Tags:


"A Eulogy for #Occupy"?
December 12, 2012 9:38 AM   Subscribe

"In the fall of 2011, Wired hired writer Quinn Norton to embed with the activists in the Occupy Wall Street movement .... Now, Norton looks back on the year of Occupy"
".... There was no critique in Occupy, no accountability. At first it didn’t matter, but as life grew messy and complicated, its absence became terrible. There wasn’t even a way to conceive of critique, as if the language had no words to describe the movement’s faults to itself. There was at times explicit gagging of Occupy’s media teams by the camp (General Assembly, or GA), to prevent anything that could be used to damage the movement from reaching the wider media. Self-censorship plagued those who weren’t gagged, because everyone was afraid of retaliation. No one talked about the systemic and growing abuses in the camps, or the increasingly poisonous GAs ...."
posted by MILNEWSca (147 comments total) 55 users marked this as a favorite

 
I've been following Norton's work for a while now. She's the kind of journalist we desperately need a lot more of.
posted by brennen at 9:55 AM on December 12, 2012 [6 favorites]


The need for unanimity and 'consensus' was always anti-democratic.
posted by empath at 9:56 AM on December 12, 2012 [11 favorites]


Great piece, thanks for posting it.
posted by jquinby at 9:58 AM on December 12, 2012


Oh, man, you're harshin' my buzzkill....
posted by y2karl at 10:00 AM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


If only the mainstream media (of which the Conde Nast-owned property Wired is a part) weren't complaining constantly that Occupy didn't have one, single coherent message for the public, I wouldn't have take this reporting with a grain of salt. Guess you can have it both ways when you own the presses.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:04 AM on December 12, 2012 [7 favorites]


The occupy movement always struck me as naive.
posted by dfriedman at 10:05 AM on December 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


Sounds like a strategy that worked wonderfully for the Tea Party Movement, but then, it was really a top-down operation...
posted by oneswellfoop at 10:06 AM on December 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


If you insist on unanimity it seems that you're giving up control to those that hold the strongest opinions.

I'd be interested to see David Graeber's response to those parts of this article.
posted by pharm at 10:06 AM on December 12, 2012


Interesting article, thanks.

It's interesting how much of the culture of OWS had centered around the lack of demands, and there were upsides and downsides to that approach. The lack of demands helped the OWS/99% meme gain terrific momentum, which was great, but it later hamstrung its life span and growth.

The irony is that Occupy really did make demands. The de facto structure of OWS forced certain decisions onto its constituents, effectively making demands of itself that could be neither questioned nor escaped. The emphasis on horizontal decisionmaking, and the de facto power of the GA, forced several different structures onto the Occupiers, not all of them productive.

It was like a microcosm of the idea that you cannot choose between having a government and having no government, but rather that you can only choose between having good government and having bad government. The emphasis on leaderlessness was a boon in some ways, especially when it came to letting the 99% meme grow in power, but eventually that leaderlessness cemented certain power structures, and eventually those power structures grew tumid.

On the other hand, contrast OWS with Occupy Sandy or Occupy the SEC. The latter two "movements," or whatever you'd like to call them, are apparently successful. It would be interesting to compare and contrast the different offshoots of the Occupy "brand."

...

From the article:

By the time I returned to NY from visiting the camp in DC, exhausted with the pain of six evictions, the NYC GA was a place where women were threatened with beatings[...]

Wait, what? I would like to know more about this? The author later goes into a story about meth heads giving the "meth stare" to women at the SF Occupy, but that's different.
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:08 AM on December 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


If you insist on unanimity it seems that you're giving up control to those that hold the strongest opinions.

You're giving up control to people who are willing to act without going through the assembly. The assembly insists on unanimity, so it's powerless to stop people.
posted by empath at 10:08 AM on December 12, 2012 [5 favorites]


Lesson from Occupy: social movements need leaders.
posted by downing street memo at 10:10 AM on December 12, 2012 [14 favorites]


This is a great and beautiful piece, but her surprise that not everyone is trained in journalism or communications feels a bit condescending. And regarding the pullquote in the FPP: "the wider media" (mostly) means corporate news media, who mostly have zero interest in treating internal problems within social justice movements as anything except fresh meat for the lion pit. Journalists often think they can just apply the same standard of transparency to these movements - the powerless - that they do to government - the powerful - because they're both, technically, public, but that's sheltered ignorance at best, and sophistry at worst. More of the kind of "openness" she's suggesting there wouldn't have solved any of the problems. It would probably have made them worse.
posted by Mike Smith at 10:11 AM on December 12, 2012 [8 favorites]


Yeah.. I spent countless, shouting, frustrated and impossibly disappointing hours trying to show Occupy (Portland) that they were blowing a huge opportunity to make a stand or send a message that says SOMETHING, ANYTHING now that they have actually managed to get the attention of the nation at large..

But I couldn't get the backing to form a committee to present a package of my criticisms and proposed fixes etc.. etc.. etc.. adinfinitum..
posted by mediocre at 10:18 AM on December 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


Mike: If you don't act to eliminate the assholes from your discourse, then your discourse will be dominated by assholes. By preventing the problems within Occupy from being brought out into the open, the GA was tacitly approving of them.

The issues around women sound horrifying frankly.
posted by pharm at 10:19 AM on December 12, 2012 [5 favorites]


If only the mainstream media (of which the Conde Nast-owned property Wired is a part) weren't complaining constantly that Occupy didn't have one, single coherent message for the public, I wouldn't have take this reporting with a grain of salt. Guess you can have it both ways when you own the presses.

I don't see the "both ways" here: that is, I don't see the contradiction you seem to see. Insisting that decisions are unanimously endorsed is not the same thing as having a "single coherent message." In fact, it's pretty much a guaranteed way not to arrive at a "single, coherent message." Look, for example, at what the power of the filibuster does to the "messages" that the Senate wants to send. If you give veto power to minorities (and in this case that means minorities of one) you end up with incoherent, aimless, and contradictory policy.
posted by yoink at 10:20 AM on December 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


Here's the thing, though:

Occupy Wall Street was a success. It sparked a national debate on income inequality. The President is now in a position to demand a rate hike for the highest earners. There is talk of a return of the estate tax, and even some whispers of changes to investment income taxes like the capital gains rate. I say 'income is income,' tax it all the same, but that's detail stuff.

Occupy was never about details. They did not (collectively) have many specific demands—they had one big complaint: THIS ISN'T FAIR. And the demand is obvious: FIX IT.

Of course not everything is fixed. It's still not fair. Monocled plutocrats are still trying to squeeze every last dime out of American workers and then ship their jobs overseas. But the conversation has begun, and the public is by and large sympathetic to the big message: THIS ISN'T FAIR. And things aren't ever going to be perfect, but maybe they will become a little less unfair.

Now is the time to focus on specifics, now that the big idea is an accepted reality of American life. The unfairness has been stipulated all 'round, now we have to look at specific measures to even the playing field.
posted by Mister_A at 10:21 AM on December 12, 2012 [45 favorites]


It sparked a national debate on income inequality

I'm pretty sure that we all noticed before that.
posted by empath at 10:22 AM on December 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


I'm always confused by the Occupy GA's insistence on consensus. I've heard from various places that it sprang from the way that Quaker meetings are run, but Quaker meetings, while they encourage consensus extremely strongly, do not always insist on it (we really operate on what is called "Sense of the Meeting," which means that clerks can call a decision as the will of the group even if one or two members are adamantly standing in the way.)

Sense of the Meeting is slow, and often painfully tedious, but it really does work, and it is an amazing process to watch a community come together and make decisions in that fashion. It only works, however, when everyone buys into it: when they recognize that they are doing spiritual (not religious, spiritual) work, when they respond to ideas rather than one another, when they leave silence between speakers and are willing to set aside their own egos. I have seen Meetings for Worship with Attention to Business (as they're called) run with 200+ participants and they worked really well. I've heard about them happening in very tight situations-- the Pacific theatre among Quaker medics; Christian peacemaker teams in Gaza and the West Bank. So it is possible.

But it seems like Occupy, weirdly, sort of chose to take the worst (or at least the hardest to do right) parts of Sense of the Meeting-- the consensus, the "speaker" (clerk), the endless bloody committees, and other elements that are difficult to manage even with years of practice-- and smashed it together with this very strange Roberts' Rules of Order-y type stuff, like blocking and actual debate (which is definitely not the point of Quaker-style meetings). I admire the spirit of the thing, but it's easy to see why it didn't work. I don't have any advice, or any solution. I have a lot of heartfelt love for our tiny little local Occupy (whose GA I clerked, Quaker-style, on several occasions-- and was told that those sessions were the clearest and least hurtful, which confirmed my suspicion that they had based on an idealized version of consensus-building but with no idea how that actually worked.) But the sad truth of the matter is that unless everyone in a movement is very careful, and very intentional, and very tightly-knit together in a common purpose, the fissures that open tend to be the same ones we see in larger society, because that's what we're used to, because that's what's "normal". Accusations of racism, brutality against the mentally ill, and women, don't surprise me, but they do sadden me. That's what we go back to when we're not quite sure what else to do, and when our decision-making process has broken down.
posted by WidgetAlley at 10:24 AM on December 12, 2012 [33 favorites]


I disagree vehemently, empath. Income inequality was not part of public discourse. We may have talked about it ourselves, but you and I are not typical in terms of our awareness of such things. When it's on the news, in the papers, in the mass media outlets, in political speeches and presented not just as the way things are, but as a bad thing, as a mistake that needs fixing, that is a big win. Occupy served its purpose and is no more.
posted by Mister_A at 10:24 AM on December 12, 2012 [7 favorites]


Mister_A - If that was the message that was sent, it was unintended. My experience with Occupy was that of endless procedural clusterfucks and frustrated optimism fading to jaded misanthropy and onsite meth labs.
posted by mediocre at 10:25 AM on December 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


That's not what the general population saw. I don't think they looked at Occupiers as heroes, by and large, but they got the idea that these people were mad because the riches people seemed to be getting richer at everyone else's expense.
posted by Mister_A at 10:28 AM on December 12, 2012


If that was the message that was sent, it was unintended.

No, that was very much INtended.

And Elizabeth Warren getting into Congress is Exhibit A that at least some people got that message.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:31 AM on December 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


This paragraph is a compelling description:

Because the GA had no way to reject force, over time it fell to force. Proposals won by intimidation; bullies carried the day. What began as a way to let people reform and remake themselves had no mechanism for dealing with them when they didn’t. It had no way to deal with parasites and predators. It became a diseased process, pushing out the weak and quiet it had meant to enfranchise until it finally collapsed when nothing was left but predators trying to rip out each other’s throats.

Of course, the problem is that the writer calls the process diseased right after she points out that problem is with people taking advantage of it.

