As Odious as the Word Occupy

u'\xa9' Main photo Rachel Eisley © 2011

By Sophie Lewis, February 2012

Come, let us riff upon the mul­ti­far­i­ous func­tions of the word-of-the-mo­ment. If the sheer over­de­termin­a­tion of the eu­phor­ic call to ‘oc­cupy’ things didn’t already make many of us want to shoot ourselves in the face, we would prob­ably be ex­claim­ing “oc­cupy the im­per­at­ive verb ‘oc­cupy’”! But we would hardly be the first to do this, not by about four hun­dred years. In the second part of King Henry IV, writ­ten in the late 1590s, Mis­tress ‘Doll’ Tearsheet is busy emas­cu­lat­ing a jumped-up, swag­ger­ing, wo­man­iz­ing phony who calls him­self ‘Cap­tain Pis­tol’ when she ex­claims:

A cap­tain! God’s light, these vil­lains will make the word as odi­ous as the word ‘oc­cupy’; which was an ex­cel­lent good word be­fore it was ill-sor­ted.

The mes­sage is clear, isn’t it? Ban­ish the pis­tols and oc­cupy ‘oc­cupy’. It is for the sake of pro­pri­ety that Doll means to ex­cor­i­ate the macho tend­ency of her time (and place) to im­bue every­day ter­min­o­logy with bawdy in­nu­endo (I’ll spell it out: to ‘oc­cupy’ a per­son had come to mean to ‘pos­sess’ them sexu­ally). Her ex­pos­tu­la­tion con­tains a cheery ob­jec­tion to the priv­ilege in­her­ent in the kind of sub­jectiv­ity than can make jokes which trick less power­ful speak­ers in­to vul­ner­able situ­ations in­ad­vert­ently. You know, like the nas­ti­er ‘that’s what she said’ jokes. In short, like al­most all char­ac­ters in Shakespeare, Doll prompts us to think about the polit­ics of words. So, what makes — and breaks — the word ‘oc­cupy’ as an ‘ex­cel­lent good word’? Cap­tain Pis­tol’s par­tic­u­lar, and very much en­dur­ing, sense of the term (wit­ness the com­mon graf­fito ‘Oc­cupy my Cock’) not­with­stand­ing, the glob­al ex­plo­sion of the hasht­ag #OCCUPY has rep­res­en­ted to mil­lions of people the word’s ac­ces­sion to the very op­pos­ite of odi­ous­ness. This art­icle pro­poses that a star-cross’d fate still haunts the idea of ‘oc­cu­pa­tion’ if its defin­i­tion is not col­lect­ively scru­tin­ized, prob­lem­at­ized, and cher­ished by those de­voted to cham­pi­on­ing a re­volu­tion­ary polit­ics with the “O” word at its core.

The con­stitu­ent claim of ‘the ninety-nine per cent’ is, if you parse it crit­ic­ally, uni­ver­sal­ity. Yes, of course, it does seem to leave out one part from the round to­tal­ity of the demos, but that part is cor­por­ate (Bankers Inc) by nature, and can hardly to be ima­gined as com­posed of per­sons’ bod­ies. Fur­ther, the found­a­tion­al­ist fantasy dis­cern­ible in OWS, whereby core prin­ciples (equal­ity! … of op­por­tun­ity) shall be re­stored, ne­ces­sit­ates a nar­rat­ive whereby the pred­at­ory and un­con­trol­lable Cor­por­a­tion erup­ted ar­bit­rar­ily out of his­tory in or­der to blight the Amer­ic­an Dream, a clutch of be-suited fat-cats feed­ing from its teat. When Marx said in Cap­it­al volume I that “all this [ex­ploit­a­tion] does not de­pend on the good or will of the in­di­vidu­al cap­it­al­ist” he was ac­tu­ally try­ing to ward against a mor­al ap­proach to so­cial trans­form­a­tion. Today, re­gret­tably, the plu­to­crat­ic sliv­er at the top of the heap is, ac­cord­ing to a pre­val­ent Oc­cu­pite world-view, com­posed of ‘greed’ rather than in­di­vidu­al cap­it­al­ists. In this way, the the lib­er­al anti-polit­ics ma­chine renders the ant­ag­on­ism less dis­tress­ing.

