Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Can #OWS Go From Their "Howard Beale Moment" to How We Do It?

There's a very good post over at ThePeoplesView.net that spits a little righteous fire about the incident involving civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis when members of the General Assembly spent a full six minutes debating whether or not Rep. Lewis should be allowed to speak. I pretty much agree with Adept2U's take on the spectacle. In the 6 minutes they wasted discussing whether to let Lewis speak they could have just explained the silly "human microphone" parameters and let the guy say a few words. What occurred was captured on vid  and posted to Youtube, resulting in what so far has turned into a PR disaster for the Atlanta offshoot of protests that began in Zucotti Park, NYC nearly a month ago. In Adept2U's piece, a link is provied to former Atlanta mayor and fellow cicil rights icon Andrew Young's observations of how the protests have unfolded so far:

“There’s a difference between an emotional outcry and a movement,” said Andrew Young, who worked alongside the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. as a strategist during the civil rights movement and served as mayor of Atlanta and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. “This is an emotional outcry. The difference is organization and articulation.”
….Ambassador Young said that to be effective, the protests need a serious discussion component and that leadership needs to emerge.
“I can understand people being frustrated with Wall Street, but this just needs to be more than people voicing their frustrations and a few leaders having their 15 minutes of fame,” he said. “It is important for those who have thought through their values and objections to somehow be heard.”

Andrew Young is reinforcing observations made by Al Giordano, another lifelong veteran of community organizing and civic protest, about the flaws in what's going on with OWS. In a highly recommended piece called "Traité du Savoir-Vivre for the OccupyWall Street Generations" that offers excellent advice to those interested in achieving a positive impact through civil disobedience, Giordano noted in the aptly sub-titled section "Death By Consensus Process" :

The experience of the Clamshell Alliance and the anti-nuclear movement with consensus process is instructive. Once that movement had brought nonviolent civil disobedience back into popular use, other ideological and political sectors sought to wrestle it away and take power over the movement. Indeed, a kind of coup d’etat occurred in 1979, months before the Wall Street occupation that year, the result of a series of long consensus-seeking meetings on what the next action by the Clamshell would be. A group calling themselves “direct action” advocates (“direct action,” to them, was distinct from “nonviolence” most specifically because those people wanted the movement to bring wire cutters to the next protest to cut the fences around the Seabrook nuke construction site) obsessed on this proposed tactic to the point of fetish. This, despite the fact that the local residents of Seabrook who had provided the farmland and staging areas for previous occupations warned that this escalation of tactics would lose significant public support for the movement at its most local geographic base.
The “direct action” faction – overwhelmingly they were activists, students and ideologues from metropolitan Boston – found, in the consensus process, its wedge to blow up and then take over the name of the Clamshell Alliance, even if it meant losing most of the organized bases that had created and built it. At first they used the power of any person to “block” consensus on any decision (and therefore block any taking of action at all) on any and every proposal that did not include fence cutting. This went on for weeks. It was frustrating for many movement organizers, so much so that, one by one, they walked away and stopped attending the long meetings where the same point got debated over and over again. After almost everybody who had organized the movement had been worn down, the last few adherents to the idea that this fence-cutting nonsense would destroy a lot more than mere fences (it would also wreck the cohesion, unity and public support enjoyed by the movement) eventually “stepped aside.” In consensus-speak, that means they expressed their objection but agreed not to block consensus. It was on that day, in the Marigold Ballroom of Salisbury, Massachusetts, across the state border from Seabrook, that the Clamshell Alliance shattered into splinters and for all practical purposes, was no more.
Giordano gives a vivid illustration of how group consensus can be used to undermine the goals of the group, which red-shirted "if we let Lewis speak it means he's better than us" demonstrated in the OccupyAtlanta clip. Instead of embracing an ally an possibly winning over scores of activists and people of color like myself who've taken a "wait-and-see" attitude based on concerns about the direction and ultimate goals of the group, seeing the video of this experience left even more questions in the minds of many and probably did more to undermine their cause than any other action the movement has undertaken thus far.

 Personally, I don't need a frickin' civic protest to remind me that all men/women are equal: I learned that in Church decades ago. But the thing about recognizing all people are equal means their title, economic status or political affiliation does nothing to change this basic fact.: being better off, better liked or better looking does not automatically make you a better or worse person than the next. That's where the whole "content of character" thing works in.

