They don’t represent us? Synecdochal representation and the politics of occupy movements

In 2011 and the ensuing years, the world witnessed a global wave of various “occupy movements”, from the Spanish 15‐M and the Greek anti‐austerity protests of 2011 to Occupy Wall Street (OWS), and from the Gezi Park protests in Istanbul to Nuit Debout in Paris. Inspired by the Arab Spring earlier that year – and by the iconic image of an occupied Tahrir Square in particular – protesters in different parts of the world took possession of public spaces in order to oppose the austerity measures of their governments, to challenge the power of financial industries and economic elites, and to voice their widely shared experience of a democratic deficit. I emphasize from the outset that there are many, and often very substantial, demographic, cultural, economic, and political differences among these various occupy movements and among the contexts in which they intervened. There is thus no particular reason to assume, as some enthusiastic commentators suggested at the time, that they were all exponents of a single global movement. But it is also clear, on the other hand, that they often expressed a strong sense of solidarity with each other, and referred to each another as important sources of inspiration. Notwithstanding the many differences between these movements, they did share at least a number of important points in common. What, then, did these movements have in common – next to the obvious but important fact that they all involved the occupation of public space? First, in most cases conventional political organizations or institutions played a minor role, if any, in these mass mobilizations. None was spearheaded by established political parties or politicians and they often had a strikingly diverse composition (Juris, 2012, p. 265). Most categorically refused to negotiate or even engage with any representative institutions or public bodies. One possible explanation for this, second, is that many of these movements had strong horizontalist aspirations and advocated direct or participatory forms of politics, organization and decision‐making. Finally, not only did they propose an alternative view of democracy, but they also put it in practice: a significant aspect of their shared repertoire was that these movements sought to prefigure a radical form of democracy. By organizing in general assemblies and spokes‐councils, for example, they tried to realize, in the here and now, the kind of radical social change that they aspired to bring about on the long term.

Mathijs van de Sande in They don’t represent us? Synecdochal representation and the politics of occupy movements (Wiley Online)