It reminds me of the book Corelli's Mandolin - the author, Louis de Bernieres, referred to Communist forces strong-arming the populace while trying to drive the Fascists out by calling it "the most noble ideology ever to be hijacked by scoundrels and opportunists."
posted by entropone at 10:32 AM on December 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


so you really didnt read the article, didn't ya? she's got a lot in there but you got the most misleading quote from the bunch.... but am not an unbiased reader and i actually happened to have met Quinn during her OWS travels & discussed some of what she wrote on this essay.

it's a complicated piece because as she very well says in it, it's very difficult to do the faux-unbiased journalism Americans so crave with a movement like this. there are more than a few of us who went into OWS, paid or not, as observers and have not only been changed by it but became in one way or another the eyes and ears of the movement. here's an example of my impact: 75 days of the Occupy Movement « The Official Klout Blog | Klout.

i believe a lot of it has to do with the fact this country has not seen a movement like this in more than a generation. but also, and this is my personal definition of OWS and the new political movements before/around it; it is a new kind of FRACTAL ACTIVISM: depending on where you are standing that's the movement that you get. it's a blessing and a curse from it's anarchist roots and this says more about my conflicted feelings about anarchism than about OWS as a movement that works in spite of itself.

yet i truly believe this "get whatever you get from wherever you are" approach to OWS is really what stumps a lot of people who try to write epitaphs about it. first because they fail to grasp the enormity of this movement and how a lot of it is still going strong. some of it is offline, some of it is still through lists, others, just as she pointed out, you can see it in the Walmart stikers, the Rolling Jubilee. and of course, there's Occupy Sandy.

more than writing epitaphs about OWS, which is a media sport in and of itself, the "problems" of OWS are really problems of US democracy. the failure of OWS isn't due to X Y and Z. as a movement OWS wasn't supposed to happen because the true believers had no idea how huge is the social & political void they were trying to fill. and am specifically referring to the true believers, who are still around, because there were many players at the beginning of the OWS mix who were there to capitalize on the "democrats' tea party" that never was.

but to bring it back to the idea of a FRACTAL SOCIAL POLITICS: there was TONS OF CRITIQUE from within the working groups i personally was immersed in. there was so much fucking criticism it got to a point NOTHING WAS DONE or nothing could be discussed for fear of the consequences. there is a whole history of OWS in email lists & half-transcribed meeting minutes from working groups & GAs that would paint a whole different picture Quinn paints here AND YET HER DESCRIPTION IS RIGHT ON THE MONEY FOR HER KIND OF ENGAGEMENT.

she's writing a book and i am looking forward to it. she's got a keen eye and an incredibly honest voice in spite of writing for a publication that actually does put reins & skews towards certain biases like any corporate media conglomerate would. but i hope this essay is a product of some misunderstood editorial chopping work. there are factual throwaways in there, as it pertains to NYC OWS, that actually aren't accurate. but there seems to be more coming and am looking forward to it.
posted by liza at 10:33 AM on December 12, 2012 [12 favorites]


It's my impression that Occupy broke the hypnotic spell of the Wingnut Wurlitzer.
posted by whuppy at 10:34 AM on December 12, 2012 [8 favorites]


On the other hand, contrast OWS with Occupy Sandy or Occupy the SEC. The latter two "movements," or whatever you'd like to call them, are apparently successful. It would be interesting to compare and contrast the different offshoots of the Occupy "brand."
I've been peripherally involved with Occupy Sandy as a weekend volunteer in the kitchen operations that are supplying food to the distribution centers in the Rockaways and Coney, and it's almost like a different movement. There is purpose to Sandy driven by specific and acute needs about how best to help those who need it. There is less of that angsty existential questioning around what the movement hopes to achieve or have as its message. The message was clear from the early days: "Mutual Aid. People helping each other until that help is no longer needed."

It's also different in that there isn't really a central permanent encampment. Volunteers flow in and out of churches and distribution hubs so a centralized decision making body like the GA is rendered irrelevant. The first time I got an email about doing a movement wide teleconference to meet about "the mission and goals of Occupy Sandy" a small part of me cringed and died a little inside. Please, people, let's not regress here.
posted by bl1nk at 10:34 AM on December 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


If you insist on unanimity it seems that you're giving up control to those that hold the strongest opinions.

You're giving up control to those who express their opinions strongest. There's a distinct difference, which Norton circles around a few times.
posted by Etrigan at 10:34 AM on December 12, 2012


If you don't act to eliminate the assholes from your discourse, then your discourse will be dominated by assholes.
This seems to almost be the root of the problem, and nobody ever seems to want to tackle it.
posted by boilermonster at 10:34 AM on December 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


Sounds like a strategy that worked wonderfully for the Tea Party Movement, but then, it was really a top-down operation...

That really is the thing, isn't it?

Setting aside the astroturfing of the Tea Party...

I'm reminded of a book I once read on modern American political ideology. Conservatism is often focussed on the idea of "barbarians at the gates". There is this idea that society is this magnificent achievement, but this achievement has either been lost or is currently about to be lost, due to foreign invaders, lazy do-nothings, cowardly quislings, know-nothing elites, etc., and that without society, people would tear one another apart. There is the idea that conservatives are always, in some way, at war. War often unites strange bedfellows and smooths over differences. On the other hand, treating life as war can have terrible consequences, especially if what you are fighting for is unjust or silly.

Contrast that with liberalism, which is often focussed on the idea of perfectionism. There is the idea that society is profoundly imperfect, and it is our duty to fix those imperfections, but there is also considerable faith that humans can, through better education and better choices, create a better society. The war analogy doesn't really hold here, except in special cases. In overgrown or mismanaged examples, you more often see "analysis paralysis" and "no, we are the People's Front of Judea" types of antics. There is also always the risk that we may be trying to perfect society in ways that it cannot be perfected, or perhaps ways that it should not be perfected.
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:35 AM on December 12, 2012 [9 favorites]


Charlie Pierce on Occupy's undermentioned effect on the 2012 elections.
posted by whuppy at 10:42 AM on December 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


oh, but to further my thoughts on comparison between OWS and Occupy Sandy:

I think OWS was valuable in forging connections between people and giving a lot of citizens a very rough and rapid introduction into internet enabled grassroots organization. The best parts of that, with respect to using social media, rapidly establishing trust, setting up flat hierarchies, and encouraging individual decision making over top-down order taking is being used in Occupy Sandy right now, and it can be better but is still amazing to witness and experience.

Yet, it's all put towards something specific and concrete, as well as a cause that's truly collaborative as opposed to confrontational, and that's been changing the dynamics quite well. With that said, I think there's still some institutional baggage that Sandy can release in order to be more effective. There's a continuing anti-establishment vibe that results in urgent action alerts being sent out at the faintest whiff of a police action; as well as a chest-puffing urge to tout Occupy's efforts as being the sole savior of places like the Rockaways or Staten Island. That, I imagine, is eventually going to alienate a lot of other groups who would be happy to work with Occupy but not take on their flag.
posted by bl1nk at 10:43 AM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


On the other hand, contrast OWS with Occupy Sandy or Occupy the SEC. The latter two "movements," or whatever you'd like to call them, are apparently successful. It would be interesting to compare and contrast the different offshoots of the Occupy "brand.

WHY ARE YOU PARSING THESE AS "DIFFERENT" MOVEMENTS?!?!?!

this is what is so frustrating about people who speak for OWS: Occupy the SEC is OWS. Occupy Sandy is OWS. they are one and the same movements. there is no "before/after". they are all part of a continuum. your failure to even understand this is exactly the kind of social/political void i mentioned earlier. USAmericans aren't conditioned to understand politics as a continuum.
posted by liza at 10:50 AM on December 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


@bl1nk said "I think OWS was valuable in forging connections between people and giving a lot of citizens a very rough and rapid introduction into internet enabled grassroots organization."

first of all, one of the biggest things we built for OWS was networking tools and ways to capture and organize people. your experience with Occupy Sandy is proof that the thousands of labor hours we put into these systems --and which we knew needed to be built since before 17Nov11-- are working effectively. in spite of the fact that we have is not even what we really wanted to build but there are just not enough hands & money to buy the time & labor that we need to built the systems that would really powerfully organize this "fractal movement".

but to the second point of your sentence: i have to disagree. OBAMA FOR AMERICA left a lot of people hungry for more when they dismantled most of their on-the-ground groups and switched to their MoveOn.org type of politics. that's one huge factor for why OWS happened.
posted by liza at 10:59 AM on December 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


a new kind of FRACTAL ACTIVISM [...] FRACTAL SOCIAL POLITICS

What does this mean? It sounds like empty rhetoric to someone who doesn't know.
posted by OmieWise at 10:59 AM on December 12, 2012


your failure to even understand this is exactly the kind of social/political void i mentioned earlier. USAmericans aren't conditioned to understand politics as a continuum.

Do you have any idea how condescending this sounds?
posted by OmieWise at 11:01 AM on December 12, 2012 [9 favorites]


I don't really understand the purpose of comparing Occupy Sandy with the broader Occupy movement - it seems like it's serving a totally different function. People who are actually involved correct me if I'm wrong, but my understanding of Occupy Sandy is that it's basically a service delivery organization, with the goal of providing relief that is more effective, more long-term, more community-oriented, more empowering, and more focused on the most marginalized and vulnerable compared to how the big NGOs and government agencies may operate. This is an extremely worthy goal. But it's not as political or as oriented toward changing policy in the way that some other parts of Occupy are, and that doesn't make those other parts without a purpose or without value, it just makes their work slower with impact that is harder to measure. We need good service delivery organizations to help people in need. We also need good political movements to advocate for broader social change. These things don't have to be in competition or in conflict.
posted by naoko at 11:07 AM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


> On the other hand, contrast OWS with Occupy Sandy or Occupy the SEC. The latter two "movements," or whatever
> you'd like to call them, are apparently successful. It would be interesting to compare and contrast the
> different offshoots of the Occupy "brand."
posted by Sticherbeast at 1:08 PM on December 12 [1 favorite +] [!]


> Occupy the SEC is OWS. Occupy Sandy is OWS. they are one and the same movements. there is no "before/after".
> they are all part of a continuum.
posted by liza at 1:50 PM on December 12 [+] [!]

Hatfields and McCoys have all joined together in a big group hug. But lumpers and splitters, not yet.
posted by jfuller at 11:13 AM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Occupy and the police needn't be enemies – as Sandy showed: Many activists now appearing in court had organised relief during the storm. Hopefully NYPD officers will remember that
posted by homunculus at 11:17 AM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Insisting that decisions are unanimously endorsed is not the same thing as having a "single coherent message."

