of consensus-based direct democracy.
Sunday, February 19, 2012
Occupy Movement -- Rooted in Anarchy?
On February 15, 2009, David DeGraw. editor of AmpedStatus, posted the first part of a seven-part series titled "The Economic Elite vs. The People of the United States of America." Soon after the reports were released, AmpedStatus launched the 99% Movement.
Even Good Movements Don't Always Get Support
While the concept of the 99% may have come from David DeGraw, attempts to grow it into a widespread movement were not very successful. He merged his 99% Movement with a subset of Anonymous to form a new group called A99 which, in turn, planned a course of action titled “Operation Empire State Rebellion” They called for people to occupy Liberty Park, but only 14 people showed up, and only four of them were willing to camp out over night.
Enter Adbusters, Along with Anarchism
No further occupations were attempted until Adbusters came into the picture calling for an occupation on September 17th. Adbusters was able to rally their network of 94,739 subscribers, providing a level of exposure that neither AmpedStatus nor A99 could come close to matching. And thus it was that Kalle Lasn and Micah White burst onto the scene.
Lasn, identified by Mitch Traynor in a The Digital Texan as a self-described anarchist, was one of the founders of a Canadian magazine called AdBusters as well as the owner of the Internet domain name for the Occupy Wall Street movement (www.occupywallstreet.com).
Micah White was another of the forces behind the founding of the Occupy Wall Street movement. A graphic on his home page indicates an identification with the Black Bloc provocateurs who have themselves “occupied” many of the Occupy movement demonstrations, creating chaos and destruction. As a "mystical anarchist" and the senior editor of Adbusters, he and Lasn established the name and date of the occupation of Wall Street.
More Plans; More Anarchists
On August 2, 2011, a group of roughly fifty Adbusters supporters, mostly anarchists, met in New York to plan the September 17 occupation of Wall Street. They agreed to a “horizontal” rather than “hierarchical” organization and general assemblies in which participants make decisions by consensus, which they refer to as direct democracy. Both of these are based upon anarchist principles
They were joined by former Yale professor of Anthropology David Graeber, another anarchist, who who helped facilitate the first meeting, The protesters planning the September occupation met again, on August 9th, to finalize plans for the September 17 occupation along with several other unidentified anarchists who were referenced in an account of that meeting. Graeber was among the facilitators, and one of the more prominent participants was Marisa Holmes, a twenty-five-year-old anarchist and filmmaker.
Some Success at Last, but at a Price!
We all know what happened next. OWS was a major success in getting the message out and has spawned hundreds of similar movements across the country and the world. As Marshall McLuhan once said, "The message is the medium and the medium is the message." So far, that seems to be true of all the Occupy movements. They are long on medium (demonstrations) and on their message (inequality and corruption), but they are short on results.
How does the Occupy movement embody anarchist principles?
There are four major tenets described below that clearly identify anarchism.
1) The refusal to recognize the legitimacy of existing authoritarian institutions.
The Occupy movement prefers not to produce a list of demands that must be met to meet their needs. There are two reasons for that. One is that, if they were to be true to their anarchist roots, they couldn't provide a complete list without revealing their long-term goals to do away with government as we know it and the political institutions that control it. The other reason is because issuing demands would mean recognizing the legitimacy of those of whom the demands are made.Anarchists generally do not recognize existing governmental authorities.
(It is worth noting that anarchists distinguish between protests and direct action: Protest is looked upon as an appeal to the authorities to change things. Anarchists do not protest, because they refuse to recognize the validity of authority. They believe instead in direct action, whether it's a matter of occupying or appropriating property (or “liberating” it as they call it), shutting down businesses, disrupting public meetings or government functions, all in defiance of law and order, and in direct opposition to the conventions of our society.)
2) The refusal to accept the legitimacy of the existing legal order.
The second principle, obviously, flows from the first. From the very beginning, organizers in New York knowingly and deliberately ignored local ordinances that stipulated that any gathering of more than twelve people in a public park is illegal without prior written police permission. These organizers apparently operated on a self-assumed belief that such laws should not exist and, therefore, could be ignored. It was important to them that they begin with what they considered to be a personal moral order, and not a legal one.
