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Saturday, August 30 2014 @ 09:14 PM CDT

The Democracy Project: a History, a Crisis, a Movement by David Graeber

Anarchist Movement

Graeber also thinks OWS should be celebrated precisely because the movement did not make concrete policy demands. As an anarchist, he believes in what he calls "prefigurative" politics: protests are not meant to extract concessions from the existing system, but to give people an idea of what the world would be like if there was no system and individuals were free to make their own choices.

The Democracy Project: a History, a Crisis, a Movement by David Graeber – review

David Runciman is shaken from his apathy by a call for a new politics in a book that asks why the Occupy Wall Street protests worked

David Runciman
The Guardian, Thursday 28 March 2013

What's the first question that springs to mind when you think about Occupy Wall Street? Where did it go? Was anything actually accomplished? What went wrong? These are not the questions that David Graeber wants to answer in his new book on the protest and its ramifications. Graeber, an anthropologist and lifelong activist, was there from the beginning and helped give OWS its start in life in September 2011. He also helped coin the slogan "We are the 99%", which did so much to brand the movement. Now, nearly two years on, Graeber wants to draw some of the wider lessons. He thinks the question that needs to be answered is: Why did it work?

This is not as crazy as it sounds. Graeber has two reasons for believing that Occupy was a huge success. The first is that so many people showed up at all. Graeber, who is also an anarchist, is a veteran of actions, rallies and occupations whose participants can usually be counted in the tens, not the tens of thousands. Bloombergville, a forerunner of the occupation of Zuccotti Park, was a camp of 40 activists living in tents opposite City Hall in lower Manhattan during the summer of 2011. No one noticed, which is what tends to happen with this kind of protest. The original occupation of Wall Street on 17 September drew a couple of thousand people, which was considered a triumph. But within weeks the movement had spread to more than 600 cities, and huge crowds were assembling daily in New York. Graeber writes of having to pinch himself as he watched thousands of people mimicking the hand gestures and rallying cries of activists who were more used to shouting at each other across empty rooms.

These parts of the book read like the typical memoirs of anyone who has an unexpected brush with fame: they are breathless, self-referential and more than a little pompous. Graeber's stories of the infighting between the different anarchist and socialist groups in the runup to Occupy are inadvertently comical: it's the Judean People's Front v the People's Front of Judea. His account of the subsequent explosion of interest in his ideas reminded me of Jarvis Cocker's description of the first time Pulp played Glastonbury. After years of scraping a living in grimy Sheffield clubs, the band suddenly found itself performing to a field of 50,000 people, who all seemed to know the words to "Common People" and were singing devotedly along. This sort of success rarely lasts. Cocker probably has a better idea of the vicissitudes of popular acclaim than Graeber does.

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