HARDtalk: Vlad Teichberg, Occupy Wall Street
First broadcast on BBC News at 12:30 am–1:00 am on Friday 9th December.
Available until 4:59 am on Saturday 8th December 2012.
Click here for link to BBC iplayer.
Stephen Sackur recently spoke with Vlad Teichberg, a prominent member of the Occupy movement and a co-founder of Global Revolution TV, on the BBC news HARDtalk show.
Sackur immediately put it to Teichberg that the Occupy movement was “running out of steam”, and in response, Teichberg told Sackur that although the movement has been forced to change, it is also virally spreading.
Here are a few of the opening salvos in what turned out to be a lively discussion:
Sackur: It seems to me that you do need a symbolic focus, I mean you know, ‘Occupy Wall Street’ is the phrase known around the world but you’re no longer occupying Wall Street, or that part very close to Wall Street where you were. And it seems to me, numbers generally in most of the camps that remain are tiny now. So this claim that, you know, ‘we are the 99%’ is beginning to look a bit ridiculous.
Teichberg: Well, I mean let’s look at how that happened. It’s not like people packed up, and said, you know, problems are solved, I’m going home. You had, you know, jackboots on the ground. You had violent evictions of these camps. And then you have the government go in and build fences around all of those squares to stop people from having the conversation. Does it mean that the conversation is over? Probably not. As we’ve seen time and time again, violence does not solve these problems…
There seems to be a dual standard in the western press. When these kinds of protesters are repressed in Russia, or in China or in Iran, you know, it’s a crime against democracy. When you have this in your backyard, it’s a threat to public order.
Sackur: You began this movement in the late summer and it appeared to be gathering some sort of momentum. And people were expressing support for the Occupy Movement. But you never actually got mass numbers out on the streets, did you? And when you claim that you are representing the vast majority of the people, in a campaign of protest against capitalist greed and corporate greed, it’s a bit of a problem when you don’t build up mass numbers.
Teichberg: First of all, the movement did not start in September in New York. This movement has been going on for quite a while. We think in some ways it started in Tahrir in January of this year, with the Arab Spring. It was jumped upon, it moved to Spain, and you had the 15-M revolution in Spain, which was very similar to what happened in the United States in September…
There are a few unifying themes between what these movements are fighting for. And these are actually positive – it’s not actually a rebellion against capitalism, or against institutions of some sort, just like for the sake of rebellion. It’s actually an idea that society should be based on some fundamental humanistic principles, like equality. I mean it sounds like a radical concept but it’s actually very, very basic and human.
Sackur: Well never mind that it sounds like a radical concept; it sounds like a very vague concept. And a lot of people have said… that the problem here is the message you’re delivering isn’t very clear. It’s clear what you’re against. You don’t like the modern form of US-based and western-based capitalism. But it isn’t actually clear what you want. What are your actual specific demands and proposals?
Teichberg: Well, the main thing that we wanted – and I think that we achieved that to a large degree – was, when we first went into Zucotti [Park] was that we wanted to start like an international conversation about the future of our planet. And when all these other camps sprang up, and started doing similar general assembly processes and so on, we basically set up a structure for this public debate about our future. Unfortunately, ‘the powers that be’ decided that this debate should not continue, and they deployed riot police to stop the demonstration from happening… But you can’t stop this idea from happening. It’s something that’s spreading like a tsunami…
Sackur: You can’t have a long-lasting and significant political movement, can you, just based on the idea that ‘people need to have a conversation’?
Teichberg: But there’s much more than that – I mean I’m sorry but you sound a little ignorant. The reality is that the things that are happening at these camps in terms of processes – the idea of the general assembly – that every citizen should have an equal voice. Designing structures around that actually allow us to have a consensus-based decision-making process that pushes forward. The idea of a non-hierarchical organisation – a society that would not have any implicit hierarchy in it. It’s maybe an idea whose time has come.
Sackur: You’ve made a very important point, I just want to know if that’s a model that you see being applied to the governance of cities, states, nations?
Teichberg: Not necessarily. No-one said that. But it’s a model for having a discussion about our future. You see this is the thing. All we wanted to do was have a debate. We didn’t come into these camps and start setting up armies to overthrow the government. It’s a peaceful revolution of citizens. But we do want to have a conversation about the fact that the privileged class is skewing the system, skewing the rules in such a way that they always have the advantage. And the gap between the richest and the poorest is widening. And as we are having this conversation, certain things are coming to light – as the population is becoming more and more educated, of course the people who are in power are becoming more and more threatened and so now they are dispatching their armed forces to stop the debate.
Sackur: Would you call yourself a revolutionary?
Teichberg: No, I’m a citizen.
Sackur: No, I understand that, but I say revolutionary because is what you want to see a revolutionary transformation of the society in which you live?
Teichberg: I want an evolution. Revolution is a very big term: it can mean many things. What I want is evolution. I want a society that is much more fair, yes.