November 27, 2011

#OWS had leaders - let's stop the BS mythmaking

Thanks to reader/online friend Sheldon pointing out a new article on Adbusters' role in Occupy Wall Street, that much is clear:
In theory, the job of facilitating the meetings rotated among the eighty or so attendees. In practice, facilitation fell to a much smaller set of people who had experience with the general-assembly process. The leaderless movement was developing leaders. ...

David Graeber, a fifty-year-old professor at the University of London and an anarchist theorist who helped facilitate the first meeting ... Graeber was among this first rank of equals, as was Marisa Holmes, a twenty-five-year-old anarchist and filmmaker. ...
Despite the movement’s taboo on leaders, many in this group had accrued a sort of power. “Marisa is a quiet leader,” Marina Sitrin, an occasional facilitator and the author of a book about horizontalism in Argentina, says.
Also confirmed, apparently, is the anarchist nature of the Adbusters' wing of OWS. So, it's not that demands are antithetical to its style of organization as much as what demands it might want. Anarchists can and do make demands.
Like most of Occupy Wall Street’s core organizers, P. is an anarchist, meaning that he is “dedicated to the eradication of any unjust or illegitimate system. At the very least, that means the eradication of capitalism and the state.” He does not smash bank windows, though he said that he does not necessarily disapprove of people who do.
And, while not a demand, a desire to get rid of the state is a pretty big issue.

And, replace it with what? Hobbes' pre-civilization "war of all against all"? Or anarchist bullshit about all of us living in a Rousellian "state of nature"? And that without the benefits, as well as the drawbacks, of civilization.

Hey, you want "state of nature," fine. Live without private property. Soon, like Leninist Russia, you'll find you have "leaders." Or else, like "The Gods Must be Crazy," you'll start arguing over a Coke bottle.

And, if you want a pre-agricultural "state of nature," which 90 percent of you are volunteering to die, since that's about the earth's pre-agricultural carrying capacity?

But, back to the leadership angle.

OWS has a "tactical committee," we read. More "insiders" making decisions for others, myths of fingers silently turned up or down notwithstanding. Other committees are described.

And, no, a mass social movement isn't like creative different versions of Linux. Bad analogy.

Leadership can be more horizontal or more vertical without being at either absolute pole. I welcome a social movement that is truly progressive in nature and relatively horizontal in structure, while nonetheless having leadership - and leadership that is more transparent and more organized than what Adbusters appears to offer.

I think many non-anarchists whose left-leaning politics go beyond "Daily Show" levels of true progressive thought would likely agree. A few additional thoughts below the fold.

First, who sent out the "dadaist" email call to protest-as-theater arms? Kalle Lasn? His Adbusters muse Micah White?
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.
Second, for people who got that email and are of the serious progressive stripe I just mentioned above the fold, what did that mean to you? Did it truly resonate? Did it make you laugh? And, even without receiving such a "welcome" email myself, the "antic, Dadaist tone" is exactly what I saw 15 years ago, too. Beyond even that, it looked like a sendup spoof of a Stanley Fish type of postmodernist drivel ... a protest version of the famous Sokol hoax.

Speaking of, the New York Times has a good story about Lasn and the "branding" of Occupy Wall Street.
He has also been accused of playing off the image-oriented culture that dominates advertising, instead of rejecting it outright. But Mr. Lasn said he believed in the power of media to subvert traditional power structures. 

“If you’re able to come up with a very sexy sounding hash tag like we did for Occupy Wall Street, and you come up with a very magical looking poster that seems to have something very profound about it, these devices push these memes, these meta memes, into the public imagination in a very powerful way,” he said.
I'd agree with the accusations. In fact, it's precisely that insight that parallels mine from 15 years ago. More in a separate post.

That said, Adbusters' influence appears to have been waning in the last week or two before the Bloomberg raid on Zucotti Park. And probably for good reason. Kalle Lasn's "one demand" schtick was surely unsatisfying to many OWS insiders, or higher-level rank and file.  Any demand at all would be off-putting to a true anarchist. And, the one specific demand, a Robin Hood tax, would like be seen as too narrow, and too week in a non-system changing way to someone beyond "Daily Show" levels of true progressive thought. I know it looks like awfully weak tea for me.

This NYReview blog post talks more about the structural issues behind today's class inequality, including why western Europe doesn't have them to the same degree. Such change can be done, and without anarchism. It will require plenty of heavy lifting, and changes in law, such as allowing more shareholder suits, but, that's doable, if not easy.

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