The Alienated Political Activism of Occupy Wall Street

Monday, 11 July 2016: 10:45
Location: Seminar 34 (Juridicum)
Oral Presentation
Gregory ZUCKER, Rutgers University, USA
The series of global protests that began against dictatorships in the Middle East and have, more recently, led to anti-austerity movements throughout Europe have led many to speculate about the prospects for the revitalization of mass protest. Particularly with respect to the Occupy movement in the United States and anti-austerity movements in Europe, some commentators see these actions as marking the growth of a left that can combat neoliberalism. Focusing on Occupy, I wish to dispute such claims. I argue that Occupy’s inability to sustain itself is symptomatic of how devastating the fragmentation of the left has become. Occupy was informed by conceptions of the free society and free individual that did more to illustrate the alienation of the individual from meaningful political action than lead to effective political action. This paper suggests that part of the failure of left movements to confront the ever-worsening effects of neo-liberalism rests on the fact that many of the activists attempt to envision new forms of community that are divorced from the reality of social embeddedness and the constraints this imposes on political strategy. Perhaps most problematic is the anarchist undercurrent that guides much of this conception of activism insofar as it posits a free-standing individual as independent of social ties. This search for a non-alienated or alienating form of politics that seeks to withdraw into a new communal space is itself an expression of a social alienation that threatens our capacity to confront exploitation. Occupy sought to combat the alienation wrought by neoliberalism with a form of political engagement that itself is a product of that alienation.