Occupy Wall Street
- 1 Description
- 2 Characteristics
- 3 Status
- 4 Interviews
- 5 Governance
- 6 Transparency at Occupy London
- 7 Key players in the Occupy Wall Street Movement
- 8 The Two Extreme Polarities to Avoid for OWS Governance
- 9 History
- 10 Discussion 1
- 11 Discussion 2
- 12 Discussion 3
- 13 More Information
- 14 Organisations playing a role in the protest
- 15 Resources
"For discussing ideas, strategies, tactics and logistics related to the September 17th (and beyond) popular occupation of Wall Street in New York City.
On the 17th of September, we want to see 20,000 people to flood into lower Manhattan, set up tents, kitchens, peaceful barricades and occupy Wall Street for a few months. Once there, we shall incessantly repeat one simple demand in a plurality of voices, following the lead of our Egyptian brothers and sisters in Tahrir Square." (http://www.reddit.com/r/occupywallstreet)
"Hundreds of people have been occupying Liberty Plaza, a park at the heart of Wall Street, NYC, since 9/17 in order to build, "the world that we want to see, based on human need and sustainability, not corporate greed."
The action, "OccupyWallStreet" grew organically online--crowd sourcing its plan to occupy the street. The fact that there is no centralized leadership has puzzled the police, who have nevertheless closed in using aggressive tactics in an attempt to move the protestors, many of whom set-up tents on the street. There are reports of over $8000 in donations being given to the occupiers--including the delivery of pizza and gifted sleeping bags and blankets.
According to the site https://occupywallst.org/ the group aligns itself with recent uprisings around the world:
"Like our brothers and sisters in Egypt, Greece, Spain, and Iceland, we plan to use the revolutionary Arab Spring tactic of mass occupation to restore democracy in America. We also encourage the use of nonviolence to achieve our ends and maximize the safety of all participants." (http://www.realitysandwich.com/peoples_wall_street)
1. By Alexis Madrigal on the Occupy Wall Street API:
"Idea/economic inequality: The core message that the world's playing field is tilted to the advantage of the wealthy has come through loud and clear. Since Occupy Wall Street began, mentions of economic inequality have skyrocketed in the national media. The protests have become a "news hook" to look at the United States' shockingly unequal distribution of income and wealth. Though OWS' package of complaints was the catalyst, the more reporters look, the more they find.
Idea/inadequacy of politics: Approval of Congress and President Obama are near all-time lows. The idea that our politics are not up to the serious tasks we face in fixing our economy and society has become widespread. Instead of pointing that out, as many have, Occupy Wall Street simply ignored mainstream politics. As the press clamored for position papers and lists of demands, OWS responded by paying no attention. There were two messages in that relative silence: 1) your media is inadequate to convey the scale of changes necessary and 2) your politics are inadequate to make the scale of changes necessary.
Meme/the99percent: One especially savvy viral idea to come out of the protest was the idea of The 99 Percent, or those Americans who make less than approximately $250,000 per year. Not only did a viral Tumblr spin out of the idea, but it became a kind of rallying cry of solidarity. American progressives have often been torn apart by their micro-differences, but the 99 percent was the biggest tent that could be imagined. It provided space for nearly everyone to ally with the occupy movement.
Meme/occupyX: Occupy has become a cultural token with its own value outside the protests. People don't just occupy cities in the true spirit of Occupy Wall Street. They also OccupySizzler and OccupytheBathroom. It's a meme with a strange power. It's a testament to the flexibility of Occupy Wall Street that Occupy jokes don't seem to subtract power from the movement but add it." (http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2011/11/a-guide-to-the-occupy-wall-street-api-or-why-the-nerdiest-way-to-think-about-ows-is-so-useful/248562/)
2. The functions of OWS, by Peter Marcuse:
"The Occupation movement that is spreading across the country has a number of purposes, plays a number of different roles, in the struggle for justice and a better life in our world.
A confrontation function, taking the struggle to the enemy’s territory, confronting, potentially disrupting, the operations at the center of the problem. It has the potential to disrupt Wall Street, by occupying space Wall Street needs to function; symbolically, hyperbolically, it waves a pointed knife over the heart of the economic beast. But it must be admitted that there is little push to actualize the potential; only in Oakland, thus far, has there been significant interference with the normal conduct of mainstream business. When neighbors complain about the noise and unpleasantness of Liberty Park’s occupiers in New York City, it is in their capacities as residents, not as business people, that they complain.
A symbolic function, The occupations show the existence and extent of a demand for change of many sorts, giving expression to and concretizing an inchoate but widely shared and deeply felt unhappiness about things as they are and the direction in which they are going, actively involving bodies in a coherent movement, calling for change not only Wall Street but at Harvard, Columbia, Harlem, the Port of Oakland, Portland, Chicago. The symbolism ties in to the occupations in the Arab Spring, and a long history of social protest.
An educational function, provoking questioning, exploration, juxtaposition of differing viewpoints and issues, seeking clarification and sources of commonality within difference. For Occupy Wall Street and many of the other occupations, the lesson is of the gap between the 1% and the 99%, often pushed to argue that not only is the gap unfair in a distributional sense, but also in terms of power, that it is in fact the power of the 1% that causes the pain for the 99%, that the wealth of the 1% is the result of the deprivation and repression of large numbers of the 99%, not some unfortunate maldistribution of society’s wealth for which no one is responsible.
A glue function, creating a community of trust and commitment to the pursuit of common goals.
It provides a way of coming together in a community for those who are deeply affected and concerned. The close physical proximity to each other, the close working together over time, the facing together of common obstacles and hardships, the very need to endure the difficult conditions of living together and meeting daily needs in an environment needing to be significantly reshaped by their own hands day in and day out, fosters strong reciprocal trust and mutual support.
An umbrella function, creating a space and a format in which quite disparate groups can work together in pursuit of ultimately consistent and mutually reinforcing goals, without issues of turf or competition inhabiting their common action. In this sense, it constitutes a political umbrella, an organizing base for an on-going alliance, not just a temporary coalition, of the deprived and discontented. It provides others a non-threatening way of joining together in marches, demonstrations, petitions, campaigns, in part by the very fact of being open to multiple demands, not forcing priorities among them, seeing them as pats of a single agenda, and not creating a separate organization. Look, for instance, at the range of organizations endorsing Occupy Wall Street’s recent actions; it is hard to recall any previous occasion that has brought so many together for a common purpose.
An activation function, inspiring others to greater militancy and sharper focus on common goals and specific demands. The movement is concerned to expose the role Wall Street, the 1%, play across a whole host of concerns around which there has already been active mobilization: housing, health, employment, culture, inequality, non-participatory democracy, racial and ethnic and gender discrimination. Wall Street by shining a light on, attracting attention to, the relationship between the 1% and the 99%, dramatizing inequality and the abuses of power, giving intellectual and symbolic substance to the critique of the prevailing economic and political system., and thus to encourage them to act as part of a common front against a system as to which they have a common interest to change.
And to activate not only symbolically, and not only as an umbrella for others’ activities, but by direct support of those activities: providing space for meetings, facilitating cross discussions among supporting groups and interests, organizing marches or rallies or other events in support of those whose actions lead to the shorter term but directly attainable goals, the non-reformist reforms, that point in the direction to Occupy’s own ultimate goals of change.
A model function, showing, by its internal organization and methods of proceeding, that an alternative form of democracy is possible and the process of change need not involve a reversion to hierarchical command structures of some previous revolutionary movements. It thus creates a possible alternative model of organization, not so much of spatial organization as of social and political organization, ways of living together, diversity, democratic decision-making, mutual support, self-help on a collective basis.
The use of Liberty Park and the purposes it is being asked to serve also raises a number of important questions about the nature and uses of public space." 9http://www.thenewsignificance.com/2011/11/17/peter-marcuse-the-purpose-of-the-occupation-movement-and-the-danger-of-fetishizing-space/)
UK October 2013
By Tina Bakolitsa:
"While these foretold futures came to pass, Occupy’s evolution both as protest and process continued. With the demise of the initial open-ended camps, alternatives started being explored. Nomadic Occupy was temporary, mobile and driven by local issues. While this model expired too, its message hailing the primacy of community activism and land did not. In a recent example, the criminalisation of residential squatting acted as a catalyst for the successful collaboration between squatters and community campaigners working to save their local library. The Olympics triggered, among other things, warnings about the privatisation of public space. Settling in disused woodland, the Diggers 2012 renewed discussions on the relationship between land and democracy, and fed the idea of a commons-based economy as a new way forward. To encourage this cross-fertilisation of ideas and action, a series of meetings and debates was arranged, including the Occupy Research Collective Convergence, the New Putney Debates and the October 2012 Quilligan Seminars.
On its anniversary, and for a number of reasons, Occupy finds itself splintered and isolated from the social forces necessary to successfully defend and advance it as a movement, such as established activist groups, organised labour, and emerging movements. To reconnect with these forces, Occupy first needs to address issues of political expression, organisational mechanisms and cohesion in the absence of camps. It’s a formidable task, but not an impossible one. After all, these were the forces that guided and supported Occupy’s birth.
A year has passed. The vortex of capitalism is still churning away unchecked at life, humanity and livelihoods. It doesn’t look any more caring or responsible than it did a year ago; if anything, it is even more voracious. At its centre, authoritarian capitalism beckons. Once again, Occupy is raising the alarm, this month with Global Noise." (http://theoccupiedtimes.co.uk/?p=7283)
Al Jazeera interviewed 4 participants:
- AJE: Can you explain, as simply as possible, the purpose of Occupy Wall Street? What statement are you making, and what does it mean to have a protest without a defined goal?
ET: Occupy Wall Street is a growing movement of people who came together for a lot of different reasons – it’s pretty broad and there haven’t been any explicitly stated demands, although implicitly, by being on Wall Street and by taking over the space and all the actions that have been coming out of it, it’s people who are angry about the way that corporations and politics and money controls their lives and controls the way that they live and breath and function in society, and who have some sort of vision for a different world that exists outside of greed, racism, patriarchy, corporate power and political oppression.
MS: It’s an expression of frustration at the feeling that the political process is being run by economic interests and by giant corporations in particular.
MM: When people use the word ‘occupy’ what they mean to say is: Bring the public into a role where they actually advance decision-making, most importantly the decision-making of our economic well-being. The way that the institutions operate in the type of society we live in, is not very conducive to high levels of democratic participation. I think often people feel disconnected. We have these elites in our society that really make us question whether we do indeed live in a democracy, or do we really live in a plutocracy – a country controlled by elites? In this case, the economic elite. In depth coverage of US financial crisis protests
JAM: It should be reasonably clear to anyone who looks at what’s going on at Occupy Wall Street that the goal is ending the corrupting influence of extreme wealth on democratic politics. I don’t really buy that people don’t understand what this is about. Wall Street controls America, and we oppose that.
