Wednesday, October 5, 2011

And God Said, "Keepest Thou the Iron Law"

In my last post, I asked if anyone could describe the leadership or goals of the Occupy Wall Street, New York City General Assembly. My concern, and a question every supporter should have asked of themselves, is that we have no idea who is leading this movement.  Yes, for the most part is lacks clarity and much leadership at all, but there is clearly somebody organizing things like when and where to protest as well as putting out "official statements" on the group's website. 

No matter how democratic any group may wish to be, the larger the group gets, the less truly equal participation and leadership can be.  Somebody has to be making decisions with a decently long view into the future if it wishes to accomplish anything at all.  This is known as the Iron Law of Oligarchy. Think of trying to make a movie.  Which would be better, if the script were written by one writer, a small team of four to five, or collectively by a stadium of 100,000?  The last is completely impracticable.  There will be no consistency to the story, no pattern.  How do you get the input from that many people, how do you integrate it?  That's why classical direct democracies worked through smaller committees, to determine what issues were to be discussed, when discussion would end, voting, etc.  The General Assembly has taken a similar course with its committee system. 

The New Republic has done a little research into this group and unsurprisingly has found a small core leadership attempting to maintain some level of control over apparently rather transient "committees" formed by who knows who. In many ways, this explains why the group really lacks any coherent message or the ability to perform actions to further those goals.  This is a spasm more than a movement.  Movements go somewhere, spasm's are just violent shaking in all directions. 

Anyway, unless this group resorts to violence and attacking property, they won't last long.  Fits of anger might be fun for a while, but as this goes on with no resolution to the undefined goals, people will eventually get bored.  Perhaps worse, everyone else in the world will get bored, too.  Amorphous blobs are fun to look at for a while but they make horrible pets.  Come up with something definite and we'll talk.  Assuming, that is, anyone actually wishes to discuss the motivations and goals of Occupy Wall Street. 

I officially declare myself bored of this protest, subject to change should they actually do something. 


  1. Have you been attending the GA meetings regularly? The agreed upon format is posted on the GA website ( If you want to, propose a block at the next GA with these concerns. You will either get more information that will satisfy your concerns or your block will be voted on.

    All working groups are taken to the GA to be voted on by the group. That's when they become a working group. In addition - the working group needs to satisfy the check in requirements of the Info committee (as per the consensus rule made at the GA.) Working groups shouldn't be doing stuff and not reporting back. If they do, they can be blocked. If the working groups start doing stuff the GA is against, they can also be blocked by consensus.

    I'm not 100% sure of all this, but I'm pretty come throw a block if you feel you need to.

    A lot of these issues are worked out to some extent - attend the GA meeting regularly and it will be easier to follow. Unless you are bored already that is.

  2. I haven't attended a GA meeting because 1) I work for a living and 2) where and when these meetings take place seem to be a mystery. Obviously, by the content of my blog, I'm not exactly a supporter of the movement, but I am genuinely interested in understanding how it works.

    I guess if you or someone you are acquainted with knows the process, it would be interesting to know. As is, I'm not exactly certain what a working group is, who forms it, how they are selected by the GA (or who composes the GA and does said selecting), how the GA would block people from acting, etc.

    My point is, it strikes me as amusing that a group about participatory democracy and dismantling hierarchy has already in some sense become hierarchical (the GA does the controlling, the masses out in the park do some yelling and sign waving). But as I've pointed out, I'm not really certain as to how this group really works at the higher levels, which doesn't really strike me as transparent. Perhaps a video of some sort should be put out by the GA explaining the process?

    Anyway, I do appreciate your thoughts, and welcome to my humble corner of the Internet!

  3. The General Assembly meets everyday at 1PM and 7 PM (honestly more like 7:15 with the run over from the open forum.)They started in Tompkins Square park over the summer I think. Look at any of the minutes of the GA meeting. They explain the process fairly well. An attempt at concensus is made, but when a vote is taken 2/3rds is needed. Things happen slow like in the US senate. Lol. Working groups are proposed to the GA and ratified. For the most part, the actions of working groups are pretty much delegated by the GA, but the GA can block the actions of any working group. Working groups are like food, medical, education,outreach, direct action etc. They schedule events, actions,coordinate vital functions etc.
    Assembly is made up of those who assemble in Liberty Plaza on occupied Wall Street. It is run by a facilitator. To be a facilitator you just have to attend a meeting of the facilitators working group. They can always use more facilitators because it involves standing up and yelling for hours. There are no sound permits, so no bullhorns etc so the crowd repeats the line of the speakers so everyone in the crowd can hear.
    Other GAs have been organized as other groups have joined the Occupy movement. But I dont think everyone uses the GA model, although they have some form of internal democracy. The occupy movement is basically all those people camping out in public space. I think people have the false idea that internet forums and twitter is part of the "movement." But one of the principles is really the reclaiming of public space. Its really about getting in the streets, not getting behind the keyboard. But the meetings take place twice a day to accomidate those who work. Many many people come before and after work or otherwise when they can. NYC has children's activities through a group's efforts so people can bring their kids as well and still participate. There will always be people on line in forums that despite every effort to make the movement accessible as possible will always have a reason for not joining. I mean the thing is called "Occupy." That doesn't really mean "cyberspace."
    One of those pesky logistical things about living in a park off the grid is that its ahrd to communicate from the outside. For the most part, people at the GA aren't really in communication with the eActivists.

  4. Yeah, there's going to be confusion on things like this for about anyone who isn't physically there. I'm from upstate so the odds of me seeing any of this are very small unless it is put online. Most of the minutes do seem to be about more administrative stuff than anything, that I have noticed.

    I guess my thoughts now turn to the question, what now? The public space has been occupied; how, exactly, will that be leveraged into getting something done by someone? Having people meet at a park isn't much of a test for participatory, non-hierarchical democracy.

    This is where that boredom part becomes a threat. Rallying in a park in New York isn't going to be exciting for long, especially if the only real common theme is "I'm angry." As is, I'm reduced to commenting on a park's administration. If the cold and, to be honest, boredom of being in a park every day starts thinning the crowd, the movement will collapse without much impact. The media won't be able to prop up a story of "people continue to be in a park" for long without losing the interest of viewers and readers. Parks are occupied: what is step two?

    Thanks again for your thoughts, though. Don't know anyone on the ground there so my reactions naturally enough have to be with what you describe as the eActivists.