How to Occupy the World

A Call for True Internationalism

by Jason Hickel

Leon Neal/AFP/Getty Images

The leading tagline of the Occupy Wall Street movement reads: “Protest for World Revolution.”  This is an ambitious claim, to be sure. And in most respects it seems to ring quite true: the movement has successfully taken root not only in cities and towns throughout the United States but also in major urban centers around the world.  On October 15, Occupy Wall Street’s success inspired a broad wave of coordinated occupations across Europe.  I was a founding participant in the one that began in London.

But the Occupy movement has been notably absent outside of North America and Europe.  Not for want of trying, of course: in southern Africa, where I am originally from, small groups of committed activists tried to instigate occupations in a few key regional cities, but without much success.  In South Africa, a society divided by violent inequalities that proceed directly from neoliberal policy, Occupy managed to attract only a few dozen souls – a poor showing for a country known for one of the highest protest rates in the world.

What accounts for the failure of Occupy to capture the imagination of the global South, which comprises precisely the people whose lives have been most brutally affected by the recent global financial crisis?  And in what sense can Occupy claim to be a world revolution if it leaves out – and in some cases even alienates – the vast, non-white majority of humanity?

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