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preoccupied with occupation

A Habermasian Attempt to Resolve A Movements Concurrent Commitment to Prefigurative Political Ideal and Effective Protest Center
by Gabi Schaffzin December 23, 2011

That the Occupy movement has been a popular topic among the media and online social networks is undeniable. (Holcomb) Since its first organized protest on September 17, 2011 in New York City, the movement to call attention to economic and social injustices in the developed world has transitioned from being followed by a niche audience due primarily to its origins within the minds of the editors of the anti-capitalist magazine, 1 Adbusters to full-on meme. Generally speaking,2 the Occupy movement (sometimes called Occupy Wall Street or OWS) refers to a global protest against the economic and social injustices caused by what its members believe to be capitalisms power over government and the individual a power which the movement posits has lead to a severely skewed distribution of wealth throughout the developed world. The movements protests are run via horizontal organization, governed by consensus processes: decisions are
Written for Intro to Civic Media, CMS.860, MIT Center for Civic MediaSasha Costanza-Schock, Professor. 1 The use of meme here is meant to connote images of a social phenomenon whose artifacts stories, videos, audio, photographs, slogans, and more are passed around from within the media as well as from individual to individual. 2 Note that, due to the disparate nature of the Occupy movement, there is no official manifesto or handbook to reference. Thus, I used the website of the first protest on Wall Street, http://www. for general information about the movement, combined with first person interviews and accounts from media sources.

made at general assembly meetings3 via predetermined methods that are designed to ensure broad agreement across the group. And while each geographic occupation or social action shares a general theme (representing the 99% of the population who are affected by the aforementioned unfair distribution of wealth), there is no official body which governs each one as a collective. ( As it grows, though, it raises several questions: what are the types of struggles dealt with by this horizontally governed, consensus based system of democracy? And further, what are the ways to resolve these struggles, all the while taking into account the pre-figurative nature of the movement, the ethos of the group, the pressures it feels from local and national government and media, and the implications of the consensus system itself? In the following sections I will note a number of struggles, highlighting one which I believe to be of primary risk to the success of the movement as a whole. I will then present a framework for resolution of this issue based on Jrgen Habermas theory of the public sphere as well as on the work of two of his contemporaries. Finally, I will make an argument for what I believe to be the best solution to this issue, taking into account the processes suggested by Habermas, et al. Throughout, I will reinforce my assertion that the Occupy movements strong focus on physical encampment acts as a weakening factor in its effectiveness as both model society and political movement a weakening that can and must be resolved by drilling down to a shared normative assumption which informs the protests foundation.

3 General assembly, as defined by Occupy Bostons Consensus Process document, refers to a time and place for Occupy Boston announcements and proposals. It is open to anyone and is governed by consensus process proposals are made and passed via broad agreement, hand signals are used to indicate various points of process, and a team of at least 11 facilitators ensure the process is executed as previously agreed upon. For more, see: (OccupyBoston Google Document)


Inspired by the citizen uprisings in Egypt, Tunisia, and elsewhere in the Middle East during the Arab Spring of 2011, the Occupy movement was conceived by the editors of Adbusters, a magazine created by a self-described network of culture jammers and creatives working to change the way information flows, the way corporations wield power, and the way meaning is produced in our society. (Adbusters) On July 13, an email was sent to Adbusters subscribers with a graphic featuring a ballerina dancing on top of the Charging Bull sculpture on Wall Street, the words Occupy Wall Street. Bring tent. under it, with instructions to gather on September 17 at the sculpture in lower Manhattan. This email had been preceded by one in early June which noted that America needs its own Tahrir, referring to the central protest location of the Egyptian uprising in early 2011. (Schwartz) Helped along by Internet-based promotion by the hacktivist group, Anonymous, several hundred protestors gathered in New York on September 17 and (after some strategic maneuvering around the nypd) eventually set up a fully functional camp in Zuccotti Park, a few blocks north of the Charging Bull. This camp featured tents for sleeping, a food service tent, a library space, and more. (Schwartz) This would act as the first protest point for the Occupy movement, which, over the next few weeks, spread to hundreds of cities throughout the world. ( On the evening of September 30, a group of protestors organized a general assembly in Dewey Square, in Bostons financial district, marking the official start of the Occupy Boston movement.4 I went to Dewey Square that evening to find a very calm yet eager group of people working to organize the beginnings of a protest camp. The mood was one of excitement and collaboration. As Leanne, a member of the movement who had not been to Occupy Wall Street, but who had followed it online, put it, One of the things that Im so amazed about is how well organized it is. And you think
4 There had been general assemblies that took place on the Boston Common during the days leading up to September 30, but those are generally considered to be pre-occupation planning meetings.