I re­mem­ber (re­luct­antly) that it was pos­sible for some white people on Zuc­cotti Park to sus­tain, re­l­at­ively in­tact, their fan­at­ic­al ad­mir­a­tion for Steve Jobs upon the oc­ca­sion of his saintly de­mise. A quote from Jobs even ad­orned the odd protest sign. So, cap­it­al­ism re­cu­per­ates all kinds of res­ist­ance to it. Wit­ness the slip from oc­cupy­ing Wall Street to oc­cupy­ing the pre­requis­ite dis­curs­ive po­s­i­tion with­in em­pire. How best, then, to un­der­stand the slip­page of as­so­ci­ation, back and forth, between the ‘oc­cupy’ of fight­back, res­ist­ance, and com­mun­iz­a­tion, and the ‘oc­cupy’ of con­form­ity, let alone the ‘oc­cupy’ of in­di­gen­ous ter­rit­ory, of col­on­iz­a­tion, prim­it­ive ac­cu­mu­la­tion, forced gov­ernance, con­tain­ment, and re­pres­sion? What is to be done, when one word calls up no­bil­ity and bru­tal­ity in equal meas­ure, sum­mon­ing at once im­ages of wind-tur­bine man­u­fac­tur­ing work­ers stand­ing strong on the bal­cony, and Amer­ic­an check-points at road-blocks throughout Bagh­dad?

We em­brace qui­es­cence if we al­low the com­plic­ated poly­valency of this ‘ex­cel­lent good word’ to ex­plode in­to iron­ic ubi­quity. Even a call for something to be really oc­cu­pied — seized as col­lect­ive prop­erty, wres­ted from private own­er­ship, claimed through the power of bod­ies in al­li­ance, and con­trolled col­lect­ively — can, on oc­ca­sion, cause of­fence. First Na­tions com­rades have made their case at gen­er­al as­sem­blies, with the by now well-known res­ult “Un­oc­cupy Al­buquerque”. In Al­buquerque, New Mex­ic­an Nat­ive Amer­ic­an act­iv­ists were hop­ing the move­ment would be called “De­col­on­ize” rather than the clumsy “Un­oc­cupy”.1 Un­for­tu­nately, in Port­land, the term “Un­oc­cupy” is now at­tached to the group of anti-OWS people who march around with signs de­mand­ing that the wishy-washy, in­co­her­ent ‘Oc­cu­pi­ers’ go away and stop “mak­ing the city un­safe”.2

Re­col­on­ize de­col­on­iz­a­tion?

Just forty years ago, the Amer­ic­an In­di­an Move­ment was re­claim­ing is­lands (Alc­a­t­raz), gov­ern­ment of­fices (the Bur­eau of In­di­an Af­fairs) and whole towns (Wounded Knee, South Dakota) in a slew of some­times armed ac­tions that have fre­quently been re­ferred to, then and now, as “oc­cu­pa­tions”.3 The Alc­a­t­raz oc­cu­pa­tion offered the Fed­er­al gov­ern­ment $24 in trade goods (which in­cluded, spe­cific­ally, glass beads and cloth) in ex­change for the rock, ac­know­ledging that land prices had gone up. $1.24 per acre was the an ad­jus­ted rate in re­la­tion to the sale of Man­hat­tan at 47 cents per acre “three hun­dred years ago”.4 The In­di­an Gov­ern­ment there prom­ised to es­tab­lish a Bur­eau for Caucasi­an Af­fairs and to deal fairly and hon­or­ably with the white man. Nev­er­the­less, Nix­on man­dated the FBI and por­tions of the army to clear Alc­a­t­raz of its In­di­an ‘oc­cu­pi­ers’ in 1973. The AIM seizure of the rep­lica May­flower at Ply­mouth Rock has con­trib­uted, too, to the tra­di­tion of Un­Thanks­giv­ing (you know, for gen­o­cide). Those whose ter­rit­or­ies have been ex­pro­pri­ated and sub­jec­ted to ac­tu­al and mil­it­ar­ized oc­cu­pa­tion can, ob­vi­ously, take or leave con­cerns about the word ‘oc­cupy’. Any ex­ist­ing con­cerns of theirs must, however, come first. By con­trast, I’m not con­vinced of Paul D’Am­ato’s fear that we “con­cede the word ‘oc­cupy’ to the 1 per cent”.5 “Con­cede”?!