Just because there aren’t demands for a certain bill to be passed or a certain law to be repealed, that shouldn’t make us believe that it is somehow un-unified or a meaningless gesture. The meaning is clear.
Occupy Wall Street is not only a political protest, but it’s also a model society, which I think is the really interesting political protest – that it is itself the demand.
There’ve been meaningful social movements before without a unified, coherent list of demands, and there’ve been movements before in which the demands have taken years to develop – whereas the occupation has lasted 16 days now.
In 1949 it was inconceivable that by 1968, black folks would have the right to vote… As late as December of 2010, there wasn’t a single American pundit or expert on the Middle East predicting that by January 25th, (Egypt’s) Tahrir Square would be teeming with people and that not very many weeks later, Hosni Mubarak would have been ousted." (http://www.thenewsignificance.com/2011/10/07/jesse-strauss-understanding-wall-streets-occupation/)
2012 Status Assessment by Kalle Lasn
Founder and editor of Adbusters magazine, Kalle Lasn is largely credited for conceptualizing and starting the Occupy Wall Street protests.
Interview by Solutions journal:
How do you feel about how the protests ended? Did they flame out, or was it a success? What lessons were learned?
It was a huge success. A lot of people say, “They never came up with demands.” But here is a movement of young people who felt their future didn’t compute, and they fought it in a horizontal, leaderless way, and they launched a national conversation in America and in Canada, and last October the conversation went international. So a few hundred people in Zuccotti Park launched a huge international debate about the future and that’s as good as it comes.
Now, we know it’s winding down, and there’s a big question mark: can we keep this going, and morph into new strategies, and still command attention with the world? And I believe we can. This movement has long legs and a core impulse—this feeling among hundreds of millions of young people that their lives will be full of ecological and political and financial crises, and they can’t aspire to the lives their parents had, unless they stand up and fight for a different future. I don’t think anything can stop these young people and I predict we’re going to move away from large occupations of parks and we’ll have surprise, one-day occupations of banks and corporations and the economics departments of universities, with more and more people talking about the Robin Hood tax and high frequency trading and bank reform and campaign finance reform. These surprise, one-day occupations will start popping up in cities everywhere. This movement will fragment into a million projects.
What are members of the movement talking about now?
At the moment, the most exciting stuff I see when I talk to Occupiers around the world is the possibility of a third political party rising in America and playing the role of the spoiler, and something edgier and stronger than the Green Party. That is very exciting to a lot of people—a hybrid party of the disillusioned that gives Americans a choice that is not just a Coca-Cola-versus-Pepsi choice.
The other idea is to have a paradigm shift in the science of economics. The neoclassical paradigm taught in Economics 101 classes has had its day. Back in 2008, when the financial meltdown happened and caught all the classical economists by surprise, there were a lot of bioeconomists and ecological economists waiting in the wings, hungry to shift that paradigm. And there will be a revolt of students against their professors. And we may find ourselves next year with hundreds of students occupying the economics departments of their universities. It wouldn’t just be a policy shift like taxing the rich. It would be a shift in the fundamental axioms of economic science and a tinkering with the bedrock of our economic system. The next generation of economists would have a totally different worldview.
Imagine that the Occupy movement achieves everything you think it can. What does the world look like after this ultimate success? How long will it take to get there?
It’s all about producing a different type of human being. Like the Occupiers who slept in the park. Their cynicism dissolved and they were engaged and they merged into this different kind of human being. They were alive and alert and energized and this is what it’s about. This movement will be a success if it can produce a new generation of young people who are fighting a good fight and can do what needs to be done. It’s going to take an eternity because the human project never ends. We are at a tipping point right now. This feels like one of the biggest tipping points. We have never faced the possibility of ecological and physical and political crises all swirling around each other and ready to swoop down on us and create a nightfall. Not just a 1929 scenario, but a 50- to 100- or 1,000-year blockade. It’s totally in the cards. I hope this Occupy movement will give impetus to young people and make them fight harder to avoid the pitfalls of humanity." (http://www.thesolutionsjournal.com/node/1072)
1. By Neal Ungerleider in Fast Company:
"The backbone of Occupy Wall Street's decision-making process is the New York City General Assembly a parliament-like organization that describes itself as an “open, participatory and horizontally organized process” and which anyone can join. The General Assembly has its roots in New Yorkers Against Budget Cuts (NYABC), a loose collection of labor activists, left-wing lifers, students, and academics who organized a tent city a few blocks away from City Hall called Bloombergville in protest against city budget cuts that got relatively little media coverage. NYABC has close ties to the city's labor unions (the organization obtained meeting space from DC37, New York's massively powerful municipal workers union) and to the substrate of activism that stayed strong in the city; the organization's media representative, Doug Singsen, is an influential figure in the movement to prevent budget cuts to New York's public universities.
Teaming up with the amorphous collectives of Adbusters, Anonymous, and Day of Rage (another organizing group) was the perfect solution for the budget cut activists who formed the nucleus of the General Assembly. The fact that the American economy is in a wretched state, with millions of Americans suddenly excluded from the job market and trading houses seemingly being rewarded for inventing reckless financial instruments, has meant that the time is ripe for a broad-based protest movements. The worldwide collectives who publicized the movement guaranteed media attention and a steady stream of migrants to the new tent city/carnival/protest movement.
Meanwhile, the nucleus of protesters who formed the General Assembly were able to provide the boots on the ground to do the grunt work. Due to the General Assembly's open nature, it quickly swelled with new attendees to Occupy Wall Street. The General Assembly is currently an open-access democrat's dream; the collective posts full minutes and detailed meeting information online.
The decision-making process behind Occupy Wall Street itself was convoluted. After Adbusters launched the original call for the protest, the first General Assembly was held on July 2. At that time, a small seed group that included prominent anthropologist David Graeber led efforts within the assembly to drastically retool the protest. Adbusters' original plans called for the protest to start on a Saturday (when Wall Street is nearly empty and media coverage is at a minimum) and also made the protest dangerously liable to hijacking by fringe organizations whose messages would be unpalatable to the general public.
One of Occupy Wall Street's greatest strengths is the collective's agile use of social media and (in the past week) crowdsourced knowledge of how to handle mainstream media attention. Veterans of the long-lasting Independent Media Center  have helped operate a press center that puts out a print publication, the awesomely named Occupy Wall Street Journal , which has turned into a cult item among New York tourists. Occupy Wall Street has already raised over $50,000 in publishing costs via Kickstarter. Jed Brandt , a far-left-wing activist and “revolutionary journalist,” played a key role in fundraising. Occupy Wall Street and their many sympathizers--especially the super-web-savvy Anonymous collective--seem to have successfully retooled the Egypt/Tunisia model of social media revolt for the American public (something this reporter originally doubted ). Occupy Wall Street even has an official spokesperson of sorts, 23-year-old Patrick Bruner .
Media expert Clay Shirky tells Fast Company that Tahrir Square set an important precedent:
- It's a strategy Richard Kim calls "the alchemy of negativity," and it is common to most populist political movements, from the American and French revolutions to the occupants of Syntagma Square and Zuccotti Park. If it were possible, within the context of the current government, to formulate and advance a coherent set of demands, there would be no need for the protest in the first place. However, when certain ideas like treating the creators of the financial meltdown as criminals instead of saviors are outside contemporary elite discourse, those ideas instead get expressed in whatever space is available outside the mainstream. And in 2011, a key part of that space is online."
The Occupy Wall Street collective relies on a vast network of sympathizers to help fund the considerable costs of keeping the protest going. An impressive logistics system has arisen at Zuccotti Park that includes a kitchen (fueled by donations), clean water distribution, a lending library, day care, children's activities, and getting clean clothes to protesters who stay overnight.
Many donations for Occupy Wall Street are funneled through Kickstarter and a site called WePay , which has made a niche practice out of fundraising for Occupy Wall Street and its satellite demonstrations nationwide. WePay CEO Bill Clerico tells Fast Company that “in the case of the Occupy Wall Street movement, organizers needed a simple, easy solution that allowed them to spread the word, rally supporters, and get donations without any hassles like frozen accounts or inaccessible funds.”
Using smaller sites such as WePay and Kickstarter was a decision undoubtedly influenced by PayPal's infamous decision to cut off WikiLeaks.
Meanwhile, the regular members of the General Assembly are basking in their success. Genius media stunts such as silly as a rumor that the band Radiohead were playing the encampment to the much more serious recent Brooklyn Bridge takeover coupled with the arguably brutal and disproportionately violent behavior of the New York Police Department  have grabbed mainstream media attention. And the arc of the media coverage has been changing. While earlier reports treated the protesters as a motley crew of freaks and fringe figures, coverage in influential sources such as CNN, MSNBC, and (especially) the New York Daily News has become positively glowing. The core message of the Occupy Wall Street protesters--an end to corporate greed and financial wrecklessnes--has struck a nerve with massive swaths of the American public. Influential labor unions such as the AFL-CIO's Richard Trumka, the Communications Workers of America, and the massively powerful local chapter of the United Federation of Teachers, the NYSUT , have all thrown their weight behind the protests." (http://www.fastcompany.com/node/1785698/print)
2. From an interview by Al Jazeera:
"AJE: How does the group decide to move forward with anything specific? What is the group‘s decision-making process?
ET: The way it’s set up is that there are general assemblies twice a day. Anyone can make a proposal, an announcement, or their point, and things are decided through consensus … rather than it just being an elected group of leaders who get to decide things together in their closed little bubble.
A big task is translating ourselves and making it more accessible to people who don’t really understand what it means to make decisions horizontally – which means that there’s no single leader or single people who have control and tell everyone what to do.
MS: I disagree. I’m hesitant to say that it’s non-hierarchical, that there’s no leadership, because I do really think that there’s a core of people – the media and press team – who are doing a lot of the organising and shaping the public image. Me and some other folks have encountered resistance on their [the leadership's] part to incorporate other ideas into the work and to think critically about what’s going on.