that consensus is going to be really disjointed and everyone is going to be screaming at each other. And it hasnt been like that at all, its just been discussion and consensus and debate. (Leanne) A week later, upon returning to the camp, I found Dewey Square covered in tents, signs, and people both protestors and observers. A kitchen, library, information desk, and media tent had been erected (among many more) and the excited energy from the first night seemed multiplied, perhaps amplified by the declared support from local labor unions, visits from such vaunted activists as Cornel West, and a strong student contingent. (Carioli) As the population and enthusiasm in the camp grew, so did concern about the camps ability to put out agreed upon messages that addressed the movement as a whole. In speaking with members of the Media Working Group,5 I noted their focus on the way the camp had been coming together both logistically and in terms of social make-up and how this would affect Occupy Bostons message: It takes a special kind of person to come out and camp in a tent and put their entire life on hold for [this movement], noted one member of the group.6 Concern over the inclusion of those outside the camp, however, was also noted. We talk every night about what the message should be, the same member pointed out. We need a way that people can get together virtually and [decide on what that is]. (Media Working Group) A participatory movement such as Occupy is bound to face concerns regarding cohesive message and broad representation, thus the media working group members sentiment. The movements prefigurative nature certainly encourages participants to shine a light on these concerns. Called out as the heart of the new left by Wini Breines,7 prefigurative politics create and sustain within the live practice of the movement, relationships and political forms that prefigure and embody the desired society. (6) Occupy Wall Street organizer David Graeber puts it a bit more simply in an interview with The Washington Posts Ezra Klein, Youre creating a vision of the sort of society you want to have in miniature. (Klein) To create this miniature society, however, you must have adequate representation of the types of individuals from the greater society which you are trying to affect. This was not the case in the Occupy camps or at general assemblies. One month after the protests in New York City began,
5 In a horizontally organized movement, responsibilities are taken on by smaller groups of individuals called working groups. These are dynamically created and managed teams of people who can take on issues such as media relations, safety, logistics, or even social happenings within the movement. For a full list of Occupy Bostons working groups, see: 6 The individuals interviewed during this particular visit on October 5 requested anonymity. 7 In Community and Organization in the New Left, 1962-1968: The Great Refusal, Breines writes of the anti-organizational student movements of the 1960s, identifying them as making up The New Left.

an online survey revealed that 67% of the Occupy population was made up of males (versus 49% of the general American population). The same proportion, two thirds, identified themselves as White. (Cordero-Guzman) The resulting (and largely accurate) view that the movement was dominated by middle-class White men lead to members of the group feeling alienated (UnaSpencer 19 Oct) as well as to prospective protestors hesitating to participate. The lack of racial diversity in particular, inspired the creation of the People of Color Working Group within various Occupy movements, which began to welcome racial minorities into the direct democracy. (Speri) It also lead to the formation of an off-shoot group of Occupy, called Occupy The Hood, to organize social action within the actual communities in which the otherwise-excluded minorities live. (Lee & Ross) While the critique of Occupys lack of diversity indicates the movements inability to align with a significant characteristic of prefigurative politics (that is, broad inclusion by a group seeking equally broad social fairness), the criticism from both external and internal parties that the group lacks direction (due to its resistance to compile a list of demands) actually speaks to its alignment with its prefigurative nature. As Breines notes, The term prefigurative politics is used to designate an essentially anti-organizational politics characteristic of the movementprincipally a wariness of hierarchy and centralized organization. (6) This wariness and unwillingness to engage with governmental or other centralized organizations8 in order to negotiate a list of demands was, at first, broadly questioned by the observing media. I think if you put every single left-wing cause into a blender and hit power, this is the sludge youd get notes one Fox News commentator. (Parks and Demonstration) This is, however, by design. In his interview with Klein, Graeber goes on to tie the prefigurative nature of Occupy to the groups lack of specific demands. Its a way of juxtaposing yourself against these powerful, undemocratic forces youre protesting. If you make demands, youre saying, in a way, that youre asking the people in power and the existing institutions to do something different. And one reason people have been hesitant to do that is they see these institutions as the problem. (Klein) And while this sentiment does not always ring true with every member of the Occupy movement,9 the important aspect, as Graeber notes, is that it is part of
8 One may question whether the movements unofficial connections to labor unions may violate the claim that it wishes to avoid connections to centralized organizations. As Graeber points out in his interview with Klein, Unions were very supportive and provided resources but theyre very different organizations. (Klein) 9 See Occupy Boston GA minutes from 18 Oct for an example ( file/view/GA_Minutes_Oct_18_2011_Evening.txt) as well as UnaSpencers post from 19 Oct for reaction to this pro-demands sentiment (

