The worldwide protest can be a critical force for change if it follows some simple rules
By Naomi Wolf
Guardian | Observer
As UK citizens are being told once again to “trust” the gatekeepers of the global banking system and as US citizens are realising that, despite a first amendment that guarantees freedom of speech and assembly, they are facing potentially lethal rubber bullets in Oakland and police brutality ranging from Tulsa, Oklahoma, to the streets of Manhattan, what is becoming clear is that a game-changing global shift is taking place. The conflict is no longer between right and left, but between the “one per cent” – a corporatocracy that, without transparency or accountability, is claiming the lion’s share of the planet’s resources and capital, while disregarding democratic processes – and, well, the rest of us.
This single global family, transcending national boundaries, just wants a peaceful life, a sustainable future, economic justice and basic democracy. On the other side, the global corporatocracy, also transcending national boundaries, has purchased governments and legislative processes, developed its own military, mercenary or quasi-military enforcers, engaged in systemic economic fraud and plundered treasuries and ecosystems.
What should global protest movements learn from what’s happening around the world and what lessons should they draw from their own experiences? My study of successful protest movements leads me to suggest the following:
– Democracy is disruptive. Around the world, peaceful protesters are being demonised for this, but there is no right in a democratic civil society to be free of disruption. Protesters ideally should read Gandhi and King and dedicate themselves to disciplined, long-term, non-violent disruption of business as usual – especially disruption of traffic. If they are peaceful, they can’t be infiltrated by provocateurs as easily, while the unjust militarisation of the police response is more transparent. Also, the winning protest movements of the past were a matter of months or years, not days or hours; they involved sitting down or “occupying” areas for the long haul.
– Protesters need to raise their own money and use it to hire their own lawyers. The corporatocracy is terrified that citizens will get their hands on the mechanism of the law.
– Protesters should make their own media and not rely on mainstream media to cover them. They should learn to write opinion pieces and press releases, blog about and document their experiences and create web platforms where cases of police abuse (and the abusers) are logged and documented. Protesters should use their cameras and video cameras religiously. There are, unfortunately, many documented cases of violent provocateurs in demonstrations. This is why it is so important not to cover one’s face in a protest: provocateurs need to be photographed and logged.
– Protesters in democracies should create email lists locally, sync the email lists nationally and start registering voters. They need to email their representatives the list of Occupy-registered voters in each district and commit to getting out the vote in congressional or parliamentary elections for Occupy-supporting candidates – while working to defeat Occupy-bashing candidates.
– Protest groups need to organise to oust politicians who are brutal to or suppressive of protesters. In Oakland, California, the right has started a recall effort to force the mayor from office for being “soft on the protesters”. Protest groups need to organise to oust politicians who are brutal to or suppressive of protesters. This tips the scale: in Albany, New York, for instance, police and the district attorney refused to crack down on protesters and chose to support their first amendment rights.
– Protesters should elect representatives – for a given term just like in any democracy – and train them to talk to the press and to negotiate with politicians. The movement has been shy of identifying leaders, but I believe this is a mistake. A leader does not have to be a top-down hierarchist: a leader can be a simple representative. Protesters should elect representatives – for a given term just like in any democracy – and train them to talk to the press and to negotiate with politicians. These should span the spectrum: young people and grandparents, truckers and teachers and businesspeople. It is hard to cover the protest effectively if there are no spokespeople.
– Protests should not be scenes not of clashes but instead should model the kind of civil society this emerging human family wants to live in. In Zuccotti Park, in Manhattan, for instance, there is a kitchen, food is donated for free, kids are invited to sleep over and there are teach-ins organised. Musicians should bring instruments, the vibe should be joyful and positive. If there is mess, protesters should clean it up themselves. The idea is to build a new city within the corrupt city and show that this is a reflection of the majority of society, not a marginal destructive element.
– Finally, we should understand that it is not a “list of demands” that is so profound about any of these protest movements; it is the very infrastructure of a common humanity that is being created. For decades, the global family has been told to keep its head down and leave leadership to the elites; in wealthy countries, to zone out in front of TV or at the mall; in the rest of the world, to submit to poverty and drudgery. What is transformative about the protest movement is that people are emerging and encountering one another face to face and remembering the habits of freedom: face to face, they build new institutions, new relationships and new organisations.
– And, I hope, pass laws sooner rather than later to demilitarise the police; ban Tasers and rubber bullets; criminalise police and politician violence against free speech activities; demand prosecutions for financial fraud; compel the corporate books that unaccountably swallow billions in tax revenue to be audited; investigate torturers; bring home soldiers from corporate wars of choice – and rebuild society, this time from the grassroots up, accountably, lawfully and democratically.
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