A collection of reflections on Occupy Melbourne.
The global Occupy movement was one of the most important political events of 2011. Beginning with Occupy Wall Street in New York on 17 September 2011, the movement triggered an unprecedented wave of uprisings in 951 cities in over 82 countries across the world. Melbourne, of course, was not immune from this upswell of resistance. Occupy Melbourne became the largest occupation in Australia, and indeed, the southern hemisphere. Like most truly novel historical events, the Occupy movement caught most people off guard. Politicians, the media and even hardened activists on the left initially dismissed the movement as an ephemeral and passing moment, a wave of energetic enthusiasm which would be as fleeting as it was exuberant. But Occupy persisted. As days turned into weeks and Occupy Melbourne remained a force to be reckoned with, people began to take notice of what was fast turning into a new social movement. And yet today, looking back, Occupy Melbourne sits awkwardly between the two categories, moment and movement, desperately attempting to escape the tagline of a “has been,” but with not quite enough energy and support to keep going.
On 15 October 2012 we celebrate the anniversary of Occupy Melbourne and this collection of short essays has been published to commemorate the day. This journal grew out of an event planned and facilitated by community organisers, also entitled “Occupy Melbourne Reflects,” which proved to be an incredibly fruitful and valuable experience. There was something remarkable yet uncanny about seeing the same activists but in a different (indoor) space, the same smiles, but no police, the same banter, but without the threat of violence; it was as if we finally had a chance to think. This journal, then, is a product of the success of that day, sparked by the insight that social movements need a space to reflect on what has happened. Reflection and critique are not just optional extras, but are essential parts of campaigning for social change.
The Occupy Reflects Journal is a chance for a community of activists to pause, take stock of the events of the past year, and reflect on their experiences. It is a chance to look back on events with fresh eyes, but also to create a collective memory as part of this process of reflection. This series of thoughts, we should not forget, may yet prove useful for future campaigns and struggles. If there is anything that constitutes a theme that unites the contributions in this journal, it is the observation that the Occupy movement was, for those involved, an intense, and sometimes traumatic experience. The texts themselves each perform certain aspects of the Occupy movement. One can feel the energy and excitement bursting from some, while others linger on the page, oozing bitterness and a sense of lost opportunities. One thing is certain: they are raw. Some of them were hastily scribbled in the heat of political struggle, others were written with time to reflect, but all of them bear witness to the difficulties of politics and the fragility of collective social life.
With all of this talk of trauma and anguish, it should come as no surprise that the current experience of Occupy Melbourne is well captured by the psychoanalytic categories of mourning and melancholia. In many respects, the past few months have been a historical mourning for the failed birth of a new horizon of emancipation. Never have there been hopes that were so high yet so quickly and efficiently dashed. The process of mourning, as Freud described it, is the experience of integrating the realisation of a lost object into the psyche and moving on to something else. In this regard, many of those involved in Occupy describe their current experience as “post-Occupy” and actively participate in a number of affinity groups and campaigns that grew out of the Occupy movement.
On the other hand, Occupy Melbourne continues a phantom, ghost-like existence in the hearts of some remaining participants. Melancholia describes the inability to get over the loss of an object. When an object is shattered and there is no withdrawing of energies or turn to a new object, there is an empty identification of the self with the lost object, creating a traumatic cycle of melancholia. Occupy Melbourne suffered a traumatic death on the day of its eviction from City Square, but, like Hamlet’s father, it lived on in an afterlife, sensing that it had unfinished business with the corporate and political elite. Moving from place to place, it then had to undergo a second, much more drawn out and painful death, as its spiritual and physical resources were gradually drained from it. Now, twice dead but still not yet departed, Occupy Melbourne floats in the phantom nether-region of online debates and in the minds of its believers.
The legacy of Occupy, to be sure, is still a contested and uncertain one. If we agree with Mao that “it’s too early to tell” the full effects of the French Revolution, then certainly we must resist the urge to summarily judge an event that has occurred as recently as the Occupy movement. More to the point, the Occupy project remains an essentially open one. We still do not know what potential future events might awaken the beast from its slumber and rejuvenate the tired and dispirited activists. “To the tents!” will be the battle cry, as old allies become reacquainted with one another and new tactics and strategies are developed. With a financial crisis looming over Europe and the pending exhaustion of Australia’s mining boom, another global wave of uprisings may be closer than one thinks, for in these crises we must hear the distant roar of battle.
Table of Contents
Editor’s Introduction 3
NOTES FROM THE OCCUPATION
- The Eviction of One Space, The Start of Another Nicola Paris 7
- Consensus Decision-Making Tal Slome 9
- Where to Now for Occupy Melbourne? Cobina Crawford 11
- Occupy as a Work of Art Carl Scrase 13
- The Anarchist Roots of the Occupy Movement James Muldoon 15
- For the Women of Occupy Helen Cox 18
- Power and Privilege at Occupy Melbourne Elizabeth Muldoon 20
- Post-Occupy Kate Phillips 23
- The First Aid and Care Team: The Secret Origin of an Affinity Group Jason Coggins 25
- What Occupy Means to Me: Fledgling Steps Joel Kershaw 27
- Three Lessons from Occupy James Muldoon 29
- It’s Easy to Light a Flame, Harder to Keep it Burning Holly Hammond 33
- Lost Opportunities: Political Alliances and Democratic Politics Dawn Wells 36
- General Assemblies: An Overview The Baron 38
- Promise and Resistance Nicola Paris 41
- Occupying the Law J.D. 43
- A Socio-Political Analysis of Occupy Melbourne James Muldoon 46
- What is Possible Now? Nick Carson 50