In September 2011, a park in downtown New York defined a global fight for economic rights, and against economics disparities and corporate profit at the cost of social and ecological loss. It awakened a generation, and the global media, to these issues with a renewed sense of urgency.
A year later, in December 2012, a report about a robbery and rape case of a migrant worker returnee in Nepal caused such discomfort that two friends decided to write a letter to be submitted to the Prime Minister demanding justice for the victim. They made the letter public and invited people to print, sign, and submit it too. By the end of the day a single tweet had defined it “#OccupyBaluwatar.” Over the course of the week, then months, Sita Rai’s abuse, and Violence Against Women took an unprecedented space in Nepal’s public discourse, and the media as well as policy makers and international development agencies took note of the public mood. #VAW became a familiar term. In September 2014, a law professor, Benny Tai Yiu-ting, initiated a movement of civil disobedience for bringing democratic representation in Hong Kong. The world media was soon swept up in its wave of #OccuppyCentral, dubbed the #UmbrellaRevolution. In between, there were many other #OCCUPY inspired movements.
#OCCUPY has come to define the awakening and the engagement of a generation’s belief for social justice, for which they will use an unprecedented array of technology and communication tools, and even design new ones if needed, to organize. Each of these three #OCCPUY movements earned their space in their communities, emerging as moments in our societies that needed recognition. It didn’t take long for each of them to resonate beyond their communities; beyond the singular cause it came together for. It resonated to a generation that has grown up global locally, that is aware and affected but sometimes feels disabled and overwhelmed; it resonated to the fundamental belief in wanting to stand up for what they believe is right, to stand up against powers that they know is well above and beyond them, to stand up knowing fully aware that they may be sternly knocked down.
For any youth group, social recognition is important. What is “cool” and what is “unaccepted” in one’s social circle tends to dictate behavior. We are fortunate that we live in a time when the youth is not ashamed to shame those who commit violence against women and abuse human rights, a generation that will stand up to demand the end of violence against the very ecology, and a generation that won’t stay silent as violence against the fundamentals of democracy persists. When a single group believes that a rape victim deserves justice, that corporations are not people, that it is not a democratic election when candidates are pre-screened, a global community finds ways to express solidarity. We are fortunate to live with a generation of youth that will push technology and use art to new boundaries to ensure they are not drowned out by the traditional forces designed and ruled by those of a few generations before them.
The objects exhibited here are only fragments that represent a demography inspired by an urge to demand social justice, outraged by the denial of it. It is a process that demands endurance. In time, we will know if this generation is occupied by that endurance too. After all, #Occupy isn’t the means as well as the end.
#Occupy has come to define, at best, political challenges to those in the seat of power, and at worst, a logistical headache. It has become a powerful symbol of challenging political opacity, the overarching issue that makes the various #occupy movements in essence the same fight everywhere, irrespective of the different issues that may have triggered it.
One cannot gauge the success of these three movements, or movements of this nature, with tangible outcomes. Many are happy to point them out as failures that fizzle(d) out. Others will explain that fights for social justice, unfortunately, are fights that need to be persistently waged for the unforeseeable future. In the last four years, the very notion of “occupy” has inspired many things: loathe, agreement, spite, endorsement, indifference, spontaneous activism. Some accuse it of being directionless; others see it as a part of the road map.
If we as individuals, and us as society, stop reflecting on what we have and may become, of what we accept versus what we protest, we succeed in our collective failure to use the gift of conscience. In the last four years, #occupy has become a powerful tool to provoke reflection. And in an era of fleeting attention, but one with a seemingly ever-growing need for action, the push to reflect, and the #occupy movement itself, are indeed crucial first steps.