As my sub-head­ing should sug­gest, there is a danger that the main­stream and white ad­op­tion of ‘de­col­on­iz­a­tion’ dis­courses — pi­on­eered in self-de­fence by in­di­gen­ous people — be­comes a form of ‘re­col­on­iz­a­tion’. This does not have to be the case between divers groups fight­ing all forms of op­pres­sion as one. Let’s con­sider what the white-dom­in­ated bour­geois cos­mo­pol­it­an so­cial me­dia spec­tac­u­lar has gen­er­ally been do­ing with the word ‘oc­cupy’. ‘Oc­cupy Christ­mas’, ‘Oc­cupy Ses­ame Street’, and so on, amidst a con­stant stream of prob­ably-in­es­cap­able jokes about oc­cu­pied lav­at­or­ies. With the spec­trum of act­iv­ist cour­age run­ning the gamut from mere de­ploy­ments of the vacu­ous hasht­ag #oc­cupyy­our­mind, to the ‘Oc­cupy Your Homes’ block­ade of fore­clos­ure auc­tions by work­ing-class Afric­an Amer­ic­ans, it be­came clear that much could be di­min­ished by identi­fy­ing rhet­or­ic­al clickt­iv­ism with con­crete struggle. The low point was, doubt­less, the ad­vert­iz­ing cam­paign by Best Buy, ‘Oc­cupy Best Buy’, in which mar­ket­ing ex­ec­ut­ives dreamt up a way to trans­mog­ri­fy a largely poor, Black demo­graph­ic in­to ‘the move­ment to get the best deals on Black Fri­day’.6 Or per­haps it was Jay-Z’s Oc­cupy T-shirts.7 No, it was prob­ably Best Buy. O, Amer­ica, grave­yard of irony…

From the stock-house of the re­cent ‘Shit People Say’ meme, I came across ‘Shit White Act­iv­ists Say to Act­iv­ists of Col­or’ and ‘Shit People Say to Nat­ive Amer­ic­ans’, both of which are good (al­though the lat­ter is the ini­ti­at­ive of a blonde per­son) on the mi­cro-ag­gres­sion of lib­er­al tol­er­ance. These do not ex­pli­citly skew­er or prob­lem­at­ize the le­git­im­acy of ‘the Ninety-Nine Per Cent’ or open the way con­cretely to oc­cu­pied stud­ies. I hope it is re­l­at­ively clear by now that bin­ning the man-handled term, whose pur­ity was mourned by Mis­tress Moll, is ac­tu­ally an op­tion. Op­pressed people — work­ers and col­on­ized — have fought back with oc­cu­pa­tions for cen­tur­ies. But if we wanted to leave (rather than ‘con­cede’) the idea of ‘oc­cu­pa­tion’ to apartheid re­gimes like Is­rael, and keep ‘re­clam­a­tion’, ‘de­col­on­iz­a­tion’, ‘squat’ and ‘com­mun­al­iz­a­tion’ for ourselves, we prob­ably could. ‘Fore­clos­ure’ it­self could be­come ‘our’ word: ex-home-own­ers and al­lies have fore­closed on Bank of Amer­ica with some real suc­cess.8 But rather than try, I sug­gest we ad­voc­ate a con­cer­ted cri­tique of the ideo­lo­gies ‘oc­cupy’ can, by its very fla­vors, be used to jus­ti­fy. The #oc­cupy meme has gone vir­al. Au­then­tic­ally rad­ic­al­iz­ing ideas can be the hid­den con­tents of our Tro­jan horse.