We tried to talk to one of the media folks about the problem of there not being people of colour, and the problem of people of colour not necessarily feeling comfortable participating, and there was resistance on their part to acknowledge that. They deflect criticisms by saying, ‘if anybody want’s to get involved they can get involved. If they want to be represented, they just come and they can do it too.’ I think it’s denying the real power dynamics that are at play now. I’m not sure if that’s a way for the leadership to deflect responsibility, or if they really don’t think that they’re excercising power in the movement." (http://www.thenewsignificance.com/2011/10/07/jesse-strauss-understanding-wall-streets-occupation/)
OWS as Self-Organized Criticality
"This is a movement that has no elevated leader. It is not making demands to authorities with decision-making power in the old institutions. It is being organized locally by each group and built as a fractal pattern of small groups setting plans through general assemblies, orchestration of networks of groups through hub websites (like the one at Occupy Together linked to above), and coordinated branding through meme propagation of the “We’re the 99%” slogan.
The key thing to keep in mind about self-organizing systems is that their unfolding dynamic is the source of group intelligence. There are no puppeteers pulling the strings. It isn’t possible to orchestrate nested networks in a centralized manner. Instead what we’re seeing is the emergence of structure and social order through the conversations themselves, starting at the small scale and spiraling upward. Occupy Wall Street is a swarm that — like a flock of birds or school of fish — has burst into action as individuals finding resonance with one another only to discover that a coherent group flow has emerged.
I cannot say how far this movement will go, although the trends just mentioned suggest that monumental change is imminent. If this doesn’t lead to fundamental change, it will at least be part of the gathering momentum for future attempts to be more bold and effective. If you are cheering Occupy Wall Street onward (or concerned that it may unseat you from a comfortable position in the old political order), you’ll want to familiarize yourself with the laws of self-organization and swarm behavior in order to grasp what is going on." (http://www.chaoticripple.com/2011/occupy-wallstreet-swarm-behavior-and-self-organized-criticality/?mid=502)
OWS and Network Governance
"To my knowledge, many ways in which the Occupy protesters are advancing the rise of the network (+N) form arose with the key “social netwars” of the 1990s: the Zapatista movement in Mexico, and the Battle of Seattle. Yet, other activist movements have mattered as well, such that by now a vast deep infrastructure exists for conducting activist campaigns across all sorts of issue areas and boundaries.
Points that seem significant to me, based on past research on organization, strategy, and narrative matters, are as follows:
- Organization matters: The Occupy protesters are trying to operate as a 21st C. information-age network — in many respects a peer-to-peer (P2P) network — whose design is ostensibly open, inclusive, horizontal, bottom-up, decentralized, collective, leaderless, and non-hierarchical, even anti-hierarchical.
- This is most noticeable in their efforts at direct democracy in general assemblies held in parks and other Occupied spaces. These assemblies, as well as their lateral working groups, adhere to those design principles in ways that reflect modern anarchist thinking, but also strive to enact cutting-edge network notions (especially about collective intelligence and open-source creativity and productivity) that have taken hold irrespective of any overlap with anarchism.
- Various pluses and minuses, lots of praise and criticism, have attended these exercises in direct democracy (see readings in the Addendum). Yet there’s a broader TIMN matter to wonder about: Whether this Occupy-type activism really does represent a deepening of new network modes of organization, decision-making, and strategy — or a recursion to classic tribal modes? After all, gathering in open assemblies, providing opportunities for all to voice their views, and using consensus methods to arrive at decisions, without imposing a hierarchy, are what characterize episodes of democracy in (T-type) tribal settings, as do fission and forking by dissidents. If what has been occurring in the Occupy encampments is truly of the new (+N) network form, the movement will manage to resist tribalization (not to mention re-hierarchicalization). But it’s still not clear what the new form will look like at its full-fledged best, and how it will be distinct from and more suitable than the other TIMN forms.
- The answers may not lie in the Occupy encampments. They, their assemblies, and related gatherings have garnered much attention and analysis. And why not? They are the most visible aspects of the Occupy movement. What are missing — yet surely as interesting and potentially more important from a TIMN perspective — are data and analysis about the broader organizational networking that is occurring in the background, surely involving myriad NGOs, media, and other actors all across America and abroad. I’ve seen references to ideas for linking the various assemblies into a vast network; but important as the assemblies are for the Occupy movement, they may not be its key factor, or actor. This may become evident if/as the city encampments become harder to sustain. The key may be the background network (or set of networks), partly because of its “monitory” potential.
- This speaks to a distinction about three kinds of democracy: assembly, representative, and monitory. The efforts at assembly democracy may suit many purposes of Occupy’s encampments, but this early kind of democracy has major limitations as a basis for broad-based governance and long-range evolution. Meanwhile, the Occupy activists have good reasons to be critical and suspicious of what has become of modern representative democracy; though more complex and capable than assembly democracy, it has become deficient for guiding the evolution from triformist to quadriformist societies in the 21st C. Instead, a key to the next phase transition may be “monitory democracy” — a concept from John Keane (2008a, 2008b, 2009, 2010) — whereby vast sensory and organizational apparatuses are developed, especially in civil society, for scrutinizing and appraising what is going on in a society, and for generating policy inputs that require accountability and responsibility from state and market actors. If Occupy’s background network (or set of networks) is headed in this direction, it could make a significant contribution to the emergence of the +N phase. I shall return to this prospect in Part Three.
- Strategy matters: The Occupy protesters are conducting what amounts to a “netwar” — our term for a mode of conflict that revolves around the use of network forms of organization attuned to the information age. In so doing, they are increasingly adopting “swarming” as a strategy and/or set of tactics.
- As John Arquilla and I have commented to each other, 2011 has been the year of social swarming; swarming is the story of the year. And the ideas we fielded about swarming and the future of conflict over a decade ago still look apt:
“Swarming is a seemingly amorphous, but deliberately structured, co-ordinated, strategic way to strike from all directions at a particular point or points, by means of a sustainable pulsing of force and/or ﬁre, close-in as well as from stand-off positions. This notion of “force and/or ﬁre” may be literal in the case of military or police operations, but metaphorical in the case of NGO activists, who may, for example, be blocking city intersections or emitting volleys of emails and faxes. Swarming will work best — perhaps it will only work — if it is designed mainly around the deployment of myriad, small, dispersed, networked maneuver units. Swarming occurs when the dispersed units of a network of small (and perhaps some large) forces converge on a target from multiple directions. The overall aim is sustainable pulsing — swarm networks must be able to coalesce rapidly and stealthily on a target, then dissever and redisperse, immediately ready to re-combine for a new pulse.” (2000, p. 12)
- So far, the Occupy movement has generated no major incidents that fully manifest swarming. But a lot of statements (see Addendum) speak to its attractiveness; and swarming is implicit in the efforts at multiple occupations — a swarm of occupations. By some accounts, the swarming phase of the Occupy movement is just beginning; if so, it may take the movement in new directions against new targets, perhaps especially if the physical occupations of parks and other sites are ended.
- Recent police and other security operations against the Occupy protests indicate that counter-netwar and counter-swarming methods are being learned, shared, coordinated, and applied across multiple cities and agencies. Particularly notable was the Los Angeles Police Department’s operation to end the encampment there. (See readings in the Addendum, plus chapters by Arquilla and others in this NPS study.)
- Narrative matters: As the information age deepens, conflicts revolve increasingly around narratives — around whose story wins. So far, the Occupy movement has fielded some major slogans and other pointed memes. It’s clearly a movement whose messages are critical of what has happened to capitalism and democracy, and whose proponents hope for solutions to emerge from civil society rather than state or market sectors. Yet, there is still no clear narrative; it’s all quite inchoate — and for now, that appears to be by design, even to make deliberate sense. Occupy activists have opted to promote a nonviolent values-oriented revolution that, so far, is more symbolic than concrete and specific. Many protesters have declined to compile and field specific demands, despite criticisms and pressures to do so. Instead, they have emphasized projecting the kinds of values, morals, and ethics that they think should be brought (back?) into play.
- Occupy’s media strategy is to occupy minds, even more than physical sites. Many activists believe they are creating a new global consciousness. They are out to shift public opinion, public debate, and public will. Yet many protesters are focused on fostering bonds among themselves — connectivity, solidarity — even more than on attacking outside targets and opponents. In large part, Occupy’s key audience is the movement itself — to make it grow, and for supporters to feel they are part of something big that is getting bigger. Some activists deem education to be a major purpose of the movement, especially for the long struggle that is thought to lie ahead.
- The Occupy approach to developing a narrative, or a set of narratives, is being conducted as an open-source multi-voice network, even a marketplace of ideas — not as a sectarian tribe or ideological hierarchy of ideas. This network of ideas revolves around values, goals, and grievances that stem largely from the Left. But it’s also evolving in ways that seem open, adaptable, and resilient, partly to attract adherents from the Center, even the Right. There are key themes — e.g., democracy, equality — but care is being taken not to let any one become singularly or permanently paramount. Indeed, some Occupy activists favor the absence of a precise set of demands and the appearance of disorganization, not only to help attract new people, but also to prevent being co-opted or put in a labeled box by established actors such as political parties and labor unions. Occupy’s network of ideas may thus seem amorphous, but the aim is to make it polymorphous.
- Responsibility is emerging as an important thread. Many Occupy activists talk about rights — Occupy as a continuation of the civil rights revolutions of the 20th C. But I detect an even stronger emphasis on responsibilities — Occupy may develop into a responsibilities revolution more than a rights revolution. Corporate social responsibility and government accountability are already part of the Occupy schemata. If monitory democracy is to take hold in the 21st C., it may make sense for Occupy activists to press on civic responsibilities even harder than on civil rights.
- Nonviolence has been a key thread in Occupy’s narrative from the start. Most Occupy activists are intent on nonviolence as a value and strategy. It is central to their unfolding narrative — the story they want to win with. They’ve had to counter appeals by “black bloc” anarchists, not to mention possible provocateurs, to opt for violence. A point I’d offer, from a TIMN stance, is that setting nonviolence aside — opting for violence — would drive many parties back into tribalism. Moreover, if Occupy turns violent, a street-level realpolitik will become ascendant again, and the movement will splinter and lose its new advantages at noöspolitik (for definition, see next entry).
- Occupy’s narrative directions are in line with our past RAND work on the concept of noöpolitik (or noöspolitik; 1999, 2007), including our forecast that it would gradually supersede realpolitik and favor non-state actors as the information age deepens. No Occupy-related statements have used the term, but many substantiate its conceptual bases:
“By noopolitik we mean an approach to statecraft, to be undertaken as much by nonstate as by state actors, that emphasizes the role of informational soft power in expressing ideas, values, norms, and ethics through all manner of media. This makes it distinct from realpolitik, which stresses the hard, material dimensions of power and treats states as the determinants of world order. Noopolitik makes sense because knowledge is fast becoming an ever stronger source of power and strategy, in ways that classic realpolitik and internationalism cannot absorb. . . .
