OWS debate, transgendered concerns, Occupy proceduralism, usual ephemera....
a debate on #occupyws from Jacobin on Vimeo.
This has been going around a lot. It starts out rather slow but ends up being a decent debate between anarchists and collectivists. Obviously I tend to agree with Henwood and Dean.
The anarchist notion that expressions of autonomy (nothing hierarchically above "well, for me this movement means...") and taking up space (as in Zucotti Park) and aversions to commonalities are victories in and of themselves - this strikes me as the concerns of a privileged, decidedly petit-bourgeois left. Let's face it, there are two types of people who have time to go camp out in Zucotti Park for weeks on end - those with considerable means, and those with very little means. Most people who need health care, and/or who are mired in debt, and/or are food insecure, and/or who are underemployed or have seen lessened or stagnated wages, these folks aren't going to prioritize autonomy in the manner that anarchist Manhattanites do or demand autonomy to the degree than anarchist Manhattanites do.
The vocal aesthetic of the manner in which Natasha Lennard uses and pronounces the word fuck could not possibly reinforce the caricature of anarchist intellectual more.
Henwood's comment about believing in representative democracy because "most people don't want to spend their lives in meetings" resonated with me, particularly after listening to discussion at the recent general assembly of my local Occupy Memphis group Monday night. There was disagreement regarding whether or not the word women's in women's caucus (the women's caucus had met the night before for the first time) was exclusionary of transgendered people. After a half hour of discussion about other potential words and their relation to gender constructs and a whole host of other identity politics issues no consensus was reached (though it seemed for a while that the rule that anyone who self-identified as a woman could go would be adopted, but this of course glosses over all the problems inherent in the word women, etc., etc., ad nauseam), and a later meeting was scheduled to deal with the issue. I didn't stay for that later meeting, but I heard it lasted a good length of time, and a decision was finally reached that the feminists, the homosexuals, the transgendered, and everybody else in the group could all live with. On the one hand, there are people there whose experience in life is such that they are used to "having no voice" or having their "voices" squashed, and I think it a good thing that they be able to have some experience of self-determination within a collective. Good on them. I don't care what they call the women's caucus, and most of the people I know who have been born male but came to self-identity female would have been very happy to attend a caucus called a women's caucus if they felt welcome there, and I am sure such would be welcome to the caucus in question because in my experience nobody is made to feel unwelcome at any Occupy Memphis event.
But man oh man (sorry for the militantly sexist colloquialism), for a group that is organizationally anarchist, damn there is a lot of proceduralism - at every turn there is discussion about group decisions and the decision making process and what had been decided and what we're supposed to do now in light of previous general assembly decisions and there is all this procedural jargon (and hand motions even) peculiar to Occupy Everything and lots of people pointing out when procedure hasn't been followed and so on and so forth. This might be "empowering" to some people for a spell, but as someone who hates meetings and proceduralist minutiae, I would not want to spend my life in an Occupy My Neighborhood or somesuch where we had to constantly work through every damn issue via radically democratic consensus methods involving a lot of time spent on procedural dross and my anal next door neighbor who likes to call the city when my grass is "too tall" now correcting me every time I made some procedural mistake at the Occupy My Neighborhood general assembly. Then again, I appreciate the fact that the general assemblies are subversive to the extent that they create something of an alternative government for people whose "official" government is inaccessible to them.
But, to be honest, what it really comes down to for me is that the people who chant "whose park? our park!" over and over again have agreed to the city ordinance not allowing alcohol in the park - how utterly unsubversive and it's been too cold to be outside without a flask handy. I mean, for anarchists some of these people really like rules - they just want to have first hand experience in the rule creation process (it's as if the city's rule against alcohol in the park is "baptized" because the general assembly agreed to the rule). Personally, I'd rather have fewer rules governing my personal behavior (use the wrong hand motion in a general assembly and watch how many point-of-orders you get, sigh), and less talk of rules altogether, but, as the kids say, whatever...
The point the guy in the audience makes (starting around 1 hour 4 minutes in) about the unions destroying the protest movements in WI is apt. This is one point that the Henwood and Dean don't get far enough into - if we reject anarchist autonomism and the mere occupation of space as a means of decoding subjectivities which have been forced upon us by authoritarian structures in society, and we insist on clear and precise demands, how do these demands not then get co-opted into liberal political machine structures (union bureaucracies, the Democratic Party, etc.)?
Of course, most of the things debated here were debated operating under the working assumption that Occupy Everything is an actual movement, and I agree with the guy in the beginning who said that it is not yet a movement. I think most of the old left assume that this not-yet-movement will fall apart and that its import will be that it helped further radicalize some people, that it brought social agitation to national light, that it built solidarity among those arrested or beaten up a bit by cops, and so forth. Every revolutionary situation is preceded by a lot of "failed" protest phenomena. It'll all come out in the wash.