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Occupy Australia: a debate

Occupy Australia: where to from here?
Mike Stuchbery versus Rjurik Davidson

occupy-melbourne-poster-2-101

Mike Stuchbery
Following forceful evictions from both City Square and Martin Place, the Occupy movement in Australia is at a crossroads. With vision of heavy-handed police tactics across news media and Facebook, many are flocking to the General Assemblies and rallies held in both cities. The original occupiers are now joined by a motley crew of community activists, public servants, trade unionists travellers, punk kids and city workers appalled by the use of capsicum spray, fists and police horses to evict the occupants. In Melbourne, at least, the main forum for discussion is social media: the Occupy Melbourne facebook and Twitter streams scroll by past so fast, it’s hard to keep up.

So what now? With the national spotlight well and truly on the movement, how can they capitalise on the attention to press their demands and have the best possible shot at winning some concessions from government and corporations?

Well, first they need to clearly identify those concessions. A clear definition of what the movement stands for is its greatest priority.

Many seeking to deflate the movement have reiterated that we have it good here in Australia. Compared to the 400 Americans who have more wealth than the poorest 150,000,000, here in Australia the gap is much narrower – our 11 richest individuals having more than the poorest 800,000. So with a relatively, healthy economy, what have we got to complain about?

I’d venture that the movement should publicly reiterate their focus as being a watchdog on issues of corporate citizenship, of ensuring that some of Australia’s largest companies are held to account for their treatment of Australian workers. Build greater relationships with trade unions and groups working for the rights of workers. Hammer and hammer again on wage disparity between men and women.

The local Occupy movement needs to publicly write a narrative of – as loathe as I am to raise the desiccated corpse of the Australian Democrats – ‘keeping the bastards honest’.

I’ve advocated elsewhere that the Occupy movement needs to focus on local issues of social justice in order to build public support, to mollify some of the bad press it has received. I am well aware that the movement is one of political and societal change. It’s not supposed to be a charitable organisation. However, in order to maintain a prolonged, sustainable occupation, the movement needs to provide opportunities to demonstrate how their vision of the world is a more humane one. Occupy Melbourne fed the homeless during their week at City Square. Now, they should do the same and exploit every form of accessible media to get the message out – we’re not just angry, we’ve got something to offer.

On the topic of media, the movement must devote more time to consolidating and building a unique, local online media presence. Without the support of print and broadcast media, social media is the tool with which the Occupy movement must articulate its message. Gather the hackers, the culture jammers, the 4Chan brats and use them the craft videos, images and podcasts that articulate to those browsing social media, the causes that Occupy seeks to fight. We’re at the stage where anyone with a laptop and some free software can create material with a professional appearance – press the advantage.

There are many who have gathered behind the banner of the ‘99%’ amidst a climate of increased discontent and agitation. Many feel a need to vent and express their frustration with a broken, sick system. There is a certain mood of giddy expectation among the posts I’ve seen go up online. In order to move forward, to keep the discussion going, the Sydney and Melbourne groups need to pause, strategise and play smart in establishing their new occupations.

OccupyMelb - General Assembly

Rjurik Davidson
On 22 October, Mike Stuchberry wrote a blog post in which he explained why he was leaving the Occupy Movement. Mike had already, in a series of blogs and tweets during the previous week, gained some notoriety as a ‘voice of reason’, an objective eye who stood up for the idea of the movement, even against the immaturity of some of its members.

Having been to the rally and General Assembly on 22 October, Mike objected that the movement was not composed of the ‘99%’ but ‘those who’ve read a few books and have the freedom to spend their days in loud, public action.’ There were lots of kids ‘looking for trouble, without the sense to know when enough is enough.’ Others were ‘the folks I went to uni with, 10 years ago, who are still at uni and still holding the same old protests, using the same old tactics and wondering why they’re not getting anywhere. The same old cobblers about socialism saving the world. The same old drum circles.’

Mike’s criticisms are not something we should endorse.

Of course, like all movements Occupy Melbourne has its flaws. It is composed of all sorts of people, with diverse ideas about what the movement stands for, what its next steps should be. Strategy, tactics, demands – these are yet to be clarified. For this reason, the movement needs the General Assemblies and the ongoing discussion, as everyone has the right to speak, regardless of their position, knowledge or anything else. Many of the movement activists you will disagree with. That’s just what a democratic movement is.

It is also true that radical activists currently dominate the movement. Many are from the left (anarchists, socialists) or are ‘hippies’. This is not surprising, as these are people who have already been opposing the current social set-up for years. They are the ones who have been criticising corporate greed and the social relations that enable it. They may not yet have the complete support of the ‘99 per cent’, but they are there to represent that majority’s interests. The slogan of the 99 per cent, as Tad Tietze recently wrote, is symbolic of a systemic critique.

Unfortunately, in striving for more ‘respectability’, Mike panders to all those people who oppose the movement, as an idea as well as a reality. There is a long tradition of criticising the ‘left’ of a movement in order to discredit the movement as a whole. Those who criticise the movement for not being ‘respectable’ enough – shock jocks and the like – are usually trying to limit its radicalism, to absorb it into the status quo. The more successful the movement is, the more we should be wary of these criticisms.

Having said that, the movement must reach out and draw ever-greater numbers of people into it. This task should determine the strategy and tactics the movement undertakes. So far, the movement has done well at this. For example, when Mayor Doyle brought in police, Occupy Melbourne did an admirable job on ensuring that the responsibility for violence was on the police and Doyle.

More importantly, the movement’s organisational structures – consensus decision making, the working groups, and so on – have, despite their severe limitations, so far managed to maintain all significant elements of the movement together.

Any future decision about whether to re-occupy, and so on, must be measured by these questions: will it help to get more people involved and active? Will it turn the passive support for it into mass activity?

Comments

  1. Both Mike and Rjurik make good points.
    However, the one point they both seem to miss is that the occupy movement is not “just about Australia” – it’s an international movement that is concerned about issues that affect everyone on this planet.

    Sustainability – in everything from the environment to population to the monetary system – is a global issue and we in Australia will inevitably be, in the end, affected by pollution in China and the USA, by economic meltdowns in the USA and Europe, whether we like it or not. We all breathe the same air and at it’s peak, the financial market knows no national boundaries, ‘girt by sea’ or not.

