Thursday, November 17, 2011

Death to the Facilitators: Why Grits won't be "occupying" anything anytime soon

With public support weakening, police today will roust Occupy Wall Street (OWS) protesters in multiple cities, most notably at the epicenter in New York. In general, Grits disapproves of police rousting protesters of whatever ilk, but since the OWS folks appear to have no goals and no endgame, I suppose it had to happen sooner or later.

OWS has accomplished one amazing thing. They've re-framed how Americans talk about wealth inequality in a way that gives most Americans an "us" (the 99%) to align with. But there's a lot more to do to turn that important but potentially short-lived shift in public perception into tangible reform. Getting to actual change takes more than vague ideas and slogans. It requires leadership, decision making, and long-term movement-building and mass organizing.

Sign at OWS protest, via the International Business Times
The main reason I won't join the OWS movement any time soon has nothing to do with its lack of a well-defined agenda (there are plenty of opportunities for good work on their issue areas), but mainly with its lack of a well-defined leadership. Sun Tzu said millenia ago that formations dictate outcomes, and it's true. I vowed several years back never to join another political group that operates based on a "consensus" decision making process, which unfortunately is one of the hallmarks of the OWS movement. Indeed, I wrote a disgusted polemic several years ago articulating a detailed case against that bane of lefty movements and corporate retreats titled "Death to the Facilitators! In Favor of Roberts Rules of Order." The issues addressed in that unpublished essay are incredibly relevant IMO to why the OWS movement is losing steam as winter sets in: Their structure disavows leadership to the point that their decisionmaking processes become as frozen as Zuccotti Park campers in a snowstorm.

Your correspondent has never been a big "joiner" when it comes to political groups, and I'm not much of a "little d" democrat. I'm as suspicious of the mob as I am of law enforcement. In general, I do not consider public camping a viable nor sustainable political tactic. When I hear a protester chant into a bullhorn, "This is what democracy looks like," I must (usually successfully) resist the urge to physically attack them. When sitting through any meeting involving a "facilitator," I harbor dark fantasies of hitting them over the head, covering them with a sack, and transporting them to a dimly lit warehouse where I'd hold a gun to their head and force them to read aloud from Robert's Rules of Order.

So while I share many of the "Occupy Wall Street" critiques of society - particularly regarding the complicity of the financial sector in both a casino mentality and severing middle-class wage hikes from productivity gains - I think we're witnessing the limits of their tactics. Professional lobbyists and political campaigners are disdained as sell-outs by the drum-circle crowd, and Robert's Rules are considered antiquated and hierarchical compared to cool, supposedly more democratic "consensus" approach. But the OWS folks could learn a thing or sixty about the nuts and bolts of mass organizing from those who've organized successful mass movements in the past. For reasons presaged in my 2005 essay, reliance on a "consensus" decisionmaking structure doomed this effort before it ever got started. The OWS episode may have symbolic resonance going forward, but regrettably, in its current form, it's unlikely to have much structural impact on laws, regulations, or how Wall Street operates.


Anonymous said...

You should really consider moving to Venezuela. I hear they have strong leader down there who's a real "decision maker" and who's done a pretty good job of reining in the banks, corporations and redistributing the money of the "wealthiest 1%." Lots of people are really wanting to immigrate there. What is that you say? There are major restrictions there on freedom of speech and freedom of the press? Private property rights are becoming a thing of the past? Ahhh...those are just trivial little details when viewed in the context of the overall "greater good."

Gritsforbreakfast said...

I'll give that strong consideration, 10:04. I hear some of their beaches are nice.

Other than the knee-jerk, barely veiled red baiting, I don't have a clue what that rant was about. Tell me: Does that put you in the "Robert's Rules" or the "consensus" camp?

Anonymous said...

My remembering has probably grown rusty with age, but who did we coalesce around, who were our Robert Rules of Order leaders for the Vietnam protests? Of course protesting against basically one thing did unite the protestors. Stop the War was a pretty obvious imperative. I think the many "goals" that the Occupiers have espoused have led to most of us not having much of a clue over what they want to accomplish and how to do it.

Anonymous said...

GFB, it is unfortunate that the OWS were not more successful and effective.
Unfortunately anyone who articulates any of the points brought out by OWS will be labled an ingorant drug addicted rapist thanks to all those ass clowns who camped out.

Not so sure how your adherence to Roberts Rules of Order is going to remedy a government that tyrannizes the Middle Class?

Middle Class America is hurting really bad and quickly losing faith in our government. Obviously government is going to take care of the filthy rich, and has a little bit of a conscience about caring for the poor. The Middle Class continues to get a good FUTA from the government and nothing more. I can tell you one thing for sure, I won't be voting for anyone who is a member of the coporate elite of America. You can bet it their lips are moving they are lying.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

11:28, political movements need viable governance and Robert's is an elegant and functional system for making decisions. Groups adhering to "consensus" decisionmaking - particularly those of any great size - become paralyzed and dysfunctional.

I agree that "Middle Class America is hurting really bad and quickly losing faith in our government." However a movement that wants to restore their faith and renew hope owes it to its constituency to organize itself in such a way that it can, ultimately, identify goals and achieve them. The rest is venting and posturing.

Prison Doc said...

Grits, as long as you keep occupying your criminal justice blog site and don't go off on political tangents, most of us will continue to be very grateful.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

If my political tangents become too onerous for you, Prison Doc, I'll refund the admission price. :)

The Comedian said...

Grits, any number of spokespersons for OWS have said that they have Plans B through Z to follow up on the current occupations. They have also said that their working groups are putting together more specific policy pronouncements.