the movements discourse. What we want is to create spaces where people can talk about questions like [what the movement would like to accomplish]. (Klein) Keeping the attention both external and internal on Graebers space to talk proved rather difficult, however, as the movement grew beyond fledgling protests. Instead, an increasingly singular focused discourse developed among the media regarding the physical camps themselves. At Occupy Boston, health inspectors from the city stopped by to observe how food and sanitation issues were handled. (Annear 27 Oct) The Boston Police Department arrested a number of protesters as more tents were pitched on neighboring patches of grass. (Annear 20 Oct) Local news organizations called out allegations of thievery and vagrancy. (Wedge) Various media outlets raised questions of how the protestors would make it through the winter (Annear 19 Dec), how they would continue to feed occupiers at Dewey Square, (Fox) and what daily life was like for those living in the tents. ( Meanwhile, more and more time and attention was spent within the group on the logistical considerations associated with a prolonged encampment. Whereas talk of message and statements of solidarity with other movements around the world dominated the early general assembly meetings,10 as individuals lived in close quarters for extended periods of time and winter approached, the focus of assemblies changed. During the week of October 24, nearly all of the time allotted for each of the four general assemblies was spent discussing issues like winterization of Dewey Square and what to do with members of the camp who abused drugs and alcohol. During a discussion of a proposal regarding an emergency winter fund,11 the tone became contentious. The following is copied directly from the Occupy Boston General Assembly Minutes from October 25:
Participant 1 (the gentleman with the objection to process):

When everything is going well, I dont speak up because everything is going well. When things arent going well I get into a fury because I want things fixed. Ive been in a tent for weeks; I havent showered or

10 During the first few assemblies (those taking place in the first week of the occupation) the focus was on details of an agreed upon consensus process to be used going forward. 11 From early on in the occupation, donations were being collected via the Internet and on-site collection boxes. For more details on the financial activities of the group (as reported by the Financial Accountability Working Group), see:

shaved or washed my hair. There are people on the ground who consider themselves the real occupiers. They call ga 12 the circle jerk of pod people and they dont like you. Were laughing about it on the ground, but a lot of people are pretty damn unhappy. (ga/Minutes/25)

At this same meeting the attendees agreed, via consensus processes (at least 75% of attendees in agreement), to dispense emergency funds, but the debate and discussion about this logistical issue, as well as the anger expressed towards the fake occupiers by the real ones, took up enough time so that when the attention turned towards other proposals, a quorum13 was lost and consensus could not officially be reached on any further matters. Later that week, with weather conditions forcing the assembly in to borrowed indoor space, the time allotted towards the general assembly was restricted by the hosts, encuentro5.14 The entire meeting was spent discussing a camp safety proposal, allowing no further discussion of the movements message. (GA/Minutes/26) As internal deliberations continued to focus on occupation logistics, external criticism of the camp itself mounted. A previously outwardly supportive press and local government was turning its attention from the movement to the problems associated with living in Dewey Square. The strategy of static outdoor encampments is straining the patience even of sympathetic mayors, wrote Hendrick Hertzberg in The New Yorker a publication traditionally supportive of Occupys movement in an opinion piece urging the Zuccotti protestors to begin to move on from occupation. (Hertzberg) Locally, The Boston Globe, who had previously been highlighting the movements ethos (Syre), ran a November 19 editorial criticizing the movement for going to court to block Boston Mayor Menino from evicting them from Dewey Square after New York City Mayor Bloomberg evacuated Zuccotti Park. In the bigger picture, getting enmeshed in a courtroom battle over permitting regulations would be an unnecessary setback for the movementit will diminish them in the process by fostering an image that the protesters care more about seizing public space and battling authorities than the broader issues. (Boston Globe) As for Menino himself, he began to go on the defensive. Mayors cant make decisions on banks regulations. Mayors cant make decisions on scholarships. Mayors cant make decisions on housing. Its all down in Washington. Theyre aiming their fire at the wrong place. (McConville) A significant transition was occurring by those
12 Here, GA refers to those individuals only visiting camp during general assembly, as well as the facilitators guiding the meeting along. 13 An agreed upon minimum number of general participants required for proposals to be considered and/or passed. 14 Described on their website as, a space for progressive movement building. (e5 website)

