If #OCCUPYWALLSTREET is anything it’s anti-capitalist. Which, of course, conveniently leaves out many self identified “occupiers” who aren’t self identified anti-capitalists. While the mainstream narrative paints Occupy as a convergence of the radical left, my experience paints a far more complex picture. Former Tea Party participants (who left after the neoconservative take over) libertarians, anarcho capitalists, radical industrialists and many other not-so-occupy occupiers have crossed my path. I found myself working alongside people I would never have expected. It also shattered my preconceptions about people. The black anti-eviction activist who was a Ron Paul loving libertarian or the self proclaimed anarchist woman who turned out to be one of the most authoritarian people I’ve ever met. The conservative fundamentalist christians, ex bankers, and homeless persons with PhDs.
Put simply Occupy is extremely diverse (politically speaking anyways). So it comes as no surprise that the The Occupy Money Cooperative has caused quite a stir within the Occupy community.
The Occupy Money Coop seeks to provide a pre-paid VISA card to it’s members. Anyone who has a card becomes a member of the coop.
I was invited to a meeting earlier this year for the group where I got to meet some of the folks behind it and ask some tough questions. Apart from that I know fairly little about the project, but I seek to defend it, in principle. This post is in response to reading Suzahn Ebrahimian’s piece in Tidal entitled: Help Support Better Stronger Neo-Liberalism with the Occupy Money Cooperative. Suzahn’s article embodies a few negative traits I’ve seen again and again throughout Occupy which I would like to address. Please note that the following is not directed toward Suzahn’s piece in particular but generally to the Occupy community. More specifically toward the radicals within this movement. I will also assume that Occupy Money’s stated objectives are an honest representation of their actual aims, as I have seen no evidence to lead me to believe otherwise.
This is just recreating the same system we seek to destroy.
Yes, Occupy Money is literally putting the Occupy name right above a VISA logo. However, to achieve their objective there isn’t any other way. I’m not fond of this line of thinking because it demands every project to be perfect, which in our current situation is impossible. You’re going to eventually end up relying on something, be it oil, federal reserve notes, or infrastructure.
Furthermore, not everyone thinks that destroying the current system is the right strategy. This touches on the reform vs revolution debate that’s been going on in the left forever. As if social change were some binary decision. Personally I don’t think revolution is the right answer, not because we don’t need a revolution (or evolution) but because there is nothing in place to replace many of the things that “the system” provides. Even the most radical folks I know depend on The Machine (that food you dumpster doesn’t get wasted and thrown away on it’s own).
There isn’t a system to exchange currency outside of banking cartel controlled money monopoly. Timeshare, alternative currency (like Bitcoin), and barter networks simply aren’t to scale. Occupy Money’s objective is to provide a debit card that can be used to exchange currency for goods and services. The only way to do that right now is with VISA.
These people aren’t radicals, they are [insert "evil" profession] looking to make a buck off the Occupy brand.
This, like the above criticism, could be about any number of Occupy projects (or reformist projects). There is a complete lack of compassion in this kind of statement.
We should be applauding converts (eg bankers turned radical). Taking on a radical stance might not seem like a big deal to some, but to someone who has been inside the system and still benefits greatly from the system, it is a pretty big deal. This isn’t to say that converts shouldn’t be called out on privilege or are free from criticism, only that we should try and respect that they are a product of a racist, sexist, classist system.
I was raised as a white cis male, not just by my parents (who I think did a fine job) but also by a society that taught me some seriously fucked up things. It’s a difficult process to unlearn all that junk. It’s made more difficult when I’m prejudged. I have no idea what it means to be oppressed, but alternatively you have no idea what it’s like to look in the mirror and see the oppressor.
As a community we should be pushing each other to do better, not demonizing some people because of their privilege or former place of employment. Occupy Money is being bottom lined by mostly white male capitalist, while obviously problematic that doesn’t make it okay to automatically assume they are just a bunch of opportunistic cartoonish villains. Can’t we be both critical of our peers and give them the benefit of the doubt?
Stop fearing corporate speak!
Marketing, return on investment, users, conversion rate, profit, business strategy, analytics, etc. These are not dirty words. Just because our adversaries use these tools doesn’t make them evil. Suzahn writes (emphasis mine):
The usual neo-liberal language makes its debut, though it has seemingly fused with the vocabulary of Occupy Wall Street. Untapped markets of the “40+ million underbanked,” all ripe for the picking, all ready to be “included.”
Running a business and being part of The Machine are two completely different things. Radicals desperately need better business skills. The rejection of all things corporate sounding is hurting us. Managing resources, advertising, and running an operation are essential to any project, radical or otherwise. Understanding the current situation and how your project fits into that is also important.
Language matters, and perpetuating neo-liberal rhetoric isn’t ideal, but it also doesn’t automatically make Occupy Money or any other project just another neo-liberal evil doer. I think we should be on the look out for the neo-liberal assimilation of radical language, rather than radicals using neo-liberal words.
Let’s break down the “40+ million underbanked” thing. What Occupy Money seems to be saying is that there are many people (mostly low income) who don’t bank or can’t bank. These are the people who use check cashing places which are ripping them off just as much as most of the big banks. So this fact is a good indicator that a “less evil” banking solution might be adopted by people (eg there’s a market for it).
Everyone should be doing this kind of basic research before they start a project. I’m not going to go to the upper east side and try to organize the people there to start dumpster diving, there isn’t a market for that.
Let’s be careful not to confuse words we don’t like with actions we don’t like.
Is Occupy Money a good idea? I don’t know. It’s interesting and I’m excited to see what happens with it. I’ll show them solidarity, because after all this isn’t just some random group of people. These are folks who came out of the Alternative Banking Working Group which is, by my calculations, one of the longest running working groups from the #OCCUPYWALLSTREET camp. Don’t they deserve just a little benefit of the doubt?
Of course it’s possible that this experiment will fail. It won’t come as a surprise if a bunch of privileged people won’t be able to pull it off without oppressing and screwing over everyone. But why are some of us so quick to assume that?
I think the last paragraph of Suzahn’s piece is right on:
And I can guarantee to you, board members of the occupy money cooperative: the brand “OWS” will not be a shield, nor will it be your free pass to abuse people’s sense of ethics in order to abuse their wallets.
Calling yourself Occupy shouldn’t make you immune from criticism. nor should we let down our vigilance.
I just wish we would base our criticisms on facts, rather than assumptions. That we would be supportive and compassionate for the hard work of others, rather than instantly attack. That we would reflect and consider other’s viewpoints and their theory of change, rather than assume our own immature views are free from fault.