And so?: Occupy Everything

The final part of our conclusion to the Networked Society debate: Goodbye, year of new movements: bring on 2012 and Occupy Everything.
Aaron Bastani
11 January 2012

The final part of our conclusion to the Networked Society debate: Goodbye, year of new movements: bring on 2012 and Occupy Everything

2011 has been a truly momentous year in politics and social movement. For ease of reference one can see its genesis as a year of protest on the steps of Millbank on November 10th 2010 – since then events have come thick and fast. The British student movement, the Arab Spring, Wisconsin and the occupation of the Capitol building, the 15M movement in Spain, large scale industrial action in virtually every major European country, the J14 movement in Israel, the biggest riots seen in Britain for a generation or more, black blocs in Greece, Italy, London, Oakland and elsewhere, the rise of two unelected heads of state in Greece and Italy hand-picked by France and Germany, a feasible US debt crisis only narrowly avoided by 24 hours, a Euro that everyday seems more precarious, a debt crisis within the EU that now stretches to possibly every member state – including the Landesbanks of Germany, credit downgrades of a dozen OECD economies and, finally, the Occupy movement – which on the 15th of October saw a day of action broadly coordinated beyond the reach of institutional actors that included almost 1000 cities and towns in over 80 countries.

At times it has been hard to engage with the intensity of such events - but this is always the case with 'cycles of struggle' - 2011 being perhaps the genesis of the world’s first 'globalised' cycle. As social movement scholar Sidney Tarrow wrote of such cycles; 

...(they are) a phase of heightened conflict and contention across the social system that includes: a rapid diffusion of collective action from more mobilized to less mobilized sectors; a quickened pace of innovation in the forms of contention; new or transformed collective action frames; a combination of organized and unorganized participation; and sequences of intensified interactions between challengers and authorities which can end in reform, repression and sometimes revolution”.

How such cycles will evolve is impossible to say at their beginning, indeed all that one can establish at the outset, as Della Porta writes, is that a new 'cycle' is underway and that what 'seemed established is once again in movement' .

Such cycles however cannot just be limited to the forms of political subjectivity that we would 'like' to see – they include all forms of 'contentious collective action' from strikes to riots to student and workplace occupations. As Sidney Tarrow writes, 

“(Contentious collective action) the irreducibile act that lies at the heart of all social movements, protests, rebellions, riots, strikes and revolutions...collective action can take many forms, brief or sustained, institutionalized or disruptive, humdrum or dramatic. Collective action becomes contentious when it is used by people who lack regular access to representative institutions, who act in the name of new or unaccepted claims, and who behave in ways that fundamentally challenge others interests or authorities”.

The Network Society debate was initiated because we recognised the beginning of a new cycle of protest and social movement(s). While our initial intention was to chronicle the rise of net-mediated protest movements and social change within the broader narrative of the ‘rise of the network society’ – it now seems that such a narrative is increasingly self-evident. Simply put, it is clear that the internet is transforming collective action and how people organise and this includes within social movements. Consequently the primary task now is to observe, document and analyse these ‘new’ social movements in greater detail than will be the case within the mainstream media.

One can only imagine that these movements, particularly the 15 M and 'Occupy', if they are to progress and become sustainable projects in 2012, may well have to move away from the appropriation of temporary spaces to more permanent solutions. Every movement needs an identity, antagonism, relics and rituals - and they have these in abundance - what is required now is the maturation of the tactic. The question of 2012 may well be, 'What would it mean to 'occupy' everything'?

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