Michael Wolraich's picture

    Lost in Liberty Square

    It took me half an hour to find the Internet Working Group at the Occupy Wall Street demonstration in downtown Manhattan. The protesters have been here 24-hours a day for three weeks to denounce corporate greed and economic inequality. They sleep on the ground under blue tarps, which I discovered after almost stepping on one.

    I wasn't sure what the Internet Working Group was, but it sounded intriguing. The www.occupywallst.org website promised a meeting at 5 p.m, so I took the subway downtown and plunged into the ragged mass of thousands packed into an unremarkable urban plaza of less than an acre. The organizers have been calling the park by its original name, Liberty Plaza, though they've refashioned it Liberty Square, which sounds more like an iconic protest setting and less like a suburban shopping mall.

    Unfortunately, no one in Liberty Square / Zucotti Park seemed to know where the Internet Working Group was meeting or even what it was--not the young woman in a blond wig dressed as Marie Antoinette, not the scruffy bearded guy wearing a handwritten sticker that said "Ian - security," not the pretty grand marshall from the New Orleans Mardi Gras parade in full uniform who showed me her vagina hand-puppet, not even the earnest clean-cut twenty-somethings who stood behind a sign marked "INFO."

    As I inquired, some people began shouting that a meeting was about to start. I hurried over only to discover that it was a working group for anarchists and the "anarchy-curious." I was slightly curious but didn't let the anarchists distract me from my mission.

    Finally, someone helpfully directed me to a group of men huddling with laptops under an umbrella. They confirmed that yes, they were the Internet Working Group and promised that the meeting would begin shortly.

    As we gathered, someone asked, "Where's the gluten free dude? He wanted to say something about Open Source." The gluten free dude materialized and presented his idea for an open source sponsor-a-protestor web page. One of the tech guys told him to spell out the idea via email, which resulted in a standoff. The gluten free dude complained that he needed positive emotional feedback; the tech guy complained that he had poor memory.

    The impasse ended inconclusively, and we moved on. The seven or eight participants decided the park was too crowded, and we went off in search of a nearby Irish pub, trailed by an enthusiastic gang of journalists and cameramen from Dan Rather's HDNet television channel.

    The meeting turned out to be a planning session for the website of the New York City General Assembly, one of the loose-knit activist groups organizing the event. The techie talk was interesting to me but probably disappointing to the HDNet crew, who filmed a few minutes of geek-speak and then waited around listlessly to interview the memory-challenged tech guy while we discussed functional requirements and hosting solutions.

    The meeting could have lasted thirty minutes, but there were a number of digressions into whether we could utilize corporate technologies (read: Google), how many options to provide for the "gender" question, and other minutia. Nonetheless, we made some progress in conceptualizing a suitable website to support the chaotic collision of social activism that is Occupy Wall Street. After we adjourned, I returned to Liberty Square just in time for the General Assembly.

    The General Assembly is the keystone of the whole demonstration. It presents an inspiring and simultaneously maddening illustration of radical rule by consensus.

    New York City has prohibited loudspeakers at the demonstration, so the organizers ingeniously devised the "public mic." In order to signal the crowd, a small group shouts out, "Mic check!" Others then repeat the call in successive radiating waves, and a relative silence descends. The chosen speaker finally begins, pausing after each statement so that nearby listeners can repeat the line in waves for those further away. It's a clever way to get the word out, but it doesn't facilitate inspirational orations.

    The first half-hour of the General Assembly is spent explaining the rules of the General Assembly. There are no leaders, we learn, much like the protests that have unfolded in the Middle East. If you wish to speak, you must line up and present your topic to the manager of "the stack," who jots them on slips of paper. Priority is given to to traditionally underrepresented minorities (probably not a feature of Middle East protests).

    Next we learn the hand signals. Wave your fingers over your head to vote "Yea"; wave them down to vote, "Nay"; wave them in the middle if you're on the fence; cross your arms to express moral repugnance. The community, we were assured, would do its best to accommodate moral objectors, but a ninety percent majority was sufficient to pass an initiative.

    Of course, ninety percent is a tough threshold for a diverse, rudderless caucus that includes everyone from labor organizers to internet libertarians to radical vegans.

    And there's the rub. The Occupy Wall Street movement, in its current form, is an inchoate mass of people and opinions. It struggles to produce a cohesive and focused agenda because it has zealously rejected the need for a cohesive and focused organization. Its leaders, insofar as it has leaders, wax lyrical about the successes of headless demonstrations in the Middle East, but the Arab uprisings shunned public leadership for the simple reason that the protest leaders risked losing their heads, a penalty that New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg is unlikely to invoke.

    Don't get me wrong. I'm enthusiastic about the passion that Occupy Wall Street has harnessed, and I hope to continue to play a small part in its development. I believe that it has the potential to evolve into a potent, durable movement that can help revitalize the slumbering American left.

    But if Occupy Wall Street is to have a sustained impact into 2012 and beyond, its coordinators must recognize that "leadership" and "focus" are not dirty corporate buzzwords to be scorned but core elements in any powerful social movement. Otherwise, we'll all just wander about looking for our working groups until the passion fades away.



    Well, I think your sensibilities and expectations are very similar to mine.  But I'm trying to stand back for now, watch, and see if something compelling emerges from it all.  Right now, it's hard for me to find anything tangible to grab onto or identify with.

