Does OWS Claim to Have Authority Over the Occupy Movement?

occupy wall street

Photo: Marika Shaub

For any who don’t know, the 99% Declaration Working Group, a group that has emerged from and within the Occupy Movement, has undertaken an ambitious project to organize a national election for the purpose of electing delegates to a National General Assembly. This NGA is proposed to convene on July 4, 2012 in Philadelphia, and is proposed to be tasked with drafting a list of grievances that will then be presented for redress to the US Government.

These delegates will be elected from among the nation’s common citizens, (referred to by many as ‘the 99%’). Two delegates, one male and one female, will be elected from each US Congressional District. They will convene in Philadelphia to draft this Petition for Redress of Grievances, comprised from the worst insults that our current economic/political system presents to the interests of the vast majority (represented as 99%) of citizens. If the US Government does not respond adequately to the Petition for Redress, then (according to the proposed plan) candidates will run for office in the 2012 elections with the Petition as their platform.

I am not a participant in this initiative. I have serious doubts about whether a project of this magnitude can be adequately accomplished (to produce credible results) in such a short time frame, but I sure wish this group the best of luck. It seems very clear to me that if the Occupy Movement (as it has come to be known) has any chance to accomplish any lasting change in the status quo then we must find the means to coalesce our efforts into a higher and more refined degree of democratic organization, and this 99% Declaration Working Group is clearly taking a step in that direction. Even if this initiative should prove to be overly ambitious, it might well serve us as a crucial catalyst for creating an expanded and more developed concept of Democracy among the Occupy Movement.

Unfortunately, (and as is so characteristic on the American Left) there are a cadre of people within the Occupy Movement who are ‘religiously’ devoted to an ideology that precludes any form of representative democracy, and this ideologically devoted cadre seems to feel compelled to not only denounce any spontaneous grassroots initiatives that violate its ideological convictions, but also to claim an actual authority to inhibit these efforts. This claim to authority hypocritically violates the very ideology that it so presumptuously pretends to protect.

It seems as though this cadre currently holds effective control over Occupy Wall Street, the local NYC based group that bears the legacy of having initiated what has grown into this entire national movement. As is so characteristic among people who hold ‘religious’ devotions to ideology (‘religious’ meaning that they hold their beliefs as truth itself, above and beyond all logic and reason, or even discussion), this cadre appears to be completely blind to the blatant contradiction in its posture toward the 99% Declaration initiative. OWS is so devoted to grassroots direct democracy, it seems, that it feels compelled to denounce, and even to try to usurp the authority to inhibit, any genuine grassroots democratic initiatives that arise anywhere in the broader national Occupy Movement, if those initiatives do not conform to the centralized will and rigid ideology of OWS itself.

occupy wall street

Photos: Marika Shaub

According to online discussions posted over just the last few days within the NYC based Occupy Wall Street group, to even so much as speak of ‘representative democracy’ is considered “taboo!”. (This is quoted from an OWS online discussion forum). Only ‘direct democracy’ will do. This ‘religious’ devotion to what many perceive as a self defeating ideology effectively serves to prevent, (of course), any form of democratic organization over and beyond the current General Assemblies that are still taking place in many venues among declining numbers of the most ideologically devoted. According to comments on the OWS online discussion forums, the OWS GAs “are lucky if 30 people show up”, (despite the fact that 78 official ‘OWS Working Groups’ have been created).

According to widespread reports on the OWS website, numerous incidents of interpersonal violence have recently taken place among and between these devoted cadre during OWS GAs, including not just yelling verbal threats, but actual fistfights, head-butting, and, in one reported instance, the wielding of a chair as a weapon. OWS participants who live in New York are complaining ever more loudly that OWS is transforming itself, or has transformed itself, into a de facto social service agency to house and feed, and provide metro (bus and subway) passes to, increasing numbers of itinerant young people from across the country who have traveled to the Big Apple for a youthful (and free) big city adventure.

Many think that this focus on being a social service agency has detracted severely from the original OWS mission, which was focused on “changing the system”. Many voices are heard decrying what is perceived by them as the undemocratic nature of the OWS ‘direct democracy’, including its ‘leaderless’ structure, (in which the de facto leaders operate with little democratic accountability), and the non-transparent management of hundreds of thousands of dollars in public donations. (The request has been made for a simple spreadsheet to show where all this money, now mostly spent, has gone.)

But such difficulties as these have apparently not engendered a much needed sense of humility within OWS. Not satisfied with merely denouncing the 99% Declaration initiative (essentially for ‘heresy’ against the prevailing OWS ideology), OWS has actually asserted a disturbing aire of entitled authority over the entire national Occupy Movement.

On February 23rd, William Dobbs, a member of the OWS Public Relations Working Group (one of the 78 standing committees), published an official statement from that body that declares that although OWS shares the general goals represented by the 99% Declaration Group’s proposed list of grievances, OWS is so religiously committed to “autonomy” and “direct democracy” that it considers that electing delegates to a national convention violates its most basic principles.

occupy movementIt’s a shame that OWS thinks that the Occupy Movement will best succeed by remaining divided into separate small groups, with no way to organize themselves into a united and coherent political power bloc, but any group has every right (of course) to issue statements clarifying its own positions. But the OWS Public Relations Working Group’s Feb 23rd statement does not stop there. It goes on to strongly object to reports in the national press that the “Occupy movement” is planning is a ” “national general assembly” “, and then actually seems to claim a degree of authority over the entire Occupy Movement by suggesting that the OWS Public Relations Working Group should function as a national clearing house for any and all press reports concerning anything of import about the Occupy Movement.

