Why Occupy Failed

December 6, 2011

Occupy Wall Street has failed.

No doubt many will protest  this judgement, noting that the unconventional movement did much to raise awareness or change the public discussion.  Others will insist that Occupy has yet begun to fight, and will be back in the Spring, pitching tents and drumming on drums in a city plaza near you.

Yet by its own measure, the movement is a failure.  “We will continue to occupy” the several Occupys assured us, “until our demands are met.”  With the dispersal of the OLA camp, the last of the 24/7 presences are gone.  The occupii exited with barely a whimper.  The many homeless, who’d swelled the occupii ranks, simply returned to their usual places of encampment.  The rest sought the refuge of that room above the garage their parents always keep ready for them.

Even had the physical occupations continued, the movement remained stalled so long as it was incapable formulating any specific goals to “occupy” for.  Three months of Working Groups and twice-daily General Assemblies could not come up with a uniform list of demands, or even a “consensus” on whether to have any demands at all.

Occupying for Occupying’s Sake

The insistance on physically holding public spaces was based on a false reading of the “Arab Spring” and Tahrir Square protests.  In Tunisia, Egypt, or Syria, where anti-government protests are quickly and brutally broken up, it was necessary to maintain a continuous presence.  In America, where the government allows its citizens to protest quite freely, a 24/7 presence is neither required nor justified.

By protesting ’round the clock, the occupii acted like cargo cultists, blindly aping the Egyptians’ tactics, treating “occupation” as some magic talisman that brings about revolution.

Before very long, the occupations became about little more than the right to occupy.  The First Amendment’s protection of free speech and peacable assembly was twisted into the right to commandeer public property indefinitely.  In places like Oakland, factions of anti-police, anti-city hall malcontents hijacked the protests.  The original bogeymen, bankers and politicians, were forgotten as the occupii directed their rage at cops, mayors and college deans.


How quickly it’s forgotten that the successful revolution in Tunisia was sparked by the death of a fruit vendor at the hands of the police.  That the protestors in Tahrir Square endured beatings and stabbings by mounted pro-Mubarek thugs.  That protesters in Syria are murdered daily, yet more keep coming out.

Here in the US, the occupii found it intolerable when Oakland restricted their protests to the hours of 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., rejected as insulting Los Angeles’ offer of free office space and farmland, cried ‘tyranny’ when New York asked for a few hours to clean Zucotti park.  If the occupii want to know real tyranny, they should visit Argentina, and speak to the relatives of the 30,000 anti-government protesters who “disappeared” during the 1970s.  They should visit the streets of Berlin, Budapest, or Prague, and imagine ‘occupying’ while a 36 ton T-54 trundles down at you.  They should google the words “tiananmen square.”

Despite their vow to “fight like an Egyptian”, the occupii couldn’t stand up to some “nudging and bumping” by police horses.  The entire movement seemed to melt when hit with a few ounces of pepper spray.  These protesters aren’t tough like the Egyptians — they’re a bunch of occupussies.

We Are Our Demands

Although several regional groups did issue lists of demands, these all proved vague and overbroad.  What started as a singular message  — end corruption on Wall Street — was diffused until every pet cause, every simmering resentment, every inchoate dream, made the roster.

For the occupi cadre, the very concept of issuing specific demands was anathema:

[N]o single person or group has the authority to make demands on behalf of general assemblies around the world.  We are our demands. This #ows movement is about empowering communities to form their own general assemblies…. Our collective struggles cannot be co-opted.

The demand for demands is an attempt to shoehorn the Occupy gatherings into conventional politics, to force the energy of these gatherings into a form that people in power recognize, so that they can … divert, co-opt, buy off, or … squash any challenge to business as usual.

The unwillingness to articulate concrete demands so frustrated sympathetic observers, they felt obliged to pitch in by drawing up suggested demands for Occupy to adopt.  In the October 12th issue of Rolling Stone, Matt Taibbi offered five, narrowly-targeted goals:

  1. Break up the “Too Big to Fail” monopolies
  2. Pay for your own bailouts via a miniscule tax on stocks trades
  3. No public money for private lobbying
  4. Repeal the carried-interest tax break
  5. Ban upfront bonuses for bankers

In a December 4th editorial, the L.A. Times offered its own list of five demands for OLA:

  1. Sweeping financial reform
  2. Makes taxes more fair
  3. Combat corporate influence in politics
  4. Address rising tuition and student debt
  5. Downgrade marijuana from Schedule I status

[h/t Fionnchu]

While the last two objectives might necessitate spin-off movements (Occupy UC & Occupy Humboldt County) the Times’ list was at least a step in the right direction.