    What's your ideal movement? I confess that while I see the flaws in this one, I don't have a clear idea for what would a potent left-wing movement would look like in 2011.

    Given the diverse nature of the nation, an American movement will find it more challenging to distill a sense of unity. People frustrated with the banksters could include all sorts of people that might not normally get along on other issues.

    Do they administer purity tests? Who judges them? Do they kick people out? Who decides who gets kicked out?

    I really don't know, Genghis.  I'm not a tactician.  At this point, the thing that gives me pause is not tactics, but confusion about aims and desired outcomes.  I can only feel comfortable joining with and working with people if I'm convinced we all want more or less the same outcomes.  Also, the age and cultural gap between me and the demonstrators is difficult to negotiate psychologically.

    I have some fairly definite preferences about what kind of society I would like us all to work together and build, and I have policy preferences many would regard as radical and socialist: income redistribution; maximum wage laws and wage ratio laws; corporate governance reform; a permanent public sector full employment program; expanded public investment behind national economic and social strategy; an expansion of public ownership; enhanced protection of public environmental wealth; increased regulation of private enterprise and more effective subordination of the private sector to public sector; major financial sector reform and central bank reform.  I think the supremacy of private ownership and capital have gone too far.  These are the sorts of things that are at the center of my attention these days.

    But apart from these egalitarian ideals I'm a pretty straight-laced guy: a peaceful and boring family man and working stiff, with a house and a neighborhood I like, and a craving for security, middle class gentility and predictability.    I spend my days at work and my evenings home with my wife, reading, writing, taking long walks and relaxing.  I travel occasionally, and would travel more if I had more money.   There are things that revolt me about our contemporary popular and national culture, but I'm too old and set in my ways to be a full-blown counterculturalist.  And I have too many obligations to take off and live in a tent or on the street.  I know I would feel completely foolish among the crowd at these demonstrations, like a fish out of water.

    When I walk around my charming and well-wooded middle class neighborhood in New Hampshire, catching site of the occasional deer, turkeys, critters and even bears; listening to birds and frogs and wind in the trees; watching people work on their lawns, rake their leaves, and otherwise enjoy and beautify their own special homes and spaces in the world, I don't think, "This bourgeois uniformity is awful."  I think, "This is heaven. I wish more people could have this, and I wish that so many people weren't unemployed, or consigned to lives of urban squalor, ugliness, destitution and hopelessness."

    I have friends who were laid off during the current collapse and still don't have jobs.  I want them to get jobs back so they can take care of their families, recover their dignity and have a decent and secure future.  It pisses me off to no end that my decent and hardworking friends have to endure what they are enduring while some people make billions of dollars by being particularly successful and exploitive jackasses.  That's the kind of problem what I would focus on personally.  But I can understand why younger people who are just starting out in life have different outlooks and priorities, and don't really care about my old friends.

    I think governance is a good thing, not a bad thing.  I repudiate the anti-government ethos of the right and the left.  We need more governance in my view; not less of it.  Our economy turned predatory and exploitative because it was poorly governed and unregulated.  Anarchism and Libertarianism are the anti-government and radically individualistic kinds of Tea Party stuff I don't like.  My ideal of social life is a cooperating community based on respect, fellowship, and organized and effective democratic government that makes good laws in a democratic fashion to protect enduring values and decency, and then makes people stick too them.  The members of such a  community demand certain things of one another - adherence to the laws, work to the best of one's ability, participation in the hard work of democratic governance - and in exchange each member is given a fair share of the goods that the community produces.

    Words like "occupy" turn me off.  An occupation is an invasion - it's what we did to Iraq..  If someone comes to my town square to occupy it, to "march" in it, to scream in it, and to disrupt the lives of others, I would consider them a threat.  If they come to gather and assemble peaceably there to discuss things, I dig it.

    Also, Tahrir Square was a revolution.  It ended with tanks in the street and the deposition of the government.  I'm not a revolutionary.   I believe our democratic institutions can be taken back from the money-changers and re-generated.  We don't have to depose anybody.  We just have to take control of our government back.  We don't have to march Lloyd Blankfein out into the street and pack him off in a helicopter.  We just have to pass some laws that prevent him from grabbing so much money for himself; and that effectively prohibit and punish any lying and stealing he might be prepared to do.  We can effect change through the due processes of government and law.

    There are plenty of places to meet and organize and cooperate: town meetings; town squares; other meeting halls; churches; gyms; public amphitheaters; whatever.  Meet in these places.  Come up with agendas and plans in these places.  Don't "occupy" them.

    Mindful of my old fart status, what I'd tell these demonstrators is this:  You're citizens.  You're not peasants.  You are not serfs.   You are by equal right with your fellow-citizens the sovereign rulers of your country.   So just act like adults and govern.   Don't just act up or act out.   Don't be seduced into letting existing power alliances make you self-define as an outsider, an alien, a rebel.   If democratic and equality-minded citizens work together and in solidarity on a focused common agenda for change, we have the power to regenerate our old democratic institutions.  Don't be an "anarchist" who dreams of freeing yourself from the society of others and escaping your community's laws.  Don't be a libertarian obsessed with your personal rights and inviolable sovereignty over your own self.   Be an equal participant in a self-governing democratic polity, one that makes the laws, and where each person recognizes himself, and respects others, as interdependent parts of the whole.

