Permanent Revolution: Occupy as Prototype
The Occupy Movement constitutes an upgrade of political activism from campaign to prototype. This shift from the traditional narrative, goal-oriented movement to activism as “infinite game” or behavioral norm, is consistent with the changing media environment informing this activity. As we move from a culture defined by the book and broadcast media to one expressed more through the net and peer-to-peer media, our approaches to politics and our expectations for its results changes. We transition from a spectator democracy in which citizens project their hopes and dreams onto charismatic leaders, to a participatory democracy in which citizens enact change through their real-time interactions.
As a result, the democratic process moves from the religious realm to the scientific. It becomes less about faith and marching than about models, prototypes and iterations. One’s approach to social and economic change becomes provisional rather than absolute. Agreements are reached through consensus rather than winner-takes-all debate. Larger issues are broken down into component parts, with potentially contradictory findings. The resulting paradoxes are tolerated, even explored, instead of ignored or oversimplified. The model is never completed, but simply revised to make it more compatible with the reality of needs on the ground. The culture is peer-reviewed in an ongoing way, through a General Assembly where all objections are considered.
This shift reflects more than a change in communications technologies, but a change in the mode and dimensional level of activism. While it offers access to the writing or rewriting of legal structures surrounding particular issues (content) it also points the way toward a new democratic process (medium). The Occupation becomes less a statement than a laboratory through which new techniques for consensus, community, and change-making are developed and practiced in vivo.
Douglas Rushkoff, winner of the Media Ecology Association’s Marshall McLuhan Award, is the author of a dozen bestselling books on media, technology, and change, translated to over thirty languages. They include Playing the Future, Media Virus, and Program or Be Programmed. He also made the television documentaries Merchants of Cool, The Persuaders, and Digital Nation. He regularly appears on international radio and television and lectures at conferences around the world. He has also worked as a theater director and keyboard player, most notably for the industrial band Psychic TV. He is defending his dissertation, Monopoly Moneys, at Utrecht University this June.