Thoughts On Boston’s Crisis, The New Tribalism And Participatory Meaning

Events in Boston last week illustrate how technology shapes our personal identity. And how little we understand the process. Boston shows us a foretaste of the new tribalism that relies on ephemeral situations and adrenalin to create a sense of belonging. It will change what it means to be an American.

Boston Is Saved By An Angel

What Is The New Tribalism?

First, the definitions. We’ll start with new tribalism is an individual’s sense of self, belonging and loyalty. That sense of self is defined by participating in communal activity responding to an ad hoc event or crisis. Here, it’s a new tribe following a terrorist bombing. This new ‘tribe’ is interesting because its values can supplement traditional ones, at least temporarily.

Doubtlessly you are already asking, ‘So is it really new’? In the past, rallies and concerts might be seen as the forerunners to today’s phenomenon. Certainly true of the Party rallies in the 1930s, for example. And the various ideologies of the now trite ‘happenings’ and ‘sit ins’ in the 1960s, as well as mass spectacles of Woodstock, etc.

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Infographic – Pussy Riot Around The World

Because we do not always get the infographics we need, but what we deserve. Or something like that.

We tried to put Pussy Riot, Putin and the West in the juxtapose most familiar to a meme addled society. We think it captures the moment in Russia and the West. Clicking on the image below will produce the full size graphic. Feel free to make suggestions or comments for improvements. We can, as they say, ‘iterate this’ to reflect our consensus.

Putin, Pussy Riot, Trial, Twitter

Cracking Down On OWS: Too Little, Too Late?

Anyone finding their way to this blog probably expected the semi-coordinated crackdown on the most visible OWS outposts yesterday, Zuccotti Park, drama-infused Oakland bastion and Portland. Among others.

The ‘Authorities’ in each instance carefully mimic each other. They proclaim support for ‘free speech’ but then offering a lurid litany of health, crime and sanitation speculations — all to cast themselves on the side of hygiene and order to the heretofore OWS sympathizing but still passive American suburban onlookers.

From Oakland to NYC it’s a gamble: that the majority of Americans prefer to focus on upcoming Black Friday sales and ‘order’ over their own nebulously understood self-interest. We haven’t done the focus group work. Outside heavy media/Twitter consumers, we’re skeptical how many average ‘Amerikhuns’ understand the meme ‘We are the 99%’ or why that phrase advances their interests.

OWS in some ways emerged in September as happy serendipity. What’s been accomplished between organizing meetings in August to November defies design.

OWS’ various general assemblies, mini-protest marches and world wide presence are perfect fodder to Twitterati, twitching, tweeting and forwarding each detail. This activity conveys dynanism, progress, excitement — and vicarious participation. It eventually spilled over into the reluctant trad media. We’ve long maintained that OWS as a specific socio-politcial phenomenon, however, needs more. OWS has still to create bonds beyond intensive social media consumers. How much connectivity does it have? We may soon find out.

As it stands now, OWS overall and a flagship NYC presence (where ever re-located) need more time as a tangible manifestation. Perhaps non-coincidentially, local forces of small ‘r’ reaction aren’t anxious to grant time. The Oakland mayor said on the BBC the mayors were in coordination. Of course, the ground truth at each encampment and its relationship with corresponding authorities vary and determine outcomes.

OWS, Zuccotti Park, Occupy Wall Street, Occupy Oakland

It’s encouraging that the OWS sites disrupted by force are prepared to return and stay, challenging actions in courts, etc. OWS across the country appears to understand the imperative to avoid vandalism and violence – sure barriers to connecting with their larger audience. They would be wise to seek access to recognizable professionals sympathetic to their purpose to refute the ‘health, sanitation and public safety’ canards, too.

Regardless of this week’s events we doubt OWS’ destiny is to embody post-Obama politics capable of directly challenging and defeating oligarchy. OWS’ greatest service is to open the door to possibility. To give tangible form for the media-consuming onlookers to recycle from their offices and anchor chairs that Americans would not necessarily resign themselves to the false politics of the two ‘party’ system.