The One, Real Occupy Demand

What Taibbi, the L.A. Times, and most of America failed to realize is that, for the occupii, formal demands are moot.  For the occupii reject our present system of government as unworkable.  Occupy was envisioned not as a protest or rally, rather a revolution.  It’s one goal, one demand: to replace our current system of government with an anarchist, direct democracy.  They truly intended to camp-out in public until the rest of the world agreed to scrap our current civilization and replace it with the occupii’ vision of utopia.

David Graeber, a prominent anarchist, and one of the original organizers of #OWS, explains:

Anarchism is a revolutionary political philosophy, theory, and way of living that strives toward a more free and equal society without government, authority, domination, capitalism, or oppression. Key to the anarchist analysis is its unflinching criticism of authority, or of some people holding established power over others.  Anarchism considers government in any form … unnecessary, harmful, and undesirable…. The General Assemblies and committees within Occupy are experiments in this kind of self-management.

The occupii reject as futile any attempt at working within a system that is “absolutely and irredeemably corrupt.”  What’s the point of asking the government to reinstate Glass-Steagall or reverse Citizens United, when we’re on the verge of abolishing government entirely?  Anarchists wish to see human relations that would not have to be backed up by armies, prisons and police. Anarchism envisions a society based on equality and solidarity, which could exist solely on the free consent of participants.”

Graeber proudly points to occupi’s adherence to five anarchist principles:

1)    The refusal to recognise the legitimacy of existing political institutions — “acting as if the existing structure of power does not even exist.”  Just as Ghandi urged the Indian people to flaunt British regulations on trade, the occupii flaunted city curfews.

2)   The refusal to accept the legitimacy of the existing legal order — “[O]rganisers knowingly ignored local ordinances … simply on the grounds that such laws should not exist.”

3)   The refusal to create an internal hierarchy, but instead to create a form of consensus-based direct democracy — “From the very beginning … organisers made the audacious decision to operate not only by direct democracy, without leaders, but by consensus.”  To avoid either the co-opting of a “formal leadership structure” or a majority “bend[ing] a minority to its will”,”all decisions will, of necessity, have to be made by general consent.”

4)   The embrace of prefigurative politics

“Zuccotti Park, and all subsequent encampments, became spaces of experiment with creating the institutions of a new society – not only democratic General Assemblies but kitchens, libraries, clinics, media centres and a host of other institutions, all operating on anarchist principles of mutual aid and self-organisation – a genuine attempt to create the institutions of a new society in the shell of the old.”

Occupy = Anarchy

And now we understand.  Occupy was never about something as mundane as ending corruption on Wall Street — it was about transforming society from the bottom up. The little occupy camps were demos of the future anarchist utopia to come.  Once the American people saw anarchy in action, they’d realize that “if we are to live in any sort of genuinely [i.e. direct] democratic society, we’re going to have to start from scratch….”

Graeber admits that

We may never be able to prove, through logic, that direct democracy [is] possible. We can only demonstrate it through action. In parks and squares across America, people have begun to witness it as they have started to participate.

The occupii expected to transform society by showing everyone the wisdom & beauty of things like “Positive Speech,” a “less aggressive and more conciliatory type of communication” that avoids “negative statements which close the door to constructive debate.”  Example: “‘Don’t touch that dog or it will bite you’ could be phrased as ‘Be careful with that dog because it could bite you and neither of us would like that.'”

Leaders would be replaced by “Moderators” whose job was to “bring together the general sense of the Assembly rather than follow a protocol, Ideally, this figure should not need to exist. (everybody should respect everybody).”

In fact, all the quirks of Occupy — the GAs, the hand jive, etc. — have long been hallmarks of the heretofore pathetically inconsequential anarchist movement.  These “new forms of organization” are the anarchists’ very ideology, Graeber emphasized in a 2002 New Left Review article. “It is about creating and enacting horizontal networks instead of top-down structures like states, parties or corporations; networks based on principles of decentralized, non-hierarchical consensus democracy. Ultimately … it aspires to reinvent daily life as whole.  (Emphasis added.)

Offering a trial sample of anarchy in action is not the worst strategy, as good historical examples are hard to come by.  Tenuous claims are made to assisting the civil rights movement, Vietnam protests, women’s ERA, and the downfall of Miloslovec. The disastrous Paris Commune of 1871 (see excursus below) is sometimes mentioned, but occupii tend to omit anarchy’s crowning achievement: its crippling, via obtuseness and intransigence, of the Republican coalition in the Spanish Civil War, ushering in nearly four decades of Franco’s fascist tyranny.

