Of course the idea of a leaderless movement is absurd to some degree, usually what we end up with is decentralized hierarchies. And they usually end up doing more damage to each other rather than the system. The police may nudge them, but in a situation with excessive competition, most profits are likely to be competed away. The idea of a large consensus wasn’t actually an American innovation, it was a transplanted one. It was a brilliantly executed global trolling operation.
But that’s not how Occupy Wall Street sprang to life. Without that worldly group that met at 16 Beaver and later created the New York City General Assembly, there might not have been an Occupy Wall Street as we know it today.[b]
The group included local organizers, including some from New Yorkers Against Budget Cuts, but also people who’d taken part in uprisings all over the world. That international spirit would galvanize Occupy Wall Street, connecting it with the protests in Cairo’s Tahrir Square and Madrid’s Puerta del Sol, the heart of Spain’s populist uprising. Just as a comic book about Martin Luther King Jr. and civil disobedience, translated into Arabic, taught Egyptians about the power of peaceful resistance, the lessons of Egypt, Greece, and Spain fused together in downtown Manhattan. “When you have all these people talking about what they did, it opens a world of possibility we might not have been able to imagine before,” says Marina Sitrin, a writer and activist who helped organize Occupy Wall Street.
Around 30 people showed up for those first gatherings at 16 Beaver earlier this summer, recall several people who attended. Some of them had just come from “Bloombergville,” a weeks-long encampment outside New York City Hall to protest deep budget cuts to education and other public services, and now they itched for another occupation. As the group talked politics and the battered economic landscape in the United States and abroad, a question hung in the air: “What comes next?”
[b]Begonia S.C. and Luis M.C., a Spanish couple who attended those 16 Beaver discussions, had an idea. (They asked that their full names not be used to avoid looking like publicity seekers.) In the spring, they had returned to Spain for the protests sweeping the country in reaction to staggering unemployment, a stagnant economy, and hapless politicians. On May 15, 20,000 indignados, or the outraged, had poured into Madrid’s Puerta del Sol, transforming the grand plaza into their own version of Tahrir Square. Despite police bans against demonstrations, the plaza soon became the focal point of Spain’s social media-fueled “15-M Movement” (named for May 15th), which spread to hundreds of cities in Spain and Italy. When they returned to the United States, Begonia and Luis brought the lessons of 15-M with them. At 16 Beaver, they suggested replicating a core part of the movement in the US: the general assembly.
Georgia Sagri, a Greek artist based in New York who was in the crowd that day, watched with dismay. She had also supported forming an assembly, having watched them take shape back in her native Greece. Sagri was tired of the same old rally with a single focus—the death penalty, jobless benefits, immigration reform, you name it. The general assembly, on the other hand, promised a discussion without fixating on an issue or a person. In an assembly, labels or affiliations didn’t matter. There in Bowling Green Park, Sagri couldn’t wait any longer, and so she and a few others “hijacked,” in her words, the August 2 gathering, wrestling it away from your average protest and back in the direction of a real general assembly.
It took some time for the group to get the hang of it—Sitrin describes the early assemblies as “quite awkward”—but when they did the New York City General Assembly, the Big Apple’s own experiment in direct democracy, was born. When the assembly hit a snag, members would refer to a document titled “How to cook a pacific #revolution,” a how-to guide for general assemblies written by the Spanish and translated into more than a half-dozen languages.
Begonia adds: “The people are not here for the American economic crisis. They’re here for the crisis of the world.”
Tools for a Movement of Leaders: Lisa Fithian OWS Facilitator Workshop
Lisa Fithian has been working for nonviolent social change since the mid 1970’s. Over the years she has been a student, labor and community organizer on a broad range of issues. From environmental justice to student and worker rights, from peace and global justice to immigration and housing, Lisa continues to use a wide range of strategies and tactics and encouraged nonviolent direct action as one of the most effective strategies for change.
No sooner had the panel finished opening remarks last night than a woman scampered up onto stage and yelled, “Mic check!” It was an orchestrated effort by several dozen activists to use the People’s Mic to interrupt a forum at Town Hall—a forum in favor of Occupy Wall Street, featuring three wonks and three activists from Occupy Seattle. Their stunt replaced what was supposed to be an informed discussion of the movement with an uninformative, shout-a-thon about process that consumed most of the evening. They booed opinions they disagreed with and drove supporters out of the building.