    Thanks, Dan. One of the positive elements of the protest is that it's really very open to all. So there are scruffy young anarchists, but there are also old-school union organizers. There is probably even room for socialist-leaning old farts from New Hampshire. :)

    The flip side is there also seems to be room for anti-semitic conspiracy theorists.

    Thanks, Genghis, for this on-the-ground reality check.  Not nearly as snarky as I expected based on your earlier description.  I  freely confess I'm looking for a little hope for something positive to come out of this effort; the sometimes-flickering flame that is my hope for a progressive resurgence soon in this country doesn't want to be snuffed out on reading the definitive smackdown in week 3 as to why it's a doomed effort.  So thank you for not putting an arrow through my heart just yet. 

    It sounds to me as though the manager of the "stack" is the closest thing to an alpha.  I wonder how that particular person ended up with that role?

    I fully agree with your conclusion.  The left strikes me as considerably more anti-authoritarian (and in that sense, ironically, more "freedom-respecting" than rightish movements) in its sensibilities than the right.  Which can lead to large benefits coming out of successful social movement efforts, but can also make the leadership formation and agenda focus parts especially dicey.  The process of leadership emergence with these kinds of efforts is frought with peril.  There are all kinds of ways things can go badly wrong, early on, from ugly and divisive power struggles to just the wrong people ending up in leadership positions.  The radical consensus approaches are easy to poke fun at but I think need to be understood in the context of trying to allow leadership development and agenda focus to develop in ways that reflect the views and values of the group (for better, or--if the group turns out to have some ugly values--for worse).

    Those hoping the effort succeeds in helping bring about some needed adjustments to our society, including yours truly, can only hope that the folks who eventually emerge to play leadership roles are sensible and savvy, and have values and a vision that merits not only increasingly broad, but deep, support and commitment over the long haul.

    Funny, I didn't interpret the stack-master as the powerbroker, perhaps because the opportunity to speak via public mic at the GA does not confer much power.

    There is a smaller assembly of coordinators that more-or-less makes the calls, but there seems to be a general reluctance to step up. In a way, that's good because it's less likely to create divisive power struggles, but someone's got to step up at some time.

    So I'm basicly looking at these demonstrations as incubators for one or more spin-off movements that will be more focused and hope that the folks who, in your words, eventually emerge will be drive this forward.

    I'd just like to point out that the "alphas" in the Tahrir Square movement did most of the "directing" on the web and not in the streets. They tried to direct what tweets were rising and all that stuff, and also basically seeded the early physical crowd with those who had been taught what to do and how to act, people who acted as alphas within the crowd. And they had been at planning work for several years. They purposefully did not want to appear as leaders, but indeed they were.

    Edit to add: you were correct to imply (somewhere--don't remember) that a police state can school people in such skills. Of course, you still need "leaders"--see Velvet Revolution--in a police state they just learn not to appear as such or they will be gone.

    Thanks AA. I suspected as much but didn't have the background on the Tahrir Square movement (or the time/space to go into it).

    That's truly a classic, Genghis. My God, what good writing. Descriptive, analytical, a pleasure to read, really. Please keep it going.

    Thank you very much, Oxy. That salves the sting of getting negged by CNN. ;)

    I just checked out the site you used. An ironic illustration of their problem has been

    Posted Oct. 6, 2011, 11:48 a.m. EST by Occupywallst.org

    How can they say another site has nothing to do with them when there is no one in charge? I would think everyone is welcome to put a site up representing them as long as they are members of "the 99%" and not one of those oligarchs.

    Uh, that other site has ads for classusa.com, questia.com, and, ahem, valuevoterssummit.org (with a charming photo of a smiling Ron Paul).

    Parasitic fuckers.


    3. a person who lives on the labor of others; parasitic loafer.

    Don't get me wrong. I'm enthusiastic about the passion that Occupy Wall Street has harnessed, and I hope to continue to play a small part in its development. I believe that it has the potential to evolve into a potent, durable movement that can help revitalize the slumbering American left.

    I wish I felt that there was a good chance that the potent, durable movement would emerge from whatever potential exists now, but I seriously doubt it.  Of course, I need to maintain my reputation as a wet blanket. I've seen nothing about this movement that tells me this well turn out well.  Your story only reinforces that belief, as does AA's last post. 

    But if Occupy Wall Street is to have a sustained impact into 2012 and beyond, its coordinators must recognize that "leadership" and "focus" are not dirty corporate buzzwords to be scorned but core elements in any powerful social movement. Otherwise, we'll all just wander about looking for our working groups until the passion fades away.

    There will always be a tension between the needed leadership and the desire for an ideal democracy.  And the left has no chance of ever finding focus.  The Civil Rights Movement was probably the last time we will put other issues aside to focus on a single social outcome on a national level.  (The Vietnam War was a different ball of wax). 

    I could go on, but I will end that with the notion that if protesters are so fixated on Tahir it tells me they are are more focused on being part of something big and meaningful, rather than focused on achieving actual meaningful outcomes.  During my time as an activist I met too many passionate activists who lived to be part of a "revolution."  The one thing that the majority of the 99% don't want. For all the anger and rhetoric, the Tea Party still embraced the Constitution and the current system.  They, in the end, only sought to oust the rascals who were corrupting the system.

    they are are more focused on being part of something big and meaningful, rather than focused on achieving actual meaningful outcomes

    For many, that's certainly true, but I suspect that it's true of all large demonstrations.