Time’s Up

This article began with a declaration of Occupy’s failure.  Its founders are convinced Occupy has already succeeded far in excess of their wildest dreams.  ‘We’ve only just begun’, the occupii insist, ‘just give us more time, and we can change the world.’

Perpetual irrelevance breeds habitual indolence.  Having puttered away for decades in obscure organic co-ops & peace centers, having attended innumerable & fruitless gripe sessions in UU community halls, the anarchists who started Occupy never learned how to act decisively or effectively.  This September, they went virtually unnoticed, as usual, while engaged in their latest, futile fist-shake at society: a tiny protest near Wall St.  Suddenly and unexpectedly, OWS made the headlines — courtesy of one cop’s injudicious use of pepper spray — and ignited a dense duff of accumulated resentment among the general population.

The occupii interpreted this spontaneous public outcry as an acceptance of their radical philosophy.  “[I]f any significant number of Americans do find out what anarchism really is, they might well decide that rulers of any sort are unnecessary.”  In that, they are mistaken.  Ordinary people want direct, concrete action taken now, by leaders using the existing political and societal system.  Ordinary people are not willing to wait until an alternate utopia grows “organically” at the speed of mildew.  Ordinary people are certainly not ever going to join experimental tent communes.  Not in a million years.

The clock has run out for Occupy.  Media attention is an evanescent thing.  In this game, dirty laundry is always trumps.  Kim Kardassian and Ginger White did more do sink Occupy than any mayor or police force.

We can only hope that the radicalism and sheer idiocy of the occupii experiment did not overly tarnish the broader, sane movement to end corruption on Wall Street and in Washington.  Now that Occupy has failed, ordinary people can take over, applying the sound principles of hierarchy, leadership, focus, and working within the system.  The occupii should follow the army adage: either lead, follow, or get out of the way.  Since you’ve proven you can’t lead, and refuse to follow, y’all know what to do.

(c) 2011 by True Liberal Nexus.  All rights reserved.

Excursus — Occupy Paris, 1871  (after the jump)

Read the rest of this entry »

Why the #Occupy Movement Will Fail — Part 2

October 19, 2011

Part 2 –  “Vague and Overbroad”

From our fellow true liberal, Fionnchu, the twelve demands made by the #Occupy Chicago group:

  1. Reinstate Glass-Steagall
  2. Repeal Bush-era tax cuts
  3. Prosecute “the Wall Street criminals” who caused the 2008 financial crisis.
  4. Overturn Citizens United v. United States
  5. Pass the “Buffett Rule”; Close Corporate Tax loopholes
  6. Strengthen SEC, Consumer Protection Board Regulatory Powers
  7. Limit the influence of lobbyists on legislation
  8. Prohibit ex-government regulators from working in the industries they once regulated
  9. Eliminate Corporate Personhood
  10. Give Equal Time for Free to all political candidates
  11. Pass the Fair Elections Now Act
  12. Forgive Student Debt

The old copy-editor in me couldn’t resist tidying up that list a bit. For the full, wordy wording of the list, see here.

Marketing 101

Lack of focus and muddled messaging is one of the primary reasons the #Occupy movement will ultimately fail.  The mental laziness evidenced in OWS Chicago’s rambling, stream-of-conscienceness demands is appalling.  The average person’s grocery list jotted on the back of an envelope — 1. Produce; 2. Dairy; 3. Meat; 4. Dry Goods; etc. —  is better thought-out.

Horrors, people, I used to work for “The Man”, but he taught me how to influence behavior through effective messaging.  I now pass those teachings on to you so you can bring down The Man with his own weaponry.  So stop the chanting and drumming for a moment, and listen up.

For better impact & clarity, these twelve points can be grouped under three broad, catchy headings:

  1. Put Muzzles &  Choke Collars on the Rabid Dogs of Wall Street   (1, 3, 6)
  2. End the Corporate Whoredom of Politicians  (4, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11)
  3. Stop the Ultra-Rich From Pillaging, & Turning the Rest of Us Into Peasants  (2, 5, 12)

That’s all for today’s marketing lesson.  Class dismissed.  You may now rejoin the tie-dye or pumpkin-painting committees.

Vague and Overbroad

Unless not bathing for several months, crapping in public, and having anonymous sex in tents is all the Occupyers ever had in mind, nothing will come of this movement without a bit of planning.

“The Chicago protesters have vowed to stay in the streets until their demands are met”, but living outdoors in the Windy City will soon be a frakking freezing prospect.  So unless they are down with frostbite in delicate places, the Occupyers would be wise to establish some specific steps toward achieving their demands, along with concrete milestones.