But then again, OWS has surprised before . . .


One of the many clever meme from the UC Davis abuse. Via

UC Davis, Pepper Spray, Meme, Abuse, Assault on Peaceful Protestors

November 2011 Election Results: Glimmers Of A Defensive Line?

It’s tempting to make a lot out of various state-level elections last night, Tuesday November 8th. After all, Ohio’s Beatles-loving (the band) Kasich suffered defeat on SB-2 and his radical war on collective bargaining decisively crushed. Mississippi similarly rejected a pro-life proposition that was so bizarrely drawn even Haley Barbour dropped his fond reminiscing of Jim Crow to muse even pro-lifers didn’t understand it. Maine rejected a Rightist rollback on voter registration access.

Would be nice to think that these small tactical defeats on Movement extremism represent its ideological and logistical over-extension. The establishment of a Non-Rightist Defensive Line, as it were. Sherrod Brown says Ohio’s action “is a decisive step towards rebuilding the middle class.” Such is the state of Opposition leadership. Still, wins are wins.

As noted by TPM and others, the message is more diluted. Ohio voters actually approved Issue 3 which called for an Ohio constitutional amendment to block implementation of Obama’s health care law.

Creating a proper political defensive line 18 months ago would have been the first priority of competent political professionals. These scatter shot successes, achieved in part by organization and mostly by Rightists’ over reaching, are but a step along that path. Halting an opponent’s Noon Tide and then switching oneself over to the offensive is an altogether trickier proposition. Given Obama’s personal inability to be authentically engaged in non-detached, non-judgmental politics, local successes such as achieved on November 8th will have to suffice: sua sponte, self-organizing (as in independent of Obama’s personal fate or trajectory). Billion dollars or no. Which means a proper defensive line, if it ever were to form, would have to hold for the next four years of Obama.

Occupy D.C. Settles In

While the New York Review of Books offered their urbane gloss on things Zuccotti Park and you, Dear Reader, may be in the City to observe for yourselves, we turn to the twin occupy efforts in D.C. for a glimpse. The twin D.C. outposts present a unified facade to the casual inquirer, but pushing separate websites, general assembly meetings and the like show realities.

The Occupy D.C. outpost has grown about 15 tents. The library is much bigger. The National Park Service rules to obey in the park are encased in a plastic shell along walkways like at the National Air and Space Museum. Today at least, Occupy D.C. also features alot more young twenty somethings hanging out with their friends and video cameras. Occupy DC, Occupy D.C., OWS, Occupy Wall Street, We Are The 99% The interlopers are easy to spot and most, when a camera comes out, scoot or tell the Stiftung, “Please don’t take my picture, I am just visiting.” As with Facebook, the young seem less worried about privacy or the whole provocateur/police informant thing. At least they are there, adding their bio mass to protest The Man.

Occupy D.C. has people wise enough to explain tents and food are available to anyone willing to stay. They, however, are a far cry from Blake and ‘always be closing.’

Since our last visit the cardboard signs have multiplied. Occupy D.C. sends out emails hours ahead of time for a meet up and march to somewhere to protest, whether the nearby Chamber of Commerce or some bank. Those crowds remain modest but their commitment notable. Otherwise, like today, the place can look deserted except for the Stiftung and other tourists.

Freedom Plaza, October 2001, Occupy DCThe October 2001 Freedom Plaza encampment on Pennsylvania is still there, the earlier threat of police shutdown averted. The tents seem fewer although laid out to appear more numerous. Here, more than Occupy DC, the Stiftung catches glimpses of the old hard core anti-Vietnam War protest movement. Visible personnel at the information booth, etc. are silver haired and speak in Old Left code. The Stiftung pushes their buttons instinctively on sight and certainly by the questions we ask, which are a deliberately opaquely invasive nature. Particularly regarding some of their out of town protests against various facilities. Amusing to leave them thinking they’ve spotted and shut down The Man.

By contrast, the Occupy D.C. camp site has always had a softer, more welcoming Lollapalooza vibe – that a game of hacky sack might break out at any moment. One advantage October 2001/Freedom Plaza has over Occupy D.C. is that they don’t need generators. They are able to tap into local electricity grids. And the numerous hotels and other entertainment venues across the streets all offer various forms of free WiFi. As the weather worsens these kinds of things will loom large.

We still conclude it’s premature to proclaim OWS and its offspring have ‘changed the debate’ or more. Even granting that the City encampment is unique and we’ve yet to visit. Rather, our take is all of them around the world opened the door for possibilities. We’ve yet to see who or what steps through.

Conversations Frozen In Time: Movement Campaigns In Disarray

Together over the years we have discussed among ourselves the fundamental nature of political movements beginning on the Continent and their often unrecognized manifestations here. While this version of the Bunker captures some of it, STSOZ 1.0 probably has the more complete analysis. You can find it at the links above and search.

All of which is to say that we together have understood that political movements require amorphous natures and to survive must ignore formal organization (even when proffered for show). So it’s no surprise to see so many Rightist Movement campaigns stumble and flail – at least according to the considered professional judgments of political pundits unschooled in political philosophy and deploying the smirk certitude of assumed American participatory pluralism. Or the “Republican” professional campaign mercenaries.

We’ve had conversations with long time Movement operatives close to two such campaigns (no, we’re not including Newt). Long story short, you’ve probably already grokked the basics – new media ensures there are no confidences anymore, just delayed Tweets. In one case, a formerly high flying candidate rejected objectively sound advice and we’re told embraced a modern day Rasputin for final advice. Some of the instances shared with us sound unusually idiosyncratic. The candidate, however, remains in the game, continuing to send Movement dog whistles. It’s frankly hard to imagine when this candidate announced that a movement campaign in this environment would somehow subject itself to the discipline and boring work such as planning and budgeting. So, in that sense, everyone involved made their own beds.

A separate conversation involved a still leading campaign (currently struggling with a brutal news cycle). The ask was for contributions on themes heretofore ignored by the campaign. As typical in a Movement entity, despite the existence of a formal Vice President for X, Vice President for Y was seeking advisors and information about X to give to the candidate. It’s true that some duplication and rivalry is inevitable when a stunt campaign inexplicably finds itself forced to become (or at least pretend) the real thing. But the underlying process of ‘working towards the leader’ for favor and face time ignoring formal organizational tables is inherently a trait of ideological movement entities. So we weren’t surprised or put off. It’s just how these things roll.

There does seem to be a growing resignation that Romney will be the nominee among the professional Movement operatives. Much talk about how damaged Rubio is by implosion of his immigration mythos. Which gives the tattered remnants of the professional “Republican” class some relief. What they see in all of the above is a glimpse that the radical tide of 2001-2011 finally might be spent, and having reached its crest, begin to recede. Which poses the interesting question of who is the most out of touch?

The OWS Crackdown: How Much Connection Do 99% Of Americans Have With OWS?

David Graeber, self described small ‘a’ anarchist, describes his experiences in August attending organizing meetings in response to the Adbusters magazine call to occupy Wall Street. As befitting an anthropology professor, Graeber explains that the ethos was not ‘vertical’ but ‘horizontal’.

But as I paced about the Green, I noticed something. To adopt activist parlance: this wasn’t really a crowds of verticals—that is, the sort of people whose idea of political action is to march around with signs under the control of one or another top-down protest movement. They were mostly pretty obviously horizontals: people more sympathetic with anarchist principles of organization, non-hierarchical forms of direct democracy, and direct action . . .

Two days later, at the Outreach meeting we were brainstorming what to put on our first flyer. Adbusters’ idea had been that we focus on “one key demand.” This was a brilliant idea from a marketing perspective, but from an organizing perspective, it made no sense at all. We put that one aside almost immediately. There were much more fundamental questions to be hashed out. Like: who were we? Who did want to appeal to? Who did we represent? Someone—this time I remember quite clearly it was me, but I wouldn’t be surprised if a half dozen others had equally strong memories of being the first to come up with it—suggested, “well, why not call ourselves ‘the 99%’? If 1% of the population have ended up with all the benefits of the last 10 years of economic growth, control the wealth, own the politicians… why not just say we’re everybody else?” The Spanish couple quickly began to lay out a “We Are the 99%” pamphlet, and we started brainstorming ways to print and distribute it for free.

