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“We are waiting for the next Big Bang” – Kalle Lasn on the Occupy Wall Street Movement

Capitalism CC by nc 2.0 Adbusters Culturejammers HQKalle Lasn; Photo: (c) Jim Labounty

The protest against the financial system in New York began in September 2011 with the occupation of Zuccotti Park. One of the founders of Occupy Wall Street (OWS) told Goethe.de how the movement is organised, both physically and virtually, and what will happen next.

Mr. Lasn, you are one of the intellectuals who started OWS. How would you describe the state of the movement right now?

September 2008, when Lehman filed for bankruptcy, was a moment when hundreds of millions of young people were waking up to the fact that their future could well be a series of financial and political and ecological crises. That unless they stood up and started fighting, they weren’t going to have a future! And this feeling is still there, even though the Mayor of New York Michael Bloomberg snuffed out Zuccotti Park and the almost thousand occupations around the world - they all somehow disappeared. The future of this movement is still unfolding and there are some exciting moments ahead.

The movement lost momentum when it lost its center, Zuccotti Park. Why does physical space matter so much?

Space is a very abstract notion and I think it’s a little bit misleading just to concentrate on physical space. There is also such a thing as emotional space which is equally as important. And this emotional space is the one that really gave birth to Occupy Wall Street.

Occupy Wall Street, September 30, 2011.  Photo: CC by 2.0 David Shankbone.

So would you say physical location isn’t really important?

No, I’m not saying that. One of the reasons why this movement became so big is because we had the boldness and the guts to say we are going to the center of global capitalism, the heart of which is Wall Street and we’re going to occupy it. When we could not continue occupying the real iconic space around the bull, Zuccotti Park became the surrogate space. And it played a very important part! The whole world had this physical space to look at, to visit, and young people could go there and rub shoulders and be inspired. Without physical space, the movement would have fizzled out into a bunch of individual actions and wouldn’t have amounted to much.

Ironically, Zuccotti Park is privately owned and this protected the occupation from being removed. Usually one would think that a public movement needs public space.

Yeah – well you know that’s how successful big-bang-moments happen. People who are really fired up, they take the opportunity! Zuccotti Park was nearby, it was available, it was legally okay for us to do that. It was a beautiful opportunistic move.

How important was digital space? Are there still borders between physical and cyberspace?

It all hangs together. Of course ,the internet was also very important. People had cyberspace going for them, they were able to talk to each other globally and locally. OWS would never have happened if we hadn’t launched that fantastic hashtag OccupyWallStreet, and if we hadn’t had the website occupywallstreet.org,

That was the first website you founded in June 2011. Today the internet presence of OWS is highly sophisticated, with livestreams, chats, a virtual info tent...

There are all kind of websites, they sprang up everywhere. One of the really big things that kept the movement growing was digital communications. We put out about two or three dozen tactical briefings on our website. In fact, the whole movement was catalyzed by this very first tactical briefing we put out a few weeks before September 17th 2011, the first day of the central OWS gathering.

Occupy Wall Street, September 17, 2011. Photo: CC by 2.0 David Shankbone.

Last summer you said you would favor more decentralized campaigns in shopping malls, in front of local banks etc. Is this fractured approach working?

At the moment – tactically, strategically – it makes perfect sense to take the energy that is still there and to channel it into smaller, more local actions. The biggest idea we have right now is that hashtag Goldman which is a campaign that targets the 73 branches of Goldman Sachs around the world. And in the meantime, we are waiting for the next big bang.

But where should the global big bang come from? OWS has cooled down, and regional unrest around the world today has very diverse underlying reasons.

In my mind it makes perfect sense that the people in Mexico are dealing with their narco problems, and the people in Russia with their autocratic Putin. I see it as a broad spectrum of movements of young people who are well connected on the internet and by social media, of people trying to deal with this feeling in their gut that the future doesn’t compute.

Still, the question remains: Doesn’t OWS need a physical center like it had with Zuccotti Park?

It’s a mistake to think Occupy has to survive in its original form. That’s not the way I see it at all. The original OWS in Zuccotti Park is finished! But the larger movement is still alive. We have to completely rethink the neoclassical economic paradigm and come up with a whole new model of how a sustainable global economy can work.


In terms of space could this be: Occupying intellectual space?

That is indeed the most important space of them all. Emotional space gets you sleeping in parks but intellectual space gets you to come up with big ideas that can actually change the future. Germany traditionally has been very good at that. Right now it is one of the most successful economies in the world. It is especially up to you guys while you still have the money and the leisure to start some of these radical transformations that have to happen.

Kalle Lasn, 71, was born in Tallinn (Estonia) and is a documentary film-maker and author. His criticism of capitalism contributed to the formation of the Occupy Movement. He is one of the founders of the anti-consumer magazine Adbusters, which invoked the occupation of Wall Street and controlled the logistics of the protests. Lasn has lived in Vancouver (Canada) since 1970. His book, Meme Wars, was published in November 2012, and the translation was published in Germany in 2012 under the title No More Bullshit: Die Zukunftswerkstatt für die 99 Prozent.

Christine Mattauch
conducted the interview. She lives and works as a freelance economics correspondent in New York City, USA, and writes for publications including Das Handelsblatt, Cicero and the Süddeutsche Zeitung. Christine Mattauch is a member of the global network weltreporter.net.

Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Internet-Redaktion
April 2013

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