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"Whereas the left is always in danger of talking itself into the ground."
June 30, 2012 9:32 AM   Subscribe

What's also obvious is that this phase of Occupy, with talk of credit unions and occupying the SEC, while eminently worthy, is also kind of boring, especially when compared to the thrill of Occupy's park phase. Some, though, are ready to move on. "It's easy to go back to the park occupation and fetishize it, in a way," says Occupy Chicago's Brian Bean. "I prefer not to run a mini-society – I want to run society." - The Battle For The Soul Of Occupy Wall Street - Rolling Stone - Mark Binelli.
posted by The Whelk (193 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite

 
If they are going to do it over I would suggest they try and have some concrete goals this time, and not just be shitty to anyobdy who asks what their goal is. A concrete, acheivable goal, not "dismantle capitalism" or anything like that.

"Occupy Wall Street" was a simple, direct message, and seised the moment very well at a time when banks and big money have been screing people over, but they failed to follow up on it with anything doable and then it just diffused into being about itself.
posted by Artw at 9:42 AM on June 30, 2012 [14 favorites]


Yeah, boo on them for starting from the ground up, without consulting the armchair-wizards of MetaFilter on how to start a popular movement without making any mistakes or risking looking remotely foolish.
posted by hermitosis at 9:48 AM on June 30, 2012 [48 favorites]


"Enforce the laws we already have" would be a great message. Just keep digging up evidence. Shame the attorneys general. And so much fun!
posted by seanmpuckett at 9:49 AM on June 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


There was a TED talk recently -- Jennifer Pahlka, if I remember right -- that discussed the need for activists to learn to love bureaucracy. In her opinion, it wasn't the dirty word we think of it as, but instead the essential mechanism for government. All the stuff we see on the surface, that's all just five percent of government, at most. All the rest, hidden under it, are the machine that makes it work. And if we really want to be successful, we need to find better ways to do the bureaucracy, and we have to make that the sort of thing we're really interested in. I recall the TED talk being about building government apps, which seems pretty typical for that sort of talk.

But I think it applies here too. Part of the reason the extreme right has been so successful at injected itself into the discussion is because of a successful program of "stealth candidates" who they ran for low-level government offices and put into various bureaucratic roles since the 1980s. After 30 years of this, every single Conservative politician feels the need to pander to the right, and an astonishing number of so-called "wingnut" politicians, such as Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry, whose beliefs dovetail with those of the religious right, are in office.

I don't know what will become of the Occupy movement. They had a long time to get to know each other, to discuss strategy, to build coalitions, to educate themselves. But if they choose to become a group defined by permanent protest, as much of the left has done, their ability to make changes will be limited. And revolutionary rhetoric is sexy, but I have been part of the left for 30 years and all revolutionaries have effectively done is make plans for imposing their worldview on a revolution, if it ever comes, which seems vaguely predatory to me.

No. Power is created through organization, coalition building, fundraising, and all the other tools of government that now exist. And it's not a closed loop -- its amazing how often fringe candidates get elected to small positions. And once your group starts getting votes and candidates, it doesn't matter how fringe you seem to the mainstream, everybody else starts treating you seriously, even if you think the world is 6,000 years old.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 9:52 AM on June 30, 2012 [79 favorites]


After the surprise Halloween blizzard, a lot of Occupy protesters in New York had signs blaming Bloomberg and HAARP for the snow.
posted by Jeff Mangum's Penny-farthing at 9:53 AM on June 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


OWS's goals never struck me as terribly nebulous.

How about this: The system is completely broken. The system of electing candidates is worthless, because the two parties have it locked down in favor of the oligarchy. People want the government to represent them, so they're hitting the streets where they can maximise their visibility.

How complicated is that? People just want a complete regime change, to continue the Arab Spring movement in the States.
posted by dunkadunc at 10:00 AM on June 30, 2012 [13 favorites]


And how did they plan to get to this and why didn't it happen?
posted by Artw at 10:04 AM on June 30, 2012 [3 favorites]



How complicated is that? People just want a complete regime change, to continue the Arab Spring movement in the States.


Unfortunately not enough people want this. Certainly not enough people who believe they've got nothing to lose and can identify with the program.

innacurate frog in warming pot metaphor etc.
posted by lalochezia at 10:06 AM on June 30, 2012


Why is it, even now that the movement has collapsed, that nobody is allowed to criticize Occupy without somebody immediately jumping in to call them an armchair quarterback? How dare we suggest that a movement with no effective methods of decision-making and governance, or mechanism for keeping itself from being taken over by cranks and entryists wouldn't be successful? Who could have possibly guessed that calling a general strike without the backing of the labor movement wouldn't accomplish anything?
posted by strangely stunted trees at 10:07 AM on June 30, 2012 [24 favorites]


And how did they plan to get to this and why didn't it happen?

Twinkling in the wind.
posted by Mblue at 10:09 AM on June 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


The Arab Spring thing is problematic too...

1) A bunch of Americans saying "Hey look! People in an actual dictatorship standing up and protesting despite getting shot, beaten, raped, tortured and disapeared! We will live in a park and occasionally get hassled by the NYPD, we are JUST LIKE THEM!" is a bit presumptious.
2) At the end of the day the Arab Spring was an utter faliure.
posted by Artw at 10:09 AM on June 30, 2012 [8 favorites]


And how did they plan to get to this and why didn't it happen?

You didn't help.
posted by shakespeherian at 10:10 AM on June 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


Oh fuck me, do we get Occupy stab-in-the-back theorists now?
posted by Artw at 10:12 AM on June 30, 2012 [6 favorites]


Seconding everything Bunny Ultramod said, I think this is the TED Talk they referenced.
posted by cgk at 10:13 AM on June 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


No I just meant you personally.
posted by shakespeherian at 10:15 AM on June 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


Oh fuck me, do we get Occupy stab-in-the-back theorists now?

Zuccotti Park is a dagger in the heart of Occupy! It must be annexed!
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:16 AM on June 30, 2012


(I heart Occupy, I just can't resist a good Sudetenland reference.)
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:17 AM on June 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


I LIKE SHAKESPEAREAN AND ARTW EQUALLY AND IT HURTS ME WHEN THEY FITE
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 10:21 AM on June 30, 2012 [6 favorites]


I love the phrase, "neo-situationist." will future editions of Lipstick Traces have an Occupy chapter?
posted by univac at 10:22 AM on June 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


No I just meant you personally.

I'm not that awesome. Also TBH If I think about the banking stuff at any length my answer is usually "Hang the fuckers up by the legs and beat them like piniatas until all the money falls out", which probably falls short of, say, working to elect candidates in favour of sensible reform, supportimg any that might be wavering and opposing any in the pocket of those Koch fuckers as far as plans go.
posted by Artw at 10:25 AM on June 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


[Folks, be cool or we don't get to have Occupy threads. OK? Thanks.]
posted by jessamyn at 10:26 AM on June 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


If anyone was wondering whose side the police are on:

Occupy Boston defender takes issue with Pax Centurion article
Letter from PAX Centurion editor responding to Occupy Boston defender

Major Sponsors Pull Ads From Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association Newsletter in Response to Controversial Statements
posted by dunkadunc at 10:27 AM on June 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


(from a source that would like to remain anonymous) "The people who can run the things won't take the risk to start them and the people who will take risks can't run anything."
posted by The Whelk at 10:35 AM on June 30, 2012 [9 favorites]


One effect of the occupy tactics was that in most locales the movement degenerated into a struggle with county and municipal governments. Those are, however, institutions that are not particularly responsible for the economic crisis. A focus on the SEC, credit unions, etc. makes more sense than a fight for the right to camp in public parks.
posted by Area Man at 10:35 AM on June 30, 2012 [7 favorites]


...and at this moment I am at a protest in Los Angeles, where Wal-Mart is trying to insert one of its monstrosities on Cesar Chavez Boulevard, of all places. There are many hundreds here, Occupyers and members of beaureaucratic (union) organizations alike. Maybe both m
posted by univac at 10:40 AM on June 30, 2012


...odels can coexist.
posted by univac at 10:40 AM on June 30, 2012


@The Whelk

you and OC are missing the last part which is that the people who are really good at running things all work for the other side, and that's why they're winning
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 10:42 AM on June 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


The left, and Occupy, have to understand that they are fighting a propaganda war. All those people on Facebook on Thursday calling for armed revolution over an attempt to paper over the failure of the market to deliver health care think that way because the left has failed to get our message across. We used to be good at that, but now the right is better and has more money. We didn't need Rush Limbaugh because we had Bob Dylan. But Bob isn't enough any more, and no one has taken his place.

We have to change minds, and to do that, we have to neuter the right wing noise machine. That is job one.
posted by vibrotronica at 10:44 AM on June 30, 2012 [13 favorites]


Things are never going to change in this country unless people put their bodies in the way and bring everything to a halt. Public parks might not be the place to do that, but they are a place if you want that fight to be long and drawn-out, if you want to get ongoing media attention and support for your cause.

What wouldn't get the same amount of ongoing media attention, but would bring things to a halt, is if the Stock Exchange were to be blocked off, for example. But could that point be defended? The cops would haul you away. They would teargas and flashbang and taze the fuck out of you, because they're just plain not going to allow real change.

Basically, it comes down to a matter of game theory. Certain tactics will result in certain responses. Occupying the parks minimised the potential backlash, because it didn't bring everything to a halt (although if they'd had enough people to do so for an extended period of time, they would have done so) but it still brought certain themes to the forefront that weren't there before. It got people talking about inequality, which is a big deal.
posted by dunkadunc at 10:48 AM on June 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


didn't labor used to be a major part of the Left

what happened there
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 10:50 AM on June 30, 2012 [5 favorites]


I was about to rant, but this guy said it better:

"That's what I'm most afraid of, that this fucking old loony left will reassert itself and destroy us," says Lasn, who just turned 70, and who speaks with an Estonian accent that has the gleefully miserable quality of a Werner Herzog voice-over. "For all of their wrongheaded ideas, the Tea Party had a certain ability to get things done," he continues. "Whereas the left is always in danger of talking itself into the ground. Anyone who's ever been to a lefty meeting knows you go there full of hope, then after three hours of everyone having their moment in the sun, you walk out feeling more hopeless than ever."

This perfectly describes the situation.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 10:53 AM on June 30, 2012 [33 favorites]


But Bob isn't enough any more, and no one has taken his place.

Not for lack of trying.
posted by hippybear at 10:56 AM on June 30, 2012


I recall the TED talk being about building government apps, which seems pretty typical for that sort of talk.


of course a TED talk about why we should pay "bureaucrats" a good salary and secure pension would be too partisan, right? but proposing we replace government workers with apps is A-OK because, you know, shiny, technology, silicon valley... Wall Street?

What wouldn't get the same amount of ongoing media attention, but would bring things to a halt, is if the Stock Exchange were to be blocked off, for example. But could that point be defended?

Less Occupy, more Wall Street. What Zucotti Park represented was that people actually hate Wall Street more than they hate hippies and anarchists... which says something in this country. Camp out next to the Data Centers in Jersey City and see how quickly the batons start a-flying...
posted by ennui.bz at 10:56 AM on June 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


Oh, I know. The Tea Party guys agree on almost everything, but you go to a protest and nobody can agree on anything- it's like talking to a member of the Green Party. It's an antiwar protest and there's someone with a Free Mumia sign, someone else with a sign about marijuana, and then some old ponytailed twits with peace beads pounding a giant tom-tom on wheels until you want to beat them with sticks.

Actually, I've always suspected the tom-tom people were plants.
posted by dunkadunc at 10:57 AM on June 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


didn't labor used to be a major part of the Left

what happened there


The propaganda war against labor won, that's what happened.

Used to be that working people would look at labor unions and say "they're getting all these things for their members, I should have that too." Nowadays people look at labor unions and say "they're getting all these things, and I'm not, and that's not fair so they shouldn't be getting them."

And that shift in public attitude about labor and unions is the result of 40 years of propaganda.
posted by hippybear at 10:59 AM on June 30, 2012 [38 favorites]


Planet Money had an interesting podcast report on Occupy that gets at the heart of the question of organization and goals. I tend to think of Planet Money as being a fairly liberal / thoughtful group of people so I was surprised at how negative it was, but I think they reported fairly on what they found.

One of the great shames of American politics is how the left has become toothless and ineffective.
posted by Nelson at 11:04 AM on June 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


Re: the whole 'no armchair quarterbacking' bit about Occupy -- Look, these people stood up and claimed to speak for "the 99%" -- aside from that being bold as all hell and extremely pretentious, as long as they make that claim, then I -- as one of the 99% who vehemently disagree with OWS -- get to criticize them all I want.

And huge fucking uptwinkles to everyone above who remarked on the Left's major problems as being a) in love with the sound of their own revolutionary voices and b) unable to do anything do to analysis paralysis.

As an ex-Lefty, word, man. Word.
posted by gsh at 11:10 AM on June 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


It's an antiwar protest and there's someone with a Free Mumia sign, someone else with a sign about marijuana, and then some old ponytailed twits with peace beads pounding a giant tom-tom on wheels until you want to beat them with sticks.

I have to say there is a kernel of truth in this statement and illustrates the impression, held by many, that Occupy had no focused message. The issue, though, isn't with Occupy per-se, but, rather, with the way that the natural big-tent inclusiveness of progressive/liberal movements can often work against them. A movement like Occupy, which did, in fact, have a central idea, quickly becomes a carnival of competing messages as everyone with a pet cause shows up to the party, diluting the main message and presenting an image to the public of a three-ring circus with no ring-master. Just clowns.

This happens, of course, because progressive causes are fairly-well marginalized in our corporate media world. So, when an opportunity arises (like Occupy) everyone dusts-off their rainbow afro wigs, grabs their drums, and rushes down to join the crowd.

I'm not sure how you avoid this effect, though, given the aforementioned "big-tent" of progressiveness. Can you still be a progressive movement if you try to exclude the drum circles?
posted by Thorzdad at 11:12 AM on June 30, 2012 [8 favorites]


@dunkadunc

of course they agree on everything, they don't have to think about it

i mean, this is why i'm pessimistic, because that i hear stuff about "the old looney left" and i have to wonder what parts exactly are "looney". the parts about being queer not being a mental disorder? those parts? who gets screwed/left out?

i have to kind of wonder if being able to win in our current situation does not literally preclude being what we would describe as "leftist". bringing labor back would probably help, if it can be helped.
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 11:17 AM on June 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think the Five Geek Social Fallacies translate well to any subculture:

Geek Social Fallacy #1: Ostracizers Are Evil
posted by dunkadunc at 11:18 AM on June 30, 2012 [9 favorites]


I don't understand why Occupy didn't frame their platform as a return to the old ways...a return to the progressive taxation, banking regulation, election finance laws, strong unions and workers' rights that existed in the boom times of the 1950s and 1960s. It would be harder for the conservative right to argue against and it would show that the Occupy demands aren't just pie-in-the-sky utopian pipe dreams.
posted by rocket88 at 11:18 AM on June 30, 2012 [13 favorites]


you and OC are missing the last part which is that the people who are really good at running things all work for the other side, and that's why they're winning

Well, that's only true because the capital is not ironically concentrated in the hands of capitalists. Part of their value system is exploiting base emotions for profit, which is of course very easy to do with tons of cash.

As soon as it gets bad enough to where the problem can't be ignored, I think more and more people will start responding with their higher order moral constructs, especially when more and more of them have close friends who fall on hard times. Soon most will be unable to continue believing in the lies that it's okay to live in oversized houses and drive oversized cars and spend thousands on conspicuous consumption while other citizens in your nation are suffering. We're in the period of denial before acceptance must begin.

People want the change to happen sooner, but you have to remember how powerful money is. It's the ultimate corrupter, and according to many sources, the root of all evil. People don't like hearing the truth: every dollar we spend on things we don't need is a choice to not spend the resources represented by that dollar on someone else's needs. So, what's the best solution? Some have proposed returning to the tax rate we had in the 1990s that seemed to work out well for everyone, including our national budget. If you'd like to continue draining the working classes until they decide to the national economy down with strikes and picketing, that's another choice.

As long as the Occupy Movement continues to practice what they preach and work on communicating these ideas to more people, I think it will be a success. Everyone needs to work on organization, but Occupy is fighting a huge power center. I have some ideas for societal reconstruction that have been rekindled by the Occupy Movement, and that's the point right now while many are still in denial. Occupy isn't letting business as usual continue. It's the best thing they can do until more Americans begin to return to ideas about the accountability and responsibility to take care of the poor and needy that rightly is asked of societies who have the resources to accomplish that goal.
posted by deanklear at 11:18 AM on June 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


the thing is, sometimes they are, though
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 11:18 AM on June 30, 2012


How dare we suggest that a movement with no effective methods of decision-making and governance, or mechanism for keeping itself from being taken over by cranks and entryists wouldn't be successful?

Seriously though, some of us here actually went to Occupy protests and tried to talk to these people (I was in IRC chatting with people on the ground in NYC before it had even begun to spread to other cities or got much press, and I went to fairly early fall events in my liberal/hippie town), and the problems were obvious from the beginning. The idea that people who were critical of the movement should participate to improve it isn't wrong, but it ignores that some of the criticism was aimed at essentially the foundational axioms of occupy - it's fervent desire resist any structure or coherence as part of it's identity, or lack of identity

Sitting in the lobby of a jail at 1AM vainly trying to get the homeless and incoherent, fragile egos of the core of your Occupy group to discuss some sort of general strategy or plan or idea made me despair for the state of progressive politics in this country. Compared to what little I saw of French students planning a pro-labor strike, no wonder they've got the world's best healthcare, high speed trains and a socialist president
posted by crayz at 11:20 AM on June 30, 2012 [10 favorites]


It's ineffective, I reckon, because it is trying to be inclusive. It's trying to mop up everyone that hates the tea party, and so not only do you get the scientists, you also get the homeopaths -- you get lots of lawyers and accountants, but you also get tarot readers and counters of coup.

Also, since the right is authoritarian, they have natural leaders and natural followers. The left is egalitarian so everyone wants to be heard and given a chance to speak. It's kind of like cats vs. dogs, I guess?

I wonder what did happen to all the authoritarian lefties. Is that even possible any more? And if there were natural lefty leaders, would anyone follow them? Well, I guess we followed Jack. He seemed to lead effortlessly, not by trying to lead through command but by simply being an example. And then there was Ghandi, who was pretty lefty, who did kind of the same thing.

How does that work? It seems perplexing.
posted by seanmpuckett at 11:20 AM on June 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


that was addressed to "five geek social fallacies", above
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 11:21 AM on June 30, 2012


didn't labor used to be a major part of the Left

what happened there


Still are. But labor groups, like minority rights organizations, are generally institutionalized, have bureaucracies and hierarchies of their own, are members of what several people in the article call the "old Left" - i.e. established, if not Establishment, actors.

Used to be that working people would look at labor unions and say "they're getting all these things for their members, I should have that too." Nowadays people look at labor unions and say "they're getting all these things, and I'm not, and that's not fair so they shouldn't be getting them."

