Occupy Minds, Not Real Estate! (And Set Up a Much-Bigger Tent)

November 17, 2011 Michael Kaufman

The Occupy movement has been an amazing success. It started a broad public discussion on social inequality. On who controls our economies and governments. On who controls our public spaces. It quickly spread around the world.

Right now, though, it risks getting trapped in its single tactic. And, ironically, it risks getting trapped in fetishizing one of the things that the very people it criticizes love so much: real estate!

Occupying public spaces was a brilliant idea. It was mediagenic. It was simple. And by choosing to occupy public spaces around business centers, it made clear (or at least raised) the point that it should be the majority, not a tiny minority, that makes the decisions that shape our lives.

But the positive impact is fizzling. I don’t doubt the determination, grit, and energy of the Occupy participants. I do know, however, that tent cities can’t and shouldn’t last forever. Nor will battles provoked by the police give many people a sense that this movement is something they can personally relate to. Nor does it give people a sense they have the power to change the world.

The time has come to declare victory on the first stage of the occupy movement. To say, “we got this conversation going. Now it’s time to pack up these particular tents and set up a much bigger tent!”

Where should that tent be and who should be in it? If we’re serious about the language of the 99% then, as I’ve blogged recently (“Occupy the Future! The 8 Keys for Being the 99%”), the goal must be to become the majority.

I argued there are 8 keys to doing so. I won’t repeat the details, but here are the main points:

  • Whether you’ve been active in the Occupy movement or, like millions more, cheered from farther away, the goal must be to make the many Occupy issues totally mainstream issues.
  • Mainstream, yes, but don’t get stuck on what is currently “realistic.” What’s so “realistic” about wars and tossing people out of their houses and workplaces? We need to redefine what is “realistic.”
  • We must create bridges to the mainstream. It’s all of our responsibilities to reach out to the 99% . To raise these issues in our workplaces, schools, professional associations, places of worship, governments, seniors homes, shopping centers, clubs, etc. etc. To find language that connects with others.
  • This in turn requires finding common cause with people and organizations we might disagree with on many issues.
  • Celebrate the victory in creating this conversation. Don’t get stuck on holding real estate.
  • Explore alternatives. Start a broad and well-thought out discussions about economic democracy, sustainability, equality, and so forth.
  • Disagree with anyone who preaches violence or the destruction of property. If anyone starts breaking windows, Occupy is the loser.
  • Trust our capacity to win over the great majority. Trust our capacity to model  respect and compassion. Trust our ability to build bridges. Trust we can truly be the 99%