“Noöpolitik upholds the importance of non–state actors, especially from civil society, and requires that they play strong roles. Why? NGOs (not to mention individuals) often serve as sources of ethical impulses (which is rarely the case with market actors), as agents for disseminating ideas rapidly, and as nodes in networked apparatuses of “sensory organizations” that can assist with conflict anticipation, prevention, and resolution. Indeed, because of the information revolution, advanced societies are on the threshold of developing a vast sensory apparatus for watching what is happening around the world. . . .
“Against this background, the states that emerge strongest in information–age terms — even if by traditional measures they may appear to be smaller, less powerful states — are likely to be the states that learn to work conjointly with the new generation of non–state actors. . . .
“. . . Realpolitik is typically about whose military or economy wins. Noopolitik may ultimately be about whose story wins.” (1999 / 2007)
• Spatial matters: The preceding points about network organization, netwar swarming, and noöspolitik sum up my main impressions about the conduct of the Occupy protests from a TIMN perspective. In addition, I’ve spotted a lot of interesting activity around the concept of “space” — what it means to occupy and fight for a space, to penetrate physical vs. media spaces, to create and hold sacred spaces without fetishizing them, to convert private into public spaces and both into common spaces or even “temporary autonomous zones” (TAZs). The importance of spatial thinking also echoes in referents, often metaphorical, to opening avenues, overcoming barriers, avoiding being put in a box, making connections, building bridges, disrupting capitalist webs, and upholding the dignity of the individual, yet keeping identity obscure. And of course, much is still made of how the new information and communications technologies alter the nature of space (and time).
- There are ways to relate all this to TIMN — e.g., by reiterating that each of the TIMN forms involves preferences for particular space-time action orientations; or by noting that many spatial references by Occupy activists occur in the context of commenting on the matters discussed above — network organization, netwar swarming, and media strategies. Doing so would justify expanding on the point in this post.
- But besides TIMN, the point relates more to this blog’s other focus: how and why people’s space-time-action orientations (STA) shape their mindsets and behavior patterns. So I’m going to elaborate on the point in a separate STA-related post, hopefully before long. I’ll put in its addendum a large set of readings that I’ve compiled about spatial orientations written by Occupy activists and observers.
The Occupy movement has conducted itself as an organizational network, and much as a network should. It is helping pioneer the rise of the +N form, and thus augurs the emergence of a quadriformist society. It has some tribal characteristics — and in some places it seems to oscillate between its tribal and network potentials. But it keeps resisting a reversion to the tribal form, and co-optation into established institutional and market folds.
This makes it quite different from the Tea Party movement. Despite a few network characteristics, it was originally quite tribal in form. Moreover, it longed for a rectification of America at its triformist best. And much of it has ended up being co-opted by established institutional and market actors who represent the triformist era. Tea Party activists used social networking, but that’s different from being committed to the rise of the (+N) network form of organization." (http://twotheories.blogspot.com/2011/12/what-occupy-protests-mean-timn.html)
Transparency at Occupy London
"The occupiers, however, are clearly still at the beginning of a learning curve and as such it can only be expected that they will at times make bad decisions or errors of judgement. A prime example of this occurred last week when, without any explanation, the minutes from the group’s general assembly and working group meetings vanished from its website. The minutes – cached versions of which can still be found using Google – were a frequent target of ridicule by critics. It would constitute a serious failing if they were removed for that reason.
Publishing minutes of meetings has become an important feature of the Occupy movement. Doing so allows the outside world to engage in the issues and gain insight into how decisions have been arrived at. Most of all, though, it is about transparency. Unlike meetings of the Cabinet in Downing Street, the whole point of general assemblies is that they are open to everyone and are thus fully accountable and transparent – nothing is hidden.
The Occupy Wall Street protesters in New York have commendably built an entire website solely devoted to publishing minutes and other procedural information documenting the movement’s inner mechanics, warts an’ all. Presently the London group appear to have wholly shunned this same commitment to transparency, though continue to demand it of others (a recent statement criticises banks for being “accountable to no one but themselves” and calls for an end to “secrecy practices” within the City).
I called Occupy London to try and figure out what had happened to the vanished minutes and was told by Peter, a member of the media team, first they hadn’t been uploaded (not true), then that there were technical problems with the website (questionable), and finally that he wasn’t sure where they had gone and to send an email for an explanation. I emailed on Thursday and again on Friday but am yet to receive any response.
This episode reminded me of the second day of the occupation, 16 October, when I spent all day outside St Paul’s speaking with protesters and familiarising myself with the camp. At one point, shortly after the conclusion of the general assembly, a man from the information team stood at the top of the St Paul’s steps and read out a “timetable” over a megaphone for the following day’s events. The first item on the list was a planned 7am picket outside the London Stock Exchange. I tweeted the announcement (“Protesters planning to picket stock exchange tomorrow morning at 7am”) and two hours later came under a strange and unexpected attack from one of the occupation’s organisers, Naomi Colvin. She dismissed the tweet as “rubbish” and accused me of misrepresentation and “lack of precision”, bizarrely claiming I was trying to “speak on behalf of the occupation”, unlike other journalists who “know the score”. After talking to protesters on the ground, I was able to establish that some were indeed planning a picket – as had been announced – and that for an inexplicable reason Colvin was essentially attempting to stop these plans from being communicated by trying to discredit me and my tweets.
It is precisely this kind of thing, paired with the removal of the group’s meeting minutes from its website, that gives the impression some of those at Occupy London are more committed to the idea of transparency for others than they are to the sometimes uncomfortable reality of it for themselves. No movement that strives to create a more democratic and transparent society should attempt to manipulate, censor or obsessively control the flow of information.
Being criticised and ridiculed, of course, is not easy. And there are a hugely diverse range of political perspectives to be found among the hundreds camped out at St Paul’s, which certainly must make it difficult for the group’s media team to keep what is reported consistently “on message”. But they have to remember they are aspiring to represent a break from the past – a new way of doing things, based on non-hierarchy and direct democracy. It is no good adopting the tactics of a corporate press office by attempting to brush unfavorable things under the carpet.
In the fourteen eventful days since it formed, there can be no denying that Occupy London has taken remarkable strides, and is without question engaged in a protest that is in the best interests of us all. Merely talking a good game, however, is not in itself enough. In its every action the group must strive to embody the principles it claims to uphold. Republishing the full general assembly and working group minutes would be a good place to start." (http://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/ryan-gallagher/lacking-transparency-can-occupylondon-live-up-to-its-own-demands)
Key players in the Occupy Wall Street Movement
Canada's Adbusters collective has made anti-consumerism hip through a glossy magazine and a wealth of stylish web materials; the organization co-issued the original Occupy Wall Street call to arms.
The loosely organized Anonymous collective, who co-issued Occupy Wall Street's original call to arms, are "legion" and have risen from their 4chan roots to become one of the internet's most impressive activist organizations.
3// Jed Brandt
Brandt, a veteran communist-leaning journalist from New York, spearheaded the Occupy Wall Street Journal's $50,000 fundraising drive on Kickstarter.
4// Patrick Bruner
Occupy Wall Street's pointman for media has become a regular presence in the mainstream media.
5// Day of Rage
Aiming to "reclaim democracy," the Day of Rage collective were one of the co-organizers of Occupy Wall Street.
6// DC 37
New York's largest municipal employees union has thrown its weight behind Occupy Wall Street, guaranteeing massive local turnout of day-tripping city employees to protests.
7// David Graeber
Graeber, a prominent anthropologist and anarchist activist, played a key part in helping formulate the tactics that made Occupy Wall Street so successful.
8// Richard Ianucci
Ianucci, the president of the powerful New York State United Teachers union, was responsible for much of the turnout to Wednesday's megamarch.
9// New York City General Assembly
The actual "leaders" of Occupy Wall Street, the General Assembly are a collective who make the decisions that make the large protest flow.
The Two Extreme Polarities to Avoid for OWS Governance
"The political movements of the left that I have participated in over many decades were almost always focused on or prioritized particular issues (wars, civil liberties, civil rights, poverty, collective bargaining, etc.) and/or particular subsections of the population (African-Americans, women, gay people, immigrants, etc.). The authorities almost always took advantage of that focus to separate and isolate the movement from society generally. They were often successful. Even when the authorities failed to provoke general hostility to the movement, they were able to prevent the development of more than a general sympathy for it.
In the short history of OWS and its spread to date, I am struck by its impressive insistence on remaining a movement around a very general and inclusive critique of an unjust economy (99% against 1%) that has corrupted much of US politics and culture. The net result is a built-in systemic critique, sometimes explicit (remarkably often named as capitalism) and almost always implicit. The hesitation to choose among and focus on specific demands reflects the wisdom of maintaining the broad, systemic critique. The taboo against systemic critique – a legacy of post-war anti-communism – seems to be broken. Nonetheless, the struggle to select and prioritize specific demands needs to take time and great care, especially if that struggle is to be accomplished without losing the invaluable systemic critique and demand for change. Most other movements of the left could not accomplish that to their detriment and often destruction.
In its short history, OWS seems already well along in discovering and instituting a new kind of leadership system and organization. The task is daunting and its accomplishment has likewise eluded most left movements in the past. The polarities to avoid are (1) purely horizontal collectives lacking the coordination and shared focus without which massive duplications and wastes of energy and effort breed disorientation and demoralization, and (2) conflict-ridden power concentrations that dissipate and de-energize general initiative and enthusiasm. Here too, interesting explorations of how to navigate between these polarities are underway in OWS. The US left is littered with the debris of movements that crashed on these polarities and/or atrophied from settling into one or the other." (http://rdwolff.com/content/originality-occupy-wall-street)
- Mattathias Schwartz in The New Yorker: Pre-Occupied: The origins and future of Occupy Wall Street
"Occupy and occupation first became part of the language of protest in September 1920, when factory workers in Italy held strikes against working conditions. About 600,000 workers took control of the factories, and the movement was known in Italian as l’occupazione delle fabbriche, or “the occupation of the factories.” The earliest evidence in the Oxford English Dictionary for the relevant senses of occupy (“to gain access to and remain in…without authority, as a form of protest”) and occupation (“the action of occupying a work place, public building, etc., as a form of protest”) come from reports of the 1920 Italy protests." (http://occupyhistory.tumblr.com/post/11953024800)
"Justin Elliott spoke to Adbusters co-founder and editor in chief Kalle Lasn about the practical and ideological origins of the movement and about the continuing debate over its demands.
- You issued the original call to occupy Wall Street back in July. How did that come about and what was the thinking behind it?
It was a poster that we put in the middle of the July edition of Adbusters magazine and a listserv that we sent out to our 90,000-strong culture-jammers network around the world. It was also a blog post on our website. For the last 20 years, our network has been interested in cultural revolution and just the whole idea of radical transformations.