And that shift in public attitude about labor and unions is the result of 40 years of propaganda.


This has a lot to do with why labor isn't as powerful in the United States generally, rather than why it is not such a critical part of "the Left" as represented by Occupy Wall Street and its allies.

The article actually offers some examples of failures of Occupy activists to network with the labor unions, especially regarding the May 1 "general strike." If I recall correctly, there was a certain amount of interaction between the anti-globalization movement back in the late '90s and early 2000s and the labor movement, I'm not sure if there has been a systematic change in the relationship between labor and the new Left or whether this was just an example of Occupy people being too stupid or arrogant to recognize the utility of that relationship.

The fact of the matter is, though, that there will always been a serious divide between labor/minority rights and the Marisa Holmes wing of the Left, because the former don't have a fundamental issue with the way society is run - they just want to have a seat at the table, get "their people" - and their organizations - the respect, legal and societal, that is due them. It's the same way with most of the people in this country who sympathized with Occupy Wall Street in the early days - they didn't like Wall Street because they saw that Wall Street broke the rules, and got away with it both before and after the crash.

These people's message is, as seanmpuckett above put it, "enforce the laws we already have." Whereas the more radical folks want to change the system (governmental, economic) because they think it's fundamentally wrong/dysfunctional, not because its precepts are not enforced evenly and with sufficient rigor. Labor's not interested in anarchism or communism, they're fine with a capitalism as long as it involves workers' rights. The same with the NAACP - they're not interested in overthrowing the state, they want it to enforce rules that will ensure equal treatment for African-Americans. The womens' rights movement is in a similar position, as the gay rights movement is becoming, as it moves more comfortably into the mainstream.

This is why the "Arab Spring" comparison is so delusional - you're taking a situation in which a sizable chunk if not an outright majority of people in the country a)know, not think, not suspect, know that the system is dysfunctional, and b) know with equal certainty that it cannot be fixed except via revolution, and comparing it with another situation in which only a minority of the political Left (and thus an infinitesimal minority of the United States citizenry at large) believes either a or b about their country.

Can you still be a progressive movement if you try to exclude the drum circles

Well, I for one would say obviously yes. I mean, there's the moral question of whether that's an acceptable way for a democratic movement to treat people, or whether it is cowardly and hypocritical, and also a purely tactical question of whether the loss in numbers and energy involved in excluding a given group outweighs the PR or other advantages gained by doing so. You could say the same for the folks in the article who refused to take a non-violence pledge. But you can definitely run a movement which doesn't let in everyone who wants in, just because they want in, or at any rate maintains strong discipline at actual movement activities.

I mean, you see that sort of thing going on during the African-American civil rights movement, during the labor battles of the '30s and '40s. Communists and other extreme dissidents certainly had no problem with hierarchy, Party discipline, etc. Which may have contributed to the post-60s mentality that such ways of running a movement are fundamentally unacceptable, which seems to be where people are now. But in terms of a way to run a movement and get results, I'd say the track record speaks for itself.
posted by AdamCSnider at 11:23 AM on June 30, 2012 [11 favorites]


An occupier eyes Congress: George Martinez is running for Congress -- and is a perfect embodiment of the contradictions of an Occupy campaign
posted by homunculus at 11:25 AM on June 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Student anger boils over: The idea of a student debt strike is circulating among activists -- could it take off?
posted by homunculus at 11:26 AM on June 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


Prediction: The Tea Party movement will have a big national impact on the 2012 US elections, while the Occupy movement, beyond a few local flareups, will hardly register any impact.
posted by Bwithh at 11:30 AM on June 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


I wonder what did happen to all the authoritarian lefties. Is that even possible any more?

You don't need authoritarians. You just need fairly representative ways of putting leaders in charge of the movement, and the understanding that while they are in charge, you do what they say in terms of overall strategy and tactics, or you leave. Was Martin Luther King Jr. an authoritarian? No, but he was willing to say, look, this is how we're doing things, and if you're not okay with that, we can't work with you. He was willing to say that to both more conservative critics (NAACP leaders, white clergy) and more radical ones.

This is one of the reasons I hate the linguistic creep that's been going on on the Left these past decades - where 'fascism' and 'dictatorship' become words to describe things that fundamentally aren't, thereby de-legitimizing any middle ground between abasement before charismatic leaders and an absolutely leaderless and amorphous movements. It's not just stupid, sloppy thinking, it leads to systematic blindness about possible organizational methods.
posted by AdamCSnider at 11:30 AM on June 30, 2012 [16 favorites]


It's going to take a couple years, but the student loans are really going hit home as people like me still can't find jobs and are expected to service their debt.

People are burning through everything they've got- stuff they can sell, asking for help from family, et cetera. The number of angry young people is about to multiply by a power of ten.
posted by dunkadunc at 11:31 AM on June 30, 2012 [6 favorites]


Occupy.... bleh. Why do they need to overcomplicate things so? I like how they've put class-consciousness back on the map for a lot of Americans, but I really think they do themselves a disservice by overcomplicating their message. The whole point should be :

TAX THE RICH!

The Republicans have ruined this country over the course of three decades. The one thing that ties them all together is their insistence on low taxes. There are people who say the Left in this country will never be able to get its shit together because we're too diverse in our concerns. Well guess what? We have a new platform, one that we can march lockstep on :

TAX THE RICH!

Plain, simple, beautiful, and effective. Tax the goddamn rich. That is all.
posted by Afroblanco at 11:32 AM on June 30, 2012 [9 favorites]


I think that OWS's main importance was as a non-capitalist space, ALA Gramsci, in the middle of New York. It was powerful because it showed that an intentional non-capitalist/non-hierarchical model could exist(not without problems of course). It was as existential threat to capitalism while it was in Zucotti Parks, now that there is not an OWS territory/Temporary Autonomous Zone it's done. I'm sad it's done but I think people should move on. Take what you learned from Occupy, but Occupy is done. The May Day march pretty much proved to me that we as a country are back to business as usual. See y'all at the next economic catastrophe.
posted by fuq at 11:34 AM on June 30, 2012


From Sherwood Forest to Wall Street: The Robin Hood Tax Campaign Comes to America
posted by homunculus at 11:34 AM on June 30, 2012


no,

TAX THE RICH AND DON'T SPEND IT ON THE MILITARY
posted by dunkadunc at 11:34 AM on June 30, 2012 [13 favorites]


I was about to rant, but this guy said it better:

"That's what I'm most afraid of, that this fucking old loony left will reassert itself and destroy us," says Lasn, who just turned 70, and who speaks with an Estonian accent that has the gleefully miserable quality of a Werner Herzog voice-over. "For all of their wrongheaded ideas, the Tea Party had a certain ability to get things done," he continues. "Whereas the left is always in danger of talking itself into the ground. Anyone who's ever been to a lefty meeting knows you go there full of hope, then after three hours of everyone having their moment in the sun, you walk out feeling more hopeless than ever."

This perfectly describes the situation.


Seconded. I saved that snippet in Pinboard when I bookmarked the article. Many of the people I know who are most involved with lefty community organizing leave their organizations' meetings feeling exhausted and hopeless. I've found that most organizations of any sort have some measure of personality-driven infighting, but in the case of these groups, the infighting is compounded by a sense of social justice that says even utter nincompoops have to get their floor time and be heard, even at the expense of getting anything meaningful done.
posted by limeonaire at 11:39 AM on June 30, 2012 [7 favorites]


TAX THE RICH AND THEN FIX THE BROKEN REGULATORY APPARATUS THAT ALLOWED "TOO BIG TO FAIL" TO HAPPEN SO THAT WE WON'T NEED ANOTHER FINANCIAL SECTOR BAILOUT AND THEN AFFECT MEANINGFUL CAMPAIGN FINANCE REFORM

Uh oh. Doesn't fit on a sign anymore. The attention span of OWS is the size of a single picket sign; we're doomed.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 11:48 AM on June 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


Authoritarian left? Stalinists would qualify, but surely it is possible to have organization, leadership, and goals without being authoritarian. The truly effective social movements in the U.S. have not been as anarchic as the Occupy movement.
posted by Area Man at 11:48 AM on June 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


"These, Tom, are the Causeheads. They find a world-threatening issue and stick with it for about a week."

My personal perception of the "Occupy" movement is that a lot of the people glomming onto the "cause" were like those described above.

The people who are in it for the long haul were stymied by the hangers-on. There also seemed to be a glaring contrast between "the folks camping out in parks" and then "middle-class folks like me who have a job and pay their bills and would like change, but can't just STOP paying those bills or go carry a sign to protest somewhere".

It seemed very "You're either with us, or you're part of the problem" - I didn't see anybody saying "Okay, hey, here's what were' going to do and here's how you can help". It was all MANIFESTO PROCLAMATION DOWN WITH THE MAN.
posted by mrbill at 11:54 AM on June 30, 2012 [6 favorites]


Authoritarian left?

What I miss is the pragmatic left. For all their imperfections and limitations, building a local coalition capable of electing pragmatics like Corey Booker does a million times more to directly improve people's lives than does having a (non-capitalist!) drum circle in the park.

You need capable, pragmatic people in charge of the bureaucracies and agencies that impact our lives -- mayors, department heads, congressional aides, etc. Walking away and ceding that space totally to the center- and far-right is far and away the most foolish thing that the left has done in my lifetime.
posted by Forktine at 12:03 PM on June 30, 2012 [21 favorites]


mrbill: "It seemed very "You're either with us, or you're part of the problem""

Really? Really? All I ever got was "There are many ways for you to support Occupy". No demands that I be camping out in the park over the winter.
posted by dunkadunc at 12:04 PM on June 30, 2012


Here's an example. I was at a recent local city council meeting for a "Business Improvement District", basically way of ceding some control of downtown to an unelected shadow government, with quotas to ensure the most representation for those with the highest property values. The left organized a big protest/chanting/etc outside of the city hall building. And as far as I could tell, not a single protestor came in to actually attend the council meeting and speak their point of view, while the pro-BID group was there en-masse queuing up to speak and registering "supporters" to give up time blocks so they could talk longer. I was about the only person present under the age of 45

That's the kind of boring organizing the left has just given up on. The only people spending real time, effort and money trying to get things done are doing so because they're getting paid for their efforts or hope to, which skews our entire society towards whatever money wants. Most people are leftists as a brand - it feels good to go out and socialize with other people who "agree" with you. The work and messiness of the process of turning those vague ideas into practice is just boring and not very social though. Time for another drum circle and feel good we-are-robert-paulson mic check
posted by crayz at 12:29 PM on June 30, 2012 [16 favorites]


It's entirely possible you were in a different park, a different city, a different state, dunkadunk. I had the same impression mrbill does. There was nothing overt, but it was very, very clear and very, very off-putting.

Really.
posted by merelyglib at 12:31 PM on June 30, 2012 [1 favorite]



What wouldn't get the same amount of ongoing media attention, but would bring things to a halt, is if the Stock Exchange were to be blocked off, for example. But could that point be defended?


The trading floor of the NYSE is not even remotely important to continued operations of the New York Stock Exchange.

Most transactions are online in a distributed data center archipelago reaching from New Jersey to Kansas and London, and all the floor traders are perfectly able to work from home, and in fact do so for disaster drills on occasion.

There was never any chance of OWS disrupting the operations of any entity in lower Manhattan.

Never.

What's REALLY important about Wall Street is that 200 years ago it functioned as our country's Downing Street.

Congress and the President worked from Wall Street. George Washington regularly ran through a gauntlet of protesters there.

THAT is why Wall Street begs to be occupied by protesters.

THAT, plus one more thing: the luxuries that the 1% enjoy in Manhattan draw them there. If they cannot ccontinue to enjoy that way of life without encountering protesters, day in, day out, that can start forcing things to change.
posted by ocschwar at 12:35 PM on June 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


Compared to what little I saw of French students planning a pro-labor strike, no wonder they've got the world's best healthcare, high speed trains and a socialist president

crayz,

I agree to an extent but there's definitely a chicken-and-egg problem here. 60% of Americans have a negative view of just the word "socialist" while France has already had a socialist president. When all media is owned by capitalists, and your government has participated in propaganda identifying socialism with totalitarian communism, what are the chances people will hear good things about that model of government? There is an institutional inertia against socialist ideas because our country is entirely run by capitalists.

I agree that Occupy needs to play the game better, but even after they do start to get their act together, you sure as hell won't hear about it in the news.
posted by deanklear at 12:48 PM on June 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


I agree that Occupy needs to play the game better, but even after they do start to get their act together, you sure as hell won't hear about it in the news.

I'm talking about the actual quality of the people on the ground that I met in person. The intelligent, strategic people I spoke to in regards to occupy, even people at gatherings, 100% did not consider themselves part of the movement and were turned off by its members/tactics. No one I spoke to within the movement seemed to have much of any idea what was going on
posted by crayz at 12:52 PM on June 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


That was a surprisingly insightful article, and I was even more surprised that it had quotes from people I know. But I wasn't surprised that this came from Rolling Stone, which has been all over OWS from the beginning.

I was (note: was) a serious OWS participant from almost the beginning. And this article hits on some of the exact points of where OWS was a failure, and where it succeeded. The biggest challenge I saw in OWS was the "establishment left" trying to seize power and use OWS for its own goals, using the old methods they have used (mostly unsuccessfully) for decades. The article describes OWS and quotes one activist, "For years, we've been saying we have to jump over the dead body of the old left.." Oh how right that is. In my OWS group, every time the Old Left tried to assert itself, the movement tore itself to shreds. I kept telling them, OWS is specifically structured to prevent people like you from using it for specific goals. If your goals were important and methods were successful, you would have succeeded, but you didn't, which is why we needed to form OWS in the first place.

OWS is a full court press. It's not designed to confront the opposition at a single, unified point. That would only give them the chance to neutralize the OWS push forward, and find specific ways to defeat that central goal. But by keeping pressure on all fronts, you eventually find a weak spot and you pour through it. Like for example, ALEC turned out to be a weak spot, and once the pressure was on, they folded. I will assert that the defeat of a narrow but well funded group like ALEC is the OWS success equivalent to the right neutralizing a broad but shallowly funded ACORN.

My own OWS group died due to continual focusing on specific objectives, under pressure from self-appointed leaders. When the movement was broad, each member of the Old Left had more influence, they could reach more people within the movement but had less power since they were diluted by the masses of OWS members. They traded that for more power, but less influence, since all the members gradually went away due to being tired of the harangues of these self-appointed "leaders" of the leaderless movement. So the Old Left became a powerless cabal ruling over itself. The only people that are left today, are the Old Left people, mostly anarchists of separate factions, who never agree on anything. The only remnant of our OWS today is an "anarchist book club" which distributes anarchist screeds over facebook and they meet occasionally to discuss them. It is run by one of the Old Left leaders that lead OWS straight into oblivion, an anarchist radio show producer.

I will never quite forget something that happened at the 6 months anniversary party for our local OWS. When I arrived, everyone was sitting in rows of chairs facing a podium, something we NEVER do, as it creates a central focus that establishes a power differential. They were all listening to audio recordings of the local OWS person that produced the anarchist radio show (5 minutes once a week) that far predated the OWS movement. She was true Old Left, and considered herself the spokeswoman for all things anarchic. And she was the primary reason people left the movement. She was the reason I left the movement.

Later on, the chairs were all moved around into a circle, for the usual General Assembly seating. There was a discussion in facilitated GA format, but no voting or proposals. The Old Left spoke, one by one, and congratulated themselves on what a great job they did leading the movement. Yeah right. Then one fellow spoke up, he said he was in Mexico at the Zapatista uprising and the reason it failed was that factions of anarchists got into a conflict over who was in charge. ROFL! That was a slap in the face of all the previous anarchists who spoke. That was the first time I ever heard anyone who actually got anarchism, and unsurprisingly he did not identify himself as an anarchist. But then gradually, the meeting changed. Word had gotten out that we had free food, and just like what happened in the camp, the word spread and the homeless started showing up en masse. They were all pissed at OWS because we caved in and closed the camp because we were tired of working so hard to support people who had no interest in OWS as politics, they were just there to leech off us and all they wanted was free food. It was due to these homeless people that every single OWS political person left the camp, it was no longer safe for anyone but the violent, drunken, mentally ill homeless people. And finally, the craziest homeless person broke into the center of the circle, interrupted, and said that there wouldn't be any OWS if it wasn't for him, he was there from the beginning (no, he came weeks later) and he kept the camp alive (no actually we tried to evict him when he set his tent on fire and threatened to burn everything down). I thought that was the perfect symbol for what my local group had become: a bunch of crazy fools who thought the whole movement centered on them because they were leaders, but it was all a delusion. I left and never came back.
posted by charlie don't surf at 12:55 PM on June 30, 2012 [24 favorites]


"For all of their wrongheaded ideas, the Tea Party had a certain ability to get things done,"

They don't make the trains run on time, they fight to eliminate public transit.
posted by Celsius1414 at 12:58 PM on June 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


And the French student socialists/protestors I met were talking really intelligent, incisive practical politics. From what's wrong, to what would be better, to how to get from A to B tactically and strategically, to let's go out and take over a campus building and organize and talk intelligently in a large group about it all night long, then let's march on the campus tomorrow. And, done

If I'd ever seen an occupy GA go a quarter as well as that I would have been a giddy foot-soldier. God damnit, America...
posted by crayz at 12:58 PM on June 30, 2012 [2 favorites]



"For all of their wrongheaded ideas, the Tea Party had a certain ability to get things done,"

Republican and conservative events are run by professional event planners who are well paid and earn every penny.
posted by ocschwar at 1:00 PM on June 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


They were all pissed at OWS because we caved in and closed the camp because we were tired of working so hard to support people who had no interest in OWS as politics, they were just there to leech off us and all they wanted was free food.

This is the sort of face palm that can give a person a concussion.
posted by deanklear at 1:01 PM on June 30, 2012 [5 favorites]


Yeah, boo on them for starting from the ground up, without consulting the armchair-wizards of MetaFilter on how to start a popular movement without making any mistakes or risking looking remotely foolish.

More concerned about them losing the elections for us by driving independents away from the President. They won't give the President the very benefit of the doubt they now assidously demand. You risk more than your effort.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:04 PM on June 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


I thought that was the perfect symbol for what my local group had become: a bunch of crazy fools who thought the whole movement centered on them because they were leaders, but it was all a delusion.

The problem is your narrative is still blaming the self-aggrandizing Old Left and leeching homeless people for destroying the perfect movement. Those groups don't destroy say, Apple, because Apple doesn't welcome them all in and proclaim they have no clear purpose or leader or type of person they want to join. Because functional organizations that can sustain themselves over a medium to long term have to create some sort of identity and coherence and practices to seal themselves off from destructive forces. And I don't see how the Occupy story, started with "we will be nothing and everything", was really ever going to end differently than this

It didn't fail the way the Old Left fails, but it failed differently and it's not going to work better if we try it again
posted by crayz at 1:07 PM on June 30, 2012 [14 favorites]


"For all of their wrongheaded ideas, the Tea Party had a certain ability to get things done,"

Their massive unpopularity will get Obama reelected. Let's not assist Romney in the same way.

