I sat on this for long time, because I was frankly embarrassed by some of my conclusions and loss of objectivity during the heyday of the occupy movement.  Looking at it again, there is a lot of merit in the theoretical side, so I’ve decided to let it out.  Try to appreciate my flawed predictions from the time, and I’ll bookend this from my current perspective with new podcast sometime soon.

Podcast page HERE

Direct download: OCV2011.mp3

two years since my last released recordings? yup.

3 thoughts on “notes from occupy: 2011

  1. Spot-on analysis of the operational dynamics of the General Assemblies. I would add that at least in the case of the occupy I got involved with, the group that was heavily involved with organizing, preparing, and publicizing the initial Occupy Missoula gathering quickly extricated themselves from the process. Once it had gained momentum, and regular participants were familiar with the process, a new facilitation team comprised recently added participants could be trained to take their places. This, I think, was very much intentional, at least on the part of the founding members.

    A refusal to hold on to power or maintain any sort of formal — or even informal — leadership becomes not only an example, but a form of etiquette. It can also be a method for people of this anti-authoritarian stripe to recognize and identify one another, thus becoming a means for those of like minds to find who they might be more inclined to trust. Whether someone calls themself an anarchist is irrelevant; what matters is what they will do when others begin to treat them as an authority figure. To pass this test of authenticity, you immediately disavow leadership and take steps discourage this perception, including going so far as to leave the event entirely if your role as a key coordinator becomes unavoidable (which can happen when others keep coming to this same person again and again for answers and instructions, likely because they are naturally effective)….

    So while Occupy was a force which naturally attracted those who felt disenfranchised, it also had this tendency to spit everyone out after giving each person a small taste of their power as direct participants in the group action. Once people felt empowered to the point that others would start to look to them for direction, it would become their turn to quit. Those who understood and supported this unspoken protocol would voluntarily withdraw and maybe disappear for a while. Thus, the movement could only last until all who were ready had taken their turn. The death of occupy is not a signal of failure, but of completion. It was a form of mutual mass initiation amongst the portion of the populace that was ready to experience this. Now that it’s passed, this learning has helped prepare us for whatever future we will co-create.

    Even the simple collective act of operating and maintaining an autonomous, leaderless encampment while under duress from government and corporate pressures seems a good practice round for how we might function as a community as the old order continues to break down. We may have only just dipped a toe in the water, but if things continue apace, we may be getting much deeper than that in short order.

  2. well, I totally understand what you’re saying, but I think there was and is a profound disconnect between what you’re talking about and what most people thought was going on, or actually wanted. people didn’t disavow authority so much as get hounded out, shamed or heckled for trying to make some headway. at least where I was there were hundreds of people waiting to be mobilized by someone with some kind of plan, or at least engaged in some kind of constructive dialogue, but what we got was endless group therapy sessions, screaming matches, etc, all of which seemed to deliberately prolong confusion and disorganization. I didn’t sign on for some kind of anarchist social experiment or theoretical gesture, or to scramble around after the fact and rationalize how we basically lost a very rare window to mobilize the population in their own interest against finance power. people don’t need anarchist platitudes, to be perfectly honest. they need to eat, to pay their bills, to care for their families, to see the cause of justice advance without bloody chaos having to happen. if we have to wait for the population to get on board the leaderless anarchist consensus process before we can challenge the prevailing conditions, we’ll all be dead in the ground or paying agricultural tribute to the hedge fund bankers who own your favela, while we’re simultaneously trying not to get killed by gangster warlords.

    I’m not trying to pick on you, but how bad do things have to get before we talk seriously about mass struggle against economic tyranny and genocide, not these situationist art projects that subvert and detourn the ruling narrative but construct nothing lasting in its place?

    1. Well, ultimately I think to achieve a more equitably prosperous society, our mass movements are going to have to get beyond mere protesting, or demanding concessions from the current ruling power structures. Petitioning President Obama to extend food stamps and unemployment a few more months might be a reasonable stopgap measure to help some people survive the winter, so I sympathize and support those who take that approach, but if we’re talking about constructing a more sustainable (and more humane) future, we first need a collective recognition that our dependence on the organizations, bureaucracies, media, and currency controlled by the oligarchs have been setting us up to fail, and will always do so. Occupy served as a public declaration of this understanding.

      So even though Occupy as we knew it died a necessary death, I’m hopeful that it helped plant the seeds for future community actions that could produce something more enduring. Once people get past the venting stage (which is what protesting is by its very nature), and come into a larger scale recognition of our collective power to solve problems together without the mediation of these alienating vampire institutions, then at the very least I would hope that, once emancipated from the need to spend time earning wages and paying rent, we would minimally be able to muster the time and energy to focus our attention on the logistics of keeping everyone in our vicinity fed and sheltered.

      Unfortunately, as you say, it appears that most of the general population is not on board at this point. Not just regarding the leaderless/anarchist consensus process, but about even the notion that having everyone’s basic needs taken care of is a matter of genuine importance. Though the 1% exhibits the most obviously egregious behavior in this regard, I’ve known many poor people whose first action upon receiving an extra bit of cash is to spend it feeding their addictions, and the thought of using a little to help some hungry person down the street is utterly unheard of, literally unthinkable for them. Of course, the American ideal presented by advertising propaganda, rationalizes, justifies, and encourages such behavior across all classes, but still, everyone sows their own karma with the paths they take.

      So at this stage, I guess I’m somewhat resigned to the fact that if the majority of the population wants to commit mutually assured genocide, I cannot stop them, nor should I attempt to. Occupy provided new connections to others nearby who are ready move beyond the dog-eat-dog model, and many of those relationships endure, so I’d rather focus my energy on helping the helpers, as those efforts will then be multiplied, even if it does seem like we are a minuscule minority at this stage.

      It’s a tricky balance though, because then there’s this tendency to form our own little enclaves where people act for the mutual benefit of those in our circles, leaving those unenlightened fools on the outside to fend for themselves, which is of course the type of pattern we’re trying to move beyond. From what I’ve experienced, cycling back and forth between these modes of restricting energy output to friends and allies until there’s enough abundance that you can be confident in giving some away, and then going into a mode of giving to anyone and everyone for a while until the energy reaches a low point, seems to be a way to aid the greater good without allowing oneself (or inner affinity group) to be drained or incapacitated.

      The more humane, enduring societal alternatives do exist, and are being created on a small scale right now (think ecovillages). I’d love for these small projects to become larger and include more of the masses. Regarding how bad it has to get before larger numbers of people come together to work on solutions… Is the threat of starvation an effective motivator to get people off their asses enough to actually change the economic structure? For a while, I thought maybe so, but given the situation, kinda seems to be just the opposite, as it triggers even more fearful constriction into survivalism.

      It’s really when people feel satisfied and abundant, without the fear of starving tomorrow (or today), that they are more likely to open up and share. So it literally comes down to perpetuating the *belief* that everyone will be fine and have enough, so maybe there’s enough to spare a little and help others out, combined with a desire to make manifesting this reality a higher priority than getting that next ego fix, that causes it to happen.

      Guess I went on a bit of a tangent…. Wanted to answer your points, but had to take a bit of time to think before I could even begin to formulate a semi-coherent response. Thoughts come in and out in waves, like the tide sometimes. My ego needs a break.

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