Friday, November 11, 2011
Why I'm Not A Fan of the Spokes Council Model -- Part: And Another Thing
There have now been two "official" Spokes Council meeting with minutes posted at NYCGA; they're doing better at recording minutes and posting them than the GA has done lately (they're up to November 6, progress though hardly timely), but there are -- so far as I can find -- still no archived Livestreams of either Spokes Councils (at all) or GAs (since Nov 2). I must offer the caveat, however, that there are many potential locations for these meeting records to be archived. I've only checked the ones that are announced; if they are not there and easily at hand (specifically at OccupyNYC's Livestream channel) I move on to other things.
From the minutes that are posted, it's clear that the Spokes Council isn't functioning -- because it hasn't been "established" yet. As of Wednesday night's Spokes Council mash up, the goal was to "establish" by next Monday. The problem is one of sorting: who is and who is not "Operations." Ah. This is something of a discovery for would be Spokes Council applicants.
You can apply all you want, but that doesn't mean your group will be eligible to be a member of the Spokes Council. The Spokes Council that was authorized by the GA on October 28 is to be made up only of "operations" working groups and caucuses. "Movement" working groups and caucuses ("while deeply valued") are not authorized to join the Spokes Council.
Deciding what is "operations" and what is... "not operations"... has consumed both of the recorded Spokes Council meetings, and no doubt will consume tonight's meeting (ie: Friday, November 11, 2011) as well, because they didn't get through the list of applicants on Monday or Wednesday before the meetings broke up in high dudgeon and acrimony. Or so it seemed from the written record.
Of course this is an extremely high stakes and high stress process; people know instinctively what is really going on, no matter how much it is couched in high-minded "inclusive" verbiage, cant and propaganda.
On Wednesday, the facilitators actually used the term "stakeholders" to describe the appropriate members of the Spokes Council. Yes. "Stakeholders" -- in the government/non profit corporate realms I'm all too familiar with -- is code for "owners" and their handmaidens, running dogs and lackeys. It's meant to mean "all those who will be affected" by the policies and actions forthcoming, but of course that isn't what it is in practice.
It's about the "owners" -- or rather, about the "ownership class".
When I saw the word "stakeholders" popping up several times in the Wednesday minutes, I just shuddered. "OMG, what are they doing?"
Well, it isn't a mystery. It hasn't been a mystery from the beginning. They are deliberately sorting themselves into an "elect" and an "unelect." That they are doing it in the open, and fairly straightforwardly (though I expect at least some of those involved either as subjects or objects have no idea what's going on) is I suppose to their credit.
I think it is funny -- not haha -- that the response to those who object to this process is either "You're free to leave" or "Anyone can form their own Spokes Council." (But this is the only one that's authorized by the GA. So sit down. And shut up. The authoritarian subtext of all of this is delightful. Not.)
That's really been the only response from Leadership to any objection whatsoever at this point. And yes, not only have the facilitators become defacto Leaders, there's a whole cadre of instigators of the Spokes Council model who "circulate" constantly through the throngs submitting their applications for membership in the "Elect". What their precise function is, who can say? I guess it depends on who needs to know.
At Monday's meeting, they said they authorized 15 Spokes Council operations groups (but I think I only counted 12, there being some doubt expressed regarding three) by acclamation, in other words, "these are no brainers, eh, so let's just say they're 'operations' and be done with it. Consensus? Yay!"
These were, of course, 15 pre-selected inner cadre, effectively Politburo, member groups and their Spokes. That was obvious. Their selection probably had more to do with "ownership" status than it did with actual "operations."
The rest of the applicants had to go through a process of discovery and discussion among the "elect" and the "unelect" to determine whether there was consensus sufficient to include them among the higher of the would-be mighty (in formation.) That's where things got very tense indeed.
Names were called, invective was hurled, and strong emotions were expressed about the nature of some of the groups and the nature of the process of their selection -- or unselection -- as the case may be.
The charge of "racism" was heard more than once, along with some other indelicate charges.
People who brought up issues about the opacity and exclusivity of -- say -- the Finance Working Group (something that's been complained of many times prior to the development of Spokes Councils) were simply brushed aside: "We are not discussing what may have happened in the past, we are discussing how to go forward."
And so it went, one by one.
The rebellion against this process grew and grew, but there was no stopping it once it was under way. And that, of course, is the key to understanding how power works and using it to your advantage.
You set up your System and you manage to get it authorized and started, and once that's happened, it continues on its own until and unless there is a revolt against it that is as powerful as the revolt or revolution it originally came out of. Once started, the System cannot be easily stopped.
This is one reason why the Occupation Revolution has been able to continue and grow no matter what else happens, and why I predict it will continue no matter how extensive the internal and external efforts to suppress it or control it might become. Once begun it cannot be stopped -- at least not easily and not completely. It becomes part of the zeitgeist, if you will.
