Blackspot

Imitating #OCCUPY To Death

Signs of decline at #OCCUPYCAL

In the four months since the launch of #OCCUPY, the movement has infected the body politic with uncanny viral speed. Encampments have sprouted in every state, hundreds of cities and dozens of countries. Twinkling fingers, temperature checks, general assemblies, working groups, consensus... the left's model of revolutionary activism has undergone a paradigm shift for the better towards leaderless, anti-authoritarian horizontalism. Now the danger we face is that we will stop innovating and start imitating.

After saturating politics at the city scale, #OCCUPY is splintering downward, becoming corpuscular. Encampments are emerging that target niche communities and causes, a welcome development. There is, for example, Occupy The Boiler Room, an encampment to block gentrification in Harlem. And perhaps the most significant new development is the move onto university campuses with Wednesday's launch of both #OCCUPYHARVARD and UC Berkeley's #OCCUPYCAL.

Sadly, the seven hours I spent at #OCCUPYCAL left me dismayed, cold and concerned about the future of the movement. The excitement I first felt, the intoxication of being in a crowd of passionate youth, quickly dissipated as I saw the tactics of #OCCUPY being debased through ritualization. Participants were imitating what they'd seen our comrades in Zuccotti do without an understanding of why. In one particularly telling moment, the Vice Chancellor made an announcement to the crowd through the "people's mic." His words were repeated twice, mimicking the layered people's mic used in NYC to communicate to large crowds, not because our crowd was too large to hear but because it felt special to do so. The day abounded in these minor examples of the growing trend towards memorializing, ritualizing and imitating the tactics of #OCCUPYWALLSTREET blindly, unthinkingly and to our detriment.

When we no longer understand the tactical reasons behind our actions then we open our movement to being hijacked by those who choose intentionally to imitate poorly. At #OCCUPYCAL, it was obvious that a core vanguard of student activists, the same activists whose antics had largely squandered and alienated campus sympathy in the prior two years of anti-cuts protests, had simply "rebranded" themselves as part of the #OCCUPY movement in order to attract fresh blood and revive their moribund efforts. Thus, as soon as the first general assembly was commenced we were being urged to vote on two proposals that had been drafted privately prior to the assembly and not disclosed until then. Many of us quickly understood that the second proposal gave immense power to these activists.

The power grab was buried in a clause near the end of a page long document. "We will hold General Assemblies everyday at 6pm," it said, "unless rescheduled or cancelled by the facilitation committee." Sounds reasonable until you realize that granting such power to an autonomous facilitation committee violates the core principle of the general assembly model. It isn't hard to guess who is on this facilitation committee that wishes to stand above the general assembly and cancel or reschedule at their whim.

Objections were raised, but ultimately dismissed. "Make an amendment tomorrow," one committee member said. "There are a lot of people here today, but they'll go home and we'll have to do it all like in the past," another was overheard to say. The persons who wrote this clause and tried to push it through the general assembly were absolutely aware of what they were doing: cynical imitation that preyed on the ignorance of the crowd. Although the proposal was ultimately tabled, less than three hours later, members of this self-appointed facilitation committee were already exercising their power by calling for an impromptu, unscheduled general assembly hours before the 6pm GA.

The irony is that #OCCUPYCAL could be a powerful addition to the movement. Because it is a niche cause-oriented encampment, it is uniquely suited to begin the long process of putting forward specific, credible demands. A nationwide campus #OCCUPY movement could achieve forgiveness of student loans, for example. This opportunity is being squandered. Instead #OCCUPYCAL looks like it will become the model for how to take over the #OCCUPY movement from the inside: rebrand, call your clique the facilitation committee, grant yourselves immense power, alienate everyone, speak for them anyway. I have no doubt that MoveOn, the democratic party, and every reformist NGO in America is keenly watching.

If #OCCUPY is to be a revolution, it cannot become a ritual. We must innovate and never imitate. #OCCUPYCAL may stumble onward but unless the general assembly acts swiftly to remove the would-be leaders, it will never succeed.

—Micah White

Note:#OCCUPYCAL has since corrected many of the problems cited in this article. Their general assembly on November 15 was wonderful. We wish them the best. In solidarity, Micah

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60 comments on the article “Imitating #OCCUPY To Death”

Displaying 11 - 20 of 60

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Anonymous

The mindless, thoughtless, robotic repitition of the "human megaphone" ritual is little more than a method of indoctrination and mind control. Now, while this may sound like some looney conspiracy theory, the fact is that this type of ritualized repitition of axioms and other implantable ideas has been very successful in movements from the Nazis to the Communists to the Maoists and so on.

Basically, it goes like this: Get a bunch of disaffected people together, get them to feel comfortable around one another, start talking to them about this or that perceived injustice, begin leading them in ritualized behaviors/chants/ etc., and you will have created a mindless mob or maleable robots.