The baller­ina and the bull

Much vir­tu­al ink has been spilt on the icon­o­graphy of that slender sol­it­ary baller­ina who — in Ad­Busters’ en­dur­ing im­age from Ju­ly 2011 — main­tains a stat­ic ar­abesque on top of ‘guer­rilla artist’ Ar­turo di Mod­ica’s $300,000 bronze Char­ging Bull. Yes, ‘guer­rilla artist’: it’s a little mind-bog­gling, but a beardy Itali­an ac­tu­ally went ahead and plonked the bull there without per­mis­sion, os­tens­ibly to re­store flag­ging Amer­ic­an spir­its to op­tim­ist­ic pat­ri­ot­ism, dur­ing the crash. Ayn Rand would have been thrilled. The bull was im­poun­ded by the med­dling so­cial­ist red-tape wield­ing bur­eau­crat­ic ap­par­at­us of New York City, but later re-in­stated in re­sponse to pop­u­lar de­mand (at Bowl­ing Green, a short dis­tance away from its ori­gin­al site). But this means the bull is a little com­plex. Glossy ‘busi­ness and en­tre­pre­un­eur­ship’ magazine Port­fo­lio ran a mem­or­able im­age of the bull, ‘fallen’ (Fig 1), as the cov­er of its is­sue ‘After the Fall’ in 2008. But Ad­Busters’ dan­cer is not crush­ing the bull un­der­foot. Yeah, I know. She’s sym­bol­ic; syn­ec­doche. You can’t draw the 99%. Maybe a slim white con­ven­tion­ally fem­in­ine per­son strik­ing a con­fid­ent, ath­let­ic, proph­et­ic pose is as good an ex­pres­sion of the vic­tims of cap­it­al­ism as any. Then again, maybe it isn’t.

Fallen bull
Fig. 1: Port­fo­lio Magazine’s fallen bull.

Per­son­ally, if I have to be a girl — which, a lot of the time, luck­ily, I don’t — I want to be a cy­borg. Or an in­sur­gent, SCUM style, a per­fect Daddy’s girl with a ma­chete be­hind her back. A cross-dress­er. Or a ri­ot grrl. Wheth­er we re­joice in (or at least, snick­er at) the in­ac­cess­ib­il­ity of Di Mod­ica’s bull’s to tour­ists — now that steel bar­ri­cades pro­tect it from sym­bol­ic sub­vert­ize­ment or in­sur­rec­tion­ary détourne­ment — there re­mains the gendered as­pect of the icon­o­graphy of its ‘oc­cu­pa­tion’ by the fict­ive anti-Wall Street baller­ina. I mean ‘dan­cer’. But, you see, ‘baller­ina’ has such a ring to it. Beauty and the Beast. There’s eros there, and it con­fuses the re­volu­tion­ary pur­port of the act. Her grace­ful, Caucasi­an body, a sub­lime icon of her­ald­ic in­di­vidu­al­ity, rides and sub­dues the brute mas­culin­ity of the horned bovine be­neath her. Or, one could say, it is sup­por­ted by those ac­com­mod­at­ing, bul­ging shoulders; they make a ped­es­tal for her. She has been photo-shopped there, to be an at­tract­ive little stat­ic Dav­id, de­feat­ing Go­liath through the sheer power of look­ing pretty. Per­son­ally, I would prefer the concept for the com­mons — the re­volu­tion­ary threat to this ‘Le­viath­an’ — to be quite dif­fer­ent. I mean, really dif­fer­ent. Full of dif­fer­ence and even différance, if we want to be fancy about it.

Gender is something too slip­pery for any one body to truly ‘oc­cupy’, des­pite the vast amounts of anxious role-fix­ing un­der­taken every­day in the form of ad­verts, fash­ions and tropes. Cre­at­ively, one can of course ap­prox­im­ate a stable gender, dis­rupt it, en­force it, ex­pand it, nur­ture it, and, per­haps, even smash it on the mor­tar of one’s own body, at least, in its du­al­ist­ic guise. I, writ­ing, am a per­son who lately be­came pre-oc­cu­pied by the ques­tion of the move­ment’s at­ti­tude to gender. Sporad­ic­ally gender-dys­phor­ic, I ex­ist among the con­tra­dic­tions of lived gender all the time, no­ti­cing, or as­sum­ing, shared iden­tit­ies which aren’t re­cip­roc­al, un­con­sciously identi­fy­ing present ab­sences, vis­ible in­vis­ib­il­it­ies, prag­mat­ic real­it­ies — the non-se­lec­tion of non-males for aca­dem­ic or act­iv­ist pan­els, for in­stance. I per­sist in high­light­ing aus­ter­ity eco­nom­ics’ par­tic­u­lar vic­tim­iz­a­tion of wo­men with­in the cap­it­al­ist­ic do­mest­ic unit, be­cause that is the way to ex­press the form and con­tent of that re­pro­duc­tion of in­equal­ity. And I per­sist in stra­tegic­ally ac­know­ledging ‘fe­male­ness’ in my­self if need be, in­so­far as it lends my pre­ferred in­sur­gent dis­courses a kind of au­then­ti­city. And why shouldn’t one ‘use it’? Even if it priv­ileged me in writ­ing about the New School oc­cu­pa­tion, for in­stance. I would prefer rad­ic­al equal­ity. But if stra­tegic in­verse dis­crim­in­a­tion is the trans­ition­al or­der through which we must pass to achieve it, so be it. The dream, in my head, is to set up a state based on equal genders, which works to­wards its own with­er­ing-away.