    As I've indicated, there is plenty of reason for skepticism, but I wouldn't be so confident in your pessimism. If you had asked me in early in 2009 whether the formless half-illiterate wall of rage that was the Tea Party would evolve into a potent voting bloc, I would have scoffed. But it did.

    the key phrase here is "key voting bloc."  I would argue that the vast majority of the folks who rallied for the tea party or were strong sympathizers didn't have any qualms participating corporate-controlled two party system to achieve their ends.  In fact, they embraced it, and focused on the primary system.  From what I've seen (and I haven't been exhaustive in my research), the folks driving this movement can't come to any consensus about whether to be part of the corrupt system in order to change it from within, or to overthrow from without.  Until the (activist) left makes up it mind on this account, it will flounder.

    The Tea Parties had similar debates but in the context of cooperating with the Republican Party.

    In the end, the general sentiment among the tea party activists was that their ends meant maybe working with the "establishment" republicans when they couldn't dislodge them.  They didn't advocate blowing up the two party system.  The left is divided between those who want to take over the Dem party and those who see the Dems as the same as the Repubs without any chance of redemption.

    Why do you even bother getting out of bed in the morning?

    LOL! GREAT and extremely adequate response! Thanks!

    I bother getting out of bed because there is serious grassroots community work to be done from early childhood education to helping working families deal with the demands of work and caring for an elderly loved one in their home to assisting those who are trying to navigate the social services maze of government agencies and nonprofit organizations.  Yes wall street et al. generally is part of the problem and their actions have generally made the problem worse rather than better.  But where is the tangible solutions?  Sure sending jobs oversees has hurt, especially in manufacturing areas such as where I live, but what is the answer?  I don't see any actual solutions to something like the global work market coming out of these protests - just a lot of anger leading no where.  Maybe if this energy was directed towards organizing on a neighborhood level, making real differences in the lives of a dozen or so households we would be better off.  It isn't as glamorous, but it goes further in helping change the cultural paradigms that allow those on wall street et al do what they do.

    Where does funding come from to make universal, high-quality early childhood education something that is available to all children, no matter what their family background?

    If your solution is to beg philanthropists or local businesses for financial help to make that possible, well, that may be the best option today, right now.  I don't see it as any solution at all the question I raised.

    I don't know what specific question raised you referring to, but I will say this:

    it is not begging that we are doing.  in fact we recently had a trip which included local business leaders (including bankers) to another town which was doing some incredible things in the areas of early childhood education.  One of the goals of the trip was to get their buy-in (no capitalist pun intended?) into working in our community to rally everyone around providing early childhood education opportunities.

    Now there are those who are simply involved in this particular initiative because the evidence clearly shows that from a long-term investment perspective, it makes good business sense to invest in early childhood education.  But one consequence is that by getting involved, even if if the original impulse was just to ensure better profits down the road, these business leaders are working with families generally of the economic class they don't usually interact with.  Their sense of "community" might start to move past just the houses within the gates and around the golf course.  Suddenly one starts to see a real social movement unfold - where rich and poor, black and white and etc., see how we are truly are in this together and experience the joy (as opposed to happiness) which comes from working together to make the newly expanded sense of community a better place for everyone.

    In the end, the investments come not out of pity, nor even good business sense, but neighbors helping neighbors.  Now that is a revolution I can get behind.

    In the end, the investments come not out of pity, nor even good business sense, but neighbors helping neighbors.  Now that is a revolution I can get behind.

    Depends on who you count as a "neighbor", but if we have to rely only on people who know one another to help one another out or make a better society including for those we personally do not know, we're not going to get terribly far.  Because some communities are desperately money poor and money is one resource that matters in addressing many social problems.  

    Some might say that amounts to saying that we need a revolution in consciousness, but I would say its more an expansion and/or deepening of less narrow sympathies, imagination, and awareness that we see many examples of today.  Humans are not only capable of caring about others they don't personally know, and acting on that concern, but actually already do so, in many ways.  Sometimes its out of charity (not to be poo-poohed) but the difference between charity and enlightened self-interest isn't always a bright line to my way of thinking.  I sometimes think a crude measure of humankind's betterment, if this is to happen, would be a gradual narrowing between what individuals think of as generosity or charity, on the one hand, versus what we might think of as enlightened self-interest, the latter being a more durable sentiment.

    Here is a recent article summarizing some psychological research into what you are talking about:


    Warning: it doesn't support your argument that well about "human nature." If you do read it, make sure to get through to page two, where there are the suggestions why "local" compassion as opposed to "global" compassion might be a smart hardwired choice.

    I'll just say this must not all be new science, as advertising/marketing people must know about the same for quite some time, or we wouldn't see so many charities use the "sponsor this child" model. Likewise is how news stories are popularized, i.e., many people will get interested and follow a single kidnapping case if it is someone from their own country or culture, but don't have that much interest if it is a person from another country or culture, that the individual human interest stories that resonate worldwide are still quite rare despite the globalization of the media for several decades.

    I'd like to add that the psychology/sociology suggested in that article could also be applied to the discussions here about the protest tactics. If someone with the relatively liberal opinions of DanK can look at the protests so far and get the uneasy feeling that "that's not me," then there's a problem.