As an analysis of the internal politics and agendas of various protest movement factions it’s a fascinating read. But it prompts a question: how much of a connection do Americans have with OWS beyond passive approval?

It’s impossible to escape casual news reporting on the ever-growing American wealth disparity this October. We haven’t done the focus groups ourselves. We’d wager a good beer that a majority of Americans have consumed some media reports on topic. Hence, the brilliance of the ‘We are the 99%” slogan. It’s accurate. And welcoming. OWS approval ratings, while vastly higher among independents than the Tea Party, still remain relatively modest. The test is how much ‘approval’ translates into connection or even vicarious participatory sympathy.

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Occupy D.C. – An ISR Report

Occupy D.C. and allied but separate protest group October 2011 continue their modest presence as the month winds down. A comparison to the vastly larger and more dynamic OWS event is inescapable. One can’t see Princeton professors trying to get stunt arrested here. Or Naomi Wolf. Not necessarily a bad thing, of course.

Oh wait. Cornell West was arrested outside the Supreme Court (?) last week.

There are 20 tents or so, adorned with colorful banners. The organizers have good organization, ranging from an eclectic library to kitchens and a media savvy information table. The library carried every thing from Nation style readings to Foreign Affairs. Signs along the park’s railing convey the OWS messages as well as locally tailored banners such as ‘K Street workers support Occupy.’

Although Obama and Congress are directly complicit in many of the Occupy issues, protesting in Washington, D.C can’t seem to galvanize the broad segments of the population seen in the City. The region’s still palpable affluence might have something to do with that. Occupy D.C., OWS, Plutocracy, Protest

As with all the Occupy presences, ‘General Assemblies’ are called at specific times to shepherd all the cats. Absent a specific program or assembly the D.C. Occupy can appear more like an empty KOA campground. Stuff’s still going on. There’s apparently a growing strain between Occupy D.C. and the separate October 2011 group.

According to one report to the Stiftung, some members of Occupy D.C. want to cease collaboration. There are apparent differences in strategies and tactics. In one sense, tensions do not bode well for the overall OWS-type effort in D.C. On the other hand, managing one ad hoc ‘occupy’ presence is tricky enough for anyone, let along coordinating with others. The two groups are about 6 blocks apart: Occupy D.C. maintains its tents in a park along K Street, October 2011 camps out along Pennsylvania Ave.

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Eliot Spitzer Declares #OWS Already Won? Not Yet. But It’s A Start.

The spectacle, energy and unpredictability are contagious. Some national media are suddenly departing from the phony narrative of Right and Center-Right politics to give glimpses of the Occupy Wall Street drama.

Twitter naturally offers a more dynamic, unfiltered stream of tactical initiatives. When Ad Busters sent the initial email now months ago calling for the Wall Street ‘culture jam’ the call was for something brave, visceral but transitory. How delightful to see that simple summons to action grow into such an organic, ad hoc celebration of the possible.

All of it independent of the compromised, exhausted corporate facades foisted upon us by now a cable company as the voice of “the Left” or “Progressives” or “non-Rightists”. Or Arianna’s cynical duping of her readers and contributors to create her personal cash out with the dying AOL. How many long for the day to be free of both?

For all of their raucous, disorganized sprawl, #OWS and its now global siblings speak without pre-packed theme music, fast-flash graphic segment intros and patronizing (insulting?) personality brand enhancing promos groomed by focus groups and Q ratings. In other words, within the #OWS multitudes it’s highly likely there are voices much like you and the Stiftung. There’s also something restorative to the soul to see and and be reminded America as she once was and could have been. #OWS greatest gift so far is tangible reminder “We are not alone”.

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