The Passaparola of Micah White, US activist and co-founder of the Occupy Wall Street Movement
The Occupy Wall Street movement emerged and has enjoyed some visibility, but it has certain limitations, one of which is that we didn't fully understand how to bring about fundamental social change.
We believed that, following the street protests that were supported by many, many people, American democracy would have reacted by changing its way of doing things. We now know that, in reality, it is a far more complicated process and we are now learning from Beppe Grillo and the 5-Star Movement. Now we are realising that you also have to win elections and you have to govern, not just work against the government. Therefore, what we are learning in America is how to go beyond mere protest and build a movement capable of winning elections while at the same time maintaining its street protest roots. In other words, we want the movement to be a bit of both, that's what we want to do: we want both street protests and election victories.
I don't think that we have managed to change the regime in America. We began a protest that aimed to take money out of politics, but we haven't seen any change in that politics still controls large amounts of cash. The most important thing that we have achieved is to create a whole new generation of activists: from 2003 until the birth of the Occupy Wall Street Movement, there was no protest movement in America. Thanks to the OWS movement, we have gathered together a big bunch of people into the protest movements and these people have become radicalised. I think we laid a solid basis for the next stages and a foundation for building future movements.
What's interesting is that when we left, the government was finished. Now I'm back and the country is in the midst of the "Berlusconi" crisis, with the new government again on the ropes...It's a weird time and there are some parallels with this financial pressure that is being felt in all countries around the world.
What we're trying to work out in America is how to go about intensifying our tactics. I believe that we are very backward compared to the European activists. We are far more focused on protest than on power and on taking over government.
So the main similarity is that we are fighting a common enemy and here in Italy you have to face the same enemy that we have to face back home in America, namely the world of finance, the increase in the cost of money and the people that control the economy via the financial systems. The difference is that you are building a public movement that is taking part in elections. The 5-Star Movement has 20% of the population on its side whereas there is nothing like that in America. There is no strong political movement that could hope to win an election and that is exactly what we're working towards: we're watching and learning about what you guys are doing over here.
What I think about America's future is that we have elections coming up in 2014, in other words in a year's time, and I think that it is highly unlikely that there will be any protest. After the defeat of Occupy, I don't believe that there is any choice other than trying to grab power by means of an election victory. Back in 2012 most of the OWA activists didn't want to participate in the elections, but I think that we will be doing things very differently for the 2014 elections. It is very difficult to predict the future. I think that we are living at a time of major revolutionary unrest and the people...given that the situation keeps on getting worse and worse, especially the environmental and financial situation, as well as the cultural decline that is sweeping through the western Countries.
So I think that the outlook for the future is rather bleak on the one hand but also promising because it is living birth to this new generation of activists around the world that are wanting to bring about a global revolution and introduce a policy of one people, one world. This is how I see the future: we could bring the 5-Star Movement to America and have the 5-Star Movement winning elections in Italy and in America, thereby forming an international party, not only with the 5-Star Movement, but with other parties as well. I think that the key is as follows: which political party will be the first to win an election both in Europe and in North America? This is what will then gather everyone behind a single political party and a sole political platform. That is how I see the future, the one that we must create. Because it has to be a local movement, we cannot simply bring over the 5-Star Movement...it has to be changed a bit.
My thought on the 5-Star is that it should expand. Instead of focusing on the internal controversies in this County the movement should expand and try to win elsewhere.
In Egypt, for example, they threw out Mubarak, they held elections and then, thanks to dirty tricks, Morsi was finished off.
I think that the difference lies in an expansion plan. Instead of trying to consolidate and increase the driving force in Italy, or any other country for that matter, the movement should be expanded to other countries, but then the complexity increases. That's exactly what the OWS tried to do. We tried to set up camps around the world to protest for the same things, using the same tactics.
And that's where we failed because in my opinion we were too similar. We tried to be the OWS irrespective of where we were, in Italy or in New York.
The trick is to manage to create something that is united but at the same time different in the various places where the action is taking place, so how would the Italian 5-Star Movement differ from an American one? What elements would they have in common?
I think that that is the challenge and something to think about.
As regards our experience with the social media in the OWS, we found that it can be dangerous and can potentially harm the movement. What happened in the case of the OWS is that in the social media everything seemed to be better than what it actually was. If you went onto Facebook or Twitter, it seemed like everything was great, then you took part in a protest only to find out that things were not so great after all. There weren't that many people and the protest was not actually that exciting. I think that the secret of the social media is that they are very useful indeed when a movement is starting out - that's when they are at their most powerful - but as time goes on they become harmful, so it's difficult to strike a good balance because it requires change. You have to use the social media to bring the movement to life and then distance yourself from the social media in order to keep the movement going - it's difficult. That's why I think that it is important to win elections. That's what enables you to distance yourself from the social media that are constantly changing, so you have to keep twittering and it becomes an ongoing cycle. What we want is to stretch and increase the duration of our movement.
In America in particular, we will be holding elections in 2014 and I think that in order to win those elections we will have to make use of the social media so as to raise the protest at that specific moment, in that 30-day period around election time. But this also brings about something bigger and something much greater will happen behind the scenes because the social media must be used as a means to achieve some very precise, limited objectives, such as getting people out into the streets, spreading messages very quickly, arranging surprise attacks, ambushes...Those types of quick actions that must, however go hand in hand with slower actions and this brings us to the reasons for the defeat of our movement, that which you are starting to see here in Italy: you gain power but then you become bogged down by the controversies, the squabbles with people that are then kicked out and you land up drowning in these `slow' actions.
That is what we have to think about: how to reconcile slow and quick action. I believe that on the one hand we need to go back to quick action - you guys are at about 20% - but your quick action, the action that is most closely linked to the social media, is starting to lag behind.
You could start with some quick actions somewhere else, such as in neighbouring countries or in North America, and carry on with your slow actions elsewhere.
The main thing as regards the social media is that they must be seen as a two-edged sword: something good but that can also be dangerous at the same time.