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The T shirts in the photograph above were, and at the time of writing still are, readily available from cafepress.com , the global on-demand T shirt printing web business. They were designed in 2011 for sale to supporters of the Occupy movement in London, New York and elsewhere. The slogan they bear – “We are the 99%” – was probably derived from an article by Joseph Stiglitz, although there are other accounts of its origins.   Stiglitz had pointed out how, in the USA, the top 1% received nearly a quarter of the income and owned 40% of the wealth.

For £19 plus postage, cafepress.com will happily print any one of hundreds of versions of the slogan on a T shirt for you.  A predictable point about the commodification of anti-capitalist protest can be made easily enough. In the year of Occupy (2011) cafepress.com applied to become a public company.  According to its offer document, its principal executives all fell safely into the 1% and not the 99%. 

But this particular version of the slogan is worth further attention.  The ’99’ figure is here rendered like a double quotation mark.  The hole in the middle – the ‘counter’ as typographers call it – is filled in.  This is suggestive in at least three further respects.   Double quotation marks are, first, used to mark direct, rather than indirect, speech.  The Occupy movement provided the occasion for people to speak out for themselves, rather than be spoken for by others.  Secondly, the same marks are often used as “scare-quotes” in writing – or “finger-quotes” in speech.  They denote the intention of the speaker to put ironic distance between herself and what she says.  “Scare-” or “finger-quotes” are a way to allude to something without committing yourself to an established definition or a firm meaning, or as a way to indicate that the meaning of the term is disputed.  And thirdly, the same symbol is also used in lists as the “ditto” mark.  It indicates repetition or copying, an allusion perfectly manifested in the printed T shirt: multiplied, repeated, and – from cafepress.com – endlessly available on demand in a variety of colours.

As has often been pointed out, the 99 per cent could not possibly constitute a single interest. They are much too various.  But that criticism, though both true and fair, still misses the point.  The slogan “We are the 99%” is not a representative claim.  It is a constative utterance. The 99 per cent creates itself in speaking.

The question is what exactly it creates in speaking the slogan.  The fraction of the population who self-identify as the 99% is clearly much smaller than 99%. And yet the identity they claim is not even confined to one nation, but global. It identifies itself as part of a Global Justice Movement. What does such a movement have in common and who does it identify with? How is solidarity built in a movement which bring together people from so many countries, and from such diverse social backgrounds? What,for example, is the relationship between the wearer of the T shirt and the exploited Vietnamese factory worker who makes it?

I begin by considering the possibility that the activists are, despite social differences, nonetheless similarly socially located. However, there is little evidence that this is so. The activists are highly unequal in terms of the resources they possess, what they risk, and what they have at stake. They are differently exposed to globalization (which is itself uneven in its effects) and possess different levels of influence within and beyond their own states. The activists do not seem to share a status as the ‘precarious’ losers from neoliberal globalization. According to my research, British supporters of alter-globalization were just as likely to believe themselves to be personal beneficiaries of globalization as losers from it. Many of the supporters in Europe and North America claim to feel excluded, but even if this is so, it puts them socially apart from the representatives of the global south who are often, sometimes through the GJM itself, successful, well-connected, and upwardly mobile. Both groups are differently positioned to those who suffer most from globalization: those impoverished by trade liberalisation, the exploitation of natural resources, and cuts in social programs imposed by international funders.

A better theory, then, is that the Global Justice Movement is not a representative assembly of the ‘losers’ from neoliberal globalization, but a coalition of its opponents. Perhaps the activists achieve solidarity through belief and faith in a common ‘frame’: that is, that is, a common explanation of global problems, common assignments of cause and blame, common solutions, and the collective summoning of the forces needed to achieve them. The frame usually proposed is not anti-globalisation, since many activists accept the global as a setting for cultural exchange and political mobilization, or the level at which to regulate state and corporate actions. It is a frame of ‘global justice’, which explains a set of contemporary problems as consequences of neoliberal globalization, and which identifies solutions based on principles of social and environmental fairness, connected outwards to specific proposals concerning social provision, environmental protection, peace, trade, financial regulation, and human rights.

