Occupy this and that – by which I mean the Occupy Movement writ large – is still, even after some depletion in some places – quite enormous. It includes countless local manifestations, sometimes around housing, other times around banks, sometimes focusing on media, other times on nukes, and so on. It also includes massive manifestations, as in Greece and Spain, among others, as well as large city gatherings, and then also smaller local town gatherings, reading groups, dinner parties, etc.
So how many people are actively involved in Occupy (including variants that have their own different names around the world)? Of course, no one knows.
Okay, then, how many people are very supportive, beyond those who are explicitly involved? We have even less information about that – except for a few places, like Spain, where the polls indicate support is upwards of 60 – 70% of the whole population, and Greece where it appears to be similar.
However, for the sake of exploring some ideas, let's be very conservative and round it all off. Let's hypothesize that one million people, worldwide, are either active in Occupy or at least very seriously support it. I suspect vastly more are very supportive – even if we leave out Spain and Greece for being so far advanced compared to other places – and considerably more are involved to some significant degree. But let's compromise dramatically and use that very round number: one million, worldwide.
Now let's suppose those one million people are all in one gargantuan assembly meeting. Remember, it is a thought experiment – so just imagine it.
Now also imagine that a host who can be heard by everyone attending announces that all those who think that issues of race, ethnicity, nationality, and religious violation of people's rights and dignity should NOT be a priority focus of a movement trying to create a better world, and thus that such cultural matters should be considered by a movement for a better world to be less central than, say, economic or gender or governmental matters, please raise your hands. And then, with the hands waving, the host proclaims, thank you for attending but this gathering has been called for folks with multi priority views you apparently do not share, so, it will not offend us, if you opt to leave. How many would go?
I think, not too many. Traipsing out the door would be only those who were ideologically committed to a narrow prioritization of economics or of gender – but not of race – and even then, probably not many of those. But let's exaggerate. Let's say 50,000, worldwide – out of the one million – would raise their hands and would leave on account of not wanting to be in a pursuit with people who think issues of race and culture are on a par with the other matters.
Okay, a brief moment is set aside to regroup, and then the host asks all those who think issues of sexuality and gender, and thus of family life and child rearing and relations among men and women, aged and young, and gay and straight, should be considered less central than one or more other matters by a movement for a better world, to please raise their hands. And while the hands are waving about, the host says, thank you for attending, but our assembly is for folks with views different from yours – so, it will not offend us if you opt to leave. How many would go?
Maybe somewhat more than in the last case, I really don't know, but worldwide let's say 150,000 more who are active in or at least deeply support the Occupy movements, would leave because they think economics, or culture, or polity is more central than kinship and that the latter is of only relatively secondary import, if that. So now 800,000 of the one million original Occupy advocates remain.
Suppose the host next asks all those who think economics and class or governance and citizen power should NOT be a priority to raise their hands. Okay, you may leave, the host tells those with hands waving and a small number go – let's exaggerate and say another 50,000 to keep things rounded off neatly. These folks say they want a better world, but they think economics and governance are of secondary import and shouldn't be prioritized along with race and gender which they have already indicated their concern for. And next the host does the same for ecology and for international relations, and another 50,000 go, again exaggerating, saying that those issues are subordinate and they don't want to remain with folks who gave those matters unwarranted priority.
So now 700,000 people remain because they mutually agree that race and culture, kinship and gender, economy and class, polity and citizenship, ecology, and international relations should ALL be central concerns, with none subordinated to any other in any worthy effort to create a better world. That is, in the shared view of those remaining, a better world should not and would not preserve racism, ethnocentrism, bigotry, religious persecution, sexism, homophobia, class rule, political authoritarianism, ecological insanity, imperialism, colonialism, etc. The remaining folks feel that a whole movement should therefore address all these realms with comparable priority, even if some folks and projects would of course perfectly reasonably emphasize one focus, and other folks and projects would emphasize another focus, each given their particular personal circumstances, resources, and interests.
Okay, so far, so good. 700,000 are still in the room/assembly. We might quibble about the million base figure we started with, but in that case just raise the 700,000, or lower it, proportionately, in your own preferred accounting. Or we might quibble about the percentages leaving due to each refinement of shared views of those remaining, but again, just raise or lower the 700,000 in your own preferred accounting.
The obvious question that arises at this point is, are you still in the hypothetical room? If you are, read on. If not, well okay, that's fine. We who read on, won't be offended. Different strokes for different folks as the old slogan goes – but the rest of this essay is probably not for you since it does presuppose the shared views of the 700,000.
Okay, now comes a bigger issue of evaluation. The host says, how many of you who remain feel that to address these agreed priority matters so as to eliminate the ills they entail we don't have to transform basic institutions, we just have to institute appropriate new polices and have no need, for example, to get rid of capitalist ways of conducting economy, patriarchal structures in our ways of living locally, racist and ethnocentric and otherwise destructive features at the institutional base of our ways of celebrating identities, or the core institutions of legislation, adjudication, etc.? We just have to impose on our societies some additional norms, laws, requirements, etc., in the form of additional policies – and things will be excellent? Please raise your hands if you have that view. Alright, we will not be offended if you leave because you do not want to be in a group that instead feels basic institutions must be replaced.
How many of the 700,000 still in the session would leave?
On the one hand we should note that the host could ask how many would say they are revolutionaries – because that is what it means to say you believe policies are not enough and that basic institutions must be replaced to remove the underlying causes of the offending social relations. That would yield one result.
