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 21 - 30 of 60

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Anonymous

Lame. Your personal vendetta against certain Berkeley folks prompt you to throw the whole cal protest under the bus. This is an inaccurate, disingenuous and condescending assessment of the day. There were a lot of others folks there beside the pretentious vanguard kids--the vast majority in fact. The others also pointed out the same issues during the protest that White did and not just at the beginning of the proposed GA. Other tactics were used throughout the day and nigh as well, and then revised and re-imagined organically by folks on the ground. Also, for the record, no one could hear the Vice Chancellor; he spoke quite softly.

While it is true that this faction often poses serious problems at Berkeley and needs to be dethroned in many respects, this post wasn't close to the whole story of the day and largely does more harm than good. Apparently you needed to reframe the entire protest around these perceived failures in order to turn your old beef with a few other "professional revolutionaries" into a game of oneupmanship. This piece could have been written to offer genuine support and solidarity while still expressing necessary concern about the role of a few individuals. Instead it undercuts even that message by devaluing the actions of those students, staff, and faculty that participated in a collective struggle of their own volition. This is sad for the state of the movement. You all deserve each other.

Anonymous

Lame. Your personal vendetta against certain Berkeley folks prompt you to throw the whole cal protest under the bus. This is an inaccurate, disingenuous and condescending assessment of the day. There were a lot of others folks there beside the pretentious vanguard kids--the vast majority in fact. The others also pointed out the same issues during the protest that White did and not just at the beginning of the proposed GA. Other tactics were used throughout the day and nigh as well, and then revised and re-imagined organically by folks on the ground. Also, for the record, no one could hear the Vice Chancellor; he spoke quite softly.

While it is true that this faction often poses serious problems at Berkeley and needs to be dethroned in many respects, this post wasn't close to the whole story of the day and largely does more harm than good. Apparently you needed to reframe the entire protest around these perceived failures in order to turn your old beef with a few other "professional revolutionaries" into a game of oneupmanship. This piece could have been written to offer genuine support and solidarity while still expressing necessary concern about the role of a few individuals. Instead it undercuts even that message by devaluing the actions of those students, staff, and faculty that participated in a collective struggle of their own volition. This is sad for the state of the movement. You all deserve each other.

Anonymous jerse...

haha, that made me laugh, but i see micah's point, i live in jersey n have only been to occupywallstreet in nyc, but every encampment should be different because they should be addressing local concerns. we who live so close to wallstreet try n keep that in focus. locally in jersey we try to leave messages for the commuters to see on their way to wrk in nyc everymorning through graffitti and also jus holding thought provoking signs in front of the pkway entrences. basically a guerrilla meme war . but we stay leaderless, most of the people i organize with are anarchists, many who take part in alternative living such as the rainbow gatherings or squat houses and we r very careful about doing anything that even smells of the establishment. voting, n shit like that we r very careful about. anything voted on shouldnt b set in stone, and we absolutely do not have leaders although many of us do more work than others, this is irrelevent. we r one body and understand everyone has different responsibilities like kids and such and simply cannot help much cuz their wrking all day two jobs and sleeping when they get off most days or whatever else consumes their time. for people like that we suggest to them that they wage their own meme wars at wrk or anywhere. almost every atm gets painted on in my area constantly lol, we probably created more jobs jus for graffitti removal haha. anyway, jersey, cali, ny, wherever u r, micah is right to come down hard on occupycal because their ideas stink of the establishment!!

Anonymous jerse...

haha, that made me laugh, but i see micah's point, i live in jersey n have only been to occupywallstreet in nyc, but every encampment should be different because they should be addressing local concerns. we who live so close to wallstreet try n keep that in focus. locally in jersey we try to leave messages for the commuters to see on their way to wrk in nyc everymorning through graffitti and also jus holding thought provoking signs in front of the pkway entrences. basically a guerrilla meme war . but we stay leaderless, most of the people i organize with are anarchists, many who take part in alternative living such as the rainbow gatherings or squat houses and we r very careful about doing anything that even smells of the establishment. voting, n shit like that we r very careful about. anything voted on shouldnt b set in stone, and we absolutely do not have leaders although many of us do more work than others, this is irrelevent. we r one body and understand everyone has different responsibilities like kids and such and simply cannot help much cuz their wrking all day two jobs and sleeping when they get off most days or whatever else consumes their time. for people like that we suggest to them that they wage their own meme wars at wrk or anywhere. almost every atm gets painted on in my area constantly lol, we probably created more jobs jus for graffitti removal haha. anyway, jersey, cali, ny, wherever u r, micah is right to come down hard on occupycal because their ideas stink of the establishment!!

Anonymous

I dont know who you are talking about considering that the vangaurd was mostly hiding from police or at occupy oakland. The people who have been doing occupations for years at Cal are NOT leading Occupy Cal. This is a group of fairly green activists acting in accordance with many graduate students and the unions to organize walk outs and occupy itself. I guarentee you most of the people who are putting in lots of time with Occupy Cal are not people who have been arrested repeatedly for protests on campus. There are a lot of fresh bodies who are willing to get arrested and that scares people, and sometimes it scares people who are afriad to get arrested. This will be overcome.

The little clause you mentioned is irrelevant since they are not even going to start encampments with tents until next week. This article is straight up fearmongering from someone who has a tenuous connection at best to the long term berkeley protest movements. These so called vangaurd activists are not mysterious shadow leaders but formerly committed organizers who have mostly fled because of the ridiculous General Assembly process being described here and the lack of focus on strength and action with specific demands. They are also experiencing lots of crap from past arrests and Occupy Oakland events, staying away from campus allowing new people to create a groundswell.

Anonymous

I dont know who you are talking about considering that the vangaurd was mostly hiding from police or at occupy oakland. The people who have been doing occupations for years at Cal are NOT leading Occupy Cal. This is a group of fairly green activists acting in accordance with many graduate students and the unions to organize walk outs and occupy itself. I guarentee you most of the people who are putting in lots of time with Occupy Cal are not people who have been arrested repeatedly for protests on campus. There are a lot of fresh bodies who are willing to get arrested and that scares people, and sometimes it scares people who are afriad to get arrested. This will be overcome.

The little clause you mentioned is irrelevant since they are not even going to start encampments with tents until next week. This article is straight up fearmongering from someone who has a tenuous connection at best to the long term berkeley protest movements. These so called vangaurd activists are not mysterious shadow leaders but formerly committed organizers who have mostly fled because of the ridiculous General Assembly process being described here and the lack of focus on strength and action with specific demands. They are also experiencing lots of crap from past arrests and Occupy Oakland events, staying away from campus allowing new people to create a groundswell.

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