Friday, October 7, 2011

About that "Naomi Klein" Quote

This quote has become an internet staple during this week of extraordinary expansion of the #Occupyitall movement. It seems to be everywhere, posted multiple times to practically every Occupation's Facebook page and almost always attributed to Naomi Klein:

please protesters, I can't say this enough: DO NOT MARCH. SIT DOWN or stand with linked arms. DO NOT MARCH. I have studied protests for the last fifty years -- the ones that ended in state violence (they always win) are short and the MARCH. the ones that brought down regimes are LONG and STOP TRAFFIC and involve SITTING DOWN OR STANDING STILL WITH LINKED ARMS. They take patience.
The only problem is that Naomi Klein didn't say it -- she wouldn't say something like this, for one thing -- it is a quote from Naomi Wolf's Facebook page from October 2, 2011.

Naomi Wolf said a lot more than this that day, and many people commented on her statement. She asserted herself as the voice of authority on successful protest movements because she has studied them. Naomi studies, you listen.

This is the link to the actual quote:

These are some of the other things she said that day:

But there is a great doc too[p] about estonia where they literally san[d ]g the (forbidden) national anthem everywhere totally peacefully in huge masses no violence, not marching, and finally the soviets just couldnt do anything and gave up... need big numbers of course...

ok you are right matching t shirts not ideal but a color for sure is ideal. and respectfully it was not the marches of the suffragettes that did the deed, it was when they chained themselves to the gates of parliament and congress and went on hunger strikes.

when someone is chained to something for days or seated in the middle of everything en masse the story does not go away. also masks are a TERRIBLE idea, gives free reign to provocateurs.

also it took sixty years, the suffrage movement, that is why long haul tactics are the ones to choose.

The post about the bonus march is important but incomplete. The Bonus March marched to washington AND STAYED THERE. They camped out for MONTHS and sat on the steps on Congress (in a way that is forbidden now) so that every time their congresspeople passed they had to deal with them. THEY SAT DOWN THEY CAMPED THEY DID NOT LEAVE and eventually they did get their money.

Protesres have to behave in a way that does not turn the city into a context scary for kids families and old people but that SHUTS IT DOWN.

No disrespect to them but someone should let them know the sixties raised fist is really truly the wrong branding. It should be inclusive, non-militarist, patriotic and take our country back.

The idea of 'marching' comes form the New Left -- it is a quasi-militarist idea of social protest. The ones that really worked like tahrir square, and all over eastern europe, took weeks or months but people CAMPED IN PUBLIC PLACES STAYED STILL SANG WERE NONVIOLENT and disrupted business as usual (and commerce by STOPPING TRAFFIC. stopping traffic is really the only leverage the people have. DON"T MARCH because that gives police an excuse to escalate violence and it DOES NOT WORK. SIT DOWN. Estonia latvia and lithuania brought down the societ regime by parking cars and standing all along a linked highway and singing -- no traffic could pass.

When traffic can't get through then business puts pressure on government to address the protests.

also you are missing great media coverage by not choosing a single color to represent this movement and everyone dressing in it -- that way even people at work can show support.

also singing is better than chanting for the same reasons.

The civil rights movement did march but they mached to a destination and more important was the protest in whcih they SAT on buses or SAT at lunch counters and PEACEFULLY DID NOT MOVE.

The police are not your enemy. "Business as usual." is what your goal is to disrupt peacefully.

You want to bring the city to a standstill PEACEFULLY

BTW this is not woo woo it is really historically tested.

though love never hurts. Those cops are just trying to feed their families too. it is the machine that is the 'enemy' not individuals trapped in it.

marches are a lot easier for police today to manipulate, they have technology that did not exist in midcentury.

The first quote, misattributed and completely out of context, is so widespread by now that it is almost an article of faith.

Remember, this was October 2, after the initial police brutality incident during a march to and from Union Square. Actually, the argument she's making here is a vast oversimplification of a relatively complex and nuanced set of circumstances.

While it seems that she is denouncing marches as a useful protest tool, in fact, she isn't. She's basically making the claim that they are ineffective, much as many, many bloggers and other ponderers have claimed for many years. Marching in the streets is a waste of time. Especially if there are icky giant puppets.

She's responding to a specific instance with a general observation: Marches don't work to bring down a regime; they only aggravate the authorities and lead to failure for the cause. Sit down, link arms, and sing songs instead. That will work; I know because I've studied what works for years.

Yes. Well.

That's fine. Her observations are fine as far as they go, but because she is trying to argue her point like a lawyer rather than consider that the issue is actually a good deal more complex than she makes it, she stumbles badly.

It's as if she feels that the mission of the Occupy Wall Street participants is her's, that it is a mission to overthrow the existing government, and that success can only come through adopting the tactics used to lead to the collapse of the Soviet empire.

I'm quite fond of those tactics myself, but our situation is not quite theirs. Nevertheless, the sit-in has a long and storied history in this country; standing protests, silent protests, and camping protests have all been utilized from time to time, as they continue to be. So are marches. So are strikes. There's a whole panoply of tools that can be used to accomplish particular social/political objectives "outside the system" as it were, and at any given time, any of them -- or a combination of them -- might be used. None will necessarily be effective right out of the gate, and they may not be successful at all, ever.

Any activism you choose to name can -- and often does -- fail. This is no mystery.

The Occupation has been using all sorts of tactics, not just marches and sit-ins and teach-ins and camping overnight. To my eye, the most effective part of the action in New York is the General Assembly and all that goes with it. This will, I hope, become the lasting legacy of the movement. But as I've said many times, it is very difficult to do; it is so difficult that most people cannot and will not do it. But enough seem to be willing to try it, adapt it, and use it, that there are now General Assemblies and their associated Working and Thematic Groups in hundreds of cities around the world. This is really quite an amazing accomplishment.

So amazing that many people are still gobsmacked by it.

The second most effective tactic or tool used is the "occupation" theme itself. An occupation has many layers of meaning, from that of claiming and holding territory (that someone else thinks is or should be theirs) to that one's calling and employment. People are claiming territory in their cities, often the main public square, or at least a significant one. They are using that public space for mostly public purposes, ie: establishing and demonstrating the operations of a model community in the midst of the broken and failed social and political institutions we're surrounded with. Wall Street is a symbolic rallying cry, but the problem of our failed and broken institutions is pervasive. It's everywhere, and it can only be corrected through common action, in public, as a demonstration of what the civil society should be.

That's why it works. Not so much because the activists are sleeping in misery on cold granite or marble or asphalt surfaces, but because they are demonstrating how to create and operate a viable, democratic, and functional New Civil Society.

If it is successful over the long term, that's why it will be successful, not so much because of the sit-ins, sleep-ins or the marches.

Naomi Wolf makes some valuable observations, but because she is arguing her point rather than engaging in dialogue, she's actually modeling the opposite of the #Occupation. She's asserting authority, arguing narrowly, and she refuses to yield to responsible counter-argument. It is the old "I'm right and you're wrong," top down, hierarchical model that has been such a stupendous failure. And like many others, I doubt she is ready to recognize it.

It takes time.

It's hard to bite your tongue and listen. But that's what this movement is calling for.

Time, humility, and an open mind. With those tools and a few others, there's little or no end to the possibilities.

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