Or the host could instead raise the issue the way our host did above and ask how many of you think new policies and modest adaptations of existing structures is all we need? That, I suspect, would get a different result. The second way, if a person decides that there is nothing fundamentally wrong with our institutions that a once over of some new rules and modifications acting on top of them – plus punishing and removing bad guys who violate the new norms – wouldn't deal with, then the person leaves.
I actually think the number of our 700,000 who would say reforms are enough to get rid of our problems is pretty low. I think the number who, whether they would use the term or not, are revolutionary in thinking new institutions are needed if we are to have just societies, is rather high. But, nonetheless, let's err on the side of underestimating those who stay. Let's say another 200,000 leave because they feel there is no need to replace underlying institutions to have a new and worthy world; we can get what we want with just reforms. Okay, we are down to 500,000.
We reach one more divide. And it is perhaps the most stressing one so far. Our host says, of the 500,000 still here because we think the many areas mentioned earlier are each comparably central to address, and we think the only way to remove the oppressions that scour dignity and humanity and life from people all over the world is to replace underlying institutions that yield those results with new institutions that have contrary implications, how many think it is possible that we, with others who come to think like us, can actually succeed? Put the opposite way, our host says, how many of you think either that there is no better alternative set of social relations we can aspire to, to replace those we now suffer from; or think that even if there is such an alternative, the enemies who would obstruct attaining it are too strong to overcome; or think we ourselves are so far down a path of mutual destruction and dissolution that we simply have no hope of avoiding sectarianism and authoritarianism in our own endeavors so that anything we attempt will fall far short of digging out of the pit we are in and reaching desirable better institutions? Hands go up, doors open, and the vision deniers leave. Why stay for a futile pursuit, they reason. How many slumped through the doors, depressed that fundamental change is impossible, but honorably and consistently following their beliefs?
It is a guess, like everything above, but I think this is far and away the biggest divider, so let's say four fifths leave due to denying the possibility of success. We now have 100,000 who, by the logic of their remaining in the room, should be eager to find ways to work cooperatively and continually with others like themselves, both people in the room and people who are outside and also share the agreed views, as well as to demonstrate to even more other people among those who have left the room or were never assembled in the first place – due to not relating to Occupy – that they should come in, sit down, take up a comfortable position, and stay for the duration.
So here is my punchline. Are you in that 100,000? If you are, I claim you should forget about our hypothetical room, it has served its purpose, and you should take a look at the International Organization for a Participatory Society (IOPS) site. IOPS claims to be a path to having an organization with the features these 100,000 people desire – and to establish anti sectarian operations that will be successfully plant seeds of the future everywhere in the present while also winning gains on a road forward. IOPS even claims to have an agreed vision that includes the minimal but essential features to meet the 100,000's desires for new institutions that would have liberating results compared to the institutions we now suffer.
Given your views, as hypothetically unearthed by your remaining in the room of 100,000, IOPS may prove congenial for you as a way to pursue the path your attendance in the room implies. There may still be reason for you not to join up – of course – but it is hard to see any reason not to at least take some time to assess IOPS. More, if you have reservations – which probably most who consider IOPS will, at least initially, there is no reason not to hash them out, looking first at the IOPS Q/A about concerns, and then perhaps talking through the issues you feel with others. All of us in the hypothetical room should hope, even if we think it is bucking long odds, that IOPS is an undertaking for us.
But what about the effects on Occupy? What would be the impact on your work in Occupy of your deciding IOPS was a good fit for your inclinations and aspirations, or for your work in other projects and movements that you already relate to? Most likely your other involvements would continue as in the past. Perhaps your involvement in IOPS would cause you to have ideas that you would wish to share with people in your non IOPS activities, just as your non IOPS involvements might generate ideas you would want to share in IOPS. Beyond that spontaneous cross fertilization, your explicit IOPS involvement would of course depend on your evolving relation to its emerging programs, projects, etc.
But what if a considerable number of people in Occupy were to join IOPS? Suppose out of the 100,000 who stayed in our hypothetical assembly meeting, in the coming months 10,000 or 20,000 were to join IOPS. It is optimistic, but if it happened, what difference would it make for Occupy and for IOPS? Well, it would quickly turn IOPS into a very large international revolutionary organization that is a federation of national branches and local chapters, rooted deeply in Occupy, engaged in countless forms of activism in Occupy and outside it as well, developing its own IOPS program, and providing a model of the implementation of the values and institutions of the future in the present.
In this optimistic but quite possible scenario, a subset of Occupy activists and supporters would have spun off a lasting organizational manifestation of the Occupy upsurge that would cause the insights of Occupy to persist and would inform and be informed by the insights of other endeavors all around the world – even as those involved would of course also strongly agitate for more, wider, and deeper Occupy activism. With so many Occupy advocates in IOPS there would be a minority current running within Occupy carrying shared views from IOPS into Occupy's ethos and operations. There would likewise be a massive influx into IOPS from Occupy, no doubt defining its future in manifold ways.
If the logic above – not the specific guesses about numbers, but the general impression of those who would remain were the hypothetical assembly to gather and the process to unfold – is wrong, my apologies for wasting your time. But if the logic is right, and if you, like me, would be among the folks who would be hunkered down in the room at the end of the thought experiment – then the ball is in our court.