(Speaking of, the Zeitgeist Movement's presence is diminished but still apparent among the Occupations. As is, to a somewhat lesser extent, the campaigning on behalf of Ron Paul. Both of which were the actual co-optation efforts going on from the beginning of the current round of Occupations in this country... What has diminished to the point of almost complete absence is the Marxist contingent; the communists are for all intents and purposes gone; the socialists are still around but very subdued. This may change if the Spokes Council model gains currency beyond New York.)
Very early in the Occupy Wall Street development process, I said that it was my belief that the General Assembly was the surest inoculation against hijacking and co-optation of the Movement. It was my belief that hijacking couldn't take place and co-optation was impossible as long as the GA was functioning "properly."
Others pointed out that the GA model was actually very frail, and a dedicated group of no more than 6 determined individuals could easily overcome the built-in protections of the GA process and take over an individual Occupation and turn it toward their agenda. I didn't deny that was possible -- in fact, it was self-evident -- but I didn't believe it would be possible to co-opt the entire Movement that way. Someone who was determined to do so would have to go to each one, pull the same trick, and move on, and there would have to be infiltrators with the same agenda at all the several hundred Occupations in this country and the more than a thousand abroad. It was physically unlikely if not entirely impossible.
I'm rethinking my premise. I have seen repeated hijackings of the local GA -- which was very easy to do because there were no clear operational guidelines for GAs and hardly anybody associated with the local Occupation had any idea how the process worked. At the time, there was very little information and no training available. When I introduced some of it, more people "got it," but more people "getting it" also meant that those who had designated themselves as the local Occupation's "Owners" -- though that term is never used -- felt threatened, and they set out to ensure that their control of the local Occupation would never be in jeopardy or lapse. So far, they have been successful. And they've done it by essentially driving out any competition for authority and control.
Consequently many of the people who were objecting most loudly -- after being silenced through many different efforts, from outright banning to deletion to insult -- left and went to Oakland. It's not at all clear what the local "owners" want -- except to be in charge, in perpetuity. They have presented no agenda or vision for the future, they simply want to lord it over everyone else, and there are always any number of people who like being lorded over! It is human nature.
I have witnessed with my own eyes how the process of direct democracy can be easily hijacked for demagoguery and worse. This is something the Ancient Athenian innovators of direct democracy found out to their chagrin and mortal peril thousands of years ago. They were not able to resolve the internal systemic problem. Ultimately, the answer was to abolish it and institute some form of Council-Dictatorship-Monarch.
Which seems to be the path followed by every democratic revolution, including our own American Constitutional Republic variety there of.
Does this mean the Anarchic model doesn't work and can't work? I don't know. I'm not convinced that it can't work at all, but scale is the primary issue.
I can see how the scale problem became paramount in New York because the Occupation became huge and completely unwieldy. Even five thousand participants is too many on a regular basis, and they were up into the tens of thousands. You can't operate direct democracy on that scale. But splitting into more manageable parts didn't seem to work either -- for one thing, they were still too big, and for another, they were too vague.
What seems to have happened is that the GA process gradually broke down and became paralyzed; I witnessed part of that in the controversy over paying the drummers for equipment losses (but the controversy was over much more than that.) Money, in general, was (and is) a huge problem for OWS because they have so much of it in New York and no adequate controls over it. Not only do they have money out the ying-yang (well over half a million now), but they have more supplies than they know what to do with. They have a surplus of riches and no comprehensive, understandable, and transparent means of dealing with it.
The Operations Spokes Council is basically intended as a way to manage the surpluses, the abundance, the money.
That seems to be its primary function.
To get the money issues out of the hands of the GA.
But that means that the Operations Spokes Council becomes a defacto Board of Directors, which in turn transforms the Occupation into a standard organization.
What's the point of that?
Meanwhile in Oakland -- and now in neighboring Berkeley -- they're wrestling with a very different and immediate set of conditions and problems. The situation is getting very tense very quickly. The recent shooting at Frank Ogawa Plaza -- now thought to have been of someone who had been staying at the encampment -- is having extraordinary repercussions. The city is quite publicly preparing for a Final Solution to the Occupation Problem; they say they will not tolerate the presence of the Occupation any longer; the Occupants are asked to leave voluntarily, but if they don't... force may be applied.
In Berkeley, the situation is by turns very grave and surprisingly light-hearted. How the issue of police brutality will be addressed remains to be seen. So far, there's been no official acknowledgement that brutality even happened, despite the viral videos and the hospitalized studentia. Every agency is denying culpability for what happened, though they won't acknowledge anything happened except clearance of the forbidden tents, and the students are apparently not persisting. It's an open and fluid situation at this point, and Occupy Oakland and Occupy San Francisco have expressed their solidarity with the Berkeley students -- whatever they eventually choose to do.
At any rate, it is apparently the standard media narrative that any violence whatever that can be associated with the Occupations -- no matter its source -- is the "fault" of the Occupations.
An even more disgusting view of what happened at Berkeley yesterday afternoon. It didn't get any better at night. Note, the officers involved are a combination of UC Police and Alameda County Sheriff's Deputies. Both agencies are fully culpable for the brutality.