What does ‘Occupy’ mean?

What does ‘Occupy’ mean?

by Linda Alvarez

We all understand that ‘occupy’ has the literal meaning of physical presence on the street, in a building, or other location; but what I hear from those at the heart of the Occupy demonstrations gives me a sense of its deeper, metaphorical meaning.

For organizers and participants, the Occupy movement is about taking personal responsibility for what is happening in your life and for bringing about the changes you believe are necessary for a peaceful and just society. It is about occupying your life, your mind, your actions, your community, and your country — with alert, attentive, intentional presence and participation.

It is not about a particular set of demands or a particular set of accusations. It is about circumstances that a vast majority of Americans find objectionable, our need to understand the conditions that gave rise to these circumstances, and an active effort by individual citizens to find common ground for making positive, mutually beneficial change. It is about citizen participation.

The vast majority of Americans would agree that the national conversation had been hijacked – that the only voices with power to affect change are wealthy corporate interests using money and media to influence politicians. The so-called “99%” have felt a growing sense of powerlessness to affect their own well-being. A wide spectrum of voices have been raised but seem unable to exert meaningful influence. When we think we aren’t being heard, our solution is to raise the volume. So, people have taken to the streets participating in acts of self-responsibility, raising the volume of the unheard voices so they can no longer be ignored.

The beauty (for me) of the developing Occupy movement has been its sustained adherence to values of non-violence and of inclusive, meaningful dialogue. Occupy actions turn up the volume on the request for a meaningful conversation among all interests, all sectors, all ideologies with the focus on responsible and mutual participation to find creative solutions that work for everyone.

The movement is not about overthrowing one power-base or ideology in order to replace it with another. It is about citizen participation in their government’s choices. It is about including all voices in the conversation rather than competing for exclusive use of the megaphone.

Yes, there has been some violence. Many people connect with the frustration and anger or with desperation over unmet needs for shelter, for food, for safety, for financial well-being, and for having effective voice in decisions that affect each of us directly. Some show up at the demonstrations with uncertainty about their intent or thinking that the protest actions are about blaming and punishing; and some resort to acts of violence. Nevertheless, they are there because they want to participate and, happily, they find themselves invited to try the alternative model of the Occupy movement, to engage in non-violent, inclusive, meaningful dialogue.

This desire for meaningful, inclusive, participatory conversation resonates across all ideologies and individuals. We all want our needs to matter. We all want to have the power to affect our own well-being. We all want to know that others are engaged in listening and not just speaking. I think this is the truth that is at the heart of the Occupy Movement’s durability.

Nonviolent, inclusive, meaningful dialogue for finding solutions to our problems — solutions that work for everyone —

If this is what it is about (and I believe it is), then I’m an occupationalist; and, while I don’t participate in the physical occupancies, I do participate fully.

I Occupy the Legal System.


  1. Great post, Linda. I have heard several of my trademark colleagues refer to occupationalists and Occupy Trash, but your post eloquently explains the upset, the movement and why it’s important for us to support it. Thank you!

    • December 16, 2011 at 12:35 am • Edit

      Hi Lara! Thanks. I’ve just visited your site — very nice. I love finding other lawyers who are supporting businesses in ‘being the change’ we want to see in the world. I’d love to learn more about your practice and what’s happening for you.

      warmly and looking forward,

Speak Your Mind