If I read her piece correctly, and feel free to correct me if I misread her words, but the press were asked to stay out of meetings — and she honored that request — so that organizers could hash out in private what the movement would be doing — in other words, figuring out how to get things working to a common cause (isn't that what meetings are generally for?). Therefore, this portion of her op-ed piece seemed, to me, to be at odds with the larger narrative the mainstream media presented about the Occupy movement, and while I'm glad she honestly recognized she was a journalist and therefore not part of the movement, I'm surprised she did not step back and recognize the contradictions inherent in her own portrayal and those of the larger media entity of which she is a part.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:18 AM on December 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


the fissures that open tend to be the same ones we see in larger society, because that's what we're used to, because that's what's "normal"

It's normal because that's what people are like. Inclined to selfishness, capable of grace.

this is what is so frustrating about people who speak for OWS: Occupy the SEC is OWS. Occupy Sandy is OWS. they are one and the same movements. there is no "before/after". they are all part of a continuum. your failure to even understand this is exactly the kind of social/political void i mentioned earlier. USAmericans aren't conditioned to understand politics as a continuum.

Could you explain more what you mean by this? Is it the same people involved, the same techniques, the same methods, the same tech? Obviously they draw inspiration from it, sharing the name. To an outsider, they seem pretty different, though.

It almost reminds me of that old myth about the Velvet Underground --- nobody bought the record, but everybody who saw them play started their own band. Something can be influential without being popular or achieving success in its own right.
posted by Diablevert at 11:19 AM on December 12, 2012


If you don't act to eliminate the assholes from your discourse, then your discourse will be dominated by assholes.
This seems to almost be the root of the problem, and nobody ever seems to want to tackle it.


Because it requires force. It requires someone to arrogate to themselves the right to apply force, and the will to do it. Sooner or later, the evolution of a society requires there to be a sergeant at arms saying "here's the line, if you cross it I'll evict you". And that's a step that most occupiers and grassroots activists and hopeful anarchists have a lot of trouble with because, at root, they naively equate force with the unjust enemy that caused them to come together in the first place.
posted by fatbird at 11:20 AM on December 12, 2012 [18 favorites]


I think that Thomas Frank wrote a thoughtful criticism of the OWS movement and the attendant press in the latest issue of The Baffler.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 11:38 AM on December 12, 2012 [5 favorites]


pharm: If you don't act to eliminate the assholes from your discourse, then your discourse will be dominated by assholes. By preventing the problems within Occupy from being brought out into the open, the GA was tacitly approving of them.

I agree with you, completely. I said what I said because I agree.

History's shown that (most of) the corporate press is not a tool that can help with this. Organizations who make their money on spectacle and controversy often generate spectacle and controversy, sometimes by their mere presence. Add a frequent inability (and, sometimes, active unwillingness) to treat anti-capitalist critiques, the concerns of mental health consumers/survivors, movement history, and oppositional political structures as valid and nuanced... and you don't even have a recipe for good coverage from objective standards, much less a healthy venue for internal reflection and positive change. You have a schadenfreude generator set up inside a gladiator pit.

Norton's piece is exceptional, but it strikes me as an exception that proves the rule. I wish more reporters approached their subjects with such humane and open-hearted intelligence. And I think there's reason to hope that this will slowly become more normal. But we're not there yet.
posted by Mike Smith at 11:42 AM on December 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


That Thomas Frank piece is pretty devastating. This bit certainly gives pause:
Occupy itself is pretty much gone. It was evicted from Zuccotti Park about two months after it began—an utterly predictable outcome for which the group seems to have made inadequate preparation. OWS couldn’t bring itself to come up with a real set of demands until after it got busted, when it finally agreed on a single item. With the exception of some residual groups here and there populated by the usual activist types, OWS has today pretty much fizzled out. The media storm that once surrounded it has blown off to other quarters.

Pause for a moment and compare this record of accomplishment to that of Occupy’s evil twin, the Tea Party movement, and the larger right-wing revival of which it is a part. Well, under the urging of this trumped-up protest movement, the Republican Party proceeded to win a majority in the U.S. House of Representatives; in the state legislatures of the nation it took some six hundred seats from the Democrats; as of this writing it is still purging Republican senators and congressmen deemed insufficiently conservative and has even succeeded in having one of its own named as the GOP’s vice-presidential candidate
Even if you think OWS achieved more than he lists, it's pretty instructive to compare it to the Tea Party.
posted by OmieWise at 12:00 PM on December 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think it may be not quite fair to compare the Tea Party to Occupy Wallstreet.
posted by WidgetAlley at 12:05 PM on December 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


I don't know.. I just get the sense from everyone I ever speak with that talks positively about Occupy _________ in regards to its influence or structure that they didn't really spend a lot of nights in the camps.

It's like the local "alt" media here in Portland ran with the vaguely inspirational message of "We're not going to take it anymore!" while willfully remaining ignorant that the on the ground experience of Occupy was one of constant fear and frustration. Fear from the wildly out of control lawlessness, frustration over never making any progress on ANYTHING, EVER. Then the media and commentators watch a few viral clips, read a press release or two, and impose an idealistic values statement on the idea of Occupy more then the actual actions..
posted by mediocre at 12:07 PM on December 12, 2012


I think it may be not quite fair to compare the Tea Party to Occupy Wallstreet.

I don't know what you mean, unless it's that results don't matter.

Were they different? Yes. Was one an astroturf? Yes, in large part. Did one fundamentally change politics in the US while the other basically did nothing? Yes. I'm not sure how you get better progressive movements without paying attention to successful movements period. But I understand how stuffy that sounds. It's like I'm advocating for something crazy like a functioning regulatory beaurocracy or labor movement.
posted by OmieWise at 12:15 PM on December 12, 2012 [8 favorites]


I'm always confused by the Occupy GA's insistence on consensus. I've heard from various places that it sprang from the way that Quaker meetings are run, but Quaker meetings, while they encourage consensus extremely strongly, do not always insist on it (we really operate on what is called "Sense of the Meeting," which means that clerks can call a decision as the will of the group even if one or two members are adamantly standing in the way.)

I repeatedly pointed this out to our OWS members. My understanding of Quaker consensus techniques is that if someone clearly is putting a personal interest ahead of the group's interest, they can be overruled. That seems exactly the opposite of the GA Block, but not really. Block was only intended for people raising objections to GA decisions that would have unintentional consequences that were destructive to the group (e.g. someone notices inadvertent racist language in a GA statement). But GAs became notorious for individuals preventing group consensus.

Anyway, I am particularly annoyed by this article. It is an attempt at a historical interpretation, trying to summarize the movement and interpret it from one person's point of view. That shows the author's complete lack of understanding of what OWS was about. There is no monolithic point of view, and that was how the movement was structured. In fact, that was the whole point. Just as OWS is a leaderless movement, it is a movement with no unified narrative. Attempts to impose a single narrative were strongly resisted, since that provided a specific point where the opposition could be mobilized against OWS. Any attempt to impose a single interpretation of OWS in retrospect, only serves to neutralize its impact.
posted by charlie don't surf at 12:20 PM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


If you want to talk results: The tea party is currently holding the speaker of the house hostage on tax cuts while we're merrily heading over the fiscal cliff. The GOP congressmen know that if they compromise, they will get primaried and lose.

The democractic side has no reason not to compromise, because OWS isn't interested in affecting elections. So the GOP is going to end up getting what they want.
posted by empath at 12:21 PM on December 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


".... There was no critique in Occupy, no accountability. At first it didn’t matter, but as life grew messy and complicated, its absence became terrible. There wasn’t even a way to conceive of critique, as if the language had no words to describe the movement’s faults to itself. There was at times explicit gagging of Occupy’s media teams by the camp (General Assembly, or GA), to prevent anything that could be used to damage the movement from reaching the wider media. Self-censorship plagued those who weren’t gagged, because everyone was afraid of retaliation. No one talked about the systemic and growing abuses in the camps, or the increasingly poisonous GAs ...."

I support Occupy, and I think they've done a lot to steer the national dialogue in a good direction. However, this sounds like every organization I have ever been involved with.

-Keep a happy face on everything
-Critique isn't allowed
-Make things hard for people who complain
-What? Things aren't going well? Things are going great!

I have always found consensus to be patently anti-democratic. Consensus basically means wearing everyone down until the people who are the loudest and most longwinded get their way.
posted by dunkadunc at 12:21 PM on December 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


I miss Occupy.
posted by zscore at 12:23 PM on December 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


> Consensus basically means wearing everyone down until the people who are the loudest and most longwinded get their way.

My shorthand for this: Agenda of the Motormouths.
posted by bukvich at 12:32 PM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Were they different? Yes. Was one an astroturf? Yes, in large part. Did one fundamentally change politics in the US while the other basically did nothing? Yes. I'm not sure how you get better progressive movements without paying attention to successful movements period. But I understand how stuffy that sounds. It's like I'm advocating for something crazy like a functioning regulatory beaurocracy or labor movement.

The other part of the Tea Party is that, whether or not it was AstroTurf initially, it (is or was) something that a decent number of Americans actually believed in. As a movement it might not have been authentic, but it did actually get people on its side. Denigrating astroturf makes sense when it's fake letters to Congressmen; once the astroturfing has convinced people, the fact that it's astroturf doesn't matter.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 12:37 PM on December 12, 2012 [7 favorites]


I appreciate these articles, in part because it's so hard for a lot of people who didn't experience these situations to realize that anything negative came out of or occurred at Occupy Wall Street.

I don't know about women threatened with beatings at the NYC GA, but I do know there was a strong push against letting women defend themselves against sexual assaults or report them, because the idea was that it wasn't fair to the assaulters.
posted by corb at 12:49 PM on December 12, 2012


"If you don't act to eliminate the assholes from your discourse, then your discourse will be dominated by assholes"
There's a t-shirt or bumper sticker right there....
posted by MILNEWSca at 12:56 PM on December 12, 2012


I liked this article.

I never camped at Occupy Boston. Sometimes I wish I had.

I visited the camp twice. The first time, I stayed for a few minutes with a pair of friends. We listened to the band playing by the wall, looked at the signs in the sign tent, and then left. The second time, I was taking a walk, and I happened to walk by the camp. It was late by the time I got there. Two or three cops stood by the corner. They wore yellow jackets. I think I could see their breath. My memory may be embellishing that detail. Someone played guitar by the information tent. I don't remember the song.

I do remember walking by the sign tent, where I had intended to make a sign of my own, and listening to a pair of men talk. They had gray beards and wrinkled skin. They stood by chairs next to the sidewalk. Their jackets were shabby and brown. They were discussing the general badness of American politics.

A man in a black pea coat walked by. His skin was clear. He was young. He muttered "Get a job" when he got close to the taller of the two men. This one followed him for a few steps and demanded that he repeat what he had said. The young man ignored him as he walked off.

