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by danps

Keeping 1 percent values out of a 99 percent movement

2:31 pm in Uncategorized by danps

This was published with considerable feedback from affinis, JuliaWilliams, okanogen and lambert. My sincere thanks to them for their help.

The purge of livestreamers and other transparency advocates at Occupy Oakland has been largely successful, and last weekend produced one of its predictable results. At the weekly Fuck the Police march there was a huge spike in vandalism (via) over previous ones, and there was a greatly escalated police response. The unilateral disarmament of livestreamers meant that, as Sue Basko (among others) pointed out, only the authorities were able to record the events of that night. If they choose to selectively edit or show only clips that support their side of the story, what will there be to rebut that?1 (Basko also points out that livestreaming video can be used to rebut charges made by authorities, something the accused in this case might find handy. Her Occupy Symposium has been collecting really nice essays on this topic, incidentally.)

It actually is not strictly true that there were no live streamers at Fuck the Police. There were a couple, and they were physically threatened.2 Because of that intimidation they radically trimmed their coverage. The resulting video is of some help, but not nearly as much as a full and open livestream.3 In an email exchange afterwards affinis noted that livestreamers have become afraid of covering the news, to which lambert responded: “Exactly. Since when is covering the news about respect? This is no different from the Washington Post!”

On the face of it that is just a little bit of snark, but there’s a very serious subtext. At its most ambitious Occupy represents an audacious leap of imagination, what some call prefiguration: Envision the world you want to see, and then begin to inhabit it. Model the behavior you want to see in the larger society. Or more colloquially, fake it till you make it.

Doing so takes time and patience, though. It takes a while for something that radical to sink in to people’s heads, even those people who are sympathetic. Matt Taibbi – a close observer of the movement and no friend of Wall Street – took a couple of months to come around, but he finally did: “People want to go someplace for at least five minutes where no one is trying to bleed you or sell you something.”

Getting people on board with something so different requires openness and transparency. One very important aspect of openness that has either been only sporadic or entirely missing from Occupy is stated values. The consensus process at Occupy – which has been criticized for not being an authentic one – has largely prevented the adoption of broad principles that a minority object to. With something like a statement of nonviolence, a tiny minority with strenuous objections has shown the ability to frustrate the will of the overwhelming majority. A dynamic like that could ultimately cause the long term failure of Occupations that cannot resolve it, though as in science failures can be useful (lots to examine and learn from for those inclined!)

As for transparency, advocates need to not only expect visibility into others’ processes, but must willingly open themselves to that visibility too. If your new model does not allow for that – if, for instance, you want to plan violence in secret and carry it out anonymously (neither of which is transparent) – then you can’t very well expect to draw too many others to your cause. Why go to all that bother to trade one opaque, unaccountable elite for another?4 The prefiguration is crucial.

One type of prefiguration is media ecology. Big media outlets catering to power instead of challenging it have been a major source of dissatisfaction for nearly a generation now.5 That dissatisfaction may be driving viewers away, which opens up new possibilities – which Occupy is showing an ability to seize. The emerging sensibility of the new media environment is one of lightly mediated – or entirely unmediated – transmission of information. There are certainly hazards with this approach. For one, it means trying to take a drink from a firehose. A twitter stream or livestream can be hard to process; too much information, too much video to watch, too many links to click on, too many stressors maintaining online relationships. Consumers need to be their own quasi-editors, deciding which sources to rely on in order to be able to process what’s coming in.

Another hazard is epistemic closure, the condition where one only gets information from sources one trusts. The resulting echo chamber serves only to reinforce one’s prior beliefs, and causes people to retreat into rigid, sclerotic worldviews consisting exclusively of agreeable sentiments. There’s an entire book that can be written about that, though, so I’ll just note that it’s a phenomenon that predates the Internet.

For all the potential problems, though, there is no denying that Occupy’s media ecology is a very different model than legacy media’s. Which is the point! I don’t think most of the people who support Occupy do so because they want some new version of the Washington Post. I for one have had quite enough trembling deference towards those in power, and I’m not especially interested in seeing the same thing start to happen in this new context. As John Seal put it, “some Occupy supporters are now eagerly mimicking the high-security, everything-is-classified government they supposedly hold in such contempt.” And they are attempting to impose the same atmosphere of meek compliance on those who cover them. None for me, thanks; I’ve seen how that movie ends.