    Sure, here in Australia we are still relatively well off compared to these other parts of the world, and that is the most likely reason the occupy movement is still seen as so relatively “fringe” here compared to how many people it is attracting in other parts of the world.

    But – does that give us an excuse to ignore the problems that are facing the vast majority living on this planet? It is the only one we have, and the only planet we have to bequeath to our children.

    Yes, the movement DOES need to involve more people here in Australia, to become a part of more mainstream discourse. I see the only way it can do this is by education. Far, far too many people still do not realise that we ARE connected and will inevitably be influenced by what happens elsewhere in the world. Yes – let’s have all those with the skills creating short vids, etc etc. There’s also so much information already out there, already being shared via social media of all forms.

    This is all the information that the mainstream media is consciously NOT informing people about. For example – what happened in Iceland? Not too many years ago it was in the news – a country gone completely bankrupt. Why is the media NOT informing everyone that in Iceland they held a referendum and voted to NOT bail out the money-lenders, that they ARE now finding a different way to live, and manage their economy that is NOT according to the rules set down by the IMF?

    The mainstream media is complicit in the increasing problems internationally by it’s deliberate silence on viable alternatives. This is another issue the occupy movement has to actively consider in planning HOW to inform and educate the public that we are no longer alone in this isolated corner of our globe – human civilisation has made so-called international boundaries obsolete and the problems of others are, and must be, our problems as well.

    • Great comment Kallena! Totally agree.
      Occupy is an inspiring idea that can continue to disseminate itself in all directions and media. I too am dismayed by the growing power of manipulated media in Australia, and agree this is an important issue for Occupy.

  2. Agree completely with Kallena….The failure of the press and social commentators to see this as a global movement and to keep on insisting that Australians have nothing to complain about (a statement I don’t happen to agree with)is particularly shortsighted and frankly dumb.Try #CSG #mental health #Pokie reform #sustainability #food securtity #banking excesses #homelessness #aboriginal issues #civil discourse & debate…..I could go on….We’ve had this Globalization foisted upon us, it’s out of control and we need everyone engaged to help find the best solutions.If our politicians are victims of big business lobbyists and can’t or won’t act in our best interests well we will jolly well have to make sure they do!

  3. I’m just sad to read this in Overland. I come here for truly intelligent, informed debate and thoughtful discussion. This is not up to your usual standards, in my humble opinion. I could go to the MSM for this. No offense, Rjurik.

    • Hey Tammi,
      I’m sorry to hear that. We’ve been trying to provide forums in which issues around the Occupy movement could be debated. The question of the relationship between the Occupy Everywhere call and the Left seemed worth discussing. hence this debate.
      Which aspect of it troubled you?
      Jeff

    • None taken Tammi. Mike and I were both given 500 words, in the interest of keeping the debate containable and neither of us saw the other’s piece before publication. Really, all we could do was kick of the debate. For my part, I thought it worth defending the left of the movement – even though it obviously has its flaws, some of which Mike has gestured towards (though I don’t think from the right angle) – knowing that it would come under criticism. All in all, just intended to kick of discussion rather than be particularly comprehensive.

  4. Mike Stutchbury misses the point of occupy sydney and occupy melbourne, which are more “social movement” than “NGO” for a reason. Plenty of NGOs attempt to take on the role of “watchdog” – and many communicate really well with great social media, old-skool media, clear messaging, etc etc but are totally ignored by the press (and plenty of “progressives” as well).

    I am particularly struck by the idea that the occupy movement should be oriented towards the “best possible shot at winning some concessions from government and corporations”. What would “concessions from corporations” entail? I think it’s unlikely occupy-ers could do better than unions in the struggle for better pay and slightly better rights for workers at “some of Australia’s largest companies”, since unions are uniquely able to withhold labour to put the pressure on. Maybe we could get a few more social responsibility statements?

    Surely social movements should be asking for things bigger and more inspiring than what institutions like unions/NGOs are able to. If you want “concessions” like small pay rises or marginal improvements to public policy, you go to uni and do a degree in policy, communications etc and then you work in the public service or an NGO (of course you could and should join your union whatever your job). The occupy movement isn’t about people getting professional lobbying jobs, and it’s absurd to say their priorities should include slick media or a set of bullet points of what small adjustments to the system might make a nice starting point. People who want to do that are already doing that.

    What’s so exciting and interesting is that occupy is able to shift public debate in a way that a zillion press releases and suit-wearing lefties can’t. By camping out and talking about the 99% being screwed over by the 1%, the occupy-ers have genuinely reframed the debate around financial markets and social justice. Their work can and should be supported by the professional (and organised) “left”, but it is a different kind of project and the kind that has the potential to radically reshape the world.

    • Bronislava: “What’s so exciting and interesting is that occupy is able to shift public debate in a way that a zillion press releases and suit-wearing lefties can’t.”

      I agree- this is so inspiring about Occupy, and reframing the debate away from the futile tired old us and them paradigm could be its most radical potential.

      But PR does not have to mean the nauseating self-promotion of so called ‘think tanks’ etc. It can be open, discursive, diverse, local, playful and celebratory (as some of it already is).

      I have read Mike’s blog and followed his twitter commentary lately, and I like his willingness to hold more than one point of view at a time and to engage with all arguments openly. On the other hand, I have been disappointed by the apparent defensiveness of the GAs to criticism. I hope and trust this sensitivity will improve as they establish themselves, gather more support from timid observers like me, and feel less under direct attack than they understandably do at present.

      • Hey Freya
        I agree for sure about creative “PR” that’s appropriate to the goals of the occupy movement. Mike’s description above seems to say, take this existing model of advocacy and apply as is. The occupy movement has different goals to advocacy, and so needs different media/publicity strategies etc as well.

        I’m not sure whether the GAs are defensive to criticism, but to some extent they have a right to – since most critics have the capacity to actually influence the decision making within the GA. When we criticise Government or (in some cases) union/NGO bureaucracy or a corporation – we have to do so from the sidelines because we have little capacity to engage directly.

        Not that everyone should participate in the GAs but critics should at least take that into account before complaining about Occupy.

        • Hi Bron, thanks, your ideas are very clear and helpful. The point about Occupy being a different form of engagement to advocacy is very convincing, can’t argue with that at all.

          I have had to think about the criticism/consensus issue: Here in Sydney there was initially quite a strong tendency to repress differences which seemed counter productive. A big part of the appeal of global occupy for me is its diversity-(as RD notes perhaps an echo of the idealism of sixties/seventies?)