A high proportion of northern GJM activists do endorse the global justice frame. But we should pause before concluding that this provides solidarity for the GJM as a whole. The global justice frame itself is unspecific, perhaps even vague. To name only the most widest cracks in the frame, there are no generally agreed principles of fairness, which is perhaps not surprising when the activists also readily self-identify as Marxists, anarchists, autonomists, Christian socialists, feminists, Greens of various shades and concerned liberals, each with their own concepts of social justice and its implications. These differences, indeed, have been particularly acute in the British GJM.

Of course, frames do not need to be shared in exactly the same way by everyone to hold a movement together. They may ‘resonate’, or get adjusted through ‘diffusion’ to suit particular contexts, or may act as a ‘bridge’ across which distinct struggles can be connected. Nevertheless, if the argument is not to collapse into the circular and unfalsifiable claim that the global justice frame is simply whatever GJM activists understand their struggle to be about, then the frame must have some definite content. It must name problems, causes, culprits, and solutions. Yet it is far from agreed among activists what or whom should be named as the causal enemy of justice, let alone whether the solution is fairer arrangements within a reformed capitalist system, the replacement of capitalism with an alternative global system enforced on states and corporations by a strong world government, or a protectionist defence of the local against the global. Differences also arise over whether the institutions of global governance are part of the problem or part of the solution.

Furthermore, the ‘framing’ data we have does not tell us whether activists from the global south frame these questions in the same terms or not. They include, after all, those whose resistance to globalization is articulated in terms of ethnic nationalism and religious fundamentalism. To them, western ‘justice’ activists and aid workers are at least as much the enemy as western bankers. There is plenty of case study literature which suggests that the ‘bridging’ frames cannot take much weight, that the ‘resonance’ easily dissipates into silence, and that consequently the solidarity it produces is brittle.

Another possibility is that solidarity is secured in different ways according to the orientation and ambition of the work the Global Justice Movement undertakes. Making such distinctions is the general approach I adopt in Other People’s Struggles. In Britain, three approaches can be distinguished. Some work involves the advocacy of crystallized interests and the battle to secure policy change (e.g. the campaigns to ban landmines, or secure government commitments on aid). Here the NGOs dominate, the work tends to be disjoint and does not prioritise solidarities. Anti-capitalist work, in contrast, attacks governments and global economic decision-makers, and seeks to maximize external pressure on the system to force it to change. The organized left is especially prominent. It is willing to confront the powerful on behalf of those who cannot act for themselves, in pursuit of goals that, so far as the left is concerned, are mostly crystallized, clear, and shared. The left hopes, in other words, to find a frame that resonates.

But the most ambitious work – that of alter-globalization – differs again, and achieves solidarity in a further, new and distinct way. It resists the closure implied by the notion of a frame, even one which resonates. It wishes to remain open to ‘multiple worlds’, not settle for identifying and fixing the faults of this one. This suggests a third possibility for achieving solidarity: that it rests neither on shared precariousness, nor a common framing of the struggle, but on conjoint processes or practices which may or may not deliver usable frames. The problems which arise when different types of people, with different frames, attempt to work together, such as conflicts over unequal resources or resented dependencies, are neither ignored nor solved in advance. Instead, they are approached as unresolved problems in a certain spirit, according to certain ways of working, which themselves constitute the solidarity. Indeed, the differences may even be positively valued, for the multiple perspectives they bring to light.

The primary work of the alter-globalization is neither the organized left’s attack on capitalism, nor NGO advocacy, but the development of alternatives, in the plural, through resistance to the homogenization created by neoliberal globalization. The NGOs, especially in the 1980s and 1990s, concentrated on single issues and conventional action repertoires in which they could become expert. Professionalism and specialisation, they believed, was the best way to carry weight with governments, bureaucrats, media experts and informed publics. Alter-globalization, by contrast, is multi-issue in focus. It seeks to influence not only governments and the institutions of global governance, but also mass publics. Unlike the organized left, moreover, it does so without an explicit frame in mind. Where it works in the power orientation, it pursues not the crystallized demand (e.g. the protection of acquired social rights) but the emergent one (e.g. contesting notions of economic ‘progress’ and ‘development’). Some want to disrupt the processes by which any hegemony is produced, including the development of an alternative master-frame. They try instead to foster creativity and multiply possibilities, all captured in the open-ended slogan ‘another world is possible’. Variety, in short, is what alter-globalization has in common.