Lack of transparency leads easily to lack of accountability, and unsurprisingly that was what happened in the Fuck the Police march. In addition to the absence of livestreamers, those engaged in violence concealed their faces. This is a preferred tactic among violence advocates, but it has some obvious drawbacks that Jasper Gregory pointed out: One, a child could figure out how to infiltrate such a group, and two, the choice of that tactic made it irrelevant who did the actual violence. If you choose anonymity in advance, then anyone who uses it is one of your fellows – whether you want them to be or not.6

Some violence advocates tried to distance themselves by saying it wasn’t the real black bloc that did it (“no true Scotsman”), but a heretofore unknown imposter black bloc that is merely comprised of an immature group of transient kids who are only in it for the adrenaline rush of violent confrontation. Unlike the actual black bloc, of course! It’s hard to know where to even start with unconquerable ignorance like this, though Jasper captured its essential absurdity nicely. (Bonus stupidity: “if pigs want to smash capitalism by my side, i say let em.” Yes, capitalism was certainly dealt a death blow while you – and the pigs, naturally – engaged in petty vandalism against a Quizno’s and a local credit union. Well done.)

For as much as conformity, opacity and lack of accountability have become characteristics of elites that Occupy is rebelling against, it may be that their violence is the most objectionable – and therefore the most important not to reproduce. A country exhausted by endless wars (including of the death-from-above covert drone variety), militarized police forces, executive assassination programs and a brutally punitive criminal justice system is not going to rally around a movement that promises more of the same. Those who are rising up against the wholesale theft of ordinary citizens’ houses (a truly great act of violence) will not generally see justice in wild acts of retribution.

“Retribution” is the most charitable way to describe the rioting that violence advocates are so enthusiastic about. And yes, it is wild. While there are occasional lazy stabs at trying to circumscribe their vandalism, violence is a fundamentally chaotic act. It can veer out of control with little warning, and the destruction at the Fuck the Police march is just the latest example. Small wonder there has been so little discussion about it. People did not flock to Occupy to shift the locus of antisocial behavior in society from wealth-addled bankers in suits to twentysomething punks in black.

In order to have a chance at substantial and lasting change there has to be more to Occupy than some crude idea getting even. There has to be something that calls the overwhelming majority of people to something better. Part of that call is strategic. There is already a great deal written on the ultimate advantages to a nonviolent approach, with this being a great example. Lambert recently made the case in an email: “Rhetorically, I think we need to frame over and over again that [nonviolence advocates'] strategy has the greatest chance of success. That’s what we want, success. We want to look to successful movements.”

While that is certainly important (winning counts!), I believe the greater part of that call is moral (or ethical if you prefer). In an extended exchange (see footnote), Hugh wrote: “Change does not come from winning arguments but by changing hearts.”7 If you turn people off the way violence advocates do, then the only way to produce change is at the barrel of a gun. This would be the “neither hearts nor minds” approach. It is oppressive, and those under it will throw it off at the first opportunity. If you seek to persuade people to your cause, it is possible to win them over. You can then make more durable changes, though it can be reversed by a shift in the political winds or effective sophistry. This would be the “minds but not hearts” approach.

But if you change people’s hearts as well, they are liable to do more than simply accede to your wishes; they might just join in the effort as well. In the case of Occupy is also allows for the greatest contrast with the ruling class. Convincing most that our bellicose foreign policy is making us more enemies than friends, or that rampant lawlessness by the people running our biggest financial institutions will prevent the housing market from finally bottoming out; saying that such things are bad policy for America and ultimately against our long term interests might get lots of head nodding in agreement. But convince those same people that these things are grave injustices and deeply immoral? That’s the stuff revolutions are made of.

Cross posted from Pruning Shears.