This was all done before in 1972. Remember the Silent Majority? Our own antics gave Nixon his reelection and formed the basis for much of the modern conservative movement. Check out Nixonland by Rick Perlstein.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:08 PM on June 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


The intelligent, strategic people I spoke to in regards to occupy, even people at gatherings, 100% did not consider themselves part of the movement and were turned off by its members/tactics.
the truly intelligent, strategic people work for the RNC and the Kochs, because that shit pays
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 1:14 PM on June 30, 2012


More concerned about them losing the elections for us by driving independents away from the President.

...

Their massive unpopularity will get Obama reelected. Let's not assist Romney in the same way.


Honestly, you work for this administration, right? Or are in some way very personally/professionally close to it?
posted by crayz at 1:15 PM on June 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


The problem is your narrative is still blaming the self-aggrandizing Old Left and leeching homeless people for destroying the perfect movement.

No, you haven't quite got it. I have no delusions that OWS was the perfect movement. But I am absolutely certain it was a huge improvement on any previous one, with only one exception: it had no defenses against self-destructive influences.

I have previously written on MeFi about how I found some materials that described how ad hoc power structures grow in the absence of real, well defined power structures. It is a paradox that in the face of structures specifically intended to prevent power structures from "co-opting the movement," those factional struggles were amplified because nobody could get control. So the movement was defeated by two groups: the homeless who were completely powerless and saw the movement as arriving on their homeless turf where they had the power just because they were there already, and the anarchists who actively denounced power structures of any kind (except their own).
posted by charlie don't surf at 1:16 PM on June 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


I found some materials that described how ad hoc power structures grow in the absence of real, well defined power structures. It is a paradox that in the face of structures specifically intended to prevent power structures from "co-opting the movement,"

Yeah, I think this is pretty much key, and ultimately not a paradox. But it does pose some hard questions for so much of the radical left who consider the abandonment of power structures axiomatic
posted by crayz at 1:19 PM on June 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


the Old Left people, mostly anarchists of separate factions
I always thought the Old Left mainly meant the socialists and union types - I guess the above helps explain the crazier-than-usual Ted (self defined Old Leftist) op-ed cartoon I saw in the paper this weeks - basically saying all govt & public sector workers are cheats and thieves
posted by Bwithh at 1:24 PM on June 30, 2012


Oops I meant Ted as in Ted Rall
posted by Bwithh at 1:26 PM on June 30, 2012


Crayz and charlie don't surf--
Agree with both of you. I was deeply involved with Occupy Oakland, and the tyranny of structurelessness was very real. The phrase "tyranny of structurelessness" was coined by feminist author Jo Freeman, and you can read her excellent essay here if you haven't already.
posted by wuwei at 1:37 PM on June 30, 2012 [7 favorites]


charlie don't surf: It was due to these homeless people that every single OWS political person left the camp, it was no longer safe for anyone but the violent, drunken, mentally ill homeless people.

I'm not entirely sure what it's telling of, but it's telling of something that you think a situation that is unsafe for you and other "political" people is somehow more safe for those less fortunate.
posted by broadway bill at 1:37 PM on June 30, 2012


I'm not entirely sure what it's telling of, but it's telling of something that you think a situation that is unsafe for you and other "political" people is somehow more safe for those less fortunate.

When homeless people show up to your gathering without any real interest in participating and make a situation less safe for those present, I think saying "it's no longer safe for anyone but them" can be convey something close enough to the truth to not get derailed calling the PC police

Have you actually been at an occupy event and talked with a homeless person and their mangy, violent-looking dog and asked what they thought the goals of the group should be? Because I have, and their answer was "getting more free food sent in"

It's hard to help the less fortunate if every time you do they swoop in and suck dry all the resources you'd started to amass to provide the help, and then when you try to talk gameplan you get armchair internet moralists speculating what your opinions on those people are "telling of". Maybe they're telling of actually having had contact with the real world
posted by crayz at 1:47 PM on June 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


Charlie don't surf : ...They were all pissed at OWS because we caved in and closed the camp because we were tired of working so hard to support people who had no interest in OWS as politics, they were just there to leech off us and all they wanted was free food.

You've just described the foundation of the Tea Party.
posted by TSOL at 1:47 PM on June 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


wuwei - Thanks, this really is excellent:
This means that to strive for a structureless group is as useful, and as deceptive, as to aim at an "objective" news story, "value-free" social science, or a "free" economy. A "laissez faire" group is about as realistic as a "laissez faire" society; the idea becomes a smokescreen for the strong or the lucky to establish unquestioned hegemony over others. This hegemony can be so easily established because the idea of "structurelessness" does not prevent the formation of informal structures, only formal ones. Similarly "laissez faire" philosophy did not prevent the economically powerful from establishing control over wages, prices, and distribution of goods; it only prevented the government from doing so. Thus structurelessness becomes a way of masking power, and within the women's movement is usually most strongly advocated by those who are the most powerful (whether they are conscious of their power or not). As long as the structure of the group is informal, the rules of how decisions are made are known only to a few and awareness of power is limited to those who know the rules. Those who do not know the rules and are not chosen for initiation must remain in confusion, or suffer from paranoid delusions that something is happening of which they are not quite aware.
posted by crayz at 1:49 PM on June 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


Also, I love Occupy the SEC. Critical engagement with an area of government we have the right and the power to affect. The very mechanism that corporations use to influence government--the Administrative Procedure Act. The only area where they must fight for sure. They may stand up and toast Occupy Wall Street from the balcony, but in the regulatory process? That's their jugular. Not as fun but far more effective.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:51 PM on June 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


Honestly, you work for this administration, right? Or are in some way very personally/professionally close to it?

No.

But I hate losing to the right. Ask a million Iraqis about Nader and Florida. This shit counts. A lot of people died for those 650 Nader votes. A lot.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:55 PM on June 30, 2012 [5 favorites]


A lot of people died for Al Gore taking a fall.
posted by dunkadunc at 1:58 PM on June 30, 2012 [8 favorites]


crayz: I have been at many occupy events, and I have hung around many homeless people. I've spent hundreds of hours working in shelters and rehab facilities. I've spent a fair chunk of my own life without a stable place to live and no reliable way to eat. My point is that applying different standards in acceptable safety and living conditions while occupying a public park in an effort to address income inequality looks backwards to me. I deal with homeless people every single day, and I'm not at all absent from the real world.

Nobody is being the goddamn "PC police" here, and no one is being an "armchair internet moralist." Cool your jets.
posted by broadway bill at 2:05 PM on June 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


A lot of people died for Al Gore taking a fall.

It's fun to pretend that those votes didn't count, or that our votes don't have consequences.

But really? A
I read the article and I see the same cast of characters. The rich white girl from the suburbs who had everything and now expects that people are just gonna hand money over without a shred of any organization. It's the whiff of entitlement, the idea that our problems were just gonna drop away as soon as Obama got elected because Daddy made it all go away in the past.
posted by Ironmouth at 2:07 PM on June 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


Nobody is being the goddamn "PC police" here, and no one is being an "armchair internet moralist." Cool your jets.

Fair enough. I had the same problem with homeless people at the occupy stuff I went to as charlie. I even think they could have been helpful if occupy itself was more structured and able to take a walk-in and say "here, do this for us". But instead the combination of occupy's open door and directionlessness and the homeless need for belonging/material possessions led to a dysfunctional relationship
posted by crayz at 2:11 PM on June 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


And I've spent a couple months semi-voluntarily living out of my car, so I'm not without sympathy. But it is a real problem, and if you tried to organize say Occupy Finland, you wouldn't have that problem, because Finland doesn't have the same massive, rapidly growing population of people at the bottom of Maslow's hierarchy with a boot on their neck

But there's millions drowning, and if every time you try to save one they just start pulling you down too, this whole story isn't going to end very well. We need coordinated action, and bringing the flailing, sinking, drowning people in to get their advice and assistance isn't necessarily the best way forward
posted by crayz at 2:19 PM on June 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


Regarding homeless people: In the early days of Occupy Oakland, I participated in some discussions about whether we should keep feeding the homeless. I personally never felt comfortable turning people away. It's kind of unreal to think about it now but at one point we actually had to ask people to STOP bringing down beans, rice and potatoes because people would just show up with food. I remember several times being at the kitchen (after it got moved next to City Hall) and someone drove up in an expensive SUV and brought out trays of catered food or fresh bread.

We were spending money on ice (to keep food cold) and propane (to cook food). People can say whatever they want about Occupy Oakland and its effects. The one thing I will always be proud of is that for several weeks I didn't see hungry homeless people camped out in doorways in downtown. We fed hundreds of people a day and I think that was a good thing.

The problem wasn't homeless people eating food. The problem was drawing community boundaries -- what type of behavior was acceptable? What wasn't? When were we going to ask people to leave? Refusal to do that made the camp eventually a chaotic and sometimes dangerous place. There were homeless people that I saw chipping in to help at the camp, often the most basic stuff like cleanup. But these were people who were often (almost always) mentally ill or with a substance abuse problem. And we weren't prepared to deal with that, and as crayz says, we didn't have the structure to deal with it. At one point, I know that the nurses union had started sending nurses to the camp during some hours, but that was wholly inadequate for the level of pathology present. I should add that the neighborhood Occupy was in has for years had lots of homeless people around... it's just that no one cared.

Maybe the first week the camp was there, I remember talking with one of the prominent anarchist organizers, who some of you may have seen interviewed on MSNBC. I told him that I wasn't an anarchist, but that I was open to seeing if these ideals worked in practice. That is, if the ideology of structurelessness could work in practice.

Well it didn't. That was the lesson I drew. If we had some structure, I think we could have dealt with the problems in a fair way, and connected the great outpouring of resources, with those who needed them most.
posted by wuwei at 2:21 PM on June 30, 2012 [13 favorites]


But instead the combination of occupy's open door and directionlessness and the homeless need for belonging/material possessions led to a dysfunctional relationship

Was there really no one in the Occupy movement who said "Let's accept all donations and open up soup kitchens that have attached offices for our meetings?" Splitting time between feeding people now and working on getting more resources for more people seems like a win-win for everyone. I'm almost sure it's happened somewhere, hasn't it?
posted by deanklear at 2:23 PM on June 30, 2012 [1 favorite]



crayz: I have been at many occupy events, and I have hung around many homeless people. I've spent hundreds of hours working in shelters and rehab facilities. I've spent a fair chunk of my own life without a stable place to live and no reliable way to eat. My point is that applying different standards in acceptable safety and living conditions while occupying a public park in an effort to address income inequality looks backwards to me. I deal with homeless people every single day, and I'm not at all absent from the real world.


Yeesh, Broadway Bill. Remember that the Occupy/Indignado tactic is for forcing changes in government policy, not an end in itself.
posted by ocschwar at 2:24 PM on June 30, 2012


On belated preview: wuwei, was there no suggestion to move to a more permanent office situation because of the reasons you discuss while continuing to serve the homeless at the camps? I imagine a local network of people rustling up food and showering facilities in public places so that people have to be confronted with the poverty they are trying to ignore while allowing some sort of voluntary hierarchy to develop more permanent solutions through self-directed action and attempts to get involved in politics.

I realize this is veering into recreating some elements of the Democratic party, but hopefully with enough transparency to have less corruption and more results.
posted by deanklear at 2:35 PM on June 30, 2012


Seems very odd for a lefty movement dedicated to social justice to find homeless people to be such a problem.

Aren't they the people who are in most need of help in your society? Compared to those guys pretty much everything else are first world problems and if you can't deal with them then you have no chance of dismantling capitalism or whatever the ultimate end goal is.
posted by Reggie Knoble at 2:46 PM on June 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


I told him that I wasn't an anarchist, but that I was open to seeing if these ideals worked in practice. That is, if the ideology of structurelessness could work in practice.

Outside of its colloquial uses or as a pejorative, anarchy isn't a philosophy that precludes structure, but really broadly for me how administration of resources and etc. is possible in an organization that is not a state entity.
posted by dougmoon at 2:48 PM on June 30, 2012


ocschwar: without a doubt. I don't think for a second that contested political occupations in public parks acting as soup kitchens is in any way reasonable as a permanent response to homelessness. I also, though, don't think it's reasonable to imply that homeless and mentally ill people have a diminished need or right to live in a safe (enough) environment. I don't take issue with occupy camps not being all-access soup kitchens, but I do think that sometimes we all (myself included, sadly) have a hard time not dehumanizing homeless people a bit, and some of my experiences with my local occupy really highlighted that for me.

Deanklear: there were lots of discussions at my local occupy, early on (although my city got started rather late), about combining spaces to be used for offices/meetings/outreach/soup kitchens. I missed a few of the discussions that really seemed to axe the idea, so I can't say what the opposition was.
posted by broadway bill at 2:49 PM on June 30, 2012


Seems very odd for a lefty movement dedicated to social justice to find homeless people to be such a problem.

I don't think it's odd that homelessness is a big problem for people dedicated to social justice.

Aren't they the people who are in most need of help in your society? Compared to those guys pretty much everything else are first world problems and if you can't deal with them then you have no chance of dismantling capitalism or whatever the ultimate end goal is.

But it is odd that you expected the occupy movement to solve homelessness as cred for dismantling capitalism.
posted by dougmoon at 3:00 PM on June 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


I don't think it's odd that homelessness is a big problem for people dedicated to social justice.

I didn't say homelessness, I said homeless people.

But it is odd that you expected the occupy movement to solve homelessness as cred for dismantling capitalism.

I never expected the occupy movement to solve anything (hell, the movement itsself never seemed to decide what exactly it would like to solve so how could they?), but it seems slightly perverse for a bunch of people essentially simulating homelessness for press attention to have a sniffy attitude toward actual homeless people.
posted by Reggie Knoble at 3:19 PM on June 30, 2012


"I prefer not to run a mini-society – I want to run society."

As they say in Texas, "All hat, no cattle."
posted by Ardiril at 3:21 PM on June 30, 2012


wuwei, yes I was mostly referring to Jo Freeman's essay, but also there was a big documentary by Adam Curtis that showed 60s communes with supposedly leaderless structures, but when conflicts occurred, they were resolved by silent "encounter groups" that were actually structured bullying sessions where "leaders" would stare down the others. There was also a widely circulated essay, "Occupy's Asshole Problem: Flashbacks from An Old Hippie." The essay hits the exact problems every OWS camp had, these are the biggest bullet points:

1. Let’s be clear: It is absolutely OK to insist on behavior norms.

2. It is OK to draw boundaries between those who are clearly working toward our goals, and those who are clearly not.

3. The consensus model has a fatal flaw, which is this: It’s very easy for power to devolve to the people who are willing to throw the biggest tantrums.


The essay was mostly intended as a polemic about the Black Bloc, but it was probably more appropriately applied to the homeless problem. The basic problem was, how do you deal with people who are part of the 99% you are fighting for, but are actively working against your goals? I called the homeless "The Other 1%," crayz hit on this:

I had the same problem with homeless people at the occupy stuff I went to as charlie. I even think they could have been helpful if occupy itself was more structured and able to take a walk-in and say "here, do this for us". But instead the combination of occupy's open door and directionlessness and the homeless need for belonging/material possessions led to a dysfunctional relationship

Absolutely. The homeless desire for possessions was almost a mirror image of the greed of the 1%. They both had irrational desire for more more more, and nothing would ever reach them, especially appeals to the common good. Now the belonging thing, not so much. The homeless formed their own camp within OWS, and basically fought anyone who came near, because they had stolen and hoarded everything of value donated to the camp. As an example, someone stole the one working camp stove we used to boil water. We searched around and found one of the homeless guys had 5 of our camp stoves and all our missing propane stashed in a tent. It's like the greed of the 1%. I think it was Warren Buffett that said once you have about 50 million dollars, your money is, for all practical purposes, infinite. You can buy anything you want, there is little point in accumulating more money because it won't buy you anything else. And that's like the homeless. How many broken camp stoves do you need, once you have two of them? I could see maybe the reason for stealing one working camp stove, but 4 broken ones?

And that brings us to the next point:

My point is that applying different standards in acceptable safety and living conditions while occupying a public park in an effort to address income inequality looks backwards to me.

OWS brought a lot of idealistic, naive, defenseless people into contact with mentally ill homeless people who only wanted to steal from them and exploit them. I know these people can't help themselves, but I can't help them either. I can, however, try to eradicate homelessness as a structural problem. But that won't stop people who want to live that way.

Hunter S Thompson once parodied de Tocqueville, he said America is perfectly egalitarian, in that both the rich and poor are entitled to sleep on a park bench and starve to death.
posted by charlie don't surf at 3:52 PM on June 30, 2012 [13 favorites]


In Spiderman 2, Doctor Octopus starts tossing people off the elevated train because he wants to delay and distract Spider-Man, who is morally obligated to save their lives.

Occupy Wall Street is morally obligated to help the homeless, and - for those who would want to destroy OWS - it is a weakness. If I were a conservative oligarch, I'd be sending buses of homeless people to OWS camps, telling them that these people will have to take them in.

Who knows, maybe that happened.
posted by Jeff Mangum's Penny-farthing at 4:02 PM on June 30, 2012 [5 favorites]


I haven't spent much time with Occupy Tampa this year -- health and finances and family obligations snuck up and stole all my time. But I keep up with them on the interwebs, mostly due to the Great Facebook Occupant Friending Spree of October. (Y'all know what I mean.)

OT has had some problems with the Safer Spaces Agreement, which easily reached consensus, but implementing it is a bit more difficult. This includes a ban on verbal and physical violence and drugs that aren't tobacco -- because, as we all know, protesters smoke like Libyan freedom fighters.

There is a hell of a time keeping that enforced, even though it's outlined with signs everywhere and routinely referred to. Organizing a bunch of lefty anarchists, aging hippies, and college students is like herding cats. Add in homeless folks with various disorders who see the encampment as a grab-all-you-can buffet (though some homeless are Occupy regulars and help keep the peace) and it can go from calm to bad chaotic quickly. Nobody wants to be the asshole saying "Hey, get the hell out of here," many of them on both sides of the have/not divide (legitimately, due to past experience) do not trust the police to come in and be helpful, and in all honesty, most don't know what to do about it. Food and a place to bunk does not fix anything, long-term.

Few if any of these people have practical training in how to handle substance abuse, mental illness, and all the other comorbid symptoms that go along with being homeless. It's ridiculous to assume that a bunch of activists who are figuring it out as they go along are capable of simultaneously running a homeless shelter and food bank. People who study that stuff and do it with government grants still have problems keeping things smooth. Occupy would love to be able to do this stuff, but it does not have the knowledge or resources. It can't. Maybe someday, but not now.

For what it's worth (rumor, so not much) I have heard stories of people being let out of prison drunk-tanks, or similar, and dropped off at Occupy encampments.
posted by cmyk at 4:11 PM on June 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


I didn't say homelessness, I said homeless people.

