October 23, 2011

#OccupyWallStreet: #OWS mythmaking

One of the biggest myths surrounding this movement is that of "leaderlessness." In more than one post, I've already tackled the fact that there appears to be some clear signs of leadership of some sort, and of leadership that had some "standing" before the "occupation" started.

Now I see that this myth of leaderlessness has spread to revising past American movements. Specifically, we now have the claim that the 1960s civil rights movement was "leaderless." Twould be news indeed to the NAACP, SCLC, SNCC and others. The same story includes a claim that civil rights leaders didn't come out with a "laundry list" early on. Again, simply not true.
When the civil rights movement started, people didn't come out right out with a big list of demands — they came out in the streets and just said, 'We're not going to accept society the way it is,'" said Ed Needham, 43, a public relations manager from Cambridge, Mass. "That's the stage we're in right now."
There's so many different ironies involved with a public relations manager making such a claim, besides it simply not being true.

This Ed Needham, per his LinkedIn profile, among other things, has a background in branding. Isn't that the essence of modern PR? He also appears wedded to the Democratic Party. That said, he apparently is upset enough with Dear Leader to have started a Draft Feingold movement.

That said, the reality? Integration of restaurants, restrooms and other public facilities were "list of demands" items early on. And strategy was targeted to that end.

Meanwhile, beyond the AP story, "leaderlessness" claims can backfire. Someone suggests $20/hr minimum wage, then the mainstream media gets blamed for reporting it. You can't have it both ways.

Although you can certainly try! The "General Assembly" of OWS says that it's the only "official" site to speak for the general assembly, claiming that other websites have no right to speak for it. From a Facebook friend:
Posting and reposting such sites is furthering someone else's agenda, not the movement.
To which, I responded:
So, the "movement" is subject to the advice of the General Assembly? Sounds like ... uh, leadership to me!
I have the feeling that, at some point before the end of the month, at least parts of Occupy Wall Street going to devolve into some sort of Trotskyist or Randian farce.

UPDATE: Per the New York Review of Books, here's yet more reason to be skeptical, even cynical, about at least a certain swath of the "movement," along with claims of leaderlessness and at least some of the actual leaders:

Adbusters, in a word, a magazine I found pretentious when I first looked at it 15 years ago. From the story author's "welcome to Adbusters" email:

Thank you for joining our network. You are now part of a 90,000+ strong global network of activists, cultural creative’s [sic] and meme insurgents—a revolutionary force that, with your active involvement, just might reshape how power and meaning flow in the 21st century. Together lets live a little more on the wild side, launch a few telling cultural interventions and pull off some surprising pranks, jams and other essential mental resuscitations.
And, even without receiving such a "welcome" email, the "antic, Dadaist tone" is exactly what I saw 15 years ago, too. So, yes, I'm hard on OWS. To riff on Rahm Emanuel, protest as street art is wasting a good crisis, as are the degree of pampered Millennials. Union members who have shown up at Zucotti Park should take over, especially left-liberalish ones like longshoremen.


Sheldon said...

So what do you make of this movement's prairie fire character? Sure, somebody lit the fire, and somebody has set up this social media architecture (see link), but people are taking it from there. Why such cynicism, seems like you would be more supportive. Although I agree it is not "leaderless"


Gadfly said...

Well, as noted, I'm cynical about Adbusters and Anonymous, much more than individuals there. Actually, with A and A, it's cynicism. With individuals, it's only skepticism. And, even with A and A, it's cynicism based on skepticism.

That said, if individuals are buying into myth, I'll be more skeptical about them, too. The fact that many individuals are so willing to believe the "Obama really wants to do better" myth is reason enough for this left-liberal Green voter to be skeptical about them, too.

If this "movement" allows itself to keep thinking inside the current bipartisan duopoly box, I really don't expect to see that much from it.

That said, we have the most anachronistic written constitution of any modern Western democracy, which makes change institutionally harder.

Gadfly said...

Part 2 ... the prairie fire character. I think it's quite realistic and heartfelt.

That said, the Green Party is an official backer of OWS; let's hope it's working to out-evangelize MoveOn and the Center for American Progress.