead to be a leaderless movement with no hieararchical stance of structure, using general assembly and concensus in the decision-making process.


             Those characteristics can be a problematic to the future and the goals of the Occupying movement. The plurality of the participants with the possibility of different ideological stance, point of view of the problems indeed can lead the movement not to have a clear demand even this movement has been spread out globally to cities, countries, such as Oklahoma, Seattle, Chicago, Paris, India, Germany, with the same target which are the symbols of global center economy within cities or countries, claimed that their movement has spread out over 100 in United States of America and 1500 cities globally worldwide. The effect of social media and internet networks empower its globality. The second, like what Ross Wollfe (2011) said The doctrinaire non-hierarchical stance taken by the “facilitators” of the General Assembly and the amorphous political form of organizational “horizontality” that results from it, severely inhibits the potential for the Occupy Wall Street movement to formulate specific demands, coordinate decisive actions (beyond marches), and articulate a broader program of social change. Then, It might allow individuals to freely start up club or working group by acting on their own initiative, that be a problematic contribution to add the confusion and unstructured protests,


At least, the consequences of leaderless movement, background of many political mainstreams and no hierarchical structure can explain why the occupying movement has confusion in demand, unclear goals and objectives. Even though, Occupy protesters have declared their Declaration of Independence and Manifesto, still the protesters demand on what? The status quo? Wall Street Crashed? The gap between 99% and 1%? questioning global capitalism or the failure of American Dream? Anti capitalist or would like to come back to Clinton Boom Years, Johnson Great Society, Rooseveltian New Deal, Anti Neoliberalism? LaizessFaire or state interventionist? Fight for global free market system and neoliberal ideology or just focus on the redistribution of wealth?, Political-ideological or  socio-economic issues? Even the development and spreading of this Occupy movement became global cultural phenomenon which the demand also widening into the the break up of International Monetary Fund (IMF), democratization in the world economy institutions,  the abolishment of developing countries debts.


            For me, the most problematic is not mainly on the demand (national issues or international issues) but on the spirit and the motives of the protesters. I also find that in the Forum Post on the Occupy official Web Site http:// http://occupywallst.org/forum/occupy-movement-objectives/  protester that joining even claimed himself as propose of socialism and capitalism in the same hand, “ In a sense, we all like Socialism and we all like Capitalism but we don’t like how manipulated it can be due to the fact the Constitution doesn’t prohibit the things politicians do in this age. This is why the main goal that I listed in this declaration is to demand a Constitutional Convention for a new constitution. Also, OWS movement itself often claimed by the some mainstream of the Marxist mainstreams, while on the other hand many of the protesters not categorized on the Marxist ideology, not have the same objectives and ideological stance.


            On the analysis above, to sum up the problematic, were its inability to adequately conceptualize the capitalist social formation, as the protestors common response ‘culture of greed and corporate domination’. Thus, problem with seeing greed as the root of all, framing the social inequality and class oppression within national context), and fail to comprehend the scope of capitalist world economy, as capitalism nowadays has been fundamentally global phenomenon (Ross Wolfe, 2011). Nicholas Owsley (2012), the Occupy Movements : A Polanyian on the Contemporary Dissent, argues that the market failures was the central cause of the 2008 crisis. This was the historic economic from 1970s to 2007, a progressive deregulated economy and neoliberal ideology was the central themes. This movement desire to overcome the problem with the democratic instutional framework, also the bias political participants, and limitation on the Marxist view on the lens of class-centric, then led to Owsley (2012), to conclude that the different formation of occupying movement in U.S and in the South Africa, potential to be a countermovement. On the other hand, Occupying movement inspired ; reawakening of the political left its decade long slept and reviving the anti-capitalist sentiment in social consciousness (Wolfe, 2011).


Walker Modes of Social Change

            Robert H. Walker, in his writing entitled Reform and Social Change in U.S (1992), proposed a theory of social change that compatible historically with the dynamics of United States of America. At least, Robert Walker Theory can be the prominent reference of theory of social change in the U.S. Walker (1992), there are three main categories of  reforms ; modes I (politico-economic reform), modes II (reforms in behalf social groups), modes III (alternative form of social models). For modes I (politico-economic reforms) the example is on the early pre-U.S Independence “Taxation Without Representation is Tyranny”. This model applies five stages : random protest -> structured protest -> random remedy -> structured remedy -> institutionalization. Most of politico-economic isssues follow the standard of cycle arising in protest against ‘suffrage restrictions’, ‘political corruption’, or extremes poverty or wealth. The actors were political parties, labor union, and large associations. The form of expression will be held  conventions, platforms, campaign, organization meeting and political oratory. Then, it held boy-cots, strikes, gallots, sit-in and etc in term of models of reforms. Modes II (reform in behalf social groups), usually hold by outside the mainstream (region, marginalized, races, particular groups. Then, the types of leadership are individual and voluntarily. Modes II seem highlited by the auto-biographies of inspired and charismatic leaders and the public demonstration, for instance Malcolm X (Boy Cott and Anti-Government movement), Martin Luther King Jr (Civil Rights Movement), American Anti Slavery Society, and Women’s Christian Temperence Union. Modes III was distinct with the mode I and Mode II, assuming that gradual change is appropriate and desirable. Mode III usually demand drastic change heading for revolution. Modes III characterizes with strong individual leader with alternative models and articulated solution, For instance Franklin Delano Roosevelt New Deal. Modes III is natural connection with drawing, plans, specifications and also futuristic romance.


