Occupy and anarchism's gift of democracy. The US imagines itself a great democracy, yet most Americans despise its politics. Which is why direct democracy inspires them
by David Graeber
The Guardian (United Kingdom)
As the history of past movements all make clear, nothing terrifies those running America more than the danger of true democracy breaking out. As we see in Chicago, Portland, Oakland, and right now in New York City, the immediate response to even a modest spark of democratically organised civil disobedience is a panicked combination of concessions and brutality. Our rulers, anyway, seem to labor under a lingering fear that if any significant number of Americans do find out what anarchism really is, they may well decide that rulers of any sort are unnecessary.
Almost every time I'm interviewed by a mainstream journalist about OWS, I get some variation of the same lecture:
"How are you going to get anywhere if you refuse to create a leadership structure or make a practical list of demands? And what's with all this anarchist nonsense – the consensus, the sparkly fingers … ? You're never going to be able to reach regular, mainstream Americans with this sort of thing!"
It is hard to imagine worse advice. After all, since 2007, just about every previous attempt to kick off a nationwide movement against Wall Street took exactly the course such people would have recommended – and failed miserably. It is only when a small group of anarchists in New York decided to adopt the opposite approach – refusing to recognise the legitimacy of the existing political authorities by making demands of them; refusing to accept the legitimacy of the existing legal order by occupying a public space without asking for permission, refusing to elect leaders that could then be bribed or co-opted; declaring, however non-violently, that the entire system was corrupt and they rejected it; being willing to stand firm against the state's inevitable violent response – that hundreds of thousands of Americans from Portland to Tuscaloosa began rallying in support, and a majority declared their sympathies.
This is not the first time a movement based on fundamentally anarchist principles – direct action, direct democracy, a rejection of existing political institutions and attempt to create alternative ones – has cropped up in the US. The civil rights movement (at least, its more radical branches), the anti-nuclear movement, the global justice movement … all took similar directions. Never, however, has one grown so startlingly quickly.
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