This technique has worked for everyone from the Catholic Church to Charles Manson and David Koresh. The real question here is: Who is behind this "movement" and what do they want? Why do they need a robot army willing to forego free thought to do their bidding?

When outsiders see and hear the "human megaphone," we tend to think the people doing it are loons and zombies. There is no critical thought there; there is only mindless following.

The author makes many good points. Maybe its time for the people of OWS to start asking questions, rather than thinking (as they've been told) that they have all the answers?

Anonymous

The mindless, thoughtless, robotic repitition of the "human megaphone" ritual is little more than a method of indoctrination and mind control. Now, while this may sound like some looney conspiracy theory, the fact is that this type of ritualized repitition of axioms and other implantable ideas has been very successful in movements from the Nazis to the Communists to the Maoists and so on.

Basically, it goes like this: Get a bunch of disaffected people together, get them to feel comfortable around one another, start talking to them about this or that perceived injustice, begin leading them in ritualized behaviors/chants/ etc., and you will have created a mindless mob or maleable robots.

This technique has worked for everyone from the Catholic Church to Charles Manson and David Koresh. The real question here is: Who is behind this "movement" and what do they want? Why do they need a robot army willing to forego free thought to do their bidding?

When outsiders see and hear the "human megaphone," we tend to think the people doing it are loons and zombies. There is no critical thought there; there is only mindless following.

The author makes many good points. Maybe its time for the people of OWS to start asking questions, rather than thinking (as they've been told) that they have all the answers?

Anonymous

For a startling example of co-optation tactics, please read "Occupy Las Vegas Splits over Corporate NPO Co-Opt" at http://occupylv.org/

Anonymous

For a startling example of co-optation tactics, please read "Occupy Las Vegas Splits over Corporate NPO Co-Opt" at http://occupylv.org/

Anonymous

Micah,

I recognize your name from a berkeley google group, perhaps you are the same guy.

I like your points, and had a similar feeling at #occupycal. However, I think you are too quick to judge. Wednesday was the first day of the movement @ cal. For many of the participants, it was their first hoo-rah. But, as you point out, the same student activists who failed to lead a budget cuts 2 years ago were very vocal on the first day.

How is this unexpected? Of course the experienced activists are going to attempt to lead again. The question is will the Cal be able to modify the GA process for it's needs, and begin a protest movement which the bulk of students will support. Perhaps the occupy model is what Cal needs to modify how protest decisions are made,

Long story short, its only been one day for #occupycal, and as we all learn the process and the possibilities, things will change. That's the point you miss.

Anonymous

Micah,

I recognize your name from a berkeley google group, perhaps you are the same guy.

I like your points, and had a similar feeling at #occupycal. However, I think you are too quick to judge. Wednesday was the first day of the movement @ cal. For many of the participants, it was their first hoo-rah. But, as you point out, the same student activists who failed to lead a budget cuts 2 years ago were very vocal on the first day.

How is this unexpected? Of course the experienced activists are going to attempt to lead again. The question is will the Cal be able to modify the GA process for it's needs, and begin a protest movement which the bulk of students will support. Perhaps the occupy model is what Cal needs to modify how protest decisions are made,

Long story short, its only been one day for #occupycal, and as we all learn the process and the possibilities, things will change. That's the point you miss.

Anonymous

I, too, was in the small group with the previous poster and Micah White that had a chance to discussed the proposition put forth by the facilitation committee to instantiate the Occupy Cal Encampment.

While I understand Micah's arguments, I think it is unfair to call Occupy Cal a "fake" or "imitation" movement. In the first place, it seems paradoxical to level this charge against an Occupy protest, which is so organic and spontaneous by nature. We should all remember that the Occupy Wall Street movement began response to an AD placed on this very website. The irony is that an Ad is essentially empty--it has no substance. It merely beams a message out into the public to see if it will get picked up. Ads are receptacles by nature: they advertise something, they impress themselves upon us, and sometimes they tap into some desire already within us, and cause us to act. I think we have seen the power of "advertisements" in this way as Occupy Wall Street got more press and this encouraged more and more Occupies to spring up up all over the nation. You could say this is imitation, you could call it mimesis, but I don't think either of those words do it justice. Occupy is something more.

Furthermore, I also personally know the "clique" at Berkeley Micah refers to. While I recognize that this is problematic for the movement, many of us are away of this. I also want to tell everyone that the Union and this clique have organized multiple protests last year and this semester that have all failed. I believe there is a reason why the Occupy Cal protest on Wednesday did not fail--but flourished. Its because students, like the one who posted above me, are infected by the political spirit of the moment and feel confident that free speech can make change in their University. As a Graduate Student Instructor and a member of the Occupy Cal protests, I can attest that students are participating in this movement in real, tangible ways. But I believe Micah knows this already. He was there with us, and he saw students taking on challenging political questions in our small group discussion alone, he also stood in the crowd of the thousands of diverse students who made inventive signs and came to gather on Sproul Hall at noon to voice their concerns.

