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.
A case study? How the 99% react to the roll up of OWS presences from Oakland, Cleveland, Baltimore, Atlanta, Boston and Chicago – with thousands of arrests. We focus here on the forcible shut down of the actual installations. Not celebutantes issuing press releases about their ‘ordeals’, etc. In one sense, it’s easy to stay detached. After all, arrested? There’s an app for that. How consumer friendly.
So far, we’d judge the 99% of Americans ostensibly represented by OWS are unmoved. Apparently they still view events as third party observers rather than participants. True, the Oakland crackdown offered media-friendly images of clash and discord. Americans can note in their own backyards OWS is discord-free and kept public order.
As an ongoing experiment in post-Obama politics OWS continues. We return to the Graeber item above. Would that vocabulary, mindset and avowed agenda play in the fabled ‘Philadelphia suburbs’? Does it even need to? In order to achieve a political alternative between Center-Rightist Democrats and the Rightists? When the Democratic proffer to the ‘Super Committee’ wouldn’t even be considered by the Reagan Administration?