   Seeing the Occupying movement with Walker theory of modes of social change, is next to be categorized as the mode I (politico-economic reforms) but with some notes. First, mode I politico-economic reforms for example, U.S revolution of independence, started with the political and economic oppression by the British colonial on the stamp act and no representative of colonies on the government assembly then the common sense of Thomas Paine burned the masses and led them to do revolt. The objectives is the reform in politic and economic side, politically a new thirteen colonies be an independent nation with elected representatives. While Occupying movement, fail to be recognized to promote political reforms, as the Occupy Wall Street in fact only focus on the socio-economic issue, as cited (Harcourt ; 2011, Gaurtney ; 2011, Sutanto ; 2012). Also I, emphasized on my previous paper Occupy Wall Street Movement as a form of  political disobedience not 21st century Thoreau Civil Disobedience (2012), demonstrate that one of  OWS characteristics as a movement were ; leaderless, many political persuasion, not clear demand, and ideological-escape, also OWS tended to touch socio-economic issue rather than opposed with the state ideologically. The new pattern of modes represented on the Occupying Movement which its leaderless, democratic way of decision making process by General Assembly, and no hierarchical stance. Therefore, it can lead the movement into confusion and unstructured protests. This new kind of social movement then, I would like to think, the impact of postmodernism discourses and the reality of post-modernity.


A Kind of Postmodern Social Movement

            First, Post-modernity and Postmodernism are different, sometimes it simplify as the same thimgs. Postmodernity is a view that modernity lifestyle has been changed into new institutions, modernity end and now is the new age of post-modernity (Jones 2009 :216). Postmodernity is a situation and social order produced by the information-technology era, globalization, fragmented life-style, consumerism epidemic, deregulated market and public services, weak nation-states, and traditional values re-inspired (Saefuddin, 2010 :135-137). Postmodernism simply is a disbelief of the meta-narratives or grand narratives (Lyotard, 1969). Chad Renando (2011) find three characteristics of postmodernism ; deconstruction, discourse/dialogue/conversation, and relativity. Postmodernism is characterised by deconstruction, typically applied towards anything that sets itself up as an all-encompassing “grand narrative”.  Society creates stories around that which is collectively agree as “truth” (Chad, 2011). Meta-naratives for example ; freedom, progress, proletariat emancipation (modernity conception of narratives) (Saefuddin, 2010 : 135-137). Once the grand narrative is rejected, the only perspective remaining for this deconstruction and discourse is from a perspective of the individual. Truth becomes relative.  Absolute truth can only be possible through discourse, but then that truth is absolute only to those in the conversation. Simply, Postmodernism means philosophical thought that fight and oppose modernism, while post-modernity is the result of the reality produced from the thought. I emphasized, in my previous essay of knowing modern and postmodern (2012), that post-modernity created a society that full of uncertainty, without clear and obvious identity, a society with the truth within is relative, skeptical society, a society that born a new spirituality that based on the preference and interest (Sutanto, 2012). A relativity that constructs from the postmodern society, rejects absolute truth and reality can be constructed depending on the interest and motives of certain groups or community.


            What I think it is significant to find that Occupying movement can be considered as a kind of postmodern social movement, its relation to the deconstruction the end goal (does not action from a charismatic leader), unclear demand (touching the discourse relatively, recognizing its internal inconsistencies) also the it leads to highlights the relativity of the demand by the occupiers protesters. Chad (2011) argues that at some point the organisation of the movement will give way to institutionalisation, promote leadership and hierarchy, power imbalance, norms of behaviour, and ultimately a more defined purpose for being. As soon as the machine of society can clearly articulate what the movement stands for, that machine will adjust to both defend and placate only to the extent that it can continue with the existing narrative. A second challenge is that the movement is fighting established power without a power base itself. Following Deleuzi and Guettari, also the protest of shaming neoliberal agenda is not ideological in nature (Kiersey, 2013). A sentiments of neoliberal subjects not as sets of thinking individuals,but, rather, as aggregation of feelings (Kiersey, 2013). Furthermore, The dynamics of Occupying movement was only protesting without a clear alternative models, a politic reforms plans, or solution of the problematic of the crisis. In this context, demanding and questioning as a consequence of shame feeling on the effect of economic crisis, corporate domination, greed of capitalists, free market and deregulated system in almost all aspects. This kind of pattern is the postmodern style protest. Nicholas Kiersey (2013), for International Relations  (IR) and International Political Economy (IPE) analysis, thinks that the final result of OWS is not simply a superior theoretical account of what is and what is not legitimately as world politics, that OWS has provoking to share same feelings, energize the sentiments of anti-capitalism. While Hammond (2013) said that the occupation of wall street succeeded in bringing the attention to them, that the unjust an unfair of distribution of wealth and power media corporations really exist. In this sense, this movement can be replicable across country worldwide.



            Occupy Wall Street can be considered as a kind of postmodern social movement in relation to the deconstruction of the idea of previous social movement (organized, charismatic leadership, hierarchical, institutionalization), that OWS is leaderless, not hierarchical, unstructured protests, and unclear demand. Also, the discourse of the end goal which is the objectives of OWS still questioning since, the participants coming from many political mainstreams, then the way of decision making process of general assembly still can be debated by them. The OWS also presents the postmodern style of protest since, its manifesto not touch the basic problem just sounding the culture of greed and unjust of power corporation and wealth distribution, while the shaming of neoliberal agenda is just not ideological in nature just as aggregations of feelings anger.



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