1. “Marchers wearing black clothing and backpacks were captured on video committing acts of vandalism and retreating into the marching crowd, police said.” Also: “Several of these acts of vandalism and suspects were captured on video surveillance.” Way to go, dumbasses.

2. See here for how violence advocates have intimidated livestreamers. In particular, jeffkloy, Josh and worthoftheworld were all present; Eiko Huh stayed away entirely. Josh appeared to be representing the Oakland Media Group, but no livestream of the event is available at their site. Jeffkloy avoided recording violence to “show respect” to those engaged in it (not that it won him any good will). Meanwhile, worthoftheworld – who appears at least somewhat sympathetic to those engaged in violence – announced a livestream, but as far as we know has not posted it. Interestingly, she had this to say about the suppression in a series of Tweets (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6)

every1 is so quick to confront the streamers for their accountability in capturing sensitive evidence… we should put same energy on holding ourselves accountable to our actions, helping comrades make wiser decisions in the heat of moments & ultimately, we need to put serious energy in holding the system (#SFPD, #OPD, #DEA, etc..) accountable!!! every1 attacks a streamer for their footage, who actually makes a physical effort to hold the System accountable? Beyond #Ftp marches? streamers are not the key element of arrest. an action of wrong doing has to happen first. this is The System failing,or comrade mistake. so on the topic of streaming, 3 elements of accountability. let’s spend equal time on all of them. and be fair


3. Affinis: “The basic chronology is pretty clear. Watching what actually happened (or at least, what Kloy was able to capture) is very different from you’d infer if the OO twitter stream was your only source of info.”

4. Here is where things start to get a little interesting. One sticking point among those working out prefiguration is, prefigured by whom? Or more precisely, excluding whom? In a movement of the 99% presumably the 1% would have no say, right? Are Wall Street executives kept out of the discussion? Violence advocates? There’s a whole slippery slope argument around that, as well as around who performs the gatekeeping function.

Without laying down any specific markers, I’d just say as a general principle that more inclusion is better. If the goal is to subvert existing pillars of the establishment, it seems to me that engaging with those who provide crucial support for those pillars – not antagonizing them – is the best way to win them over. If the prefiguration includes a rigorous process of harmonizing new groups and ideas with the stated values, there’s a pretty good chance it will be robust enough to resist falling into a “meet the new boss, same as the old boss” trap.

5. That’s provided you date your disillusionment with the start of the Clinton impeachment circus and the way the big outlets uncritically catapulted right wing propaganda during the entire affair. There are lots of different places one could put that marker down, though.

6. Those fellows could include modern day Pinkertons, among others (emph. added):

Approaches more often used by intelligence agencies are needed to confront this threat. The creative use of intelligence officers, either developed internally or borrowed from the private sector, can afford police agencies the speed, knowledge and agility needed to counter these emerging threats and the chaos that they promote.


7. Original exchange here. Here is a lightly edited (for readability) version:

By Hugh on Fri, 03/30/2012 – 10:42pm

Also I think people need to go back and study social movements in the past. I would suggest in particular Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement. King and the movement were effective because they were willing to confront authority in the pursuit of justice and they infused their movement and actions with a moral purpose. This not only served to unify those involved and keep them moving together in the same direction but the morality of what they were doing and what they were willing to risk and sacrifice won over millions to their cause.

It wasn’t that they were intellectually right on the issues that swayed the country. That in itself was insufficient. Nor was it the justice of their cause. That might have won them a few converts. It was the moral purpose with which they imbued their struggle and which they were able to communicate to the general public that gave them their power. They did it in their words, their actions, and their sacrifices. They made millions care. They put their opponents on the defensive. They did this by focusing on the moralness of their purpose. People can dance around an issue for an age and still remain uncommitted. But by their example and sacrifice, those in the civil rights movement forced Americans to respond to them on a moral level. And on that level they were irresistible because a moral response is about who and what we are as human beings. It is the one place, if only for a little while, that we can cut through all the bullshit.