3) The refusal to create an internal hierarchy, but preferring instead to create a form
of consensus-based direct democracy.
of consensus-based direct democracy.
From the very beginning, organizers made the decision to operate not only by direct democracy, without leaders, but by consensus, in keeping with anarchist principles. The first decision ensured that there would be no formal leadership structure that could be co-opted or coerced; the second, that no majority could bend a minority to its will, but that all crucial decisions had to be made by general consent. American anarchists have long considered the consensus process to be crucial.
4) The imposition of a totally new and different society.
Virtually all encampments became spaces of experiment with creating the institutions of a new society - not only democratic General Assemblies but kitchens, libraries, clinics, media centers and a host of other institutions, all operating on anarchist principles of mutual aid and self-organization, without any institutions to enforce rules, regulations, and laws.
Anarchy is more than just a grass roots movement.
Most Americans share a deep dislike for their government and its political system. However, few are likely to want to resort to actual anarchism. Indeed, few even know what "anarchism" truly means. It's not clear how many, if they did learn, would choose anarchy over a democratic republic. Anarchism is much more than simple grassroots democracy: It ultimately aims to eliminate all forms of government and authority (including public services such as streets and highways, sewers, police and fire protection, and our system of justice), except for what is approved in general assemblies.
Why did this movement catch on?
The people of America bought the movement's basic message – that the American political order is absolutely and irredeemably corrupt, that both parties have been bought by the wealthiest one percent of the population, and that if we are to live in any sort of genuinely democratic society, we're going to have to make some radical changes to our political and governmental order .
Unity can be found in misery and outrage.
But overwhelming numbers of Americans do feel that something is terribly wrong with their country, that its key institutions are controlled by an arrogant elite, and that radical change of some kind is long since overdue. They're right. It's hard to imagine a political system so systemically corrupt – one where bribery, on every level, has not only been made legal, but soliciting and dispensing bribes has become the full-time occupation of every American politician. The outrage is appropriate.
Civil disobedience and disruption precipitate violence.
As the history of past movements all make clear, nothing terrifies those running our country more than the dangers of anarchy. The immediate response to organized civil disobedience is a panicked combination of concessions and brutality. How else can one explain the mobilization of thousands of riot police, the tear gas, the beanbags and rubber bullets, and the mass arrests of the disruptors?
Things Are Not Always What They Appear to Be
When the Occupy Movement first started, its organizers publicly stressed that their protests would be peaceful, and that they were open to people of all political persuasions and at all social and economic levels. They also said that their actions would target Wall Street and the wealthiest 1% of our country and the disparity between them and the bottom 99%. However, they didn't publicly state that their origins were rooted in anarchy.
Many members who were initially drawn to the movement's message of inequity and inequality in our social order became disaffected as they saw the movement drift increasing toward anarchy and lawlessness, especially when Black Bloc insurrectionists wreaked havoc on small businesses and provoked the police and other authorities into taking extreme action against them. This was not the type of movement they expected.
Meanwhile, Back at the Movement ...
Many others have succumbed to the spell of the movement and have fallen prey to the Groupthink phenomenon that binds the remaining members together. They seem to think that they – and only they – are right, and anybody who disagrees with them is wrong. They determine for themselves what is right or wrong without regard for the wishes and needs of the 99% they purport to represent. Few protesters know the real roots of this movement, one into which they have poured so much of their time and effort.
Yes, the Occupy movement still has its followers. And, yes, the concepts of anarchy feed it at its every turn. For better or for worse, anarchy is the very heart of the movement, but it is also a well-kept secret from the average citizen who supports the movement.
The Final Word
“Perhaps before setting out to tear down government, we should establish rules. The potency of the anarchist argument is the freedom to dismantle a government that fails to protect citizens’ rights. The challenge facing anarchists is to know what to do with the broken pieces of the system they smashed.” – Mimi Marstaller, Anarchy still needs rules