Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Occupy Wall Street holds on

A major principle followed by the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement is that it is non-hierarchical, that is to say, there are no identifiable leaders.

At first the media tried to ignore OWS; then they ridiculed it. Now, though, late-night television is witnessing a scramble to find eminentoes who will explain the phenomenon to the clueless (a group that is all too often represented by the TV host him or herself).

Some of these interpreters are well chosen, while others are not. A good example of the appropriate type is Amy Goodman, who created and sustains the incisive news program called Democracy Now! While she clearly sympathizes with the movement, Goodman conducts herself as a reporter, seeking to identify, clarify, and spread factual knowledge.

In my view, a prominent example of the opposite kind is the egregious grandstander Michael Moore, whose counter-charisma is much admired in some circles.

Yet is Moore one of the 99% or the 1%? The latter appears to be closer to the truth.

Until recently, MM has openly flaunted his worldly success. "I'm a millionaire, I'm a multi-millionaire. I'm filthy rich. You know why I'm a multi-millionaire? 'Cause multi-millions like what I do. That's pretty good, isn't it?"

He dwells in a million-dollar apartment, and boasts of that as well. "I walk among them. I live on the island of Manhattan, a three-mile-wide strip of land that is luxury home and corporate suite to America's elite..... Those who run your life live in my neighborhood. I walk in the streets with them each day" (Michael Moore, "Stupid White Men," p. 51). For vacations he maintains another million-dollar property, a beachfront house in Michigan.

"You would think that he's the ultimate common man. But he's money-obsessed," noted one associate.

He sends his child to a private school--no sense hanging out with the working class-- and has some trouble associating with them himself. The New York Post has reported a tantrum he threw in London. "Then, on his second-to-last night, [Michael Moore] raged against everyone connected with the Roundhouse and complained that he was being paid a measly $750 a night. 'He completely lost the plot,' a member of the stage crew told the London Evening Standard. 'He stormed around all day screaming at everyone, even the 5 pound-an-hour bar staff, telling them how we were all con men and useless. Then he went on stage and did it in public.' At his last appearance, staffers refused to work or even open the theater's doors." (New York Post, January 8, 2003).

Not content with the handsome box-office returns from his movies, Moore supplements his "meager income" with speaking tours. During his 2004 pre-election tour he charged Utah Valley State College $40,000, Xavier $25,000, and the University of New Mexico $35,000. Not inaptly, he has been termed the ultimate Limousine Leftist. Some on the left, it appears, are appalled by Moore's antics; if so they have failed to make their voices heard.

Another Limousine Leftist (discussed in the previous posting) is Gore Vidal. He is now confined to a wheel chair, where he is assisted by his own private version of Justin Bieber, a long--haired French youth. One can expect the pair soon to appear in Zuccotti Square.

And there are broader issues. The enormous salaries achieved by Wall Streeters attract scorn, and rightly so. But how about the huge incomes generated by Hollywood performers and celebrities, as well as by some sports figures? What is sauce for the goose should be sauce for the gander.

Well, now that I have finished venting about the hypocrisy I perceive, let me turn to a serious internal problem at OWS. That is this. Before long the OWS folk may have trouble maintaining their non-hierarchical stance. In fact as I remember from personal experience, we have been here before. I refer to procedural issues that arose in the protest movements of the 1970s.

First, horizontal organizations of this type find that obtaining consensus is a protracted process in which everyone must patiently wait for all the voices to be heard. On some occasions it is those who have the stamina to wait it out who prevail. Their views may not be the best ones to adopt, but they gain the advantage by default.

Moreover, some subgroups--cliques if you will--perceive an advantage in this weakness. They organize privately to become a kind of power structure that operates clandestinely behind the scenes. In this way the organization becomes covertly hierarchical, a situation that is arguably worse than the open type. At least with blatant hierarchies, one knows who to go to.

In short the main problem faced by OWS may not be the invasion of grandstanders like Michael Moore (not to mention several opportunistic politicians who have shown up there), but internal structural problems, stemming from the commitment to non-hierarchy. Admirable in itself, this democratic commitment may contain the seeds of serious problems as the movement matures.

PS. For a different view, see



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