by Don Franks
Reports flew across Wellington of windows smashed in, roofs ripped off and trees toppled by gusts of up to 140 kph. Ferry services were cancelled and planes were unable to land at Wellington airport.
As darkness fell, fifteen Civic Square occupiers hunkered down to survive the storm. Many regular occupants chose to stay at home or with friends and family, rather than endure more sleepless anxiety at Occupy Wellington, only to return later to find their tents trashed.
Not being designed for it, many tents were torn down by gale force winds. The larger information tent had to be dismantled before it was destroyed. Four occupants stayed up through the night to ensure the camp was secure, that the rest of the camp was suitably sheltered and that nothing blew away.
Wellington City Council spokesman Richard MacLean observed hopefully:
“It looks like a few have become significantly tired of the wind. They have taken a bit of a battering, and their numbers are thinning out by the looks of it.”
Occupier Joel Cosgrove agreed that “It’s not easy when you’re sleeping in 140 kmh winds pushing down on your tent. But it’s a struggle to change society and part of that means you have to grit your teeth and tough it out.”
A three hour meeting of Occupy Wellington took place last Wednesday night to discuss the future of the struggle, after which Joel told the Dominion Post:
“Nothing has changed… financial chaos continues to happen. We could well be here at Christmas time.”
What change might have been expected?
That’s not clear.
What’s inescapably clear is the occupiers’ expectation of their camp having a profound social impact.
The editorial of Occupy Wellington’s newsletter resonates with supreme self importance:
“We are taking on the entire might of the corporate power structure and its servants in the government and the state apparatus. While they have money and guns, we have koha and aroha.”
How will this titanic stand-off be resolved?
A leading Occupier of Wellington, Christchurch and currently Dunedin, Daniel Strype is promoting an article by Charles Eisenstein from the Reality Sandwich site http://www.realitysandwich.com/
Daniel describes this article as “An excellent summary of what is driving many of those who are participating in the Occupy Together movement”.
The core of Eisenstein’s argument runs:
“No demand is big enough. We could make lists of demands for new public policies: tax the wealthy, raise the minimum wage, protect the environment, end the wars, regulate the banks. While we know these are positive steps, they aren’t quite what motivated people to occupy Wall Street. What needs attention is something deeper: the power structures, ideologies, and institutions that prevented these steps from being taken years ago; indeed, that made these steps even necessary. Our leaders are beholden to impersonal forces, such as that of money, that compel them to do what no sane human being would choose. Disconnected from the actual effects of their policies, they live in a world of insincerity and pretense. It is time to bring a countervailing force to bear, and not just a force but a call. Our message is, “Stop pretending. You know what to do. Start doing it.”
These words make several extraordinary claims.
First, reforms are “positive” but not enough. Not even rather substantial global reforms like “protect the environment, end the wars.”
Secondly, “our leaders” are in the thrall of “impersonal forces”, one of which is “money”. One effect of being beholden to such forces is to destroy the sanity of our leaders.
Finally, this entire unfortunate situation can be turned around, not by any application of social force, but by a call – “Stop pretending. You know what to do. Start doing it.”
Eisenstein’s call recalls to me the utterance of a weary fourth form English teacher whose bored class is deliberately murdering pronunciation of “The Daffodils”:
“Stop pretending. You know what to do. Start doing it.”
Eisenstein’s ideological package is the self-righteous politics of teenage petulance – “ You made the mess, you sort it out”.
This comes garnished with a touch of half-remembered Sunday school injunctions about money and satanic forces.
Christians may believe the love of money to be the root of all evil, but they are wrong. Money is merely a man-made means of commodity exchange which only adversely affects the sanity of those suffering insufficient amounts of it.
What the other “impersonal forces” are, God only knows; perhaps they are his opponent the Prince of Darkness? That would at least be consistent with the tone of Eisenstein’s line of thought.
Charles Eisenstein represents the nutty aspect of the American Occupation movement and it is not fair to label the whole movement with his weird words.
The positive aspect of the movement in the United States is a courageous challenge to the power of financial institutions, complaints about their gross abuses and demands that something be done. This outcry at some manifestations of capitalism is confused in many respects, but it is energetic and sufficiently directed at the target to receive brutal police bashings on behalf of the haves.
Occupy Wellington does not represent such a challenge and relations with the police have thus far been cordial. This is largely because the Wellington “occupation” is not an occupation in the usually-accepted sense of the word. A political occupation means squatting on disputed territory, such as the 1977-78 Maori land rights occupation of Bastion Point’s prime real estate. In that case the police force was deployed in overwhelming numbers.
By contrast the Wellington occupation is in a small space which disturbs nothing and enjoys friendly relations with the Mayor.
Occupy Wellington does not deserve nuttiness as its complete obituary, despite some of its ridiculous statements.
An undeniable component of the action has been a sincere search for social alternatives. As well as toying with anti-fluoridisation of water and tax reform campaigns the Wellington Occupation offered active solidarity with the locked out Marton meat workers.
Such union support activity could have taken place without any contrived shadow boxing with impersonal forces.
Or the weather.
New Zealand Occupations have all taken place on relatively undisputed ground; their central and consistent opponent has not been the state forces but nature. The struggle has been with the climate, not the climate changers.
If the New Zealand Occupy movement represented any serious social weight this would have been somehow manifested during the recent general election. As it was, the tent groupings were utterly irrelevant to those proceedings.
Occupy Wellington’s own newsletter indicates the reason for that irrelevance:
“Let’s get something straight: this movement has issued no demands. It is not a protest. It’s an occupation. Rebellions don’t have demands”.
The “no demands” mantra reminds me of the revisionist Socialist Unity party, who tightly controlled much of the New Zealand union movement in the 1970’s. The Socialist Unity party always tried hard to deflect specific demands, for example, favouring of “organizing around the question of wages”, rather than going for a specific percentage. Specific demands mean winning and losing and leave no political place to hide. In a word, they mean accountability.
Indian novelist and activist Arundhati Roy commented on the American movement: “… I think that turning the word ‘occupation’ on its head would be a good thing, though I would say that it needs a little more work. We ought to say, ‘Occupy Wall Street, not Iraq,’ ‘Occupy Wall Street, not Afghanistan’, ‘Occupy Wall Street, not Palestine’. The two need to be put together. Otherwise people might not read the signs.”
Where occupiers see their own reflections, Arundhati Roy sees contradictions and the necessity for concrete demands.
At a time of extremely low class struggle it’s not surprising that attempts at activism sometimes take some strange and very artificial forms.