John Jay Chapman who belonged to a different era and another struggle said that reform movements to be effective must be religious in character. At the time when I read him, I wasn’t sure I agreed. But with time, I have come to see the wisdom in what he was saying. Change does not come from winning arguments but by changing hearts. Change someone’s mind, they may acknowledge the justice of your arguments, and do nothing. Change their hearts, and your struggle becomes their struggle. It is on the moral level that all this plays out. Words must fit actions and both must fit the moral purpose being invoked. If there is a dishonesty in any of that, then the battle is lost because people will be repelled by the falsity. They don’t need to know all the facts and arguments. They only need to see the flaw. But if these are true, suffused with a moral purpose, and tempered by real sacrifice, most people will respond to that truth and act according to its demands.

This is what I see missing from Occupy. Certainly you can see bits and pieces of this in particular actions but overall the movement remains strangely morally empty.

By RanDomino on Sat, 03/31/2012 – 9:26pm

I think I agree with the sentiment if not the terminology. “Morality” to anarchists means the morality of religion and society – personal restriction even when it would harm no one, for no other purpose than control of individuals by institutions such as the church and State.

If you mean something more along the lines of ‘vision’ that we certainly have.

By Hugh on Sun, 04/01/2012 – 12:24am

Yes, “vision” will win you 3 or 4 new converts at the least. Sorry for the snark, but it really looks like you have no interest in making common cause with the 99% because you reject right off the bat speaking to them in any way they are likely to respond to. Not only will you be unsuccessful but you will deserve to be because you are being incredibly disrespectful of those you want as allies. You can not expect them to set aside their prejudices for even a little while if you are not willing to do the same.

Most people are focused on their everyday lives. They have their plans and their schemes. It is a lot to ask them to set that all aside, but there are moments in life such as before a great cause when they will if addressed precisely on that moral level which you discount. And that is where the disrespect comes in. The moral level is inherently respectful because, as King understood and what he counted on, was that millions of Americans could be reached at that level because he did not just believe in his own morality but he also believed in theirs. That’s respect. He did not necessarily believe in their plans and schemes nor ask them to believe in his. This was not about doing away with difference. It was about finding the underlying similarity, and for that you have to go deep into a person. At that level if you ask them to stand shoulder to shoulder with you, you better damn well be ready to stand shoulder to shoulder with them. And if you are not even willing to go to that level, well the game is over before it is even begun. You are left on the level of everyday plans and schemes. And why really should they sacrifice theirs for yours?


by danps

How disorganization is damaging Occupy

2:28 am in Uncategorized by danps

This was published with considerable feedback from affinis, Jasper, JuliaWilliams and lambert. My sincere thanks to them for their help.

A few weeks ago Occupy Oakland (OO) began to emphasize secrecy (or security culture) over transparency, which resulted in livestreamers being attacked as snitches or quasi-authorities. In addition, large group of transparency advocates have been ostracized as racists with little or no due process.

The attacks on transparency have become an ongoing effort; last week Kate Conger Tweeted her experience in running afoul of the secrecy police at OO. Interestingly, she is a freelancer who was more interested in the decision making process than whatever nefarious purpose the more conspiracy-minded saw in the shadows. And she also asked: “Explain to me why a movement founded on free speech principles doesn’t support freedom of press?” Which as far as I know has not been answered yet.

This week it has gone even further, led by the explosive charge that police used livestreaming video in the arrest of activists Nneka, Cincinnati and Teardrop – aka the Ice Cream Three.1 There has been a great deal of comment on the piece; the key excerpt:

According to defense lawyer Dan Siegel, it was the livestream footage that allowed OPD to target and arrest the Ice Cream Three at subsequent demonstrations over a week later: “There would be no case at all if people were not taking video and posting it publicly, and if the defendants had refused to speak with police once they were in custody.” Patti, Nneka’s mom, commented, “The really sad thing is that the footage came from Nneka’s best friend. She would never have wanted this!”

Keep in mind these are the thoughts of a defense attorney employed to present his client’s case in the best possible light. Maybe his allegations are true, but then again maybe not. The eagerness with which anti-transparency advocates have swallowed those comments whole is striking, even taking into account the natural human inclination to believe those things that bolster one’s worldview and more closely scrutinize those that don’t.2

One of the, ahem, benefits of shutting down efforts at openness is that those who are calling the shots can hide in a cloak of anonymity and make decisions from behind the scenes. Occupations that have shut down what began with a robust culture of openness have constructed a neatly self-contained universe – one that permits them to wield substantial authority but disclaim ownership of anything produced by it. (It also tends to create its own self-reinforcing structures.) Decision making done by a few, responsibility shared by all. See here for an analogous dynamic.