More re­cently, the tox­ic rhythms of trans­phobic sis­terly ar­gu­ment have reached me via email. They res­on­ated im­me­di­ately with first-hand ex­per­i­ences of or­gan­iz­ing meet­ings I’ve at­ten­ded that fea­tured ag­grieved ex­pres­sions of an iden­tity polit­ics which fails to listen, or to draw links between, the struggles of divers op­pressed groups — which are of­ten struggles rooted in dif­fer­ently ex­per­i­enced ver­sions of the same il­le­git­im­ate powers. I want to ar­tic­u­late a gen­er­al ‘re­mind­er’: char­it­ies in the UK (like Broken Rain­bow) es­tim­ate that half of trans wo­men there are battered. But let’s as­sume ‘only’ a quarter are. Katha Pol­litt, a much re­spec­ted second-wave fem­in­ist writer, has re­cently cir­cu­lated amongst a re­l­at­ively small num­ber act­iv­ists a memo con­cern­ing the ‘turn’ taken by fem­in­ism with­in Oc­cupy Wall Street. “I am not really in­ter­ested in break­ing down the gender bin­ary,” Katha said. Oh, no?

Most wo­men, like 99%, wheth­er gay or straight, are just plain bio­lo­gic­al wo­men, with uter­uses and peri­ods and va­gi­nas. They were raised as girls, with all that im­plies, they are treated as wo­men by the world. … They can’t es­cape their fe­male­ness, any more than most men can es­cape their male­ness, and they don’t want to! I don’t feel “im­prisoned in my iden­tity as a ‘wo­man’” - -I feel im­prisoned by miso­gyny. I don’t feel I am ‘fe­male-as­signed” — like who­ever hands out the as­sign­ments could just have giv­en me a dif­fer­ent one. I am aware some wo­men, and some men, feel they got the wrong la­bel, but why is their ex­per­i­ence taken as the gen­er­al, paradig­mat­ic one?9

So much of ‘wo­man’ is in­deed en­tirely ar­bit­rary, but that does not mean one should ig­nore lived ex­per­i­ences, which are very real. Katha asks: “Why don’t people care any­more that wo­men still make only 77 cents on the male dol­lar, have to con­tend with sex­ist vi­ol­ence, are los­ing their repro[duct­ive] rights? Lose cus­tody of their chil­dren to bat­ter­ers?” And al­though people do care (think of Wo­men Against Aus­ter­ity, against the cuts, Fem­in­ist Fight­back…) it’s a great ques­tion. My heart swells with sym­pathy. It res­on­ates with my ex­per­i­ence, too, that fem­in­ism isn’t fash­ion­able any­more. But it blows my mind that es­sen­tial­ist fem­in­ists want to po­lice the con­cep­tu­al bor­ders of fem­in­ism in this way. ‘We are the 99%’, they say. ‘You trans/queer types are the 0.1% — stop si­len­cing us’. You think I’m jok­ing? Pol­litt used that ex­act ana­logy, and in­ad­vert­ently be­trayed the neo­pop­u­list ideo­lo­gic­al po­ten­tial of the 99:1 schema:

Are trans­gendered wo­men really wo­men? It’s heresy to say they’re not, but ac­tu­ally I don’t really think they are. They are their own thing. I deeply re­sent that I am sup­posed to call my­self a cis­wo­man or a bio­wo­man — as if now there are two kinds of wo­men, the 99.9% born that way, as Lady Gaga would say, and the 0.1% who were born male and present as fe­male.

Get trans­wo­men out of wo­man­hood! Enough with dif­fer­ence and fluid­ity: we feel trapped, and we are trapped, okay? We au­then­t­ic ninety-nine per cen­ters aren’t ‘cis’, we’re un­marked, nat­ur­al, not con­struc­ted. We’re the whole.

So far, so 99%. It can be a very re­ac­tion­ary cat­egory, as odi­ous as the word ‘oc­cupy’.