observing from a focus on the movements validity as a protest to the problems associated with its continued encampment. At the same time this transition was occurring, an internal struggle surrounding the movements prefigurative nature was developing. During a November 28 general assembly, facilitator Una (as recounted on her blog post from the same night) took part in a discussion related to the exclusion of an alleged dangerous individual from the community, one who had threatened to hurt other members in the past. The proposal would have resulted in denying this man access to Occupy Boston resources such as food, tent space, clothing, etc. Though it was clear that many people were afraid of this man[and he] made clear that he does not respect anyone who sees things differently from him and does not support the consensus process27% of the people present would not support expelling him [meaning the required 75% consensus to expel was not reached]. (UnaSpencer 27 Nov) Una struggled with how her community could block, via previously agreed upon consensus process, an effort to increase the safety of everyone within it. When I interviewed her directly about how the consensus process had failed her (as she had been threatened by the man directly), she called attention to the struggle of the protestors commitment to a prefigurative political movement and their concurrent efforts to build an effective protest. Since we are a movement which is criticizing the status quo for not attending to the human needs of our citizens, there is also a sentiment of not wanting to treat these people the same way society has been treating them. This has generated a serious tension between an emerging ideal of the camp as exemplar society and the camp as protest center. (UnaSpencer Email) In fact, in her blog post she called out a similar sentiment: I can support the movement to generate public dialogue about the unjust and unsustainable system of governance we have, but I cannot support this particular location given how it operates right now. (UnaSpencer 27 Nov) What Una demonstrates here is the movements preoccupation with the logistical considerations of living in a public, outdoor space, while still making sure to treat all who occupy in that space with the fairness and equality sought from society as a whole. This preoccupation comes at the expense of the drive behind the camp itself: the ability to agree upon and communicate the political ethos of the protests while still acting as an inclusive community. A movement so focused on horizontal democracy and consensus was being held back by its inability to resolve a struggle to subsist concurrently as a prefigurative political utopia and a broadly reaching protest movement.

photo by Grit Matthias

That a struggle such as this must be resolved for the sake of the protest could certainly be argued. Before we are able to deal with how to get to resolution, however, we must gain a better understanding of how the Occupy movement is functioning politically. This requires the observation of Occupy through the lens of the philosophies of Jrgen Habermas and two of his contemporaries. Specifically, an investigation of Habermas concept of the public sphere, complemented by critiques of Habermas by Nancy Fraser, and by the philosophies of John Rawls, which are, at times, contradictory to Habermas. Through this analysis, an argument will be made that the best way to heal the struggle between Occupys protest roots and its focus on encampment is via a shared normative assumption a Habermasian requirement in consensus building. First published in German in 1962 as part of his Strukturwandel der ffentlichkeit,15 Jrgen Habermas concept of a public sphere was the centerpiece of his 1959 dissertation at the University of Frankfurt. Conceived as a place where private individuals come together to discuss issues of the state, the public sphere is made up of reasoned citizens, concerned with the decisions made by the ruling polity. (Public Sphere 114) There are four main assumptions to consider when reviewing Habermas public sphere: a required bracketing or suspended judgement of inequalities of status; the existence of a single, unified public sphere; the exclusion of all private discourse; and a clear distinction between civil society and the state. Discourse within this sphere does not directly translate to actions by the state itself. Rather, Habermas preaches a representative democracy where civic society and the state do not, in fact, overlap at all. Highly dependent upon informed individuals, Habermas public sphere requires making state information available to citizens through the legal guarantees of free speech, free press, and free assembly. Eventually, discourse participants use the same
15 Published in English in 1989 as The Structural Transformation of The Public Sphere.