You're right, and I guess if you're saying, hey these logistical and organizational concerns on this level speak to our goals on the big level and if we can't do small, we'll have trouble with big, sure. That's seems right to me, too.

But I'm also reading your specious characterization of Occupy, like a cross section by crazy straw, and in it maybe a desire for a dramatic irony connecting its flying standards to all the logistical problems that long flew over the event horizon at some of the camps. Homelessness by necessity is in the cracks of infrastructure, so finding homeless people at a crack in infrastructure is like rain on your wedding day, not really some perversity or ironic indictment of Occupy at large for me.
posted by dougmoon at 4:16 PM on June 30, 2012




ocschwar: without a doubt. I don't think for a second that contested political occupations in public parks acting as soup kitchens is in any way reasonable as a permanent response to homelessness. I also, though, don't think it's reasonable to imply that homeless and mentally ill people have a diminished need or right to live in a safe (enough) environment. I don't take issue with occupy camps not being all-access soup kitchens, but I do think that sometimes we all (myself included, sadly) have a hard time not dehumanizing homeless people a bit, and some of my experiences with my local occupy really highlighted that for me.


It's not dehumanizing to say that when schizophrenic homeless people disrupt meetings, the organization holding those meetings will not be able to get much done.

In fact, at OccupyBoston, people have reason to suspect that one homeless man was brought in by the police and bribed with alcohol to do exactly that.
posted by ocschwar at 4:31 PM on June 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


Absolutely. The homeless desire for possessions was almost a mirror image of the greed of the 1%.

This is just obscene.

The richest one per cent ripping off the working and middle classes for every penny they can, when they already have more money than they could hope to spend is nothing like the poorest people in society who tend to have a higher incidence of mental illness helping themselves to a few items donated to a camp to which they themselves belong (donated mind, those who would call themselves owners of the goods never paid a penny for them).

But I'm also reading your specious characterization of Occupy, like a cross section by crazy straw, and in it maybe a desire for a dramatic irony connecting its flying standards to all the logistical problems that long flew over the event horizon at some of the camps. Homelessness by necessity is in the cracks of infrastructure, so finding homeless people at a crack in infrastructure is like rain on your wedding day, not really some perversity or ironic indictment of Occupy at large for me.

I'll be honest and say that I didn't understand a fucking word of that after Occupy.

It's ridiculous to assume that a bunch of activists who are figuring it out as they go along are capable of simultaneously running a homeless shelter and food bank.


These things sound a lot easier than dismantling capitalism, establishing social justice or whatever the goal of occupy actually was (assuming it was ever about more than just having a lark and venting some frustration without actually having to sacrifice anything of value)
posted by Reggie Knoble at 4:33 PM on June 30, 2012 [5 favorites]


These things sound a lot easier than dismantling capitalism, establishing social justice or whatever

They're "easier" if you're willing to abandon the original goal and settle for a symbolic, pyrrhic victory, yes. That is a kind of easy Americans are very familiar with
posted by crayz at 4:41 PM on June 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


They're "easier" if you're willing to abandon the original goal and settle for a symbolic, pyrrhic victory, yes. That is a kind of easy Americans are very familiar with

What was the goal? And how was squatting in parks going to achieve it?
posted by Reggie Knoble at 4:45 PM on June 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


but it seems slightly perverse for a bunch of people essentially simulating homelessness for press attention to have a sniffy attitude toward actual homeless people.

This is a specious characterization searching for dramatic irony in a situation without any.

These things sound a lot easier than dismantling capitalism, establishing social justice or whatever the goal of occupy actually was (assuming it was ever about more than just having a lark and venting some frustration without actually having to sacrifice anything of value)

You keep saying, they want to dismantle capitalism, but setting up shelters and food banks are easy!
posted by dougmoon at 4:48 PM on June 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


deanklear,
Yes, there were talks about moving to an office space but it never went anywhere. There were also a couple of public building takeover attempts, one in November and one in June, that both failed. Without a critical mass of people as protection, the police simply moved in and mopped up. Word on the street was that organizers expected the second building takeover to fail, but wanted to do it as a way to confront the state and get attention, essentially. Yeah. In NYC they had a permanent office, but we didn't have the funding to do that, or, more importantly, the agreements to do it.

What's really fucking depressing about this is that people so wanted to give us money. So we never did active fundraising, it was all passive. At one point, we even had people who wanted to help us set up massive fund raising infrastructure-- think text messaging, online, etc. But we (the finance committee--I was there from day 1) chose not to do anything about that until the General Assembly could come up with directions and goals, i.e. how will we spend the money/what do we want to do. I personally thought we should find ways to make the movement self-sustaining, but a lot of people opposed such ideas.

That proved to be impossible. I think also, because some key organizers were opposed to the very idea of using money, or having fundraising, or having any structure whatsoever that engaged with "society" or "institutions."

I can't even begin to tell you how utterly disgusted I am with "insurrectionist" anarchists and their totally fucking incoherent philosophy.
posted by wuwei at 4:50 PM on June 30, 2012 [6 favorites]


These things sound a lot easier than dismantling capitalism, establishing social justice or whatever the goal of occupy actually was (assuming it was ever about more than just having a lark and venting some frustration without actually having to sacrifice anything of value)

Okay. Here's a park you are technically squatting in and can be kicked out of at any moment, though you have the park owner's permission to stay in it. Here's ten volunteers with varying schedules, varying skill sets, and varying age. You have three tents, two wifi hotspots on phones that are only there when their owners are, public bathrooms down the street that are locked between 11 and 7, two port-a-potties, and the local Food Not Bombs offering to bring vegan potluck once or twice a week if they can get around to it once they're done arguing over adverbs and fonts in their latest action PDF flyer. You have three coolers, maybe one hot plate, and it's an average of 90 degrees out when it's not raining sideways.

Please tell me how to make a functioning and useful homeless resource out of that. Occupiers across the nation would LOVE to know. Occupiers in Tampa would adore your advice.

You see -- the camping in parks was a symbol. It was a way for people to meet each other, talk, network, come up with ideas, come up with plans. The camping isn't an end of itself. It's just a way to establish a public space (which we do not really have, so much, anymore) where people can come and try to figure out how to attack the thousand and nine things on our One Demand list.

You say, well, Occupy hasn't solved The Homeless Problem -- Occupy says, well no shit, neither has anybody else, and we're not the ones with the money.
posted by cmyk at 5:03 PM on June 30, 2012 [6 favorites]


You say, well, Occupy hasn't solved The Homeless Problem -- Occupy says, well no shit, neither has anybody else, and we're not the ones with the money.

But it was Occupy who chose to have a structureless system that allowed homeless (or pseudo-homeless stooges of the police, who knows) to capture much of the energy and public image of the movement. That was a huge error, and it's sad to see people still defending that approach.
posted by Forktine at 5:39 PM on June 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


I work with very poor and very sick people. I have much compassion for them and their problems and situations. But many are not likable people and are at the margins of society for a reason. To think that providing food to these people (or housing or health care) will make their problems magically disappear is naive.

Also, to say that the poor aren't greedy is a ridiculous romantization; the poor are human- they exhibit every emotion and desire any other human exhibits. Work with the poor for any amount of time and you will end up having the same conflicted feelings that the Occupy people, St. Vincent de Paul, Mother Theresa and Gandhi did.
posted by dave78981 at 5:44 PM on June 30, 2012 [13 favorites]


Movements for social change are necessarily revitalization movements. Successful revitalization movements generate charismatic leadership to provide direction and focus. The cult of "leaderlessness" has rendered every left-wing American revitalization movement since the Ecology movement useless, powerless and pointless.

This was glaringly obvious following the WTO protests and is still not being learned by Occupy.

Nice move going after ALEC. That was one of Paul Weyrich's most evil creations.

Don't get frustrated. Start small unit actions that will provide the model for others to emulate. The occupation tactic was only a tactic. It was never a realistic strategy.
posted by warbaby at 6:04 PM on June 30, 2012


Occupy Wall Street is morally obligated to help the homeless, and - for those who would want to destroy OWS - it is a weakness.

And so are you. But the issue here is how to help them. After seeing the results of our direct actions, I have come to the sad conclusion that handouts like free food just makes their problems worse. This sort of program draws the homeless into concentrations where there are insufficient services to handle them. So the homeless will set up their own power structures to control who gets the scarce resources. There are many other issues, but that's the biggest one I saw.

OWS is trying to help the homeless with a structural solution. For example, our camp's biggest homeless problem was drug and alcohol abuse. So we set members up to work long term (we were told 3-5 years) with local homeless coalitions to build a wet house.

If I were a conservative oligarch, I'd be sending buses of homeless people to OWS camps, telling them that these people will have to take them in.

Who knows, maybe that happened.


Yes, it did. Occupy Houston reported that people came to camp and said they were released from prison or jails and directed to the "homeless camp" for food and shelter. This was discovered when a drunk and violent person came into camp, waving a plastic shiv. He was chased away, but he came back the next day sober and apologized, and told them the Houston Police directed him to to their camp when he was released from jail. This was the first I heard of this sort of problem, but soon reports started coming from other encampments, that police were releasing violent criminals who had finished their sentences and told them to go to OWS sites. It seemed to be a coordinated effort by police departments in major metro areas to deliberately disrupt the OWS camps.

Now I know you're not going to believe this, but there is documentation on video. Occupy Minneapolis reported the Minnesota State Patrol would cruise around their camp offering people unlimited access to drugs and a safe place to use them, and then releasing drugged people back to the camp. This was supposedly a "Drug Recognition Education" program to teach patrolmen to recognize what people acted like when they were high.
posted by charlie don't surf at 7:15 PM on June 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


As R. Crumb said, “Remember kids, when you’re smashing the state... keep a song in your heart and a smile on your face.” I was on the front lines of the sixties culture wars. Some of us got the shit beat out of us and thrown in jail but, with all the sex, drugs and rock and roll, we still had a great time.

OWS has at least an equally strong message, but damn, the people’s mic thing is tedious and awful. Its like a zombie convention.
posted by Huplescat at 7:27 PM on June 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


It's so funny to me to hear people lay all the blame at the feet of the Occupiers when it seems so obvious to me that the movement "died" as soon as the police used extreme violence to force them out of the parks and use every other trick they had to prevent them from effectively meeting and organizing. That was the whole point of the camps, they reclaimed a public space that led to people getting involved and DOING things. As soon as that was gone, no one gave a shit.

Maybe this is because I watched all this go down in Oakland, but the media jumped on the "occupy is dead" message as soon as there was tear gas in the streets.
posted by bradbane at 7:37 PM on June 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


The camping isn't an end of itself.

But that's exactly what it became. When a few cities pushed back against the camping, the entire movement seemed to stiffen and decided that this was the hill to die on: the alleged First Amendment right to "occupy." Small surprise then, that when the movement lost that battle following a series of ironic missteps, the general public considered Occupy to be defeated. That's why the general-strike debacle wasn't more of an embarrassment. Most people weren't paying attention anyway because in their view, the movement was already done.

We fed hundreds of people a day and I think that was a good thing.

That's a great thing, and good for Occupy Oakland if that's true. Seriously. In Boston, Occupy volunteers were caught raiding local homeless shelters for showers and hot meals. They weren't helping the problem of homelessness. If they had been, then whether I agreed with their politics or not, I probably would have supported their presence.
posted by red clover at 7:54 PM on June 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


Yes, it did. Occupy Houston reported that people came to camp and said they were released from prison or jails and directed to the "homeless camp" for food and shelter.

They probably do that with anything that looks like a homeless camp.
posted by Artw at 8:03 PM on June 30, 2012


It's so funny to me to hear people lay all the blame at the feet of the Occupiers when it seems so obvious to me that the movement "died" as soon as the police used extreme violence to force them out of the parks and use every other trick they had to prevent them from effectively meeting and organizing.

This isn't a "trick" though. This is what happens when you actually confront power structures. You find out what "power" means. They don't say "oh, you are correct that our authority is invalid. we abdicate it"; they use every means they have to defeat you. Including violence, which citizens are trained to believe is only legitimate when used by the state against its/"our" enemies. So, what do you do then, is one of many questions Occupy never really began to address.

I remember going at 10PM to a protest where the police said they were going to arrest people who broke "curfew" (a public park which "closed", which because it was 5 feet wide and basically just some grass between two sidewalks and integrated into the city and an intersection, was never enforced). So some of the Occupy people decided they'd get arrested. And I asked them, why just stand there and get complacently arrested? They sent the entire city police force! Why not go 10 feet across the street and tell police you'll protest all night - every time they leave, go back to the park. Waste their resources. And then, go through the crime reports the next day and write an op-ed in then newspaper asking why they let a house get robbed while they were sitting out waiting for hippies to cross a street

police were releasing violent criminals who had finished their sentences and told them to go to OWS sites. It seemed to be a coordinated effort by police departments in major metro areas to deliberately disrupt the OWS camps.

Yeah. Mainstream America is unwilling to believe this is standard operating procedure in our country. If CNN did a report on how some south american banana republic was doing this, everyone would tut tut. When it's our government, heads just go in the sand
posted by crayz at 8:06 PM on June 30, 2012 [11 favorites]


It's so funny to me to hear people lay all the blame at the feet of the Occupiers when it seems so obvious to me that the movement "died" as soon as the police used extreme violence to force them out of the parks

I think it "died," or at least went on life support, long before that. I say that as a supporter, someone who went to the Boston camp, someone who proposed a teach-in that never happened, someone who had very high hopes that this movement might actually make the critical difference for this country, and who started developing hesitancies even before the camps were so materially challenged.

I found that the structure and organization, or lack thereof, was impenetrable, timewasting, and, for me as a person with lots of logistical, organizing, and tactical experience and ability, particularly tedious. The insistence on the wisdom of anarchical structure as the guiding force of this movement has actually been its primary Achilles heel; and for those those that think differently, the onus is clearly on those who embraced that philosophy to demonstrate how, despite all signs to the contrary, what happened as a result of that choice is really a success, rather than a failure or at least a misstep. Taking a big step back, it's sadly clear the movement has a lot less widespread legitimacy now than it did last fall; so far, not looking like success.

If you're not willing to give an honest assessment of the success of the existing philosophy and tactics, and propose some different strategy for moving forward, you're absolutely volunteering to be marginalized. It might feel good to tell everyone else that it's their fault things didn't work, because of their lack of understanding and ideological purity, but the proof is in the pudding. If you haven't made an appreciable difference, you haven't made an appreciable difference. If you don't have broad-based support, you don't have broad-based support. It's kind of evident whether the past and present efforts are succeeding or failing, and I'm disappointed to have to say it, but they're failing. And if you still want to keep pushing the same ideas that have already faltered, and hope that somehow magic will kick in and it will start succeeding, then I question your ability to effectively organize any movement of any kind.

I understand that many people remaining in the movement are ideologically committed to the choices made by the early-established in-group of a relatively few loud and charismatic leaders and thinkers who shared views and who truly controlled what happened in the Occupy movement of last fall. But I think that that group has failed to recognize the restrictive limitations and exclusive nature of that ideology. Again, if it works, we'll see it working. Right now, we don't. That's the biggest signal of all that it's probably time to restructure and reorganize, and stop insisting on the rightness and pureness of the past philosophy. Its failures aren't of a new kind; they're exactly the failures of many past movements.

The generational contempt for the "Old Left" can be turned around and applied to "Old Occupy" -- Old Occupy didn't work, and it's not going to suddenly start working if we're all only more pure of heart and embrace theoretical anarchism as a governance technique. New Occupy, if it really wants to succeed more than it wants to insist on its own rightness, is going to need to admit that and to build a new structure, and creating a working productive structure is quite a different project than defending old structures that didn't work, while seeking to foist blame for its failures on the part of everyone else who didn't step up and toe the line of evangelistic support when asked to do so, rather than on the activists themselves, their choices and their messaging.
posted by Miko at 9:05 PM on June 30, 2012 [23 favorites]


Hunter S Thompson once parodied de Tocqueville, he said America is perfectly egalitarian, in that both the rich and poor are entitled to sleep on a park bench and starve to death.

This sounds like a further paraphrase of a famous quote attributed to Anaotle France, which itself usually paraphrased along the lines of:

"The law in its magnificent impartiality forbids rich and poor alike to steal bread and sleep under bridges."

The original is actually a great deal more a propos to the present discussion, translating to something like this:
For the poor, citizenship consists of supporting and sustaining the power and idleness of the rich. They must work for those goals before the majestic equality of the laws, which forbid the rich and the poor alike to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets and to steal bread."
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:22 PM on June 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


That's some accurate strategic analysis, right there.
posted by Ardiril at 9:23 PM on June 30, 2012


If you don't have broad-based support, you don't have broad-based support.

This, a thousand times over.

I was at a recent local city council meeting for a "Business Improvement District", basically way of ceding some control of downtown to an unelected shadow government, with quotas to ensure the most representation for those with the highest property values. The left organized a big protest/chanting/etc outside of the city hall building. And as far as I could tell, not a single protestor came in to actually attend the council meeting and speak their point of view, while the pro-BID group was there en-masse queuing up to speak and registering "supporters" to give up time blocks so they could talk longer. I was about the only person present under the age of 45

And this. I spend a lot of my time at these kinds of meetings and hearings, for work and sometimes as a citizen, and the only people I ever see there are the people with direct financial ties to what is being discussed, the "business community," and agency officials who are there on the clock. Don't occupy the goddamn park, occupy the city council, the planning commission, the metropolitan transit authority, and the downtown redevelopment meetings. And occupy them in not just disruptive ways, but in ways that get your undercover centrist allies at the table. Those are public spaces in far more meaningful ways than some worthless park ever will be.

The key decisions happen really early -- in the choices of who gets appointed to the various boards and commissions, what process is going to get followed, and most importantly, what issues are actually up for discussion. I mean, once the election has happened and no one who believes that evolution is real is on the school board, it's pretty much a waste of time to argue about the textbooks, you know?

Spending your evenings on the Historical Preservation Board or whatever can be kind of boring, but unless people who can articulate the kinds of analyses of power that we saw in Occupy are in those spaces, we're not going to see different outcomes.
posted by Forktine at 9:29 PM on June 30, 2012 [17 favorites]


crayz: "This isn't a "trick" though. This is what happens when you actually confront power structures. You find out what "power" means. They don't say "oh, you are correct that our authority is invalid. we abdicate it"; they use every means they have to defeat you."

In Tahrir Square, they defended themselves.
posted by dunkadunc at 9:35 PM on June 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


... and today, Egypt is under military rule.
posted by Ardiril at 9:39 PM on June 30, 2012


All this means is that we aren't done yet.
posted by warbaby at 9:59 PM on June 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah, good luck with that.
posted by Ardiril at 10:03 PM on June 30, 2012


It's so funny to me to hear people lay all the blame at the feet of the Occupiers when it seems so obvious to me that the movement "died" as soon as the police used extreme violence to force them out of the parks and use every other trick they had to prevent them from effectively meeting and organizing.

