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Reflections of a Wandering Cypriot Philosopher Part 3

occupy wall streetNew York City - Writer and philosopher Maria Prodromou reflects on the 'Occupy Wall Street' movement and its lessons for Cyprus. The article is published in six parts. Click here for Part 1, Part 2.

Part 3 - When I first heard about the Occupy Wall Street movement a couple of weeks ago I was a bit skeptical: I thought it was going to be a one-off demonstration. I was wrong. This is the beginning of a movement.

Some are dismissing it as weak, lacking clear objectives, leadership and direction. I don’t think this is a solid judgment or fair assessment of the situation. To make up the rules as you go along is not only the smart thing to do, it is the right thing to do…or at least closer to the right thing because you don’t want to prejudge and presume or claim that you know what the right thing to do is. When people stop questioning what the right thing is, that’s when you know you’re in trouble. Making up the rules as you go along, means flexibility, room to maneuver, assess, and adapt to changing circumstances. 

Of course, the movement does have objectives or principles. They are protesting “the blatant injustices of our times perpetuated by the economic and political elites”. This is from the movement’s “Principles of Solidarity”, a “living document” that is regularly revised. “We are the 99% and we have moved to reclaim our mortgaged future”. Their principles of solidarity include things like direct and transparent participatory democracy, the human right to education, empowering one another against all forms of oppression and the practice and support of open source. “We are daring to imagine a new socio-political and economic alternative that offers greater possibility of equality. We are consolidating the other proposed principles of solidarity, after which demands will follow”.

As far as the accusation of lacking a list of demands, I think the movement also got this right. Issuing a list of demands would imply that the movement recognizes the legitimacy of the politicians and the political system. It would imply acknowledging that ‘they’ have the power while the movement is the one that is disempowered. One doesn’t ask for power to be given to them. One seizes what is already one’s own.

“Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win” writes Sun Tzu in The Art of War.

But there is also a very good strategic reason for not issuing a list of demands so early on since doing so would probably lead to a fizzling out of the movement’s momentum. This is how the movement explains this in an Editorial Note in their newspaper titled “No list of demands”: “The exhausted political machines and their PR slicks are already seeking leaders to elevate, messages to claim, talking points to move on. They, more than anyone, will attempt to seize and shape this moment. They are racing to reach the front of the line. But how can they run out in front of something that is in front of them? They cannot. For Wall Street and Washington, the demand is not on them to give us something that isn’t theirs to give. It’s ours. It’s on us. We aren’t going anywhere. We just got here” (The Occupied Wall Street Journal, 8/10/2011).

That the movement is made of a multiplicity and resists categorization or a fixed identity, is also a source of strength and reflects the movement’s inclusiveness and the multicultural character of New York City itself: “What race, age, religion, occupation do we represent? None of them. All of them” the Editorial Note points out.

It seems that the movement has learnt some lessons from the civil rights movements of the 60’s who in their quest for political representation inadvertently created identities which were exclusive or rigid. For example, some argue that the feminist movement in its attempt to create a political identity for the subject ‘woman’ defined this subject through processes of exclusion by not paying attention to the particularities and unique experiences of women of color.  The refusal to put a label on the ‘subject’ that the movement represents must also make the politicians very uncomfortable since they cannot know the enemy: Who are these people? What do they want?

Click here for Part 4 - To contact the author, email:

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