Not likely. But it probably needs to get itself off the ropes. And though it’s no longer in tents, it might still get intense. Remember: it’s the banks, stupid.
Perhaps the only thing more tedious than a roomful of liberal intellectuals endlessly debating the world’s problems is a roomful of moderate Republicans, Tea Partiers, Libertarians, socialists, anarchists AND liberal intellectuals doing the same thing. And if you attend an Occupy-related meeting or assembly anywhere across the country, there’s a good chance that you will run into this phenomena. It’s equally likely that you will encounter a similar mix of people having a surprisingly productive and efficient meeting, using methods that will seem strange to most people. And no, I’m not talking about twinkle fingers; as one of the folks involved in some re-organization of Occupy Ann Arbor, I attend a lot of meetings and events, and haven’t seen many twinkle fingers since December. No, I’m talking about consensual decision making that may borrow both from the most ancient of methods – like the Greek Forum – to cutting edge ideas like Open Space, which also is used by organizations that range from AT&T and Rockport to Israeli/Palestinian peace organizers.
What I DO still see a lot of though is opinionating. And personal irresponsibility. And confusion. Last fall a former Ann Arborite – writing for the National Review – said that “an Occupy Ann Arbor is like a special ballet company, set aside for thin people.” Nothing could really be farther from the truth; this town is so conservative that the real problem has been getting enough people present to actually occupy anything in a noticeable fashion. And when they do get together in any notable numbers – amongst the self-identified Occupy groups in the area, there is a strange mix of factionalism and solidarity – there will often be a strange result. They will suddenly realize once again that they agree on a bunch of things, but then get mired in debate about what to do and how to do it. This perplexed me for months, and then I finally came to understand a few things.
Before I go on, I have to clarify that I think the movement in general has a long tail, and that I’ve met some of the most amazing people I’ll probably ever meet in my life by participating. People I feel comfortable saying that I love. And as someone who has been expressing my frustration about things like banksterism, agency capture, and fiat currency since 2008, I am thankful to have discovered that I am not alone. Provided occupiers can remember to stay focused on paradigm-shifting innovation, the movement could truly change the world. Some really amazing hearts, minds and souls are driving things. But having said that, I can confidently say that I’ve also seen some of the worst of human character in action too.
Although I have participated in activism in the form of NGO’s and charitable work before, it had never occurred to me that a “career” activist may possess certain other traits to accompany their sense of social justice, altruism, or sacrifice. The most frustrating to me is also one of the most subtle. There’s a good chance that if one has the mindset to decide that a lot of things are wrong with the world, they will carry this worldview into everything they do, never being happy with the process or results of the groups they work with, and always leaving meetings with a chip on their shoulder. And especially in the groups in this town, that attitude will rarely get challenged for what it is. Why? Because as I often joke, it’s ironic that the elephant is the mascot of the GOP, because intellectual liberals often have the biggest elephants in the room, thanks to their affected sense of respect, and paralyzing political correctness. Other traits that are natural components of a career activist’s “save the world” mentality bear a strange resemblance to religious fundamentalism, i.e.: self-righteousness, paranoia, intellectual arrogance, hypersensitivity, hero complexes, and the tendency to be a victim of what I call the “Look, a bunny! Syndrome”, i.e., getting distracted by every tiny wrong in the world and trying to fix them, and therefore never getting anything done.
And the larger movement? It is often confusing even to participants. Although it’s amazing that a leaderless movement with no official platform has exploded globally to include millions of people, this same lack of structure is a setup for some ironic outcomes, and a perplexing public image. Although major media sources like the Wall Street Journal recently reported that the Occupy Movement is planning a July 4 “caucus”, Occupy Wall Street’s PR Working Group immediately made emphatic statements that OWS doesn’t endorse the event, and essentially said that the 99 percent Declaration Working Group was not a legitimate “Occupy” group. The irony here is glaring; what they’re essentially saying is that “there is no organization. Unless our organization says so“. Which is an especially ironic statement, in light of the fact that OWS applied for a trademark for the name last fall. It’s evident that OWS can’t stop people from starting pretty much anything they like, and slapping the “Occupy” label on it, including an Occupy SuperPAC.
The Atlantic asked in a recent piece What if Occupy Created a Movement so Big it Couldn’t Control it? Well, I think “they” already did. The word “occupy” is so easily adapted to different contexts that it’s impossible to control its propagation. This was partly calculated, and partly accident. Although Adbusters is often credited with “creating” the movement, their call to “Occupy Wall Street” was just one of many such calls to action, many of which have had zero impact. Remember the Carnivalesque Rebellion? I didn’t think so. Buy Nothing Day? Maybe, but that never seemed to have an impact on retail sales. Adbusters’ Kalle Lasn may have hit the mark with the branding this time, but he was well aware of the Arab Spring and the pre-OWS Bloombergville, and merely managed to “nail the brand” of something that was about to explode anyway. And will continue exploding.
Because you know what? The world IS kind of screwed up, and most of the problems are caused by a centuries-old economic paradigm that – although it keeps a precious few powerful and self-satisfied – is doomed. Their wealth and power relies entirely on a social contract with the rest of us, and they know it. And they have broken that contract. And regardless of how you break down the percentages, there are a LOT more of “us” than “them”.
Think the “Occupy Movement” is a joke? We’ll see you in June! Unless US gas prices hit five bucks even sooner than expected. Those who have hesitated to get seriously involved so far are probably sensible; life in the states is actually pretty easy, frankly. But things might feel a little different if those who are already just “tightening up” suddenly find they can’t keep up with their cable and mobile bills AND eat.
TV and pizza. It’s the new Bread & Circuses!