Equity & Diversity Opinion

What Does Occupy Envision? Why Occupy is Not Putting Out A Clear List of Demands

By Greg Jobin-Leeds — December 20, 2011 3 min read
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Part III of V

There is a difference between a policy demand and a movement goal. A movement is more visionary and broader. Movements are made up of people from many policy campaigns. Movements shift conversations and are not satisfied with a narrow policy victory. Organizations and campaigns stand on the shoulders of the movement. As Rinku Sen says, organizations fight for clear demands; movements change the conversations and create a psychic shift.

A well-organized demand creates openings for more demands. For instance in the Civil Rights era, desegregating the bus station helped create conditions for voting rights. But the Civil Rights movement like the Women’s rights movement didn’t just change a law; it changed society’s total trajectory. It took steps in curing the illness we call racism. Who could have imagined a black president in the late 1950s or 1960s? The movement could have demanded this, but it was inconceivable. Can you imagine Occupy Wall Street demanding a president that is not backed by Wall Street? Can you imagine Occupy demanding a president that answers to the needs of the 99 percent before the needs of the big banker donors? Or how about if Occupy said, we want a more participatory democracy than a presidential election?

Occupy is students saying they want participatory education systems that give them authority for issues beyond student governments choosing organizing school dances. Occupy is the ranks of classroom teachers saying they want more participatory leadership in governing the schools and their unions.

Occupy Wall Street envisions a new system, much like the revolution of values, that Dr. King called for in 1967 -- that went way beyond the successes of the earlier 60s.

As Amy Goodman says, “After passage of the Civil Rights Act, King began challenging the nation’s fundamental priorities. He maintained civil rights laws were empty without “human rights”, including economic rights. For people too poor to eat at a restaurant or afford a decent home, Dr. King said, anti-discrimination laws were hollow. Noting a majority of Americans below the poverty line were white, Dr. King developed a class perspective. He decried the huge income gaps between the rich and poor and called for radical changes in the structure of our society to redistribute wealth and power.

We must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism and militarism are incapable of being conquered. A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies.” -Dr. Martin Luther King, April 4, 1967 //www.democracynow.org/2008/1/21/dr_martin_luther_king_jr_1929

So yes, it would be great to have fully funded schools. It would be amazing to have Colleges be free and to forgive all student loans as a step in the right direction, but those acts alone are not going to change the system. For an organizational campaign, it is a good move but does not change the imbalance in decision making and ownership. That is the realm of transformative movements. If Occupy were to accumulate all the demands, (the environmental demands, the economic, the gender, race, political demands) they will not all be met unless the whole system changes: which is a more profound, difficult, and inspiring situation.

For movements, the tension between demands and “revolutions of values” is a healthy tension. The Occupy movement imagines a democratic, fully participatory society that fulfills the needs of the majority. A black president was difficult to conceive of in the early 60s because of the mindset of that time. Today a participatory future is equally difficult to conceive of given our mindset that is so determined by our current free-market top-down economic models. Imagine a community based on everyone being fully equal, rich or poor having the same access and opportunities. It challenges all our thinking.

Occupy is the beginning of a new visioning process. This is the change the paradigm, change the conversation phase. The Civil Rights movement had phases. In many ways the broad-scale visioning came later in Civil Rights. Perhaps too late. Many who do not understand the change process want to just know the demands and move on. But changing from a thing-oriented society to a people-oriented society is not met by a particular demand.

We are in the 1967 phase of the movement caught by John Lennon in his song “Imagine”.

Imagine no possessions I wonder if you can No need for greed or hunger A brotherhood of man Imagine all the people sharing all the world You, you may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one I hope some day you'll join us And the world will live as one

This is a utopian vision. And the visions last. The demands pass. Occupy questions society’s way of being. It is deeper.

My question to readers is how can each of our education reform demands be pushed in a way that opens up conversations about transformations and creates conversations about equality, about all humans being equal, about human rights?

What do each of you think we can do to envision and create a community vision of what we really want for public education? The Occupy moment is not just to transform what we have -- but to imagine together and aim for what we really know in our heart of hearts to be right for our children. What would you imagine for schools’ way of being?

The opinions expressed in Democracy and Education are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.