Beyond the Ballot Box

Tim Barker

  • BuyNecessary Trouble: Americans in Revolt by Sarah Jaffe
    Nation, 352 pp, £20.00, August 2016, ISBN 978 1 56858 536 9

Commenting on Occupy Wall Street in late 2011, Barney Frank, then a Democratic congressman for Massachusetts, voiced a common complaint: ‘I don’t understand why people think that simply being in a physical place does much.’ Nearly five years later, it isn’t easy to decide whether Frank was right. Part of the puzzle is that the Occupy movement had a strange double character, both tactic (something to be done) and discourse (something to talk about). The tactic involved illegal occupation of public space and abstention from electoral politics. ‘Occupy’ was a verb, and occupiers defied the restrictive policing that normally kept city centre areas clean for white-collar workers and tourists. Inside the space, people made decisions on a directly democratic basis, gathering in general assemblies where consensus was supposed to substitute for majority rule, and demands to existing authorities were explicitly forsworn. The occupiers confronted other people, on their small patch of land, without the mediations of market and parliament.

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