After Tunisia and Egypt, we were mightily inspired by the fact that a few smart people using Facebook and Twitter can put out calls and suddenly get huge numbers of people to get out into the streets and start giving vent to their anger. And then we keep on looking at the sorry state of the political left in the United States and how the Tea Party is passionately strutting their stuff while the left is sort of hiding somewhere. We felt that there was a real potential for a Tahrir moment in America because a) the political left needs it and b) because people are losing their jobs, people are losing their houses, and young people cannot find a job. We felt that the people who gave us this mess — the financial fraudsters on Wall Street — haven’t even been brought to justice yet. We felt this was the right moment to instigate something.
- One Adbusters editor was quoted saying the role of the magazine in this is “philosophical.” Can you define the philosophy behind this?
We are not just inspired by what happened in the Arab Spring recently, we are students of the Situationist movement. Those are the people who gave birth to what many people think was the first global revolution back in 1968 when some uprisings in Paris suddenly inspired uprisings all over the world. All of a sudden universities and cities were exploding. This was done by a small group of people, the Situationists, who were like the philosophical backbone of the movement. One of the key guys was Guy Debord, who wrote “The Society of the Spectacle.” The idea is that if you have a very powerful meme — a very powerful idea — and the moment is ripe, then that is enough to ignite a revolution. This is the background that we come out of.
1968 was more of a cultural kind of revolution. This time I think it’s much more serious. We’re in an economic crisis, an ecological crisis, living in a sort of apocalyptic world, and the young people realize they don’t really have a viable future to look forward to. This movement that’s beginning now could well be the second global revolution that we’ve been dreaming about for the last half a century.": (http://politics.salon.com/2011/10/04/adbusters_occupy_wall_st/)
Kai Ryssdal: For all that's been written and said about the Occupy movement the past two months, there's been remarkably little coverage of how the thing actually started beyond vague mentions of a Canadian magazine called Adbusters. For this week's issue of the New Yorker, Mattathias Schwartz did the legwork digging into the origins of Occupy and to talked to the guy who runs Adbusters.
"Mattathias Schwartz: There's this older fellow, Kalle Lasn, who publishes a magazine called Adbusters in Vancouver, Canada. And then he collaborates very closely with a much younger staff -- one of whom is by the name of Micah White. He lives in Berkeley, Calif. And the origin of the Occupy Wall Street meme was exchanges by phone and by email in the daily brainstorms that Micah and Kalle have.
Ryssdal: So what was the original germ? What was this seed? Was there a precipitating moment that Kalle Lasn said, "All right, I got to do something."?
Schwartz: In the beginning, there was not a whole lot to distinguish this Occupy Wall Street idea from the other ones that they bounced back and forth -- like boycott Starbucks. So it just started off as another hashtag or another possible strategy that they were going to sort of toss out provisionally to their email list and see whether it took or not. And this one took, it took very quickly.
Ryssdal: So that first day though, the 17th of September, for all the Twitter and -- you know -- electronic revolution that we've seen in the Arab Spring and all that stuff, these guys were out there with paper maps and it was decidedly and intentionally low-tech.
Schwartz: That's right. They choose to keep it off of Twitter and off of email. And to just select the location by number on paper maps, which they distributed immediately before everyone before everyone went up to Location 5 -- which turned out to be Zuccotti Park.
Ryssdal: And they sat down and started having -- as you write -- peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches for lunch.
Schwartz: It would have been a late lunch. It would have been the afternoon. They had been salting away food for at least a couple of weeks and they'd sort of thought through all these different contingencies. So you kind of have the idea guys in Vancouver and in Berkeley just sort of throwing these things out there and spitballing. And then you have these more hard core organizers here in New York who take it up, who actually show up and who figure out ways to make it work on the ground.
Ryssdal: One of the really interesting things, one of the other really interesting things -- 'cause there were a whole bunch of great tidbits in this piece -- but one of them is that you quote either Kalle Lasn or the guy from Berkeley -- younger guy -- saying, "We got to have a message. We really need a specific message." And yet that's sort of what Occupy became known for -- at least in the early days and even still which is -- just the amorphousness of its message.
Schwartz: Yeah, that came from Micah White of Adbusters. At one point, he and Kalle sat down and came up with a list of demands to give to President Obama. But the folks in New York did not want that -- you know -- that's part of the point: is being so disorganized as to be unco-optable. And how does that spread out further? That's the trickiest question right there.
Ryssdal: Have you talked to any of these guys -- to Kalle Lasn, or to Micah White in Berkeley, or anybody of the folks you were on the ground within Zuccotti Park about how it's been cleared out now and they're no longer really occupying things and they are going to have to come up with another strategy?
Schwartz: A little bit. You know, I talked to Kalle about that. He was kind of cooking up possible ideas or memes for phase 2, which would be, he said, like an escalation or more swarming disruptions of what he calls "business as usual." I was at Zuccotti Park last night. There were 50 people there. And the occupation of Zuccotti Park -- so far as I can see for all intensive purposes is over. So there are probably a great deal of people who are meeting and wondering and trying to figure out what to do right now.
Ryssdal: As are we all. Mattathias Schwartz wrote about the origins of Occupy Wall Street in this week's New Yorker Magazine. It's a piece called Pre-Occupied. " (http://www.marketplace.org/topics/economy/occupy-wall-st/pre-occupy-post-occupy)
4. See the documentary: Rise Like Lions
A positive evaluation of Occupy as prefigurative practice
From an interview conducted by John Wisniewski:
"Robert you believe that the Occupy Movement was a success. How did Occupy try to change our ideas about power?
Occupy_heartsRCS: This is a fantastic question. Let me first start with a few comments regarding the apparent ‘success’ of Occupy, as I think this will lead us toward a fruitful analysis of what really forms the basis of my overall argument about Occupy-style movements. From there it might also be easiest to probe the issue of power.
I would probably be hesitant if not resistant to describing Occupy-style movements as a ‘success’, because I fear that this would imply or be read in line with a sort of instrumental conception, which is actually a position I argue against. So many theorists and academics on the left, moreover, seem content to charge Occupy as being a complete ‘failure’ precisely according to instrumental standards of judgement or criticism. But I argue, along with Richard Gunn and Adrian Wilding (who, it should be said, have also made significant and notable contributions to Heathwood’s series on Occupy), that this is fundamentally misguided. What distinguishes Occupy-style movements from others is not only their refusal of the existing socioeconomic-political order. I think what a lot of people miss is that there are much broader, fundamental processes at play behind Occupy-style events and politics which, in many respects, cannot be judged accurately in terms of their instrumental effect. Gunn and Wilding put it nicely when they reflect that ‘Occupy-style movements are conscious experiments in alternative forms of social organization, interaction, and self-determination’. Occupy’s radical alternative politics, which is open, inclusive, tolerant, non-dominant, non-hierarchical and anti-authoritarian, not only challenges traditional ideas of power, politics, and social organisation; so too does it challenge our instrumental conception of revolutionary social change and the very foundations of modern society – or, I argue, that this is at least the revolutionary horizon in which these movements suggest.
To put it differently: what we witness when it comes to Occupy – what sets Occupy-style movements apart from other instrumental and at times dogmatic movements – is an attempt to advance a revolutionary, grassroots logic of systemic change on the level of praxis, which is fundamentally transformative (or can be) in ways that extend beyond mere instrumental effect. That is to say: the general misunderstanding of Occupy-style politics concerns the criteria by which Occupy-style movements are measured. We witness throughout politics today how political movements, whether opposed to or ultimately in affirmation of the status quo, are assessed by their strictly instrumental effect. Perhaps this is more largely a symptom of the modern epistemic paradigm – what we might otherwise describe in light of a critique of instrumental reason (Adorno and Horkheimer). I mean, it is no secret that a critique of epistemology is a constant focus of my research, and I think that the modern epistemic paradigm (broadly defined) pervades all walks of life, including politics (the left and right spare no exception in this regard).
That said: one might ask, for example, “What specific difference has the Occupy movement made?” My basic response to such criticism – and others at Heathwood tend to share the same position – is that Occupy is not to be assessed strictly in terms of specific policy differences – for example, its effect upon government policy. That is not to say that specific reforms – for example, changes to welfare provision or property-distribution, or the implementation of policy for the immediate relief from precarious conditions – are unimportant. Quite the contrary. The argument, however, is that the ultimate goal or rationale of this emancipatory activity – of Occupy-style events – is the mutual recognition which commonising entails in the field of participatory public engagement. For me, this is Occupy at its most fundamental, irreducible level.
One might reply that, because it wasn’t an instrumental protest, ‘Occupy Wall Street had no aims’ and therefore was unsustainable. But such a line of criticism against Occupy’s politics always strikes me as misread. While such criticisms as ‘there are no aims’, ‘there are no goals’, and ‘there is no hierarchically defined leader to promote and push policy (via traditional circuits of power)’ have been accepted (almost uncritically) by a large portion of leftist theorists, not only are these assertions fundamentally misguided, I think there’s almost an element of myth at work. Let’s be clear about two things: first, OWS didn’t fail; it was systematically destroyed by the state. OWS, like other Occupy-style events, couldn’t sustain itself not because of its remarkable courage to choose to exist outside the traditional ideological structures of power and hierarchy – or to not be an instrumental movement – but because the traditional ideological structures of power and hierarchy unceasingly attacked through its typical instruments of coercion this alternative social (public) space, disintegrating its energy as a positive movement.
One of my favourite things about Occupy in particular is that it can be so organic precisely because it is not instrumental – at least the better parts of it were or continue to be. By this I mean there was and continues to be something very ‘human’ to be observed: its open, inclusive and tolerant politics brought people together from all walks of life in solidarity against the injustices of capitalism, of ‘coercive society’. Perhaps what I appreciate most is that it wasn’t dogmatic, as we witness time and again in the history of politics. One of my favourite images for this reason is the one with the grandparents holding the hands of their grandchildren, walking in solidarity with the protests – I mean, how moving is that? OWS brought people together for all different backgrounds, and there is something so very special about that.
