The Occupy Movement as a Politics for All

(Capitulo sobre el movimiento ocupa, del libro Cyborg Subjects recién publicado y disponible aqui – chapter on the occupy movement from recently published book Cyborg Subjects, available here)


by Alessandro Zagato[i]

Before, I watched television; now television is watching me.

(Egyptian rebel, 2010[ii])

Lost my job. Found an occupation


For the first time in my life I felt at home

(Banners seen at OWS, 2011)

An insurrection is not like a plague or a forest fire — a linear process which spreads from place to place after an initial spark. It rather takes the shape of a music, whose focal points, though dispersed in time and space, succeed in imposing the rhythms of their own vibrations, always taking on more density.

(The Invisible Committee, n.d.)

The principle of domination according to which just a minority of professional, skilled and eventually elected individuals have the capacity and legitimacy to objectively explain and determinate social reality, to take political and economic decisions which may affect the life of other individuals – this representative and separated idea of politics, from which ordinary people are excluded – was challenged by movements and events which have punctuated recent history with a strength, a scale and through processes somewhat unprecedented.

This is not to suggest that the world is at the verge of “Revolution”, nor to argue that capitalism is being in some way “defeated”. In fact, the situation is suggesting exactly the opposite, particularly in the EU, where austerity measures are being implemented with authoritarian zeal, and in the case of Greece and Italy by non-elected governments.

The idea that I would like to put forward here is that within the sequence that in its last phase named itself Occupy, unexpected steps have been taken forward in the development of a politics that shifts from orthodox and conventional forms and ideologies and, most importantly, makes itself available virtually to anybody.

Syntagma, Tahrir Square, Puerta del Sol, Zuccotti Park, Rothchild Boulevard and so on are names that in the last two years have had a huge resonance in the media. They indicate nodes, “evental sites” (Badiou, 2007, p. 175) where this political subjectivity has mushroomed in a rhizomatic and heterogeneous way. In my view, despite contradictions and differences among and within local initiatives, the leitmotiv of these diverse collective experiments is the simple and powerful idea of a politics which –to use an expression introduced by Judith Balso (Balso, 2010, p. 16)– is virtually “for all”. One that, in other words, responds “to the most fundamental idea of politics: that of the power possessed by those to whom no particular motive determines that they should exercise power, that of the manifestation of an ability which is that of any one” (Ranciere, 2012).

I will argue that the main conditions of a politics for all, such as the one witnessed in the last two years at an international scale, are: a. that it breaks with representation; b. that it   subverts a certain regime of distribution of places and functions; and c. that it provides a space for permanent discussion and decision making where anybody can participate on an equal basis.

1.     Rupture with representative politics

“We do not represent anyone and nobody represents us” (15M slogan)

Spain, 15th of May, 2011: demonstrations are taking place in main cities against the “anti-social” policies implemented by the government to handle the crisis.  Political parties and unions are officially not taking part: just a multitude of individuals and small organisations who have answered the call by newly created online platform “Real Democracy Now!” (Democracia Real Ya!). Protesters call for a radical change in politics arguing that no party represents them. “We are not commodities in the hands of politicians and bankers” reads the slogan shared by all adhering individuals and associations. Read more