Posted by: Doug Henwood | September 29, 2011

The Occupy Wall Street non-agenda

I’m not here to disparage Occupy Wall Street; I admire the tenacity and nerve of the occupiers, and hope it grows. But I’m both curious and frustrated by the inability of the organizers, whoever they are exactly, or the participants, an endlessly shifting population, to say clearly and succinctly why they’re there. Yes, I know that certain liberals are using that to malign the protesters. I’m not. I desperately hope that something comes of this. But there’s a serious problem with this speechlessness.

Certainly the location of the protest is a statement, but when it comes to words, there’s a strange silence—or prolixity, which in this case, amounts to pretty much the same thing. Why can’t they say something like this? “These gangsters have too much money. They wrecked the economy, got bailed out, and are back to business as usual. We need jobs, schools, health care, and clean energy. Let’s take their money to pay for them.” The potential constituency for that agenda is huge.

Why instead do we see sprawling things like this (A Message From Occupied Wall Street), eleven demands, each identified as the one demand? Or this: The demand is a process? A process that includes this voting ritual: Select Below and Vote to Include in the Official Demands for #Occupy Wall Street.

Why the emphasis on multiplicity and process? I think it’s a living instance of a problem that Jodi Dean identified last November—a paralysis of the will, though one disguised as a set of principles:

Once the New Left delegitimized the old one, it made political will into an offense, a crime with all sorts of different elements:

  • taking the place or speaking for another (the crime of representation);
  • obscuring other crimes and harms (the crime of exclusion);
  • judging, condemning, and failing to acknowledge the large terrain of complicating factors necessarily disrupting simple notions of agency (the crime of dogmatism);
  • employing dangerous totalizing fantasies that posit an end of history and lead to genocidal adventurism (the crime of utopianism or, as Mark Fisher so persuasively demonstrates, of adopting a fundamentally irrational and unrealistic stance, of failing to concede to the reality of  capitalism).

An agenda—and an organization, and some kind of leadership that could speak and be spoken to—would violate these rules. Distilling things down to a simple set of demands would be hierarchical, and commit a crime of exclusion. Having an organization with some sort of leadership would force some to speak for others, the crime of representation.

But without those things, as Jodi says, there can be no politics. “It is instead an ethics. Is it any surprise, then, that under neoliberalism ostensible leftists spend countless hours and pages and keystrokes elaborating ethics? The ethics of this or the ethics of that, fundamentally personal and individual approaches that obscure and deny the systems and structures in which they are embedded?”

Occupiers: I love you, I’m glad you’re there, the people I talked to were inspiring—but you really have to move beyond this. Neoliberalism couldn’t ask for a less threatening kind of dissent.

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Responses

  1. Why not make about 5,000 copies of this analysis and distribute them at the Occupation ?

  2. I think it’s a living instance of a problem that Jodi Dean identified last November—a paralysis of the will

    I think this is overthinking it a bit. There’s a simpler explanation: the protesters are attempting to replicate the participatory, decentralized community they’ve built online with all of it’s pluses and pathologies. The medium is truly shaping the message.

  3. Here are three demands from the comments section of the website, that are eminently clear and from which much of deterioration in economic and political life in the US stem:

    Removal of corporate personhood.
    Public financing of political campaigns.
    Reinstatement of stiff financial regulations such as Glass-Steagall

    Why not these?

  4. At the start of the first Gulf War, I was involved in a Pennsylvania chapter of the Greens. We wanted to get our opposition to the war into the local paper, but–because we aspired to leaderlessness–none of us could speak or write on behalf of the group. So we spent endless meetings tinkering with a collective statement–trying to reflect the input of each member while adhering to the principles of consensus. Meanwhile, the war ended. Later, someone pointed out that editorial pages don’t print collectively-written statements.

    But, yes. Occupiers, I love you. Sigh.

  5. I’m still smarting from the semi-public ideological shaming I got in the #OccupyWallStreet Global Revolution chat room (I’m an Episcopal priest): “NO RELIGION! RELIGION AGAINST THE CHATROOM RULES! It’s DIVISIVE! YOU WILL BE BLOCKED,” and so on. Wow. I didn’t go there to make converts, but to support a legitimate protest against injustice–which, to my mind, is kinda the point of the faith I profess: “do justice, love kindness, walk humbly with God” (Micah 6:8, for those who care to check). Talk about a way to alienate your natural allies. And yes, Occupiers, I love you too. Sigh.

  6. An emphasis on process is an element of prefigurative politics, the idea that we want to be living in the world we are working toward. If we have a movement in which some powerful (but well-intentioned) assholes push their agenda down our throats, why that’s the system we already have. And therein lies what people are protesting.

    This is such an American question. As if, every protest is a marketing stunt, designed merely to capture the attention of the media. People are in the streets pissed about a fucked up system that is oppressing them. And the media can only ask, “What is your message? What are your unified demands? Who are your leaders?”

