excerpts from the op-ed by Hardt + Negri in Foreign Affairs
The political face of the Occupy Wall Street protests comes into view when we situate it alongside the other “encampments” of the past year. Occupy Wall Street takes inspiration from the encampments of central squares in Spain, which began on May 15 and followed the occupation of Cairo’s Tahrir Square earlier last spring. To this succession of demonstrations, one should add a series of parallel events, such as the extended protests at the Wisconsin statehouse, the occupation of Syntagma Square in Athens, and the Israeli tent encampments for economic justice. The context of these various protests are very different, of course, and they are not simply iterations of what happened elsewhere. Rather each of these movements has managed to translate a few common elements into their own situation.
If together these different protest encampments – from Cairo and Tel Aviv to Athens, Madison, Madrid, and now New York – express a dissatisfaction with the existing structures of political representation, then what do they offer as an alternative? What is the “real democracy” they propose?
The clearest clues lie in the internal organization of the movements themselves – specifically, the way the encampments experiment with new democratic practices. These movements have all developed according to what we call a “multitude form” and are characterized by frequent assemblies and participatory decision-making structures.
Do not wait for the encampments, then, to develop leaders or political representatives. No Martin Luther King, Jr. will emerge from the occupations of Wall Street and beyond. For better or worse – and we are certainly among those who find this a promising development – this emerging cycle of movements will express itself through horizontal participatory structures, without representatives. Such small-scale experiments in democratic organizing would have to be developed much further, of course, before they could articulate effective models for a social alternative, but they are already powerfully expressing the aspiration for a “real democracy."
If democracy – that is, the democracy we have been given – is staggering under the blows of the economic crisis and is powerless to assert the will and interests of the multitude, then is now perhaps the moment to consider that form of democracy obsolete?