Of course, as soon as identifiable leaders emerge, they will be pilloried and smeared by the RW noise machine and the main story will then shift to lies and exaggerations about their personal lives and foibles rather than the actual OWS movement.

Please remember that the United States of Koch Bros, Inc. wasn't built in a day. It will take more that a day to disassemble same.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Comedian, though I'm not sure if your comment was tongue in cheek, just the thought of "working groups" putting out "policy pronouncements" via consensus earns you your moniker. OMG keep me as far away from that process as possible! :)

The Comedian said...

Grits, I wasn't kidding. For a much better response than mine, you can check out the following link -,-now-here-is-a-message?via=siderec

"For someone who calls himself the Comedian, it's hard to know when you're joking." - Adrian Veidt AKA Ozymandias (Watchmen, 2009)

Anonymous said...

Prison Doc...
If its not your cup of tea, don't drink it.

Anonymous said...

Grits, I think this might be one of my favorite posts you've ever written.

Bill Bush

Anonymous said...

Good Lawd, help us! We're being overrun by left wing idiots and wackos in this country!

Anonymous said...

...being overrun by wackos and idiots.

I couldn't agree more wholheartedly.
Just want to know how you can tell if they are left wing or right wing idiots. Both wings are standing in line for government handouts. Some travel in corporate jets, wear suits and drive high dollar cars. Others may be living on skid row, but one thing is for damn sure... Both classes of people are standing in line demanding government handouts, or I mean bailouts...

Anonymous said...

The Occupy movement is starting to adopt an anti-corruption platform that will garner much more respect. An Occupy member's page , supporting a business owner who lost millions of dollars to a corrupt officials seems to illustrate this.

Anonymous said...

I get what you are saying and I agree..Long live Robert!

Harry Homeless said...

Don't follow leaders, watch your parking meters. If a movement's success depends on a leader to survive, then it was never a movement to begin with. OWS's strength is its lack of leadership. One cannot shoot an idea.

This is not war, this is life. And in that, those who speak the truth always win in the end. It's not OWS's job to fix the world for us, that's everyone's job. It's those who do not speak up who are the problem, how ironic we blame those who do.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

"OWS's strength is its lack of leadership. One cannot shoot an idea."

I've yet to see the movement exhibit "strength" if by that you mean the ability to accomplish goals. In modern society, a lot of folks think drawing attention to themselves or their cause is an end unto itself, but that's not the same thing as wielding political power.

Anonymous said...

(from the metro-Philly area) Effective activism, like so many other things, is probably in the eye of the beholder. I urge activists interested in tangible results to read Nick Cooney's Change of Heart. While written primarily from an animal rights perspective, the ideas and research are relevant for any cause.

Of course, fostering change is helped by having a coherent vision and message. Attention to wealth disparity is very valuable. But without leadership and a clarifying vision, will OWS help foster real change?

Anonymous said...

Grits, I found this blog post by searching your name from your original essay about Roberts Rules (BTW, I would suggest you add a link from that essay to this page).

You are, essentially, totally right in the points you make in your essay. I've been through a lot of 'consensus' based meetings and:
- it is total hell to the participants,
- it doesn't really lead to consensus, just to the victory of the status quo, of whoever has the highest boredom threshold, and/or of whoever has the strongest bladder.

You may find this essay from Quinn Norton relevant,
particularly the section "A Eulogy for the General Assembly". I quote:


Grad students trying to reason with smack addicts was torture for both sides. The GA became the main venue for this torture, and sitting through it was like watching someone sandpaper an open wound. Everyone said “Fuck the GA” as a joke, but as time wore on, the laughter was getting too long and too hoarse; a joke with blood in it. The metaphorical pain became less metaphorical with each eviction, with the gnawing feeling that something was coming.

Because the GA had no way to reject force, over time it fell to force. Proposals won by intimidation; bullies carried the day. What began as a way to let people reform and remake themselves had no mechanism for dealing with them when they didn’t. It had no way to deal with parasites and predators. It became a diseased process, pushing out the weak and quiet it had meant to enfranchise until it finally collapsed when nothing was left but predators trying to rip out each other’s throats.

By the time I returned to NY from visiting the camp in DC, exhausted with the pain of six evictions, the NYC GA was a place where women were threatened with beatings, and street kids with calls to the police. All the reasonable people had gotten the fuck out. It had become a gladiator pit no one enjoyed watching. Even Weev, the famous internet troll, didn’t last through the nastiness of the GA I took him to. He left while I wasn’t looking, without saying goodbye. We never spoke about it. I didn’t blame him, and I didn’t have to ask why. It was the tiny, brutal, and bitter politics of failed people.

This is what the GA became in so many places.

“I saw women trying to talk, trying to question where the money was going,” an occupier in San Francisco named Morgan told me, “and the meth fiends running finance would get directly in their faces (and) give them the meth glare from just inches away. People would try to pull them back, and within a minute they’d be doing it again. No one got into Occupy to get into physical conflicts with speedfreaks.”

After pouring all his spare time and expertise into Occupy Morgan too left, defeated by the process. “I think all of us who believed in it feel the failure as part of ourselves. It was really difficult to see what it had become.”

The idea of the GA — its process, its form, inclusiveness — failed. It had all the best chances to evolve, imprinted on the consciousness of thousands of occupiers like a second language. No idea gets a better chance than that, and it still failed.

Fuck the GA. Bury it at a crossroads, staked through the heart, and pray it never rises again.


Anyhow, keep up the good work on this topic, and don't think that nobody has noticed.

Love and kisses, Anonymous.