    Some people are there because they lost their homes. Some probably just want to feed their families. Some are pissed that they have a bachelors or a masters and can only find work in a coffee shop. Some are pissed because bankers are getting rich while multiple wars are bankrupting their future. Everyone there is probably there for different reasons, but they all have similar causes: global capitalism, a deeply rotten democracy, militarism, and the police state.

  7. [...] 'wpp-262'; var addthis_config = {"data_track_clickback":true,"ui_cobrand":"Politics in the Zeros"};Doug Henwood wonders what the agenda is, if any. Certainly the location of the protest is a statement, but when it comes [...]

  8. Why don’t you get Jodi Dean and your coalition of the willing and just go get the money back instead of waiting for everyone to sign off? What do you need these occupiers to write up demands for? Just take care of this already.

  9. Was that supposed to be a serious comment, “Alphonse,” or are you just making what you think is a funny?

  10. It’s as serious as your post I think.

  11. If you and Jodi Dean accomplish anything at all, everyone will forgive you for acting without consensus. So why are you waiting for permission? You supported TARP, it would seem to be your responsibility to undo it. You say you have the will so what’s the delay? What do you need to proceed?

  12. (If you need disciplined followers, then get them, that’s what a leader’s job is.)

  13. Dear Doug, What I wonder is why pundits spend so much time writing the obvious rather than working on the ground to actually change the situations they decry. Liberty plaza is waiting for you to join and make your contributions in practice

  14. Alphonse has been circling the drain recently. Over at lenin’s tomb she’s been busy arguing in defense of an antisemite (Who of course isn’t really an antisemite because years after the fact he got the bright idea to change the wording in some of his writings from “jewish people” and “jewish power” to zionism.)

    “Why don’t you get Jodi Dean and your coalition of the willing and just go get the money back instead of waiting for everyone to sign off?”

    As for her clunky reference to the iraq war; yeah thinking that a protest ought to have goals is exactly the same as launching a war of agression that killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civillians and displaced millions more.

  15. Doug,

    I have to say I’m kind of disappointed to see such stereotypically condescending “liberal” armchair commentary as this coming from someone who I generally find so highly thoughtful and aware.

    I think Wes Modes’ comment above is very well said, as is this recent post from Glenn Greenwald:

    http://www.salon.com/news/opinion/glenn_greenwald/2011/09/28/protests/index.html

    And this report on the activist “occupations” in Madrid earlier this year gives another good reminder that more ad-hoc gatherings can actually provide some pretty significant advantages:

    http://wlcentral.org/node/1786

    “The flow of people has gotten progressively bigger, and because the media has finally paid attention, older people are appearing and are very curious about what the younger generations have to say. To their surprise they seem to agree with most of it and are willing to participate actively. Best of all, what seemed to be the problem (the lack of concrete political solutions) is turning out to be the strongest point: the assemblies have started producing, out of popular debate and participatory democracy, solutions for different aspects of life in society. Some of these were already floating about several webpages affiliated with the movement (the Proposals section of Democracia Real Ya, for example) but now they have been generated by autonomous popular will and voted for consensus by the general assembly, giving them the power of legitimate ideas.”

  16. FYI Alphonse is a toxic troll wildly estranged from any actual movements or activism and unless she has changed occupations, works as a trader.

  17. Facebook wall in meatspace: http://bit.ly/qLtD4G

  18. [...] Henwood with some wise words on the Occupy Wall Street [...]

  19. Movements are almost never that organized. It’s only in retrospect that they become so, as they are rewritten to give chronology.

  20. As my friend put it:

    Like the counter-globalization movement prior to the Occupy Wall Street 99%ers, I see it as a meeting ground- a radical commons- in which a “movement of movements” can crystallize. In a way the inarticulate nature of the group- its laundry list of grievances with no clear central demand- is good at this point as it will allow a space for many disparate but dissenting voices to ally in a collective struggle against the Corporate elite. I see this more as a pioneer organism such as lichen that will break down the rocky inhospitable environment so as to make a fertile ground for the growth of a new ecology.

  21. Erm… none of Dean’s list necessarily results in a paralysis of will. If anything, New Left demands (as defined above) aimed for an extension of the general will, via inclusivity and widening the scope of human demands, at varying degrees of militancy. There’s a self-serving mythology going round that New Left demands (extending into the 90s) led to failure. That’s a serious misreading of its considerable – and threatening – success within capitalism, including its resilience in the face of neoliberalism (a particularly brutal counter-assault in reaction to the New Left’s successes). Nor did it ‘compromise’ previous generations of left-wing agitation. It was an advance from it. Chicken, eggs etc.

    The list says that all the above threatened dogma, exclusion, totalitarianism and irrationality. Why would that be ‘bad’? Surely the lessons of history – including the history of the left – demonstrate that they required serious questioning, and still do. If you put yourself forward as ‘leader’, well I’d like to check your qualifications before you decide what my general will is.