This is what every social movement from the big pre-WWII labor strikes through the Civil Rights movement to Stonewall have had to face. Occupy is not drawing any greater - indeed, they're drawing a great deal less - violence from the police than their predecessors did, and I think it's pretty obvious that the fact that the movement was unable to cope effectively with what they did face says volumes about the movement itself.

In Tahrir Square, they defended themselves.

If there had been 300,000 people of every class and social stature at any given Occupy location, and if the local security forces had refused to take violent action at a critical junction, I suspect things would have turned out differently. Again, trying to make a connection between two such incredibly disparate movements as the Arab Spring and the Occupy movement shows a total lack of awareness of the different populations, social structures and personalities in play. The American public is not the Egyptian public, we are not a bare-faced autocracy and Mayor Bloomberg is not Hosni Mubarak.
posted by AdamCSnider at 10:08 PM on June 30, 2012 [8 favorites]


If you don't have broad-based support, you don't have broad-based support.

This, a thousand times over.



Yes, and insisting that you're obviously the 99% doesn't solve this. "the 99%" is a catchy and powerful, if misleading, slogan, but it's just a slogan, which can't hide the actual failure to win and sustain broad-based support
posted by Bwithh at 10:13 PM on June 30, 2012


Again, trying to make a connection between two such incredibly disparate movements as the Arab Spring and the Occupy movement shows a total lack of awareness of the different populations, social structures and personalities in play.
posted by AdamCSnider at 10:08 PM on June 30 [1 favorite −] Favorite added! [!]



Absolutely. The "inspiration"/misunderstanding of the Arab Spring helped encourage OWS to become more disconnected and distracted from the pragmatics of its local politics
posted by Bwithh at 10:18 PM on June 30, 2012


Wha? A regime change? That is what occupy wanted? I thought they wanted a couple more laws some new regulations and maybe toss a few rich guys in jail.
posted by Ad hominem at 10:26 PM on June 30, 2012


I suspect any effort to find the "one true way" to make social change is bound for failure. The left is far from monolithic, and

Thanks for the article, it provides some food (ice cream?) for thought. Same for those posting accounts of their own experiences here. For me, theories of "best way to make change" fall pretty flat, but accounts of experiences are instructive. Not that I have found an answer.

Canadian feminist Kay MacPherson used to say "when in doubt do both". (also, "Every meeting a party, every party a meeting").

Kudos to Occupy for its achievements (raising class as an issue, giving people some home that the US might actually change), its not perfect but neither is any other effort for change.
posted by chapps at 11:00 PM on June 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


Most of the public spaces Occupy wanted to occupy were already occupied by the homeless. In my town, the encounter between the protesters and the homeless eventually overwhelmed any other nebulous agenda the would-be occupiers might have pursued. Those who stuck with it are pretty much just activists for the homeless now.
posted by bonefish at 11:34 PM on June 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Can anyone think of a time when a leaderless protest succeeded in the U.S.? The Civil Rights movement was extremely top-down (organizers would send marchers home if they didn't follow dress code), the labor movement was very much driven by charismatic leaders... I can't think of one, but can anyone else suggest?

Regarding the article: If OWS gets more focused on "boring" goals, I will be ecstatic!
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 6:40 AM on July 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


But I hate losing to the right. Ask a million Iraqis about Nader and Florida. This shit counts. A lot of people died for those 650 Nader votes. A lot.

Yeah, how dare people not understand the outcome before they place their vote...the blood they have on their hands is unbelievable.

You know who else has blood on their hands? Those who voted for Bush. Those who didn't vote at all. Those who worked for Gore and couldn't make him more likeable than an incumbent nincompoop or a radical lefty. Those who didn't work for Gore but complained about the outcome. So, basically everyone.

Demonizing people who think the Democrats aren't left enough is not helpful. Those folks united behind Obama because his campaign was a lot stronger and appealed to more people. That's the lesson to be learned, not a revisionist "look what happens when you protest vote" blame game.
posted by Rodrigo Lamaitre at 7:07 AM on July 1, 2012 [6 favorites]


I've said this before, but here in Ontario the NDP succeeded in getting a new surtax on incomes over $500K included in the provincial budget. I don't think that would have happened without the visibility Occupy gave to the issue of income disparity and tax fairness. There are lots of opportunities to build on what Occupy started; there doesn't need to be an overarching organization for a movement to build.
posted by sevenyearlurk at 7:28 AM on July 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


This sounds like a further paraphrase of a famous quote attributed to Anaotle France, which itself usually paraphrased along the lines of:

"The law in its magnificent impartiality forbids rich and poor alike to steal bread and sleep under bridges."


Ah, thanks for that cite. Undoubtedly HST was parodying Anatole France, and I have misremembered in the years since I read it (memorable though it was). I have been trying to locate that HST quote and the source.
posted by charlie don't surf at 8:26 AM on July 1, 2012


the labor movement was very much driven by charismatic leaders... I can't think of one, but can anyone else suggest?

Cesar Chavez
posted by hippybear at 8:34 AM on July 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


Big Bill Haywood
Eugene Debbs
Samuel Gompers
posted by warbaby at 11:49 AM on July 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


Re: the whole 'no armchair quarterbacking' bit about Occupy -- Look, these people stood up and claimed to speak for "the 99%" -- aside from that being bold as all hell and extremely pretentious, as long as they make that claim, then I -- as one of the 99% who vehemently disagree with OWS -- get to criticize them all I want.

This, exactly. It was presumptuous to claim that Occupy spoke for everyone, and I think it's completely legitimate to point that out.

Word had gotten out that we had free food, and just like what happened in the camp, the word spread and the homeless started showing up en masse. They were all pissed at OWS because we caved in and closed the camp because we were tired of working so hard to support people who had no interest in OWS as politics, they were just there to leech off us and all they wanted was free food. It was due to these homeless people that every single OWS political person left the camp, it was no longer safe for anyone but the violent, drunken, mentally ill homeless people.

The homeless at the camps were definitely a problem. But the thing that I find really funny is not that they disrupted society for the Occupiers - because they did - but that it's the fact where romanticization met reality. It was easy for Occupiers to romanticize the poor and the homeless when they weren't living with them. It was easy for Occupiers to romanticize the homeless when they weren't stealing from the Kitchen box, or taking laptops from people's tents, or fighting or having breakdowns in the middle of camp.

And it was easy for Occupiers to get mad at how people treated the homeless - segregating them, wanting to not have them near their homes or in their faces - until the point that the Occupiers had to live with them and began to segregate them, confining them to a section of the camp, or getting an office and not letting them have admission.

But the thing I find funny is that this exact opinion, on a larger scale, is what the right gets demonized for. Imagine your statement, but revised with some replacement words. "We were tired of working so hard to support people who had no interest in OWS as politics building the country, they were just there to leech off us and all they wanted was free food free housing/healthcare/foodstamps."
posted by corb at 12:34 PM on July 1, 2012 [7 favorites]


But the thing that I find really funny is not that they disrupted society for the Occupiers - because they did - but that it's the fact where romanticization met reality. It was easy for Occupiers to romanticize the poor and the homeless when they weren't living with them.

For better and for worse, OWS in general was never primarily about the homeless. The problems it addressed affected people somewhere in the middle class, such as people with crippling student loans or terrible choices for health care.

You could make a separate argument that the homeless remained to be an invisible problem even when they approached OWS for direct help, but it's not as simple as OWS having a high-minded platform about homelessness specifically and then balking when the homeless actually arrived.
posted by Sticherbeast at 12:46 PM on July 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


But the thing I find funny is that this exact opinion, on a larger scale, is what the right gets demonized for.

Even if it was the same exact opinion, which it isn't, the difference is that OWS is not responsible for homeless people while society as a whole is. The right wingers aren't asses because they individually don't like homeless people but because they don't want them as part of the responsibility of the society.
posted by patrick54 at 1:30 PM on July 1, 2012


But the thing I find funny is that this exact opinion, on a larger scale, is what the right gets demonized for. Imagine your statement, but revised with some replacement words. "We were tired of working so hard to support people who had no interest in OWS as politics building the country, they were just there to leech off us and all they wanted was free food free housing/healthcare/foodstamps."

This is unfair and wrong-minded. The main interesting result of Occupy's head-on collision with reality, to me, is that it removed a lot of blinders for a lot of well meaning but painfully naive people in a period of less than a year.

Most of the time it takes people -- from mostly white enclaves and mostly privileged backgrounds -- a great deal of post-college life experience to grow beyond the sort of cartoonish mentality that young inexperienced leftists have about the complexity of minority issues, the naive "women and children" view of the homeless, complete cluelessness about the hows and whys of economic stratification, basic and core misconceptions about capitalism itself, the realities of politics played for real instead of in a teachers-and-peers-approval environment, etc.
posted by rr at 1:48 PM on July 1, 2012 [7 favorites]


rr, that's a fascinating point. If the failure of OWS results in a whole generation of wised-up political actors (rather than, as I fear, a generation of other-blaming cynics), it could be far more effective in death than it was in life.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 2:31 PM on July 1, 2012


Exactly. There were a lot of positives about Occupy, and what it showed (to me) was the tremendous hunger in the United States for something different and better than the system we have today. There's a certain trajectory here, and as others have noted, it started with the election of Obama. Right after the election, I told a friend of mine that I thought that a lot of the people who campaigned hard for Obama were in for a nasty surprise-- the rot in America was so deep that there was no way that Obama could rectify it. Well that led to Occupy. Now a lot of people have realized that the "leaderless" model didn't really work either. What next? I'm curious to find out.
posted by wuwei at 3:53 PM on July 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


Don't occupy the goddamn park, occupy the city council, the planning commission, the metropolitan transit authority, and the downtown redevelopment meetings. And occupy them in not just disruptive ways, but in ways that get your undercover centrist allies at the table. Those are public spaces in far more meaningful ways than some worthless park ever will be.

Spending your evenings on the Historical Preservation Board or whatever can be kind of boring, but unless people who can articulate the kinds of analyses of power that we saw in Occupy are in those spaces, we're not going to see different outcomes.


Exactly this, yes. yes.

There are plenty of people who are down to do things that are IMMEDIATE. Things that involve concrete, overt actions. And if helps if those things are fun, romantic, exciting, or at least weird, quirky, countercultural. And it helps double if they make for exciting Facebook photos or interesting tweets. They are up for "sacrifice" but it has to be exciting, interesting, or unusual sacrifice. Again, sacrifice that's interesting to tweet about.

So very few of them are willing to do anything that involves weeks, months, years, or decades of nothing but patience and perserverance in the face of absolutely grinding boredom. All those hours spent doing things that don't make for interesting blog posts at all. Efforts that may come to fruition either a long time from now or possibly never at all. Absolutely no instant gratification of any kind.

In fact, so many of them just turn their noses up at people who are grinding away like that.
posted by cairdeas at 3:59 PM on July 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


Also, I would bet my next paycheck that over half of the Occupiers anywhere didn't vote in their most recent local election.
posted by cairdeas at 4:02 PM on July 1, 2012


I thought about this thread today when I went to check out the Occupy National Gathering today.

For reasons I've outlined elsewhere on the blue, I care deeply about issues of student debt relief. I was overjoyed when, a short time after getting to the gathering, someone handed me a flyer for an anti-debt activist network called All in the Red. "Fantastic," I thought, "I've been researching debt policy history for several days and I keep hitting walls of 'wow this is so complicated'. Here are the people who've figured something out."

So I checked out their web site. "All in the Red is calling for a nationwide network to spread awareness and organize around the issue of student debt through direct action, political theatre, and spreading the visual imagery of the red square, which has become an international symbol of the struggle for affordable education."


Look, I spent a fair bit of time around Occupy DC when I lived there. I was around for much of the night the first time it looked like the camp was going to be evicted. I'd like to think I'm a little better than an armchair occupy criticizer, and I love me some direct action and political theater. I went on an occupy anti-debt march this afternoon, and I had a fantastic time. Good on us for getting the message out there that the problems occupy was calling attention to didn't just die with the winter.

In the long run, though? The best thing I can do to make drastic shifts in education debt policy isn't to march around with a red square on. All in the red is doing pretty solid promotional work, but they haven't done the in-depth research any more than anybody else has.

This is an issue where I want to do the grunt work. And it's hard, because the kinds of policies that brought about the student loan debt crisis are deliberately convoluted, the better to keep people borrowing and banks profiting. Finding those policies and putting them and explaining them in clear lay person's language, letting people know what their options and rights are around debt, is so necessary.

Who's doing the boring work about debt? This occupy sympathizer and self-identified radical desperately wants to know.
posted by ActionPopulated at 5:42 PM on July 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


Also, I would bet my next paycheck that over half of the Occupiers anywhere didn't vote in their most recent local election.

I will gladly bet you my last paycheck. I just today received a paycheck for $0.92 from my local Elections Commissioner, reimbursement for mileage to and from my job as a poll worker for the Primary election.

My local OWS had a lot of anarchists who scoffed at voting. I told them that it was my job to help citizens express their political will through voting, and if they don't want to vote, they are entitled to not vote. But don't tell me that you are expressing your political will by not voting. There is no way to distinguish between someone who doesn't vote and someone who won't vote.

But we also were very politically active, at the local level. We dealt with the City Council repeatedly, opposing hot-button issues like Red Light Cameras (outsourcing government functions to private companies without oversight), tax incentives for military contractors and real estate developers, etc. We worked at the State level, we were very active in the Caucuses. GOP candidates were absolutely stunned when the citizens talked back to them with the Human Microphone. We opposed everyone. I personally went to the Democratic Caucus site and gave a speech in front of 1000 people who had just watched one of their people ask Obama a question via a live video chat. And right after that, I got up and told an audience of 100% pro-Obama people that they should not vote for him in the caucus, they should vote uncommitted, as a symbolic protest of Obama being too close to wall street. I told them the banks got bailed out, we got sold out. I told them that if one of us wants to get in contact with the President, you have to work through the local party for decades, and be selected by the Democratic machine to represent them, just so you can ask the President a softball question, like why people don't think he is as awesome as he really is. But if the CEO of Goldman Sachs wants to get in contact with the president, all he has to do is phone up his former Managing Director, who is now Secretary of the Treasury. I told them that in 2008, Obama took received more donations from Wall Street than all the other candidates combined. And it's only going to get worse this time with Citizen's United dumping cash into the campaign. Don't even think that the Democrats can create a SuperPAC to match the kind of money donors like the Koch Brothers can spend. I told these Democrats that their voices are being silenced, overpowered by corporate interests, even within their own party. Those corporate interests will continue to roll back social progress and continue taking money out of everyone's pockets, until corporations are eliminated from politics. But there is one corporation that must never be eliminated, no matter how hard everyone is trying to destroy it. There is a group of people who formed a corporate entity to collectively assert their political will. That corporation is known as "We The People" and they are the only force capable of standing up to the power of corporations. I told those Democrats that I have worked for years on their behalf, that many of them might recognize me from when I handed them a ballot, or helped them register to vote. I believed that in this heavily Democratic county, the best thing I could do is help everyone vote, and that heavy turnout favors liberal Democrats. But I now believe that "more and better Democrats" is a necessary condition, but not a sufficient condition for change. We were promised change, and now we have to make Obama keep that promise. I told the thousand Democrats that you too, are part of the 99%, and your voice is part of our voice. Now is the time to use that voice, to vote a protest against Obama, and with your Uncommitted vote, you are actively sending a signal that you are dissatisfied with his bailout of Wall Street corporate interests, at the sellout of We The People.

My unrehearsed 15 minute speech was probably the largest single non-OWS audience any OWS person ever had. I can still scarcely believe I managed to con my way onto the stage right after a live speech by the President, we were told that there were special operatives at the caucus who were there to guard against OWS disruptions, but I just told them I was invited to speak by a Democratic rep (which was true), and OWS would do nothing to disrupt the proceedings. Our only intention was to distribute a flyer with our Statement of Principles, and give a speech in the 15 minutes allotted to opposition speakers. At first, I could tell the audience was enraged, that I would criticize the President that they all came to see on the live video chat. But by the end of my speech, the mood changed, and the audience gave me as much applause as they did for the President. That night, throughout the state, other OWS representatives gave their own speeches, and many OWS members were elected delegates and committee members. But the Democratic Party worked hard to suppress any news of this. They announced a strong effort to counter the OWS Uncommitted movement, they wanted to get 100% of the votes for Obama, and they thought, who wouldn't vote for him? These were all Democrats who were Obama supporters, and willing to go waste their time sitting around in the un-opposed caucus, to vote for a candidate that was assured of re-nomination. The only message that could come from this caucus was that it was not unanimous. And the Democratic machine worked hard to suppress the results. They did not release actual caucus figures for two days, while sending out press releases of a unanimous vote for Obama. But that was a lie. Nearly 1.5% of the elected caucus representatives were actively Uncommitted. The Dems would only list votes as Obama or Other. But the process was not over. Some parts of our Statement of Principles became planks of the Democratic Party Platform, and will be brought before the Democratic National Convention.

Our OWS group was full of anarchists, libertarians, and Greens who all denounced voting as futile. Maybe it is. But it's a mechanism that we can all access to some degree. So we did. And in the process, OWS shifted the battleground. We changed the process. Before OWS, income inequality was not part of the political discussion. Now polls show that it is a major issue, and a large majority of Americans support polices to address this inequality. They may not support OWS, but now, for the first time, they support what we stand for, and are willing to vote for it. That is all we wanted.
posted by charlie don't surf at 6:18 PM on July 1, 2012 [5 favorites]


Before OWS, income inequality was not part of the political discussion. Now polls show that it is a major issue, and a large majority of Americans support polices to address this inequality.

You know, I'll give credit to Occupy for helping with this message, but it certainly didn't create this message and can't take credit for this message. Even the linked study does not discuss change in this point of view, just a measure of where it is right now. These concerns go back long before Occupy was a thought in anyone's mind, and many groups have been quite active in promoting and sharing this information. I can go into my emails and Facebook archive from pre-2007 and find abundant discussion of the issue on blogs, mailing lists, in magazines and newspapers and on websites. We were already talking about it when we talked about renewing localism and divesting from national chains and corporations. It has been an American issue since at least the late 1970s and has waxed and waned in importance, growing as the Middle East wars increasingly bankrupted us and the top of the income tier gained greater and greater advantage, but it reached a sharp pitch by the 2008 election with the recent extremes, the wasteful war, and the financial collapse.

Occupy didn't create any of that, nor did it provide any new information about that. It did a pretty good job of performing outrage about it, and keeping it top of mind for a short while, but that's exactly why I'm frustrated with the movement -- could have done a far, far better job at keeping it top of mind and at inciting the sympathetic "large majority" of Americans who absolutely were in wholehearted agreement with the need to address economic inequality, but not about to consider engaging in or supporting the more tangential protest tactics, to actually do something about it instead of feebly tut-tutting about it. Occupy had absolutely no plan for mobilizing action, and was unable to determine whether it even wanted to; and then it faltered on its own narcissistic obsession with opposing authority.