But then Micah left, and he didn't see how the students worked together, how they put their bodies on the line to defend the General Assembly decision to camp, and how those same students remained into the hours of the night debating what to do in the face of an administration that denied us space to protest with sleep, food, and music.

After the events of this week at Berkeley and the police brutality, I feel angry that Micah would write this article, to circulate it like an AD into the social media, knowing full well that it could detract support for the OccupyCal protests. It seems antithetical to the whole Occupy movement, to deny an Occupy its credibility, especially before it has even had the chance to BEGIN. To echo the sentiment of the poster above, you miss the entire point. An Occupy would never let that happen, and I can attest that we at Cal will not, and it is personally insulting for you to accuse myself and the hundreds of other students of insincerity or in-genuineness.

As a graduate student who believes in public education, I am trying to move past any personal or political (in the crude sense of the word) divisions among cliques at Berkeley. I suggest you and your wife do the same. If you care at all about the issues and not the politics, Join us on Tuesday November 15 for a Campus-wide Strike and come see the spirit of the Occupy Cal that you could not see on Wednesday.

Anonymous

I, too, was in the small group with the previous poster and Micah White that had a chance to discussed the proposition put forth by the facilitation committee to instantiate the Occupy Cal Encampment.

While I understand Micah's arguments, I think it is unfair to call Occupy Cal a "fake" or "imitation" movement. In the first place, it seems paradoxical to level this charge against an Occupy protest, which is so organic and spontaneous by nature. We should all remember that the Occupy Wall Street movement began response to an AD placed on this very website. The irony is that an Ad is essentially empty--it has no substance. It merely beams a message out into the public to see if it will get picked up. Ads are receptacles by nature: they advertise something, they impress themselves upon us, and sometimes they tap into some desire already within us, and cause us to act. I think we have seen the power of "advertisements" in this way as Occupy Wall Street got more press and this encouraged more and more Occupies to spring up up all over the nation. You could say this is imitation, you could call it mimesis, but I don't think either of those words do it justice. Occupy is something more.

Furthermore, I also personally know the "clique" at Berkeley Micah refers to. While I recognize that this is problematic for the movement, many of us are away of this. I also want to tell everyone that the Union and this clique have organized multiple protests last year and this semester that have all failed. I believe there is a reason why the Occupy Cal protest on Wednesday did not fail--but flourished. Its because students, like the one who posted above me, are infected by the political spirit of the moment and feel confident that free speech can make change in their University. As a Graduate Student Instructor and a member of the Occupy Cal protests, I can attest that students are participating in this movement in real, tangible ways. But I believe Micah knows this already. He was there with us, and he saw students taking on challenging political questions in our small group discussion alone, he also stood in the crowd of the thousands of diverse students who made inventive signs and came to gather on Sproul Hall at noon to voice their concerns.

But then Micah left, and he didn't see how the students worked together, how they put their bodies on the line to defend the General Assembly decision to camp, and how those same students remained into the hours of the night debating what to do in the face of an administration that denied us space to protest with sleep, food, and music.

After the events of this week at Berkeley and the police brutality, I feel angry that Micah would write this article, to circulate it like an AD into the social media, knowing full well that it could detract support for the OccupyCal protests. It seems antithetical to the whole Occupy movement, to deny an Occupy its credibility, especially before it has even had the chance to BEGIN. To echo the sentiment of the poster above, you miss the entire point. An Occupy would never let that happen, and I can attest that we at Cal will not, and it is personally insulting for you to accuse myself and the hundreds of other students of insincerity or in-genuineness.

As a graduate student who believes in public education, I am trying to move past any personal or political (in the crude sense of the word) divisions among cliques at Berkeley. I suggest you and your wife do the same. If you care at all about the issues and not the politics, Join us on Tuesday November 15 for a Campus-wide Strike and come see the spirit of the Occupy Cal that you could not see on Wednesday.

Anonymous jerse...

i think what he was saying was to just be careful over their in cali, because we are at war, and it is serious, the beatings and arrests r jus the beginning. the tyrants will use other tactics against us wen that fails and we will start seeing more and more agents in our occupy spots. SO BE AWARE, and do not let ur local rebellion become marginalizes. and they always do it fast and sneakily, so again, STAY AWARE OF THIS, love u cali!!!!!!

Anonymous jerse...

i think what he was saying was to just be careful over their in cali, because we are at war, and it is serious, the beatings and arrests r jus the beginning. the tyrants will use other tactics against us wen that fails and we will start seeing more and more agents in our occupy spots. SO BE AWARE, and do not let ur local rebellion become marginalizes. and they always do it fast and sneakily, so again, STAY AWARE OF THIS, love u cali!!!!!!

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