          I guess what Mike identified (and perhaps got bored with) comes from a kind of naive disappointment with the actual difficult process of consensus. This debate brings home to me how those of us who might be inexperienced in trying to make change can easily become dismissive and cynical when our expectations are not immediately met.

          However, there is such a fine line between criticism and cynicism, and between consensus and repression… I am now seeing this process work itself out well in Sydney, and will keep trying to engage – mostly, indirectly and “from the sidelines” where I see interesting possibilities…

  5. I agree with you Tammi. I’m very saddened & disappointed that, IMO & as a subscriber to Overland you have given the notoriously (& performatively) uncritical, politically naive & fickle, Stuchbery a platform. It’s not about what appears to be his argument (for today at least anyway); it is about what can be seen clearly through a critical lens as his project of self-promotion & using any publicized cause to this end. If I want to follow this kind of lame ‘balancing act’, I can read the Drum… Or I could follow Mike on Twitter where challenges to his opinions are met with a special kind of public bullying.

  6. Bron pretty much nails it. The faultline today, on the Left, runs between those who want to go to uni and get a job in policy reform, or more generally worry about policy; and those who want to develop genuine political sequences, we know that these are very rare and that there are less of them than we’d like, but we would like to work out how to practice politics more deliberately. That is a real and important divide to note. It doesn’t mean it’s a hostile divide, or that their aren’t people who exist in both worlds, it simply means that there are two different disciplines being talked about, and that we shouldn’t confuse the two. ‘Enjoy the differences,’ as Badiou says.

  7. All the varied movements around the world mobilising under the ‘We are the 99 per cent’ banner – against inequality, and for social justice – each needs a minimum program: a clear set of demands to rally around. Indeed, we could also do with an international minimum program – for the global movement – as well as national positions. A process needs to be initiated to determine what form this will take. What comes from this process must be a position broad and simple enough to retain mass appeal and mobilise a mass base, but radical enough to challenge disparities in wealth and power, and the social problems that stem from neo-liberal capitalism.

    Here in Australia the first step must be progressive reform of tax so the wealthy pay their fair share; so the vulnerable get the services they desperately need; and so ordinary working people get a fair go. This might involve – to begin with – halving of dividend imputation, a stronger mining tax, an economic rent tax on the banking sector, removal of superannuation concessions for the wealthy, inheritance and wealth taxes, restructure of income tax rates and thresholds… Such funds could be devoted to welfare reform, disability and aged services, public dental care, progressive Cost-of-Living assistance, and broader expansion of the public and democratic sector.

    The ALP National Conference this December could be targeted by activists agitating for reform of the ALP National Platform to enable such tax reform, and expansion of the social wage and public sector. Importantly we need some high profile demands that actually hold a chance of being conceded.

    To justify an expanded public sector the follow arguments could be made. (Though the arguments are probably too expansive to comprise in full a part of the ‘minimum program’ I am arguing for)

    An expanded public sector extends the “social wealth” belonging to all of us, and thus stems corporate power, and the abuse of that power. It also extends provision of ‘social goods’ to everyone – not just the wealthy.

    More specifically:

    Re-socialised energy and water could pass on the benefits of lower public sector borrowing costs to the public, while not discriminating against small consumers (ie: households) on the basis of their limited purchasing power.

    A national public insurance agency could compete against private insurers on a not-for-profit basis, containing tendencies towards profiteering, and offering a better deal for consumers.

    The National Broadband Network as an ongoing natural public monopoly would avoid the abuses involved with private monopoly, and offer a better deal to consumers also by containing cost-structures.

    A national public savings bank on the scale of the old Commonwealth Bank could ensure liquidity under difficult circumstances, and abolish unfair and discriminatory fees on small (ie: poor and working class) customers. Socialised profits could range well into the billions.

    An end to ‘Public Private Partnerships’ for essential infrastructure like roads would also contain cost-structures, including through lower public sector borrowing costs, but also avoid flat user-pays mechanisms which are highly un-progressive.

    Establish a ‘Sovereign Wealth Fund’ including massive public investment in the mining/resources sector – to further socialise the benefits of the boom.

    Greatly expanded public housing could boost supply, lower purchase and rental costs, and eliminate housing stress.

    Free public transport could minimise environmental costs, maximise the benefits from the investment in the sector, and enhance mobility and social inclusion for groups such as the aged, the disabled and the unemployed.

    Finally: In addition to an expanded public sector, cheap credit, institutional support and tax breaks could be provided to fuel an expansion of the mutualist and co-operative sector.

    These would not comprise the ‘final end’ of the movement – but simply a provisional set of goals, some of which to be fought for over the current electoral cycle. In other words – an orientation to social change and certainly not an ‘exhaustive’ set of aims. A ‘starting point’ rather than our ‘final’ set of ends.

    We will not achieve all the demands we make in the near future; but we must set out to build the kind of mass movement that will influence a generation, and begin to ‘turn the tide’ against neo-liberalism. This necessitates careful planning to ‘appeal to the mainstream’ and build a broad base of popular support. (but without watering down the critique such as to render it meaningless)

    Conservative ‘Herald-Sun’ columnist Miranda Devine fears an “opportunistic” Left will “co-opt” the movement and enforce ‘its own agenda’. (20/10/11) Yet while the movement needs to be broad, the organised Left (broadly defined) brings crucial insights, and is the only force capable of organising and sustaining this kind of mobilisation over the long-term.

    We can’t allow ourselves to be divided either – or our base narrowed – on the basis of caricatures of the Left.

    We know that capitalism involves tendencies towards class bifurcation and monopolisation. We know that the rate of exploitation has intensified in recent decades; that the wage share of the economy has been shrinking; that there is greater inequality in the labour market; and that there is a social services shortfall to pay for effective corporate welfare. We know that we are experiencing a ‘two speed economy’: with mining prosperity driving up the dollar and making other industries (eg: manufacturing, tourism) uncompetitive. And yet tens of billions of mining profits – from our resources that can only be extracted ONCE – are heading overseas.

    Meanwhile the rise of new competitors (China, India) increases the future risk of war as Great Powers strive to dominate a finite world market.

    In short: we know there is a problem with capitalism.

