With each additional reporter bleating “but what are your demands?!” at the protesters at occupy Wall Street, I better understand the genius in not having demands. You only have to go down to Zucotti Park to realize that these people are not a homogenous group. From Anarchists to Pacifists, from Libertarians to Socialists, from Atheists to Christians, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus and Buddhists, from the homeless to the privileged college students, from the professional lifetime protesters to the first time participants these people agree about very little except that the current system can not and must not continue lest it destroys us all. By not publishing a clear set of demands this movement is allowing the widest possible audience to feel included in it and represented by it. By not publishing a clear set of demands this movement is refusing to play by the rules of those in power, against whom they are protesting. It has pushed the 1% off balance and has them scared.
Anyone that has been involved in any kind of protest over the last 10-15 years more likely than not has walked away disappointed. Rallies were held where stirring speeches were made. The written and electronic media, possibly sympathetic to the cause, gave some coverage. Leaders emerged who expressed the frustrations and demands of those upset enough to stop just sitting at home and complaining at the television. Those same leaders eventually fell in love with the attention and their access to power so that the political class easily absorbed and co-opted them while making minimal concessions. Soon enough the protests petered out, the working groups dispersed and everyone went home trying not to feel disappointed.
The genius of not having a clear set of demands is that, in essence, it allows you to answer the question of “what do you want?” with “everything”. It is this answer, this all inclusiveness, which differentiates the current protests, whether they are in NYC, Tel Aviv, Barcelona, Athens or Cairo from what has come before. When what you are demanding is justice it is easy to gloss over the nuances of political differences or even significant differences in understanding of what justice is. When there is no clear leadership, there is no place for the usual jealousy or concerns about a small group making the wrong decisions for the majority. There is only a common understanding that the reign of the plutocratic minority must end, that their power over our politics and lives must be broken. It is the growing understanding by many that the current protest movements are the real deal, that with enough effort and dedication and perseverance real change can be effected that is causing people to forsake their cynicism. The kind of change people believed that the election of Obama would bring and left so many so bitterly disappointed.
It is the task of these protests, of this movement, to effect change. The same people that will change the status quo will not necessarily be the ones the build the new reality. It is enough for now to say that the way things work at the moment can no longer continue without having to answer exactly what will take it’s place.
It is the growing understanding by the plutocrats, the 1%, that what the protesters are demanding is everything that has got them scared. It is the realization that this might not be a passing fad that is causing more than a few sleepless nights. They are starting to realize that the rest of us have figured out their game and are refusing to play by their rules. As this becomes clearer to them, as the stark reality dawns on them that there is no way that they can both placate the crowds and maintain their current lifestyle, we can expect their resistance to become more concentrated and violent. As the violence in New York and Sydney and Oakland has shown so far, this will only work towards causing more and more people to feel included in this movement.