    Opposition to leaders for leadership’s sake isn’t replacing politics with ethics. Its incorporating ethics into politics (but not enforcing a coup d’etat replacing politics with ethics), and politics should include as much as it can if it’s to represent the ‘general will’. I’d argue that the ‘general will’ was blocked and compromised by those denying and limiting its success and potential in the name of some abstract totality they worked out for a PHD. Or, in layman’s terms, pushing an awful lot of people out of their picture cos their face don’t fit. The problem may be more with those creating definitions of ‘the totality’, ‘universalism’ and the ‘general will’. From where I’m sitting, they look like a pretty small – and militantly irrelevant – minority. Maybe one day they’ll invite the majority back into their club, instead of bitching about how we all got in the way of their transcendent revolution. We have a ‘crisis of representation’ because those claiming to ‘represent’ do nothing of the kind. If one sees political action as a ‘non-agenda’ maybe that’s because you’ve failed to see what the agenda actually is.

  22. How about: “Abolish the finance aristocracy! Establish the dictatorship of the proletariat!”?

    Or (less a slogan or demand than scientific observation or good judgement): “The finance aristocracy, in its mode of acquisition as well as in its pleasures, is nothing but the resurrection of the lumpenproletariat at the top of bourgeois society.”

  23. On one level, the obvious issue is a confusion between strategy and tactics by way of a fondness for Guy Debord (DeBord? De Bored?) or vice-versa. Of course, not making demands makes perfect sense if you plan to set up a semi-permanent tent city across from that triple-patty burger place on Liberty–the last thing you want is to encourage carrot-and-stick efforts from the authorities. But at the same time the occupation obviously has a lot of things to say–being an act of choice rather than necessity this is slightly more pointed in its politics than a tent city of the unemployed (who none the less may have pointed politics). But in that gap, every moron with a c.1997 Adbusters subscription has decided to pull lines out of a hat from old issues of The Literature Ph.D.’s Guide To Finishing A Paper, or whatever.

  24. Doug, I understand where you’re coming from, regarding the content of the protests, but I am not sure I agree with you, that the demonstrators should put up a list of demands and form an organization. One sentence in their “Our One Demand” statement stands out. It is this one: “We intend to stay until we see movements toward real change in our country and the world.”

    That the protest was inspired by the occupations of public spaces from across the globe, should be taken seriously. The protest might then not be seen as the “paralysis of the will,” but a way to reveal the paralysis of life in the bourgeois democratic state and capitalist society, and to free up space for reconstructing dialogue amongst people effected by the recession (for example), and to do so by disrupting the normal flow of life (hence the occupation, rather than a march or rally). Although I would (like you) hope for more of a focus on social and material issues, and especially on the structure of capitalist society that lies behind these ills (rather than taking the path of calling on the capitalist state to regulate the financial market), a set of demands might be a distraction from the building of a disruptive social movement. This is not a march on Washington. A new social movement needs not only supporters, but also new practices. I think the yoga and many other things down there are silly, but who cares. Supporters should try to reveal the underlying social and economic crises that the participants are experiencing (like you did in your report on the protest last week), and to not fall into the slumber of believing in a quick fix to these crises.

    This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t call for free healthcare, free education, an end to the criminal justice system, and other demands which rely on state power. Yet, we need to find a way of doing so that does not give in to a managerial and progressivist incrementalism that kills the possibility of radical breaks with the current reality.

  25. What has been much more interesting than the demands discussions, has been the testimonies of the participants, where they explain not necessarily what they think must be done, but why they participate, why they identify with the protests. This has illuminated the social conditions and social crises of the recession.

    This has been done through the video interviews collected for the daily reports posted on the website, as well as the interviews you conducted in your radio show. I just caught word that the protesters are planning on publishing a print journal (“The Occupy Wall Street Journal“)which will include such testimonies. Sounds like a great idea. A way of humanizing the protest for people, rather than cloaking it in a list of demands.

    This is not a general opposition to demands. But I don´t think this is the moment for them. The lack of a list of demands is probably why the protesters are gaining so much support. If you take a look at their related website, We are the 99%, you get a sense of what I mean. The focus is on indebtedness, low-wage work, lack of opportunities, etc.

  26. How about this for a topic: “Prove to us that Trickle Down isn’t bullshit: spend the money you saved through the Bush tax cuts on local American-made products and services. That’s what it is for.”

  27. Could not agree more with Doug’s critique even as I stand absolutely with these folks. I think there are two problems:

    1) Industry-grade messaging talent is rarely, if ever attracted to a group such as OWS. To make a quick parallel — those trained and skilled in math and engineering who make the conscious decision to avoid service in the financial industry have established industries and institutions to turn to — academia, research, the breadth of science and engineering. But in institutional communications, those who actively avoid employment in the advertising / marketing industry while still commanding the requisite writing and messaging skills and training have practically nowhere to go but out of that sector. In short, this is how and why Adbusters shows up to NYC without any copywriters.