I get miffed when people denigrate Occupy in the fashion of the young man in the black pea coat. It shows such terrible self-satisfaction.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 1:29 PM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Any attempt to impose a single interpretation of OWS in retrospect, only serves to neutralize its impact.

So it's not acceptable to answer the question, "what was that like?" with "well, this is what I saw...."? That's mostly how the piece read to me. She obviously has her biases, but she seemed pretty open about acknowledging that. If she's truly reporting her experiences and her thoughts on those experiences, that's unacceptable?

The other thing is, can't you say that about any movement or event? People had different experiences of WWII or the Spanish Civil War or the Civil Rights Movement or the Great Boston Molasses Flood, and in pretty much every case the cliff notes version that school kids memorise is a lot more simple than the real thing, you know? No one person's experience of an historical event is sufficient to encapsulate the entire meaning or influence of it. But I don't think that means all generalisations are false. You need that so that people who weren't there can gain some sense of the atmosphere and unspoken assumptions that were driving the actors at the time. I mean, why read Hunter S. Thompson? Why read Dickens? One person's experience ain't the whole panorama. But it can be a lense.
posted by Diablevert at 1:35 PM on December 12, 2012 [6 favorites]


OWS failed because the mayors kicked them out of the parks.
posted by Drinky Die at 1:37 PM on December 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


Even if you think OWS achieved more than he lists, it's pretty instructive to compare it to the Tea Party.

I have always found consensus to be patently anti-democratic. Consensus basically means wearing everyone down until the people who are the loudest and most longwinded get their way.

I have found it ironic, and depressing, that the Tea Party has seemed to learn more from Saul Alinsky and the Industrial Areas Foundation than Occupy movementeers. On the one hand IAF is non-ideological and works with quiet determination to achieve discrete, concrete victories over a period of years, and on the other hand, uh, the same thing.

I think OWS was mistaken in thinking that it could "achieve" something other than altering the direction of the conversation, and if you look at it that way, they were a success. I think Elizabeth Warren is indeed a victory they can point to, although they only played a small part in her trajectory.

I also don't think that consensus is a bad thing. This is a movement; it doesn't have to be a democracy. Being one might be antithetical to its raison d'etre. I think the consensus approach was one way to avoid the common ideological splintering that afflicts so many movements on the extreme left; at the same time it's impossible to prevent a movement from physically splintering when consensus isn't reachable. At the fringes of this bell curve you end up with people like the Ohio bridge "bombers" (wannabes). When you have poor agreement on how to achieve goals you also have things like the incidents that made ACORN look bad -- voter registration fraud, for instance, which reflects on the org even if they uncover it themselves. I thought consensus was also a way to make the movement seem accessible, and carve messages that would have broader appeal, but I'm not sure that's wholly possible anyway. God knows the social conditions that tend toward revolt in most countries tend, here, toward reactionary wagon-circling.

So part of the question has to be, "What could OWS practically achieve?" and measure against that rather than some ideal, which might be different for every listener (e.g. "a practical, effective mortgage relief program" vs. "Viva la Revolucion!"). I really think a lot of this is outsized expectations.
posted by dhartung at 1:38 PM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


The Tea Party is willing to vote against Republicans that do things they disagree with, liberals are not willing to vote against Democrats.

There are some good reasons for that, but it does mean the politicians don't need to care what they think.
posted by Drinky Die at 1:45 PM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


At some point if you want to get shit done you need to pick a specific goal (Occupy Sandy: deliver relief services to a community) and set up leaders and some semblance of a central, national organization. OWS didn't want to do this. Everyone needed a voice! Consensus! Community-building! Well, time doesn't wait for 200 people to try to hash out what they're feeling and all agree on a single thing. In the meantime cops come and tear your camp down.

The Civil Rights movement of the 60's is a perfect example of how well-organized activism can bring together many different groups (women, men, students, elderly, etc) by focusing on a single message and carefully picking battles. You didn't just go with any lawsuit, you picked the right defendant to minimize the press's ability to criticize them. You didn't let anyone with a sign march in your protests. Protesters were asked to dress nicely so they'd be taken seriously by the media and people who did not stick to nonviolence were thrown out. Is this because the leaders of the movement thought all other messages were wrong and people who didn't wear ties didn't deserve rights? No, they were realists. They knew the media was unfair and so they closed off as many areas of attack as possible without losing their message. They understood control of the message and control of perception of the movement were interlinked. It was exactly by funneling their idealism through practicality that they were able to succeed.

You see this with the current Gay Rights movement, in that there are real political organizations involved in picking and advancing cases to the Supreme Court and establishing campaigns and support structures for striking down different anti-gay-rights laws in different states.

Can you imagine OWS setting up those kinds of strictures? Can you imagine camps throwing out people who were thought to make the movement look bad? Hell, there were elements in those camps who welcomed them. I bet you if anyone tried to make those kinds of rules they'd be called fascists and assholes and what-have-you. Were efforts made to organize lawyers, leaders, members of the political establishment to start pressing investigation and prosecution of banks? Were efforts made to establish specific nationwide talking points, specific laws they wanted to change and could individually attack as part of a larger movement?

We know the answer. And we know the result, which is a lot of people talked, the nation enjoyed the spectacle, and then everyone went back to watching The Jersey Shore.

It's a goddamned tragedy because it was clear to anyone that OWS struck a chord with a hell of a lot of people, "normal" people, and initiated a lot of dialogue. They had a golden opportunity to channel all that anger and support into something tangible to serve as a countbalance to things like the Tea Party in the national consciousness. And they didn't. They got so hung up on making sure everyone felt OK and happy before making any movement that they imploded on themselves.
posted by schroedinger at 1:52 PM on December 12, 2012 [16 favorites]


OWS failed because the mayors kicked them out of the parks.

Oh, come on now. What if they hadn't been kicked out? What if everyone had been allowed to stay camped out? What was the end goal? Camp out in the parks until . . . uh . . . what, exactly? Forever? Just sit there to "raise awareness", like those billboards with Bible quotes and a picture of Jesus?
posted by schroedinger at 1:55 PM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yep. Occupy Sandy and Occupy the SEC are "Occupy" in name and branding only. They are efforts by technocratic experts - in other words, leaders - to get a specific job done. Nearly the exact opposite of movements like OWS.
posted by downing street memo at 2:00 PM on December 12, 2012


Anything other than a wholehearted celebration of the occupy movement is sure to be answered by someone claiming that the speaker or writer just doesn't understand occupy or even that occupy cannot, by definition, be understood. It is a frustrating bit of rhetoric. More importantly, should the aims of a movement be that obscure? Doesn't the obscurity make it hard to continue to gain allies and members? People understood what it meant to fight for a 40-hour work week. They understand the idea of the freedom to marry or vote. Even "bread and roses" communicates the desire for both a liveable wage and beauty and dignity in life.
posted by Area Man at 2:04 PM on December 12, 2012 [2 favorites]



This part, speaks to me a thousand time:

The policing of protest in America makes it clear that protest has become mere ritual, a farce, and that, by definition, it becomes illegal if it threatens to change anything or inconvenience anyone. In time, all the police announcements came to say the same thing to me. “You may go through your constitutional ritual,” they intoned, “but it must stop before anything of consequence happens.” We must, above all, preserve everything as it is.
posted by bswinburn at 2:06 PM on December 12, 2012 [15 favorites]


From an Antipodean perspective, I feel like OWS "failed" (if failure could be read as failure to achieve widespread and lasting impact on national policies and the political system in general), because its anti-establishment roots mean that it largely opted out of the current (flawed etc etc) power systems, i.e. the political system.

The furious noise generated by the press (for and against), helped disguise the relative impotence, and once the press was gone, so was much of OWS.

By refusing to actually tackle real power using the systems where it is entrenched - popular movement as fuel that keeps the change through established power systems running - they were left with not much. Maybe I missed it, being in Australia, but was there any threat by OWS to take out right wing democrats in primaries? Were any carried out? (I'm not saying this is a good thing, mind, but it seems consistent with OWS).

Process matters, it's so important. And I feel like OWS forgot that, both internally (decision making is important, hierarchies developed for many reasons, and one is efficiency), and externally (you change the system by using the system, you can't build an alternative and ask everyone to jump ship). I also feel like they could have used some more learnings and expertise from the unions, who have been doing this stuff, often to great effect, for over a century.
posted by smoke at 2:07 PM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh, come on now. What if they hadn't been kicked out? What if everyone had been allowed to stay camped out? What was the end goal? Camp out in the parks until . . . uh . . . what, exactly? Forever? Just sit there to "raise awareness", like those billboards with Bible quotes and a picture of Jesus?

You understand billboards work, right? Businesses use them for a reason. Awareness of your movement is a crucial step in political persuasion . Persuasion was the goal, and they actually did a pretty good job. Romney made a percent based gaffe because Occupy made percents a topic of conversation.

If they didn't get kicked out, they would have kept making their case. Getting kicked out shut them up. It's not complicated.
posted by Drinky Die at 2:21 PM on December 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


As I said in previous threads on the topic, Occupy chose to occupy public spaces as their primary tactic. It's a tactic of revolutionaries, and it's an all-or-nothing gambit. If the system doesn't collapse around you, you look foolish and gain nothing. Same with their constant calls for general strikes. They badly misread the mood of the general public, and are incredibly naive about politics and power in the US.
posted by empath at 2:23 PM on December 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


You understand billboards work, right? Businesses use them for a reason. Awareness of your movement is a crucial step in political persuasion . Persuasion was the goal, and they actually did a pretty good job. Romney made a percent based gaffe because Occupy made percents a topic of conversation.

If they didn't get kicked out, they would have kept making their case. Getting kicked out shut them up. It's not complicated.


The billboard of Jesus just reminds you of what is already there. It's going to church and evangelicizing that represents actual spread of message. Similarly, camping out is well-and-good as a publicity tactic, but when that's the whole of your efforts your movement will go nowhere unless your society is on the complete verge of collapse. It needs to be accompanied by actual, political mobilization and involvement in the existing political process, which OWS refused to do because something like that necessarily involves centralization of leadership and message.

Nobody ever said "You know, on that hundredth pass of the Jesus billboard I think I will devote my life to God after all!" Similarly, no sitting lawmaker is going to spontaneously write some laws in because you made a bunch of noise with no signal in a park.
posted by schroedinger at 2:27 PM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also--if OWS had made efforts to establish a national structure and media outreach methods outside of "camp out in park" the dispersal of camps would be something for their media representatives to talk about rather than the end of the conversation entirely. How many protests got broken up by dogs and hoses in the Civil Rights era? When a protest was broken did that mean the movement was broken? Of course not, because it existed in tangible ways outside of the physical protests; the protests were simply an expression of the movement rather than the movement itself. Hell, the dogs and hoses were used to further their message in the media as proof of the brutality of racism.
posted by schroedinger at 2:37 PM on December 12, 2012 [6 favorites]


Yes, if they were something else they would be something else. They were the camp-out guys, it had some political benefits and some major drawbacks. I'm not judging that, just pointing out that if you are the camp-out guys the movement is over when they kick you out of your camp.

