Before the Occupy Movement, the very word ‘occupy’ conjured up unwelcome military incursion and occupation of other sovereign nations, most recently the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan. Founded on occupation, the United States built great wealth from the stolen land of indigenous Peoples, many of whom remain the poorest of the poor. As a tool of Imperialism, occupation has proven not only deadly for those who have been dispossessed but impoverishing for their descendants.
Given the dark U.S. history and current practice of occupation, it is small wonder that there are those who urge the abandonment of the use of the word ‘occupy’ by the Occupy Movement. In a New York Times blogpost, What If We Occupied Language?, H. Samy Alim quotes Julian Padilla of the People of Color Working Group:
I do wish the NYC movement would change its name to “‘decolonise Wall Street”’ to take into account history, indigenous critiques, people of colour and imperialism… This linguistic change can remind Americans that a majority of the 99 percent has benefited from the occupation of native territories.
However, is the Occupy Movement using the word ‘occupy’ as defined by the hegemonic corporate government power structure or has the Movement shifted the meaning in direct opposition to that power? Does the word ‘occupy’ belong to the powerful elite or does it now belong to the People?
Linguistically, the word ‘occupy’ has served as a transitive verb (a verb that always takes an object: to occupy Alcatraz). In occupying the language, the Occupy protestors use it as a stand-alone verb (Occupy!) and a modifier (Occupy protestor). This is new language. By co-opting a word with militant colonial connotations, the Occupy Movement has liberated language from its dark history and forged it as a tool for the People’s own empowerment.
The flexibility of the word ‘occupy’ allows a way of seeing and acting that goes far beyond the idea of occupying public space in a physical sense. Synonyms of the word ‘occupy’ (see below) cover two connotations of this word: To be engaged in and to take possession of. As the Occupy encampments are overrun and demolished, the People continue to be actively engaged in and taking possession of the ideas and concepts by which we have been governed—locally, regionally, nationally, and globally.
The Move OUR Money project is an excellent example of how the concept of ‘occupy’ can be used to engage in an abstract idea as a real public space. In essence, the Occupy Movement reifies (or makes real) the concepts of public funds and investment decisions in order to occupy them as a public space and take ownership. Public funds are our money in a very real sense. In this way, the Occupy Movement can effect change.
The Occupy Movement owns the word ‘occupy’ as surely as the Gay Rights Movement owns the word ‘gay’. All previous meanings of these two words lie overturned before the greater meaning given by those who have taken possession and assumed ownership of the language.
Occupy your body with a 99% button. Occupy your own front yard with an Occupy tent. The possibilities are truly endless.
Occupy (Engage) (verb): absorb, absorb the attention, absorb the mind, absorb the thoughts, address oneself to, amuse, apply oneself to, apply the attention to, apply the mind to, arrest the attention, attract the attention, attract the mind, attract the thoughts, be active with, be at work on, be concerned with, be employed, busy oneself with, captivate, catch the attention, claim one’s thoughts, concentrate on, concern oneself with, devote, direct the attention to, direct the mind to, engage the attention, engage the mind, engage the thoughts, engross, engross the mind, engross the thoughts, entertain, enthrall, entrance, excite the attention, fascinate, go about, immerse, in re versari, invite the attention, involve, keep busy, monopolize, monopolize the thoughts, obsess, occupare, plunge into, ply, preoccupy, rivet the attention, rivet the mind, rivet the thoughts, set about, set to work, specialize in, spend one’s time in, tackle, take employment, take on, take part, take up, tenere, turn the attention to, turn the mind to, work at.
Occupy (Take possession)(verb): abide, acquire, annex, appropriate, assume, assume ownership, be possessed of, capture, claim, colonize, command, conquer, control, denizen, dominate, dwell, dwell in, expropriate, have possession of, have rights to, have title to, help oneself to, hold, indwell, inhabit, invade, keep, keep hold of, keep house, live, live in, lodge, make one’s home at, move into, obtain, own, possess, procure, recover, reside in, retain, seize, settle in, stay, take from, take over, take up residence in