If I can simplify why many of us are still frustrated and refuse to get involved with the Occupy Wall Street protests: I would summarize our perspective with a simple alliterative phrase that can easily be rendered by the Twitterati in 140 characters or less: we're still waiting to see if OWS ever transitions from the Howard Beale phase to the How We Do It phase. The people protesting the malfeasance of the 1% and concerned about the malaise of the 99% must begin to transition from the "I'm mad as hell and I'm not gonna take it anymore!" stage we currently see to the "this is what WE intend to do about it!" phase.  Here's a few ways I think the protesters can best realize their stated goals (most are identical to what emokidsloveme listed in her Chirpstory, hat tip and many thanks to her for putting them all together and blasting them out)

1) Begin to actively register and educate protesters on the new laws enacted in 31 states designed to disenfranchise up to 5 million voters. Mobilizing the masses to vote is till the most effective way to influence the civic process in this nation and it continues to be the #1 target of those at the top - the so-called 1% - to maintain control of the rest of us - the so-called 99% the OWS protesters claim their movement was created on behalf of - by blocking access to the ballot for POC, college students, basically anyone who tends to fight for the needs of the people and/or vote Democratic in general. Recent studies have suggested that as many as 5 million eligible voters could end up being disenfranchised by these new laws in 2012, most of them people known to vote Democratic. 

2) illuminating which party is obstructing and sabotaging our democracy in order to destroy our economy for their own political gain. In the 111th US Congress, 420 bills were passed by simple majority in the House led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi yet died when that two year Session ended this past January. Why? Because the pending bills got no attention at all in the US Senate, even though Democrats were in the majority there as well. Unprecedented abuse of the senate filibuster by Republicans has blocked not only the more progressive elements of the Obama agenda such as cap and trade, but has opened the door to granting too much power to a few centrist Democrats known as Blue Dogs who force Obama and the Democrats to water down almost every piece of legislation in return for their cooperation. These politicians do this because they hear from the lobbyists who represent corporate interests on almost a daily basis, yet rarely do these same politicians hear from their own constituents. Democracy has never been and never will be a spectator sport. If it is to survive at all, them its time the people begin to take a more active role in their own government by composing letters, sending emails, calling the House and Senate switchboards, even using social media like Twitter and Facebook to bombard the accounts of members of Congress demanding they end the grandstanding and self-serving political shenanigans and work to better the lives of every citizen in this country.

3) highlighting how many of OWS "demands" are already being fought for by the president and the Dems and need the protesters to back them as well by being just as vocal and visible in Washington DC where the US Congress meets and most  laws are written. This kind of reinforces point one mentioned earlier. From much of what I'm seeing and hearing from supporters of OWS in Twitter, not a scientific sampling of supporters by any means, much of the ire leading to these protests is directed at President Obama and the Democrats, is based on perceptions created by the media and peddled by not only the GOP - who openly admitted less than a month into his term they were began planning to do everything they could to make sure Obama failed, even if the entire country imploded with him - but also by people former White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs dismissively christened "The Professional Left" who many of us now refer to as "EmoProgressives". Many of the protesters has voiced opinions and views about President Obama and his policies that mirror these distortions and have to be better informed about the advantages in Obamacare, the number of jobs saved/created by the ARRA, even things as simple as who was president when TARP was passed and why George Bush was only allowed to dole out 1/3 or the $700 billion spent - and how most of the money loaned out in TARP has already been paid back....with interest.

4) stressing the fact the AJA will bring immediate relief to the so-called 99% while using a 5% surtax on the so-called 1% these protests are aimed at punishing. 
 The president has been barnstorming the country since early September trying to build populist support for the American Jobs Act, which economists predict could create as many as 2 million jobs. The Buffett Rule is one proponent of the bill and something the OWS protesters have claimed to be in favor of for weeks. Unfortunately, the OWS protests have so far succeeded in doing at least one thing: drawing most media attention away from Obama's cross country tour that is designed to mobilize populist support behind his plan and pressure Democrat and republican alike to support the plan or face the angry electorate. In the past week, the Senate Democrats tried to address fellow Democrats' concerns about the "pay-fors" originally included in the bill by adding a 5% surtax on people making $1 million or more per year and the CBO scored the bill and found the surtax fully pays for the Obama plan, meaning no one need be concerned it will balloon the deficit and create the debt to China many Americans also say they're also troubled about. Wouldn't it make sense to help push these ideas as an immediate way to help the 99%, or are fears of helping one of the two major political parties score a political victory so great that the plan is a non-starter to the "we won't be co-opted" mindset that  seems to have swept over the protesters?
Those are just 4 concrete suggestions that in my opinion will make a tangible difference and millions of Americans will be more than grateful if OWS helped us achieve them. The problem is, red shirted guy in the OccupyAtlanta video isn't the only romanticized, delusional doofus derailing the OWS protest's chances of actually achieving something they claim they desire. Yet, there are thousands of union members who have joined the protests and know that bringing jobs to the masses will go a long way toward stabilizing the lives of millions of families. I just hope they're able to reason with their fellow protesters to convince them that despite their views on how the establishment has failed them there are still ways they can
 work within the existing system to achieve some of their goals in the short term.


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