    2) Messaging for OWS is a really hard communications problem. Purely in terms of messaging, past progressive movements had advantages we don’t. For example, the civil rights movement faced direct, concrete, violent opposition, and the injustices they decried were self-evident in many ways. Economic crime, by comparison, is hidden, diffuse, and very difficult to apprehend in concrete terms even as the house burns down, so to speak.

    I tried, a few days ago, to address these problems by creating a concrete, concise and coherent draft declaration for OccupyWallStreet. I’ve submitted it around, and I hear it’s being used in the Occupy Dallas effort. You can find it at http://warmowski.wordpress.com/2011/09/26/submitted-to-occupywallstreet-for-consideration-new-and-improved-messaging/

  28. [...] That’s links is from Doug Henwood, who argues: [...]

  29. “Neoliberalism couldn’t ask for a less threatening kind of dissent.”

    I don’t know…liberal bloggers who think that “Distilling things down to a simple set of demands would be hierarchical” or “Having an organization with some sort of leadership would force some to speak for others” seem to be pretty nonthreatening to me. The first of these is just an absurd statement and as for the second all you need to do is look up the word “delegate.”

  30. Why does someone have to advertise the fact that they are an episcopal priest. They wonder why they got flack. Nobody asked. Nobody cares. Nobody wants to be preached to.

  31. Maybe we all need to have another look at Jo Freeman’s “Tyranny of Structurelessness”:

    http://www.jofreeman.com/joreen/tyranny.htm

  32. Yes to looking at Jo Freeman!

  33. And yet…. the Teabaggers are granted mainstream legitimacy with their eloquent singularity of purpose: We want our country back!

    I guess you’re held to a different standard when you’re serving the interests of the rich and powerful. Perhaps these young protestors should dress up in tri-corner hats.

  34. Jo Freeman … yes, yes, yes!

    I think the occupations do serve to increase public awareness and build community. We need protests like these.

    But we also need strategic movement to make real change … and keep it. It will take both approaches.

    Perhaps the main difference between the coming movement and those that have gone before (or are still happening) is that it truly is more difficult to pinpoint one desired outcome when the it’s whole system that’s messed up.

    The sheer vastness and depth of our situation is difficult even to see. A clear glimpse can be intimidating.

    Also, I know many progressives who really don’t want to take the corporations on directly or completely; rather, they’d prefer to cherry-pick which offenses they oppose. All of us, to some degree, rely on the very forces we decry. Sticky wicket. But if there is no effective opposition, all will keep right on deteriorating. Can any of us really afford that?

    Then, there is the fact that the term,”corporate personhood,” and its origins in the U.S. Supreme Court, are not widely known. Civics classes are also scarce on the ground. How are we going to fix what we don’t understand?

    For any hope to arise, we need educators. Loud ones. And structure. And leaders … a special kind of leaders, the kind who create more leaders.

  35. [...] often hears leftists criticizing the “Occupy Wall St.” protests. For instance, Doug Henwood recently declared, “Occupiers: I love you, I’m glad you’re there, the people I talked to [...]

  36. Yeah I see what you mean, and so could any one reading the comments below. I fear for what will happen next. Episcopal priest. I am an occupier who believes in an infinite universe and true freedom of choice, and I love you too. There are some who would tear the world apart, and that is all they want, but I just want to see it put together. We will get there, and I hope that it is peaceful. I promise I will not raise a finger against my fellow man.

  37. There clearly needs to be an articulation of why people are there. But there’s a difference between communicating that and making demands that can be satisfied (often at the benefit of some groups and expense of others).

    The longer the occupiers do not have demands the stronger they are. The establishment types figure out how to cut deals – no one can cut a deal with OccupyWallStreet, because the deal-brokers do not know what the occupiers want, they are a standing objection to the whole system. Too little demands and they will be co-opted, too big and they will be dismissed.

    Other forces will come in with their own demands and lobbyists – the system will start offering things up – let the system negotiate with itself.

    I do believe we need to be saying Wall Street needs to pay: and having labor and community groups make that demand nearby helps make it clear that this is harder to dismiss than a weird adolescent fantasy. We need media outreach to help outlets tell the story of and amplify the voices of people who are victims, on the front lines of the economic crisis, fighting back. (And produce and distribute our own media, of course).

  38. Where is the “like button”, so I can push it on Beka’s post?

  39. Now that TWU Local 100 is getting involved, we might see protests with broader resonance among the city’s black and brown working class, and some concrete demands as well.

    You raise good points that desperately need to be addressed. What is missing is class consciousness and its organizational underpinnings. How might we get one or both?

