Occupy Wall Street: one year later — a video report

by Global Uprisings on September 28, 2012

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From Sept 15-17, OWS activists gathered in Lower Manhattan to commemorate one full year of actions. Filmmaker Brandon Jourdan filed this video report.

By Brandon Jourdan and Marianne Maeckelbergh

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Jon Cloke September 28, 2012 at 10:47

As someone who participated in the European Social Forum from 2000 onwards, fantastic to hear people talking about horizontalism, the refusal of representation, refusal to engage with the political status quo and the discovery of new democratic spaces and new ways of doing democracy.

OWS could and should engage with both the World Social Forum and the European Social Forum, in pursuit of a new tomorrow. For what it’s worth, then, here’s part of a ‘Horizontal Manifesto’ that I published on the ESF lists back in the day…

HORIZONTAL BELIEFS

Horizontalism asserts that within the ESF there can be no liberty, no free participation, without equality – political rights within the ESF equate directly to participation in all real decision-making processes. As a consequence of this, where the slogan ‘a different world is possible’ is frequently interpreted to mean the world outside Europe, there can be no European attempt to change the world outside, without first changing the European self. None of the plenary sessions of the (Paris) ESF reflected on the Forum itself, avoiding the vital question: “who isn’t here?” and, as importantly: “why aren’t they here?”

A direct consequence of the above should be a continuous awareness of the absent ‘other’. That absent other is the more important as we realise the interconnections between all issues of concern to the ESF. There is no issue, theme or topic of the ESF that is not connected to every other issue – discussions on this interconnectedness (which we call transversality) as if it were distinct of itself become meaningless, for the ESF is nothing if it is not the active political embodiment of transversality. Transversal joining of debates is one (but not the only or sufficient) mechanism by which internal democracy becomes a reality.

There are three themes of horizontalism that are central to the construction of the ESF and a ‘movement of movements’. The first is that the forum is an open space not just for the discussion of the political, but for the form of the political as well; the second is towards the discussion of the socially equitable utopia, and how the phrase “Another World is Possible!” can be made flesh; and the third is on the question of strategies, which is to say how and in what ways the first two themes can be given practical expression. There can be no realistic discussions of issues, themes, political agency or representation within the ESF (or the social forum movement as a whole) until and unless there are spaces for a continuous discussion of these three themes, interlinked with external autonomous critiques to give it focus. It is plain from this that structures deemed necessary for decision-making, following demonstrably transparent, democratic selection procedures, must be subject to continuous, rigorous and critical self-evaluation. These themes and criteria we understand to be PROCESS – without a constant re-evaluating of process, there can be no meaningful ESF.

Horizontals believe that process is all-important for neutralizing behaviours within the ESF seeking to pursue a centralized, authoritarian and exclusionary politics. Horizontalism understands that this behaviour has resulted historically in the domination and stifling of left/alternative/emancipatory debate in Europe in support of an elitist vanguard – these behaviours we call VERTICAL.

All vertical actors claiming legitimacy of representation through vanguardist revolutionary ideology are appealing to the type of structures, practices and theories that the social forum movement arose to contest – how likely is it that bringing such practices into the movement of movements will work where they fail outside?

The position of the horizontal, however, is that not only is there always a place for the beliefs and debates which vertical actors can bring to the ESF, their participation is essential; without their critique the ESF cannot be sufficiently self-reflexive and self-regulatory. The danger lies in the messianic propensity in the belief-system of vertical groups, which deny the belief and agency of others.

For vertical actors, the well-being of the masses of voiceless in Europe is best served by adherence to rigid belief systems and control mechanisms. Such actors are certain that the situation of the voiceless is sufficiently urgent that process be made subservient to themes of mobilization and resistance. In order for this to be so dissenting voices must be seen to ‘fail’, be dismissed, be excluded from decision-making processes, their beliefs ‘discredited’. The greater moral and practical importance of verticalist organizations is constantly asserted over the needs of mere individuals and loose networks.

Since before the Florence ESF this vertical, exclusionary tendency has sought a social forum movement of closed-door meetings, a movement of ‘important speakers’ and of ‘big’ events, a movement in which positions and statements can be ‘sensitive’ and not for general consumption, a movement in which engagement with the European political establishment and political parties is constantly proposed and sought, without the permission of those on whose behalf it is sought.

In rejecting these behaviours, there are three general refusals that horizontalism believes to be inherent to the Porto Alegre charter and without acceptance of which we believe there can be no true ESF:

1) WE REFUSE THE TYRANNY OF POSITION – When actors in the ESF movement attempt to dismiss the positions of dissidents as neo-liberal, they are attempting to dictate the shape of debates going on within the ESF and to exclude multiple, different voices by making them ‘others’, positioned outside a false construction of allowable debate. Similarly, those groups who insist (for instance) that a structure such as a federalist democracy for Europe is the only way forward, or that the position of the ESF should be that the European Union be federalist are acting in a manner contradictory to the ideas of representative democracy that the ESF purports to champion. Whilst we may recognise and support some of the ideas put forward, the way in which they are stated and the mechanisms through which they are being proposed is inappropriate.

2) WE REFUSE THE TYRANNY OF LEADERSHIP – The exclusion of the individual and of difference is being promoted in the ESF through false claims of representation and leadership. The WSF movement arose among other reasons because older forms of political activity such as political parties and trades unions had long since ceased to represent the views and interests of the majority of even their own members. Such organizations have developed a highly codified form of patronage through which a minority may dictate to the rest, reinforced by sporadic controlled elections in which choice is carefully limited. If it is accepted that the failure of such a system within Europe has led to the triumph of unchecked neo-liberalism, it must follow that allowing a similar system to develop inside the ESF, giving precedence to such organizations, will have similar effects.

3) WE REFUSE HIERARCHIES OF PLACE – this is understood to mean that all attempts to locate dominant events of the Social Forum itself or any constituent part in a physical location are unacceptable. By the nature of geographical and social exclusion in Europe, from the poorest sans-papiers through to sex-workers, physical presence as a passport to participation is unacceptable – ease of access to transport, by its financial and legal implications, is exclusionary. The European Social Forum must by its very nature be constantly seeking ways to bring debate and decision to the excluded, in particular in cyberspace, not seeking to reinforce their exclusion by insisting on attendance. Thus, physical meetings of the ESF, whilst essential as a means of raising awareness and encouraging outreach, are excluded from being representative or participatory – the ESF must see cyber-reality as its’ natural home, the most effective way to increase outreach and representation.

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