    At the same time, though, the Left needs discipline in leading the movement: to maintain and appeal to that ‘broad base’ and avoid unnecessary confrontations that could see the movement isolated. ‘Ultra-leftism’ – an indulgence in confrontation that serves no strategic purpose – needs to be rejected. If the Queen’s visit comprises a flashpoint from which we have nothing to gain, perhaps the movement would be better advised to re-establish a presence after she has left Australia. Thereafter: rather than a large ongoing occupation, perhaps a vigil and information table could be maintained in the city with rolling rallies and a ‘carnival-esque’ atmosphere in which participants from all walks of life feel welcome. Local branches of the movement could maintain and engagement and mobilisation in between large-scale actions. Here a balance must be maintained between keeping momentum on the one hand, and avoiding exhaustion or alienation of new and casual participants such that they ‘drop away’ from the movement. The aim must be massive mobilisation and retention at a variety of levels over the long term.

    We also need to be prepared for defensive struggles in the event that a world-wide economic downturn leads to further attacks upon our social wage, our welfare state, and our liberal rights. (including industrial rights) This would necessitate co-operation with the broad labour movement. In the face of austerity there could be need for industrial actions that serve a very real and clear strategic purpose.

    We must have resolve that the recent excess on the part of police in Melbourne is not the end of our campaign, but only the beginning. And we must resolve to broaden the appeal and the base of our movement to maximise our impact.

    • Tristan, with Labor Left Gillard running the show, bashing refugees, ruling out same sex marriage, welcoming a monarch, looking to the market to save the environment and retaining the ABCC, surely any serious progressive force has done its dash within the ALP or migrated to the Greens?

      • By the same token, Dave, the Greens wouldn’t have achieved the Carbon Tax and the clean energy fund if they didn’t have leftists to link up with in the ALP. We’d have the kind of ‘grand alliance’ that’s been seen in Germany locking out the Left Party… You can be pissed off at the various opportunist positions the government takes, but can you really deny that the ALP is no longer of any strategic value? Same sex marriage activists are going to lobby and demonstrate outside the ALP Nat Conference in December. The ‘We are the 99 per cent’ movement should do the same. But we need to have clear demands; more than *will* be implemented, but including *some* demands that *may* very well be conceded. For example: the ALP dropping its policy not to increase tax as a proportion of GDP; So progressive taxes can be implemented such as to expand social wage expenditure in the vicinity of 1.5% of GDP.. (that’s about $20 billion) This could mean a lot for the National Disability Insurance Scheme, Aged Care and Cost-of-Living programs. Such an assertive policy may be the only hope Labor has for 2013 too; and surely a midly reformist Labor government would provide a more conducive environment to work in than under Abbott…

        • What if we take it as a premise that the occupy movement isn’t isn’t primarily about making demands on political parties to adopt specific policy, but is instead about forcing change in the entire logic of politics? In this case, it is a non sequitur to continually come back with the idea that ‘we need demands’. This is outside the movement’s logic. The fundamental thing appears to be just the insistence that we can no longer go on with the charade of the ‘democratic state’, and that something else is needed.

        • But Tristan, who in the ALP is going to argue for these progressive policies, with principle and consistency?

          The ALP has become a strategic ‘block’ on progressive policies by either stonewalling them completely or adopting them and gutting them of any serious content.

          • Jack: “But ‘we are an alternative political process, come participate in this alternative’ is also a demand.”

            Exactly. The action is the demand, and the demand is for another politics, thus taking spaces and enduring in these spaces as the condition of existence for this other politics.

          • The ALP caved in on the mining tax because Rudd was mistaken in releasing the policy just a few months out from an election. This gave the mining companies a great opportunity to engage in a fear campaign. Likely if Rudd had waited he would not have been replaced by Gillard. And then we would have an entire electoral cycle to show people a mining resource rent tax wasn’t ‘the end of the world’

            At the same time the carbon tax is a real ‘big ticket’ policy – as is the $10 billion renewable energy fund. As is the National Disability Insurance Scheme. Problem is as we’ve seen with the Disability Pension – the government won’t countenance raising progressive taxation as a proportion of GDP to pay for new programs. (ie: with the Disability Pension they’re trying to save hundreds of millions by cutting people off the pension; many of these will be people who have seriously reduced work capacity)

            Hence they ‘Rob Peter to pay Paul’ because they’re scared of the ‘tax bogey’.

            The broad Left needs to campaign for the ALP to drop the commitment in its platform to not increasing tax as a proportion of GDP. That will create ‘room to move’ for real gains over the next two years.

            I believe there are people in the ALP arguing for these kind of policies; But most of them don’t want to be seen as being outwardly divisive. Doug Cameron is a Left Co-Convenor and Senator who came out openly against the government’s refugee policy. Perhaps he could be convinced to do the same on tax, social wage expansion and welfare reform?

  8. Regardless of whether Overland should publish Mike Stuchbery or not, I think he is typical of some of the reflexive criticism of Occupy that’s coming from people who align as Left/moderate/progressive.

    I appreciate the space here for Rjurik and Bron especially to articulate how many of us feel about this reflexive criticism. Mike recently suggested that I am against anyone criticising the Occupy movement. I merely want to see constructive criticism (like Michael Brull’s recent blog post on Occupy Sydney on this site). I am not interested in criticism that is contemptuous, patronising and stereotyping of Occupiers like the criticism Mike (Stuchbery) has engaged in. I did appreciate that Mike wrote about police violence at Occupy Melbourne, I think all of those narratives are important ones.

    Bron nailed it but I will add that I am surprised at people who are politically engaged but cannot comprehend new ideas and third wave movement politics. There are those that are projecting their expectations and prejudices from the outside, instead of joining the conversation and the movement to contribute, listen and learn. Mike is quick to criticise those involved, especially those that believe in “isms” (Anarchists, Marxists, Socialists etc.) as he perceives them to be sticking to old ways of activism and politics. Mike wants the movement to change their appearance and message to be palatable and uniform to those they are taking the fight too. The irony of this is that it is Mike’s perceptions and thinking that is stuck in the old ways. The movement, even in Australia, is a diverse one. The more open the conversation (without rushing to make demands), the more diverse it will grow.

    Occupy isn’t a box and it isn’t an ism. There is room for diversity within the movement, and I’m excited and interested to see how it has been, and will hopefully continue to be, interpreted globally. The danger of it becoming an ism, or becoming exclusive or narrow, is very much reflected in the kind of “advice” that Mike Stuchbery and others offer.

  9. I wanted to add a couple of more positive or constructive (rather than foundational and defensive) considerations which I was unable to fit into my above piece.

