What do Occupy Sydney and Melbourne Want?

What do Occupy Sydney and Occupy Melbourne want? Now in its 65th day, the protest against corporate greed and its effects on the 99 per cent is under pressure. Some dismiss the Melbourne movement as a front for the ‘'Trots’‘ – socialist and Marxist splinter groups that have been around for yonks. Others see their preoccupation with legal skirmishes over the right to occupy public space as a distraction from articulating the movement’s aims to a sceptical public.

Last Sunday I cycled to Occupy Melbourne to chat to the protesters and have a look around. I came away impressed. The Marxist colonisers appear to have been dispatched. What I found was a tired but switched-on troupe of twentysomethings who weren’t sitting in their parents' houses whining for another plasma TV but dedicating their time to making the world a more equitable place.

I don’t agree with everything Occupy Melbourne has to say. That’s my prerogative, as it is to show up at the general assemblies, the forums in which the group’s decisions are made. I’m part of the 99 per cent and that means Occupy is as much my movement as anyone else’s. But this also implies that if I don’t get involved and it doesn’t go my way, I have no one but myself to blame.

For those I spoke to, it was not just the aims of the movement but the process by which these were determined that mattered. The council has banned tents or other installations that would ease the work of staying fed, safe and dry. Occupy members argued that living and working together in such testing conditions demanded a communal interdependence key to the evolution of a workable, participatory system of governance. Central to this was the creation of a process that repudiated the democracy-for-sale problem plaguing modern democracies. The aim was to make good on the central promise of ‘'one person, one vote’‘ through a direct democratic system that ruled by consensus.

Consensus building demands wonderful listening skills and other habits conducive to building on the ideas of others, rather than tearing them down. The knowledge of democratic theory possessed by several Occupiers left me for dead and I liked their quiet confidence in what some claim is the unacceptably slow process of arriving at an agreed set of demands – a process that would deliver important lessons about what it takes for a democracy, in which everyone has a voice, to function.

There’s something stomach-turning about baby boomers who never tire of complaining about the materialism and flightiness of ‘'youth today’‘ but ignore or ridicule younger generations who seek to articulate an agenda for social change.

It is true that Occupy must eventually advance solutions to the problems it describes or wither on the vine. As one protester admitted to Background Briefing on ABC radio: ‘'All popular movements are prefaced on their popular support and you can’t really fabricate that.’'

Our choice is simple. We can take potshots at the newest politically active Australians, pretending the only ideas worth listening to come from people of the past. Or we can take a leaf from the Occupiers' book and open our ears, hearts and minds to what those inheriting the world are struggling to say.

Publication history

More Occupies their Minds Than the Media Trots Out  Sun-Herald (Sydney)