Becoming Revolution

How might Deleuze & Guattari speak of the Occupy Movement? Perhaps through the process of becoming...

Contributed by Benjamin Schrader PhD student at University of Hawaii at Manoa, Political Science
February 16, 2012
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Over the past few months, since the inception of the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement, we have consistently heard that they are a leaderless movement, whose motives and message is unclear, and because they are leaderless and without a “clear” set of demands, they are useless.[1]They have constantly been framed as “dirty hippies,” and degenerate low-life’s, or as a bunch of confused and lazy kids who need to “quit asking for handouts and get a job.”[2]Much of this rhetoric distracts and confuses the messages that are apparent within the Occupy movement, which has almost become a global phenomenon, fighting for justice and equity.

            This essay will explore the power and theory behind having a leaderless movement through an examination of Deleuze and Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus and a Foucaultian examination of power.I hope to show that by remaining leaderless and having no explicit demands, it makes the movement more fluid and thus more effective in disseminating its message. Furthermore, this essay will look at the ways that opponents to the Occupy movement have attempted to frame them in a way that makes them appear “dangerous,” and “dirty,” similar to the tactics used by the government in opposition to the anarchist movement a century ago. To do so, I will work again through Foucault, but also use Kathy Ferguson’s Discourses of Danger. Therefore, these tactics of framing coupled with the organization that the OWS movement has adopted, create what Deleuze and Guattari would describe as a “Becoming.”

The Rhizomatic Assemblage

A rhizome may be broken, shattered, at a given spot, but it will start up again on one of its old lines, or on new lines.”[3]

For many it started as a couple thousand protestors marched upon Wall Street in New York City to protest corporate greed and Wall Street’s influence upon politics.[4] The protestors settled on building an encampment at Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan to continue their protest for an undetermined amount of time. There were no particular unified demands, besides the implicit end of corporate greed; in essence it was a rejection of the system and an attempt to resist the tenants of neoliberal ideology. As the protests continued they started garnering more support and September 24th when police responded to the peaceful protest with violence, thus gaining national media attention, the movement sparked into a national movement as people came out in droves across the country to their state capitols and various institutions of power to fight the injustices perpetuated upon what the protestors were calling the 99%.[5]

This constantly shifting multiplicity spread rhizomatically as encampments started forming all over the nation. The more violence that was utilized by the state, the more attention it gained, which allowed it to grow exponentially. The composition of people was diverse as it was accepting of any race, creed, gender, culture, sexual orientation, etc. Even people who would be financially considered as part of the 1% were allowed to participate and be apart of the movement, from the rich and famous to people who inherited money, they all joined to fight a system that was constantly oppressive.

            This conflict against corporate greed is more than just an ideological struggle, but can be seen as a battle of power. In Foucault’s Society Must Be Defended, he posits two hypotheses of what power is: First, “that which represses;”[6]Second, a “clash between forces.”[7]Thus, we find the power of the corporate elites on one side who utilize the state with their abundant funds, and on the other side there are the protestors who utilize their bodies, physical space, and their voice. Therefore we find a site of resistance that can be examined by looking at some of the tactics used against one another in this clash of forces.

Tactics of 1%

One of the primary tactics used by those who oppose the Occupy movement has been physical violence and suppression, which has back fired as it has created more sympathy for the occupy movement thus giving it more momentum, but what I wish to really examine is not the physical violence but rather the framing which has occurred in order to contain the messages that the Occupy movement are disseminating. The first, as mentioned in the intro, is the idea that they are dirty. This has become the impetus of cause for the removal of the encampments, claiming that they create a “dangerous” public health risk.[8]While living in close quarters in an inclement climate carries certain risks, the OWS movement made numerous strides to combat the spread of disease, including but not limited to: Having medical tents, sometimes staffed by professional doctors and nurses; Sanitation teams, in charge of cleaning around the camp, and; Distributing sanitation supplies.[9]I could find no reports of major illnesses being spread throughout any of the camps, which may show that it was well enough regulated to curb the worries of those who claimed that the movement presented a health risk. Furthermore, this shows that it has become more of a tool of suppression than a tool of preserving public health, because if the mayor’s truly cared about public health then they would spend their resources on helping ensure that the movement was able to access healthcare that allowed them to continue to voice their first amendment right. Instead, they allocated their money in monitoring, controlling, and removing the Occupy movement with police, which was probably more costly than the prior.