Those who want to constructively criticize that dynamic are then left grasping at straws: with no transparency, there is no way to know who in particular is driving these unhealthy developments.

If it seems that, say, facilitation has turned into a power center where much of the direction is set, but there is no way to see or read exactly what is going on, how does one even begin to offer a critique? Those who are happy as clams with this state of affairs can simply demand to know who in particular is the source of the problem. With no transparency into the process, this is unknowable from the outside. So those who wish to be insulated from accountability get a free ride. A nice arrangement, if you can manage it.

Perhaps not coincidentally, opacity tends to work well in conjunction with violence advocacy. A culture of repression is very congenial to chaotic notions of autonomy, “no snitching” orders3, and an apocalyptic mindset that insists if revolution does not happen immediately then all is lost.

It also seems supportive of a certain moral vacuousness that stridently denies any responsibility for violence on the grounds that the violence had already been completed by the real villains (e.g. “anarchists don’t fuck up health centers. Corporations and the government does”).4 Cries of snitching and sexism in support of an attack on a clinic that serves the community are a bit hard to take.

Opacity works well with a certain kind of wilfully naïve view of the process, too. Consensus doesn’t mean “everyone agrees” or even “most people agree.” It is very involved, and some in the Occupy power centers seem largely ignorant of it5. Look at the contrast between this from one of the folks on an InterOccupy listserv:

The early facilitators seemed to believe that OWS invented the consensus process. Many of us who had training and experience in consensus decision-making were dismayed from the beginning, because what we were witnessing was not consensus, but a faux consensus. Many didn’t return. I stayed to see if I could persuade the facilitation working group to adopt other modes, e.g. breaking up into groups during GAs, allowing for debates during GAs, making sure that substance was at least as important than process.

We have had a big problem of late in that insisting on being “leaderless” has left a vacuum that has been filled by tyrants in the group. Until the various dysfunctions are dealt with, we’re unlikely to make significant progress. A few of us have identified the dysfunction rooted in lack of nonviolence training, including true consensus decision-making. And add to that a lack of vision of how it all fits together in horizontalism self-governance on a broader scale.

And this by an anarchist in the OWS Direct Action Working Group

This is just such an elementary understanding of the anarchic nature of occupy’s functioning. It disregards autonomy entirely. You don’t need “the movement” to do something. When you do something that is movement. Movements are more time than group. If this is a time of a peoples liberation movement then things that happen now in that vein are pieces of that movement. If what you are doing appeals to folks you will get their buy in and if not you will be doing it on your own. Those are both ok, so long as you’re not speaking for people other than those present to consent to what’s being said on their behalf.

The reason consensus would be a burden is if you’re trying to force others into something they don’t want. Nothing about other’s non interest keeps you from doing something with those who choose to participate.

The ideas expressed in the second excerpt strike me as shockingly immature. You cannot just say, do your own thing and if others dig it a hundred flowers will bloom! Nor can you say that whatever any subset of Occupy does is by definition Occupy; some actions – most notably violence – will be seen as representative of the entire movement. For those who want a nonviolent mass movement, a violence advocate’s “when you do something that is movement” ends up being the negation of the movement.6

None of this is merely academic. Maintaining the charade that Occupy is leaderless, preventing any sort of visible decision making structure from emerging, not implementing any sort of review or sanction mechanism for those who refuse to adhere to an authentic consensus process: these all come at a terribly high cost, and nowhere was that more obvious last week than in the The Million Hoodie March. Elon James White wrote about his experience with an Occupy movement that at least partially attempted to co-opt a protest against the murder of Trayvon Martin. His report is consistent enough with others’ (Esther Choi’s, for example) that it cannot be dismissed as the griping of a malcontent.