Secondly, it has been well-documented both by activists (such as Yotam Marom) and by critical theorists (such as those at Heathwood) that Occupy Wall Street did have aims and that, Occupy-style politics, as an on-going movement, continues to have clear aims. But the truly revolutionary horizon of Occupy style politics – of Occupy-style events in general – resides in its creation of an alternative ‘mutually recognising’ public space that is encapsulated by the notion of prefiguration. For me, then, Occupy is to be assessed firstly in terms of the alternative public space that it creates and the mutual recognition between individuals that (in however fragile a fashion) it brings into existence. So to say an Occupy-style event was a success – this would mean that it was successful in establishing a radical alternative public space, where mutual recognition obtains, and where individuals could collectively prefigure on the level of praxis a post-capitalist freedom (‘a home where we get to practice the alternative’, as Marom once observed). Gunn and Wilding coined a wonderful phrase in one of our collective articles that captures this last point brilliantly: that ‘for emancipation to be emancipation, it must start as it aims to go on’. I think this is one of the most revolutionary insights. Not only does it presuppose the dialectic between theory and practice, theory and experience, but the argument is that revolutionary social change must be lived. I take this as an affirmation for all of the grassroots movements that I have studied over recent years, from ‘guerrilla gardeners’ in the UK to alternative farms and education facilities – people that are working toward alternatives every single day. There is a real experiential dimension at play here, which I greatly appreciate especially in relation to what I often describe as a ‘phenomenological (‘lived’) ethics’. But I fear that I may be getting off course.
Regarding the question of power, I think the approach outlined above forms the basis for a truly radical understanding of at least one aspect of the overall criteria in which we might not only assess Occupy-style events, but contemporary political movements writ large. That is to say if Occupy-style movements agree to be measured by criteria, it is a criteria rooted in critical theory which, in the context of a fundamental critique of broader social-historical processes, recognises that these movements present themselves not as ventures which may or may not bring about specific reforms, but as grassroots attempts to prefigure a social world which is yet to be. To borrow the words of Helene Finidori, whose work in and around a theory of the commons is most fascinating: there is a ‘commons logic’ at play. In other words, the rationale of these movements for change is historically rooted, acting in part as a response to the tragedy of the commons. I would probably be inclined go a little further than this and ground Finidori’s notion of ‘commons logic’ in a deeper historical perhaps even anthropological study, arguing that this ‘commons logic’ is almost an attempt at working toward ‘emancipatory reason’ (in an Adornian sense). But there is still a lot to be assessed and debated in this respect. In any case, I think Finidori’s observation affirms my own position in the past that if the ultimate goal or rationale of Occupy-style events is mutual recognition, and if commoning entails participatory public engagement, then Occupy and commoning see emancipation in identical terms. The principle of mutual recognition — which we might consider as an egalitarian and emancipated form of interaction — consciously breaks with the hierarchical and undemocratic nature of the capitalist world. Following this line of thought, which builds off of Gunn and Wilding’s work on recognition, it is indeed remarkable how much ‘commoning’ processes are evident, whether explicit or implicit, in Occupy-style events all over the world.
The question of power is certainly present throughout this entire analysis, of which we’ve really only scratched the surface. But in my papers on Occupy to-date I mostly build off of Gunn, Wilding and the Frankfurt School. I really appreciate Gunn, Wilding’s analysis of the shift from contradictory recognition (i.e., one-way circuits of power) to mutual recognition – a shift that can be observed in Occupy-style events. There is something very foundational about this thesis. From the perspective of a critique of epistemology, we could also read this shift as one from dominant subject-object relations to intimate subject-subject relations, something I talk a lot about in my own research. Already one can sense here the emergence of a fundamental critique of power, which Gunn, Wilding discuss in their paper ‘Revolutionary or Less-Than-Revolutionary Recognition’ (Heathwood, 2014), but which I’ve been recently expanding on and will look to broaden further in a series of papers on the pathologies of power and domination. In sum, though, what Occupy-style events all over the world seem to accomplish is that they point toward the revolutionary horizon of a shift from coercive to non-coercive power (on the basis of a shift on the level of praxis to establish mutual recognition). In the process, Occupy-style movements have informed and continue to inform critical theory of a broad, multidimensional and interdisciplinary critique of power.
To close, one thing that is really important to note – and here I agree with colleague Elliot Sperber – is the need to distinguish between coercive power and non-coercive power. I will be addressing this question in detail in my already mentioned series of papers, but for the time being we can say that it is something that different Occupy-style camps haven’t always quite grasped. I mean, power is such an ambiguous thing and this ambiguity really needs to be addressed. But there were times during Occupy Wall Street demonstrations and discussions, as Sperber observes, where reactionary and wrongheaded notions of coercive power (notions that in many ways go back to Sorel) were evidenced. I think this is largely because we don’t have much of a concept of non-coercive power (which is very multidimensional) and even non-violence for that matter. But perhaps this is a point for another time." (http://www.heathwoodpress.com/exploring-horizon-social-political-economic-change-interview-r-c-smith-john-wisniewski-part-1/)
What the Occupy Movement Demands of Each of Us
by JOSEPH G. RAMSEY:
"That we work to defeat and to overthrow the rule of the 1% (and the 0.1%) over our lives, our society, and our world;
That we devote our lives to ending the oppression, domination, and exploitation of people both near and far;
That we defend what remains of public space and the public sector against neoliberal attempts to privatize or destroy it;
That we stand up for the freedom of speech and assembly, of dissent and public protest, as rights which no law-maker can revoke;
That we work for social equality: the radical redistribution of wealth, the transformation and/or abolition of oppressive institutions, the dismantling of unaccountable hierarchies, and the thorough democratization of society;
That we aspire towards egalitarianism in our own movement and in our own lives, seeking to build others up as equals, not to subordinate them as tools or inferiors;
That we seek to unite the many against the few, behind an inspiring vision of global human emancipation;
That we work to expose, to challenge, and to shut down wars abroad and militarism at home, along with the imperial and fascistic apparatus that makes them possible;
That we devote ourselves to exposing, and to resisting the ravages of a toxic ecocidal capitalism before it poisons the climate to the point of rendering wide swaths of our planet unlivable;
That we work to expose, oppose, and defeat racism, homophobia, sexism and other reactionary and oppressive ideologies and practices wherever they rear their ugly heads;
That we seek to give voice to the voiceless and hope to the hopeless across our world;
That we help to inspire courage, trust, and solidarity amongst those who have been beaten down by the current system, to turn our collective weakness into strength;
That we work to expose the farcical nature of our 1%-dominated, so-called “democracy,” even as we may utilize what is left of this state apparatus to tactically leverage the needs of our movement;
That we hold accountable those individuals and institutions that have produced and profited from the current crisis, at the expense of the people.
That we reject all 1%-er attempts to scapegoat the vulnerable and to blame the victims for their oppression;
That we approach with suspicion and skepticism those representatives of existing 1% power structures that seek to co-opt our movement, even as we are constantly on the lookout for friends and allies in unexpected places;
That we put the greater good of the people and the movement ahead of our personal interests, even as we recognize that only through such a movement can our individual talents be fully realized, and vice versa;
That we keep our commitments and promises to one another;
That we are honest and accountable in our interactions whenever we are representing the movement;
That we work each day to help raise consciousness (inside and outside the movement) about the world situation–for this is a global struggle;
That we inform ourselves about the current dangers and crises facing our society and our planet, and that we seek to understand not only the news and the facts, but the fundamental forces driving the situation forward, and the future trajectories these forces imply;
That we seek to cultivate a tactical flexibility and creativity that can adapt to the shifting situation;
That we develop a long-term, nationally coordinated strategy for actually building the movement that we want to create, for actually achieving the changes we want to see;
That we cultivate an honest and humble self-critical attitude in evaluating the successes and failures, the strengths and weaknesses of our movement, its theories and its practices; that we are willing to alter our theories and practices in light of evidence and reflections we gather;
That we seek to become citizens of the world, not just of any single city or nation;
That we sink roots in our local communities, in our workplaces, neighborhoods, schools, families, and other institutions, becoming attentive students of others’ lives, as well as supportive allies, and where appropriate, leaders of local struggles;
That we are kind and patient with one another in the movement, working to understand deeply even those with whom we disagree, knowing that those who may be wrong on nine issues may teach us something valuable concerning the tenth;
That we demonstrate courage as well as wisdom in the face of threats we face;
That we seek to cultivate the fullest humanity in ourselves and in others alike;
That we work creatively and tirelessly to bring into being a society that is worthy of human beings;
That we commit to the long haul, as the fight ahead is sure to be as extended as its outcome remains uncertain.
That we sustain one another in this great collective endeavor, cherishing each thinking, fighting spirit in these dark times." (http://www.counterpunch.org/2012/06/22/what-the-occupy-movement-demands-of-each-of-us/)
The movement as a 'anti-political' Swarm Movement?
OccupyWallStreet is not a political movement in the traditional sense. It is a countercultural swarm. We need to see it as a swarm to understand why people are drawn to it, and what makes it the most important political force on the planet today.
The traditional job of social movements is to present a collective challenge to political institutions in the name of freedom, justice, or rights. The most powerful movements of the 20th century were identity-based movements, which created huge mobile blocks of power by gathering the oppressed and disenfranchised of the earth under the flag of united identities: workers, women, blacks, the colonized, and so on. ‘We, the oppressed X, gather together to challenge the forces amassed against us’. This is the logic of the ‘new’ social movements of the late 20th century. The new social movements profoundly reshaped Western societies. Notably, however, they didn’t achieve this by transforming the operating system of these societies: liberal capitalism. These movements ‘called out’ liberal capitalism and insisted that it operates in a manner consistent with its founding principles, ensuring rights and opportunities for all. In doing so, they improved life for a large proportion of society. But, at the same time, they consolidated liberal capitalism by demonstrating how inclusive and adaptable the operating system could be.
It is not my intention to demean or diminish the achievements of the new social movements. My point is that these movements have political limits, set by the system that they chose to work within. We see the limits of these movements when we compare and contrast the way that they shape the identities of their members with swarm movements. Simplifying a little, we can say that traditional movements shape and transform their member’s identities in the following way: first, by orienting thought in relation to a (mostly negative and critical) ‘cognitive map’ of how things work (referring to the capitalist system, patriarchy, the military-industrial complex, colonialism, or the coldest of cold monsters, the state); second, corralling identity in terms of a unitary social class or group (workers, women, ‘the youth’, gays, the oppressed, etc); and finally, by activating the movement by steering its energies towards contesting established political and legal structures." (http://www.coalitionblog.org/2011/10/swarm-wall-street-why-an-anti-political-movement-is-the-most-important-force-on-the-planet/)
"Swarm movements shape identity in a completely different way. First off, they are are issue- or cause-based, rather than identity-based, movements. Instead of seeking to reduce the movement to a single set of grievances representing the struggles of a single group identity, swarm movements affirm the diversity of participants as their fundamental strength. This diversity is irreducible to a single identity, but it is powerful when focused on a common cause.
