It clarifies the somewhat hazy common perceptions of what the Occupy Wall Street phenomenon was really about. Not what the media said it was about, not even what the ‘not-your-usual-activist’ participant thought it was about, but the true agenda of those who started it.
The book starts out with some insightful and interesting comments about the current Western situation. Graeber highlights the vicious cycle of money and power that makes the rich richer and keeps the law on the side of big corporations. He makes poignant and well illustrated points about corruption, abuse of power, the economy, and society’s learned expectations and acceptance of all of these things.
He addresses issues that we, the ‘99%,’ need to speak out about to actively change… Aaaaaand then he makes the very unconvincing case that socialism and horizontal ‘direct democracy’ are the answers. Sigh.
For me, this is the point where this book stops being credible or interesting. It’s only in the final chapters that Graeber coyly whips off the cloth to reveal that all of these new radical ideas boil down to nothing more than repackaged communism.
Throughout the demonstrations no specific demands for change were actually made, on the principle that the current political system is so corrupt that engaging in it at all is to be a part of that corruption.
Graeber can say what he likes, but I’m extremely sceptical that the thousands of participating citizens that rallied together, forcing the authorities to take notice, intended to waste that opportunity to make a real difference. Especially not in the name of starting a new utopian society from scratch, rather than improving the existing one.
I feel cheated and so should all those people who joined the Occupy demonstrations thinking that they were campaigning for actionable solutions to these serious issues. I wonder how many of them even knew that at the heart of the movement were communist and anarchist ideals?
I digress, this review is about the book, not the misleading notion of the movement itself. I could sit here all day arguing why ‘egalitarian’ societies never stay egalitarian for very long but I’m sure you’re all perfectly capable of reading George Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm’ for yourselves.
My main gripe is that there are two conflicting themes running throughout the book that are presumptuously treated as if they go hand in hand: The inclusive term ‘99%,’ uniting all citizens who want to make their lives and society better, and the insinuation that, as part of that wish, all citizens agree with communism.
Despite this, ‘The Democracy Project’ is an essential read for anyone interested in politics or sociology. Graeber takes the reader into the heart of the protests and tells some shocking tales of the, often illegal, police tactics used against activists as well as random acts of solidarity and kindness.
Even more valuable is his analysis of the various flaws in the current political system and contextualisation of this. Is communism the answer to all our problems? I personally don’t think so, but if nothing else this book questions Western societal norms that we all take for granted and ignites hope in the people’s power to initiate political change.
‘The Democracy Project’ was released in the UK on the 23rd April 2013.
Reviewed by Francesca Bassenger. Image courtesy of Penguin, with special thanks to Mari Yamazaki.