Noam Chomsky: Occupy Has Created Solidarity in the US
By Noam Chomsky, Democracy Now!
15 May 12
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the significance of Occupy.
NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, the Occupy movement is – it was a big surprise. You know, if anybody asked me a year ago, “Is this possible?” I would have said, “It’s crazy. Don’t even try.” But it lit a spark, took off. There are now Occupy movements in thousands of American cities, spread overseas. I was in Australia recently, went to the Occupy movement in Sydney, in Melbourne. There’s one in Hong Kong. You know, everywhere. And there are parallel movements in Europe.
It’s the first – and it’s very significant, I think. Already in – it’s only been around for a couple of months, so, you know, you can’t talk about huge achievements. But there are two kinds of the achievements which I think are – have already had an effect that probably is permanent, but anyway significant. One is, they just changed the national discourse. So, issues that had been, you know, marginalized – they’re familiar, but you didn’t talk about them – like inequality, shredding of the democratic process, you know, financial corruption, environmental issues, all these things, they became – they moved to the center of discussion.
In fact, you can even see it from the imagery that’s used. You read about the 99 percent and the 1 percent in the considerable press of the business press. That’s just changed the way lots of people are looking at things. In fact, the polls show that concern over inequality among the general public rose pretty sharply after the Occupy movement started, very probably as a consequence. And there are other policy issues that came to the fore, which are significant.
The other aspect, which in my estimation may be more significant, is that the Occupy movement spontaneously created something that doesn’t really exist in the country: communities of mutual support, cooperation, open spaces for discussion. They just developed a health system, a library, a common kitchen – just people doing things and helping each other. That’s very much missing. There is a massive propaganda – it’s been going on for a century, but picking up enormously – that you really shouldn’t care about anyone else, you should just care about yourself. You pay attention to yourself; we don’t want anything else. You take a look at the attitudes among young people, that’s – it’s polled, it’s studied. It’s remarkably high.
So, there was just a study that came out from the Harvard Public Policy Institute, found that – pretty scary results, I thought. Less than – this is kids 18 to 24, you know, college students, basically. Less than half of them think that the government has a responsibility to deal with things like healthcare or food, and so on. When they say the government doesn’t have a responsibility, that’s kind of an interesting concept. If people thought they were living in a democracy, they would say – they would ask the question whether it’s a public responsibility. But again, the propaganda system is designed to make you feel that the government is some alien force, and it’s against you. You know, you want to keep it away from your affairs.
In a democratic society, it would be quite different. Like, you can see it on April 15th. And a good measure of the extent to which a democratic system is functioning is how people feel about taxes. If you had a functioning democratic society, April 15th would be a day of celebration. It’s the day on which we get together and fund the policies that we’ve decided on and that we’ve gotten our representatives to approve of. It’s not what it is here. It’s a day of mourning, because this alien force is coming to steal things from you.
Well, that’s the kind of thing that the Occupy movement began to break. It said, “Yeah, we’re in it together.” That’s what the old labor movement used to be. I mean, I can remember, as a kid in the ’30s, when the situation was objectively much worse. But then, my family was mostly unemployed working-class here in New York. But there was a sense of hopefulness, largely because of labor organizing, which not only provided benefits to the people involved, but also made them part of something in which we can work together. The term “solidarity” wasn’t just a vacuous term. And to rebuild that kind of thing, even if it’s in small pieces of the society, can become very important, can change the conception of how a society ought to function.