Still, to an ex­tent, I ‘get’ this po­s­i­tion. Already sub­or­din­ate, why can’t wo­men ‘just add Pride’? Why do wo­men, white or of col­or, have to be de­nat­ur­al­ized, aligned with mul­tiple genders, end­lessly prob­lem­at­ized? This is why. It’s an old chest­nut but a sound one (and I thank Na­omi Wolf for - neg­at­ively - open­ing my eyes to this two years ago): you don’t dis­mantle the mas­ter’s house us­ing the mas­ter’s tools. The im­plic­a­tions of this are le­gion. Most ob­vi­ously, it means that you don’t per­petu­ate the chain of hier­archy. Not tit for tat, not the world-up­side-down, but a bold ges­ture bey­ond the ex­ist­ing lo­gos, to­wards re­volu­tion, to­wards an­oth­er world en­tirely, that is, to­wards un­cer­tainty. Put an­oth­er way: You don’t ab­use your en­emies, or pro­mote class con­scious­ness, by call­ing them poor, un­washed, and ab­ject. In her email, Katha de­scribes wo­men at OWS meet­ings ap­pear­ing “so un­en­titled to speak, so un­able to speak well”, by con­trast with men who were, she sadly notes, “such en­titled jerks, even if they are home­less, un­em­ployed, drown­ing in debt and liv­ing in a tent!” We know that bright wo­men un­der­per­form in pub­lic con­ver­sa­tions, that some­how the fe­male ‘stand-up’ barely func­tions as an act, that fe­male­ness and au­thor­ity don’t mesh eas­ily, and that male priv­ilege per­meates oth­er so­cial in­dices — no need to link home­less­ness with ‘jerks’! If this wer­en’t wor­ri­some enough already, in an ap­par­ent non sequit­ur, she con­tin­ues “It beg­gars the mind that at the very mo­ment the Bish­ops are try­ing to over­turn the birth con­trol cov­er­age man­date in the Af­ford­able Care Act, wo­men think dress­ing in drag is an ap­pro­pri­ate way to cel­eb­rate May Day.” I con­fess I’m sur­prised that Pol­litt re­cog­nizes that wo­men can dress in drag. And, on the one hand, I agree: a far more ap­pro­pri­ate way to com­bat the Bish­ops would be to ex­pro­pri­ate USCCB headquar­ters, or bet­ter, an enorm­ous cathed­ral, in or­der to run it as a sex-pos­it­ive sanc­tu­ary and safe space for queer people. Litur­gies could be con­duc­ted in Po­lari.

Why does act­iv­ism around gender op­pres­sion have to be in op­pos­i­tion to, in­stead of act­iv­ism which in­cludes, trans people? Trans people need shel­ters and re­pro­duct­ive rights too. Some coun­tries re­quire trans people to be ster­il­ized be­fore they can leg­ally change gender. This is something every­one should “deeply re­sent”. And if we really think, as Katha does, that “wo­men are shunted aside” by the struggle against trans­pho­bia, then we are not — for lack of move­ment — see­ing our own chains. A fem­in­ism in­ves­ted in per­petu­at­ing the gender bin­ary makes no sense.

The middle class and the Zero Per Cent

Only in Amer­ica does ‘middle class’ mean what it means there. It’s not hard to di­vine why this is: the land of the free got rid of its ‘work­ing class’ around the time of the New Deal. As Pick­ett and Wilkin­son have shown, the USA’s ex­traordin­ar­ily high un­hap­pi­ness in­dices — things like obesity, men­tal ill­ness, crime, in­fant mor­tal­ity, teen­age births, drug ab­use — cor­rel­ate well with its sheer un­matched in­equal­ity amongst in­dus­tri­ally de­veloped so­ci­et­ies. It also, as we know, de­veloped a mono­lith­ic neo­lib­er­al two-party polit­ics ma­chine which saw voters’ num­bers dwindle, en­fran­chised cor­por­a­tions, and got rid of any last semb­lance of ‘demo­cracy’ (the far­cic­al corpse of which we can now watch as en­ter­tain­ment, lum­ber­ing along on Su­per PAC). Talk about a word more odi­ous than the word ‘oc­cupy’. But the idea that Amer­ic­ans are all middle-class now, ex­cept for those greedy few out­side the rules, is a cos­met­ic ob­fus­ca­tion of the blind­ingly ob­vi­ous sur­viv­al — as seen in in ‘as­pir­a­tion­al vot­ing’, small-town Re­pub­lic­an­ism, and Amer­ic­an ex­cep­tion­al­ism — of com­mon-or-garden hatred of the sur­plus ‘lumpen’ misery that lies out­side the sys­tem, bey­ond the out­er lim­it of solid­ar­ity, and of reas­on.