    The occupy movement seems to me to be a renaissance of the anti-corporate globalisation movement of a decade ago, though in an altered terrain. It shares many of the same characteristics of that earlier movement (which were themselves descended from the Sixties movements, something too often overlooked in my opinion):

    1) Its ‘multi-issue’ nature, encompassed in its wide-ranging slogans and attitudes (a decade ago the slogans included “Another World is Possible”, etc). This, it seems to me, is has developed from a deep-seated proto-systemic (for want of a better term) attitude among the broader population. It seems obvious to many in the movement that ‘reformism’ and ‘liberalism’ are unable to adequately address society’s problems. This consciousness is related to the increasing disillusionment with the current form of liberal democracy (see declining voting numbers in the US, cynicism towards politicians in general, a general feeling of malaise reflected in culture). As a multi-issue movement, it becomes something like a movement of movements, with potentially many demands which need to be developed. At the moment, these are still undeveloped.

    2) Its multi-issue nature means that it is fairly amorphous, without a definite developed strategy and tactics. Occupying (like the blockading of Seattle, S11 etc) is really a tactic to be chosen or not (as I mentioned above) on the basis of the question: will it help bring more people into activity? More broadly, the anti-corporate globalisation movement failed to develop a strategy beyond forum-hopping.

    3) The organisational forms are very close to those of a decade ago. Influenced by anarchism, there is great focus on consensus, working groups (affinity groups were the form du jour a decade ago), hand shaking. There is a suspicion of ‘leadership’ and perhaps also ‘discipline’. Many of these have their strengths but also weaknesses. For example, consensus decision making (or voting with a 90% majority) is useful in ensuring that every one feels included, but can become undemocratic when a minority decides to block a path of action.

    It seems to me that these issues are bound to be debated as the Occupy movement continues.

    • I want to disagree, sort of, with Rjurik, but also just make some general observations in relation to the global justice movement (GJM). (And sorry for the long comment – was writing my own blog post but these seems a better place to put these ideas).

      In my Masters research on the collapse of the GJM in Australia after the 9/11 terror attacks, many of those I interviewed noted that the attacks were not effectively responded to here in part because of a political weakness of the movement — in how it conceived of where responsibility for problems in contemporary society should fall. The GJM saw its enemy — quite rightly — in the meetings of global elites at forums such as the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, World Economic Forum and the World Trade Organisation. Through these bodies elites met and made decisions and this is echoed in the title to Jonathan Neale’s book ‘You are G8, We Are 6 Billion’. There are of course echoes of this in ‘we are the 99 percent’.

      What is similar to the GJM is that OWS and its sister events are a return of the anti-systemic, not that they are a return to a ‘movement of movements’. Even in the major movements of the last decade in Australia after S11 in Melbourne — refugees, the anti-war movement, climate change, Your Rights at Work — there has been an absence of the anti-systemic. And this is not ‘a necessity’ of those particular issues, as many activists accept that refugees, war, and global warming are tied up with the logic of the capitalist system.

      Occupy Everywhere, and its predecessors in the square protests of Spain and Greece, are something slightly new and different that I think we shouldn’t immediately jump in and characterize as a return to the Global Justice movement. So what is different now?

      - While clearly not like Seattle or S11, some people have argued that elements of the occupy protests seem like the J18 demonstrations. While it is useful to underline that these protests are not so new or different that they resemble nothing that has gone before, they need also to be understood on their own terms and in their own historical specificity. They seem quite different to J18, which was not about building the widest possible movement (of the 99%).

      - The occupy events seem a step beyond the GJM in that while the new protests are still largely about corporate power they have not commenced with the international (IMF, WTO etc), but rather located the economic concerns at home with national governments and capitalists. Of course this was also present in the GJM, but the weight of the debate has shifted — and this seems to encompass a useful return of the state to the debate.

      - One useful way to think about the return of the national, of the state and national capital is that one cannot imagine Summit protests occurring in the same way as before. While there will always be the desire to demonstrate and shut down the meetings of the global elite, the idea of needing to travel to other countries to do so seems increasingly superfluous to the movement. There is no need to go to Prague, Edinburgh, Genoa, Toronto, when governments and corporations are ensuring the 99 percent bail out the 1 percent in politico-juridical centre.

      - Jeff Sparrow in his article on The Drum makes two useful historical points also: 1) that after 10 years of war, and given some of the activists involved have lived with the horror the West’s invasions in the Middle East, the protests must be different to the early 1990s. 2) That the economic situation is vastly different. Jeff also argues that the movement is, justifiably, still a refusal rather than an affirmation. This question of movement on the offence and defence is something I contemplated in my research — but one thing I concluded is that movements learn in retreat as much as when they are rising. And one thing we can learn from the collapse of the GJM in Australia is that it failed to create the necessary infrastructure for the movement to debate out differences and move forward. How this is done, or how we do this better this time, is a question we all must start to seriously discuss. This seems THE question Rjurik – there will always be discussion, but discussion of what kind and how (as you point out). There was much discussion in the GJM yet we could not cope with the impact of 9/11. I would argue the GJM in Australia did not falter because of 9/11, but because of its own internal weaknesses. I hate to get all Gramscian on you, but the Modern Prince of the new period is yet to be clear — but we have to create it.

      • I’m not sure why you’re drawing a distinction between movement of movements and anti-systemic. It seems to me that the first implies the second. We should be wary, though, of too grand claims that either the anti-corporate globalisation movement and the occupy movement are anti-systemic. They were/are heterogeneous movements filled with people of all stripes, many of whom see “corporate greed” as the problem, not the system that spawns it.

        While I agree that we shouldn’t conflate the two movements, my point was really that we see many of the same political logics in operation – the ones I noted above. I’m certainly not convinced by the “national” etc character of the occupy movement as necessarily a step forward. What IS different is the context in which this is occurring, as you mention, which naturally will give the occupy movement its historical specificity (and organisational specificity too). I partly wanted to highlight to continuity, given the prevalence of “this is all new”-style thinking that I come across. The left forgets its history too often.

        I think you’re right to bring up Gramsci – as a theorist of the institutions of developed capitalism, or, to put it another way, of hegemony in the “west”. Western capital has been terrifyingly successful in developing a network of consent which is able to absorb and deflect any emerging anti-systemic consciousness. The appropriate counter-hegemonic forms (parties/movements/multi-issue groups, etc) are not yet clear, but they’re something that the socialist movement has manifestly failed to address, preferring a party form which has failed to develop into a mass organisation pretty much at any time in its history (I think I may have sent you the article I wrote about this).

