Occupy Seattle: A funny thing happened on the way to the forum
Or how not to make friends and influence followers.
In a textbook example of messing in their own nest, members of Occupy Seattle managed to alienate most of those who turned out to support them at a recent forum. The story is written up in SLOG which is obviously supportive of the Occupy movement. But what Dominic Holden describes is a combination of a childish tantrum and totalitarian tendencies by a group so clueless they can’t get out of their own way and so ignorant that they don’t understand what they purportedly support.
Organized by Town Hall (and co-sponsored by The Stranger), the forum was intended to discuss the Occupy Wall Street movement, featuring three activists from Occupy Seattle and luminaries from labor, economics, and politics: Washington State Labor Council secretary-treasurer Lynne Dodson; Second Avenue Partners and progressive taxation activist Nick Hanauer; and GMMB political strategist Frank Greer. During opening remarks, JM Wong from Occupy Seattle declared that she wanted “no leadership from the Democratic Party or union bureaucrats. Nonprofits are trying to co-opt us."
Dodson, however, politely explained that labor unions are part and parcel with the Occupy movement’s push for economic reform. "I like to consider myself a union activist, not a union bureaucrat," she said. "This is labor’s fight, this is our fight."
Great … the Occupy movement on steroids. 6 folks there to discuss what’s going on with the movement to a pro-movement crowd, many of them there to find out more about it. So what happened?
Whatever further insight the speakers planned for the 90-minute event was then cut short when the woman ran on stage. Activists had planned to interrupt the panel because, some said, they opposed the power dynamic created by speakers on stage talking into microphones. Although Occupy Wall Street uses the belabored people’s mic—which involves one person speaking and the crowd repeating everything—to amplify the soft spoken and encourage free speech, last night it was used to silence the panel. The call and-response created an echoing cacophony. Despite pleas from several older audience members who couldn’t hear well to let the panelists proceed, the Occupy activists demanded a vote to overtake the forum.
That’s right – they weren’t doing it the way that particular faction of the Occupy Seattle movement felt it should be done, so it was tantrum time. The fact that this childish tantrum drove off pro-Occupy supporters? Meh. It’s all about the process man:
Assembly time is precious," the man yelled without a hint of irony. "Assembly time is precious!" we all yelled back, wasting precious time.
Then they insisted that everyone discuss the issue among their neighbors. If people opposed, they were drowned out by the people’s mic. So we talked about their proposal. One activist slept on the floor in front of the stage, spread eagle. The place reeked of BO. A man next to me worked through half a tin of chew. Eventually, we took another vote and activists demanded a count by hand.
It was 8:30 p.m. at this point, one hour after the event began, and we’d only heard opening statements. The forum was supposed to conclude by 9:00 p.m. "We have only a half hour left," Licata announced. "This is very interesting."
As the clock counted down, it was apparent that Occupy Seattle had repressed whatever thoughtful ideas the panelists brought to the stage and were willing to fill the time with chatter about unenlightening process. They wanted more power; they wanted to speak. They were also being rank hypocrites. Here is a group purporting to give people a voice and cut through the bureaucratic layers of government and capitalism. Instead, they silenced speech, quashed ideas, and replaced it with their own bureaucratic process reserved for a minority that wanted power. One gray-haired woman who was walking out put it like this: "It was very divisive. Now they are a little group, like the 1 Percent."
The activists lost the second vote, too. So the forum sort of proceeded, but now with occupiers booing speakers on stage when they disagreed and giving them the wrap-it-up hand gesture. For instance, Greer noted, "We learned in the civil rights movement and the anti-war movement, you can attract support or turn of support, and basically fail, and I don’t want you to fail." Despite his support, many activists booed and gestured that he stop talking.
Apparently some of them shouted out, “this is what democracy looks like”.
Really? Shouting down those who oppose your point of view, drowning out people who tried to talk or respond? That’s “democracy”?
That’s those totalitarian “we’ll do it my way or we won’t do it at all” tendencies coming to the surface.
Lots of people were leaving, angry—it was a stark contrast with stellar activism the week before.
Wong justified the interruption, saying, "We need to respect the movement that uses this process. I stick to it because it is a democratic process."
But the Occupy activists came off as disrespectful, hostile, and woefully misguided about what democracy looked like. The activists added zero new content, but in the process, prevented the speakers from sharing their knowledge (that’s some democracy). Let’s think if the tables were turned: These activists would be outraged if Town Hall set up a stack of speakers at the General Assembly and blasted them with an amplified panel discussion. It was equally selfish to destroy the panel with their People’s Mic.
On his way out the door, Brian King added, "They think it is more important to purify themselves rather than connect with people who are not like themselves. They probably can’t get much further than they are right now."
Process took precedence over respectful interaction and the cultivation of support. Anarchy took precedence over deliberation and debate.
It reminded me of the insistence on process in totalitarian countries where they justify all manner of vile action based on “process”. There was no democracy at work at this meeting, it was a minority attempting to use its own process as an excuse to take over the gathering. And, of course, what they did was badly damage their potential support base:
"I walked in supportive and left unsupportive," said 69-year-old Mary Ann, who declined to provide her last name. "I’m turned off by the negative shouts, repetition, and all I can think about is a cult. And I believe in every one of their damn principles."
Paula and Brian King also headed for the door early. "It was frustrating to listen to people shouting and interrupting," lamented Paula. Brian added, "We are leaving because they are looking inward at themselves and their eccentric process rather than reaching out to people."
I’ve seen all this before, from the radical 60s, the commune movement, etc. This is nothing new. It is the same old tired stuff in a new century and all it promises is an imposition of a failed ideology masked in words and phrases like “democracy” and “the will of the people”. They are now defined – by them – as the “general assembly’s procedures” and “the 99%”. Same crap, different buzz words, different century and a promise of the same outcome as with all the other times it has been imposed through out history.