So, ignoring for the moment the worthiness of these twelve demands, let’s examine just how clear, and how practicable they are.

1. Reinstate Glass-Steagal

Clarity:  Very Specific

Feasibility: High

SitRep: From 1933 to 1999, Glass-Steagal regulated banks, speculation, and established the FDIC.  For 66 years, it deterred the reckless financial practices that had brought on the Great Depression.  In 1999, Congress freed investment banks from the regulations of Glass-Steagal, which led to rampant & reckless speculations, the collapse of banks like CitiGroup, the TARP bailout, and the eventual onset of the Great Recession.  Bipartisan attempts to reinstate Glass-Steagal have gotten nowhere. President obama has occasionally called for minor tweaks to investment regulations.

Concrete Steps:

a) Demand that the president commit to a firm date when he will introduce legislation to Congress for a full reinstatement of Glass-Steagal;

b) Demand a pledge to vote to reinstate Glass-Steagal from every member of Congress;

c) Issue a pledge to refuse to vote for anyone running for federal office in 2012 who does not make this commitment;

d) Issue a pledge to refuse to vote for president obama if he does not give and then meet a deadline to introduce legislation to reinstate Glass-Steagal.

2. Repeal Bush Tax Cuts

Clarity:  Very Specific

Feasibility:  Straightforward, but Unlikely

SitRep:  President obama lied to us.  During his 2008 campaign, he vowed to repeal the Bush tax cuts, then reneged when given the Democratic super-majority to do so.  Now that he’s lost that friendly Congress, he promises to repeal the cuts — if we re-elect him & reward him with another Democratic majority in 2013.  Fool me once ….

Concrete Steps: #Occupy should demand that obama:

a)  Publicly & repeatedly say these words: “I broke my promise. I lied to you. I am sorry. I let John Boehner do me up the ass, and I liked it!  I am easily the most dickless of Dickless Wonders the World has ever seen”;

b)  Within 30 days, introduce to Congress stand-alone legislation repealing the Bush Tax Cuts;

Occupyers should:

c) Sign a pledge to refuse to vote for obama in 2012 if he does not meet these demands.

3. Prosecute Wall Street Criminals

Clarity:  Vague and Overbroad

Feasiblity:  Impossible

SitRep: Those “criminals”, Goldman Sachs, were already investigated, and found to be only slightly guilty.  They made $4 trillion on the scam, paid a $500 billion penalty, which was so surprisingly light that Wall Street reacted by raising GS stock value by $800 billion in one day.  In other words, they made out like bandits.

Just the other day, obama said “it might have been greedy, but it was legal.”

Concrete Steps:  Too late shutting the barn door once the horse has escaped.  Now, all you can do is ask yourself, WWDHD? (What Would Dirty Harry Do?)

4. Overturn Citizens United

Clarity: Very Specific

Feasibility: Hard but Do-able

SitRep:  SCOTUS ruled 5-4 to consider a corporation a person for the purposes of free speech & campaign contributions.   80% of Americans polled oppose the ruling.

Concrete Steps:

Plan A (complicated)  


a) A dead SC justice — Alito, Kennedy, Roberts, Scalia, Thomas (pick one);

c) a POTUS pledged to appointing judges who’ll rule this way;

c) a Senate willing to confirm said appointees:

d) an appeal

Plan B (simple)

Pass a Constitutional Amendment.  (See Article V of your operating manual)

5.  Pass Buffett Rule

Clarity: Very Specific

Feasibility: Straightforward

Concrete Steps:  See procedure for Glass-Steagal above.

6. Strengthen SEC, Consumer Protection Board Powers

Clarity:  Vague and Overbroad

Feasibility: Straightforward — if clarified

Concrete Steps:  Draft specific elements, divided between those that can be enacted by presidential policy, and those that require legislation.  Demand deadlines for appropriate action as per above.

7. Limit Influence of Lobbyists

Clarity:  Ephemeral

Feasibility: if clarified, Achievable in long-term

Concrete Steps:  No means exist to tackle the problem head-on, but would be greatly ameliorated if real campaign finance reform were enacted.  The public should also think twice about voting for a candidate who brags about raising one billion dollars in campaign contributions.

8. Ban Ex-Regulators from Working in Same Industry

Clarity: Very Specific

Feasibility:  Piece of Cake

Concrete Steps:  Simply add a standard non-compete clause to every regulator’s contract.   The inverse, prohibiting industry execs from becoming regulators, is perhaps even more important.

