Occupying Wall Street was the easy part… now let’s see if they can manage growth

I just spent the last two hours crafting a seriously brilliant post comparing Occupy Wall Street to Netflix. You’ll have to believe me when I tell you that it was the best, most insightful thing that I have ever written. Not to brag, but I really think that it could have influenced the evolution of the burgeoning corporate resistance movement we’re seeing here in America. But, thanks to my shitty computer, and my inability to back-up while writing, we’ll never know.

It would be one thing if I could remember what I’d written, but I can’t. I couldn’t recreate it in a week. I mean, I can remember bits and pieces of it, but I don’t know how I’d woven them all together. I know, for instance, that I started off by talking about the guys with the tattooed faces and the other people in Zuccotti Park who, in my opinion, are capable of impeding progress. I know I suggested doing something about them, and I know that it made a great deal of sense to me at the time, but I can’t remember what it was. (It’s possible that I proposed buying them out, like the union auto workers.)

For the record, I agree with Chris Hedges when he says that the success of the movement thus far is probably in large part due to its leaderless, rule-by-consensus nature. I also think, however, that what’s worked thus far may not continue to work in the future, as we move into the legislative arena. Sooner or later, I suspect, this entity known as OWS is either going to have to evolve or die. And I think, given the fact that there’s now money on the table, that transition time is fast approaching… Oh, and I remember linking to this clip from the Huffington Post in hopes of illustrating that fact:

…This is what I have witnessed at Zuccotti the past few nights. On Thursday, the matter at hand was a proposal from Pulse — the group of drummers — for $8,000 for new musical instruments. They say they hoped to secure the funding after a $5,000 handmade drum was sabotaged and destroyed during a rain storm. They say that because they’ve been there since Day 1, they deserve the funding more than anyone.

“We have worked for you! Appreciate us!” the leader of the proposal shouted angrily to the (general assembly) in response to voices of dissent.

After a long debate, the proposal was tabled. No funding for the drummers. After the meeting, one drummer cursed and yelled at GA members for their decision. He confronted another occupier and the two shouted obscenities back and forth; a physical fight nearly erupted but a peacemaker came between them…

As I recall, I wasn’t calling for anything as drastic as the Night of the Long Knives. I wasn’t suggesting that people be dragged away in the night, never to be seen again. I think, instead, I offered some suggestions as to how some of these people on the fringe could be refocused. And that, I think, is where I brought up the Netflix analogy. Basically… and you’ll have to believe me when I tell you that I did this extremely well… I made the case that OWS needed to be split in half, with one group developing a coherent, simple and comprehensive agenda for change, while the other continued to spread across the nation as a kind of angry yet fun street party. And, toward that end, I tried to apply some lessons from the Netflix experience, when it tried, unsuccessfully, to spin off its DVD-by-mail service a few weeks ago, under the name Qwikster.

Unfortunately, I can’t remember the specifics, and it’s now way past my bedtime… Oh, I should probably make it clear that I wasn’t making the case for the “kids” of OWS to stand aside and allow more practical “adults” from MoveOn and the Democratic Party to take over. That, I think, would be disastrous. What would also be terrible, though, is to have gone this far with Occupy Wall Street only to see it totally unravel as various factions go after one another, and the media focuses on the 1% of the 99% that’s most outside the mainstream (like the guy pictured above). I think there’s a real risk of this whole thing falling apart at the seams as it throttles up, but I’m sure there’s a way to avoid it. And, as ironic as it may sound, I think there are lessons from the corporate world that can be instructive.

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  1. Edward
    Posted October 25, 2011 at 6:40 am | Permalink

    Every post should begin with a statement letting people know that, had things gone correctly, it would have been insightful, if not revolutionary.

  2. Eel
    Posted October 25, 2011 at 8:45 am | Permalink

    Yeah, I’m somewhat embarrassed to say it, but it’s time to close ranks, and jettison the nuts.

  3. Mr. X
    Posted October 25, 2011 at 10:04 am | Permalink

    There’s a lot riding on their next move, and, as has been noted, their system for moving forward as a group isn’t the most nimble. But it’s worked this far, and I don’t think that it should be scrapped. I like seeing real Democracy in action, even if it’s messy, and some of those voicing their opinions are a bit reality impaired. I think, however, that they should be able to do something like spin off a smaller, more flexible entity to explore legislative priorities, and partnerships with outside organizations. It’s certainly interesting to watch. I just wish so much wasn’t riding on it.

  4. Meta
    Posted October 25, 2011 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

    The Jews agree with you.

    “Anti-Semites are a tiny fringe at the Occupy Wall Street protests. But an inability to quiet them shows the limitations of a leaderless movement.”


  5. Pip
    Posted October 25, 2011 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

    I’d agree that it’s time to get serious, but how does a leaderless group go about doing that? Are there models that have worked elsewhere? Surely there are people who study such things.