When it works in the expressive orientation, therefore, alter-globalization resists the closure of identities. Its identity statements tend to be more open, in way that can seem vague – ‘global citizens’ or indeed the ‘99%’ – but which are designed to express only the most loosely defined identities, and resists their closure to exclude anyone. Differences and diversity are neither sorted nor eliminated but are positively validated. Indeed, identities within the movement are constructed not prior to, but through participation. You become part of alter-globalization not by what you already are, but by what you do, and in particular what you become through protest.

This approach to solidarity raises some old, and some new, difficulties, which I explore in greater depth in this paper. Alter-globalization has produced a new conception of the activist – ‘the girl who makes the puppets’ – quite unlike the paid, professional staffer of the NGO, the inactive ordinary charitable donor and the disciplined junior cadre of the left-wing party. It has also produced many innovative styles of protest and techniques for working together. Rather than hierarchy, command structures and professional elites, alter-globalization favours open deliberation, inclusivity, participatory democracy and tolerance. Rather than party schools, let alone through the professional training of the NGO staffer, alter-globalization produces its activists through new, flatter networked technologies. Rather than party structures or professional NGO-like organizations, it is characterised by the ‘affinity group’: a small number (around 4 – 20) of friends, or ‘friends of friends’, who converge because they presently hold some affective belief or purpose in common; and the ‘action group’ of those who assemble for a single action.

On the face of it, alter-globalization has an approach to the problems of adherence quite unlike the others I explore in Other People’s Struggles. If participation is so informal, then there seems nothing to exclude anyone from being an active part of the movement. A hundred questions and uncertainties follow. How exactly do participants ‘belong’? Are there expectations, if not requirements and commitments, in belonging? What are the relationships between the participants, non-participants, and those who stand to benefit from the movement’s success? If there are no leaders, who speaks for the group? Are there experts and guides, and if so, how do they emerge and how are they held accountable? How are activists produced without someone disjointly training them? Although these questions all deserve detailed treatment, I focus on two of the most important for my theme: first, the possibility of the re-emergence of disjointness in the guise of an avant-garde; and secondly, the maintenance of collective belonging and commitment in a movement in which intense personal participation is so strong a motivating force.

And so we return to the T shirts, which unwittingly depict this uncertainty to perfection. On the one hand, the double quotation marks indicate the directness of speech that alter-globalization is keen to foster. No one should be spoken for by others. On another hand, they indicate the ironic detachment that must now be felt for commitment, because of the way that personal freedom demands that one is never truly committed. And their third meaning – repetition – captured both in the logo and the T shirt itself: the opposite of uniform, which is both a personal, individualised statement and also endlessly replicable on demand to anyone who chooses to buy it.

we_are_the_99_percent_womens_blue_tshirt

wallstreetposter

Solidarity in the Global Justice Movement

drop_the-debt_sm

rts-dance

kiss

g8_get

havre_small

hand_signals

brighton_puppets

nhs_puppets

we_are_the_99_percent_line_2_gjm

If you would like to read the whole of this paper in draft, paperdartlogo_750_pinkplease click on the paper-dart logo and send me a message.

IMAGE CREDITS: WE ARE THE 99% T SHIRTS DESIGNED FOR CAFEPRESS.COM BY VARITEES / WHAT IS OUR ONE DEMAND? POSTER FROM OCCUPY WALL STREET 2011 / WE ARE THE 99% POSTER FROM OCCUPY LONDON 2011 / JUBILEE 2000 DROP THE DEBT DEMONSTRATION, EDINBURGH, MAY 1998 / RECLAIM THE STREETS PARTY, NEW YORK, OCTOBER 1998 / ANTI-G8 PROTEST IN EDINBURGH BEFORE THE GLENEAGLES G8 SUMMIT, 2005 / GUILLAUME PAUMIER, ANTI-G8 PROTEST IN LE HAVRE BEFORE THE DEAUVILLE G8 SUMMIT, 2011 / HAND SIGNALS, OCCUPY WALL SREEET 2011 / MAREIKE AND ANDREA, THE GREAT CORPORATE PUPPET SHOW , EUROPEAN DAY OF ACTION AGAINST TTIP, BRIGHTON, OCTOBER 2014 / THE TTIP PUPPET MASTER CONTROLLING THE NHS, PROTESTS AGAINST TTIP BY GLOBAL JUSTICE NOW, JUNE 2014.