Quoting from the statement itself…. after complaining that:

“Many news outlets are running articles suggesting that the Occupy movement is planning a “national general assembly” in Philadelphia in July”,

the statement asserts that:

“The [99%Declaration Group's] plans blatantly contradict OWS’ Statement of Autonomy, as passed by the General Assembly at Occupy Wall Street”,

…and then goes on to declare that the 99% Declaration Group’s effort to create a higher degree of democratic organization within the Occupy Movement, (in order to effectively gain more power to accomplish the Movement’s collective goals):

“….runs counter to OWS’ commitment to direct democracy, grassroots people power, and building a better society from the bottom up”.

Then, in what clearly appears to be a disturbing usurpation of authority over activities of the entire Occupy Movement, the OWS Public Relations Working Group’s statement says:

“When reporting on stories concerning the convening of national ‘Occupy conventions,’ registration of political parties and political action committees, and other high profile initiatives, we strongly urge reporters, editors, and producers to vet these stories by contacting the official press relations working group of Occupy Wall Street”.

Does it not appear as though the OWS Public Relations Working Group, an offshoot committee of the OWS General Assembly (which according to reports currently attracts as many as 30 people to its proceedings), is actually proposing out loud in this statement that the OWS Public Relations Working Group should have the authority to vet all national press reports concerning virtually anything to do with anything at all (especially any “high profile initiatives”) concerning or connected to the Occupy Movement?

Is this actually possible? Is it actually possible that the OWS Public Relations Working Group, the same group that pronounces its ‘religious’ devotion to direct democracy, autonomy, and general decentralization, has become so taken with itself that it actually thinks that all “reporters, editors, and producers” for all press outlets across the entire nation should contact the OWS Public Relations Working Group to “vet” their stories before publishing virtually anything of note about the Occupy Movement? Is OWS really so ‘religiously’ committed to its ideology of decentralization that it wants to assure adherence to decentralization by acting as what amounts to a centralized ‘ministry of truth’?

It certainly appears so. Is that not what this statement says?

We all (on the American Left) owe a debt to OWS. It was their courage and initiative that provided the spark to ‘set off’ what we all hope is destined to become a powerful and transforming national movement. But let there be no doubt that the debt we owe is spiritual in nature, and that this very spirit itself, a spirit of genuine Democracy, demands that this spiritual debt does not in any way, shape, or form comprise any type or degree of authority conferred upon OWS over anyone but itself. OWS played a large part in the birth of this Occupy Movement, but it is now only a relatively small part of a much larger movement. Aren’t we all clear on this?

I hope that this becomes clear to Mr. Dobbs and his fellow would-be ‘ministers’.

The fact that History will record — reverently, if we are the ones who write it — that OWS lit the first match that set off the fire of this democratic movement does not give OWS any special authority to determine what shape this democratic fire might take as it continues to grow through its own spontaneous grass roots combustion. OWS’s own ideology of decentralization is clearly rendered to complete absurdity unless we ALL (including OWS) clearly understand that OWS has no authority, of any kind whatsoever, to impose its own currently prevailing ideology on what we all hope is a growing movement.

Let’s hope that people like William Dobbs, and his cohorts within the OWS Public Relations Working Group, will reconsider their ill-conceived public arrogance. Perhaps, working together as a larger movement, we can help OWS find solutions to its growing internal problems, but this movement, derived from and rooted in the most basic precepts of Democracy, will be hard pressed to survive if any ideologically devoted small group, like OWS, embraces hypocrisy and attempts to usurp authority over the movement in its entirety.

OWS has served us well as the symbolic lead ship in what has become a vast and diverse fleet. It is in the general interest of the entire fleet that OWS should not flounder. But if OWS will continue to assert that its symbolic position at the head of the fleet comprises a de facto status of authority over the fleet, it will likely not only flounder itself, but cause such general mayhem and discord that our enemies will seize upon this opportunity to destroy us entirely.

Our ships will sail well together on the genuine principles of True Democracy, but in striving for anything that is ‘true’, we will flounder unless we remain devoted to our own humility in the pursuit of truth. Truth is possessed by no one. Truth only serves those who pursue it with a full realization of their own limitations. It will not serve those who pretend that they own it.

Let’s hope that Bill Dobbs, and the OWS Public Relations Working Group, can recover their good senses. We all are entitled to our opinions and beliefs, but when we begin to regard our own particular beliefs as truth itself, when we regard our beliefs as above discussion, as beyond consideration, when we begin to consider any questioning of our beliefs as “taboo”, we are headed inexorably down the path of Hypocrisy, and this path leads nowhere but to failure.

‘Religious’ devotion to rigid ideological beliefs, beyond all reason or discussion, (amounting to a claim to possess truth itself), seems to have led Mr Dobbs and his OWS Public Relations Working Group cohorts down this path. Hypocrites are seldom aware of their own hypocrisy, but among self-respecting people, self awareness will free us from hypocrisy, because once we “see ourselves as others see us”, our self respect will not allow us to remain hypocrites.

ray zwarichI have every good faith that Mr. Dobbs, and the OWS Public Relations Working Group, will come to see the contradictions in their public posture. In a decentralized democratic movement, any group has every right to pursue whatever initiatives they choose. This is a big part of what makes complete decentralization so problematic, but if we are going to address that problem properly, we will have to do so through legitimate democratic means, not by claiming illegitimate authority by unilateral decree.

And again…… best of luck to the 99% Declaration Group. I’m not sure that you’re being realistic, in terms of what is possible in a given time frame, but you are at least leading us in the right general direction. If the Occupy Movement does not find the means to democratically unite its disparate elements, it will not attain its stated goals.

Zwarich

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