The people didn't need that. And the people had what might have shaped up into an excellent potential stream of information, advocacy and action put in front of them, which began to engender some hope for change, but then almost immediately revoked by indulgence in a string of bad and frankly embarrasing tactical choices, timewasting distractions and sideshows. The channel that was briefly open choked itself off.

It's easy to overstate the efficacy of Occupy's adoption of messaging that actually predated Occupy, and was going on anyway in parallel ways; the thing Occupy achieved was brief national prominence and a moment in which the movement could have won widespread respect and power, and it piddled it away. It may have put a lasting additional chip on the stack in the public mind, but the stack was already there and growing. Occupy has been interesting, but as with all movements, its importance outside the core was not as great as those who were within its tighter inner circles naturally would feel that it was. This cooler-blooded assessment is the kind of thing you need to hear if you want lasting impact and actually care about change, and those deep in the movement seem profoundly resistant to hearing and internalizing it.
posted by Miko at 8:14 PM on July 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


Who's doing the boring work about debt? This occupy sympathizer and self-identified radical desperately wants to know.

I know you are in the US, but the Quebec student movement, which initiated the red square symbol, has done some excellent work on debt and its impact. Here is the FEUQ (university students group)'s english site english campaign material site.

I saw two of the FEUQ executive speak in Vancouver recently, and they were very knowledgeable of debt, the education system, and how every piece of the university system is funded.

I am guessing you are in the US, so I suggest this material more as a model for possible research questions and approach to building arguments.

From an OWS perspective, and in relation to this discussion, it is interesting to note the Quebec strike has used a model very similar to occupy, but within formal groups, to mobilize very effectively. The Quebec student unions are structured bottom up, and their members re-affirmed their mandate at meetings in their departments every month -- not just at the student union level, which is more activist. This is entirely different from the English student groups, but very similar to the grassroots-up methods of occupy. video where they discuss organizing here. This has caused quite a bit of debate among student groups, (and it also emerges after many years of discontent with top-down organizing left the English student movement in crisis, a separate but fascinating story).

For this reason I think the student movement in Quebec is a fine example for OWS (and those in more traditional left groups) to consider -- they use direct democracy merged with formalized organizations. It has its problems, but it really has shown some strengths this year. They are essentially forcing an eleciton, and on the issue of austerity and public services.
posted by chapps at 11:32 PM on July 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


I can't even begin to tell you how utterly disgusted I am with "insurrectionist" anarchists and their totally fucking incoherent philosophy.

COSIGN!

The fucking knucklehead anarchists running the show is basically why Pirate & Lexica have essentially quit Occupy Oakland and are no longer livestreaming Occupy-related events. All this effort, all the arrests and police violence, and not a fucking thing to show for it. No metric for even judging success (i.e. GOALS)

Too old, too cranky for the goal-less, "Confrontation with the cops is in and of it self a revolutionary act" bullshit. I mean, I fucking saw the Revolutionary Communist Party's book table get a beer spilled on it by some masked Anarchist on May Day.

THESE KNUCKLEHEADS ARE ACTING OUT SOME FUCKING PHILOSOPHICAL GRUDGE THAT GOES BACK 100 YEARS OR MORE LIKE IT HAS SOME BEARING ON THE PRESENT DAY, AND THEY WANT TO BE TAKEN SERIOUSLY?

And for all the "Occupy Oakland is the most radical of all the occupies" cant that is so liberally sprinkled about, walk around Oakland and ask random people what they know about Occupy Oakland.

It's basically not on the radar. Nobody cares, no one's paying attention, and a whole lot of people have been driven away and warehousefuls of goodwill burned up by the "Militant, or GTFO" attitude.

I mean as far as the attempted building take-overs in Oakland, Henry J. Kaiser Auditorium was never a serious goal. There was never a belief that it could be occupied and held. What it was was an excuse for the anarcho-kiddies to play dress-up in their gas masks and shields and square off against OPD, get a couple of gas-grenades and sting-balls fired at them, and the retreat successfully having "counted coup" against the agents of oppression survived unarrested.

This is not revolution, this is lifestyle anarchism. And it is a waste of fucking time and a GODSEND to the OPD in terms of how much overtime they rack up.

There is no revolution brewing on the streets of Oakland. There is no mass uprising growing. There is just the same old crap-ass streets, gun violence, underage whores on International Blvd, open-air crack markets, and the latest wave of armed robberies hitting businesses. Oh, and the Feds are cracking down on the legal, regulated, tax-paying pot dispensaries.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 11:40 AM on July 2, 2012 [9 favorites]


This is not revolution, this is lifestyle anarchism

That's another thing you bring up which is a problem worldwide-- much like the phenomenon where Occupy started to attract the "professional homeless" looking for an opportunity to snag goods and food, protests around the world seem to attract "lifestyle anarchists" who see every protest as an opportunity to spark violent confrontations.
posted by deanc at 12:32 PM on July 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


This is a really great thread and I am curious to see the way that many other Occupy sites had issues dealing with the homeless and mentally ill. Even the non-homeless, non-pathological folks involved with Occupy often have various quirks and personality attributes that sometimes makes working in a group contentious. The other night, someone asked more or less, why do you hang out with these people? Or, as I've heard other people phrase it, why don't all those Occupy folks just live more stable happy lives, instead of being angry all the time.

Because they can't. I'd say, that's because recognizing the fundamental injustices of our system is a profoundly alienating and potentially depressing experience. There's a reason that in many classic tales, it is the insane who foretell the future. I used to wonder, does insanity offer some kind of special insight into the nature of reality that "normal" people miss? After spending a lot of time at Occupy, I've come to the opposite conclusion. In fact, it is witnessing the naked cruelty of life that can drive people insane. Everyone gets a little of this, I think-- the question is, how well can you endure it? What kind of resources do you have? What kinds of community do you have? Some people have little or none, and they are, by and large, the hardest hit. Those are the people we see as the homeless. And as a whole , Americans consume epic amounts of anti-depressants and prescription psychoactive drugs, which tells me, there are a lot of unhappy people out there. Sometimes I wonder what would happen if all those mood stabilizers were simply unavailable for a month or two. People came to Occupy because they were seeking an alternative, and also, the fellowship of others who also recognized that the system is broken. Often in the United States, and especially in corporate jobs, people are expected to be relentlessly upbeat at all times, but if a person stops and thinks about how things are for a moment, how could they possibly be upbeat all the time?

The upshot is, that any social movement born of challenging circumstances and widespread unhappiness is going to draw more than its fair share of the mentally ill and the simply unhappy. Therefore, we are going to have to build structures (yes, I said it) to deal with said issues. To do otherwise is actually to do damage to those who arrive, wounded, but wanting to fight for a better world. After all, if we can't even help ourselves, how can we really expect to fight for others? This is not to say I'm asking for a perpetual journey of introspection, or 20 years of psychoanalysis. Merely, a recognition that these ongoing issues, and a wish that we deal with it productively.

Which brings me to my next point-- organization and goals. In light of what has happened, I am actually glad that Occupy did not succeed in creating some kind of Mubarak-in-Egypt moment for the American system. Right now we're seeing, in Egypt, exactly what happens when a government falls but the opposition is mostly unorganized. Who gained the upper hand? A combination of 1) traditionally organized religious conservatives and 2) the remnants of the security services. That is, the Muslim Brotherhood, and the people in the security services who managed not to be overly tainted by the Mubarak legacy. The liberal bloggers, and the unaffiliated people who marched in the streets are having a very difficult time competing.

A lot of the anarchists have a clear idea of the world they want-- they want to end the state and end institutions. I find that unrealistic, as do many others. That's why Occupy has been petering out. However, what are the alternatives? I would argue that we have to develop a clear alternative for people.

I've mentioned here before, that I think that we have the ability and resources to put everyone to work in the US. We have the resources to build a political economy that is just, that distributes power to a variety of actors, and that entitles people to an honest, sustainable living. The economic tools exist. We know the desire is there-- hence the early success of Occupy in grabbing the public's attention and drawing large numbers of supporters.

What we've lacked has been the organization. Part of the problem is that the people who are organized, the traditional Left, is by and large ignorant of the economics that we could use to solve the problem. They are either 1) part of the do good non-profit industrial complex and economically ignorant or 2) socially open, but hardline neoliberals. There are small factions of the various Communist sects , i.e. the Maoists, Trotskyists etc. However they tiny, and by and large irrelevant. Their economic understanding of a modern economy is also deeply flawed, and if they ever were in charge, you could look forward to an economy that looked like 1970s Yugoslavia at best.

The majority of the public policy people trained at the university level are going to fall into group 2, because neoliberalism is the reigning orthodoxy. The ones who may sympathize with Occupy are the ones who feel guilty, because they see the effects, but most still buy into the fundamental tenets of economics as they learned in their professional programs.

Therefore, any group that can press for effective and desirable change, in my view, must come from people who have been outside the current system. That should look like any other political movement-- it must provide support to its members, both financial and emotional. It should have clear goals, and a strategy for achieving them.

It's up to us.
posted by wuwei at 2:20 PM on July 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


that's because recognizing the fundamental injustices of our system is a profoundly alienating and potentially depressing experience...it is witnessing the naked cruelty of life that can drive people insane..

I really challenge this, as I and many people I know recognize the fundamental injustices while still holding down a job, contributing, cleaning up and acting fairly mainstream in other ways. IT's romantic to think that people's realizations about the nature of our political, economic and social systems just make them seem mentally ill, but the converse is just as often true, that people with mental illnesses gravitate toward situations where they benefits from lots of cover and normalization.

Change requires sanity. It requires mental and emotional balance, logic, planning and reasonableness just as much - no, more - as it requires passion and emotion.

It's important to question the idea that you cannot oppose inequality and injustice without alienating yourself from society. Let's think: now, who would be invested in protecting an idea like that?

Part of the problem is that the people who are organized, the traditional Left, is by and large ignorant of the economics that we could use to solve the problem.

What economics are these exactly?
posted by Miko at 3:16 PM on July 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


I've never had the impression that MLK, Jr., Medgar Evers, John Lewis, Rev. Fred Shuttlesworh or other leaders of the civil rights movement went insane, and they seemed profoundly and personally aware of fundamental injustices. I don't think they could afford to spin off into insanity. Actually changing the world was too important to engage in that sort of self-indulgence.
posted by Area Man at 3:29 PM on July 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


Right now we're seeing, in Egypt, exactly what happens when a government falls but the opposition is mostly unorganized. Who gained the upper hand? A combination of 1) traditionally organized religious conservatives and 2) the remnants of the security services

Yes. The answer is to be highly organized first so as to be prepared for when the opportunity for serious changes presents itself. If you're not organized ahead of time, you get outplayed by those who were (examples of where this went horribly wrong can be found by the hijacking of movements by the bolsheviks in the Russian Revolution, the Islamists in Iran, etc.). Years before "the Civil Rights Movement", there were local NAACP chapters in every southern town ready to be mobilized. Is Occupy or a similar movement ready to create a set of local chapters to maintain personal connections between members, disseminate information, and be ready to turn out in organized force when their local and national interests are at stake? Because that's what needs to happen, otherwise it's going to be the Chamber of Commerce and the fundies who are going to pounce when the opportunity arises.

I'd say, that's because recognizing the fundamental injustices of our system is a profoundly alienating and potentially depressing experience.

I think the profoundly alienated and depressed tend to be drawn to various movements because it gives them a sense of personal belonging and they get platforms for personal attention (especially in the "everyone gets a chance to have their say" sorts of forums).
posted by deanc at 3:47 PM on July 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


A few thoughts:

1) I think the Rolling Stone piece was great, as is a lot of this discussion. However, I find it fascinating how the hysterical response to the Occupy movement from those in power is already being airbrushed out of history. It's almost as if all those batons were levitating themselves into the air rather than being wielded by actual police. I think it was Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper who said something to the effect that the Occupy movement had to be quashed quickly because he saw how it was growing almost geometrically - and Governor Hickenlooper was by no means the only person thinking along these lines. The response - from the well-documented tales of violent criminals and the mentally ill being directed to Occupy encampments by police to the extremely aggressive attacks by police on peaceful protesters to, very recently, the mayor of Philadelphia's directive to keep Occupy representatives from access to city water during the current heat wave - has been spiteful and vastly out of proportion to any possible public safety threat.

By way of contrast, Teabaggers were recorded on video beating protesters at senatorial rallies (I'm thinking directly of Rand Paul here), using authoritarian tactics against journalists (the wacko candidate in Alaska) - and you can almost hear the crickets chirp. Only lefty bloggers even seemed to notice.

There's a very political aspect to this, of course. Just as the miniscule numbers of environmental extremists who have agonizing debates among themselves over the morality of property damage are considered a more serious threat than white nationalists with a history of violence and an ideology of extermination - the Greens and the Occupy movement are apparently much more frightening to our lords and masters than people who are quite open and explicit about violence and who openly stockpile arms.

2) It's also fascinating how, on the one hand, the Occupy movement is obviously such a joke that it's worthy of continued ridicule and was so obviously ineffective that no one could seriously believe it could have any effect while on the other hand a lot of officials, from the Department of Homeland Security on down, most definitely saw it as something very serious.

There's a bit of the "everything but the kitchen sink" strategy here - the attacks don't even have to be consistent (Occupy is simultaneously ridiculously childish and an apparent existential threat at the same time). Just throw something and hope that it sticks.

3) The focus on leadership is interesting. Apparently, the "lack of leadership" (which is based on an incorrect image of anarchism) is such a gigantic issue that it overshadows all else. Again, maybe there's a bit of the existential threat being sensed - different models of governance call into question the legitimacy of our institutions. It's not just "demands" being made - they can be accomodated. But questioning the legitimacy of how things are... that's a different ballgame.

4) I think Occupy can't be properly understood without placing it in the context of the global uprisings starting in Egypt and Tunisia in early 2011. This may annoy some Occupiers as well as their critics, but the Occupy movement is only part of something that I feel comfortable in comparing with the 1968 rebellions. While Occupy in the U.S. is debating its future, the student movements in Quebec and Mexico and the anti-Putin protests in Russia, to name only a couple, are continuing to sound the alarm that Occupy sounded in fall 2011.

I think that these global protests, largely lead by young people (with others participating, but with a definite pattern of youth leadership) are a protest against the failed promises of the neoliberal world order. The Austerians have failed - and the world system is mired in groupthink, the normal avenues by which external information would be used to correct course blocked off. Sclerotic elites everywhere are telling us it's okay, austerity is necessary, it will all work out, but it isn't working. The rich keep getting richer. The world keeps warming. The food and utilities costs keep rising. The jobs aren't coming. Something is going very, very wrong, and the world's leaders aren't listening. The avenues for course correction are being blocked off. That's why people are in the streets.

This isn't over, not by a long shot. Whatever names it takes, whatever forms it will manifest itself in, something is happening. The elites, for now, are trying to ignore it and suppress it. But if they don't deliver, then it will come back, stronger than before.
posted by jhandey at 6:16 PM on July 2, 2012 [6 favorites]


3) The focus on leadership is interesting. Apparently, the "lack of leadership" (which is based on an incorrect image of anarchism)

Again, here's the tendency to find fault with the people who simply do not embrace the core ideology and to blame them for the failures of the movement. But you can't have an effective movement without leadership, and there should not be a need to understand, embrace, or have a "correct image" of anarchism in order to take part in effective action. What role in this movement is there for people who actively reject anarchism? The movement can't do anything without those people, but it has been openly hostile to them - even here.

Again, maybe there's a bit of the existential threat being sensed - different models of governance call into question the legitimacy of our institutions. It's not just "demands" being made - they can be accomodated. But questioning the legitimacy of how things are... that's a different ballgame.

I don't really think so. Anyone with a brain questions the legitimacy of how things are; Tea Partiers question the legitimacy of how things are, as do mainstreamers. The thing is that most people are relentlessly pragmatic. They want not rhetoric and process, but action and results. This movement seems not to be willing to give them that. I absolutely chuckle at these criticisms of the Old Left vs the New Left as if they are somehow different. The "Old Left" of the 60s and 70s also thought it was different from the "Old Left" of the 30s, 40s, and 50s. And yet all these Lefts, whether shiny new or crusty old, have fallen into the same exact potholes: lack of effective strategy, messaging, and action. The main knock on lefties is that they're happy to sit talking all day about how right their process is and how everyone needs to just wake up and realize that - and the Occupy core is no different.

We're going to repeat history until we wise up and cold-bloodedly look at what works to make change, regardless of the ideology behind the change. The right has been doing it for 40 years, and they're doing a fucking great job at everything but actually governing for the people's interests. We'd like to think we're smarter than them, but tactically, we usually haven't been aside from brief advantages of surprise in the 1960s, and this approach is definitely not demonstrating great organizing skill or creating a clear, unified priority on the part of the people for fair government and a healthy economy. And if it isn't focused on that, then frankly, it's pretty useless to most people.
posted by Miko at 7:06 AM on July 3, 2012 [7 favorites]


(though I agree with your point that systems aren't working and people are noticing. The tragedy, to me, is that those people need a clear and effective channel to act in response, because otherwise, they simply become fatalistic, sign off, throw up their hands because the Man is too big to fight, and focus on smaller, more personal worlds.)
posted by Miko at 7:15 AM on July 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Miko,
I'm going to be charitable and assume that you simply misunderstood what I wrote. You wrote IT's romantic to think that people's realizations about the nature of our political, economic and social systems just make them seem mentally ill, but the converse is just as often true, that people with mental illnesses gravitate toward situations where they benefits from lots of cover and normalization.

I didn't say that "people's realizations about the nature our our political, economic systems just seem to make them mentally ill." I said that it"is a profoundly alienating and potentially depressing experience" that can make people mentally ill, depending on how good their coping mechanisms are, and what kind of support they have around them. Let's call that "movement stress." It doesn't mean that people necessarily become mentally ill, so again, I'm not sure why you're "challenging" what I said. Do you deny that some people when participating in social justice work burn out and show signs of mental illness?

Therefore, there have to be mechanisms within the movement to deal with this-- for example, by setting boundaries of behavior, and limiting the ability of the profoundly mentally ill and disruptive to destroy group dynamics.

You also write that
Change requires sanity. It requires mental and emotional balance, logic, planning and reasonableness just as much - no, more - as it requires passion and emotion. "
I disagree with your attempt to place "passion and emotion" as somehow separate from "logic and reasonableness." Everything is emotionally driven, including, any "cold blooded" assessment that you, or any other person carries out. This is because any and all decisions you take are driven by desire, which is itself an emotion. The person who sits back and takes a moment to think strategically is driven by a desire to accomplish a goal, and has chosen a course of action based on that desire.

The reason that I object to your characterization is because we cannot develop the right mechanisms to deal with "movement stress," and we cannot do that when people refuse to understand the role of emotion and desire in the actions we take.

