Occupy Atlanta Day One: The Voice of Who?

These are my thoughts on #OccupyAtlanta. A factual accounting of the events can be found here.

Gail Collins, writing for The New York Times, aptly described the consensus process of #OccupyWallstreet, and I think it applies to #OccupyAtlanta as well.

The people sitting around with Desmond were studying a proposal for reorganizing the way that the various working groups — Donations, Finance, Outreach, Internet, Sanitation, Medical, Direct Action and many, many more — make their opinions felt in the evening assembly. The current system, it said, makes newcomers come away “exhausted by our model of direct democracy, rather than invigorated and inspired by it.”

Waves of nostalgia swept over me. This was exactly how I spent my college years, which were theoretically dedicated to creating a more humane society and stopping the war in Vietnam, but, in reality, mainly involved meetings. Endless meetings in which it was alleged that the winner was the person who managed to remain sitting while everyone else toppled over with boredom. I can’t say definitely, because I never made it to the end.

A lot of people showed up, and most weren’t members of the Hard Left interested in an experiment in direct democracy. I don’t think most people knew exactly why they were there, beyond looking for an outlet to express their discontent. The Hard Left organized the whole thing, and I give them props for that, but I think a lot of people are going to tire of consensus-style direct democracy before they tire of protesting.

Also, I felt the anarchists were being disingenuous pushing their process on a group of people inexperienced in their style of decision making. Maybe they didn’t foresee yesterday’s large turnout, but they’re currently the de facto leaders of #OccupyAtlanta, and they’re going to limit the size of their movement if they’re unwilling to incorporate other methods of organization. It’s not about the anarchists, it’s about allowing people who feel disenfranchised to have a voice.

I guess I wouldn’t have a problem with the consensus building, if that’s what it had actually felt like. Instead, it felt like the anarchists dominated the discussion, while the crowd left or watched in confusion. The “stack” had already been stacked with a core group of people, and the anarchists appeared more like a disorganized leadership than a group providing a platform for expression of opinions different than theirs. The Marxist guy was kind of shut down and ignored once he spoke two or three times.

Preventing John Lewis from speaking added to this perception. The block on him addressing the crowd wasn’t an affirmation of equality, it was a legislative trick to keep the man from speaking. Once again anarchists, this is about more than you and your processes. It was clear the crowd wanted to hear what he had to say, and by not allowing him to speak the facilitators were privileging their desires over that of the crowd. It was a douchebag move.

In the same vein, a group of white guys telling the black guy he can’t talk just looks bad. I don’t think the decision was racially motivated, but Atlanta is 50% black, and there were a lot of black people in the crowd, so the anarchists should make an effort to, at the very least, not go out of their way to appear racially insensitive. Lauding the guy before you say he shouldn’t be allowed to speak doesn’t cut it. I don’t know if outreach is part of their agenda, but Atlanta contains disenchanted people who aren’t college-educated, white men, and the anarchists should make an effort to include them.

That said, I admire what #OccupyAtlanta is doing and I wish them the best of luck in achieving whatever goals they eventually decide on. I hope they realize they’ve been entrusted with something special, and don’t squander it in the name of inflexible ideology.

  1. October 11th, 2011
  2. May 5th, 2014
  3. May 14th, 2014

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