  40. What would be wrong with a simple demand like:
    “Wall Street, give us all our money back!”

    You can chant it, its close enough to the truth, its what people think, its both simple and unreasonable. All movements can do at this level is push back hard, and put politicians on the defense. Crafting the perfect message, particularly through consensus, seems to be missing the point. Demand the impossible, you might get half the impossible. Which is a start.

  41. To me it is obvious what they want, what they are doing, without any further spelling out. This is what protest has been looking like in Europe and other places for some time, and when it happens in a new place there is a growing sense of strength and community, even if those don’t initially ‘lead to’ anything. Anti-hierarchical, organic, undefined are also associated with a long anarchist tradition. The idea of ‘demands’ sounds quite old-fashioned to me, for one thing because such a distillation would be presented to some entity or person, no? Not applicable.

  42. I am glad that those who believe that crafting practical communications inclined toward negotiations is somehow a failing — in other words, those who shy away from expression of concrete and achievable goals — were not around to mire the women’s suffrage, labor, or civil rights movements into ineffective navel-gazing.

  43. I’m a little tired of hearing how this stuff is so new. It reminds me very much of the late 90s/early 00s – “Seattle” plus minus a few years. Even down to the twinkling. We did that already. Time for some fresh thinking on organization – beyond all the flatness of anarchism vs the verticality of Leninism. Some sort of flexible organization that’s actually organized.

  44. I didn’t say it is new, I said I understand their message and what they want because this type of protest is familiar to me. Why the irritation? Doesn’t it often happen that a bunch of people express themselves in a way that a lot of others don’t comprehend? Do protesters ‘owe’ everyone complete coherency? Are they annoying?

  45. I thank Doug for this bit of thinking out loud, very useful, precisely what is needed as we go along. And in a sense part of the dialectical interaction of social forces that will unfold in response to this initial venture on Wall Street. After all, once unions and other organized forces from the community come in, the dynamic will change whether the young anarchists want it or not. They will have to come up with responses to working people who can’t sit in a park interminably. What should workers do to help? To help themselves? Workers won’t sit for hours discussing without making some decisions, they will want to vote and take action. I’m looking forward to seeing this in real time, with a new generation. History in the making, there’s nothing like it.

  46. One of the things about the annee zero stuff that annoys me is that it misses out on a lot of the critical insights that previous activists have developed over the years. A lot of the techniques discussed in this setting really go back to the beloved communities developed by SNCC in the early 1960’s, which were then adopted by SDS later on. I’m down with flexible, democratic forms of organizing, but we have a lot of analysis and critique that could help those processes out, such as the Freeman article, or Doug’s and other folks critique in action will be taken. maybe we should talk about them.
    That being said, it looks like this is going to be the terrain of the struggle for the time being, and I’m excited about that.

  47. really great comments.

    I agree with the commenter that said the most useful part of the ongoing protest are the videos of people explaining who they are and why they are there (people without jobs, students who spent lots of money on college educations who don’t have jobs, etc.). Real people, like you and me, not just “twenty something anarchists” who don’t have “real lives” (as the media has pigeon holed all protesters). When the middle class starts protesting, you’ve got a real problem: gov’t/society/media.

    It’s too bad that there isn’t a cohesive political soundbite that can legitimize it, but maybe like another commenter said, it’s like lichen that will grow. I think it’s just the start. It’s energy that needs to blow. Not an Arab Spring, but what? That, or they will peter out. Or maybe it will start a fuse that will lead to more.

    I like (dislike) that the personal frustration I’ve been feeling for a while now is evidencing itself in larger ways. We are all a part of this societal organism….in a way it makes me feel less alone.

    These protests are a collective scream.

  48. [...] Doug Henwood, The Occupy Wall Street non-agenda [...]

  49. Doug: To listen to the naysayers you would think they had hung the Moon . You are right in every respect Doug and I would only add that after we take our money back and seize their mansions and convert them into park land (as is the case in Denmark) that we claw back all the money they have stolen over the centuries to the seventh generation and in return we give them 532 dollars a month and a 40 pound bag of kibble and a refrigerator carton or two to live in with their family.

  50. Sadly this state has been carefully crafted so that orderly civilized democratic action is now impossible in the US, leaving only total revolution. As long as they have the guns they can quell every aspect of truly progressive action and they like nothing better than a chance to shoot to kill. Anyone of you kids remember Kent State? If the troops are brought home from the rest of the world anytime soon they are already poised to murder anyone who protests too effectively.

    Martial law is less than 18 months away. The Arab Spring is a perfect example of this; awaiting an intelligent analysis that military force is the only weapon in their arsenal and they have it all on their side. They cannot be reasoned with. They have no logic, only a very big hammer. As long as the military is fully funded and the police are fully funded the rest of the garrison state/gulag will proceed unabated. When the food riots are quashed and the perpetrators are killed by the police we will once again learn that fat Americans can work quite long for free on a starvation diet just like the poo souls in the Nazi Germany. These are the same people on top looking down at the masses. They’re coming. Expect them. .