            The second way in which the Occupy movement has been labeled as “dangerous” has been in its association with anarchism, and while there are anarchists within the movement, and many anarchist tactics are being utilized, it is a very diverse movement which perpetuates no political affiliation.[10]This labeling has primarily been done in order to align it with the common misconceptions of anarchism, which is that of chaos and violence. This rhetoric is aimed at being a form of justification for the violence against the OWS movement in order to draw sympathy from those who have yet to decide what they think about it, and to create rhetorical ammo for those whom oppose it already. The voices they aim to suppress could be articulated as what Ferguson and Foucault classify as parrhesia, or in other words, radical truth tellers. In Kathy Ferguson’s Emma Goldman: Political Thinking in the Streets, she states, “Dangerous individuals and parrhesia are logical mirrors of one another, linked positions within discursive networks of power and resistance.”[11]Therefore, we see Foucault’s site of power conflict come to the forefront within the ways in which the Occupy movement was framed.

99 Sites of Resistance %

Power and resistance confront each other, and use multiple, mobile, and changing tactics… as the strategic and warlike logic of struggle.”[12]

The OWS movement has deployed a number of different tactics, most all nonviolent, but more importantly engaged in creating discourses of truth. Much like Foucault’s analysis of genealogy, the OWS movement’s creation of these discourses of truth entail “an analysis of descent… situated within the articulation of the body and history. [Whose] task is to expose a body totally imprinted by history and the process of history’s destruction of the body.”[13]This has been accomplished in a number of ways, but the most visible has been through a website which highlights photos taken by people who are primarily holding up a sign telling their stories.[14]Many of the stories tell of the ways in which they have been physically affected by neoliberal policies, from lack of ability to afford healthcare to injuries of war. Their stories usually explain how they got to where they are now, thus creating a history, which makes their bodies products of violence.

            Another way in which the OWS movement has created resistance to those who oppose it is by not conforming to standard forms of resistance, i.e. being a leaderless movement and not generating a specific list of demands. By not creating these demands they are therefore refusing to recognize the legitimacy of the state.[15]This in turn creates a space in which all their actions no matter how big or small become forms of resistance in and of themselves, thus generating more recognizable power. On the matter of being a leaderless movement, they have instead adopted the process of consensus, which is a more pure form of direct democracy. It ensures that everyone within the process has a say, and the process will not continue and not move forward until all are satisfied. This produces a “block of becoming.”[16]

Conclusion: Becoming-Revolution

If becoming is a block, it is because it constitutes a zone of proximity and indiscernibility, a no-man’s-land, a nonlocalizable relation sweeping up the two distant or contiguous points, carrying one into the proximity of the other.”[17]

The above quote exemplifies the power of a leaderless movement in that by being one person, the leader, you are merely a single point, but as a block, or as a group of points, all are leaders, all are stronger. Deleuze and Guattari describe a becoming as a shift into a multiplicity, or a pack. Their conception highlights that there is an exceptional individual, which defines and shapes the pack. In this situation it is not so much an individual person, but rather different sites of struggle. From the original Occupy site in NYC to the heated battles in Oakland, these sites have become the definitions and representations of the Occupy movement, there is no hierarchy and it is constantly shifting and changing making it the perfect example of a body without organs. Fore there is no heart, no lungs, no brain, no liver, no spleen, no eyes, no stomach, no nose, and no skin… no nothing; just a multiplicity of points, forming bocks, connected by lines, becoming… revolution.



[3] Deleuze, G. and Guattari, F. A Thousand Plateus, trans. Brian Massumi. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. 1987. Pg. 9. 

[4] It should be noted that the Occupy Movement is reminiscent to the protests in Tahrir Square.

[6]  Foucault, M. (1997) Society Must Be Defended: Lectures at the Collége De France 1975-1976. Picador. New York. Pg. 15.

[7] Ibid. 16. 

[11] Ferguson, K. (2011) Emma Goldman: Political Thinking in the Streets. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers Inc. Lanham, UK.  Pg. 33.

[12] Foucault, M. (1997) Society Must Be Defended: Lectures at the Collége De France 1975-1976. Picador. New York. Pg. 281.

[13] Foucault, M. (1977). “Nietzsche, Genealogy, History,” in The Foucault Reader. Edited by Paul Rainbow. Vintage Books. New York. Pg. 83. [Whose] used instead of “Its” for illustrative reasons.

[16] Deleuze, G. and Guattari, F. A Thousand Plateus, trans. Brian Massumi. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. 1987. Pg. 293-294.

[17] Ibid.