[Marxism] The Nuts and Bolts of #OccupyWallStreet

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Sep 30 07:34:01 MDT 2011


The Nuts and Bolts of #OccupyWallStreet
By Pham Binh
September 29, 2011 | Posted in IndyBlog | Email this article

On day 12 of Occupy Wall Street (OWS), I helped moderate a meeting 
of the “open source” OWS working group by keeping a list of 
speakers and co-chairing. I am not sure what the open source group 
is supposed to do exactly, but I decided to attend this meeting 
after watching a middle-aged man call in the General Assembly for 
developing demands and goals on the OWS live feed and people in 
the crowd telling him the open source working group was tasked 
with this.

After the daily 1 p.m. General Assembly meeting ended, OWS divided 
into its working groups, including media, labor, outreach, and a 
number of others. I walked over and sat down next to the point 
person (or “ leader”) of the working group, a young white guy in 
his twenties who looked like a 60s throwback with his long, 
straight hippy-style hair, rainbow tights, fatigue shirt, and 
Ziploc bag of rolling papers. Of course, you can never judge a 
book by its cover — he is also a student of behavioral economics 
and mentioned that academic studies have shown that the OWS’s 
decentralized, highly participatory, and lengthy process of 
dialogue is the best way to organize.

The open source meeting swelled very quickly to 20 or 30 people, 
an indication that a lot of people want to figure out what OWS’s 
demands should be. The group moderator remarked that the group was 
so big it was practically a “second General Assembly.” His brief 
introduction to the process whereby OWS would define its vision 
(he repeatedly used the phrase “visioning”) was interrupted as 
many hands went up, asking to be called on; at least 10 people 
wanted to speak and each was allowed a minute and a half.

What emerged from the discussion was that there is no consensus 
that demands are even necessary. Quite a few protesters argued 
along the lines that this is movement or process of dialogue is 
the demand/goal and that therefore demands are not necessary; one 
said our demand to the world should that they “join us.” Two older 
people, one in his sixties, the other in his thirties, spoke out 
for having clear, specific demands as being a very necessary step 
to creating a sustainable protest, much less a movement.

I argued that a few concrete, achievable demands were important, 
citing the “Day of Wrath” protest on January 25, 2011 that began 
the revolution in Egypt that demanded raising the minimum wage, an 
end to the dictatorship’s “emergency laws,” the firing of the 
interior minister, and a two term presidency. I explained that 
Mubarak’s ouster was not one of their original demands, but it 
became a demand once millions of people became involved in the 
movement, and therefore demands can and should change depending on 
circumstances. My suggested demand was to raise taxes on the 1%, 
something the New York state legislature and the city council 
could vote to do immediately.

One woman argued against having demands on the grounds that the 
media wanted us to do exactly that, that it would be a way for 
them to put us in a nice neat little confining box the better to 
ignore us; instead, she proposed we copy the model used to write 
grant proposals and draw up a mission statement, goals, and 
objectives. The moderator took to this and we dispersed into six 
groups of five or so to discuss what motivated us to protest and 
what our “visions” (or goals, long and short term) were; after the 
break out, we would reconvene to sum up and share what each of our 
groups had come up with in the hopes of finding some type of 
consensus that would inform some sort of statement to the world.

The OWS political process is very participatory, cumbersome, and 
time-consuming. One strength of their process is that it avoids 
the top-down control that Wisconsin’s union leaders exercised to 
scuttle the protests and developing strike wave that shook the 
state in favor of harmless (and ultimately fruitless) recall efforts.

To participate and help shape OWS politically requires dedicating 
many, many waking hours every day to ongoing, continuous debates 
and discussions. This is not necessarily a bad thing but in 
practice ends up favoring the participation of those who can 
afford to skip work and/or school for a week or more. With 
unemployment over 9% (a figure even higher for the 18-25 age 
group), it should be no surprise that these are the people taking 
the fight to the enemy’s lair.

It may be that OWS never develops a clear set of demands. OWS 
seems to be headed toward issuing a general statement akin to the 
Port Huron Statement by Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) in 
1962, although it will probably be less wordy and much darker. 
Port Huron spoke moralistically of the highly privileged lives led 
by America’s post-World War Two college students that stood in 
start contrast to the conditions facing black and brown people in 
the Jim Crow south, America’s urban ghettos, and the Third World. 
Today, students face the prospect of lifelong debt, serial 
dead-end jobs, and holding two or even three part-time jobs just 
to keep up with the bills and rent, just like the non-college 
educated working class.

Whatever OWS decides with regards to demands, they deserve credit 
for putting their finger on the real enemy and being brave enough 
to defy the police and break the law to make the voices of their 
generation heard.

Everyone who can should go and help occupy Wall Street.

Pham Binh’s articles have been published by Asia Times Online, 
Znet, Counterpunch, and International Socialist Review. His other 
writings can be found at www.planetanarchy.net

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