Can be implemented either by:

a) Presidential policy, or;

b) Act of Congress, or;

c) Constitutional Amendment

9. Eliminate Corporate Personhood

Clarity:  Specific, but sweeping

Feasibility: Dangerous and impractical

SitRep: Treating a corporation as an individual person for certain purposes is a sound and well-established tenet of our western legal system.

Entirely eliminating corporate personhood is, in fact, a radical, unprecedented proposal with unforeseen dangers.  Many advantages to the commonweal, such as limited liability for investors, the ability for the government to regulate & tax, or the courts to prosecute, single entities, would be lost.

Concrete Steps:  Stick to a constitutional amendment denying personhood to corporations in the specific instance of free speech & campaign contributions. (see #4 above.)

10.  Equal Access for Candidates

Clarity:   Vague and Overbroad

Concrete Steps:  Before the feasibility of this can be assessed, the Occupyers need to define exactly what this “equal time for free” entails (debates? media? voters’ guides?), what constitutes “reasonable intervals”, and how the FEC would be empowered to do so.

Overarching campaign finance reform would be a simpler resolution of this issue.

11. Pass Fair Elections Act

Clarity:  Specific

Feasibility:  Difficult

SitRep:  The bill was reintroduced to Congress yet again in April.  It has bipartisan sponsorship, but never gets out of committee. Gets no press coverage whatsoever.

Concrete Steps:  Formal demands for pledges from Congress members to pass, and the president to sign, with pledges to not vote for those who refuse.  Accost candidates in public — including that queen of all contribution whores, barack obama — and ask why they don’t support this.

12. Forgive Student Debt

Clarity:  Specific but sweeping

Feasibility:  Unlikely, but Achievable in long-term

SitRep:  Most of the world’s nations, realizing that a skilled & educated populace yields strength & prosperity, offer free higher education to every citizen.  In the US, the focus is not on that common good, rather on the personal advantage of greater earning power derived from holding a degree.

Unlike other nations, colleges in the US are largely private or state run. There is no federal university system.

Further, the cost of a private college education in the US is grossly over-inflated.  Any federal grant program would in part subsidize these inflated prices.

Concrete Steps:  Draft legislation – with specifics – that: 1) forgives all current outstanding federal student loans; 2) creates a federal college grant program; 3) provides funding, possibly through a tax on the admissions revenue of private colleges & universities.

Before this proposal has any chance of succeeding, the sway over our culture by anti-social memes needs to be broken.  Prepare for a long slog on that one.  And if you’re thinking of joining the Occupyers, pack your long-johns.

(C) 2011 by ‘tamerlane’.  All rights reserved.

Why the #Occupy Movement Will Fail

October 18, 2011

Occupy Wall Street ______ County

Notes/Decisions from the Oct 16th planning Meeting

[Editor’s note:  this is a digest of the actual meeting minutes posted by the local Occupy group in tamerlane’s neck of the woods.]

Hello All, thanks to those who came out to the meeting yesterday.  I made a big mistake in not getting everyone to signup for the mailing list


1) The Next Rally

  • Everyone should be involved with printing and handing out the flyer

  • Rally to be organized organically
  • Peacekeepers Lorianne, Pamela, Guari, Mia, Heather will help move the flow of people
  • The Plaza will have musicians and speakers organized on the fly for those that want to step up. I didnt consense on this but i think Jefferey’s small amp is fine
  • The sign crew should get cardboard, more tables, and sticks (I think it was heather that said she has sticks too)

  • People should organize carpools… then drive one car in.

2) The Rally After That

  • Other than the time and place, no logistics are planned.

3) Continued Movement

  • The group agreed to attempt to keep visibility and movement, nothing has been planned.

4) Working Groups, Roles

  • Outreach to Latinos*: Jeffrey    [* 8% of county population]

  • Music: Jeffrey, Lorianne, Janie

  • Non-Violence Training Coordinators: Joe and Pamela

  • Goals: ??

5) Other Possible Actions to support

  • Possible support of Michael Moore talk
  • Nov 9th, End corporate person hood (talk?) need more info…

  • Halloween OWS themed costumes

  • Oct 28, 29 (Cant remember name now…alternatives to violence?) workshop, Gauri had details

6) Resources to be shared on website

  • Guidelines for dealing with law enforcement
  • Non-Violent theory and guidelines

If you know of a good online source for info on any of these, please send them to me

7) Political Action items brought up

  • we had no consensus

6 ) [again] Next Planning Meeting

  • If it rains we will need to find a new location and leave a sign at the bandshell.  

Also lets have another facilitator other than me.

[Ya think?]