Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Organizing the 9%

As much as the Occupy movement would aspire to represent 99% of the people, they can claim to persuasively echo the opinions and active strategies of...maybe 9%.

Although far more than nine percent of people have become disgruntled because Congress bails out the corporate cronies, and although far more than nine percent of folks are frustrated with ecological disasters and abuses that have been mismanaged through gov/corp collusion, and although far more than 9.1% of the people feel as if their labor and resources are being jerked around by the soulless machinations of greedy, outsourcing corporations, there are really only about nine percent of We the People who are willing to be associated with and directed by Occupation activists.

However, if the Occupyers could manage somehow to effectively represent, say, a mere 9% of the people, that is nine times as many as the 1% whose bank accounts they are trying to siphon. But their first major hurdle in that wealth redistribution quasi-socialist quest would be to get organized. That is no simple task, as I recently witnessed firsthand. In fact this whole movement will be a marathon of dedicated organizing if it is ever going to amount to anything besides a series of sign-wielding collective walks in the park.

At the stone staircase of the Vancouver Art Museum on Saturday and Sunday, I watched as a core group of intense activists initiated in their city what has become the Occupy movement's "achieving consensus" process. It is a tedious sequence of speaker/crowd interactivity that appears, from my observer perspective, laboious and perhaps somewhat self-defeating.

Nevertheless, the agenda-writing nucleus of organizers seemed quite intent on building consensus from their small activist cadre outward amongst the gathering legion of discontents. They wanted it done a certain way, at the risk of appearing, to an instant-breakfast world, disorganized.

The use of amplified sound through use of a microphone was a point of subtle contention among two factions of the the leader group. It took a few hours on Saturday morning as well as Sunday to work out the kinks. A speaker-call / crowd-repeat procedure that must have originated with the wallstreet cadre had already become dogma for some of the agenda-setting core, while other initiators among them obviously preferred the pragmatically loud use of the microphone. Technological enhancement uncovers undesirable bourgeois luxuries. Such subtle concessions to capitalist convenience can easily lead to domination of the gathered crowd by gifted orators, or "showboaters" as one humble speaker referred to them. Amplified rhetoric can enable, theoretically, opportunitstic demogogs to manipulate the assembled masses. Thus can the ideal of egalitarian democracy be undermined by silver-tongued soapboxers. Not good.

I observed with interest as a purist group within the agenda-setting core labored tediously to lay a foundation of simple unamplified call/response democratic consensus building. It was, let's face it, primitive, although I could surmise the solid ideologic basis for it. Over the course of two disjointed hours, however, the pragmatic faction was able to procedurally insert selective use of the microphone into the nascent consensus process. This distant listener thought the microphone use lent a definite improvement to their presentations.

By and by, the Vancouver Occupy agenda-setters were able to establish a sequence of procedures by which their two-hundred-or-so core of gathered faithful (while hundreds more of curious bystanders watched) could voice some procedural decisions about where this thing was headed. Past mid-afternoon on Sunday, I don't know what Occupy Vancouver did, but their inception was fascination for this detached observer.

I departed the scene several hours later, thinking it would be a long time before this movement accomplishes anything substantial. Leaderless democracy, which appears to be the gold standard among this movement's initiators, initially produces apparent chaos. At least that's the way it seemed to me as I witnessed the Occupy Vancouver public inception. What fundamental organization may have been established beneath that irresolute exterior, only time will tell.

After a dusky train ride with wife and son back to Seattle, I returned on nippy Monday morning, with journalistic curiosity, to the Occupy site in Westlake Park, downtown. Previously, I had witnessed parts of the Wednesday and Thursday daytime sessions there. The Seattle crowd seemed, to me, much scruffier and streetish than the intense Vancouverites. A rag-tag band of pierced, tattood occupyers hung out where the podium had been last week. They were meagerly holding on to this public square, insofar as it was possible amidst the gently ominous peripheral police presence. While most lingerers were milling around in apparent aimless expectation, an ameobic bundle of them languished near the low stone platform that had been the focal site of last week's rallying excitement. A pervasive attitude of don't let this magic moment slip away hung in the air like contraband smoke.

A plethora of handmade signs was constant, hundreds of them, in both Vancouver and Seattle, many of them quite clever. By mid-afternoon on Monday, I saw from my Starbucks perch a bearded Seattle protester with a large, neatly lettered green on white that read: PROSECUTE BANKSTERS. It was a distilled message that indicated what might become an actual judgemental plank of the emerging Occupy platform. This was the goal that I had heard a week or two ago, spoken by Michael Moore in an NPR interview.

Such an indictment would materialize only through a very long, drawn out campaign by the Occupyers.

Canadian columnist Conrad Black wrote insightfully in last Saturday's National Post:
"Assessing blame is complicated. This (the wallstreet meltdown of '08 and its economic fallout) was not a case where an easily identifiable group committed monstrously illegal acts in the manner of Bernard Madoff....financiers cannot be prosecuted for mere acts of stupidity. There have been prosecutions, most of them unsuccessful, and the whole retrubitive effort has been mired in the name-calling between the financial and political communities."

My present uptake from all this observation is that the derivatives-wielding wallstreet 1% better clean up their act before the radical rabble 9%, claiming to speak for the 99, decides to ditch the consensus process and take matters into their own revolutionary hands.

CR, with new novel, Smoke, in progress

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