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Occupying Language: Inside the Global Revolutions

The new direct democracy rising out of Occupy and the other global uprisings of past years has a language all its own, a language used in common around the world.

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Rupture can be a break that occurs because of external circumstances, things like earthquakes, floods, fires or economic collapse. These ruptures often inspire thousands, even hundreds of thousands, to come together and help one another. When massive collapse happens, often those formal institutions of power also collapse, or go into crisis. People then look to one another, begin to try and find solutions together, and often do so in ways that are more “effective” and definitely more empowering, “affective,” than had it been done elsewhere or by others.

In the current movements, arising in 2010 and 2011, rupture came upon us, seemingly surprisingly, though in many places around the world there was some organization in advance. This includes the New York City General Assembly organizing throughout the summer in response to the Adbusters call, and ¡Democracia real ya! In Spain meeting and gathering others for the first assemblies, before the occupation of Puerta del Sol—yet not imagining that there would be such a lasting and massive occupation. Rupture can be when many things break open—our imaginations, societies’ imagination, the idea of the possible and impossible—and this can shift the public dialogue about what is and what is possible. Central to the idea of rupture is that ways of seeing things fundamentally change, and in response people start to organize and relate with one another differently. To speak with movement participants around the globe now, in 2012, many use the same language to describe what took place with the Plaza and Park occupations, the same word even, translated everywhere as rupture. From ruptura in Spanish (literally rupture) to kefaya (enough) in Arabic.

Throughout Latin America the language of rupture is used to describe the decisive moments when things break open—freeing new relationships, creating new landscapes and shifting relationships of power. In Bolivia the “Cochabamba Water War” was a clear rupture. Protests in the Bolivian city of Cochabamba broke out after the government privatized the water and gave the concessions to a U.S. transnational company, Bechtel. Bechtel raised prices immediately, so that people had to pay water bills that were up to 35 percent of their monthly income. Bechtel also forbade the traditional irrigation systems of peasants, prohibiting the collection of rainwater, considering it their property, essentially privatizing rainwater. The people of Cochabamba and the surrounding peasant communities began organizing in response in 1999. Between January and April of 2000, many thousands of people organized in the streets, resisting both the police and the military, with the result that the city streets were effectively controlled by the protesters. Finally government authorities did not dare to show themselves on the streets of Cochabamba, and the police and military retreated to their camps and bases. The central government was forced to turn back the decision to privatize water. It was a massive victory for the people, and a rupture in the relationship of power between the “people organized” and the government and its forces of repression.

For the people of Venezuela, the rupture that has led to the current process of struggle and creation began on February 27, 1989, with the explosion of El Caracazo. The rebellion was caused by a situation of dramatically increasing poverty. Annual inflation had reached 100 percent. There were shortages and speculation with regard to food and most basic necessities. More than half the population was hungry. These abysmal conditions had resulted from a program of austerity and structural adjustment, following International Monetary Fund (IMF) guidelines. The final detonator was when on the morning of February 27, people went to ride their neighborhood bus and found that the fares had doubled overnight. Public rage was immediate. Throughout Caracas people responded by destroying buses, and then setting them alight. From there, people began to walk down the hills from the poor neighborhoods, taking what they needed and wanted— looting. The rebellion spread to all Venezuelan cities, involving more than one million people. In response, the government ordered the police and the army to suppress the uprising, killing thousands. It is said, even if not officially confirmed, that the government had left the country and come back after the uprising was suppressed.

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