The Occupy Movement and the Participatory Transition

Written by 

“I am large, I contain multitudes”- Walt Whitman, Song of Myself


How do we get from here to there, how do we make the transition from the current civilization we're in- with all its myriad instabilities, inequities, injustices, insanity- to the next phase of human culture that so many of us desire? For a few years now I've been drawn to the vision of societal transition that political theoristoccupy Michael Hardt lays out in the video below from 2008. It presents a thoroughly process view of human nature and culture, and calls on a widespread experiment in participatory democracy to create a new culture (and new subjectivities) through our own action in the world together. I figured it was high time to finally post this video here at Beams as the very kind of thing that Hardt suggests is now erupting in the Occupy movement. What Hardt was once only envisioning is now quickly becoming reality, and sometimes pausing to conceptualize these things with a slightly more meta-view can help improve their success on the ground. First the video, then I'll have a few more things to add:


Author and media theorist Douglas Ruskoff has recently noted the radical experiment in participatory democracy that's taking place in the Occupy movement. He writes:

Occupy is anything but a protest movement...That's what makes Occupy so very scary and so very promising. It is not a protest, but a prototype for a new way of living...The urban survival camps they are setting up around the world are a bit more like showpieces, congresses and "beta" tests of ideas and behaviors the rest of us may soon be implementing in our communities, and in our own ways.

In an essay about a year ago for Beams, To What End Are We Living?, I wrote about developing "a collective culture of engagement, what integral political theorist David Gustav Anderson calls 'becoming-responsible'". I must say that it's rather heartening to see something like this now emerging all around us; somehow the yeast has been activated, the mustard seed is beginning to grow. It'll be an experiment to be sure, and it'll need ongoing cultivation across the board, but it seems to me that we're witnessing the beginnings of something truly new.

To make this post truly a bricolage worthy of the name, I want to finish by adding a passage from the Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano, from his 1998 book Upside Down. After laying out a rather devastating and chilling account of life in Latin America in the past decades- the economic exploitation (from within and without), the poverty, the crime, the upside_downfear, the corruption, the hopelessness of millions- he finally offers a shred of hope when he writes about the multitudinous collective movements that started to address this situation through direct engagement. He writes:

Alternative social movements don't just express themselves through parties and unions. They do that, but not only that. The process is anything but spectacular and it mostly happens at the local level, where across the world a thousand and one new forces are emerging. They emerge from the bottom up and the inside out. Without making a fuss, they shoulder the task of reconceiving democracy, nourishing it with popular participation and reviving the battered traditions of tolerance, mutual assistance, and communion with nature. One of their spokesman, ecologist Manfred Max-Neef, describes these movements as mosquitoes on the attack, stinging a system that repels the hug and compels the shrug: "More powerful than a rhinoceros", he says, "is a cloud of mosquitoes. It grows and grows, buzzes and buzzes". In Latin America, they are a species at risk of expansion...These unarmed forces of civil society face frequent harassment from the powerful. Some get shot dead. May the gods and the devils hold them in glory: only trees that bear fruit suffer stonings.

Related items

Join the Discussion

Commenting Policy

Beams and Struts employs commenting guidelines that we expect all readers to bear in mind when commenting at the site. Please take a moment to read them before posting - Beams and Struts Commenting Policy

Login to post comments

Search Beams

Most Popular Discussions