With about as many attendees as there were ideas, the Occupy Brisbane (OB) protest started on Saturday morning without much of an agenda. This is the challenge that the “occupy” movement is facing everywhere: we are against a multitude of things, but what do we stand for?
Notwithstanding the conspiracy theorists, the “99%” crowd at OB were individually clear about the things that bug them: unemployment, unfair distribution of wealth, environmental degradation, war and violence. These things are arguably all the products of rampant capitalism and there were a few seasoned activists from the left there to point this out. Occupy movements everywhere are making this effort to educate onlookers. Listen to these speeches at OB by Adrian Skerritt and Dave Eden http://soundcloud.com/applecorey/
While acutely aware of the injustices of the system that affected many of them, an important dialogue has been pursued through the many social media pages devoted to the OB movement where people are making the connections between their own sense of injustice and that affecting indigenous Australians in particular. Stimulated by discussions and criticisms of the mainstream nationalism of some of the participants, community radio journalists at 4ZZZfm's The Anarchy Show seeded a discussion about sovereignty that led to the OB group embracing a statement of solidarity with indigenous claims of sovereignty: “We acknowledge the original occupiers, the traditional owners, of this land, the Aboriginal people. And we open our arms to all people of different races, beliefs and nations. We are the 99 per cent!” Debates also raged around the inclusion of the police, whether or not to invite them to join OB or if they were simply employees of the 1%.
This political awakening in a new generation of socially motivated young people is perhaps the greatest promise of the Occupy movement. One of the important roles of social movements is to stimulate dialogue around matters of mutual concern, and clearly an outlet for these kind of discussions, and more importantly a human connection to them, has been sorely lacking. The mainstream media in the US have been largely ignoring or ridiculing the concerns of this generation, although the sheer numbers of people becoming involved is making this harder to do.
However, what the 99% stand for is not entirely clear to outsiders. As one young critic said: “Sitting in a park with no specific goals is achieving what exactly? ...and how exactly does this movement propose Australian society should function? Last time I checked this country functions better than most, free Medicare, Centrelink, hexed uni fees, freedom of expression.” This political and historical naivety is the dilemma of the Occupy movement in Australia. We do not, in fact have 'freedom of expression' in that there are no laws protecting it. The social safety net of Medicare and welfare payments only exist because of hard won efforts of social justice activists to get them. HECS is the poor cousin of free education that is burdening many groups, especially women, with debt until they die. We *could* be like the US, it could be worse, but it is not enough where people are still struggling, homeless and suffering.
In Australia many of us are affluent and injustice is generally seen as individual failing rather than systemic failure. This is in part the argument that the wealthy elites make against anti-poverty protesters and the poor in general, encouraged by the likes of A Current Affair and other conservative media. The “get a job” lobby has succeeded in convincing many of the young and poor that it is their own fault that they are in want and that we should be satisfied with the 'trickle down' that the rest of us get. This is precisely what the economic powerholders want the poor and oppressed to think, engendering a hopelessness that stymies resistance and doesn't question the little concessions that we get in return for behaving.
There are three psychological conditions for minority influence to succeed: the outspoken minority must be consistent in their opposition, not rigid or dogmatic about how it should be achieved (to be rigid is to lead to fissures in the group and people leave), and most importantly the social context needs to be fertile ground for the acceptance of minority ideas by the majority. The deep commitment and vocality of minorities will lead to more deep thinking about these issues on the part of the majority, leaking more and more people into the movement. The important thing is to develop those ideas in a way that is accessible and do-able.
The next step of the movement, in my humble opinion, is a steep learning curve. The interconnections of poverty, homelessness, starvation, racism, sexism, homophobia, environmental degradation and social exclusion are there once you start seeing the forest. Enunciating these concerns in a clear vision for the future will allow outsiders and participants alike to understand better the reasons for this uprising of youthful anger at power. People have already been thinking long and hard about how to restructure society in a way that is fair, and it's up to us long term social justice advocates to step forwards now and help the next generation create a better world we can all be proud of. It's a great opportunity.
There is an OB organisational meeting on today,
16 October · 15:00 - 17:00
Queen's Park opposite Treasury Casino
George & Elizabeth Streets
Brisbane, Australia: http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=254699764573545
This meeting time and place may change. It is timed to start after a CSG rally and concert expecting thousands to attend. http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=279397962070243
Jim McElroy from the GLW estimates 300 people attended the first OB meeting on Saturday, numbers were bolstered by the arrival of a crowd attending a coincident Coal Seam Gas protest: http://www.greenleft.org.au/node/49093
For pictures of the OB Day 1 go to: http://www.facebook.com/TheOccupyBrisbane
More pics http://www.occupyaustralia.org.au/
See http://occupywallst.org/ for participant accounts of the occupation there.
Mainstream media articles: