By Ezra Silk
I am sitting in a Starbucks in some distant outpost of metropolitan Dallas. There are Comfort Inns and Wells Fargo mini-towers all around, and the man sitting next to me is reading the Drudge Report. A nauseating, lounge-style cover of “Here Comes the Sun” just mercifully concluded.
Anyway, I just wanted to offer a few comments on some recent Occupy coverage.
New York magazine’s John Heilemann has written an interesting piece entitled, “2012=1968?” As you may have guessed from the title, Heilemann poses the question of whether Occupy Wall Street will split the Democratic vote and hand the presidency to the Republicans, ala the anti-war movement, Gene McCarthy, Humphrey, and Nixon in 1968. These types of, “Will history repeat itself?” stories can sometimes be painful, but this one is pretty good. I recommend it.
Heileman affirms a few of the things I’ve said, albeit with a slightly different twist. First, he decisively concludes that there are leaders, and proceeds to skewer the mythology of leaderlessness:
The people plotting these maneuvers are the leaders of OWS. Now, you may have heard that Occupy is a leaderless uprising. Its participants, and even the leaders themselves, are at pains to make this claim. But having spent the past month immersed in their world, I can report that a cadre of prime movers — strategists, tacticians, and logisticians; media gurus, technologists, and grand theorists — has emerged as essential to guiding OWS. For some, Occupy is an extension of years of activism; for others, their first insurrectionist rodeo. But they are now united by a single purpose: turning OWS from a brief shining moment into a bona fide movement.
That none of these people has yet become the face of OWS — its Tom Hayden or Mark Rudd, its Stokely Carmichael or H. Rap Brown — owes something to its newness. But it is also due to the way that Occupy operates. Since the sixties, starting with the backlash within the New Left against those same celebrities, the political counterculture has been ruled by loosey-goosey, bottom-up organizational precepts: horizontal and decentralized structures, an antipathy to hierarchy, a fetish for consensus. And this is true in spades of OWS. In such an environment, formal claims to leadership are invariably and forcefully rejected, leaving the processes for accomplishing anything in a state of near chaos, while at the same time opening the door to (indeed compelling) ad hoc reins-taking by those with the force of personality to gain ratification for their ideas about how to proceed. “In reality,” says Yotam Marom, one of the key OWS organizers, “movements like this are most conducive to being led by people already most conditioned to lead.”
Now, Heilemann doesn’t really answer the question of whether the leaders in New York are leading the national or international Occupy movement (I think he basically takes it for granted that they are). It’s very hard to tell. When I ask local Occupy leaders what role Occupy Wall Street (the New York protest) plays in the movement, they offer a variation on a theme. The theme is that while the New York protest is the “flagship,” or even “the mothership,” it leads by example — not by fiat. From what I’ve seen and heard, Occupy Wall Street holds enormous symbolic power and in many ways charts the direction of the national movement, but it does not rigidly control the other protests.
Heilemann also notes, as I have, that Occupy Wall Street has largely steered clear of the Obama Wars. He writes about an early November protest at the State Supreme Court building against the proposed foreclosure settlement being pushed by the Obama administration:
Which is to say, in most respects, it was just another day at OWS. But in one way it was novel: This was the first and only demonstration to date, as far as I can determine, aimed directly at Barack Obama. Continue reading