  6. Posted October 25, 2011 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

    I don’t know if I agree that leaderlessness actually helped the thing grow. To me, it looks like they had a cool slogan, a model that was easy to duplicate, the luck/foresight to have their hotties pepper sprayed on camera, and access to a simmering undercurrent of resentment of financial elites. To say that the ‘leaderless’ (and I would add, incoherent) nature of the movement is what explains its capacity to grow strikes me as dangerous wishful thinking — wishful because other factors explain the success of the movement, dangerous because the incoherence and inability to make decisions really is a problem if the movement wants to accomplish something other than having a bad ass street party, and because treating this problem as a virtue is going to make it that much harder to solve.

    In terms of next steps, though, it seems to me that the idea that OWS split in two has some merit, but I would suggest a different way to think about the problem. The idea behind the split, if my intuitions of the original post can be relied upon, is that for OWS to accomplish meaningful progressive change it needs to have structure and leaders who can have substantive interactions with other political actors, but for OWS to do that would require it to change so fundamentally that it would lose the energy and immediacy which makes it so compelling. The point I would make is that there is no need to change OWS at all. We can let it be its own thing, and make, join, or promote other organizations to do the work.

    Then the question becomes something like, ‘how can the energy generated by the OWS protests be used to generate real progressive change?” Maybe the answer to that question involves the General Assembly making a decision, but let’s hope not.

  7. Posted October 25, 2011 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

    The message of OWS is that anyone can be a leader, and that any group of citizens can get together to work on the things that everyone can agree on. What these groups choose to do and who joins them is beside the point.

  8. K2
    Posted October 25, 2011 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

    I think the point Hedges was making was that, if there’s a leader, it’s easier for the powers-that-be to deal with that person. With Occupy Wall Street, though, you can’t just cut off the head. The people at AdBusters, who got the whole thing going, don’t even know where it’s headed. Everyone is just hoping for the best. In the 60’s, it was easier. They just locked the leaders up on drug charges, or bought them off. This is an enemy they aren’t prepared for.

  9. Posted October 25, 2011 at 5:44 pm | Permalink

    I have to say that I’m down with OWS in a broad sense.

    The tent occupation in Liberty Park, however, needs focus.

  10. Edward
    Posted October 25, 2011 at 8:34 pm | Permalink

    I just recognized the guy in the photo as Robert Plant. Please don’t marginalize him.

  11. dragon
    Posted October 25, 2011 at 9:19 pm | Permalink

    He does seem to have a bustle in his hedgerow.

  12. LisaD
    Posted October 25, 2011 at 10:33 pm | Permalink

    Or, you could recognize that the media singling this guy out IS the problem. It wouldn’t matter if those people weren’t there – the media would find the ONE guy or they’d manufacture him, because that is the way the media works. It’s like the 1,000 worldwide protests on the 15th, where the media focused on the ONE of the 1,000 that wasn’t peaceful. It’s a nice thought, but in the sensationalist media world, it won’t work. Maybe when we create this new world we’ll create better media.

    Now, I think what is legitimate is the question of how to help people focus on what is best for the whole, and not just for their own group/own interests. Sometimes I feel that selfishness is such a deep thread in our culture, and it seeps into the OWS discussions just as much as the rest of our political/social discussions.

  13. Posted October 25, 2011 at 11:00 pm | Permalink

    I’d like to say that I’m better than that, Lisa, but I seem to recall that I spent a lot of time obsessing here about the few individuals who showed up to Tea Party events with loaded guns and t-shirts about violent revolution.

    And, for what it’s worth, I think it’s more that we’re fearful than selfish.

  14. Tatersalad
    Posted October 26, 2011 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

    Busted! The “charade” is now exposed: Hypocrites everywhere!


  15. Tatersalad
    Posted October 26, 2011 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

    By the way Mark……….you are “full of it”! I have and will continue to attend all Tea Party events and there “never” is guns or T-shirts advocating violence. Get your facts together and quit “lying” on the website. Your credibility is very suspect now! When were you ever at a Tea Party event being a good little socialist like you?

  16. Tatersalad
    Posted October 26, 2011 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

    Hey Mark………….do you own one of those “tents” mentioned above? Hypocrite!

  17. alan2102
    Posted October 27, 2011 at 8:26 pm | Permalink

    mark: “thanks to my shitty computer, and my inability to back-up while writing”

    What are you talking about? What kind of computer does not allow you to write text to disk? Why are you unable to backup while writing? I trust you’re not composing blog posts in one of these shitty little windows/browser edit boxes! That’s foolish. Use notepad, or the equivalent, and WRITE TO FREAKING DISK, OFTEN, for Christ’s sake. There’s no excuse for spending hours on creating new text, and then losing it all. These shitty little edit boxes are ONLY for quickee things, a sentence here or paragraph there. Not for any significant effort.

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