Katha Pol­litt does not see the irony in com­plain­ing that 0.01% of the fem­in­ist pop­u­la­tion is ‘paradig­mat­ic­ally’ tramp­ling over the ma­jor­ity. I think there is a chance that, by de­fend­ing es­sen­tial­ist-de­term­in­ist sor­or­ity as simply sep­ar­ate from trans and LGB struggles, Pol­litt means to de­fend Black and Ma­jor­ity World fem­in­isms against the ‘tyranny’ of first world queer the­ory and post­mod­ern­ism. But for this to hold wa­ter, the struc­tures of het­ero­norm­ativ­ity, sex­ism, and ra­cism have to be con­ceived as un­re­lated. The ho­mo­phobe, the miso­gyn­ist and the ra­cist are stand-alone bo­gey­men with­in a func­tion­al lib­er­al-plur­al­ist so­ci­ety. Far from copy­ing ways of weapon­iz­ing in­tra-pro­let­ari­an dif­fer­ence again and again, ac­cord­ing to this view, Em­pire has noth­ing to do with en­sur­ing the re­pro­duc­tion of a hy­dra-headed ‘oth­er­ing’ to­tal­ity. No, it’s about in­di­vidu­al fights! The right to self-de­term­in­a­tion! Let the queers and transpeople in Lat­in Amer­ica (where most are murdered) go it alone.

If the first thing brought to mind by the term ‘1%’ re­mains the car­toon char­ac­ter from the boardgame Mono­poly, its sig­ni­fic­ance in terms of he­ge­mony in 2012, the TINA (There Is No Al­tern­at­ive) polit­ics of work­far­ist aus­ter­ity, is likely to con­tin­ue to es­cape us. If, by chant­ing ‘We are the 99%’, pro­test­ers hope to move to­wards ex­pro­pri­at­ing the ex­pro­pri­at­ors by ex­clud­ing those who ex­cluded them from ‘demo­cracy’, it mat­ters that an op­press­or defined as ‘greed’ (much like an en­emy defined as ‘Ter­ror’) can­not, by defin­i­tion, be ban­ished from the pol­is. It has been con­struc­ted to dis­place, to in­tern­al­ize, an ant­ag­on­ism. Do I over­state the case? Per­haps. But you will grant me that the re­la­tion between bosses and work­ers — which is not go­ing any­where with neo­lib­er­al­ism, whatever new man­age­ment-speak about ‘team syn­ergy’ between ‘as­so­ci­ates’ sug­gests to the con­trary — the re­la­tion between cap­it­al and labor, is heav­ily ob­scured by this dis­tri­bu­tion­al com­plaint. Worse, we do not see the su­per­flu­ous, the in­vis­ible, the ‘il­leg­al’, or the in­car­cer­ated noughth per­cent­ile when we di­vide the sphere of the sens­ible in this way.

Whilst I have seen Stock Ex­change em­ploy­ees — el­bow­ing past block­ades — bray at po­lice of­ficers, “I’m the one per cent: let me through”, I have also heard in­di­vidu­als with OWS but­tons on their lapels ask­ing us “[to] ac­know­ledge the spir­itu­al suf­fer­ing of our broth­ers and sis­ters in the 1%, so that we can be 100% to­geth­er”.10 Faced with such un­re­cip­roc­ated quis­ling sen­ti­ments, it might even be too much to say that ‘ninety-nine per cent’ ex­presses a new pseudo-pro­let­ari­an­ism: in­deed, its class­less ges­ture pos­its uni­ver­sally en­fran­chised all-Amer­ic­an middle-class ho­mo­gen­eity, centered around not-be­ing-a-banker (where ‘banker’ er­ro­neously stands in for the re­cently fin­an­cial­ized neo­lib­er­al rul­ing class). Pur­su­ing this scath­ing vein to its ex­treme con­clu­sion, Oc­cupy Everything‘s fire-breath­ing L-G Schwartz avers that “to­geth­er, the 1% and the 99% con­sti­tute 100% of those as­sim­il­ated with­in so­cial rep­res­ent­a­tion”,11 where­as those from the ‘0%’ with a de­sire for ‘com­mun­iz­a­tion’ have found their en­er­gies co-op­ted by ef­forts from Ad­busters to re-in­cor­por­ate protest in­to “the cess­pool of cit­izen­ship”. The pre­cise re­la­tion­ship between a po­ten­tial in­sur­gency of the ex­cluded (Rancière’s sans-part or Schwartz’s Zero Per Cent) and the cat­egory Ninety Nine Per Cent may be­come clear through a dia­lectic of longer-term struggle. Con­tra Schwartz, I ap­pre­ci­ate OWS’s “We Are …” il­loc­u­tions as a start­ing-point, a germ, pre­par­ing class con­scious­ness to­wards the oc­cu­pa­tions yet to come.