    Along those lines, I'm going to throw out an opine on the head on a pike thingie. Nobody outside of elite circles knows who Lloyd Blankfein is, much less what he looks like. Forget the problem of the pike, and whether it's wicked satire or toying with vigilantism and agitation to violence, first and foremost it's not a good a protest sign unless you're trying to limit your message to the Village Voice readership, the top tier blogosphere, and the few Wall streeters who recognize his face. Pick a recognizable face and then one can talk the other problem. cheeky

    Good point about many not knowing Lloyd Blankfein from Floyd Langbein.  But I think having anyone's head image on a pike is problematic in a number of respects, and potentially very damaging to efforts to attract support for whatever goals they choose to adopt.  Likewise with ambiguity over whether the group is committed to nonviolence or not, and, as Bruce and you pointed out, a failure to condemn any and all acts of bigotry and do the work internally to make that the actual practice of the group and not just its PR stance.  

    I don't see any actual solutions to something like the global work market coming out of these protests - just a lot of anger leading no where.

    Maybe its a lot of anger leading somewhere instead.  It's impossible to predict.

    Dan, we have come out of months upon months of the message from Washington being all about our nation's debt "crisis." We have a couple different commissions working on this "crisis" (including the Catfood Commission of Obama's creation, fer chrissakes!) and all the media is tuned in to see for what reason we are going to shut down the government this time. Are we going to cut Social Security to gain stability? Or shut 'er down? Medicare? Or shut it down? Certainly, tax increases are the new "third rail" in politics, right?

    Look at this morning's NYT. Then tell me you can't make up your mind whether the Occupy Wall Street movement will accomplish anything. It has already greatly redefined the debate away from all the manufactured crises that the political "owners" would have us focus upon as a distraction. And these demonstrations have connected with the righteous anger virtually everyone feels toward those who created and then profited from the actual crisis that weighs so heavily upon the middle class and the growing numbers of poor in this country.

    Solidarity. The movement grows. Occupy Wall Street.

    The main point I wanted to make in response, about burial, 3 weeks in (perhaps longer--if there was planning involved), of who knows what?  And it isn't even a single thing, it seems more like multiple spontaneous efforts, nothing centrally directed. You might feel ready to bury the New York city effort, say, without pronouncing last rites just yet on what's happening in Denver. 

    I see a meaningful distinction between some early thoughts and impressions that include grounds for concern or criticism of the way in which particular incidents have been handled, versus sweeping, conclusive pronouncements of all-but-certain failure.  Wouldn't you think it remarkable and highly unusual, maybe unprecedented, if this nascent development came wrapped up all neat and tidy in a bow?  Since when are social change processes ever not messy and complicated, the sorts of phenomena where one can often find whatever one is looking for in them?

    Of course they're messy and complicated.  I never said they weren't.  And they also take a long time.  But I would point out that this is one reason why I cringe by any mention of something like Tahir, which was a movement seeking a singular particular outcome. 

    And I would say there will be positive results most of will never really know about (e.g. the individuals who get their first taste of activism and become live-long activists as a result, or the one-time activist who is re-energized by the events). 

    But I would also say that I am not pronouncing last rites on a movements because at the moment there is no specific movement to call last rites upon.  At best one can call it an anti-corporate movement which is about as a vague as one can get.  It is in this context that I would say that the "environmental movement" never accomplished anything.  Those seeking changes to logging practices, environmental pollution laws, preservation of particular sites, etc on the other hand have achieved a great deal.  They benefited greatly from the vague environmentalism that spread throughout the cultural discourse.  And this movement can act in a similar way.

    But part of what I am saying is wrapped up in the idea that those who resisted/are resisting environmental activism are those whose livelihoods are wrapped up in those natural settings, and the same goes for the anti-corporate movement.  The problem is that a whole lot more people get their paychecks from corporations.  Getting people to turn on the one that pays their bills is a social movement that is indeed much more messy and complicated than getting people angry at wall street and embracing some unfocused revolution.

    AT, what we're talking about here, or at least what I'm talking about, are several things that don't in my mind amount to "turning on the one that pays their bills":

    *increasing the relative tax burden on those who can afford to pay, very wealthy people.  We can and do argue about where to draw that line.

    *dealing with corruption and possible criminal violations on Wall Street, which has multiple dimensions to it.

    *dealing with the mortgage mess which is crippling any possibility of an economic recovery, in ways that don't create moral hazard (oxy had a good comment on how that might be possible awhile back) and don't offend the sensibilities of those Americans who do due diligence and make responsible decisions when taking out mortgages

    *addressing the corporate personhood issue, campaign financing, or both, or none of the above, to keep the political system from being completely dominated by the preferences and short-term interests of several organized special interests which have attained disproportionate power.

    *getting some attention paid in public policy to the jobs crisis, which requires addressing if the U.S. is to have any chance of having a broad and stable middle class, and of maintaining or reinstututing or creating (take your pick) government policies which are far more responsive to the needs of ordinary citizens.

    It seems obvious to many of us, me anyway, that none of this is happening now given the way our political system is operating.  Changing any of this will require something more, something different; business as now simply will not suffice.  So I hope some of us might be forgiven for harboring some slight hope that the emergence in multiple cities of these protest actions might, just might, if a number of things go well, lead to addressing, or making some progress in addressing, at least some of the concerns above, which clearly are not being addressed with business as usual.

    My point is that it would be more effective (including a better chance in outreach efforts), if one of these points was embraced and a solution / platform developed prior to the protests.  And if each of one of these points had their own group rallying support from their communities for their solution / platform, and each one was rallying numbers, then I would argue business as usual would have a shorter life span. 