guarantees (as well as the parliamentary institutions built into government) to hold the state accountable for its promises and actions. (Fraser 71) It is the protestors strict separation from state actors that so clearly reveals shades of Habermas public sphere in the Occupy movement. Exercising their freedom of assembly and association, the Occupiers discuss matters of public interest among private individuals. For the most part, they exclude the state from participating, though they understand that it, most likely, will be the eventual executor of any policies derived from the movement. Additionally, Occupiers are not explicitly interested in electoral politics at least, not in the name of Occupy. (Obejas) All the while, they work to determine a common opinion of the public via consensus processes. These are all characteristics of the public sphere as Habermas describes it. (Public Sphere 114-115) Indeed, there are facets of the environment surrounding Occupy which represent what Habermas calls out as the transformation of this sphere. Specifically, the existence of a highly commercialized press hurts the publics (both within Occupy and external to it) ability to be properly informed. Instead of an ideal of a journalism of conviction, todays public sphere is informed by one of commerce. (Public Sphere 118) The movements themselves make an effort to work against this transformation by publishing their own, independent news sources for instance, The Occupy Wall Street Journal in Zuccotti Park and The Boston Occupier in Dewey Square. (Boston Occupier) This transformation of the press over the past few centuries is a main focus for Habermas in reasoning why his concept of the historical public sphere was never realized. Nancy Fraser argues that it was not simply unrealized, rather it was an unrealistic ideal altogether. In her 1990 essay, Rethinking the Public Sphere: A Contribution to the Critique of Actually Existing Democracy, Fraser presents a comprehensive criticism of the idealism of Habermas original theory. By challenging his four main assumptions, she eventually points out the need for an updated, post-bourgeois conception of the public sphere. (76) In considering this recontextualized public sphere one that takes marginalized individuals and realized results further into account than Habermas the lens through which Occupy is inspected refocuses slightly. When Fraser criticizes Habermas for his misplaced faith in the efficacy of bracketing, she points to a number of revisionists who bring attention to the marginalization of women and members of the plebeian classes [which] prevent[s] them from participating as peers in his bourgeois sphere. Paired with her assertion that there is more than just one unified sphere rather,


there are many competing publics Fraser posits that participatory parity is possible when the marginalized are considered fully. (65) In speaking with Alex, a member of the Occupy Boston Media Working Group, I learned of the concept of Progressive Stack, wherein women and people of color are given priority over others when preparing for proposal presentation at general assembly. At the point of this interview (October 29), they hadnt had much opportunity to use it, if only because those groups, ironically, dont really have proposals [to bring to general assembly.] (Alex) This would, most likely, disappoint Fraser, as it indicates a lack of presence of marginalized individuals among the critical actors in the Occupy movement. However, the fact that the process to foster participation and work against societal handicaps exists would encourage her. The previously evidenced attention given to the marginalized during prefiguratively focused deliberations would also certainly appease those seeking to bring participatory parity to the discourse.16 Frasers concept of the public sphere may be further recognized while assessing Occupys ability to affect state legislative policy within months of its inception. Most recently, Occupy was credited with influencing New York State tax law changes (Kaplan), as well as United States House and Senate amendments proposing corporations be stripped of their personhood in relation to campaign donations and free speech protection. (Jilani) Habermas is satisfied with what Fraser calls weak publics, publics whose deliberative practice consists exclusively in opinion-formation and does not also encompass decision-making. Fraser, however, notes, the force of public opinion is strengthened when a body representing it is empowered to translate such opinion into authoritative decisions. This is precisely what is happening as local, state, and federal representatives take on the issues put forth by the Occupy movement. It should be noted, however, that while these issues are being taken up by the state, they are not being debated within the government by Occupiers themselves. The movement continues to rely on the representative democracies in which it exists. Frasers work is useful as guidance, as it begins to bridge gaps between Habermas idealized sphere and the reality of Occupy as a use case. John Rawls, through his philosophies on public fairness and the discourse through which it is decided, would provide another viewpoint. In Rawls 1971 A Theory of Justice, he outlines two principles of justice, each being discovered from the original position: a veil of ignorance, behind which
16 It should be noted that the marginalized in this case would most likely be disqualified from discourse by Habermas, as their demeanor and reasoning indicates their inability to participate in rational speech acts. This is resolved by the fact that other individuals within the camp, presumably rational, have represented them in consensus deliberations.