  51. I think I disagree with you Doug–not theoretically, but with respect to your analysis of the movement itself. There are indeed so many issues that need to be addressed in order for us to have a world that is worth living in for the majority of the population. However, from what I’m seeing, here’s what the living occupation movement truly gets: in order to address any and all of these issues (climate, jobs, education, etc.) we need to address inequality! This is why they say “We’re the other 99%.” If you want another slogan, here’s mine: people have rights, bank accounts do not.

    If you want to read more of my analysis of the world-historical importance of the living occupation movement, it’s here:

    http://11again.wordpress.com/2011/09/29/this-struggle-is-global-this-occupation-is-alive/

  52. [...] Doug Henwood then argues from that: An agenda—and an organization, and some kind of leadership that could speak and be spoken to—would violate these rules. Distilling things down to a simple set of demands would be hierarchical, and commit a crime of exclusion. Having an organization with some sort of leadership would force some to speak for others, the crime of representation. [...]

  53. [...] specific and practical demands by OWS which are entirely realistic, such as (according to a comment here) removal of corporate personhood, public financing of political campaigns, and reinstatement of [...]

  54. http://coupmedia.org/occupywallstreet/occupy-wall-street-official-demands-2009

  55. [...] energy that would be much better spent elsewhere. Progressive commentators such as Matthew Yglesias,Doug Henwood, Mike Konczal, and Lauren Ellis, among others, have voiced similar complaints, and let’s face [...]

  56. “This is such an American question. As if, every protest is a marketing stunt, designed merely to capture the attention of the media. People are in the streets pissed about a fucked up system that is oppressing them. And the media can only ask, “What is your message? What are your unified demands? Who are your leaders?” ”

    Isn’t the point of political activism to change things? If it’s all about expressing your displeasure then why not just send an email to Loyd Blankfien telling him he’s a nasty person.

    If you want to help the unemployed, graduates, single mothers, old people ect then come up with a set of economic demands that WILL ACTUALLY HELP THEM. You need to choose yourselves a leader or the corporate media will choose one for you, probably some slimeball like Micheal Moore. If you have a set of unified demands that appeal to people of all backgrounds and ages then the movement will grow and gain real political power.

    Otherwise you’ll be cleared out of there in a week or so and the bankers will be laughing at you.

  57. Come now transvalue, what has the new Zero bestseller to do with these proclamations about the left’s lack of will? (And I had nothing to do with publishing or promoting it; from what I can tell the whole section of “Jewish Marxists” from 2009 it is all but plagiarised from Zizek’s writings on “Jewish Maoists” in 2007).)

    The point of my comment was these demands for demands are being issued by the very same sideline kibbitzers who have already proclaimed street protests a form of complicity and legitimisation of the status quo and the issuing of demands “hysterical” and worse:

    Dean:
    “The protestors lack the power to execute their demands. Their discourse only achieves consistency then as a demand for power, for what they lack. They slide into their opposite as they position themselves as vehicles for the realization of a democracy to come, as they make their activities the practises constitutive of democracy, decisively excluding torturers, warmongers and right wing Christians from the democratic imaginary they thereby produce. These exclusions need to be emphasized, brought to the fore as exclusions, as the very limits establishing the protestors political ideal. To avow such exclusions, however, would shoot the fantasy of an inclusive, undivided democracy in the foot. And as its own kind of political violence, such a decisive exclusion would force the protestors to abandon their stance as beautiful souls. Nonetless as hysterics they refuse to acknowledge this element of their discourse, preferring instead tgo continue questioning the master”.

    So doug you demand of these protestors they demand end the war, tax the rich, so you can then say they’re hysterics questioning the master who in fact are also undemocratic tyrants who want to exclude military contractors and the rich from their democracy but won’t admit their violence because it jeopardises their beautiful souls. One way or another you – who did with a show of terror throw your support behind TARP as if something terrible would really have happened had the people’s representatives simply said no not a penny, solve your own crisis or crash we don’t care – will find a way to ridicule anyone actively opposing the ruling class’ policy whose own class interests are not those of people in possession of considerable assets.

  58. [...] out of the occupiers in the coming weeks and months.) I tend to think some of the criticism from the left has been valid. But for all the flak they’ve received, it’s still spread to the [...]

  59. [...] organization, consensus-orientation, and rejection of representation, while Jodi Dean and Doug Henwood have objected that the obsession with process makes “political will into an offense” [...]

  60. Here is Richard Wolff’s take on demands and the stage of the movement, from The Guardian:

    Yes, you could be better organised, your demands more focused, your priorities clearer. All true, but in this moment, mostly irrelevant. Here is the key: if we want a mass and deep-rooted social movement of the left to re-emerge and transform the United States, we must welcome the many different streams, needs, desires, goals, energies and enthusiasms that inspire and sustain social movements. Now is the time to invite, welcome and gather them, in all their profusion and confusion.

