By John O’Driscoll
The small group who gathered on (2 Nov) at my first Occupy Sydney GA (General Assembly) at Town Hall, maybe 50 people, was dwarfed by the attendance at the Noam Chomsky screening inside, let alone the crush of commuters and shoppers. The local expression of the Occupy Wall Street seemed at a low ebb, having been summarily booted from the Martin Place camp by the NSW police.
Speakers get two minutes each. The main item on the agenda was whether to accede to police demands about the re-occupy protest route on Saturday. The outcome seemed a forgone conclusion: not bloody likely. The process is procedure heavy(what formal meeting isn’t?) in an effort to give everyone the ability to have their say in a finite period. It takes a while. A small number can block a proposal to put objections or amendments. Most of the real work is done in discussion groups.
There’s also some danger at this early stage is of a takeover by low-credibility groups like Socialist Alternative.
But this is a distributed movement and low attendance at a meeting is not enough to write its epitaph. The demonstration on Saturday will give a better indication of how many people it can currently pull onto the streets locally. But even public indifference and utter failure then, won’t necessarily mean the end, depending on developments in OWS internationally and in the financial crash. On the Internet, here is palpable excitement about developments, both among the left commentariat and the progressive public, and palpable fear and loathing in some other sectors.
OWS has been criticised for lack of a coherent agenda. But then many governments also seem to have no idea what they are doing. OWS at least has a clear rallying cry (“we are the 99%”) and the unifying theme of opposition to inequality, cronyism and finance capitalism.
On a first glance at the>Occupy Sydney site I don’t see any discussion of the wider economic and social mechanisms that feed the machine. (eg Consumer individualism), or the effects of the drive for profit in accelerating climate change(eg the oil tar sands and the fracking rush) let alone ways to cure the illness.
Perhaps that’s to be expected at this stage. After a long period of propaganda- and consumerism-induced torpor the financial debacle and the West’s multiple crises of legitimacy(in foreign policy, corporate disregard for the law and capture of the political sphere) have changed of lot of people’s consciousness, but they are only beginning to find their voice. Discussion, and a feeling of a common groundswell (here and internationally)may liberate us to discuss topics previously taboo. Also Australia has been relatively insulated from the economic havoc devastating US and European communities. Even in the States, it took 3 years of economic disaster in an already highly stressed and economically divided country to break the deathly silence, except of course for the Tea Party, that conduit Fox and so on built to harness public anger for the benefit of the 1 percent.
Nevertheless the cronyism of the globalised economy is hardly absent here, land of the cartel The contempt shown for the public by the Qantas board and management recently illustrates this. Alan Joyce is no doubt guaranteed a golden parachute however the dispute unfolds. The public haven’t fallen in with the usual union bashing line.
For me finance capitalism is the key driver of climate change. So an overdue public examination of how it works might open the door for the world’s people to demand a meaningful say in their future: not to be economic slaves, and neither to be hostages to fortune in a climate catastrophe, that only the mega-rich can dream of ‘ameliorating’. Freed from the dead hand of finance and the rhetoric that “There is no alternative” (Maggie Thatcher), perhaps we can re-imagine a less exploitative, more humane, and survivable future.
We the people have to imagine new ways of being ‘wealthy’ which don’t cost the earth.
John O’Driscoll is an Australian artist with an interest in reality, history and politics. He studied modern European history at Sydney University and first worked and exhibited at the Gunnery in Sydney’s Woolloomooloo. More of his cartoons and opinions can be seen at this blog