A second point of difference between traditional and swarm movements concerns what these movements seek to achieve. Traditional movements focus on challenging and changing institutions. The goals of these movements are thus extrinsic to the movements themselves: they are achieved as a result of movement activity. Swarms can (and usually do) set extrinsic goals. Their primary goal, however, is to sustain the critical mass that holds the network together. As a result, movement activity is focused more on the intrinsic goal of empowering the swarm than any extrinsic goal the movement might hope to achieve. This can make swarms look unfocused from an external point of view. But within the movement, conditions tend to be highly conducive for participation. Swarm movements are intrinsically empowering and thus intrinsically rewarding for participants. Ultimately, participants do not need to look beyond the act of participation for a reason to join the swarm. Swarming is its own reward; the payoff is the empowerment that comes from swarming.
The intrinsic nature of swarm movements makes them hard to understand from an external perspective. Commentators like Lessig, who are familiar with a more traditional style of movement, often feel compelled to fabricate or imagine extrinsic goals in order to overcome the cognitive dissonance they experience surveying a mass social activity that doesn’t play by traditional rules. But the more we look for extrinsic goals, the further get from understanding what really inspires swarm activity. Swarms are based in a common sense of potential. What catalyzes a swarm movement is the sense that here, today, a new way of working and living together is possible.
Swarms are transformative movements. Insofar as members acknowledge a common sense of identity, it is a transformative identity, a sense of being part of a movement that is changing the world.
We can map the logic of the identity shift involved in swarm movements as follows. First, a mass of people acquire a new cognitive map, representing an original conception of what they can achieve together as a network. The cognitive maps that inspire OccupyWallStreet and Occupy Together resonate with innovations in the online world. OccupyWallStreet is an ‘open space’ movement. The camp structure is an open API that anyone is free to hack into and explore using MeetUp as a Directory. The second step in the process comes when the mass of people who apply these cognitive maps start reflecting on how working together expands their common potential. This insight gives rise to the swarm. A swarm movement comes into being as a swarm when a mass collective grasps what it is capable of achieving en masse.
Swarms transform our shared sense of the possible. This is what draws people to these movements. It is the key to their unique political power.
Victor Hugo claimed that no army in the world can stand in the way of an idea whose time has come. No government or political institution can hold its ground when confronted with a new collective sense of what human beings are capable of doing and achieving en masse. Every major social transformation, from the Age of Revolutions to the present day, has been driven by a catalytic swarm. Swarm movements do not expend their energies by contesting the status quo. They reinvent it. Norms slide in all directions and political institutions are forced to keep up.
Swarms are vectors of mass transformation. They sweep across societies on the diagonal and reset political cultures in their wake. The protesters in Liberty Square and across the US are engaged in a more serious business than contesting dominant institutions. They are knitting together new cognitive maps based on peer-to-peer strategies and open source ethics and reworking politics from below. As Douglas Rushkoff claims, ‘we are witnessing America’s first true Internet-era movement’. And it is transforming our sense of the possible. The surges of energy coming off the movement are immense. All that remains is that the movement finds a way of articulating its power without reducing its intrinsic diversity. If OccupyWallStreet can achieve this, it could literally change the world.
Perhaps the new mode of collective enunciation has already been created. The Human Microphone System that OccupyWallStreet protesters use to facilitate their General assemblies is a remarkable expression of direct democratic culture. Electronic amplification is banned in the square. The speaker says half a sentence and the crowd repeats it, so that everyone can hear. The speaker then completes the sentence and the crowd repeats this too.
The human microphone system is a physical expression of the appreciative process that happens on the internet all the time. When a blogger posts something that others think is significant, they share the message through their networks, so that that others who are not included with the author’s networks may enjoy it too. In doing so, they affirm the incredible power of open networks to create collective knowledge and wisdom. OccupyWallStreet applies the same modus operandi to transformative political action." (http://www.coalitionblog.org/2011/10/swarm-wall-street-why-an-anti-political-movement-is-the-most-important-force-on-the-planet/)
Jodi Dean on the motto, "We Are the 99%"
"The slogan “We are the 99%” highlights the division between the wealth of the top 1% and the rest of us. Mobilizing the gap between the 1% with nearly half the country’s wealth and the other 99% with the rest of it, the slogan asserts a collectivity. It does not unify this collectivity under a substantial identity—race, ethnicity, religion, nationality. Nor does it proceed as if there were some kind of generic and unified public. It rejects the fantasy of a unified, non-antagonistic public to assert the “we” of a divided people, the people divided between expropriators and expropriated. In the setting of an occupied Wall Street, this “we” is a class, one of two opposed and hostile classes, those who have and control wealth, and those who do not.0
The assertion of a numerical difference as a political difference, that is to say, the politicization of a statistic, expresses capitalism’s reliance on fundamental inequality—“we” can never all be counted as the top 1%. Thus, the announcement that “We are the 99%” names an appropriation, a wrong. In so doing, it voices as well a collective desire for equality and justice, for a change in the conditions through which one percent seizes the bulk of collective wealth for themselves, leaving 99% with the remainder.0
“We are the 99%” also effaces the multiplicity of individuated, partial, and divided interests that fragment and weaken the people as the rest of us. The count dis-individualizes interest and desire, reconfiguring both into a common form. Against capital’s constant attempts to pulverize and decompose the collective people, the claim of the 99% responds with the force of a belonging that not only cannot be erased but that capital’s own methods of accounting produce: as capital demolishes all previous social ties, the counting on which it depends provides a new figure of belonging. Capital has to measure itself, count its profits, its rate of profit, its share of profit, its capacity to leverage its profit, its confidence or anxiety in its capacity for future profit. Capital counts and analyzes who has what, representing to itself the measures of its success. These very numbers can be, and in the slogan “We are the 99%” they are, put to use. They aren’t resignified—they are claimed as the subjectivation of the gap separating the top one percent from the rest of us. With this claim, the gap becomes a vehicle for the expression of communist desire, that is, for a politics that asserts the people as a divisive force in the interest of over-turning present society and making a new one anchored in collectivity and the common." (http://occupyeverything.org/2012/occupation-as-political-form/)
"The movement brings together a variety of groups and tendencies—not all of them compatible. Many in the movement see that as Occupy’s strength. They see Occupy as an umbrella movement capable of including a multiplicity of interests and tendencies. For them, “occupy” serves as a kind of political or even post-political open source brand that anyone can use. Because occupation is a tactic that galvanizes enthusiasm, they suggest, it can affectively connect a range of incompatible political positions, basically working around fundamental gaps, divisions, and differences. The mistake here is not only in the effort to ignore multiple incompatibilities; it is also, and more importantly in the evasion of the real antagonism that matters, the one that connects the movement to its setting—class struggle. “Tactics as brand” neglects the way occupation is a form that organizes the incompatibility of capitalism with the people and emphasizes instead a flexibility and adaptability already fully compatible with capitalism. I’ll say a little more about this.
Reduced to “tactic as brand” or “tactic as generator of affective attachment,” occupation responds in terms of communicative capitalism’s ideology of publicity. Communicative capitalism announces the convergence of democracy and capitalism in networked communication technologies that promise access and equality, enjoin participation, and celebrate creative engagement. Occupation understood as a tactic of political branding accepts that promise and demonstrates its failure. Communicative capitalism promises access? To whom and where? It promises access to everyone everywhere but really means to enhance and enable capital’s access to everything everywhere. The Occupy movement demonstrates this by occupying spaces that are ostensibly public but practically open only to capital; the 99% don’t really belong. Similarly, communicative capitalism promises participation—but that really means personalization; better to do as an individual before a screen and not a mass behind a barricade. And, communicative capitalism promises creative engagement—but that really means user-generated spectacular content that can be monetized and marketed, not collective political appropriation in a project of resistance. So the Occupy movement accepts the promises of communicative capitalism and demonstrates the contradictory truth underlying then. The resulting disturbance—pepper spray, riot gear, eviction—reveals the incompatibility at communicative capitalism’s heart.
At this point, the tactic of occupation is compatible with the system it ostensibly rejects.
Yet these demonstrations of contradiction rest uneasily against the acceptance of the promises of communicative capitalism. Like communicative capitalism, the movement also valorizes participation, creative engagement, and accessibility. One of the ideological features of “tactics as brand” is the idea that Occupy is an idea, practice, term accessible to anyone. And then there is equality. In the circuits of communicative capitalism, the only equality is that of any utterance, any contribution to the flow, whether it’s a critique of economic austerity of a video of baby kittens. Here, too, the movement can get reabsorbed as ever more informational and affective content, something which may appear on one’s screen, and be felt as good or bad before an image of the next thing pops up. At this point, the tactic of occupation is compatible with the system it ostensibly rejects. The same holds for the movement’s rhetorical and ideological emphases on plurality and inclusivity. They merge seamlessly into communicative capitalism and thereby efface the economic crisis at the movement’s heart. It’s already the case that there are multiple ideas and opportunities circulating on the internet. It’s already the case that people can hold events, form digital groups, and carry out discussions. People can even assemble in tents on the sidewalks—as long as they are in line for event tickets or a big sale at Wal-Mart. Communicative capitalism is an open, mutable field. That aspect of the movement—inclusivity—isn’t new or different. It’s a component of Occupy that is fully compatible with the movement’s setting in communicative capitalism. What’s new (at least in the last thirty years) is the organized collective opposition to the capitalist expropriation. Particularly in the face of the multiple evictions and massive police response to the occupations, the movement faces the challenge of keeping present and real the gap, the incompatibility, between occupation and the ordinary media practices and individualized acts of resistance that already comprise the faux-opposition encouraged in everyday life.
Occupation installs practical unity where there was fragmentation, collectivity where there was individualism, and division where there was the amorphous imaginary of the public.
Thus, it is necessary to consider the gap between occupation and its politicization, that is to say, between occupation as a tactic and occupation as a form operating in a determined setting. The political form of occupation for us depends on its fundamental, substantial component of class struggle as what connects it to its social setting. In this setting, occupation installs practical unity where there was fragmentation, collectivity where there was individualism, and division where there was the amorphous imaginary of the public." (http://occupyeverything.org/2012/occupation-as-political-form/)
Changing the terms of the debate
"The effects of the shift in the debate can be seen in the analysis published by Think Progress regarding the impact of the OccupyWallStreet movement on the media debate within the United States. They examined the use of keywords over three major US television networks in the weeks before, and the weeks after the establishment of the camp. In the weeks before the camp the word ‘debt’ was used over 7500 times. In the weeks after the camp, the word debt was used just 398 times, with the phrases ‘jobs’, ‘occupy’ and ‘Wall Street’ at the top of the list. Piers Morgan Tonight recently held a one hour special with Oscar winning documentary maker and Occupy champion Michael Moore on the Occupy movement in front of a live studio audience made up of those hit hardest by the crisis. This reframing of the debate within the media has helped to sway public opinion towards the side of the protesters (54% of the US public back the camp), which has led to Democratic politicians (belatedly) championing the cause of the Occupy movement." (http://theoccupiedtimes.co.uk/?p=609)
Challenges to its legitimacy
"For nearly every Occupy movement in the United States, the General Assembly is seen as the legitimate decision-making body. But when it comes time to enforce a decision that some disagree with, its authority is often called into question. Nearly every significant conflict that has cropped up in Occupy movements around the country rests on the bedrock issues of authority, accountability, representation and legitimacy.