everyone must discuss fairness and justice. (12) The principles themselves allow individuals the right to equal fundamental liberties before anything, though social inequalities may be taken into consideration without violating those liberties. The inequalities are resolved by making sure those who are most disadvantaged are provided the opportunities to do as well as possible, given those disadvantages. (Cohen & Resler) Thus, as his former student, Professor Joshua Cohen,17 points out, he would have appreciated the Occupy Wall Street movement as doing somethingwhich is to put that issue of unfair, unjust inequality back into the political discussion. (Cohen & Resler) But to understand Rawls take on Occupy as political case study, its important to review one of the nuanced elements of Rawls argument and one which contrasts starkly with Habermas: his definition of public.18 To Rawls, as Thomas McCarthy points out,19 public is distinguished from nonpublic and private in a somewhat unusual way. (50) Where Habermas would include even prefer everything non-private, including coffee houses, churches, universities, and other non-government entities alongside the governmental public, Rawls instead delineates between the two. Public, in the Rawlsian sense, refers to only governmental and quasigovernmental venues, including political campaigns and the act of voting. Non-governmental connotes everything else which is non-private. (McCarthy 50) As such, Rawls may have objections to Occupys use of, what he would consider, non-public space to execute decidedly public discourse. McCarthy does point out that Rawls provides an exception to this guideline for [persuading] citizens to view fundamental issues in a different light, though this seems to place undue restrictions on the use of public forums to press for basic structural changes. (51) Thus, three philosophies are presented as lenses through which to investigate the Occupy movement. The first, from Habermas, suggests the movements separation from explicit state actions leaves it open to a pure form of discourse within the public sphere. Fraser updates this assertion by calling out the weak nature of this idealized sphere instead suggesting further integration between the public sphere and state. Finally, Rawls presents a line-straddling version, wherein political discourse may occur

17 Marta Sutton Weeks Professor of Ethics in Society, Professor of Political Science, Philosophy and Law at Stanford University; Director, Program on Global Justice, Freeman Spogli Institute; Co-editor, Boston Review 18 As McCarthy notes, Rawls works through his definition of Public in Political Liberalism, not A Theory of Justice. 19 In McCarthys 1994 essay entitled Kantian Constructivism and Reconstructivism: Rawls and Habermas in Dialogue.


only in a politically focused forum, only breaking out under specific circumstances. In considering the struggle within Occupy between its effectiveness as a movement and its responsibility as model society, which philosophy will guide us to possible resolution? It is important to keep in mind that the above theories differ mainly in the question of where the discourse to reach this resolution can occur. A Rawlsian take may be too restrictive, as it requires that the discourse be radically transformed whenever the venue change[s] in relevant ways, leading to conceptual, psychological, cultural, and institutional problems, according to McCarthy.20 (52) Frasers take may be less restrictive, and would be appropriate in the sense that it encourages Occupys influence over the state. But perhaps Fraser presents a framework too advanced for application to the Occupy movement in its current state of relative infancy. After all, integration with the state as a strong public cannot occur when foundational considerations such as winterization are dominating the discourse of a movement that could be, in her view, affecting the sovereignty of the state. Further, Graebers insistence that the movement not engage with the people in power and the existing institutions indicates a hesitation to move to a strong sphere model. (Klein) As such, we turn back to Habermas in search of a philosophy related to the actual practice of discourse.