        • Apologies if my comment was a little stream of consciousness Rjurik…some thoughts in response. I think you can have a movement of movements where the major elements are not anti-systemic, and in certain countries the GJM was like that (Attac comes to mind, and the particular flavour it gave to France even after José Bové bulldozing the McDonalds). The task of ‘dialogical leadership’ within the movement is to make the movement more anti-systemic IMO, while posing and developing alternatives to the current system. And as such, I am not saying either GJM or OWS are anti-systemic movements ‘completely’, but that there is that nature to them that makes them distinct to the others I mentioned. They need to be more ‘fully’ anti-systemic of course. (PS: in my mind I imply nothing grand in saying they are ‘anti-systemic’ (i.e these movement are the new Modern Prince etc), and nor am I trying to repeat errors of over-zealous commentary of the left at the height of the GJM (‘our time has come’ etc).

          I want to stick to my guns on why the national thing is important. The absence of the state in any meaningful way in the Australian GJM, exemplified by the uncritical obsession with Hardt and Negri and the Italian movement (but not alone that), was a problem that became particularly clear when 9/11 occurred. I’m suggesting a return to the national, without losing the international – not as its replacement. As Gramsci puts it: ‘To be sure, the line of development is towards internationalism, but the point of departure is ‘national’. It is from this point of departure that one must begin. Yet the perspective is international and cannot be otherwise. Consequently, it is necessary to study accurately the combination of national forces that the international class will have to lead and develop, in accordance with the international perspective and directives.’ And in the occupy events I do see an element of locating the problem with corporations nationally this time around (to be encouraged IMO). The dialogue needs, therefore, to be about the national in its international context, in its ‘originality and uniqueness’.

          A movement of movements is insufficient for having meaningful discussion, as it is incapable of debating out its own substance. Even a more generalised movement (i.e. not a movement of movements) needs to think carefully about how to progress discussion of an alternative world and alternative ideas (specifically). Even if the occupy events can settle tactical or organisational questions, will any of the possible mechanisms it is now contemplating be suitable for this larger task? If not how and where can such a discussion be expected to happen? Where is the discussion about the World Social Forum and the disaster that was? What was wrong with that effort, and why? Etc…

          Sorry if this is no clearer as to where I’m coming from.

    • Hello! I was wondering if I may quote you in my article for an essay I’m writing for Uni on the Occupy Protest, I would be really grateful to have your permission. You write beautifully, and I am trying for a well rounded story with various points of view.

      It will not be published; it’s just for my tutors eyes only.

      My email is poppy.nonweiler@yahoo.com.Please let me know, and if anyone else could help that would be amazing too.

      Thank you

      • A key feature of those protests was the early, active involvement of the AdBusters organisation — a radical organisation that has great credibility amongst activists and radicals alike for challenging corporate hegemony.

        There is no such group involved with the Australian iteration of the Occupy protests — and the involvement of various propaganda groups like Socialist Alternative, absent “grown ups”, decreases the likelihood for broad success. (For historical examples, look at the anti-G20 movements, the S-11 protests, the anti-war movements, etc).

        The main challenge for the Occupy X protests is to survive and keep the enthusiasm up amongst the “core”.

        Probably, organisers of the Occupy protests (not to mention progressive twitter commentators) should read the Purpose Driven Campaigning PDF by MakeBelieve.

  10. On the issue of Left-Left criticism, I think it demonstrates the rapid growth of bourgeois liberalism, which dominates the “progressive mainstream” of Australia and has since the 1990s.

  11. I posted this at the Occupy Melbourne forum and was wondering what people here think about these suggestions specifically:

    I’m wondering what people here think about setting up localised branches for the movement; Is the movement big enough for this yet? In the event that police will disperse any attempt to re-establish a large-scale ongoing occupation – how can the movement keep people engaged, and keep drawing new people into the movement? I think in-between large actions – rallies and the like – localised branches and small-scale localised actions would be a good idea to maintain engagement. Many people who couldn’t otherwise get into the city could get involved as well. What do other people think?

    As movement rather than a party people could be drawn in from a variety of backgrounds across the broad left.

    Though re: localised actions you’d want them to be endorsed by some central body; Just so agent provocateurs don’t try and take control of a branch and engage in tactics to discredit the entire movement. What form could such a central body take? How would it be elected and how would it operate? The same might be ask with regard to local branches as well.

    • Based on the numbers at the eviction, Saturday’s march, and tonight’s Assembly, I’d say the Occupation consists of around 100 campers and 4-500 peripheral supporters who can attend major events and drop by now and again. I think this is too small to establish local branches yet (except maybe in Preston). Any local camp would involve 20 people at maximum and be easily dispersed. Local “branches” that aren’t camps, but just organise political campaigns, would be in competition with the branches of existing organisations like SAlt, Socialist Alliance, and the Greens.

      I think the most likely positive outcome of the Occupations in Australia is that the small Left groups will be encouraged to move past their really aggressive focus on recruitment and self-promotion, and into a more open mode of engaging both with unpolitical people and with rival groups. The permanence of the camp and the fact that people have to cook for each other seem to create this kind of midnset.

      • 20 attendees at a branch what be much better than the major parties get these days in my experience. In any case the rationale for this argument is thus: A) Branches could draw in new people; B) Maintaining a high profile ongoing occupation would prove difficult if the cops are determined to break such occupations up before they get started. C) In light of this branches could maintain engagement with supporters and sympathisers in between actions. Local actions wouldn’t necessarily be broken up if they were rallies, tables, sausage sizzles etc and not occupations; D) There could still be big actions – but less often – and there would be less chance of exhausting participants.

  12. I agree with the argument that we must emphasise awareness of global interconnectedness, particularly with regard to planetary ecology on the one hand and global capitalism on the other. Pollution from mining, nuclear testing, oil spills, carbon emissions etc had both already reached and derived from Australia. The Occupy movement, as with the demonstrations in Greece and London, and the Arab Spring, shares the common recognition that the causes of unrest are both systemic and specific to the locality. Australia has significant responsibility all of its own for the global crisis we currently face. And Australians can reduce these deleterious effects by specifically targeting Australian policies and corporate-state activities. This our right and our responsibility that we owe to ourselves and our future, and to the planet. Although it is not wrong to say that other problems in the world are effectively our problem because everything is connected, this draws close to the ‘responsibility to protect’ argument currently ventured by our profit-securing elite. No, the 99% must define their needs on the ground so as to contain the swooping ambitions of the transnational 1% to whom we are resources for exploitation. We cannot let ourselves luxuriate in blaming others. We must act locally to contribute to the worldwide movement to stop the global crisis.

