Co-founder of ‘Occupy Wall Street’ discusses the future of democracy

Will democracy survive? We met with Micah White before the this month’s ‘Hypotheticals’ debate in Aarhus to preview his thoughts.

by Louise Soares

One of the most critical questions of international politics at the moment is how democracy will survive in the context of rising populist and right-wing nationalist movements in the United States and Europe. This question was the central theme of the ‘Hypotheticals: Will Democracy Survive?’ debate hosted at Aarhus Theatre on February 26th.

Micah White, co-founder of the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ movement and author of ‘The End of Protest: a New Playbook for Revolution’, was one of the guests invited to the debate panel. White joined Jutland Station for a live stream interview on his vision for the future of protest and democracy in the world of Brexit and Trump.

Broken Protest
In ‘The End of Protest’, White looks back at his experience ahead of the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ movement and points out some new pathways that future protesters could follow based on the movement’s rise and fall.

Back in 2011, ‘Occupy Wall Street’ protested against social and economic inequalities and other issues like corruption and corporate lobbyism in politics. Its participants gathered through social media and occupied public spaces, such as Zucotti Park in New York, to make their claims heard, launching a new strategy for protest that was quickly emulated on a global scale. After two months of successful occupation, the movement came to a halt when protesters were forced to leave Wall Street.

Although ‘Occupy’ was defeated, White points out that the main lesson learned from the experience was testing the theory about the effectiveness of mobilising a large number of people in the streets to enact social change.

“The core thing that went wrong is this idea that, if somehow we could get a lot of people in the streets, our elected representatives would have listened to us. We were basically testing that idea, but now I see it isn’t true. Protest is broken, basically,” says White.

For White, recent protest movements, like the Women’s March, can benefit from ‘Occupy’s’ experience of trial and error.

“You orient all activism around trying to capture positions of power that would allow you to get what you want. The thing with protesting as it is typically conceived is that you are making demands on people that have sovereignty. Instead you have to use protest in order to become sovereign. This means that there are two ways of dividing. Either use protest to win elections, or use protest to win wars. Just protest alone is less than it could be,” says White.

Democracy at risk
2016 saw two major political events that marked the reawakening of nationalist and populist movements: the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom and Donald Trump’s election as president of the United States.

For White, there is only one way to counteract these political trends, and that is by developing an alternative to right-wing populism.

“I’m concerned with the rise of right-wing populism, but the thing is we need an alternative to that, and it can’t be a progressive establishment. It has to be a new form of populism”, says White, who singles out the Spanish ‘Podemos’ party and the Icelandic ‘Pirate’ party as examples of new ways of merging social movements and political issues.

“It’s a question of trying to borrow this concept of how we can build social movements that win elections, and then merge that with something that ‘Occupy’ was able to do and spread to 82 countries. Use free protest as a way to get elected into power.”

As for the main question of the ‘Hypotheticals’ debate – ‘Will democracy survive?’ – White suggests a simple answer:

“The only way democracy can survive at this point is to fight Trump. Unfortunately, we are living in a pre-war period. Imagine that you were 32 in 1933. That’s what it is right now. He’s following the playbook. He’s shutting down the press. Just imagine that we are in 1933. What would that mean? That’s where we are right now,” he concludes.

 Watch the complete interview here:

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