20 At least as, he posits, Habermas would argue.


We find this philosophy in Habermas description of universal pragmatics, as noted in his 1976 essay, entitled Distinctions in Universal Pragmatics. The concept is expanded upon further in his 1979 work, Communication and the Evolution of Society. Dealing with the two levels of communication, intersubjectivity and states of affairs, universal pragmatics works to gain an understanding of the relationship between two or more competent actors within a communication context. The concept relies on three main validity claims, truth (a validity built into all speech), truthfulness (that a speech act conforms to normative expectations), and rightness (the veracity of the speaker) to ensure that meaning and reason exist in this relationship. (Universal Pragmatics) During a debate between competent, rational actors, these fundamental validities will eventual boil the conversation down to the point that the unforced force of the better argument will be accepted as truth.21 (McCarthy 45) Consider the aforementioned struggle within the movement between a commitment to prefigurative actions and an intention to be an effective protest: As Una points out, there are those within the Occupy movement who want the camp to be an exemplar society[. They] posit that the homeless, the mentally ill, and the addicts have been given a raw deal by society and that they deserve to be treated with more compassion and to be part of the 99%. It is, indeed fair to say that they are the 99th percentile of the 99%. (UnaSpencer Email) In order to do this, however, provisions must be made regarding, discussions must be focused on, and time and energy must be spent considering what it takes to include the marginalized within this model society. Additionally, physical occupation must subsist. Thus, general assemblies are dedicated to winterizing the camp, debating the fate of those marginalized individuals challenging the safety of the camp, and making
21 That is, the agreed upon solution should not be forced by any speech actors within the discourse, but should surface as a result of effective communicative speech acts.


the camp safe for all of the 99%. Further, those who cannot attend the camp (for instance, those who do not live in communities adjacent to its physical location) are easily marginalized as members of the movement. All the while, the outside media focus on these challenges. Emphasis (both within and external to the camp), then, is put on Occupy as a model for society as a whole. On the other hand, Una goes on, those who want the camp to be protest-central posit that our work is to address the systemic corruption in our society so that we can all attend to the injustices done to all marginalized peoples.22 That we cant spend our energies focusing on a few who are suffering because of that system or we will lose the ability to do the larger body of work. (UnaSpencer Email) This side of the struggle looks beyond the camp itself and at the basis for the original occupation: political transformation that will lead to further social transformation and, possibly, greater inclusion of disparate communities within society as a whole. With a focus on the camp as a means to garner attention, the real work is put into figuring out the salient details of what Occupy seeks to accomplish, be it on a macro or micro, nationwide or local level Graebers spaces where people can think about questions can exist, even if not in a specific, static location. Emphasis on this side of the debate is put on Occupys effectiveness as broad reaching protest movement.

22 That is, the 99%.


At a basic level, both sides of our debate seek to bring to light social and economic injustices in the developed world in which they live. The movement as a whole was inspired by some who believe the best way to do this is through social actions discrete,23 organized protests which garner attention to a message by, for instance, disrupting the social harmony in a specific neighborhood, community, or commercial interest. These protests may also take the form of boycotts of certain products or companies, or of a flood of phone-calls to a politicians or companys headquarters. Nevertheless, the goal of the Occupy movement is to make sure the unfairness of the broadly accepted social and economic systems are kept in the publics attention. Some within this broader movement, however, see the camps themselves as the best opportunity to bring these injustices to light while still practicing the types of change being preached by the movement itself. By showing observers that this is what democracy looks like,24 they will point out the unfair nature of capitalist societys systems via example: here is how it should be done even at the expense of broader inclusion and movement effectiveness. These protesters are willing to sacrifice the scalability of a political movement in order to focus on building, as Una puts it, an exemplar society. What then, is the unifying norm underlying both of these approaches? As I already noted, both sides are bringing attention to what they believe to be unfair practices throughout society. This society is one in which all Occupy protestors live (at least, from a general developed, capitalist world standpoint) and observe this inequality. Of note, however, is the fact that this sense of unfairness in reality, the sense that humans deserve fairness is not something that has been present throughout human history. Rather, as the enlightenment ushered in the modern era, the concept of self23 In the sense of individual, not necessarily part of a continuous physical occupation. 24 A common chant among Occupiers.


