There is a general feeling across many of the local occupations, and among the on-line folk, that the OWS movement is losing steam. I think that's true, and I think I know one of the reasons why.
The other day, I was having a conversation about the Occupations at this place: http://www.themultitude.org/... We were discussing the problem of how to deal with the disruptions caused by mentally ill participants at meetings. I had this to say:
“Occupy has a problem, not just with the mentally ill, but with inclusion generally. OWS was designed from the very beginning to be an “all inclusive” movement, to represent the “99″, with especial emphasis on under-represented communities. Thus, the General Assembly and Spokes Council structures were adopted with the explicit idea of utilizing consensus as the basis of decision making. This was also the basis of claiming to be a “leaderless movement”, one that didn’t respond or follow one particular narrow interest, like the Democratic Party or the Labor Movement. It also didn’t restrict itself to a particular issue like political corruption or unemployment. It sought to give voice to all stakeholders in society, and that has been it’s primary strength.
But it’s strength is also the source of the greatest frustrations and problems. I am aware of many examples over at the NYCGA threads where a group of people complain that one or another meeting or project is being “blocked” by a single recalcitrant individual … There are complaints of parades being hijacked by the Black Blockers, meetings taken over by anarchists, and projects sabotaged by people with a particular political agenda. There was even one incident recently where someone who had physically assaulted other participants was nevertheless allowed to continue attending meetings. The point is that it isnt just the mentally ill or the homeless that are causing disruptions, and NY isnt the only place where this sort of thing happens.
In short, Occupy has a general weakness with enforcing rules and standards. No simple solution presents itself. There are solutions, but they aren’t simple ones, they consist primarily of a large number of techniques that have been developed by protest movements over time. What the occupations need is better training in meeting and event facilitation, but that takes time and money…”
It’s very enlightening to look at some of the news stories that were done on OWS back at the beginning. For example, this one: http://www.salon.com/... In it, Kalle Lasn (one of Adbuster’s editors, and an early organizer of the original occupation) has this to say:
“Originally we thought that the idea of one demand was very important. There’s been a debate going on between the one-demand vision and this other vision that is playing itself out right now on Wall Street. I think it’s a wonderful debate and there are good pointers on both sides. Currently this leaderless, demandless movement — that is still growing in leaps and bounds — I think it is fine the way it is. After these assemblies have been conducted and debates have been had in cities all around America, demands will emerge. These demands will be specific things like reinstatement of the Glass-Steagall Act or a 1 percent tax on financial transactions or the banning of high-frequency trading. We will get into specifics, just give us time.”
But his timeline was something like November. Now it’s February, and still no coherent demands. He also says “The political left has always had problems with this. All my life I’ve been sitting in meetings where loony guys get up and talk, and eventually very little happens. This is the kind of weight that is dragging the political left down. We don’t seem to have the clarity of vision that for example the Tea Party has. This may be our undoing again…”
I’m not claiming that this is exactly what has happened, but I do say Occupy still has a problem with managing inclusion. Without formal leaders, OWS will always be vulnerable to being hijacked by informal “leaders” who, because few procedural restraints are in place, easily turn into petty tyrants. Ironically, according to David Graeber, this was how the original General Assembly was born in the first place: http://www.wnyc.org/...
“So a few of us, me and my friends, showed up at this announced general assembly on August 2nd to plan the Wall street action on September 17th. And we were rather disgruntled to discover that it wasn’t a general assembly at all.” Graeber characterized what they found instead as organizers standing on a stage, rallying through microphones, calling for the assembled people to march with a list of demands the organizers had already printed. [As an alternative] “Have a group of people, without a leadership structure, come together and make decisions collectively. And people within the anarchist, anti-authoritarian and also feminist traditions in America have been working for years on how to do that, people kind of know how you can conduct a meeting in a real democratic way. There’s been a lot of people putting a lot of thought into that. But he hadn’t really done it on a mass basis. So we thought, let’s try.” He said that organizers tried to keep control of the action and would not shift the structure to one he would find more democratic. “So we formed a circle on the other side of Bowling Green, and gradually everyone started breaking off from the rally and came over to ours, and that was the real birth of the movement.”
Now, I cant say how accurate his version of events is, since I wasn’t there, but I find it interesting that apparently a similar pattern is still repeating itself. OWS is, I think, at a cross-roads of sorts. If it doesn't move ahead it will eventually dissipate, but in order to move ahead I think it needs to return to first principles, and by that I mean principles of self-organizing. It's very difficult for leaderless groups to be successful. It can be done, but it requires a lot of skill. It would help if someone would write down an "Idiot's Guide" to organizing a protest movement, but until someone does, it requires research and continuous re-commitment.
But here’s the thing- we solved this once, and we can do it again. We have to keep with it, make it work, follow the principles and techniques that feminist groups and international protest movements have developed before us, and get a set of principles, then goals, then action plans to accomplish the goals, passed through our General Assemblies. It’s really a test of the whole Occupy principle- and this is the real moment of truth. If we remain true to the spirit of genuine democracy, we cant lose.
Read more essays at my web site: http://387442890115614373.weebly.com/