September 20, 2012

The myth of "leaderlessness" of #Occupy, #OWS killed dead

One of my top blog posts ever was called “OWS - young, white, well-educated ...latte-sipping?” It skewered a number of things about the Occupy Wall Street movement. In addition to the fact that it was whiter and better educated than the American average, I pointed out several ways in which the movement’s claim of being “leaderless” was a crock of steaming PR bullshit cooked up by the Adbusters types of the world, perhaps looking to catch up with their quasi-brethren from Anonymous in shameless self-marketing that’s often about as true as what you find in the world of for-profit corporate PR.

Well, speaking of both myths of leaderlessness and for-profit status, the two have an unhappy intersection, it seens.

One of the actual leaders of OWS is Malcolm Harris. And, as it turns out, Harris has been making out like a bandit for being a leader, or at least trying to do so.

Let me quote some other material from Ames, who has a LOT of similar takes to me on OWS, to set things up.

First, on Adbusters:
(F)rom what little I knew about Adbusters, they were rich Canadian grad students who hated people who shop. Or hated shops. Or something like that. I’m pretty sure they were the assholes who came up with “culture jamming” as a form of “revolutionary protest” too. Lotta dumb ideas incubated there. The whole thing sounded like “problems of the idle upper-middle class” stuff to me; I didn’t want to have anything to do with it.
Heck yes, I thought at least some of that more than a decade ago. Pretentious twits. Probably Canadians with helicopter moms.

But, let's go further with Ames:
But yesterday marked Occupy’s one year anniversary, and there’s nothing to show for that brief, and briefly-glorious cultural eruption but a memorable slogan stuck in our heads, like a jingle from a toilet paper ad. There’s nothing to hang on to, hardly even a memory to wrap yourself around. All that remain are what Occupy began with: A clever jingle or two, and the launching of a handful of anarchist “brands.”

One of these vile anarcho-marketing brands is a twenty-something hipster named Malcolm Harris. To me, the Occupy Movement will always be conflated with Malcolm Harris and the brand of marketing-concocted “anarchism” that he represents. And that’s bad, because one look at Malcolm Harris—his anarcho-hipster sneer, his marketing-guy hipster glasses—and you’ll be reaching for the nearest can of pepper spray.
Whoa, that’s a serious last line.

But, there’s more on his background to earn this wrath. First, real Occupyers might call him an “insider,” even if he is also allegedly an anarchist. Ames notes he’s the son of a Silicon Valley corporate lawyer turned State Department diplomat.

Good background for “branding,” eh? And, he started doing it:
He was one of the very first to capitalize on the marketing possibilities of Occupy, and how he might exploit the marketing and messaging to quickly build his own brand. …

By late October, just over a month after the launch of the Occupy movement, Harris had already signed a deal with the Lavin Agency, as Occupy Redlands discovered when they asked Malcolm to come speak to their fledgling occupy encampment. They discovered that if they wanted to hear Malcolm Harris talk about anarchism and the 99%, they’d have to pay him a $5,000 speaking fee. Not including travel and hotel expenses. They also must have been surprised to learn that Malcolm Harris has “earned the reputation of being the Naomi Klein of the 21st Century.”
Not to mention being surprised at a $5K speaking fee.

From there, Ames goes back to Harris’ OWS marketing campaign:
Which pretty much sums up the Occupy Movement that Malcolm Harris led: It was rigged from the beginning to benefit a few brands and a couple of sloganeers. Like all great marketing campaigns, the more people you rope in, the greater the marketing campaign success, the more you can distill that energy and those numbers into branding power. It was the marketing world’s equivalent of a giant pyramid scheme, and the “anarchist” marketing vampires like Malcolm Harris always knew it, and were always well positioned to feed off it.
That, and Ames’ “never trust an anarchist” follow, pretty much sum things up.

But, that’s not all. Harris doesn’t seem to care about actual strikers, at least not if they don’t fit into his anarchist (or should we say pseudo-anarchist) agenda). Head to the link to read about him kicking striking Chicago teachers in the nads.

There’s other issues, of course. There’s the question of whether Harris knew that the alleged anarchist meeting style could be readily be manipulated. There’s the gullibility of many OWS participants wanting to believe that their organization was leaderless, first, and second, that a leaderless style could work. The recently passed Alexander Cockburn, like Ames, this one full of holes, saying that some version of traditional organizing tactics had to be conducted.

Now, one could argue that anarchism is the only appropriate response, a “Rage Against the Machine,” if you will. But, if that’s true, it’s not going to help the college graduates who want any sort of job to get one. It’s not going to help those who have lessening hopes of going to college to reverse that. And, back to my blog post linked at the top, it’s not going to help MBA and JD grads who made up a fair part of OWS to get to work on Wall Street, unless they prostrate themselves even more.

Leadership from the spectrum of anarchism. A deadly potion, indeed.

Now, as Yves Smith at Naked Capitalism notes, some OWSers have done good by releasing a "Debt Resistors Operations Manual." Oh, and it's free. That said, it's too bad things like this weren't developed long ago, rather than the focus on street theater.

And, who knows who besides Malcom Harris, if more on the QT, the Occupy movement has spawned, enriched, wrongly empowered or whatever?

Beyond this, the post by Ames underscores my own stance against anarchism. I haven't favored it since the 1998 WTO protests in Seattle. It's usually counterproductive, and almost certainly not actually productive. Plus, in today's world, per Ames' comment about Adbusters, there's a lot of ego in a lot of anarchists.

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