determination that we, as humans, can take actions not prescribed by our feudal state or God allowed humans to start seeking what is just in the world around them. (Dreyfus & Hubert 14-17) Driving this search for justice and fairness is a normative assumption that humans want more of what is good, not what is bad when considering each decision they make. Because the Occupy movement is based on the [non-normative] agreement that social and economic equality is a good goal for society as a whole, the focus must be placed on actively reaching this goal. However, as The New Yorkers Hertzberg points out, If the pressures of hypothermia, frustration, and correcter-than-thou one-upmanship converge to push them toward more provocative, less mellow forms of disobediencethe messengers will mess up the message. (Hertzberg) Becoming mired in logistics, camp politics, and fighting local government for a sustained encampment distracts from this goal and damages the strength of the movement. Moving beyond a focus on the physical encampment would also address the previously noted concerns associated with the prefigurative nature of Occupy. In order to provide opportunity for people of color or other historically marginalized groups to gain a voice in the movement, Occupy The Hood Boston states that its mission is To bring crowds from Occupy Boston to the Black/Latino/Cape Verdean communities of Boston. ( The group recognizes that Dewey Squares isolation from those communities is a limitation of Occupy Bostons inclusiveness. As such, a breaking of camp would allow broader inclusion of these groups within the movement and would allow for a more strategically focused discourse to take the place of a currently logistically dominated one. Of course, I understand that there is no Occupy movement without the camps at Zuccotti, Dewey, or any of the other occupied parks and squares across the world. As activist Rogelio Lopez25 notes, Once the media coverage stops, to everyone else, the movement stopsnon-violent civil disobedience is key to keeping the focus (Lopez) And, as Una points out on, If these protests were one-day events, [reporters such as Matt Taibbi from Rolling Stone] never would have seen them. Is it reasonable to think someone with a more parochial nature might take 12 weeks? 52 weeks? We need to keep Occupying until weve occupied the minds of everyone long enough for the message to break through the lifetimes of previous conditioning. (UnaSpencer 16 Oct). Thus we are given an argument of why occupation should continue in order to strengthen the broader movement. But there is a difference between continuously pressing
25 Rogelio was a classmate of mine who was present during an interview with members from the Occupy Boston Media Working Group. He was part of the 2008 Fast For Our Future protest action in Los Angeles.


a movements message through media channels and allowing your protest to become the reality-television circus that Occupy was moving towards. In the days leading up to the sixth week of occupation, the protestors at Dewey Square were using the Boston Police Departments blocking of a sanitation sink and winterized tent from the space as ways to attract media attention. (Annear 2 Dec; Annear 4 Dec) They were certainly using this attention to illustrate the absurdity or hypocrisy of the local government, but were not guiding the discussion towards a focus on the broader message of economic justice and equality. As I type these words, however, Occupy Boston is having its first general assembly since being systematically dismantled by the Boston Police Department last night, December 9. The protesters are using the same tools they always have to communicate a message horizontal consensus driven meetings that are broadcast via the Web on Twitter or their wiki space. They are taking this opportunity to share stories from last nights arrest so no proposals are being made. But there is also no talk at all about not continuing the movement. Instead there is talk of where to have their future general assemblies and what social actions to take in the coming days. (@DeweyGA) This is reminiscent of Occupy Wall Streets post-eviction course of action, which included shutting down sections of Wall Street itself (Newman) and organizing sit-ins in foreclosed upon homes, guarding them so that homeless families could move in. (Hoffman) One has to wonder what would have been discussed if tonights general assembly were taking place in Dewey Square, winter approaching, the same individuals causing trouble, and the city still implementing, what the protestors would consider, arbitrary conditions on their occupation. In her interview with me, Una hesitates to choose which direction to support: Occupy as exemplar society or as protest center. She notes, however, that its ok to let these tensions play out and to see where we go as a community. (UnaSpencer Email) A prefigurative movement that is also broad reaching is a significantly difficult reality to achieve. The case study of Occupy Boston is evidence of just this. As such, I do not attempt to force members of the movement into one side or another. Rather, I have sought to highlight how a struggle such as this may be handled by participants in a fascinating movement, one that will surely inspire further research and analysis. In a recent profile of Jrgen Habermas in Der Spiegel, the author points out that they are not so far apart after all, the live-stream revolutionaries from Occupy and the book-writing philosopher. Its basically a division of labor between analog and digital, between debate and action. (Diez) It


is relatively easy to sit from afar and observe and critique, especially compared with the task of growing a protest movement like Occupys. But when such a movement reaches a diversion one that reverberates through its members, the media covering it, and the government whose attention it wants it is important to have guidance on how to continue through this obstacle. Jrgen Habermas public sphere theory may be idealized, as Fraser suggests. Or it may require some supplemental considerations from other philosophers like John Rawls. Nevertheless, taking a step back and considering the analog what normative assumptions are shared among all rational actors can provide just that needed guidance to strengthen a citizenry through its own discourse.


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