Much has been said about the achievements of the Occupy movement – that it changed the narrative both in the realms of political campaigns and at street level; that it awakened, engaged and activated the millennial generation; that it scared the shit out of those in power.
All these things are true but often asserted by those who looked in from outside the encampments, rather than those who were co-habitating within them. Without intending to detract from those externally affected and inspired by it, the experience inside each Occupy was exponentially more insightful as it gave a real-world example of how a different society could function, from within its embryo.
With this new series “Occupy Achievements” we intend to explore and translate, from an insiders perspective, some of the most significant social achievements of the Occupy movement and expand its acknowledged successes to include these major factors.
At the four autonomous occupations born from Occupy Auckland specifically, we witnessed and participated in the creation of new systems of employment, social justice, education, economics and distribution of resources, political representation and media.
These topics and more will be covered within the series, beginning with employment.
Modern Employment and The Great Myth
In modern times, the non-financial benefits of employment are well acknowledged. You feel better about yourself when you are productive and engaged with your peers; when you are active and outdoors; when you are serving others and enhancing yourself, your skills and attributes, completing tasks and achievements.
This is why the conventional concept of unemployment is not only financially crushing but also socially, spiritually, psychologically and even physiologically detrimental to the human condition.
Our countries and their governments are obsessed with unemployment statistics as a measure of economic performance and growth. We are conditioned to believe that unemployment has always and will always exist in some form, and that we’d best avoid it like the plague. Never is it suggested for a moment that 0% unemployment is an achievable goal, let alone one we could attain today, if given the will and the way to circumvent conventional thinking and employ (pun intended) a structural change for all our betterment.
For unemployment exists only so long as we believe The Great Myth that it always must, and fail to engage in what employment really is: service to others for mutual benefit.
The Working Groups (Just Do It!)
This post isn’t about an idea, or a concept, or a dream. It’s about what has already been done and worked. The backbone of Occupy was its working groups. Dozens of times a day we had curious passersby that stopped to ask questions or just to chat, volunteer for working groups and embarking upon their first shift within half an hour of happening across the encampment. Why the enthusiasm? Simple. It was something new, novel and different sure. But the very nature of the working groups and the way they functioned, was alluring beyond reproach.
It was the easiest recruitment sell of all time. The barrier to entry? None. Required experience? Zero. What was required to participate? A living breathing body, with the desire to do so. Training? On the job, free of charge. Specialist skills? If you have them, use them. If you don’t, we still have a job for you anyway! Uniform? No thanks, we aren’t robots. Just a coloured strip of material or ribbon to indicate which group you were working with. Coordinator positions? On rotation, or as mandated by consensus. Hours? Four hours a day. If you want to work more you may. Everyone is a volunteer after all. If your job is done faster than a four hour shift, sweet. If your job needs more help, flag it so others can step up. Everyone works in small groups or autonomously if they prefer. Don’t like your team mates? Join another working group. You don’t even have to ask permission. Just rub your name off on the whiteboard and write it under another working group. Bingo, you’ve just changed career path. When can you start? Now!
Education programs allowed those with special skills to share them with an unlimited number of interested learners free of charge (this will be covered to a much greater extent in a later post.) But because there were no restrictions on curriculum, it wasn’t only the traditionally educated or skilled who were teachers. Anyone with knowledge about anything could pass it on to others, and only those interested in that knowledge need attend or listen.
The Big Questions
But who cleaned the toilets, you may ask? The people who wanted the toilets cleaned. With our own eyes we saw people who were “unemployed” and in many cases “homeless” transform in a matter of minutes to having shelter (a home), community (friends) and a job (activity).
The effects were immediate. We saw the eyes of people who had arrived in abject misery, light with the promise of opportunity. We watched them flourish, their pride and more importantly their hope, being restored in front of us.
But how can they survive without money, you may ask? Well here’s the thing. You can’t eat money, and you can’t build an effective shelter out of it. However, we can feed each other without money and we can house each other without it. Humans have literally been doing both since the dawn of history. The real human rights are the rights to food, shelter and love, because we had all three before money ever showed up on the scene. That we need money to live is as big a lie as that unemployment is a ‘fact of life’.
“Give What You Don’t Need, Take Only What You Need”
This is the true secret to how the economy operated though we’ll go into this deeper in a later post. It is more commonly known as mutual aid, a form of resource-based economy.
Occupiers emptied their houses, workplaces, friends and families’ places, of all the unwanted junk that is completely superfluous to modern living. No matter what items were donated, there was someone or some working group at Occupy that could put them to good use.
Farmers and fishermen who wanted to contribute something brought food and fish. Orchards brought bags of excess fruit. Anything that someone has in abundance is a cheap donation to them – but gratefully received by those without access to the resource under ordinary circumstances.
Participation in a working group, any working group, or if you saw a need you could even create a new working group, gave you equal rights and access to the resources and services of the occupation as every other participant. Thanks to the wonders of human innovation and collaboration, there was always enough to go around.
And unemployment? 0% baby.
People can argue until the cows come home whether resource-based economies are workable, flawless systems or whether they are unrealistic. What they can’t do is deny that the systems we employed really did help people and make a meaningful difference in their lives.
The evictions of the Occupy movement didn’t just rob us of the use of public space, but had a terribly damaging impact on the lives of those to whom we had restored hope and opportunity. As usual, those in the most dire circumstances paid the highest price from the forceful dissolution of the occupations.
Those who were once again left with nowhere to go. No home, no shelter, no community, no job.
The real effect of the evictions was that once again, unemployment would pervade civil society under the guise of inevitability, in open denial and defiance of Occupy’s brand of evolutionary social progress.
But for those of us who remember what was achieved, whose lives were positively affected by the compassion and mutual aid engaged in at the occupations, whose imaginations were ignited – we do not forget. The evictions only served to scatter us like seeds on the wind – seeds that now propagate far and wide, and as the messages of Occupy continue to spread and penetrate, the work continues.
TO BE CONTINUED….
Written by Suzie Dawson (Member)
OCCUPY AUCKLAND MEDIA TEAM