Nobody ever said "You know, on that hundredth pass of the Jesus billboard I think I will devote my life to God after all!"


Yeah, same thing for pretty much all advertising. But it works somehow.
posted by Drinky Die at 2:43 PM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yes, if they were something else they would be something else. They were the camp-out guys, it had some political benefits and some major drawbacks. I'm not judging that, just pointing out that if you are the camp-out guys the movement is over when they kick you out of your camp.

You said they didn't succeed because mayors kicked them out of their camp. If the entire political goal of OWS was to maintain a camp, operate from a camp, and do nothing that was not related to camping, then yes, when you take the camp away you end the conversation.

But it seemed like OWS wanted to accomplish something more than attaining the Guinness World Record for longest campout. And because of the tactics they used (or lack thereof) they failed.
posted by schroedinger at 2:51 PM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


All effective social movements begin with leaderless unrest. It is precisely because they have no leaders or structure for the powers-that-be to negotiate with that they are effective. The labor movement of the 1930s and the civil rights movement of the 1960s are a prime examples of this.

Put another way: the first expression of all effective social movements is: fuck this!

It's afterwards that the politicians and bureaucrats and others come in to put a lid on it all to force it through institutional channels. But without the uprising of unrest before it, no change would ever happen.

Put another way: The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions yet made to her august claims have been born of earnest struggle. The conflict has been exciting, agitating, all-absorbing, and for the time being, putting all other tumults to silence. It must do this or it does nothing. If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plowing up the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters.
posted by jammy at 2:53 PM on December 12, 2012 [9 favorites]


All effective social movements begin with leaderless unrest. It is precisely because they have no leaders or structure for the powers-that-be to negotiate with that they are effective. The labor movement of the 1930s and the civil rights movement of the 1960s are a prime examples of this.

Actually, as I stated above, the civil rights movement of the 1960s was extremely organized and would not have succeeded without that organization. Social unrest begins movements, but for them to result in political change they need to have people leading who will deliver specific demands to those in power.

The same goes for labor movements--that's the whole point of unions, to organize the needs of many people into a singular entity that can actually get shit done.
posted by schroedinger at 3:01 PM on December 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


But it seemed like OWS wanted to accomplish something more than attaining the Guinness World Record for longest campout.

I think they wanted to send a message, and they did it by camping out and having a visible long term protest.

You can aspire to fundamentally change the world, but it's not a realistic goal so why act like they're a failure if they don't do it?

I mean okay, instead of what they did they did the perfect "how metafilter would have done it but for some reason didn't", how is the world different today? Did you get a President more hostile to Wall St? No, you did the sensible thing and stuck with Obama. More progressive Congress? By a few seats, best case. A public more on your side? Well, they are already there, but so what?

It was a good protest, it impacted the views of the country and the election, there is always more work to do.
posted by Drinky Die at 3:02 PM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Read the article with interest and enjoy reading the comments here. I believe Occupy has been a catalyst of change for many people including myself and I never expected it to do much beyond that. Detached as it may sound, I've always viewed it as a dress rehearsal of sorts, an exercise in reconnecting people. Occupy sent out an SOS on the broadest possible wavelength and succeeded in breaking that message far beyond the usual suspects. That the message was garbled and confusing and that production values could have been higher: I think that's a valid critique and an important point of debate for those who understand the practical aspects of politics and community organization a lot better than I do. But I certainly got the message, and I'm grateful it reached me. The waves of change travel far and wide and I'll be tuning in the next time they come around, and the time after that, and the time after that, until the rehearsals are over.
posted by deo rei at 3:04 PM on December 12, 2012 [7 favorites]


previously

The problems with Occupy are the problems of the protest subculture: childish infatuation with a single tactic and a refusal to centralize power in charismatic leadership.

In terms of American political movements and political power, the balance of power has shifted to the left of where it was before Occupy.

An argument can be fairly made that Anonymous and WikiLeaks have each had much more political influence than Occupy, if only because they have been able to pull off more ops against more targets.

In my view, Occupy's biggest success after the evictions has been the assault on ALEC.
posted by warbaby at 3:24 PM on December 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


I want to favorite jammy's comment a thousand times.
posted by sevenyearlurk at 3:32 PM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


All effective social movements begin with leaderless unrest. It is precisely because they have no leaders or structure for the powers-that-be to negotiate with that they are effective. The labor movement of the 1930s and the civil rights movement of the 1960s are a prime examples of this.

Well, yes and no. Social movements start as a desire for change, that's true. At that stage they are often, but not always, leaderless. But when they are successful it's mostly through planning and good leadership. OWS tried to only be the leaderless thing, and yet claimed to be a movement. Your assertion is basically historically without merit.

You also have a VERY poor understanding of Douglass. When he talked about agitation and struggle he was talking about focused agitation and struggle, with a message, with specific goals, with strategies to achieve those goals. To assert, as you have, that he was calling for the kind of inchoate mess that was something like OWS explains a whole lot about why the "movement" achieved almost nothing, and was disrupted so easily by the entirely predictable actions of a few mayors across the country. As schroedinger pointed out, if you can't figure out that that's going to happen, and plan ways to make it part of your argument for change rather than the end of your schtick, you've failed.
posted by OmieWise at 3:33 PM on December 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


I want to favorite jammy's comment a thousand times.

Why? It's factually incorrect and politically damaging to the prospects for real change.
posted by OmieWise at 3:34 PM on December 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


debord died for your sins.
posted by ennui.bz at 3:40 PM on December 12, 2012


Why? It's factually incorrect and politically damaging to the prospects for real change.

Whatever tough guy.
posted by sevenyearlurk at 3:52 PM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Whatever tough guy.

Late for the drum circle?
posted by OmieWise at 3:54 PM on December 12, 2012


A couple of people have mentioned that Elizabeth Warren was a success of OWS. Can someone expand on that? I'm asking honestly because I don't see that direct a connection.
posted by OmieWise at 3:55 PM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Being an activist in america means being naive about politics in america. I wish I was that naive sometimes and I hope the collective energy behind Occupy becomes something else that is equally disruptive to wealth inequality while more long lasting. I want to see an Occupy congressman or even local assemblyman. The first step will be someone who was in the movement from the beginning taking a stand against Big Tent everythingness and arguing intelligently for where Occupy fits in the realms of actual political change. Not that I would vote for them, in fact I disagree with the entire premise of the movement and think capitalism is pretty swell. But a free society needs real outbursts of anger and discontent in order to survive as a moderate and liberal ecosystem.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 3:57 PM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


schroedinger - With all due respect, comparing any flavor of Occupy with the civil rights movement is beyond hyperbole. It really just makes the person drawing the comparison to look naive and ignorant at best.
posted by mediocre at 4:00 PM on December 12, 2012


Late for the drum circle?

Actually, I withdraw that. I should not have reacted to your insult with one of my own. I guess my response is to ask why my perfectly reasonable question was met from you with an insult. I get that jammy's comment was good rhetoric, or rather, the Douglass quote was good rhetoric, but that doesn't make it right.

With all due respect, comparing any flavor of Occupy with the civil rights movement is beyond hyperbole. It really just makes the person drawing the comparison to look naive and ignorant at best.

Why? Your assertion isn't self-evident, especially given the way schroedinger compared them.
posted by OmieWise at 4:04 PM on December 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


Can someone expand on that?

OWS made it OK for everyone to talk about wealth inequality. Warren's remarks along those lines were national news because everyone in, say, Oregon, was talking about the problems of capitalism for a while instead of something else. The national attention on her generated big dollars for her campaign from within MA and meant that the local press was listening to everything she had to say. I think it's accurate to say "The wave of anti-big business and wall st. sentiment that lifted OWS into national attention also carried EW to victory in MA."
posted by Potomac Avenue at 4:05 PM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think an anti-wealth inequality movement is as historically vital as a civil rights movement. At its best, that was what OWS was, and remains. It isn't as successful yet, and it may dissolve entirely or be renamed soon, but the issue is as important as any fought for in the 50s and 60s. If you don't think that's the case, you haven't met any poor people in the last 20 years.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 4:08 PM on December 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


Actually, as I stated above, the civil rights movement of the 1960s was extremely organized and would not have succeeded without that organization.

This is true, but as I always point out in these situations, the civil rights movement also took place in a context of massive, often violent social unrest, including riots in every major city in the U.S. "Deal with Martin" was matched by "or deal with Malcolm"; the threat of continued failure to solve the crisis was intractable racial strife forever.

All of the big occupations of the last few years -- the Iraq War protests, Wisconsin, Occupy -- have lacked that other component. That's not to say they were fundamentally unserious or that they didn't have beneficial consequences, but they simply haven't had teeth in the same way. Big symbolic protests don't work in a vacuum; the powerful know, rightly, that they can simply wait out the movement until it runs out of steam. That's not to say we need *violence* -- but we need strikes, boycotts, and genuine disruptions alongside the marches and sit-ins. The powerful need to know that the only way this ends is with them giving up, one way or the other.
posted by gerryblog at 4:09 PM on December 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


mediocre: "schroedinger - With all due respect, comparing any flavor of Occupy with the civil rights movement is beyond hyperbole. It really just makes the person drawing the comparison to look naive and ignorant at best."

With all due respect, this is absolute bullshit.
posted by dunkadunc at 4:10 PM on December 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


I think it's accurate to say "The wave of anti-big business and wall st. sentiment that lifted OWS into national attention also carried EW to victory in MA."

I completely agree, but that formulation has them both stemming from the same root, rather than Warren stemming from Occupy's existence. I guess I'm wondering (and I'm really not trying to be an asshole) whether there is a credible case to be made the Warren's prominence was a "success" for OWS.
posted by OmieWise at 4:11 PM on December 12, 2012


I'd also like to know how many people here were actually at their regional Occupy camp for any significant period of time (as in, more then 24 hours). One of the most frustrating things about working with Occupy Portland was that all the people who were the most interested in protest and activism (as opposed to just having a big Bachanalian campout/party) were people who attended GA maybe a few times at week and then went home.

Frankly, as someone who moved into the Occupy Portland camp on day 3, and didn't leave until the bulldozers rolled in (and then went on to help build/organize the 24/7/365 Prayer Vigil at Portland City Hall which recently celebrated its first birthday).. my opinion is that unless you were there more then 50% of the time.. as in, 50% of your time that is not otherwise spent working or dealing with other necessities of life, yes, this includes nights.. you don't really have the perspective necessary to adequately criticize Occupy be it pro or con.