    The *government is out of control, partially due to a silent coup by the intel services, and with the full support of the corrupt congress and the cowardly courts. See my report on the fbi manipulation of the financial markets to finance their illegal covert operations:

    New form of torture, imprisonment & forced suicide...
    See the real fbi story in one of the links below:

    My latest Occupy Wall Street experience... I met with internet working group again, and we were relatively productive for a disorganized but enthusiastic group of 8 strangers. But there was also an apparatchik there from the General Assembly, the loose-knit organization that is running the show. Apparatchik is really the most appropriate word describe him.

    Here's how it went. The working group is using a project management application called Basecamp to coordinate internally. It's a pay service created by a small web company called 37 Signals. One of the guys in the working group already had an account, so we weren't paying anything for it.

    But the apparatchik wouldn't sign in. He didn't want to contribute to the capitalist system and demanded with a scowl that we come up open-source alternatives. The people on the working group have been putting in numerous hours to come up with a highly functional website within a matter of days, we'd already got the project set up in Basecamp, and this guy wanted us to research alternative planning tools and present them to him--with adequate documentation.

    The entire group argued with him for about 45 minutes, and he finally let it go, but the whole scene was astounding to me. And unfortunately, I don't think that it's unusual. The guys in the working group who are closer to the General Assembly occasionally drop hints about how difficult they are to do work with.

    The organization is not doctrinaire in the sense that Bolsheviks, say, were doctrinaire. No one has to sign any loyalty oaths. To the contrary, you're free to bring your own passions and opinions to the assembly. But the dogmatic element is that everyone is supposed to respect everyone else's ideological commitments. The apparatchik wasn't telling us to get rid of Basecamp because it was forbidden. He was was telling us to to get rid of it because of his personal opposition to fee-based software. In a consensus based group, we were supposed to respect that opposition and try to find an alternative that everyone could accept.

    Hey Genghis,

    Thanks for sharing your experiences. 

    To the extent that the Occupy Denver group has leaders, they are the people who know how to facilitate meetings and the committee leaders.  There is a certain degree of organization for everything but a sort of push and pull to include and to become more orderly that I think one should expect from such a new and organic movement.  It is true that I can feel very uncomfortable for example, open miking something I strongly disagree with but as one of the facilitators pointed out to me, it is also a way to take that person in even though I don't agree with him.   An example today was someone that interjected during a discussion about dealing with tents that were not approved to be put up... 'everyone shout at the police, fuck you, fuck the police, fuck the police'.  That was situation where I used my right as an individual not to repeat what was being said.  The man described a traumatic experience he had as a young man with the police and then we all just let it go and moved on.  I am joining the policy/legal team and the events team.  It will be interesting to see how those meetings go but I haven't had one yet. 

    Before I showed up at these meetings I thought that these locations would probably be in contact with each other.  I asked a facilitator about that today and found out, no, not at all.  In  fact they want a connection to Occupy NY, she said, anyone.  So I don't know if you would like to volunteer, but if not, maybe you can help us make a connection there?

    Oh and I meant to mention that in Denver they use a 2/3 majority to reach agreement and we are having our first open forum on mission and goals in place of the evening GA on Saturday. 

    I look forward to hearing more about OWS

    I'm glad to hear that it sounds saner in Denver. I'm not surprised by the lack of communication between cities, given the lack of communication within cities.

    The Internet working group is having enough trouble cooperating with the media group, the open source group, and the GA coordinators here. They don't really have any idea about what's going on elsewhere. I think they hope the site will be used by demonstrators across the country, but there's no contact.

    I'll be in Chicago next week and see what they have going on there.

    I love open source software and the open source ethos, but this guy sounds kind of, well, silly.  FWIW, there is a pretty good OS project manager called dotProject that I've used a few times.  It's dead simple to set up and works quite well in my experience, but I think Basecamp is cooler.  At any rate, putting the progress of your project on hold because of one person's preference for project management software, expressed after you're already rolling, is the stuff legends are made of.

    Thanks for the suggestion. I think I'll let them roll with Basecamp, since the GA guy backed off.

    It's a fair point that this kind of thing can happen in the corporate world for non-ideological reasons.

    Consensus and unanimity are not the same, although they are often treated as the same.  It's tough to have to come up with a decision rule in the midst of a controversy rather than prior to a disagreement coming up, because the rule can then be seen as arbitrary (not necessarily) and post hoc (which it is).  Some groups spend some time developing and adopting by-laws or less formal equivalents in part to try to anticipate and address some process issues before the need arises.  In my experience, this can sometimes be even more fun than watching the grass grow or gazing at one's navel.  But it can also avert some headaches. 

    Your description of the "apparatchik" and the General Assembly definitely shows the influence of the Vancouver group Adbusters which has claimed responsibility for the jumpstarting of the "Occupy Wall Street" idea. As the wikipedia entry suggests, their "culture jamming" is influenced by Situationism. Wikipedia also has a decent entry on Situationist International where there's plenty of like you describe, for one example:

    ...supported the May '68 revolts, and asked the workers to occupy the factories and to run them with direct democracy, through workers' councils composed by instantly revocable delegates.....

    Ironically, Trope may be one of the Dagblog members best able to 'splain this all; these ideas are really at the roots of the tree of PoMo. wink

    Meanwhile, I'd suggest that if you encounter such aggravation in the future, you might try a little agitation of your own by querying: "hey, are you one of those guys from Vancover?" devil

    The Village Voice has a photo gallery of Occupy Wall Street, and I loved this one:

    I like this one:


    I can't make out details of the photo you posted well.  Who/what is it?