Saying that those who tried to use the protest for their own ends are just a few bad apples is – in addition to being pretty stunningly unaware of the term’s unsavory recent history – a nonsensical response if your position is “when you do something that is movement.” In the kind of amorphous culture being created by those opposed to transparency, everyone does their own thing and therefore no one can be held responsible for anything. “That’s not the REAL Occupy” isn’t terribly persuasive under those conditions. However much logic it might have to those locked into that solipsistic world, the view of those like White and Choi who encounter it from the outside is overwhelmingly negative.

An Occupy movement that becomes increasingly insular and suspicious will thus alienate larger numbers of people. It will insist on its rightness and purity, oblivious to how it looks to those who haven’t been marinated in its exotic narrative. It will be unwieldy, with uncoordinated arms each pursuing its own agenda, sometimes in contradiction. It will turn off all but the true believers. The backlash against the actions of some at the Trayvon Martin protest is a good snapshot of where Occupy goes if it does not become more open and yes, more organized.

Cross posted from Pruning Shears.


1. Here’s a summary of the incident from the Oakland Police Department:

On February 22, 2012, at 6:00 p.m., the Oakland Police Department contacted a female victim after responding to a report of a robbery in the 4000 block of Piedmont Avenue. The victim told officers she had been walking down the street, across from the Wells Fargo bank, near a small group of Occupy Oakland protesters calling for a riot. The victim, who has been a resident of the area for over 20 years, suggested to the protesters not to riot in her neighborhood.

She was surrounded by three protestors and battered as they yelled vulgar epithets regarding their perception of her sexual orientation. Her wallet was taken during the crime. The victim broke away from the group, and called police who were able to arrest one suspect near the scene.

The Oakland Police Department prioritizes hate crimes for immediate investigation. A suspect who commits a hate crime aims not only to terrify or harm one individual, but to threaten and terrorize the entire actual or perceived group of people to which the victim may belong.

And a summary from a source more sympathetic to the defendants:

February 22nd was a day of arraignments for Occupy Oakland protesters at Wiley Manuel Courthouse in downtown Oakland. According to Nneka’s mother Patti, a group of approximately two dozen left the courthouse after the day’s proceedings for Fenton’s Creamery on Piedmont avenue and then convened a protest at the nearby Wells Fargo bank. An altercation took place later, around 5:45pm, in front of Dr. Comics & Mr. Games and was initiated by Stowers herself. In Stower’s testimony, she saw one Black woman, one Black man and one white man standing together on the sidewalk shouting the words “Let’s start a fucking riot!” As she passed them on her way to Piedmont Grocery she said, “I’ve lived in Piedmont for twenty years and I know you don’t belong here,” to which Nneka responded “that sounds pretty fucking racist to me,” and to which Teardrop replied “we need to talk about this.” In the confrontation that ensued, Stowers’ Obama pin was allegedly ripped from the outside flap of her purse. Then, she alleged, she saw Cincinnati’s forearm emerging from her purse. She did not actually see him remove her wallet.


2. Note the assumption that live streaming being used to arrest violent insurgents is a bad thing. There are many possible objections to the arrest of activists in general. For instance: activists could just be removed and warehoused for extended periods without trial or in other ways denied due process; they could get shot through a judicial proceeding little more than a kangaroo court; put through a penal system that is heavy on retribution, light on rehabilitation, and that brands them as criminals long after they pay their debt to society.

Those are all perfectly legitimate points to raise. As a general proposition, though – and specifically without comment on the details of the Ice Cream Three case – I would regard the use of livestreaming to identify and arrest those engaged in violence as a ringing endorsement of live streaming, a vindication of its use and a victory for transparency.

Also: look at the contrast between this and a nonviolent mass movement like Otpor. They spared some energy to try to win over the police instead of taking a stance of unrelenting antagonism, took arrests in stride and included all walks of life (“Parents of the kids were informed, and we had a network of old ladies who called the police station continuously” etc.) Which approach is more flexible? More sustainable? Which is better able to subvert authority?

