The Arts Research Center at UC Berkeley is sponsoring the working session “Occupy as Form” on February 10, 2012. Participants have been invited to post some brief thoughts on the topic in advance of the event. This guest posting is by Sara Kimberlin, PhD student in Social Welfare at UC Berkeley.
“We are the 99%.” The catchy tagline resonates with a diversity of protesters and spectators, calling for solidarity across lines of difference. But how solid is that solidarity?
Who do those who identify as “the 99%” imagine to be the fellow occupants of this righteous percentage? They seem to allow for hipsters and hippies, artists and activists, unemployed millenials and involuntary early retirees… But do they include as one of their own the homeless man who occupied the park before it was Occupied? Do they view as a fellow 99%-er the black single mother who was on food stamps back in the early 1990s, back when food stamps were little paper stamps that signified lazy dependency, and before they became shiny debit cards with a snappy new name, badges of the honorable unemployed? Do they believe that “the 99%” includes the group of idle young men with sagging pants and caps pulled low, whose occupation of the sidewalk at 24th and Mission Street is monitored by the city’s gang task force? How much difference does this solidarity tolerate?
And how durable is this solidarity? Does it signal a lasting change in how citizens relate to each other, or will it fade away once jobs become easier to find for most of “the 99%”? Will it remain at least as a cultural memory, that can be called upon later by advocates and activists, or that might at least trigger isolated acts of compassion and inclusion? Will this temporary assembly create any kind of permanent association?
Solidarity implies not only common interests, but also mutual responsibility. Do those who identify as “the 99%” feel an obligation to take care of their fellow 99%-ers? Are they willing to sacrifice their individual interests for the collective benefit? Must individual interests be sacrificed even just to define the needs of the collective? What are the obligations implied by actively claiming membership in this new moral majority?