Wednesday, 30 November 2011

"Co-opt-upy Wall Street," The SEIU, And Leaderless Organization

Quick update: as of this writing, the police are dismantling the #OccupyLA camp site at City Hall in Los Angeles.

Image from CBS

NPR's write-up  here  . The Raw Story has a live feed for who knows how long (probably not long)  here  . CNN's LA write-up (with additional information about the police taking down #OccupyPhiladelphia)  here  .

The Socialist Worker has a very insightful, very sharp article today entitled "Co-opt-upy Wall Street?" which recounts an #OccupyWallSt event from November 17:

New York City activists from OWS spent weeks planning the November 17 day of action alongside organizers from unions and community organizations, including the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). But when the Occupiers showed up for the day's culminating rally and march over the Brooklyn Bridge, they found a completely different event from the one they had planned. 
Instead of a series of platforms for coordinated "people's mics" that had been agreed to at planning meetings, there was a blaring sound system, an emcee and a series of people pre-selected to tell their stories.

Yikes! But exponentially more depressing:

It's true, as the OWS website declared after the raid on Zuccotti Park a few days before, that "you can't evict an idea." But you can steal it. You can empty it of its content until all that's left is a slogan that used to mean something. 
For example: "We need a leader willing to fight for the needs of the 99 percent." That's SEIU President Mary Kay Henry announcing the union's early endorsement of a presidential candidate in 2012: Barack Obama, the largest recipient of Wall Street campaign contributions in the history of the world. 
A few days later, the SEIU announced plans for a rally in Washington, D.C., because "congressional supporters of the 1 percent blocked President Obama's latest job proposals."...And the name of this early campaign rally in D.C.? "Occupy Congress."

I've had many bones to pick with the SEIU for quite a while, but this "Occupy Congress" nonsense is probably the most disgusting thing I've seen from them recently.

To portray Barack Obama as a friend of #Occupy is loathsome. Most #Occupiers I have listened to in person or online feel about Obama roughly how he feels about Matt Taibbi's "Griftopia":

What this reminds me of more than anything is the way in which Dick Armey's FreedomWorks rapidly paralyzed the Tea Party with its venom and laid eggs in its soft and helpless flesh (if you're curious, my thoughts at the time on the unsettling phenomenon can be found  here  ).

Ain't no party like a Tea Party

While the Tea Party was co-opted successfully by the Republican Party almost from it's inception, however, #Occupy has so far proved surprisingly resilient to nonsense of that kind.

An interesting thing about #Occupy, at least as I've experienced it, is that the essential structure and processes of the movement lends itself pretty easily to separating astroturf from grass roots, so to speak: anyone who speaks as though they are a "leader" of the #Occupy movement, or tries to hitch #Occupy to a political party or candidate, is probably a liar.

I'm currently reading Peter Gelderloos' "Consensus," which is fantastic. It's an introductory manual to the theory and practice of consensus decision making, which is one type of horizontal (leaderless) meeting structure. Just a few minutes before I read "Co-opt-upy" this morning, I happened upon this passage, which is one of the best summaries of #Occupy I think you could ask for:

People can struggle without being told how to do so. History shows that when governments face an enemy without a leader, whether mutinous workers or an indigenous society, they appoint one, and then negotiate, co-opt, assimilate, and control. A leaderless opposition is the hardest to defeat.

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