The author of the article does the best she can, but as she was correct to point out.. Occupy was not friendly to any form of popular media, to say the least.. it was one of my criticisms I would try to bring up at various GA's, that unless we choose, appoint, or call for volunteers for people who are willing and capable of speaking with the media as an independant representative then the only people the media will end up speaking with are those who are vehemently opposed to Occupy, or.. to put it lightly.. those whose opinions are fringe, frighteningly radical, or the mentally unstable. Since the cameras and reporters just wanted SOMEONE to speak with them, this is what happened.
posted by mediocre at 4:12 PM on December 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


[Next person to say fuck you in this thread gets the week off, knock it off.]
posted by jessamyn at 4:19 PM on December 12, 2012


my opinion is that unless you were there more then 50% of the time.. as in, 50% of your time that is not otherwise spent working or dealing with other necessities of life, yes, this includes nights.. you don't really have the perspective necessary to adequately criticize Occupy be it pro or con.

But, that's kind of ridiculous. I mean, I'm glad you found a thing you believe in, and that you got involved, but what makes you think that the adequate perspective for judging that thing is from the inside? Would you say the same thing about a cult? A political party? An abusive relationship? A place of employment?

If OWS was so solipsistic that the only way to have an opinion on it as a movement was to actively participate in it, how can that be a legitimate movement?

This is a serious question. What makes you think that's a legitimate position to take?
posted by OmieWise at 4:29 PM on December 12, 2012


OWS made it OK for everyone to talk about wealth inequality. Warren's remarks along those lines were national news because everyone in, say, Oregon, was talking about the problems of capitalism for a while instead of something else.

I understand, but like OmieWise I am not convinced that OWS initiated this conversation. They were a part of it, but I don't think they were a predecessor to Warren at all.
posted by schroedinger at 4:33 PM on December 12, 2012


OmieWise - Frankly, I don't really think it was a legitimate movement, all told. It was exciting, and woke up dormant political and activist parts of me that I thought had died over a decade previous. It was the first political action that I had enough interest slash passion in to have taken part in since 2000. But it was also the fifth or sixth political movement slash action that had me thinking "This is it! This is the revolution!".

It's very hard for me to parse my feelings on it as a whole. I was so very frustrated and disappointed in how things turned out, and continue to be. When I see people talking positively about it, it always seems to be in ignorance of so many other things that were occuring. Be it willful or not, that lack of perspective bugs me.

Within, I was constantly shut down and undermined when trying to direct the political conversation towards specifics, or arrange actions that were as more interested in community outreach than political/police provocation. Within, I was ignored and actively silenced when I tried to bring frightening realities like onsite meth labs and child prostitution to light. That last bit was the last straw, as it were. What we were doing (which really.. didn't amount to much) was not more important than stopping child prostitution from occuring. It started as a rumor, then became something more with disturbing evidence of its occurance, then became something no one would talk about ever. My frustration boiled over one day when I was walking through the camp and did a Mic Check.

Me: MIC CHECK!
The Unwashed Masses: MIC CHECK!
Me: We are all!
The Unwashed Masses: WE ARE ALL!
Me: Complicit in the prostitution of children!
The Unwashed Masses: COMPLICIT IN THE PROSTITUTION.... of..
posted by mediocre at 4:46 PM on December 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


Next time, start Occupy in the spring.
posted by telstar at 4:51 PM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


As with others, I am also skeptical of equating Warren's elevation to the Senate as her being a "OWS candidate". Keep in mind that Obama's creation of the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau and naming her to chair it all predate OWS. She's been participating in economics policy at a national level for years. While the populist sentiment that is equated with Occupy helped her campaign, I suspect that in a state like Massachusetts, which put Scott Brown in more as a result of punishing a Democratic contender who was seen as running a lazy campaign, she would have been able to win even if OWS never happened.

I think that economic circumstances continuing as they have would have provoked 'some' kind of collective conversation about inequality; and I think that OWS is a better manifestation of that to the alternatives that could have arisen (ie. mortgage riots in the vein of the European austerity protests) but crediting it with getting 'inequality' into the national dialogue is like claiming that nobody would have talked about racism prior to the emergence of Martin Luther King.

What I do think that OWS did accomplish, especially with the viral nature of its police crackdown videos was puncture the myth that every protest confrontation boils down to cops vs anarchists. At least temporarily. I mean, Jesus, I don't even remember the name of that one UC cop who pepper sprayed a bunch of students anymore. But I like to believe -that- image is seared into the collective unconsciousness now.
posted by bl1nk at 5:09 PM on December 12, 2012


incredible read, very sad.
posted by Shit Parade at 5:31 PM on December 12, 2012


An argument can be fairly made that Anonymous and WikiLeaks have each had much more political influence than Occupy

Julian Assange plans to run for Senate seat in Australia: WikiLeaks founder says his party would promote openness in government and combat intrusions on individual privacy
posted by homunculus at 6:06 PM on December 12, 2012



OWS made it OK for everyone to talk about wealth inequality.

so who did initiate the 1% - 99% idea? Who first put it in so many words? Do we know the answer? In the end, I guess it doesn't really matter, except to say that I suspect it may end up being the single most effective bit of political/social/economic phrasing that's entered the cultural discussion in a long, long time. Because it suddenly unites so many otherwise disparate groups, points to a common enemy.

And there is a common enemy.

So yeah, Occupy seems to have stumbled on itself, devoured itself from within (choose your metaphor) for all manner of ultimately predictable reasons. I've certainly seen enough impassioned agit-prop misfires in my time to not be remotely surprised that things have played out as they have. Like someone in article points out, folks really ought to read Orwell's Homage to Catalonia.

But we still have that 1%-99% consciousness to work with -- simple and powerful. Hell, even a nine year old gets it. I look forward to further chapters in this complex tale.
posted by philip-random at 6:13 PM on December 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


so who did initiate the 1% - 99% idea? Who first put it in so many words? Do we know the answer?

Adbusters started it.
posted by empath at 6:23 PM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


well, good for them. goes on the plus side of their rather loaded ledger.
posted by philip-random at 6:27 PM on December 12, 2012


An argument can be fairly made that Anonymous and WikiLeaks have each had much more political influence than Occupy

WUT? That is utterly ridiculous. Anonymous tried take credit for what OWS did. I can't find a single iota of their political influence, other than their attempts to take credit for other groups' efforts. Defacing someone's website doesn't result in political influence. When across the US and the world, masses of people unite to declare they have a common interest as The 99%, that creates political influence, and suddenly the President of the United States is declaring it "the defining issue of our time."
posted by charlie don't surf at 6:35 PM on December 12, 2012


Adbusters started it.

No, the 99% slogan is generally attributed to David Graeber.
posted by charlie don't surf at 6:41 PM on December 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


Sorry.

Perhaps OWS failed in part because the perception of the vast majority of Americans, and perhaps rightly so, was that those people who were active in OWS suffered from extreme idealism and naivete. Whether or not the majority of OWS folks were roustabouts is really beside the point--what is left of the middle class American political power base by and large considers OWS to be a movement of neo-hippy radicals. This view, while obviously not correct, is also not completely incorrect.

In my experience with OWS activists, for example, I found the great majority of them to fall into categories--as just or as unjust as those categories might be--for which the great majority of Americans have very little respect.

I find it ironic that OWS--a brainchild of Adbusters and absolutely awash in talk about the power of rhetoric--completely failed to create a public image that could be taken seriously. Pieces like this Eulogy are written by and for people within the echo chamber--as I once was--of people who balked when their compatriots said things like, 'Really? OWS? Bunch of hippies.'

If OWS is to win a war of rhetoric or propaganda, they better get going on it now. They've lost that battle so far. That is why the Tea Party--which is crazy--has had an actual impact on American politics and OWS is a laughingstock among those who it would seek to bring into fold. Thinking otherwise is nice, but it isn't reflective of reality.

That's the long version.
posted by 3200 at 7:11 PM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


All of the big occupations of the last few years -- the Iraq War protests, Wisconsin, Occupy -- have lacked that other component. That's not to say they were fundamentally unserious or that they didn't have beneficial consequences, but they simply haven't had teeth in the same way.

Well, Communism failed. Speaking solely as an outsider, it strikes me that a lot of the OWS tropes --- the need for complete consensus, the desire not to elevate a formal leadership or spokesperson --- these are essentially anarchist principles. Back in the 1930s, the last time a shitty economy led to a worldwide questioning of the virtues of capitalism, there was a different alternative on offer, Communism (and Fascism too, of course). That played the Malcolm to FDR and the New Dealer's Martin. But communism, in practice, led to totalitarianism (Homage to Catalonia is probably one of the first books to chart the transition). And now that it's a failed ideology there's no replacement for it, no goal, no instead to point to when the left cries "this is bullshit." All that remains is anarchism, which has remained a fringe ideology practically from its inception precisely because the very problems that mandatory consensus decision making creates are so immediately apparent to most people.

"This is terrible, and we're going to wipe it all away and replace it with something better" is a much more inspiring message than "this is terrible and we would like it to change somehow so we should all talk about how that could maybe happen, we think."

You can't really lead a mass movement on anarchist principles. It's always going to be inchoate. (That's why Nacheyev invented terrorism, blackening anarchism's reputation for the next 150 years.)
posted by Diablevert at 7:39 PM on December 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


When across the US and the world, masses of people unite to declare they have a common interest as The 99%, that creates political influence, and suddenly the President of the United States is declaring it "the defining issue of our time."

I think this underlines the fundamental issue with OWS movement: a bunch of people agreeing on a catchphrase does not political influence make. Political influence is built through a base of financial support, active community outreach, active candidates in local and national government, and lobbying.* Someone may appeal to you by paying you lip service, but unless they're actively writing and passing bills built on your ideas and language you don't have influence.

I mean, I could get a lot of people to support "Kitties are adorable". But until Kitties for America is lobbying for government support and backing candidates, my dream of kittens for all will only be executed in as much as acting politicians think it's a good idea themselves.

*or just having a lot of money

All that remains is anarchism, which has remained a fringe ideology practically from its inception precisely because the very problems that mandatory consensus decision making creates are so immediately apparent to most people.

There is ideology the Left can build around, if they focus on "community building" and not "burn it all". The Left has totally let the Right monopolize the concepts of patriotism and the American Dream. But there is totally an easily accessible, populist narrative out there: blue-collar, middle-class, service-class workers are the backs companies are built on, banding together to build their community and help the weakest just like Jesus said, demanding fair treatment and an equal chance for everyone in America like our Founding Fathers wanted quote some John Locke blah blah blah.