The issue is central to the movement’s future because authority rests on the notion of legitimacy. In a leaderless movement, who – if anyone – gets to call the shots, initiate actions, represent the group, and perhaps most important, hold people accountable by enforcing authority, order and discipline? Exactly how democratic must a people’s movement be?
These questions of legitimacy and leadership will return in the next several weeks, as the weather warms and brings possible new outside Occupations, and as a presidential campaign heats up in which both major parties, in different ways, will attempt to lay claim to Occupy’s rhetoric and message. The Occupy movement has grappled with these questions in very different ways over the last six months, and lessons learned over that time could be key to the movement’s success in 2012.
For example, an attempt by a group calling itself The 99% Declaration to convene a “National General Assembly” in Philadelphia on July 4 was rejected by both the Occupy Philly General Assembly and Occupy Wall Street as the event smacked of co-optation by an outside group that allegedly included a former Goldman Sachs executive. The call received some media attention, but suspicions about the organizers, their plan to replicate conventional politics by electing U.S. citizen-only delegates according to congressional districts and an unhinged tirade by a group member, declaring “OWS is a failure and … a fraud,” drained the idea of any meaningful support.
Meanwhile, Adbusters, which sparked Occupy Wall Street, issued a “tactical briefing” in late January with #OccupyChicago and the line “May 1 – Bring Tent” superimposed over a photo of Chicago police pummeling protesters in 1968. Adbusters is promoting an occupation of the city during the NATO and G8 summits in May. But Adbusters didn’t consult with OccupyChicago or the Coalition Against NATO/G8 War & Poverty Agenda, and that incensed many people.
Serena Himmelfarb of OccupyChicago told one reporter, “I am excited that Adbusters continues to support OWS, but they acted irresponsibly … They acted alone, without regard to what’s already being planned here for the summer.” Another organizer wrote, “If you want to pick a fight with [the police], you should consult those whose name you are using.” In a nod to Adbusters’ prominence, Chicago activists swallowed their grumbling because they knew the call could help generate the publicity and crowds they wanted.
Unlike the people behind the unsuccessful 99% Declaration, Adbusters drew from a deep pool of media attention and activist goodwill to create its own source of legitimacy. It went around the Occupy Chicago General Assembly and put it in the position of having to endorse the call or make it appear that the movement was split – which the media would have played up.
A third challenge of Occupy’s belief in democracy is whether or not homeless people are a legitimate part of the movement. The instant any occupation set down stakes in an American city or town, it attracted society’s dispossessed in search of food, shelter, medical care and counseling. Many perceived, often unfairly, that the Occupy demonstrators had introduced the drug abuse, violence and mental illness that bedeviled many camps. The occupiers insisted, often correctly, that these social maladies had existed all along, studiously ignored by news organizations and right-wing bloggers. (In fact, as Rebecca Solnit reported, crime in Oakland actually went down 19 percent during Occupy Oakland.)
Nonetheless, the challenge of the homeless for the movement was profound. So-called street people are consummate members of the 99 percent. Their troubled lives are the outcome of decades of public policies calculated to deindustrialize the economy, emaciate cities, ghettoize the poor and minorities, and shred the safety net. But in Occupy camps all across the country the same split emerged between those who felt that the homeless, runaways, train hoppers and itinerants were central to the movement versus those who felt that they drained resources and diverted energy from the task at hand.
This divide played out at Occupy Los Angeles at City Hall, mere blocks from thousands of homeless who bed down every night in the largest skid row in the country. Ruth Fowler, a journalist, screenwriter and member of facilitation team at Occupy Los Angeles, told me via email that “Skid row residents were extremely vigilant in self policing the encampment, and running out the inevitable dealers, thieves and violent individuals who made their way over there.” Of the seven U.S.-based occupations she visited, Fowler said “Occupy L.A. didn’t have any more incidences of drug and alcohol use than other encampments.”
But tensions still surfaced. Fowler saw a conflict between “radicals who believe the worst thing you can ever do to anyone is call the cops on them, given the brutality and corruption of the police and the prison industrial complex, and liberals who would rather call the cops, sweep an issue under the carpet, and focus on legislation reform.”
Fowler also offers a dose of perspective: “People smoked weed in Occupy L.A. Big deal. In London they got shitfaced drunk and punched the crap out of each other in the middle of the GA.” (http://www.salon.com/2012/02/27/occupys_challenge_reinventing_democracy/)
Issues of Representation and Accountability
"even if the legitimacy question is solved, it leaves unaddressed issues of representation and accountability. A former black blocker who lives in Portland, Ore., explained it’s a predicament when any group organizes in secret, and takes actions in the name of the movement but without any transparent mechanism for accountability. Self-selecting “affinity groups” take actions under the Occupy umbrella, but accountability is largely based on informal social networks, moral suasion and pressure.
This is not only Occupy’s current organizing model – for better and for worse – it’s how the movement began. Schneider says the original Occupy Wall Street action “involved a tactical committee composed of a small group of people working partly in secret.” He explains that the announced target for the Sept. 17 occupation was Chase Manhattan Plaza in the heart of Wall Street, but the committee “knew that it probably wasn’t going to work, so it was more of a decoy.”
“Now, there are a lot more power dynamics in the movement that are kind of shadowy,” Schneider adds. “You might be able to see who is in what working group, but you don’t always know what affinity group they are in and who is hatching what ideas. There aren’t the traditional forms of accountability in which responsibilities are clear and someone can be removed.”
Peter Bratsis, a professor of political theory at the University of Salford and author of ”Everyday Life and the State,” asks, “How do you create authority within the movement, how is that authority going to act, do we have groups working in affinity with each other or one disciplined group recognizing the authority of the GA to make strategic decisions?”
The problem, according to Bratsis, is “how to find macro-level coordination but recognize the autonomy of all the individual left groupings. Should the radical feminists have to go to the GA to make a particular decision? No, they have their own structures and can make their own decisions.”
In a movement like Occupy, which is more like a cosmic haze of subatomic particles than a luminous celestial body, democracy is fuzzy. Democracy is not “everyone does what everyone wants to,” says Bratsis. And that is the heart of the matter. Some people want to drum. Others want to toke up or shoot up. Some want to work within the system. Others want to fight the state. And these actions all impinge on other people’s rights or visions of the movement.
Consensus – the lifeblood of the General Assembly which is the beating heart of the Occupy movement – is about getting everyone to agree. This sidelines legitimacy. Referencing the philosopher Max Weber, Bratsis says “legitimacy refers to seeking a probability that a command will be obeyed.” In consensus, however, if everyone agrees, there is no need to issue a command. In the few instances where a crisis must be resolved, it is exceedingly laborious to issue a command, which promptly gets ignored as proved by rogue drummers and pot smokers. The state has riot police, jails, courts and armies. The Occupy movement has downward twinkling fingers, and so it ends up using other social and psychological methods to elicit compliance.
Perhaps a few dozen active encampments remain around the United States. Freed from the burden of maintaining a daily society, hundreds of active Occupy movements still have to wrestle with the philosophical issues of democracy and legitimacy even as they strategize for what comes next. For now, the source of legitimacy is the General Assembly operating by consensus based on “We are the 99 percent.”
The 99 percent is a great slogan, but even in a best-case scenario, there will be winners and losers whenever a decision is made. Progress requires democratic mechanisms of legitimacy and accountability and an awareness of who represents the movement and how to represent it. But that can be easier said than done, as the fragmented history of the American left shows.
It would be easy for radicals and reformers to part ways, which is already happening from Philadelphia to Southern California. The tougher part is making the 99 percent more than a slogan and creating new systems of democratic power in which everyone is invested. This will determine if the Occupy movement is a flash in the pan or the dawn of a new era." (http://www.salon.com/2012/02/27/occupys_challenge_reinventing_democracy/)
Long Term Evaluations
David Graeber, in an interview by Arthur De Grave:
"I don’t think social movements failed. I have a theory about that: it’s called the “3.5 years historical lag”. After the financial crisis hit, back in 2008, security forces all around the world started gearing up for the inevitable protest movements. Yet, after a year or two, it felt like nothing was going to happen after all. And suddenly, in 2011 – though nothing particular had happened that year — it started. Like in 1848 or in 1968, the social movements are not about seizing power right away: it’s about changing the way we think about politics. And at this level, I think there has been a profound change. Many expected Occupy to take a formal political form. True, it did not happen, but look at where we are 3.5 years later: in most countries where substantial popular movements happened, left parties are now switching to embrace these movements’ sensibilities (Greece, Spain, United States, etc.). Maybe it will take another 3.5 years for them to have an actual impact on policy making, but it seems to me like the natural path of things.
You see, we live in a society of instant gratification: we expect that we are going to click and that something will happen. That’s not the way social movements work. Change does not happen overnight. It took a generation for the abolitionist or the feminist movement to reach their objective, and both managed to remove institutions that had been around for centuries!" (http://magazine.ouishare.net/2016/01/the-era-of-predatory-bureaucratization-an-interview-with-david-graeber/)
- Adbusters editorial: http://www.adbusters.org/blogs/adbusters-blog/occupywallstreet.html
- Jimmy Higgins: The Meaning of the Movement
- history of the #OSW 99% movement, by David DeGraw, on the role of AmpedStatus, http://ampedstatus.org/exposed-david-degraw-works-for-a-soros-cia-obama-socialist-front-group-that-is-secretly-controlling-the-ows-99-movement/
Organisations playing a role in the protest
- The NYC General Assembly leads the direct democratic process in Liberty Square. Website
- OccupyWallSt.org is a primary source of information from Liberty Square.
- OccupyWeb is a 'river of news' (RSS) on the various Occupy movements
The GA consists of a number of working groups that act autonomously to organize events, engage in project and present proposals to the GA, where they can be acted upon.
- Internet Working Group: Manages the NYCGA.cc website
- FLO Solutions Working Group: Implements free/libre/opensource technology solutions
- Movement Building Working Group: Connects occupations around the world