It's ironic that you say "[it]'s important to question the idea that you cannot oppose inequality and injustice without alienating yourself from society," and that in the post right below yours, Area Man invokes MLK. MLK once said
... there are certain things in our nation and in the world which I am proud to be maladjusted and which I hope all men of good-will will be maladjusted[emphasis added] until the good societies realize. I say very honestly that I never intend to become adjusted to segregation and discrimination. I never intend to become adjusted to religious bigotry. I never intend to adjust myself to economic conditions that will take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few. I never intend to adjust myself to the madness of militarism, to self-defeating effects of physical violence.
And speaking of mechanisms to deal with "movement stress," let me point out that one of the most effective mass movements for social justice, the Civil Rights Movement, was heavily influenced by religion. It is no accident that MLK and Malcolm X were both religious leaders, and both men embraced religious narratives to describe the path of change. That was the ideology, if you will, that bound together the movement participants, and gave them a community of meaning in which to participate. Thus, while participants may have been alienated and maladjusted from the wider American society, they found community and belonging within an alternate community. By the force of their numbers and the strength and rightness of their numbers they did something pretty amazing; they adjusted the wider American society to a new system of values. They forced mainstream American society to at least pay lip service to the idea that black people were people too. Or as MLK said in 1967 "I am a man with dignity and honor."

Social movements don't necessarily require a religious basis. No. What they do require is a narrative of meaning for the participants. Religion can provide that narrative of meaning for people. In the 20th century the ideologies of Communism and Fascism did the same. In modern America the Christian right has been very effective at developing a narrative of meaning for its followers, and deploying that into the rest of the world. In terms of political economy, we're living in their world right now. If we want to change that, then we had better start developing our own narrative of meaning.

Without that, we can have all the good ideas we want and talk about them in a vacuum, but we will never be able to work in concert with others.

Regarding economics, again, I'm going to assume in good faith that you simply misread my post. I provided links to a couple of post-Keynsian economics blogs. The first was to New Economic Perspectives, a blog of the University of Missouri-Kansas City economics department. The best description is their own:
Our approach, which has been dubbed “Modern Money Theory” or “The Kansas City Approach,” builds on the work of Abba P. Lerner, John Maynard Keynes and Hyman P. Minsky. Above all, we are careful to provide analyses and policy recommendations that are applicable under a modern, fiat money system
The second blog was a link to Steve Keen, who has worked to develop a mathematical model of Minsky's Financial Instability Hypothesis.

You mention in your post today that people should be organizing for a " fair government and a healthy economy." I agree. To do that, we have to understand exactly what a fair economy would look like. I think that the tools found in Modern Monetary Theory can do exactly that.
posted by wuwei at 12:53 PM on July 3, 2012


I think you are, in fact, misunderstanding me so greatly that it's too difficult to reply to you. You seem to be kind of eager to misunderstand me.

I said that it"is a profoundly alienating and potentially depressing experience" that can make people mentally ill...It doesn't mean that people necessarily become mentally ill

So do they or don't they become "mentally ill?"

Burnout, stress, disheartened moments: of course, sure. But I think it's important to draw a distinction between some of the mental illnesses of a psychotic, neurotic or addictive nature that people were critiquing above, and the psychological effects of what is essentially emotional stress.

I disagree with your attempt to place "passion and emotion" as somehow separate from "logic and reasonableness."

I don't separate them, I say movements require both.

Re: the MLK quote, I don't read "maladjusted" as meaning "separate from society." I read it as meaning "discontented, nonconforming." But one can not conform and still be a full member of society. I think that we really need to question the idea that those who oppose the dominant order are necessarily fringe characters who cannot function in ordinary society, when in fact MLK could, and I can, and many of us can and do. We do not need to live on the extremes or perform extremes of dress, expression or lifestyle to be effective activists.

If we want to change that, then we had better start developing our own narrative of meaning.

Oh, I totally agree with this. That's kind of another thing Occupy has failed at: insisting that no narrative was a great replacement for narrative. There was an insistence on 'space' as an important construct, a resistence to sequentiality and an interest in repetition, an absence of storytelling and emotional dimension, and a lack of ability to or interest in painting a picture of where people could be headed, which meant of course that no one could draw a road map to get anything done.

Re: the economics: sure, looks like as good a place as any to start. What are the proposals? If you can't boil it down it's somewhat hopeless. Americans have enough homework.
posted by Miko at 1:09 PM on July 3, 2012


I gotta say, what I'm reading about Modern Monetary Theory, I am profoundly disliking. Also, it seems like these are not new ideas, but old ideas repackaged and applied to the present day situation. This does not seem to be a widely convincing approach, and I am not feeling swayed.
posted by Miko at 1:21 PM on July 3, 2012


We do not need to live on the extremes or perform extremes of dress, expression or lifestyle to be effective activists.

Remember that the civil rights marchers typically wore their sunday best outfits. It made them seem respectable and made the violence of the police that much more shocking. I think they made a deliberate effort to construct and control the narrative. Bull Connor, for example, was made one of the villians of the story. When the police acted more reasonable (and didn't fit into the movement's script), as happened in Albany, Georgia, it actually frustrated the leaders.

Occupy lost control of its story. The narrative, which should have been about economic injustice, was turned into a conflict over whether counties and cities could enforce rules against camping on public plazas and parks. (The talk about reclaiming public space isn't convincing.) The protestors started out seeming like ordinary americans from all walks of life who were fed up with the economic problems and political paralysis. Many identified with them and agreed with their concerns. At the end, it seemed lke they were a mixture of dirty hippies and thuggish black-block anarchists (a villianous looking lot if there ever was one) who would not or could not articulate any message other than to tell people that there is a problem. Sure, the press coverage wasn't fair, but can activists hoping to change the world really expect it to be? As Mr. Dooley said, "Politics ain't beanbag."
posted by Area Man at 2:34 PM on July 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Again, here's the tendency to find fault with the people who simply do not embrace the core ideology and to blame them for the failures of the movement.

Hmmm... that's not what I was trying to say at all, but I didn't do it very well, and I apologize. I was actually trying to describe the views of the critics of Occupy's decision making style. It seems that anarchism is thrown around a lot, but at least to me, personally, it's not the most important thing. I believe in flexibility - processes shouldn't be sacred cows. But on the other hand, they shouldn't be fetishized by their opponents so much, either.

Here's another way to look at it: what if Occupy had started out with the kind of leadership I assume people are wanting - a board of directors led by Harvard MPAs or Nature Conservancy leadership alums, a good hierarchical structure, etc... How would things have been different? No encampments, probably - so it would have been, what, like MoveOn.org? Occasional marches? I find it extremely implausible to believe that things would have worked out much differently - that the powerful who saw very clearly the goals of the movement, even if the New York Times didn't, would have greeted it with any less violence.

And that's because of those magically levitating batons. I think talking about the weaknesses of movements is vital, but doing it without any sort of context seems almost like willful self-sabotage. Comparisons with the Tea Party also airbrushes out the fact that the Teabaggers weren't some organic movement, but a extremely well-funded operation by some of the richest people in America.
posted by jhandey at 2:37 PM on July 3, 2012


Twitter Ordered to Cough Up Occupy User Data
posted by homunculus at 2:49 PM on July 3, 2012


a board of directors led by Harvard MPAs

That's not the kind of leadership structure I would have imagined.

No encampments, probably

I actually think the encampments were a great visibility strategy for about 6 weeks. Once everyone got used to them and complaints started to outnumber praises, it would have been smart to disband the camps, and craft and execute an outreach strategy of coordinating local listening groups in every town in the nation. With a toolkit available online, several opportunities to connect to a national-level forum IRL and online or via phone, and (respectable) organizers traveling around to train next-tier volunteers. The goal would have been for these listening circles to share stories, notice similarities, and begin identifying a policy and action agenda with truly broad consensus.

I find it extremely implausible to believe that things would have worked out much differently - that the powerful who saw very clearly the goals of the movement, even if the New York Times didn't, would have greeted it with any less violence.

It would be extremely daring and difficult for "the powerful" to greet meetings in living rooms focused on a national discussion and prioritizing next actions with violence. If they chose to use such heavy-handed tactics on grandparents and teachers and coaches and clerks in their own private meeting spaces, things would be at an unreasonable level of escalation that would probably further radicalize those factions - they would have a reason to care. But I doubt that would be the initial response.

I find that not enough people involved in present-day activism have studied enough past activist tactics from the late 19th century through the 1990s. There are so many lessons to learn, and so little discipline to learn from them.
posted by Miko at 2:59 PM on July 3, 2012


I actually think the encampments were a great visibility strategy for about 6 weeks. Once everyone got used to them and complaints started to outnumber praises, it would have been smart to disband the camps, and craft and execute an outreach strategy of coordinating local listening groups in every town in the nation. With a toolkit available online, several opportunities to connect to a national-level forum IRL and online or via phone, and (respectable) organizers traveling around to train next-tier volunteers. The goal would have been for these listening circles to share stories, notice similarities, and begin identifying a policy and action agenda with truly broad consensus.

The thing is, I agree with you. I don't think the encampments would have been viable indefinitely. But again, there's the levitating baton problem - it's simply untrue to imagine that those who were being protested against were passively watching with no interest in where things were going and no interest in disruption and harrassment. I actually think it was a pretty smart strategy (tactically) - while the encampments were filled with "normal" people, low-level harrassment and attempts to disrupt the workings of the camps would gradually reduce the potential sympathy their breakups would cause. Combine that with a steadily more negative media campaign and well-documented coordination with multiple levels of government and business, and then make your move. Very well done.

To imagine, again, that the "listening circles" (a nice idea, to tell the truth) wouldn't have met with the same kind of disruption is highly naive. My pacifist religious community was quite active during the Vietnam War in anti-government activism, and there was a very high level of petty harrassment and infiltration. This community was (and is) filled with grandparents and teachers and coaches and clerks - not a whole lot of long-haired smelly hippies around.

Of course activists should expect pushback (although the pushback against Occupy was almost laughably out of proportion), but you're going to get that pretty much no matter what you do at some point. To imagine otherwise verges on victim blaming.

I find that not enough people involved in present-day activism have studied enough past activist tactics from the late 19th century through the 1990s. There are so many lessons to learn, and so little discipline to learn from them.

And I find that not enough critics of present-day activism have any sense for the reality of differing contexts - there's a lot more to understand than just tactics. For example, I've heard a lot in this discussion about the American black civil rights movement, as if it were some monolithically disciplined movement that somehow proves Occupy's disorganization and general scruffiness. The reality of it was that there was great internal controversy over tactics. There were factions that most definitely weren't on board with King's vision. There were significant moments when King was in danger of being sidelined. And there were long periods in which the polling numbers of those we see as heroes today and worthy of emulation were as low or lower than those of the Occupy movement after the main encampments were destroyed. This doesn't mean there aren't important lessons to be learned, but King and those brave men and women weren't plaster saints.
posted by jhandey at 4:27 PM on July 3, 2012


Change requires sanity. It requires mental and emotional balance, logic, planning and reasonableness just as much - no, more - as it requires passion and emotion.

This is true-ish. Change does require mental and emotional balance, but the constant working in the process of change causes compassion fatigue and other mental and emotional problems. I don't necessarily agree that working for change causes mental illness, but I do think that a lot of the people who've been "in the trenches" for a while do suffer some form of it. And speaking from experience, extremely inclusive environments provide a place where mentally ill can get a foothold, where they cannot get into other places. So they tend to gravitate and cling to it.

Here's another way to look at it: what if Occupy had started out with the kind of leadership I assume people are wanting - a board of directors led by Harvard MPAs or Nature Conservancy leadership alums, a good hierarchical structure, etc... How would things have been different? No encampments, probably - so it would have been, what, like MoveOn.org? Occasional marches? I find it extremely implausible to believe that things would have worked out much differently - that the powerful who saw very clearly the goals of the movement, even if the New York Times didn't, would have greeted it with any less violence.

This is functionally untrue.

I've participated in actions similar to Occupy-related actions, but as a member of an organization with a strong hierarchical structure. Similarly sized encampments (albeit of less duration), large unpermitted marches in the streets, blockades, etc. However, utilization of some of the apparatus of that organization did result in zero violence against it. Police gave way. Politicians gave way. I'll admit that we didn't win all of our goals, but I think that was primarily because people were bought off by Obama staffer's promises and so stood down - which is something that a lot of organizations suffered in 2008/2009.

Occupy's demise was in its stubborn insistence on absolute openness, and by refusing to self-police. By allowing people and events to take place, they gave the politicians the excuse they needed to engage in reprisals against it. Again, many of us have been present at Occupy camps. Occupy camps protected sexual offenders, allowed environments for drugs and petty and serious crime to flourish, and at the Occupy camp I was present at, actually injured an EMT who was trying to save someone, because they didn't trust the EMT wasn't secretly a cop.

Occupy could have been as effective as it was, without allowing itself to be taken over by absolutely anyone. Guidelines were suggested at many Occupys, but unfortunately, enforcement was not - which was in fact a problem with the public-space approach as well. Occupys could still have functioned as well by being on private space in the heart of the cities they served, and enforcing bans. But they refused to, and refused to shut anyone out, or turn anyone away from food or shelter. It's noble...but also foolish, and ultimately knelled its doom.

I find that not enough people involved in present-day activism have studied enough past activist tactics from the late 19th century through the 1990s.

The problem isn't that they haven't studied enough past activist tactics. The problem is that they've studied them to uncritically, and have refused to learn lessons from them or do things differently.
posted by corb at 6:20 PM on July 3, 2012


My pacifist religious community was quite active during the Vietnam War in anti-government activism, and there was a very high level of petty harrassment and infiltration

Sure, that's standard. You were talking about a violent response. This tactic wouldn't be met with a violent response off the bat. That would be incendiary. Infiltration? Sure, no big deal, and par for the course. There's nothing to be afraid of in that.

And I find that not enough critics of present-day activism have any sense for the reality of differing contexts

King's a big red herring. Arguably, SNCC and, frankly, Johnson did more than King to ensure the success of the civil rights movement. Yes of course there was dissension over tactics; and the movement turned in on itself and collapsed in that indeterminate dissension. King got interested in poverty, others got interested in Black Power, still others in institutional and social racism that was extralegal. I'm very critical of the shallow way people see the civil rights movement now and point to it as an exemplar of everything, but the truth is in its earliest and most effective years it was highly organized through the collaborative efforts of institutions, committees, and summits with delegations and citizen education and action - not through leaderlessness and not because of a lack of agenda.
posted by Miko at 8:13 PM on July 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


To imagine, again, that the "listening circles" (a nice idea, to tell the truth) wouldn't have met with the same kind of disruption is highly naive.

Also, glad you think this is a nice idea, but I can't fully take credit for the tactic; I learned it from organizers who implemented it citywide in 2003 as part of a direct democracy project that transformed our city in many ways: greener, more active, stronger and more community-focused and quality-of-life driven. After running successfully for two years, it then morphed into a master planning group which completed the plan in 2007 and eventually led to a local community-and-business-development nonprofit which runs a number of programs to return dollars to the city, fund charities, manage public art and impact policy.

It's also, coincidentally, essentially the personal-networking and crowd-building strategy employed by the 2008 Obama campaign that got people out in the streets who had never done a damn thing political in their entire lives.

Nothing about structuring effective action is rocket science. It's not magic. It's not even difficult. With Occupy, the time was right and the message was right. But the leadership wasn't right; it was inexperienced, overconfident, arrogant, and naive. And that meant that the most perfect setup for serious social change we've ever seen got pissed away. I am still angry about that.
posted by Miko at 9:24 PM on July 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


Police gave way. Politicians gave way. I'll admit that we didn't win all of our goals, but I think that was primarily because people were bought off by Obama staffer's promises and so stood down - which is something that a lot of organizations suffered in 2008/2009.

That's great (seriously), but I still maintain that a large part of what determines the reaction a movement is met with is the message and the target. The rights-based movements of the past 40-50 years are different - virtually all of them have demanded a greater slice of the pie, not questioned the way the pie was baked or even if there should be a pie and not some other pastry. And that makes things different.

I suspect that Mother Theresa could have risen from the grave and led the protest in Liberty Plaza and things would have gone down not that dissimilarly from how they did - increasing pressure and harassment, followed by police violence and continued unconstitutional tactics designed to keep the pressure on. And with CNN's Erin Burnett, Fox News, and the majority of the mainstream media still distorting the protests and the context of why they were happening.

It's good and right to look back and see what went wrong and what could be done better next time, but the tabula rasa approach of imagining that the whole world is just waiting for the right message and that all failures are to be laid at the feet of individuals (or individual movements) strikes me as nearly identical to the "blame yourself" pseudo-Calvinist ideology of market capitalism pushed almost everywhere one looks or of the Homo economicus rational actor theory of economics. To ignore the steadily intensifying pressures of the police, city and state governments and the Federal government, as well as to imagine that the media is some sort of pure reflection of reality without its own interests is very, very naive.

Occupy's demise was in its stubborn insistence on absolute openness, and by refusing to self-police.

I can tell you that there was a lot of self-policing going on in at least one of our local encampments, with the exact actions you wanted to see happening, but that didn't make a bit of difference in the end.

About effective action... All I can say is that effective action is great, but this time around the same tactics that Obama used in 2008 (which are pretty much nowhere to be found this time around - I have a close relative working on the campaign and the tone even at headquarters is radically different) were likely to have met the same pushback, leaderless or leaderful, because of their target. And I'd bet money that, had Occupy followed your plan to the letter, the pushback would have been just as intense, if not more, when it came. And I daresay that the negative image of Occupy - or any movement questioning the legitimacy of the most important institutions in our society - would have been just as strong, because it fundamentally didn't have much to do with their actions. As effective and by the book as it could have been, as Gene Sharp-approved as possible, it would still have been the kind of threat that, given the decadent state of our institutions, wouldn't have been met by the kind of co-option that FDR employed with the Bonus Army.
posted by jhandey at 3:26 AM on July 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


And I'd bet money that, had Occupy followed your plan to the letter, the pushback would have been just as intense

I just really think you're completely wrong about this.

At the moment they could have implemented a plan like this, they enjoyed a surprisingly broad public support. There was a brief period of time where things hadn't soured, the message was getting through, and the media had not had time to solidify its perspective on the movement. That indicated a receptivity to more intellectual and less theatrical tactics that should have been recognized and followed up on. Many of us were saying so in the thick of the moment, and many of us went unheard. I felt my message on this was actively resisted by people in the movement, and in interviews I heard over and over that people were really committed to 'doing things differently,' although they had no tactical plan and no endgame and became focused on their own navels in encampments. The eventual exhaustion of local people and authorities with dealing with encampments definitely created the sense that some powerful territory had been encroached on and that they were really onto something, Tianenmen-like, when honestly, that wasn't driving the reaction. People just didn't enjoy the spectacle after a while. From within the movement, it became a phenomenally frustrating distraction to watch the street-theatre of martyr-tent-monster-type snarkily opposing some beleagured cop. The philosophy of this was all wrong. For all the claptrap about doing things in a "new way," it was the futile tactics if 1968 all over again, hippies vs. police, a battle which most Americans feel pretty much has nothing to do with them or with economic inequality and everything to do with opposing lifestyle choices. Once that starts, you've lost. Once the camps drew strong municipal opposition, it was time to move on, but too much Kool-Aid had been imbibed by then.