Instead its activist arm lets the people who make Howard Zinn look like Grover Norquist push themselves to the front and shape its face.
posted by schroedinger at 7:45 PM on December 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


If you don't act to eliminate the assholes from your discourse, then your discourse will be dominated by assholes.

This seems to almost be the root of the problem, and nobody ever seems to want to tackle it.


Tackled back in 1970.
posted by bonefish at 8:05 PM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]



There is ideology the Left can build around, if they focus on "community building" and not "burn it all".

An awful big part of Occupy was about community building. The people working as volunteer medics, collecting and cooking food, building libraries, setting up places to get on a laptop with wifi, were building community. It's true that problems with communication, dealing intimately with homeless people, mentally ill people, and violent people (including the police force) and constant, imminent threat of destruction made that exceedingly difficult to maintain. But it was nonetheless a significant part of ordinary people getting involved and taking away something from that process: empowerment, satisfaction, disillusion in varying measures. Out of that came Occupy Sandy, and who knows what else down the line.

I think some people don't realize that the organized civil rights movement of the 50's, 60's, and 70's came out of things like Irene Morgan refusing to give up her seat in 1944, and then the Morgan Rule which influenced CORE: an interracial student organization. They did small, non-violent sit-ins in Chicago in the early 40's and the precursor to the Freedom Rides, the 1947 direct action Journey of Reconciliation. That came out of an individual woman's arrest and subsequent court cases, along with all the other non-violent, non-organized resistance of individuals and small groups. Protests movements don't emerge fully formed like Athena from the head of Zeus. Sometimes it takes years or decades of work. I am really surprised that people think that declaring Occupy a Failure after just one year is congruent with the historic evolution of all the movements it's being compared to. Maybe there won't be leaders who spent time in Occupy, maybe there will. Maybe there weren't people who felt marginalized by Romney's 47% remark, after being primed for it by the 99%, and maybe they won't continue to look vote against continued marginalization of Americans. But anyone that can say with certainty right now that nothing good will have come of Occupy has not been paying attention to how grassroots politics get started, and how many years that those processes can take.
posted by oneirodynia at 9:05 PM on December 12, 2012 [6 favorites]


Here's a little bit more about CORE: By CORE’s moving through the southern states getting five blacks arrested here, five whites arrested there, an interracial couple being arrested here, and willingness to go to jail and write about it, and the fact that the NAACP picked up those experiences and made booklets as to how to adhere to the Irene Morgan Decision and said, “We will give you an attorney anywhere you go and you are willing to face arrest to clarify this issue,” that period of eight years of continuously doing this all over the south prepared for the 1960s revolution, prepared for the 1954 Supreme Court Decision.
posted by oneirodynia at 9:08 PM on December 12, 2012


I'm always confused by the Occupy GA's insistence on consensus.

To a degree, I think that the Occupiers were taken advantage by Adbusters. Adbusters didn't particularly care about income inequality, corruption on Wall Street, or rent-seeking and regulatory capture. Rather, their main concern was the showcasing of anarchism as a philosophical method of social organization. The problem is that the GA and insistence on consensus were not ineffective means to an ends, they were the end itself, and the economic frustration and hostility towards wall street was just being exploited as a vehicle to promote things like the GA and Adbusters' belief in anarchism as an organizing principle.
posted by deanc at 9:11 PM on December 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


...Yet, here we are, still talking about the issues they raised. Funny kind of failure.
posted by Orb2069 at 4:50 AM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Stiffed: David Runciman in the LRB reviews The Occupy Handbook
posted by the man of twists and turns at 4:51 AM on December 13, 2012


Thanks for posting this. It's a fascinating look back. I made an FPP when she was embedded, and have been following her throughout the year. .
posted by zarq at 6:23 AM on December 13, 2012


The comparisons to the Tea Party are quite useful, for where they are similar, but especially for where they are not. The Thomas Frank article linked to earlier (which should be required reading, especially for anyone taking a favorable view of OWS) takes a fairly deep look at the two.

If you're going to make comparisons, it is important to not only look at the success of the Tea Party, but also it failures. For all its ability to lasso money and ideology around successful candidates, it needs to be recognized how unsuccessful they've been in winning the war. By insisting on ideological purity, their adoptive party has hastened their own marginalization nationally. A bad thing if you care about conservative politics, but a good thing if you simply cannot abide by weak-kneed RINO politicians. The Tea Party would rather have true believers go down in flames than any compromise with liberals the rest of the world.

If the left wants to emulate the Tea Party's success, it would be nice to not emulate it's suicide cult rigidity, too. A pretty tall order, judging from the OWS true believers I've come across, completely satisfied to let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Which leaves me maybe satisfied that OWS could never really get its shit together.
posted by 2N2222 at 7:34 AM on December 13, 2012


All effective social movements begin with leaderless unrest. It is precisely because they have no leaders or structure for the powers-that-be to negotiate with that they are effective. The labor movement of the 1930s and the civil rights movement of the 1960s are a prime examples of this.

Leaderless unrest actually makes repression by the police more likely. If the unrest has leadership, then the powers-that-be have an incentive to negotiate with the leadership, because the leadership can make the disruption stop (e.g., union leadership can stop a strike that costs their employers lots of money). If there is no leadership that can effectively make the disruption stop, then the powers-that-be have no incentive to negotiate, because they can more effectively stop the disruption by calling in the police to bust heads.
posted by jonp72 at 8:30 AM on December 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


If you don't act to eliminate the assholes from your discourse, then your discourse will be dominated by assholes.

Part of the thing that OWS and OWS-like organizations are hyper sensitive about is the need not to alienate anyone. The thing about the hand-gestures was mentioned in the article has its origins in being a silent way of showing approval so as to not alienate anyone too shy and sensitive. You can't "eliminate assholes" in this kind of organization because by doing so, you would admit that some people can be "eliminated", thus alienating the people who wanted a "place" where they could feel validated. It basically becomes a crucible of Geek Social Fallacies, destroying group cohesion and allowing the assholes to take over.

It is really the main weakness of a lot of movements that want to take up the cause of the marginalized-- since their essential agenda is about fighting marginalization, they are reluctant to do anything that is associated with what they're fighting against, but their refusal to do so hampers their goals. Ultimately, they become happy with this state of affairs, because they decide that being a group of marginalized, powerless people is their goal.
posted by deanc at 8:42 AM on December 13, 2012 [5 favorites]


...Yet, here we are, still talking about the issues they raised. Funny kind of failure.

Many a failure has spawned a success. Barry Goldwater's presidential run, for example, paved the way for future Republican victories, but only after Republicans were able to identify what had succeeded and what had failed.

OWS is neither fish nor fowl - more solid than a meme, less solid than a movement unto itself, neither completely a failure nor completely a success, neither completely over nor continuously ongoing. It's worth examining in detail.
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:25 AM on December 13, 2012 [5 favorites]


deanc: "Adbusters didn't particularly care about income inequality, corruption on Wall Street, or rent-seeking and regulatory capture."

Yeah. That was my observation as well -- Occupy actually seemed to have started off with a fairly clear message about income inequality. It was only later on that they backpedaled into the 'no demands' territory. This was around the same time that the movement suddenly became obsessed with police brutality, and all of the other classic anarchist tropes. (Yes, the UC Davis thing was appalling, but Occupy never had the self-awareness to realize that it was a major distraction/derailment from their core issue.)

As far as I can tell, the movement was derailed by another already-established movement. After that, it quickly devolved into a group of people who wanted to live for free in the park.

Occupy had an image problem, and never acknowledged it. If they did acknowledge their increasingly-poor public perception, they certainly didn't seem to care very much about it. Despite all this, I do think that Occupy helped get the income inequality debate into the forefront, which likely gave the Democrats an edge in the most recent election.

However, while the inequality debate continues to slowly grow, it seems to do so precisely because it's no longer tied to the OWS "brand," which continues to have a very negative public image.
posted by schmod at 11:03 AM on December 13, 2012


OWS is neither fish nor fowl - more solid than a meme, less solid than a movement unto itself, neither completely a failure nor completely a success, neither completely over nor continuously ongoing. It's worth examining in detail.

I've raged on this tangent before but ...

The issue for me is the tried-and-true earnest lefty/Anarchist (note the capital "A") politicos who self-identify as activist. To each his/her own, I guess, except don't expect this position to get any movement anywhere (except rotating around its own self-satisfied navel) any time EVER. It's just so off-putting, exclusionist, naive.

As far as I can see, the root complaint in all of this remains the 1%-99% divide. As I suggested already, even an 9-year-old can get revved up about that. And yet, Occupy managed in a short few weeks and months to become far more alienated from the so-called masses than even the 1% that EVERYBODY despised, and thus collapse, absurdity, failure.

Or to quote that Thomas Frank Baffler piece

A while later I happened to watch an online video of an Occupy panel discussion held at a bookstore in New York; at some point in the recording, a panelist objected to the way protesters had of saying they were “speaking for themselves” rather than acknowledging that they were part of a group. Another one of the panelists was moved to utter this riposte:

"What I would note, is that people can only speak for themselves, that the self would be under erasure there, in that the self is then held into question, as any poststructuralist thought leading through anarchism would push you towards. . . . I would agree, an individualism that our society has definitely had inscribed upon it and continues to inscribe upon itself, “I can only speak for myself,” the “only” is operative there, and of course these spaces are being opened up . . ."

My heart dropped like a broken elevator. As soon as I heard this long, desperate stream of pseudointellectual gibberish, I knew instantly that this thing was doomed.

posted by philip-random at 11:19 AM on December 13, 2012


a panelist objected to the way protesters had of saying they were “speaking for themselves” rather than acknowledging that they were part of a group.

That's a misinterpretation, and it appears to be a deliberate misinterpretation so the author can set up his position.

Occupiers never denied they were part of the group, they merely denied they were spokesmen for the group. That would imply they had leadership roles in a leaderless movement.

We had this issue when the City demanded we provide a representative to negotiate permits. The GA designated 3 people to be intermediaries. They made it clear they were not speaking on behalf of the group, that would be delivered only by a written message approved by the GA. Their only role was to listen and deliver the City's message to the GA.

Other groups handled the matter differently. The Mayor of Denver insisted that OWS provide an official representative with authority to make agreements on behalf of the group. The GA elected a pet dog as representative, and dispatched him to City Hall.
posted by charlie don't surf at 11:43 AM on December 13, 2012


The Mayor of Denver insisted that OWS provide an official representative with authority to make agreements on behalf of the group. The GA elected a pet dog as representative, and dispatched him to City Hall.