  13. I don’t think that the formulation of demands would make much of a difference, precisely because in Australia it’s not a mass movement and so people aren’t joining with an expectation that the demonstration will transform their own circumstances. No-one went down to the City Square thinking that by doing so they were about to win a pay rise.
    IMO, the Occupy movement has inspired people precisely because it allows them to show their dissatisfaction with issues that don’t arise in the conventional political sphere: not simply wage rates but a much more profound unhappiness about class and neoliberalism and the political process.
    At the moment, I don’t think that can be encapsulated in a short slogan — or, rather, it’s already encapsulated about as well as it can be in the slogans that have emerged. The chant about the 99 per cent is meant as a sociological statement or piece of empirical data (who knows the precise percentage of Australians in the ruling class?) so much as a catchy formula about the inequality that lies at the heart of what so many people despise about the status quo.
    If, by focusing on local inequalities, the protest can situate itself in relation to the struggles already taking place, then that’s a good thing. Most obviously, key to the future of Occupy Melbourne and Occupy Sydney is union support, without which sustaining any kind of camps will be very difficult.
    But I worry that when this perspective on the local is put forward, it actually means something else, that it’s an insistence that Occupy abandons its systemic and utopian (in the good sense) rhetoric in favour of stolidly practical and immediate demands. That, I think, would be a mistake, since it’s precisely that totalising perspective that makes the movement inspiring. Actually, most people know that the things they really hate about the world today are part of something much, much bigger: indeed, I would have thought that part of the incredibly cynicism about mainstream politics lies in its utter timidity, since people quite rightly sense that politicians who aim so low are going to change nothing. That’s why Occupy seems so fresh and so different: ‘our demands most moderate are/ we only want the earth’, as someone once said.
    I think the suggestion for local branches massively overestimates the size of the campaign. At this stage, the central events are crucial, precisely because they concentrate supporters, and allow them to find others. In that respect, the main issue now is whether or not another occupation can be established.

  14. Basically, what James Connolly said:

    Some men, faint-hearted, ever seek
    Our programme to retouch,
    And will insist, whene’er they speak
    That we demand too much.
    ’Tis passing strange, yet I declare
    Such statements give me mirth,
    For our demands most moderate are,
    We only want the earth.

    “Be moderate,” the trimmers cry,
    Who dread the tyrants’ thunder.
    “You ask too much and people By
    From you aghast in wonder.”
    ’Tis passing strange, for I declare
    Such statements give me mirth,
    For our demands most moderate are,
    We only want the earth.

    Our masters all a godly crew,
    Whose hearts throb for the poor,
    Their sympathies assure us, too,
    If our demands were fewer.
    Most generous souls! But please observe,
    What they enjoy from birth
    Is all we ever had the nerve
    To ask, that is, the earth.

    The “labour fakir” full of guile,
    Base doctrine ever preaches,
    And whilst he bleeds the rank and file
    Tame moderation teaches.
    Yet, in despite, we’ll see the day
    When, with sword in its girth,
    Labour shall march in war array
    To realize its own, the earth.

    For labour long, with sighs and tears,
    To its oppressors knelt.
    But never yet, to aught save fears,
    Did the heart of tyrant melt.
    We need not kneel, our cause no dearth
    Of loyal soldiers’ needs
    And our victorious rallying cry
    Shall be we want the earth!

  15. Kallena Kucers is correct. Occupy is about exposing and protesting a manifold policy failures of the Western system in Australia and around the World whereby the greedy rich 1% dominate policy – government of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1% – and through 1% dominance of the media convince most of the 99% that this is (to quote Pangloss in Voltaire’s Candide) “the best of all possible world’s”. While White Australia is prosperous, it disproportionately contributes to major, deadly, systemic global failures listed below.

    1. Democracy is great for allowing bloodless transitions of power but has evolved into Murdochracy (the Big Money 1% buys Truth and votes) and Lobbyocracies (the Big Money 1% buys politicians and policy)(Oz is a notorious example).

    2. Rational risk management crucial for short-term and long-term societal safety successively involves (a) accurate information, (b) scientific analysis and (c) informed systemic change to minimize risk. However this is perverted by the 1% (except for their executive jets) to (a) lying, censorship, intimidation, (b) anti-science spin and (c) blame and shame with war being the common and awful worst case outcome. Oz is a notorious example.

    3. Gross inequity on behalf of the 1% and most of their Western 99% suckers ensures that 18 million people die avoidably each year from deprivation and deprivation-exacerbated disease on Spaceship Earth with the 1% in charge of the flight deck. In Australia 9,000 Indigenous Australians die avoidably each year out of a population of 0.5 million Indigenous Australians – an avoidable mortality rate that is worse than that in non-Arab Africa.

    4. Genocidal US Alliance wars and occupations from Haiti, Libya and Somalia to Afghanistan and NW Pakistan continue to support the interests of the 1%. Such wars against Muslims in particular have been associated since 1950 with 12 million Muslim deaths from violence or war-imposed derivation, There are 20 million Muslim refugees. Australia has been a party to all US Asian wars since 1950 (violent and deprivation-related deaths 28 million).

    5. Intra-societal inequity means Educational Apartheid, gross poverty of the poorest and avoidable death from denial of resources for health and education. 1 million Americans die from preventable causes each year. Australia is on track to emulate this with the ongoing Aboriginal Genocide, the smoking, alcohol and obesity epidemics and Educational Apartheid that disproportionately excludes most Australian kids from good education, university, top universities and top courses.

    6. The top climate scientists from WBGU that advises the German Government on climate change said in 2009 that for a 75% chance of avoiding a catastrophic 2 degree Centigrade temperature rise the World must emit no more that 600 billion tonnes of CO2 between 2010 and zero emissions in 2050. The US must get to zero within 5 years but climate criminal Australia has ALREADY used up its “fair share” of this terminal global Greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution budget by mid-2011.