3. The fact that conspiracies of silence are championed by gangs, the mafia, and those engaged in cover-ups tells you roughly where that tactic resides on the ethics spectrum. As David Graeber noted, one of the goals of Occupy should be to demonstrate an improvement on the existing culture and not merely to shuffle its privilege:

That’s why it’s key to have an effect that will genuinely benefit people’s lives. #Occupy certainly doesn’t contradict that revolutionary impulse, and helps move us in a direction towards greater freedom and autonomy, by which I mean freedom from the structures of both the state and capitalism. Now, to create broad alliances along those lines, you’d have to be very careful about your organizational and institutional structures. Because one of the things that is revolutionary about the #Occupy movement is that it’s trying to create prefigurative spaces in which we can experiment and create the kind of institutional structures that would exist in a society that’s free of the state and capitalism. We hope to use those to create a kind of crisis of legitimacy within existing institutions.


4. Tina Dupuy makes the connection between transparency and nonviolence explicit:

A true nonviolent movement can have its plans known – the cops can know, the public can know, it can be on the livestream for everyone to see – because you can’t thwart civil disobedience by disclosure. Vandalism, property damage, graffiti, sabotage, throwing rocks and bottles at the police and petty criminal acts are not what the perpetrators want on UStream.


5. For as important as consensus is, though, it shouldn’t be fetishized. It is a means, not an end, and if not monitored carefully it can obstruct the achievement of the ends it is being used to further.

6. For just one example of how violence is inimical to a mass movement, look at how Canadians reacted to the use of it during protests. When the public views you as a terrorist maybe you aren’t some romanticized revolutionary vanguard as much as a common criminal.

by danps

Provocateur tactics and the subversion of Occupy

4:38 pm in Uncategorized by danps

This was published with considerable feedback from affinis and lambert. My sincere thanks to both of them for their help.

The Occupy movement has already had a positive impact in many areas, but potentially the biggest one is rescuing concepts of public rights and the understanding of what is public. The very idea that there could be a common good, that there are things that belong to all of us and that in fundamental ways we are all in this together seems to have been under attack for a long time now.

For example, part of the right wing assault on the right to vote has included the talking point that since you need a license to drive why wouldn’t you need a photo ID for something as important as voting? Which actually gets the logic backwards. Driving is a privilege, so setting a more stringent standard for it makes sense. When it comes to the right to vote there ought to be a presumption that the individual requesting a ballot is eligible. The law should bend over backwards to accommodate voters, not erect barriers. Of course, on the rare occasions when fraud does happen it needs to be prosecuted vigorously.

Similarly, the idea of the public has been under assault. The fight for a public option in the health care debate a few years back is one prominent example. The idea of the government offering a basic menu of elementary health services to everyone seemed terribly provocative. It ended up being left out of the final bill despite the fact that it was a very modest (compared to, say, single payer) reform. This despite the fact that a similar model for banking has been a demonstrable and phenomenal success for nearly a century.

Meanwhile, things that currently are public are being spun off like crazy to the private sector. Here in Ohio I’ve watched John Kasich push to privatize prisons, the turnpike, the lottery, and more – while turning down federal funds for public transportation. Residents of other states have seen their own versions of this process.

Occupy has pushed back on those dynamics. In the environment sketched out above, a group of citizens simply becoming physically present in a public space over an extended period is provocative – and has the potential to produce change. Anything that would work against Occupiers’ ability to continue to hold public space ought to be considered antithetical to the spirit of the movement. Nothing would degrade that ability faster than violence, and having already posted extended thoughts on that subject I’ll just link to both and leave it there for now.

Occupation sites that have successfully endured without too much interruption have eventually had to answer the question, now what? Seizing and holding public space is significant, but how is it then put to use? Here is where the struggle over what Occupy means becomes most pressing. There seems to be a general agreement in using it to fight against systemic problems, but there seems to be a split as to how to express it. Some favor a nonviolent mass movement, others a smaller and violent insurgency. Which has more to recommend it?

One way to answer that is to ask: Which approach does the status quo favor? Because the answer favored by the establishment might not be the one for activists to embrace. A systemic critique by definition is at odds with established power. What might authorities favor? Read the rest of this entry →