“I walked in supportive and left unsupportive,” said 69-year-old Mary Ann, who declined to provide her last name. “I’m turned off by the negative shouts, repetition, and all I can think about is a cult. And I believe in every one of their damn principles.”
Paula and Brian King also headed for the door early. “It was frustrating to listen to people shouting and interrupting,” lamented Paula. Brian added, “We are leaving because they are looking inward at themselves and their eccentric process rather than reaching out to people.”
Organized by Town Hall (and co-sponsored by The Stranger), the forum was intended to discuss the Occupy Wall Street movement, featuring three activists from Occupy Seattle and luminaries from labor, economics, and politics: Washington State Labor Council secretary-treasurer Lynne Dodson; Second Avenue Partners and progressive taxation activist Nick Hanauer; and GMMB political strategist Frank Greer. During opening remarks, JM Wong from Occupy Seattle declared that she wanted “no leadership from the Democratic Party or union bureaucrats. Nonprofits are trying to co-opt us.”
Dodson, however, politely explained that labor unions are part and parcel with the Occupy movement’s push for economic reform. “I like to consider myself a union activist, not a union bureaucrat,” she said. “This is labor’s fight, this is our fight.” Link
Oakland Mayor Jean Quan Admits 18 Cities Were Consulting on #Occupy Crackdowns
The Occupy Wall Street media headquarters is in the midst of the frenzy at Zuccotti Park. Under a giant pink umbrella, a small group of protesters hovers over laptops surrounded by mounds of equipment covered in blue tarps. A beaten-up cardboard sign rests at their feet, the word “media” written in magic marker.
“We have people that monitor social media such as Twitter and Facebook, people that monitor the news, people that live stream — that’s a huge thing, actually, because that’s how we get a lot of our news out to our followers,” says Colin Laws, a 19-year-old from Connecticut.
A week ago, Laws was watching the streaming video of Zuccotti Park over the Internet on Livestream. And then after weeks of just watching the Global Revolution, as the Livestream channel is called, he sold his TV and all of his video games and bought a bus ticket to New York.
Occupy Wall Street’s General Assembly operates under a revolutionary “progressive stack.” A normal “stack” means those who wish to speak get in line. A progressive stack encourages women and traditionally marginalized groups speak before men, especially white men. This is something that has been in place since the beginning, it is necessary, and it is important.
“Step up, step back” was a common phrase of the first week, encouraging white men to acknowledge the privilege they have lived in their entire lives and to step back from continually speaking. This progressive stack has been inspiring and mind-boggling in its effectiveness. Manissa McCleave Maharawal writes on Racialicious regarding her block. In fact, the Declaration of the Occupation of Wall Street would not have been released if not for the blocking power of a different document a week prior by the Speakeasy caucus (for non-male identified and traditionally marginalized people)
“Without the voices of the disenfranchised people of color, lgbtq, differently abled, and other marginalized groups then this will become a revolution of those with privilege against those with privilege. There is a difference between revolutionary change and just being allowed access to the power, status, and wealth of the dominant culture. And Occupy Wall Street should not be co-opted by those seeking a watered down version of this systematically murderous economic and political system.”
This movement will continue to be powerful only if it invites the poor, marginalized, oppressed and forgotten. If self-promoting egos get in the way, OWS will be sidelined. What was started as an idealist, compassionate, empathetic group of inclusive people will only continue to be relevant if it is represented by all genders, races, and sexual orientations.
The “progressive stack” notion could help Wikimedia combat systemic bias in our projects.I want to immediately note here that the progressive stack is not uncontroversial in the Occupy movement: the New York General Assembly has agreed to use it, and is using it, but a couple of facilitators openly expressed ambivalence towards it. I am well aware that anything hinting at a progressive stack would be generally disliked in the Wikimedia movement, for lots of reasons.
The progressive stack is based in the premise that people who come from culturally dominant groups have throughout their lives been encouraged to speak, and rewarded for speaking, whereas people from other groups are more likely to have been ignored or silenced. Therefore, when GA participants line up in a “stack” to speak, the movement has agreed to privilege the marginalized by moving them forward, ahead of others. In practice this means that women, people of colour and gays and lesbians may get to speak before straight white men. You can read more about the progressive stack in this article from The Nation, this Feministing article, this discussion on the Occupy San Jose site and this discussion on Occupy Nashville.
You know, my trolling is always too overt, I’ve never had the subtlety needed to troll the world. I salute you OWS.