    The next step – and we are not there yet – will be to fashion the program and the organisation to realise it. It’s fine to talk about that now, to propose, debate and argue. But it is foolish and self-defeating to compromise achieving inclusive growth – now within our reach – for the sake of program and organisation. The history of the US left is littered with such programs and organisations without a mass movement behind them or at their core.

  61. It’s the left that suffers from a paralysis of will, not OWS. They have done very well for themselves using their methods. The lack of demands has been a strength.

  62. [...] The Occupy Wall Street non-agenda [...]

  63. [...] but a group that avoids hierarchy may have a tough time truly mobilizing toward a specific goal (more on that here). Many don’t see that as the point, that the process is the point. But a process is between [...]

  64. A lot of great points here. I think the hasty decision of a specific agenda would weaken the current growth by creating boundaries against what should be a true 99%. I’ve been very active with this movement online and locally in Florida with friends in the work groups on Wall st. I believe the cause to unite as a voice of the populous is the important part and I’ve used my soap box thus far to encourage exactly that type of growth. Once there are enough people like minded that we, the people, have lost a connection with our own public servants and resent financial despair due to abuse of power, there will be delegation and there will be action taken towards legislation. It’s growing everyday without specifics, but lack of directive is not to be confused with disorganized, while there are some less responsible individuals, as a whole it has actually restored a lot of faith for a lot of people in the ability of a crowd to be self sustained, lucid, and productive in so many ways. I think when the numbers begin to plateau (hopefully not until a majority is developed), then will be the time to say “we are here, and we are ready to be governed by a democratic process decided by us and for us.”

  65. [...] “inability of the organizers, whoever they are exactly, or the participants, an endlessly shifting… makes this protest completely different from the Arab Spring and the Tea Party. And unlike the Tea [...]

  66. [...] “inability of the organizers, whoever they are exactly, or the participants, an endlessly shifting… makes this protest completely different from the Arab Spring and the Tea Party. And unlike the Tea [...]

  67. When they asked the Dodo who had won, he thought long and hard and then said “Everybody has won and all must have prizes.” (Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carrol.) If Lewis Carrol’s Dodo bird’s proclamation does not typify the mindset of the age in which Americans live now (and previously lived during the “New Deal”), I don’t know what does. The columnist George Will made this point brilliantly a few years ago in one of his columns, and I am rehashing it here now because it still is relevant.

    I have been contemplating the “Occupy Wall Street” crowd and what it is about them exactly that bothers me. I think it is primarily that they appear to want something for nothing and misunderstand that in a society that believes in an equality of opportunity instead of absolute equality, no one owes you a living, housing, health care, or higher education at the tax payers’ expense. (I would also argue that such a society does not think it is up to the government to initiate a green revolution. I believe that this will only rightfully come about through innovation and its implementation within the private sector when the marketplace dictates it. I would also argue that if one believes in state mandated equality and absolute fairness in all things that what one really seeks is sameness, a forced leveling of the playing field so that no one outshines anyone else. Of course such attempts always end in totalitarianism, and so I would caution such utopists to be careful what they wish for if they want to avoid living in a “Harrison Bergeron” type of society as aptly described tongue in cheek by Kurt Vonnegut in his short story, “Harrison Bergeron”.)

    Beyond some of the occupiers wanting to reinstate the Glass Steagall Act to provide much needed regulation of the financial sector (which I agree with wholeheartedly), the protests in general seem misdirected and smack of whining by people who should go out and seek employment.

    In my opinion, if citizens think as I do that the power-brokers on Wall Street are criminals who were bailed out by the taxpayers and then went back to business as usual, they would direct their frustration toward the bigger crooks in Washington who have failed to represent the nation through their actions. That is to whom they would direct their protests. They would camp out in Washington at the White House. Additionally they would seek to throw out all of the rascals through the ballot box, being careful not to continue keeping an outright Marxist in charge or electing more of the same money grubbing opportunists who hold to no ideology except shameless self promotion and appeasement of the masses through bread and circuses.

    (Keeping Barack Obama in office along with all the nitwits in congress who equally share the blame for the how the Wall Street bailout was mishandled would be crazy. Still, the dilemma now facing the nation is once again who should take their places.

    I realize that the blame for the country’s financial meltdown (beyond our own individual culpability) falls upon the houses of both political parties. The archetypes represented by the Jimmy Carter types, the Phil Graham types, the Bush types, the McCaine types, the Barney Frank types, the Clinton types, the Obama types, the Newt Gingrich types, and all the other incompetents in Washington, are responsible for the messes in which we currently find ourselves. These “public servants” have for decades betrayed the American people through their inept oversight / legislation / bailout of financial institutions and their kingpins. We the American people are equally to blame for having allowed ourselves to be seduced / bought/ bribed by government entitlements and have not been adept at monitoring / handling the officials we have elected. If we were, we would not allow such foolishness as the Earned Income Tax Credit which redistributes annually $44.4 billion or more in checks to people who pay no income taxes. But, I digress and have gotten off topic.)

