Saint Francis of Assisi is said to have remarked, “Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.”
Participants in the Occupy Wall Street might well keep these words in mind when responding to the pressures—from both inside and outside—to come up with a list of specific demands.
At each step of the way, they’ve done what is necessary and then possible: first, they occupied Zucotti Park; then, they managed to maintain and expand their occupation of the park. As a result, they’ve managed to do the impossible: they have sparked a movement that has crossed the United States and the world.
My own view, for what it’s worth, is they/we should resist the pressure to come up with a list of specific demands. The pressure itself betrays a lack of understanding of the movement, or an attempt to convert the movement into another interest group within mainstream politics. The movement, as it emerged and as it has developed over time, is precisely a protest against business as usual, which is what go us into this mess in the first place.
It’s not that I’m against making demands. But those demands have been and should continue to be basic principles, not specific policies (which is what the pressure seems to be all about). Not a specific tax or new regulation but a demand for basic economic and social justice.
The goal, explained Patrick Wilson, volunteering at the camp’s media desk, goes far beyond what any single demand could articulate.
“What we have in the United States is an oligarchy and what we need is a people’s democracy…. So we’re occupying this country. We start out at Wall Street, then we spread out and occupy the country and take it back,” he said.
“The only demand,” he said, “is: give the country back to the people.”
So, for example, the movement can and should demand what is necessary and possible for the 99 percent: full employment, decent education and healthcare, political and economic democracy, a sustainable appropriation of the natural environment, and so on. Let the 1 percent come up with the specific policies to achieve these objectives. If they can’t, if they argue these goals can’t be obtained within contemporary capitalism, then the movement has its answer.
It should continue to work toward what is necessary and possible—and, by doing so, achieve what until now seemed to be impossible: a transition beyond capitalism.