What is it, to oc­cupy Wall Street? It is not mov­ing your money, walk­ing right­eously on the side­walk, hold­ing smug pan­el dis­cus­sions in the ivory tower, or tak­ing ad­vant­age of the sales at Best Buy. To ‘oc­cupy’ means to de­col­on­ize ter­rit­ory stolen, wheth­er land or flesh. It means to re­fuse di­vi­sion, to stand shoulder to shoulder with un­touch­ables, to seize, to make a home where people are home­less, to ex­plode the he­ge­mony of ‘middle class’ cit­izen­ship, and to de­fend the bod­ies of the polit­ic­ally in­vis­ible, who are the people who make polit­ics pos­sible. “God’s light!” Earli­er on in her in­vect­ive, Mis­tress Moll says that if cap­tains were of her mind, they would “truncheon” fakes and posers, for tak­ing names upon them­selves be­fore they have “earn’d them”. Per­haps those of us who al­lege we ‘Oc­cupy Wall Street’, when the most we have done is show up at the odd demon­stra­tion, could take a leaf out of Moll’s book. It was an ex­cel­lent good word be­fore it was ill-sor­ted.

Foot­notes


  1. ht­tp://col­or­lines.com/archives/2011/10/un­oc­cupy_al­buquer­que_in_re­spect_to_indi­gen­ous_new_mex­ic­ans.html. 

  2. ht­tp://www.ore­gon­live.com/port­land/in­dex.ssf/2011/11/un-oc­cupy_­portland_­coun­ter­s_oc.html 

  3. Lind­s­ley et al, ‘Mend­ing the Sac­red Hoop: Iden­tity En­act­ment and the Oc­cu­pa­tion of Wounded Knee’, The Great Plains Quarterly (39) (2002).  

  4. The web­site ‘Nat­ive Vil­lage’ car­ries the an entry on the 1969 Oc­cu­pa­tion of Alc­a­t­raz and The Pro­clam­a­tion of Alc­a­t­raz. ht­tp://www.nat­ivevil­lage.org/In­spir­a­tion-/Oc­cu­pa­tion%20of%20Alc­a­t­raz%20and%20the%20Alc­a­t­raz%20­Pro­clam­a­tion%20alc­a­t­raz_­pro­clam­a­tion.htm.  

  5. ht­tp://so­cial­ist­work­er.org/2011/11/07/oc­cupy-or-un­oc­cupy 

  6. ht­tp://www.oc­cupy­be­st­buy.com. 

  7. ht­tp://www.huff­ing­ton­post.com/2011/11/14/jay-z-pulls-oc­cupy-tees_n_1092648.html 

  8. ht­tp://www.na­tionofchange.org/bank-amer­ica-takes-oc­cupy-fore­clos­ure-ac­tions-ser­i­ously-warns-em­ploy­ees-we-need-be-pre­pared-13232738 

  9. in a group email cir­cu­lated to stu­dents in­ter­ested in Take Back the Fu­ture and fem­in­ism with­in OWS, at the New School, by Dru­cilla Cor­nell. 

  10. con­trib­uted dur­ing Q&A at the pen­ul­tim­ate pan­el dis­cus­sion at ‘The Winter of our Dis­con­tent’

  11. ht­tp://oc­cupy­everything.org/2012/zero-per­cent/ 


Sophie Lewis is one of the conceivers and editors of JOS. She also blogs independently at lasophielle.com. With thanks to Elliott Evans.

Article CC-BY-NC-SA Main photo Rachel Eisley © 2011