Many liberal friends and colleagues have been surprisingly lukewarm in their support of the Occupy Movement that has sprung up in cities and on campuses across America. Often they complain that though the Occupy Movement is well intentioned, it lacks focus. For example, in response to a recent Facebook posting lauding the movement’s rejection of neoliberalism, a university professor remarked: “While the Occupy Movement gives me some hope, I think it lacks an ideological cast which could provide some direction. ”The scope of the Occupy Movement is certainly wide, critiquing everything from home foreclosures to police brutality, student loans to war. But width of scope should not be mistaken for disorientation. The scope of the movement is in fact its strength.
A short essay titled “Oppression”, published in the early 1980s by the feminist theorist Marilyn Fyre, reminds us that all forms of oppression are interlinked. Fyre asks us to consider a birdcage. If you look at one wire in a birdcage very closely, you cannot see the other wires. Your myopic focus determines your conception of what is before you… However, as soon as you take a step back and stop looking at the wires one by one, you see why the bird cannot go anywhere. “It is perfectly obvious that the bird is surrounded by a network of systematically related barriers, no one of which would be the least hindrance to its flight, but which, by their relations to each other, are as confining as the solid walls of a dungeon.”
The Occupy Movement takes a macroscopic view of the society in which we live. As one protest banner reads, “Occupy Everything!” The protests in Davis, California, against university tuition hikes and budget reductions are no different from the protests in Viroqua, Wisconsin, demanding health care for all. Both are fighting against corporate America, which says it is okay to trample on the public for the sake of private enterprise. Institutions like education, health care, libraries, parks, and rapid transit are too large for individuals to set up and administer by themselves. In a democracy, where equal opportunity is guaranteed for all, individuals contribute taxes to collectively create what no one person could provide alone.
The protests are against an oppressive attitude in the US that says it is okay for a person with financial power to disregard human rights. Every single demand at every Occupy protest relates to the human rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. A fundamental principle of the UDHR is non-discrimination, meaning that no person can have his/her rights denied based on race, gender, class, disability, religion etc. Denying veterans their rights is no different from denying students their rights. The idea that it is not okay to deny rights to any group of people unites the Occupy Movement and provides it with direction.
The fact that the Arab Spring inspired the Occupy Movement makes it all the clearer that oppression is systematically interlinked. Oppression is not limited to “too big to fail” policies or military rule by dictators. Oppression is a cage that transcends particular abuses. It is also the disregard of even one person’s human rights. For this reason people from Cairo to California chant “We are all Egypt!” and “We are all the 99 per cent!”
For those who say the Occupy Movement is too unfocused, we need to take a step back from the wire in front of us – and occupy our own minds.