    I could go on. Thus Australia leads the World in the mass species extinction catastrophe etc etc. We need true democracy, effective free speech, honest policy and we need it now – but the 1% will ensure that these crucial matters are largely off the national narrative.

  16. While I am of the opinion that the lack of clear objectives is a problem, I support Occupy because of its relationship to activism: No longer do you have to sit at home and merely sign a petition, you can go out and physically involve yourself in that process that once excluded you!

    But in the past, many of these people would have turned to their unions because of this profound unhappiness and/or desire to participate in the political process. However, neither the unions nor the traditional big parties have large memberships anymore.

    Add to this the hostility to action on the streets, one wherein orgs like GetUp! are seen as an alternative to activism, and the hostility targeted at the traditional left – as well as the distrust of the radical left, which is seen to commandeer movements – and some of this Occupy activism could be read as moral opposition to the political process.

    The very seed that makes the movement and gives it the possibility to grow – the absence of objectives – may be the very thing that kills it. After all, it wasn’t until the police attacked the Melbourne camp that the protest doubled in size and attracted the interest and support of other orgs.

    If Occupy in Australia ends up being a moral stand that collapses, what happens to all those people who stood up and came out?

  17. Why not have both systemic critique *and* minimum program? But make sure the minimum program appeals to a mass base… It doesn’t have to be one or the other. In fact drawing in from a broad base could have those people challenged by a more radical critiques later on.

  18. I agree with Dr Polya that Australia is an egregious transgressor with regard to climate emissions and also that this is part of transnational corporations controlling government policies and the news narrative (or lack of). I also agree that the Occupy movement could do well with central focuses in cities where we can assemble. Nevertheless, we must address the specific (corporations, policies, media narratives) in Australia if we are to use our voices to change what we can, here, as well. By all means express critique on neo-colonial wars for resources of which Australia has been part and committed to since the onset of the cold war. By all means address nuclear testing and environmental pollution that has affected and will affect millions in the years to come. By all means compare the wealth generated for the very few out of the misery of poverty suffered by the many. But we must also be specific with our knowledge and we must share that precision with as many people as possible over our media networks. If it is all connected then targeting the links in the chain closest to us is most effective. Perhaps this is a question of timing?

  19. Interesting discussion. All good points.

    Keeping it brief, I don’t think any demands or policies are relevant at this time. That goes for OccupyEverywhere.

    We may not have much interest in Australia yet, but wait until house prices plummet, a few more thousand families get evicted, the AUD and ASX collapse, ripping off hundreds of thousands of Aussies.

    We may have to wait for “disaster” to strike here before the Australian public wake up. And as we know, disaster can always be just around the next corner. Tomorrow.

    So I reckon the OM, OS, OA & OB should just hang in there if they can. The core group at least.

    They’re on the right track for total dismantling of our current political system. The corporates, along with the environmental terrorists and financial terrorists will be dealt with when we get a say in how our communities and country are run.

    I say keep up the pressure on social systems (parks, gardens, squares, spaces) until the masses are ready to join in.

    A job well done to all those occupying, whether you be socialist, red, anarchist, hippie or a freedom loving human being, hell bent on setting everyone free.

  20. A bonus to this Occupy movement is the publicising of the “consensus” approach in the General Assemblies.

    As a local business owner and member of the local Business & Tourism Assoc., I am now proposing our regular meetings are held on the basis of a GA and the consensus model.

    I think implementing these strategies in your local clubs and associations is a great way of teaching the untaught how we can actually govern ourselves. Successfully.

    Bring what they’re doing in the City Squares into your local community.

    Be the Change you want to see in the World.

  21. As usual, I come to this discussion way too late but appreciative of the tone and quality of contributions to which I add this: The lack of clearly articulated objectives in the Occupy movements is a strength not a weakness. This a nascent, evolving movement and it is entirely understandable that it hovers in a zone of uncertainty. The movement is spontaneous, global and intuitive. It’s success or otherwise will depend on the momentum generated by those on the streets, material and virtual. A strategic plan is not a pre-condition of compelling social movements.

  22. There was a talk by SZ posted this morning via twitter on this issue of lack of demands. He made an analogy between the demands by liberal media for occupy movement to clarify its demands and the patriarchal husband demanding that his unhappy wife just tell him what she wants, ie to tell him on terms that he determines – a classic dynamic within oppressive relationships. He suggests the occupy movement implies some fundamental questions that go beyond the horizon of conventional politics to question the way social relation are structured, the separation between politics and economic processes and the rest. It is entirely legitimate therefore that the movement doesn’t engage a dialogue with those in power – ie fill up the space that has been opened here with what he refers to as stupid forms of pragmatism or utopianism – but that the movement engages in this dialogue amongst themselves.

    SZ: “The system is in crisis, the important thing is precisely that vacuum is open. And if some people experience this as terror, something violent, “Look they don’t want to even talk with us.” Yes, precisely I like this ominous dimension, you know? “You want to talk with us. No thanks.” At this point, no dialogue. We have to keep, the situation is open.”
    http://www.lacan.com/thesymptom/?page_id=1539

  23. I think SZ makes some important points, some of which are noted above. Another point he makes which is crucial is, while remaining open, we also need not be afraid of words like work, discipline, fighting.
    SZ: I’m not saying we should simply, immediately bring out one, universal big struggle. I’m just saying that it would strengthen every local movement, which has to fight its own local struggles; to be a little bit aware of how it fits into global events today.
    This local awareness of larger events means also an awareness of how the elite appropriate powerful ideas and feed them back into the system in a way that reinforces their power. In short, they dilute the potential of the ideas into a form that they can still manage.
    The point then is to fight this process by becoming aware of and naming the processes that perpetuate the ongoing destruction. SZ is wrong to point out certain countries as the ‘bad guys’ while arguing at the same time that it is the system and that no one is to blame.
    Glenn Greenwald pointed out how in the deregulated neo-liberal world c/o Thatcher+Reagan politicians have been regulating corporations and then taking retirement packages and running the same corporations they deregulated. This is corruption in the state-coporate alliance. Take a look at some Australian corporations like BHP and Rio Tinto and defense industry corporations. You will find some cosy relationships b/w CEOs and politicians. We can go further. This is both specific and open.

  24. Write more, thats all I have to say. Literally, it seems as though you relied on the video to make your point.
    You clearly know what youre talking about, why waste your intelligence on just posting videos to your
    blog when you could be giving us something informative to
    read?

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