    Good for her.

    The disembodied head represents Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs.

    If his disembodied head is on a pike...I was afraid it might be that.  I have a real problem with that.  I condemn the person who did that and I hope the group has some serious discussion about what it wants to be about and what it doesn't want to be about, and how the way its members conduct themselves will affect perceptions of the entire group, as well as the individuals engaged in specific actions.     

    If the NYC manifestation of "Occupy" is going to be about that kind of stuff I think it's going to run into some real problems.  And it will deserve to if the group doesn't find a process acceptable to its members to deal with that stuff, condemn it unequivocally, and shut it down ... now. 

    Interesting, because to me this looks like a completely cogent piece of art that succinctly vocalizes the core values of this movement.  First, let's observe that the protests have been peaceful.  The people in the picture are peacefully assembled.  They are not inciting violence.  Facts on the ground.

    Then, if we can allow ourselves to entertain the notion that this piece is not intended to incite violence, perhaps we can consider what the intent might have been.  Here's my interpretation: The violent imagery evoked here is not a call to the violence of the past, but is instead meant to evoke, satirically and even comically, the parallel between this moment of populist anger and those in times past.  And I can enjoy the imagery in that context because the context is that of a head on a pike in effigy amidst and protest that began and remains peaceful.  Fully considered in that context, we are reminded that while in many ways worse days are behind us, better days are still out there for the striving.

    Sorry.  That's clever in a convoluted and hyper-reflexive sort of way, but hardly anybody is going to take it the way you are suggesting DF.  Many people will naturally conclude that these particular protesters view themselves as modern-day Jacobins who are assembling around the citadels of a modern-day Bastille, looking forward to the day when they accumulate enough numbers to break through the police lines, drag Lloyd Blankfein out of his office onto the street, and guillotine him.


    A movement committed to non-violence needs to eschew not just violent deeds, but violent rhetoric, imagery and incitement.  Blankfein's an ass, but this is an ugly and frightening picture.

    I still like it. You see worse stuff on Halloween.

    Perhaps so.  But people aren't typically trying to inspire or win others over to support a social change effort on Halloween night in other than maybe an incidental, and certainly not an organized, way. 

     I didn't realize there was no room for humor in the movement, comrade.

    It isn't that far of a leap of the imagination, that the images of heads on pikes and guillotines will occur again. 

    Which side will the National Guard defend; the angry citizens or those who have waxed fat under the rulership of the aristocracy/plutocracy?  

    When the returning soldiers find that the government cared little for their loved ones, while they were away defending WHOM?

    Where are the jobs? Soldiers coming back to find, the America they thought they were fighting for, disrespected their service, kicking mom and dad and the wife and kids to the curb? What was the sacrifice all about?

    Sacrifice? You'll see sacrifice.

    Who would have thought the civilized nation of France,  would have resorted to the  atrocities, history recorded? 

    It happened because the aristocracy; the 1%'ers, ignored the warning signs.

    The Earth is shaking, the sea is agitated, and no amount of burying heads in the sands is going to stop the anger and the frustration that is mounting.

    There is no hope, there is only desperation for many.

    Markets are collapsing, capitalism is on life support.  

    More bad news piled on bad news, and it wont take much, to trigger civilized people to act irrationally. More empty promises will not quell the discontent. 

    Ignore the early signs of a major discontent, ignore them at peril, then suffer the consequences.

    Expect civil disobedience to regress; to outright disobedience.

    From a scriptural point of view, these worsening conditions were forewarned centuries ago. To safeguard yourself, don't expect things to get better, nothing but bad news coming our way.  

    Fratricide, committed by sane people gone mad.

    What armed camp are you joining?  

    It's an ugly and frightening picture if you think it truly represents an ugly and frightening sentiment.  I don't see that.  I also don't think that anyone is going to conflate these people with modern-day Jacobins.  To me, that's being far too clever.  Seriously, most people I encounter would give me a blank stare if I even mentioned Jacobins.  Or probably even the Bastille.

    And to listen to the right-wing and establishment media, they need no such excuse to paint anyone and everyone opposed to the status quo in just the manner you describe.

    Everybody has some understanding of the difference between violent revolution and peaceful change, and the potential for large crowds to turn violent.

    Thanks for the glimpse from inside the beast.  Am thoroughly enjoying the thread.  There is much to think about.

    Nothing is more potentially "revolutionary" than the newly pauperized middle class. This movement is only an awakening. The practical result of it will come later... as it changes the way young people see themselves as a generation as they receive negative feedback from people who "don't get it"... like the beginning of the student protests against the Vietnam war. Like during that war, the young, educated middle class is becoming disaffected with the system. This long "Great Recession" and growing inequality will logically deepen that disaffection and define a generation, as Vietnam did and change politics like Nam did... But it takes time. This is just the beginning, if the economy doesn't roar back, and it won't, than it will a gather energy and perhaps, like the days of Seattle before 9-11, or like Athens today, turn violent at its extremes.

    No one will escape the violence, that began at the extremes.

    The violence will encompass the Globe.

    The agitation of the Sea (of mankind)  will not be held back.

    "Unless those days were cut short, no flesh would be saved"

    Anyone that expects a different scenario has fooled himself and others.

    This too will pass.

