Friday, November 18, 2011

Marchers need a place to rest/OWS: R.I.P.?



The marchers from Occupy Wall Street are heading towards Baltimore with a final destination being D.C. on November 23.  They need a place to stay in the Joppatowne/White Marsh area.  Please let me know ASAP if you know of a place or places they could spend the night.  Thanks.






OWS: R.I.P.?


by Michael Engel


MR Zine

November 16, 2011


If Occupy Wall Street is to develop into a movement that

actually prompts serious political and economic change, it

should disband the "tent cities" on its own.  Local

government authorities are actually doing OWS a favor by

pushing it out of the parks.  Continued occupation can only

serve the interests of those who favor violent

confrontations, either among the police or among the

protesters.  It also allows the mainstream media, which has

up to now been forced to recognize the issues raised by the

protests, to focus instead on the violence and thereby

delegitimize the movement.


OWS has been most creative in coining slogans.  The new one

now should be "Out of the Parks, Into the Communities."

This shift could truly be a step forward in challenging the

power structure.  But unless participants in the movement

abandon their explicit rejection of the organizational

elements that lead to political victory -- ideology,

structure, and leadership -- exit from the parks may instead

result in its demise.


Recent episodes in the Doonesbury strip satirized this

rejection.  Cartoonist Garry Trudeau portrays a protester

being interviewed wearing a bag over his head to avoid being

identified as a leader.  A crowd of protesters in the strip

chant: "What do we want?  Nothing!  When do we want it? Now!"


If we are to make the ruling classes tremble, that has to change.


OWS has taken pride in attracting supporters with a

multiplicity of different agendas.  In the short run, this

may be a useful strategy.  But in the long run, failure to

take a comprehensive look at the ideas and values that unite

or divide a movement makes it impossible to find a common

direction.  Sympathetic and constructive critics of the

movement have repeatedly asked the question: What do you

want?  The answer cannot be a laundry list of causes and

issues, regardless of their worthiness.  A movement has to

discuss and deal with ideology.  That word strikes dread

into the hearts of many on the left; it is, in American

society, a loaded term with unpleasant implications and

associations.  But if it is defined to refer to a coherent

and consistent system of ideas and values about how society

is and should be organized, there can be no such thing as a

"non-ideological" or "non-programmatic" approach to

political organizing, as the Tea Party knows all too well.

In a vain attempt to achieve a comfortable but illusory

"consensus," OWS has thus far avoided serious collective

discussion of what a new world might look like.  Slogans

like "We're the 99%" may make good bumper stickers, but

ultimately organizations have to examine critically the

dominant ideology of American society, decide explicitly the

extent to which they want to challenge it, and organize

themselves consciously on the conclusions they reach.  Once

OWS is out of the parks, that painful and difficult

discussion will have to begin.


Leadership is not an easy concept to define.  The radical

right has no problem with that: It means an elite group that

calls the shots.  The mainstream literature on leadership is

firmly grounded in corporate managerial theories and

perspectives.  The left today, on the other hand, has failed

miserably to define its own alternative models, and in fact

has often unthinkingly adopted those of the mainstream or,

like OWS, disavowed the need for it.  In part this is a

result of events in the 1960s.  What remained after

assassinations on one end and co-optation on the other was a

mistrust of leaders because it appeared the good ones got

killed, and the others sold out or abused their power.  The

predominance of males in leadership and the male chauvinist

styles they brought to that position created additional

problems.  The movements of that time, which avoided

established leadership in favor of participatory democracy,

never succeeded in finding a way of training and developing

democratic leadership that could continue their struggles.


That is absurdly self-defeating.  If the goal is to build a

different kind of society, groups on the left such as OWS

need to formulate -- or more precisely, rediscover from

their own history -- specific ideas on what a leader is and

should be, and devote energy to the task of developing a

leadership group.


Structure is a formal organizational arrangement and

decision-making process of some kind insuring that

individual members -- especially if they are leaders -- are

answerable for their actions to a broader constituency.  The

fear of elite dominance that can result from this type of

organization has led to the formulation of unstructured

alternatives such as the OWS "General Assembly."  Supposedly

this keeps things loose and informal, and thus ostensibly

more democratic.  The consensus model of decision-making is

preferred to majority rule; ad hoc "affinity groups" --

cohesion by choice -- are considered less restrictive than

formal membership arrangements.  But the real result of this

arrangement is exactly the opposite, as those with the

strongest motivation to lead, the best public speaking

skills, or the most "charisma" end up taking charge.  Clear

structure is in fact the only guarantee of democracy, and

the only protection against arbitrary decision-making or

factional takeovers.  It is also the only guarantee of group

survival.  Groups on the left must adopt coherent models of

structure and decision-making that clarify and routinize

lines of accountability without sacrificing democratic

procedures.  This, too, is a complex and difficult task, but

it cannot be avoided.


None of this can happen in tent cities.  Thus far, OWS has

had a magnificent impact on national and international

politics.  It has turned the public debate away from

comparing models of austerity and towards discussions about

ending economic inequality.  The mass media has been forced

to pay attention to the issues it has raised.  It has

seriously shaken the ruling elites.  It would be an historic

disaster of the first magnitude if all this were to go to

waste.  If this is not to be the fate of OWS, protesters

should leave the parks, return to their communities, connect

with each other on their home turf, begin to organize

themselves for the long haul, and recognize that ideology,

leadership, and structure are essential elements of a

movement that has the capacity to transform the world.


Michael Engel is Professor Emeritus of Political Science, Westfield State University (MA); a former local elected

official (Easthampton, MA); and an independent candidate for US House, 2010.  He has been a political, community, and

union activist since the 1960s.


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