    While the participants of Occupy Wall Street appear on the surface to be a broad banded coalition, the members as a whole are naive to assume that the most vocal members of their group believe in “E Pluribus Unum”. These most vocal members are increasingly divisive despite their claims to the contrary. They do not believe in the concept of “Out of the many one”. They are constantly focused on being separate in terms of race, gender, sexual preference, whatever. They divide themselves from the rest of us. Despite the loudness of their protests and their insistence that they have rights and must be heard, it remains to be seen if they would allow others the same freedoms. I question whether they believe in the free exchange of ideas and are interested in all voices being heard through civil discourse. They have already proved through their destruction of both public and private property that they don’t. Many of these property destroyers appear so muddled in their thinking that one wonders if they realize they are anarchists. The primary characteristic that defines them is exactly this; they have no idea what they want. They only know that they are dissatisfied with life and seek to lash out and destroy others. It appears that they will pursue this madness even if to do so brings about their own destruction. In the meantime they would have the middle class that they claim to represent, provide them with more social welfare.

    The other loudest voices in their midst are collectivists interested in the so called “common good”. These collectivists do not hide their disdain for capitalism. They brazenly promote the redistribution of wealth / labor to freeloaders. They demonstrate through their actions that they do not believe in the rights of individuals being respected within the framework of a democratic republic. They would impose their will on the rest of us. They are totalitarian in their ideals and they prey upon the weak minded. They are socialists, Marxists, and communists who would, if the could, (and will, when they outnumber the rest of us,) gleefully destroy the honest, productive, and hardworking members of our society who have legitimately earned their wealth. They will do so in the guise of destroying the greedy among us (who have indeed abused their positions of power and authority), but that is not their true aim. They will not stop there. The fruit of these collectivists’ envy, if encouraged to bloom, will result in an equality of misery for all and the death of liberty.

    When I was searching on Google for the exact wording of the Dodo’s timely phrase “Everybody has won, and all must have prizes,” from Lewis Carrol’s 1865 work, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, I came across this 1st person narrative essay “All Must Have Prizes” by David H. Garrison. Here he has already articulated so expertly much of what I was getting ready to write myself that I have decided to simply present what he has written. (Interested parties might also seek to find the column in which George Will used the phrase and wrote a brilliant essay.)

    All Must Have Prizes
    By David H. Garrison

    “Everybody has won, and all must have prizes,” said the Dodo in Alice in Wonderland.

    But how does everyone get a prize? The way you do this is to lessen the value for the one who has pursued and attained the goal in order to increase the value for the one who did not attain the goal. This is also known as entitlement or “everyone gets a trophy.”

    Recently, after giving out the final grades in one of the courses I teach, I had students who complained that they did not get an A. My question to the students was, ” What did you do to earn the A?” The common response was, “I came to class” or “I need an A.” Therefore, the standard was not whether they earned an A but rather their desire for the grade. Even worse were the students who complained that another student got an A and they thought they should get an A too.

    Apparently, everyone deserves a prize. Unfortunately, the end result is that true effort is cheapened for those who really did have an accomplishment. Some call this entitlement, while others call this envy. We don’t want any students to feel bad because someone else got a prize and they didn’t.

    Could this also be an explanation for all the cries of “greed” we hear about Wall Street, corporate America, and the wealthy. When people want to criticize capitalism, the first thing they bring up is greed. But what is greed? Greed is the improper desire for the amassing of wealth. You could also say that greed means amassing wealth without providing value in return.

    Do we have greedy people in America? Yes, absolutely. However, why don’t we also hear people criticizing “envy?” Envy is the improper desire to possess the resources of another person without actually having a legal right to possess those resources.

    Just so it is clear, I do not endorse greed in anyone for any reason, nor do I endorse envy in anyone for any reason. What I do support is freedom and self-interest.Self-interest is the proper motivation to pursue what is good for each person. Self-interest motivates people to work, pursue an education, and provide for their families.

    We all seem to be able to identify the negative aspects of greed, but how many of us are able to identify envy? Where we see envy manifested is in the form of arrogance. Arrogance is when someone else believes that they know how better to spend the wealth that someone has attained than the one who worked to attain that wealth.

    For instance, we argue that the “wealthy” should pay their fair share. What does this mean? Currently, the top 40% of all taxpayers pay 99% of all income taxes. Who decided that the top 40% of taxpayers and all businesses should pay taxes while the bottom 40% of taxpayers pay nothing or actually pay negative income tax. Is this fair?

    Do we really think this is what the founders of this country intended? The

    Declaration of Independence states; “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”

    These early Americans believed that this meant that a person should have an equal opportunity to benefit from his / her abilities and efforts with very limited government interference. It is not about greed or envy—rather it is about the freedom to be self-determinant.


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