Saturday, November 5, 2011
Spokes Councils? No Wonder the Energy Center Shifted to Oakland
In a previous post, I mentioned cryptically that Big Changes were on tap for OWS in New York, and suggested that whatever OWS was becoming, it wouldn't be much like what it had been. At the time, the picture was so confused and confusing, it was not at all clear whether the Structural Reformation being touted had actually passed the NYCGA or not. There were both claims and denials posted, and as the GAs are not necessarily Livestreamed any more, and I had some other pressing concerns to take care of, I wasn't able to follow up right away.
It appears that the Change was actually passed on October 28, and this is the first weekend of its operation. Oh. Boy.
What's happened, as best I can describe it, is akin to a coup by a Leadership Group -- which of course claims not to be Leaders -- which reduces -- and may eventually eliminate -- the authority of the New York City General Assembly. In its place, a representative body called the Spokes Council is being set up; it will consist of Spokes People, one elected or otherwise designated from each of the "official" working groups of OWS, who in Council (with work group members in attendance -- at least in theory) will adopt proposals which will then be sent to the GA for what may amount to pro-forma validation.
The main factor underlying this extraordinary change in the operations of OWS in New York -- and make no mistake, this is a radical transformation -- is money. OWS, through its ad hoc fundraising efforts, has accumulated at least $500,000 (probably quite a bit more, given the 5 gallon "Donation" cans set out on the corners of Liberty Plaza/Park/Square.) All expenditures over a certain very small amount ($100 or $200) must be approved, after arduous argument, by the General Assembly, and some decisions made by the GA about expenditures have been questioned. By interposing a Spokes Council, with the authority to determine expenditures more or less independently of the GA, at least so far as I can tell, it has been argued that the money OWS has accumulated will be put to more immediate and productive use. The GA process being being so difficult and all.
The last time I checked, there were some 80+ Working Groups listed by the NYCGA, but how many of them are "official" -- that is adopted by the GA by at least a 90% consensus -- I don't know, and unless you're a total records nerd, you're probably not going to find out.
But if we assume that all of them are "official," then the Spokes Body is composed of 80+ Spokes People, each of whom has one vote, and an 11% minority of the Spokes Body (ie: 8+) can thwart any decision or action by the Spokes Body.
Exactly how all of this works nobody knows yet, as none of it is seasoned by practice sufficiently to be clear.
Which is probably the point.
It's not really fair to characterize what's happened as a full-on coup; that would actually be quite a different thing which may come in due time. What happened, as far as I can tell, was more like the ramrodding of a proposal by a highly charged and organized group of OWS "leaders" (that is to say, people who have a heavy investment in OWS and who have taken on various responsible roles -- which I may get to in another post) through the operational minefields of a direct democratic model. It wasn't easy. They failed many times (I know of at least four times the Spokes Council was rejected by the GA).
But when it was finally adopted, I think it is fair to say there was a good deal of animosity toward what had occurred, and I would imagine that plenty of people left the group in response.
Of course, we wouldn't know that right away. For one thing, OWS doesn't publicize these sorts of fragmentations (which have been occurring with some regularity anyway), and for another, the internal workings of OWS are not of much interest to many observers, including the media.
Nevertheless, the transformation of OWS in New York from a direct democracy model to a representative democracy model, which was accomplished by this move to the Spokes Council, is essentially a capitulation to the power of the standard model of organization.
Right now, I think what happens in Oakland in response to the partially successful General Strike (and the Black Bloc Diversity of Tactics) is of more long term importance to the Movement as a whole than what has happened in New York to "regularize" their local operations.
I could be wrong about this of course. Once the "regularized" OWS model in New York is well-enough known, there may be little or no possibility for other Occupations to adopt alternative models and the dream that something truly radical and revolutionary might come out of the Occupy Movement will... disappear.
Time will tell.