The whole outcome is nowhere near as complicated and fatalistic as you've argued. It was a flat tactical failure that can be put down to ego, inexperience, and being too convinced that the lack of an action plan was going to somehow magically make change. That's about it. The dramatic terms in which you think about "threat" and the response of authority as an indication of true fear that the broad systems of society were going to fall under the attack of a bunch of scrubby people in tents are somewhat silly. Imagining that sort of presupposes that you were aiming at a degree and form of change - an actual economic revolution resulting in the complete end of global economic systems and institutions on par with a Communist revolution - that a broad spectrum of Americans would never have supported on the best possible day. That's not what most people wanted from the movement and not why, for a short while, they were willing to step a few steps closer to it, before getting the message they really weren't radical or ideologically perfect enough or just plain young enough or cool enough to be welcome, and turned away.

So that was never going to actually happen. But significant pro-social economic policy change and a turning of the ideological tide toward the populist left - that was within the grasp, and it wouldn't have immediately and necessarily triggered the kind of jack-booted response you almost seem to be wishing for as you fantasize about it.

The rights-based movements of the past 40-50 years are different - virtually all of them have demanded a greater slice of the pie, not questioned the way the pie was baked or even if there should be a pie and not some other pastry

That's wrong. MLK, to call up our sacred cow again, was all about questioning the way the pie was baked. Dimensions of the "rights-based" movements also questioned the assumptions (economic and social) of patriarchy - a fairly profound system that was not just about slices of pie and white racial domination - But that's really an aside. If you extend your historical window a bit, the left of the 30s and 40s was entirely about changing the way the pie was baked. They managed to engineer a massive expansion of social welfare and shifted our government almost permanently to one which can support social programs through taxation and fiscal policy that worked for the middle class. It actually did work until the right began to systematically dismantle it beginning in the Nixon administration. So it's a falsity to say that no other movements have sought to redesign the entire economic system. The last truly broad-based movement of the American left that included lower and middle classes and people of all ethnicities actually did that, so successfully that even under a full-out assault lasting four decades, it still hasn't been completely undone. That's what really ought to be our reference point, because it wasn't protest that eventually won civil rights. Certain extremely well-disciplined tactics definitely won hearts and minds, which was an important step, but what won it was a policy agenda. And what won the leftist expansion of the early 20th century was also a policy agenda. The personal passion and vivid demonstrations played the role of drawing attention and developing support for the eventual arrival of policy. Protests were a means, not an end in themselves.

Occupy didn't want to develop a policy agenda - or even talk about it - and so it generated a big pile of dry fuel, with not a match in sight. And then it rained. And then everybody went home. It's a pity.
posted by Miko at 8:50 AM on July 4, 2012 [4 favorites]


this time around the same tactics that Obama used in 2008 (which are pretty much nowhere to be found this time around

I know that too, because I worked in the last campaign and am also working on this one; you need different tactics for different times, and electing an incumbent takes different methodology, in addition to the changed demographics and likely lower voter turnout in this one, and the challenge of messaging about the candidate's record (of which there was none before) and the fact that the recession has not significantly eased. It would be idiotic to run the 2008 campaign now; Obama's team aren't idiots, so they're not running the same campaign.
posted by Miko at 8:58 AM on July 4, 2012


Here you go, Obama 2012 strategy synopsis. Strategy. You need it. This is good practice.
posted by Miko at 9:02 AM on July 4, 2012


jack-booted response you almost seem to be wishing for as you fantasize about it.

Fantasize? It happened.

Look, I'm really sorry that Occupy didn't give you the respect that you feel you deserved. But that doesn't change the fact that things sometimes simply are more complicated than they appear, and that life - and social action - isn't a video game, where everything is apparently so simple and obvious.

For what it's worth, I don't think that Occupy is dead by any means. Its most likely fate is adding itself to the constellation of social action and nonprofit groups that already exist in the U.S., with maybe a little more edginess - a Greenpeace to the stodgier NGOs and pressure groups' Nature Conservancy. The environment that gave birth to Occupy - the complete failure of Barack Obama to meaningfully attempt to rein in Wall Street and the consequent rise of the "austerity for thee, but not for me" politicians and policy wonks - probably isn't going away. I hope I'm wrong, but I don't think so. What is happening globally isn't over by a long shot, and will likely flare up even brighter after the next economic collapse. And it might not be so polite next time.

Have a good Fourth of July. Hopefully it isn't as hot where you are as it is here.
posted by jhandey at 11:31 AM on July 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Fantasize? It happened.

Not to the monolithic degree that you predict for an even less confrontational set of actions. The police used some heavy-handed tactics to control the crowds toward the end, but they didn't use anything like what a state like ours can use to suppress an insurgency. It was nothing much by comparison with our own tactics when we are seriously threatened, let alone the tactics of other governments against uprisers, and if you don't believe me, buy a round-the-world air ticket and do some observing.

Look, I'm really sorry that Occupy didn't give you the respect that you feel you deserved

Hm, nice try in this attempt to make it about me. It's not about me. It's about the failure of the movement that had the best chance to improve conditions for the middle and working classes in this country in half a century. It failed precisely because it refused to engage people outside the immediate inner circle of supporters who opted in very early. It doomed itself to fail by considering outreach unnecessary, process more important than product, and policy not of interest at all.

But that doesn't change the fact that things sometimes simply are more complicated than they appear, and that life - and social action - isn't a video game, where everything is apparently so simple and obvious.

And yet they didn't do the most simple and obvious things that would have made a difference. Really, in life, most things are a lot simpler than they might seem. This is one. Not rocket science to pinpoint where it failed and why.

I don't think that Occupy is dead by any means.

We'll see. Not if the few who still think it's viable start getting a lot smarter, and consider taking some of the consulting they've been offered.

. Its most likely fate is adding itself to the constellation of social action and nonprofit groups that already exist in the U.S., with maybe a little more edginess - a Greenpeace to the stodgier NGOs and pressure groups' Nature Conservancy.

That would be sad indeed and I think if it went this way, it would not hold on to its own core. I also don't find it very edgy, and think it's interesting that you perceive that as an important characteristic of Occupy. It's too flabby and theatrical to be edgy.

Obviously conditions aren't changing enough; but if any movement reorganizes to mount an effective response, it's going to be with tactics very different from those of the 2011 Occupy.
posted by Miko at 4:23 PM on July 4, 2012


Just checked in for some reports on the Occupy National Gathering. 26 arrests already. They've had to move their central protest location twice. Foo Connor says "“This isn’t necessarily a gathering for all Occupiers;" the gathering was “more for organizers and hardcore radicals.”
One of the goals of the convention was to “to see what we agree on,” Shapiro said. Other Occupiers said this was an opportunity to network and meet other Occupiers in person.

But many were expecting a larger gathering. Shapiro was hoping to see 1,500 people throughout the week. Roughly 500 people came.
Promising?
July 4th, 2012 is the final day of the Occupy National Gathering. Participants gather in Franklin Square for a full day of “visioning” where Occupiers hope to craft a “blueprint” for a democratic future. This document is non-binding, but will ideally serve as a guide, of sorts, for people who want to focus and sharpen the Occupy movement's efforts.
Sounds like at least some folks in Occupy don't think my advice is as crappy as you do.
posted by Miko at 4:40 PM on July 4, 2012


1) Hm, nice try in this attempt to make it about me.

Quotes from this thread:

someone who went to the Boston camp, someone who proposed a teach-in that never happened

Many of us were saying so in the thick of the moment, and many of us went unheard. I felt my message on this was actively resisted by people in the movement

consider taking some of the consulting they've been offered


2) I also don't find it very edgy, and think it's interesting that you perceive that as an important characteristic of Occupy.

I was paraphrasing you, Miko. Here are your own words:

That's not what most people wanted from the movement and not why, for a short while, they were willing to step a few steps closer to it, before getting the message they really weren't radical or ideologically perfect enough or just plain young enough or cool enough to be welcome, and turned away.

I apologize for not fully quoting you - I felt "edgy" was a shorter way to sum up your own semi-sarcastic description.

3) Sounds like at least some folks in Occupy don't think my advice is as crappy as you do.

Sigh.

Yes, you caught me. My repeated agreement in this thread with many things you've said has actually been a super-sneaky way of telling you your advice was crappy. Congratulations.

Your last comments sum up why I'm going to leave you to this thread - in the first, you appear to hold up the arrests as an example of out-of-touch radicalism, while in the very next, you imply that these same out-of-touch radicals are actually following your advice after seeing the error of their ways.

I'm done here. Have a good night, everybody.
posted by jhandey at 7:02 PM on July 4, 2012


Miko, you're writing as though the police responses in Oakland, CA and NYC never happened.

Look, I'm really sorry that Occupy didn't give you the respect that you feel you deserved.

This was, actually, one of the most appealing parts of Occupy-- that they basically told the "professional activist" class to go get bent. Because, after all, if that group of people was so brilliant, why had they failed so completely?

At the same time, Occupy ran into the same problems that that same "professional activist" class has-- discomfort with money and power, obsession with process, lack of interest in driving a narrative, etc.
posted by deanc at 7:11 AM on July 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


The occupy food story
posted by Artw at 3:07 PM on July 5, 2012


The occupy food story

LOL I got sick of eating kale soup all the time so I volunteered to cook a lot. Who in the hell was bringing in all those boxes of kale? Nobody likes kale. I can see why there could be a surplus of kale, and I can see why someone would think they were being generous to donate it. I suppose beggars can't be choosers, but still..

As local support grew, we started getting supplies like rice that were nearly impossible to cook onsite on camp stoves, and washing dishes was almost impossible due to our "Sustainability Committee's" stupid insistence on using "environmentally sound" cleaners that didn't work, and rigid rules about disposing of tubs full of waste water that had to be hauled away on a little red wagon and dumped into someone's toilet rather than discharged into a storm sewer. So cooking and dishwashing mostly migrated offsite. Someone would take tubs of dishes away after the evening meal, and bring them back clean the next day. Breakfast was cold food, the local soup kitchen did lunch offsite, but dinners were cooked offsite and brought in while still hot.

I made a few huge batches of rice & chicken casserole, and I could not believe how difficult it was to prepare like a whole 5lb bag or rice at once. I had some industrial sized pots from my mom's old restaurant, but I didn't realize how difficult it was to do singlehandedly without a staff of prep cooks working for you, chopping vegetables, etc. And then there were the vegans, who demanded separately cooked batches that never came in contact with meat products. It could take 4 or 5 hours to prep the casserole, and I had to pull all the shelves out of my oven to make room for all the huge pots. I will never quite forget seeing my oven completely full of huge pots, from side to side, top to bottom. Occupiers visiting from other camps loved my casserole, and asked for the recipe and I gave it out often, and somebody even set up a website where people could post recipes. I posted it there, but I forget where that site was. I wonder if my recipe, and all the others (like kale soup) got to the Occupy Food cookbook.

But supplies were always a weird situation. We had many generous donations, and we always had a surplus of some products like day-old bread from local bakeries. But some people would come in with food I recognized as coming from the local food bank. I had gone there at times when I was poor and had no food (and I still do) and I recognized their canned goods. I felt really bad that people were taking excess food from the food bank to give to us, but it was our policy to give heartfelt thanks for all donations, no matter what. One day, a guy came in with a huge duffel bag of food bank canned goods. I started sorting them and noticed bulging cans. I started checking expiration dates, they were all expired, so I had to haul them back out of camp again and dispose of them. We had lots of donations that were more trouble than they were worth, and some that were totally useless and a burden to dispose of.

People would bring in the weirdest donations. One day I came into camp and there was a homeless guy who I'd never seen before, and he was unloading box after box of glass beer bottles from a wagon, and setting them right in front of the food tent. I don't know how he got them or where he was stashing them, but I came in as he was unloading his second trip. He explained how these were 5 cent bottles and were as good as cash, this was the currency of the homeless. He wanted to contribute, and for him it was generous, so I thanked him profusely. But I took one look at the mounds of bottles and said, holy shit we have to get this stuff out of here now, we have rules against drugs and alcohol, and if anyone from the public sees this right in the middle of camp, it will look like we're an alcohol fueled bacchanalia. So every spare hand had to drop what they were doing and haul all the stupid beer bottles offsite to be redeemed.

And then there were the busybodies who wanted to tell us how we should eat. I didn't mind the vegans, they at least had reasonable dietary demands, and hey, more meat for everyone else. But one kid constantly extolled the virtues of drinking garlic water he made from the huge supplies of donated organic garlic. And then he would lecture us constantly about how we should not eat sugar and carbs, especially as the weather turned cold, since it would give us energy and then we'd crash and our body temps would drop. This was a very unpopular idea, which only made him more strident in his lecturing. It galled him that the most desirable items in the kitchens were sweet foods and carbs. PB&J was especially desirable, and hard to keep in stock.

The food kitchen became one of the symbols of OWS, and of course it attracted the homeless, who basically overwhelmed our capacity. As winter approached, they became even more demanding, just as donations started to dwindle, and volunteers for offsite cooking were harder to find. Our food tent started as a communal meal to bring everyone together just before General Assembly. But the food tent ended up just attracting homeless people who would grab everything they could, and then there was nothing left for the people who came to GA. Eventually this became a drain on our resources, and when it got too cold, we moved GAs indoors to a nearby church. So I think it was early December when the GA decided to take down the food tent and announce they would stop providing meals. The homeless were furious. They said we promised them free food. Yeah right. So they started getting really aggressive, panhandling the public for money and free food. They'd solicit cash donations and claim it was going to the OWS treasury, and then they'd order out for pizza and beer.

This eventually became a dispute over who actually was OWS. Was it the GA, or was it anyone who showed up in the park? We had a previous crack at this problem, the first time we tried to eject some drunk and violent people. The City Attorney actually issued a decree that this was a public park, and under the permit we reluctantly approved, anyone who came along and said they were part of OWS, was part of OWS, so no police forces were permitted to eject anyone or keep anyone away from the camp. This was her clever tactic to saddle us with the local homeless problem and deny us any City resources to deal with the crime wave that came with it.

I disagreed with her decree, and argued that the GA created procedures to vote to eject people from OWS for violations of our no drugs, no violence policies, and they could get their own permit to camp because they weren't eligible to camp under our permit. The park officially closed to the public at 10PM so they weren't allowed to be there except under our permit. That didn't work.

Then I argued that if I personally got a City permit for say, a birthday party in the park, and someone came and along and disrupted it with drunk and disorderly behavior, even though this was a public park, I could call the police and they would have him removed. The City Attorney responded that they waived the requirement for a person to sign the permit, it was signed as The General Assembly and therefore there was no person who could had legal standing to make a complaint. This was a tactic suggested by a local citizen, he went before the City Council to argue against issuing our park permit, saying we had no standing to sign the permit as a corporate entity. But the City Council denied his request on a technicality, when it was discovered that he did not actually live within the city limits, and therefore he had no standing to make that complaint.

I consulted our ACLU lawyer and he noticed that there was a clause in the permit that could require the city to provide 24/7/365 police presence, but obviously the City wasn't going to just allocate officers to patrol the park constantly. They were already sending periodic foot patrols through the park, and the City disliked the extra time and money they were expending on us, even though we were on a pretty friendly basis with the police and had good cooperation with them (much to the disgust of our Anarchist bloc). So any request for our right to eject people, or for more police presence, would end up in court. I thought that was a great idea. My theory was that under the new Citizens United ruling, we could argue that our OWS group had incorporated and was legally entitled to the civil rights of any human being. This would force the City to argue against the Citizens United ruling. Either way, we would win. I envisioned this going all the way to the Supreme Court. If we lost, Citizens United would be invalidated, which would be a great strategic victory. If we won, the Citizens United decision stood unchanged, but we had our legal autonomy. I tried this idea on on some OWS members, they did not understand the irony, and were absolutely horrified that I could even think of using Citizens United to support our position.

The City held firm. They said that if we wanted autonomy, we would have to designate a specific representative who would take personal responsibility for the camp, post a bond, and provide liability insurance. This was an obvious tactic to defeat our leaderless tactics, which had stymied the Council on numerous occasions. The GA would never approve this. I think it was only a couple of days later that the Mayor of Denver became frustrated with rotating representatives, and demanded that Occupy Denver designate a single representative that he could negotiate with on behalf of the camp. The Denver GA responded by electing a dog, who was dispatched to City Hall for negotiations.

So it was basically a stalemate. The homeless took over the camp, and I knew the City Attorney was laughing at the predicament she put is in. We never had to deal with direct confrontations by police in riot gear, like Occupy Oakland or Zuccotti Square, but the City still found a way to exert their power, and thwarted our plans, in a way that went completely unobserved by the public. All they saw was a bunch of crazy homeless people who had replaced the mostly sane and entirely reasonable political activists in the park.
posted by charlie don't surf at 7:05 PM on July 5, 2012 [6 favorites]


The detailed particulars are fascinating. This, however, cracked me up:

rigid rules about disposing of tubs full of waste water that had to be hauled away on a little red wagon and dumped into someone's toilet rather than discharged into a storm sewer

Your grey water would probably have been the cleanest water going down the Denver storm sewers that day. Compared to what runs off of your average parking lot, rinse water is pristine. I've always loved the inanity of that kind of eco-ness, so focused on the details that they miss the pattern.

Still, though, it's both sad and frustrating to read again about how an original organizational choice ended up badly constraining Occupy's options and effectiveness. It was far from inevitable; even a modicum of mid-stream flexibility could have produced different results.
posted by Forktine at 8:11 PM on July 5, 2012


Oh.. that probably wasn't too clear. This did not happen in Denver, I just noted their actions as an example of the defiance in the face of city bureaucrats that happened right about that time in camps throughout the country. I hesitate to name my Occupation location specifically in this thread, although people could figure it out fairly easily.
posted by charlie don't surf at 8:53 PM on July 5, 2012


Did NYPD Manufacture a Murder Tie to Occupy Wall Street because Its Terror Myth Is Dying?
posted by homunculus at 4:28 PM on July 14, 2012


Did NYPD Manufacture a Murder Tie to Occupy Wall Street because Its Terror Myth Is Dying?

Enh, that one seemed much more like Hanlon's Razor to me.
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:13 PM on July 14, 2012


Batman hates the 99 Percent: "The Dark Knight Rises" and the new "Call of Duty" game both demonize Occupy. Has pop culture turned on populism?
posted by homunculus at 4:18 PM on July 21, 2012


I'd say that has about as much weight as OMG BAIN==BANE!!!
posted by Artw at 7:44 AM on July 22, 2012


n+1: Read Suppressing Protest: 'Someone is making demands on behalf of the Occupy movement. Suppressing Protest: Human Rights Violations in the U.S. Response to Occupy Wall Street, a report prepared by a coalition of legal scholars and human rights activists, is calling for reform and redress in response to the policing of Occupy protests across the country. '
posted by the man of twists and turns at 10:21 PM on July 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


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