    The secret of the incipient revolt is in the following lines:

    Ten years ago we had:

    Steve Jobs
    Bob Hope
    Johnny Cash

    Now we have:

    No jobs
    No hope
    No cash

    Is it possible CNN negged your article because you became a participant, and not just an observer?  Helping them with their computers and the like? 

    That thought occurred to me as well.  

    While Genghis' role may raise some questions or tricky issues for him, and perhaps for people he works with in OWS, it's CNN's loss.  Participant journalism offers special opportunities for rich inside reporting.  As his piece demonstrates.


    Wow, this is a great discussion.

    Another Trope said: “One of the goals of the trip was to get their buy-in (no capitalist pun intended?) into working in our community to rally everyone around providing early childhood education opportunities”

    I think this is great - and as the parent of two autistic kids who knows exactly how important early childhood education/intervention is, I appreciate those who work tirelessly in its regard. But we must also remember that all of the attention to providing “early childhood education” has to be followed through by ANOTHER activist/group, who is efforting to stabilize the ridiculous costs of higher education and make sure once that same group that benefited from early education, then doesn’t end up slamming up against a wall and being in debt for a few decades. Those kids you’re working on behalf of now, Another Trope, are the same kids who will benefit in the future by the continued activism in other areas.

    So I think while one person might be focused on one area and its improvement, we need people in ALL areas, fighting the good fight - working on things they feel passionate about. We can’t expect to “reform” one area and ignore another. We all pick our thing to fight for so we cover all the bases. But it’s certainly not for anyone to say that their efforts will bear more fruit - or are more realistic - than someone else’s. (Not that I’m arguing that’s what your post intended, I’m just taking it a step further…)

    I believe what Genghis said here is important to note:

    “The Occupy Wall Street movement, in its current form, is an inchoate mass of people and opinions. It struggles to produce a cohesive and focused agenda because it has zealously rejected the need for a cohesive and focused organization.”

    Donal: “People frustrated with the banksters could include all sorts of people that might not normally get along on other issues.”

    Occupy Wall Street is a huge group of diverse people and political leanings ALL unhappy with something(s). What this tells me is that while everyone might not be unhappy with the same things, they’re all unhappy with the current state of the union and many of these “roads” all lead back to Wall Street - an area that was floundering before being bailed out by Americans, who are now floundering and wondering why they aren’t being bailed out through appropriate legislation.

    Schools are losing teachers, bridges are falling down, unemployment is at a morbidly obscene rate, kids are now being forced to decide whether to bother with college if they will be in debt up to their ears for years to come, the wealthiest among us who have benefited from OUR COLLECTIVE American consumption (by the use of OUR roads that are now disintegrating, by OUR purchasing of their goods and services) aren’t paying their fair share of taxes - everyone is being affected in one way or another.

    I have never understood why these same people don't understand that the further we sink from the middle class to collective poverty, the less we'll be able to stimulate the economy because we won't have anything to stimulate it with.

    Then we watch the news and see horror stories about voter suppression leading up to the next election juxtaposed against some PT Barnum-like GOP debates and what’s happening is EVERYONE is getting freaked out. We don’t know what’s coming, but we can be sure it’s not good.

    The “haves” continue to rape and pillage the country for their continued prosperity while the "have-nots" circle the train.

    And then we have politicians who would rather remain stagnant and eschew any and all progress toward the collective good that might leave even a whiff success around the President prior to an election - even if that would mean success for the country. (God Forbid!) To some, an election must be won at all costs - and every American, Democrat and Republican is suffering because of it.

    I won’t even get into the obscene amounts of money being raised for campaigns, which is basically a way for a select few rich people to get exactly what kind of results in any given area (legislation) that works best for them - and works against what works best for the American people.

    I’m proud when I watch what’s happening down on Wall Street. It might not be as pulled-together as it could be, but what I see are people who want something done and at the very least, it shows people are paying attention ~ and that the next election is going to be very, very interesting.

    Everyone holding a political position has been sufficiently put on notice. We’re watching and we’re listening, so you better be damn sure whatever it is you stand for has more substance than a talking point or sound byte because if we don’t like what you’re saying, you can expect us to take action at the ballot box.

    To me, if OWS does nothing more than puts politicians on notice, that’s fine by me. But I tend to think there’s something powerful going on down there on Wall Street, and I look forward to finding out where it’s going.

    I just came back from a statewide Obama organizer event that was more chaotic than OWS sounds.

    (in re to rootman's comment above asking my thoughts on iconic pitchforks--too skinny to read upthread)

    Oh, I think their attention is rapidly, finally, being gotten.  Just not at all sure scaring them with graphic images of violence is more helpful than not.  Sometimes less is more and leaving an adversary's imagination to do its own work rather than offering explicit images they might be able to seize on to foster blowback can be more effective.  

    On iconic pitchforks...good question.  A year or two ago when fellow daggers were using it there was not much in the way of observable signs of emerging mass activity going on.  There was a desperate need for that to get started, somehow.  For me the pitchfork is nowhere near as explicit and problematic in that respect as pikes.  I don't recall having a particular problem with it a year or two ago when attention that desperately needed to be paid was not being paid.  IIRC, I think my reactions to the pitchfork icons were mostly dependent on my reactions to what the individual using it was writing at dag.

    The situation now is that attention, finally, is being paid.  The questions now for me are less about how to get attention than about how might some useful and important changes that otherwise aren't going to happen be brought about in connection with the protest actions that have sprung up.

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