What is this supposed to illustrate? Is the Denver encampment still there?
posted by OmieWise at 11:55 AM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Today the issue of tax cuts for the wealthy is once again front and center in Washington, as part of the debate over how to reduce the federal deficit. And Mr. Sanders is once again talking, carving out a place for himself as the antithesis of the Tea Party and becoming a thorn in the side to some Democrats and Mr. Obama, who he fears will cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid benefits as part of a deficit reduction deal.
posted by OmieWise at 12:01 PM on December 13, 2012


Other groups handled the matter differently. The Mayor of Denver insisted that OWS provide an official representative with authority to make agreements on behalf of the group. The GA elected a pet dog as representative, and dispatched him to City Hall.

Yeah but you can't expect the mayor of Denver or any other major American city to be as smart or as patient as Capt. Picard in that one episode where the aliens keep yelling at him in metaphor until he figured out that's just how they talk. Kirk would have blasted the crafty buggers and so will most. Tenagra when the walls fell and whatnot.


..... This is the geekiest reference I have ever made in a public forum but I swear it makes sense.
posted by Diablevert at 12:19 PM on December 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


Other groups handled the matter differently. The Mayor of Denver insisted that OWS provide an official representative with authority to make agreements on behalf of the group. The GA elected a pet dog as representative, and dispatched him to City Hall.

How dare the mayor want to negotiate with the protesters! They showed him. He'll never make that mistake again.
posted by Area Man at 12:46 PM on December 13, 2012 [4 favorites]


charlie don't surf: "The Mayor of Denver insisted that OWS provide an official representative with authority to make agreements on behalf of the group. The GA elected a pet dog as representative, and dispatched him to City Hall."

And I'm sure that sent a loud, clear message: "We'd rather be edgy and snarky than actually accomplish things"
posted by Bugbread at 4:58 PM on December 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


And I'm sure that sent a loud, clear message: "We'd rather be edgy and snarky than actually accomplish things"

Their message was clear enough, you can read the Occupy Denver GA Resolution and their press release.

The Mayor was never interested in negotiating anything but a complete surrender. Sending a dog as your leader is a pretty clear statement of contempt for the Mayor's leadership and authority. What else would you expect from people who claimed their right to occupy a public space came from a higher authority: The First Amendment of the Constitution?
posted by charlie don't surf at 5:34 PM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


charlie don't surf: "Their message was clear enough, you can read the Occupy Denver GA Resolution and their press release."

Unfortunately, after having read both the resolution and the press release, the message I'm getting from it is still "we'd rather be edgy and snarky than actually accomplish something". If the Mayor's only intent is to force complete surrender, there is a way to prove it: send a negotiator. Attempt negotiations. Establish that the Mayor has no intent to engage in good faith negotiations, and isn't willing to budge an inch. Withdraw from negotiations. It accomplishes the same thing, but is mature and doesn't make potential allies think of the protesters as immature goobers.

By choosing not to do that, and instead electing a pet dog, the message they actually sent was not, I suspect, the message that they intended to send.
posted by Bugbread at 5:46 PM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yes, of course it seems that way, if you don't know the context. Occupy Denver spent weeks meeting with the Mayor, prior to sending the dog. It was already very obvious the Mayor had no intent to engage in good faith negotiation.
posted by charlie don't surf at 6:07 PM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


I liked the dog idea better before I read the resolution and the press release. I can get behind an absurd response in an absurd situation, but the attempts to foist meaning onto Shelby are all pretty terrible.

What else would you expect from people who claimed their right to occupy a public space came from a higher authority: The First Amendment of the Constitution?

Like it or not, the First Amendment does not protect camping as free speech.
posted by Sticherbeast at 6:11 PM on December 13, 2012


They certainly did show their contempt. It seems like one more moment during which Occupy lost its perspective and became focused on a fight with municipal authorities over the "right" to live in the park.
posted by Area Man at 6:23 PM on December 13, 2012


Having spent many hours in consultation with ACLU lawyers about this specific point, I assure you that your interpretation of Clark v CCNV is incorrect. It absolutely recognizes camping is protected speech, and sets specific limits on what the Federal Government may do to restrict expression of those rights.
posted by charlie don't surf at 6:24 PM on December 13, 2012


Actually, as I stated above, the civil rights movement of the 1960s was extremely organized and would not have succeeded without that organization. Social unrest begins movements, but for them to result in political change they need to have people leading who will deliver specific demands to those in power.

The same goes for labor movements--that's the whole point of unions, to organize the needs of many people into a singular entity that can actually get shit done.
*

And you're missing my point, and perhaps not familiar with the actual history of these two movements (which is understandable, given the top-down perspective of most historians).

The Civil Rights Movement was *eventually* organized. There were many, many folk engaged in various forms of resistance before Rosa Parks decided, with a lot of organized backing, to not relieve her deserved seat on the bus.

And the same for the labor movement: before organized unions come on the scene we find a long record of foot-dragging, absenteeism, sabotage, theft, and many other forms of resistance.

Unrest comes first - organization follows.
posted by jammy at 6:31 PM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Having spent many hours in consultation with ACLU lawyers about this specific point, I assure you that your interpretation of Clark v CCNV is incorrect. It absolutely recognizes camping is protected speech, and sets specific limits on what the Federal Government may do to restrict expression of those rights.

Clark v. CCNV held that the camping regulations used against the protestors were sustainable, as they were content-neutral and reasonable restrictions as to time, place, and manner. In other words, the government may certainly use garden-variety camping regulations to shut down protests, such as Occupations. If you have an interpretation saying otherwise, then I'd have to see it in writing to respond on point.
posted by Sticherbeast at 6:43 PM on December 13, 2012


Put another way...

It absolutely recognizes camping is protected speech, and sets specific limits on what the Federal Government may do to restrict expression of those rights.

Overnight camping may be expressive conduct, but that does not make it protected speech. Singing is expressive conduct, but I can still get a noise complaint if I do it too loudly, too late at night.

Yes, there are limitations as to how the government may regulate expressive conduct in public fora, such as a public park. In public fora, the government may only impose reasonable, content neutral time, place and manner restrictions on expressive conduct, so long as the restriction is necessary and narrowly tailored to serve a compelling state interest.

However, and this is where Clark kicks in, the Supreme Court has already held that camping restrictions survive these limitations. If the state wants to kick out Occupy because they're violating a blanket ban on sleeping and/or camping in public, then you'd have to overturn Clark to get the First Amendment back on your side.

I'm not speaking to the moral or ethical dimensions of Occupy. And hell, even legally, if you think Clark was a bum decision, then that makes sense as well. But, I have a very difficult time believing that any competent lawyer would actually say that Clark would be good for Occupy.
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:34 PM on December 13, 2012


I've started reading Ted Rall's recent book which opens discussing his participation in Occupy, and he makes the very good point that Occupy was not about agitating for a specific political change, but rather that it was a form of anti-politics and an attempt to solve (or at least discuss) problems outside the framework of politics.* In that sense, Occupy's method of making no specific demands, insisting on not being "co-opted" by unions or political parties, turning their occupation of the parks into an end in and of itself, etc., kinda-sorta made a certain amount of sense: they were trying to create an alternative structure. But they still blew it because they weren't able to negotiate an arrangement that gave them the ability to occupy spaces and create that kind of anti-politics community over the long term.

It was really something stunning that a publicity stunt in downtown NYC suddenly sprouted hundreds mirror-movements around the country, but they were never able to leverage it into anything else, with the salient exception of Occupy Sandy, which seems to have understood the point.


* cue the very good point that this is pointless because even if you're not interested in politics, "politics is interested in you."
posted by deanc at 8:04 PM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


In public fora, the government may only impose reasonable, content neutral time, place and manner restrictions on expressive conduct, so long as the restriction is necessary and narrowly tailored to serve a compelling state interest.

The court recognized that the restrictions did not infringe on CCNV's First Amendment rights. In doing so, it established CCNV's constitutional rights, and established a limit on how the Government may protect public interests without restricting those rights.

Clark v. CCNV was a godsend for OWS. All you had to do was find one event that was allowed to stay in the park after closing time, and they had to treat you the same way. It made government officials cower in fear. Our City Attorney actually told our City Council, "just imagine giving those same freedoms to the group you hate most, like Nazis." Yes, she really said that. Well, um, just imagine giving those same freedoms to the American Legion or the Boy Scouts, like you already have. Now you don't have the power to grant those freedoms, they are inalienable rights.
posted by charlie don't surf at 8:15 PM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


The court recognized that the restrictions did not infringe on CCNV's First Amendment rights. In doing so, it established CCNV's constitutional rights, and established a limit on how the Government may protect public interests without restricting those rights.

Those limitations were perfectly in line with all the other public fora cases. Not new ground. The "new" part of Clark was that camping regulations can be used to oust camping protestors.

All you had to do was find one event that was allowed to stay in the park after closing time, and they had to treat you the same way.

This argument would not work in the wild. A temporary waiver of the park's hours for an event, especially if a permit has to be filed beforehand for such an event, is not at all equivalent to indefinite camping. Now, if this had been a park where Boy Scouts or whomever could camp without a permit or other restrictions as to length of stay, then maybe that could work.

Do you have something written which claims that Clark actually holds the opposite of what it holds?
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:36 PM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


It made government officials cower in fear.

Given that all the Occupy camps were successfully evicted, I wouldn't say they cowered very long.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 5:24 AM on December 14, 2012


Given that all the Occupy camps were successfully evicted, I wouldn't say they cowered very long.

True. It did buy some time, and for some Occupations (like ours) months. But it is obvious from the extreme overuse of force in the evictions, the actions were based on fear.
posted by charlie don't surf at 10:45 AM on December 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


But it is obvious from the extreme overuse of force in the evictions, the actions were based on fear.

Really? That seems to be begging the question to me. It could just as well be based on contempt. Do you think abusers fear the women they beat-up? Do you think that aggressive and abusive cops in general fear the petty hoods they rough up?
posted by OmieWise at 2:34 PM on December 14, 2012


Yeah, they may have felt fear, and they may not have, but excessive force isn't really evidence either way. Schoolyard bullies don't pick on weak kids because they're scared of them, no matter what reassuring moms might say.
posted by Bugbread at 3:09 PM on December 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Fear of losing control is often a motivator for aggression and the aggression can be a way to exert control. That doesn't imply that the object of the aggression is the thing or person feared.
posted by deo rei at 7:11 PM on December 17, 2012


Yes, which is why I included the caveat "they may have felt fear". I just disagree with the argument that excessive force is "obvious" evidence of fear. It isn't evidence of the presence or absence of fear, let alone "obvious" evidence.
posted by Bugbread at 7:18 PM on December 18, 2012


The FBI Treated Occupy Like a Terrorist Group
posted by Neilopolis at 5:01 PM on December 26, 2012


« Older Westvleteren is considered among many to be the ho...  |  Literacy Privilege: How I Lear... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments