The Vision & Goals working group from #Occupy Wall Street: Its wretched prehistory, followed by an insider’s harrowing account

Photo taken during a meeting of the #OWS Vision & Goals working group

This is a continuation of an earlier post on some of the internal divisions within OWS.

I circulated the following e-mail concerning some of the internal divisions that have taken place primarily between the “Facilitators” (who for all intents and purposes run the General Assembly) and members of the Demands working group, one of the largest and most serious working groups out there.  I admit that it was based mostly on rumors and hearsay about what was going on at the time, which was incredibly confusing:

There is some major shit going down behind the scenes at OWS.  It’s become a gigantic fucking mess…though they vigorously deny that there is any sort of vertical structure of authority within the General Assembly, this weird unspoken hierarchy exists within the GA and has been systematically obstructing a bunch of the different working groups.

The Demands working group, which consists mostly of (sectarian) Marxists, has been pretty much bullied and marginalized completely by the anarchist clique that controls the General Assembly.

Some of the more militant within the Demands group (mostly Trotskyists of various groups; ISO, DSA, Sparts, IMT, ILN, and others) who have gotten sick of the anarchists rejecting every proposal for demands or vision are planning to basically stage a coup by having all their major union contacts get their members to march on Liberty Plaza.

As things stand right now, the club of anarchists who run the General Assembly and have been stifling every sort of attempt at structured organizations have (paradoxically) established a bizarre authoritarian regime under the banner of anti-authoritarianism.  The anarchists who control the GA have been going around to every single working group, in numbers.  And because there are fewer people in any given working group, it becomes basically impossible for the working groups to get “modified consensus” (9/10ths) if the Facilitators from the GA all “block” any proposal at the committee level.

Things have just gotten incredibly tense and fucked up these last few days.  The anarchists in the GA and the sectarian Marxists in the “Demands” group have been going at each other’s throats.

Here’s some of the actual documentation of the strife that went on during two of the Demands working group’s meetings.  These are excerpts from the minutes of the meetings in question.  First, from 10/16/11:

16 October 2011
Demands Working Group meeting minutes
Moderators: Cecily & Chris

Ketchup then opened by telling our working group that we shouldn’t exist and that it is doing something awful to this movement by trying to inject demands.

[…]

Then Tim took the floor. He said that there were other working groups doing essentially the same thing as this working group, that demands had been voted down at GA “over and over again”, that they allow “appeasement”, and that they will push people away from the movement.

Laura stated that the corporate media was untrustworthy and that we shoudn’t go to the media. We ought not succomb to he media’s “demand for demands”.

[…]

The vote was held to move on, which produced blocks from Tim, Ketchup, James, and Walter, put passed with a vote of 23/6. The photographer had took the picture of the working group from a distance, and the material reason to continue with the discussion was gone. Those who blocked the vote protested the abuse of the process. Ketchup stormed away and Tim began filming all of us in as overtly as he could as a means to intimidate the group.

Once the commotion ended (other than Tim’s recording, which continued for more than 10 minutes with him getting up in people’s faces with his camera), Chris moved to move on to the agenda.

[…]

"Ketchup" & "Sprite" - Two of the fearless leaders (and yes, they are leaders) of OWS and its offshoots

“Ketchup” is actually the (puerile) nom de guerre of Grayson Vreeland, a student at Northwestern University in Chicago.

And then there was the next Demands meeting, from October 18th, when members from Facilitation (basically the same ones who wrote the Blueprint) again began to intervene:

18 October 2011
Demands Working Group meeting minutes
Moderators: Cecily & Lily
Stack: Andrew
Minutes: Shawn

Meeting opens: Nicole from ‘Facilitation’ goes over the “feeling good”, “feeling bad” hand signals.

Ketchup asks Cecily where the Demands group voting procedures and protocols. A man calling himself ‘A’ [I suspect this might have been Abe from Vision & Goals, but I’m not 100% sure] stated that the DWG cannot rule out or challenge the current rules of the GA.

Erik says that we’ve always used 75% modified consensus, but that it hasn’t been necessary since all votes have been unanimous. [RW: The Demands working group had also unanimously consented at the outset that their own internal standard for modified consensus would be 75%, rather than the standard 90% used by the GA]

[Cecily and Lily call for Announcements]

Ketchup says there is a group called ‘Visions and Goals’ that addresses the best approach for the movement’s vision and goals in an open and unilateral way. That group feels that demands are not productive.

[…]

‘A’ [possibly Abe from Vision & Goals, unclear]: Speakers before the GA on Sunday (16 October) and Monday (17 October) re-affirmed that the GA has not come to any consensus on any demands that have gone out to media on behalf of the GA of any kind.

[…]

Ketchup: Should have been a 90% threshold (rather than the 80% it received)

Stephanie: It’s important to have credibility in the process.

Nicole: We can’t compromise on 90% because we want 100%, and 75% gets us dangerously close to 50% [SR: wow!].

[Facilitators put it to a vote, using the 75% threshold: 33-8 (80.5%)]

[…]

Dave says we need 90% consensus and no demands.

[…]

Luke: Combine the Demands group with others and scrap this agenda.

Cecily: This, making Demands, is our focus. If you don’t like it, there are many other groups.

Tim (with the camera): This (point of process hand signal) is not a vagina in sign language.

[SR: This was actually said. Loudly. With accompanying hand gestures.]

[…]

Shawn: Saboteurs abound at this meeting ensuring that we don’t get through a relatively simple, basic agenda to anyone who has done political work before. None of this matters, anyway, since the wreckers here are the same people who determine the agenda at GA. The Leaders are the facilitators, and the facilitators are wreckers. But they can’t control the agenda forever. With patient explanation, the Demand for Demands will override the hypnotic stranglehold they have over GA when it consists of people like our union brothers and sisters and members of the poor and oppressed communities who NEED demands desperately. 2 weeks is fine for a timeline.  [Though it is somewhat amusing to see the Stalinist language of “saboteurs” and “wreckers” and recognize their problematic origin, the description really isn’t all that far off]

Nicole: Speaking as a facilitator, we’re not wreckers. And this is dangerous, divisive language. It doesn’t respect the process or the GA and reflects poorly on this group to be saying such things. Moreover, the threat of stacking the GA with union workers is anathema to the purpose of OWS.

[…]

Tim: How do you join the demands group if you have your own demands to propose and they’re not considered?

Lili: Our group has been made ‘invisible’, which is part of the reason that so few people knows we exist. We’re doing everything by the book and being smashed down at every step.

[…]

Craig: These demands are too aggressive.

Matt [technical/open source/internet]: Chants about bailouts are popular; jobs, not so much. People don’t like demands. Demands = Obama.

Ketchup: Demands make us fight rather than work with. This “scary scary dialogue” about modifying consensus and going over the GA with working people is bad.

Tim (with the camera): There is an open source group and a group devoted to Visions & Goals. You should dissolve yourselves and merge with them.

But here are some more of the important documents pertaining to it.  Beyond the disruption they caused at the Demands group’s meetings, here is their official denunciation of the Demands working group on the www.occupywallst.org website from Friday, October 21, which heaped scorn and calumny upon them: “The so-called Demands working group.”  It reads:

A group claiming to be affiliated with the General Assembly of Liberty Square and #OWS has been speaking to the media on behalf of our movement.

This group is not empowered by the NYC General Assembly.

This group is not open-source and does not act by consensus.

This group only represents themselves.

While we encourage the participation of autonomous working groups, no single person or group has the authority to make demands on behalf of general assemblies around the world.

We are our demands. This #OWS movement is about empowering communities to form their own general assemblies, to fight back against the tyranny of the 1%. Our collective struggles cannot be co-opted.

Having been to several meetings of the Demands working group, I can safely say that these charges are complete bullshit.  Beyond this initial list of accusations, the Demands working group was deleted from the NYC GA’s official site, and many of its members banned.  This decision was never put to a vote, and seems to have been performed unilaterally.  Here was Jay Arena’s testimony of his treatment at the GA that same night, October 21st:

To All Demands Working Group/OWS supporters,

I attended last night’s General Assembly (GA) meeting of Occupy Wall Street (OWS)/Liberty Plaza  that was discussing the new spokespersons council organizational structure that the self-appointed GA leadership was presenting.

I spoke out  against adopting the new organizational structure before the movement addressed the gross violation of democratic norms that have occurred under the present system. I then ATTEMPTED to explain how the treatment of the Demands Working group was a prime example of anti-Democratic behavior meted out by the GA leadership. I was cut off before I could elaborate by the ‘facilitators’, including one, Nicole,  who had been sent to ‘assist’ us at our last Demands Working Group meeting on Tuesday, October 18.

If I had been allowed to express myself, I would have refuted the false statement made against the Demands working group, namely that 1.) We claimed, to the New York Times and other news-outlets that the ‘Jobs for All, through Public Works’ demand was the demand of the entire OWS; and 2.) That we expelled people from a Demands WG meeting.

Based on these false accusations, the self-appointed leadership, without any vote — consensus, majority-based, or otherwise — took coercive actions  against the Demands Working group and its members without giving an opportunity to the Demands working group or individual members to respond to the baseless charges. These sanctions have included: 1.)  A broadside on the front page of the OWS web site repeating lies 1 and 2 above, 2.) eliminating the demands working group discussion forum from the OWS website — which was one of the most popular, 3.)  removing several demands working group members registration accounts from the web site.

I agree with Chavisa that we should use the accountability forum page of OWS to register our opposition to this gross violation of Democratic norms. The Demands Working group will be discussing further on how to respond to these anti-Democratic attacks and violations, ones that present a serious threat to this important movement. I encourage everyone who cares about Democracy and  this movement to attend the next meeting of the Demands Working Group — Sunday, 6 PM, Tompkins Square Park (meet at the circular area, right off E. 7th street, between avenues B and C).

— Jay Arena

The matter became somewhat elucidated by an exchange on the Transparency and Accountability forum on the General Assembly’s main webpage.  The firstsecondthirdfourth, and now fifth page of discussion can be found there.

One of the more interesting exchanges occurred between Chavisa Woods and the website administrator, Drew:

This [whole deletion of the Demands working group from NYC GA’s fora] goes against the process. I joined this group last week, as did hundreds of others, two days ago. This group exists to discuss issues around DEMANDS; the history of demands in revolutionary movements, methods of and approaches to demands; and to collect data on possible demands (a subgroup of this group is trying to form to gear up to begin working with media and conducting outreach; and to formulate demand proposals to be brought before the G.A.

Again, this group has every right to exist. A Demands group does not discourage people from joining other groups.

I am very interested in understanding the COLLECTIVE process that went into deciding this group cannot exist, or be visible. Since it is not on the website, we cannot list the date and time of our meeting, which more than 100 people wanted to know. That is not transparecy.

If you disagree that there should be demands, that’s fine, and it may consistently be voted against in the G.A.

BUT THIS DELETION IS PROBLEMATIC. It points to the possibility that a small number of people have the final and autonomous decision about what sorts of groups get to exist in OWS.  That goes completely against the structure and process of OWS.

— Chavisa Woods

Drew, who is the head of the Internet working group, took responsibility for the action and explained his reasons, though he did end up restoring the Demands working group:

Hello everyone, I understand the concerns about the Demands group disappearing from the site and I apologize for being unable to read through and respond to all the forum posts in detail.

I was the one who removed the Demands Group from the site. I take full responsibility. Before I explain why I would like to note a few things. First off, communication inside (and out) of the park is really hard. Also, getting correct information is difficult and figuring out what is going on at any given time is also a struggle. That’s why we are working so hard on creating the nycga.net site.

A few days ago I was contacted by a number of people saying that there was a demands group that was giving out false information. There was some fuss, and I wasn’t sure how to take it. Information working group did not have any concrete information about the status or contact info for the group. Then on Friday occupywallst.org put out a “burn” notice on a demands group. Editors from that site called me explaining that we have to take the demands group off line.

I am only getting secondhand information. I am a website administrator and I don’t know about the group or about the controversy surrounding it. I did what I was asked.

This brings up the issue: There is currently no official procedure for determining when to add or remove a working group. There is no good definition about what a working group even IS. Perhaps the Accountability and Transparency working group can devise a solution.

Again, I apologize. I will try and make it to the next Demands Working group meeting and discuss this in person.

Solidarity,

— Drew

Drew’s candor and responsibility are refreshing, but some troubling questions remain.  Who were these people that were telling him to take the Demands working group off the website? And why would he listen to them? This needs to be remedied properly.

Anyway, as alluded to in the minutes cited above, the same people from Facilitation who were so disruptive at the meetings of the Demands working group (I think Abe, Ted, Tim, and “Ketchup”) had as their pet project this whole “Vision & Goals” working group.  I think this is attested to by the fact that it came up as a pointless non sequitur in the minutes to their first official meeting, from 10-20-2011:

The demands working group is oppressive to the people who attends their meetings.  They will meet Sunday at 6pm at the Cube.

When they finally announced the group officially, they almost simultaneously unveiled their Liberty Plaza Blueprint, which they claimed had been amassed from the input of numerous individuals over a long period of time.  (As someone who studies architecture, it’s almost offensive that they would deign to call it a “blueprint”).

Of course, it’s kind of strange that they would only officially announce the group with a document already decided upon. No one ever decided whether we should work within the framework (if one can even say it has a framework) of this document in the first place.  This, in turn, is obviated by an exchange recorded in the minutes from 10-21-2011:

Are there printed documents that we would use to search for the themes?

No, only the document we read yesterday that was compiled by 200 people, that could be a part of it

In conversation with Zocera, a member of the People of Color caucus and Vision & Goals, she revealed to me that they repeatedly emphasized that the Blueprint represented “a draft of a document that has been worked on for almost a month, contributed to by over 200 people.” She said that from what she could gather, that was their way of pre-ratifying the basic form and muddled content of the document before anyone could vote on it. Zocera continued to explain that they only seemed interested in gathering the additional input of marginalized persons (women and people of color) as a way of adding “multicultural cred” to the document, in what struck her (as a person of color) as rather shameless tokenism and toadying to political correctness.

Here is some more of the behind-the-scenes story regarding the document’s background, taken from some public correspondence between noted activist and commentator Doug Henwood and the organizer Chris Maisano, from all the way back on October 21st:

From: Doug Henwood

Sent: Friday, October 21, 2011 11:25 AM

To: lbo-talk at lbo-talk.orgSubject: Re: [lbo-talk] The “Liberty Square Blueprint”

On Oct 21, 2011, at 10:49 AM, Chris Maisano wrote:

So the anarchist types who have been running the show behind the scenes and actively disrupting the meetings of the working group crafting the jobs for all demand (so much for leaderlessness and self-organization) have finally unveiled their Liberty Square Blueprint — and it is utter rubbish. Not a single word about the tens of millions of unemployed and underemployed, the tens of millions without health insurance, and the tens of millions in poverty. Instead, we read about bartering, urban farming, and charities. Amazing.

The only good thing about this is that its obvious limitations could create an opening for socialists to contend for a greater degree of political and ideological influence within the movement and raise demands that might actually resonate with a broadly-based constituency.

Holy shit, that’s awful. Among many things, they seem poisoned by the belief that open source software can save the world. (Apparently their open-source software doesn’t have a spell checker, unless they think there’s something revolutionary about spelling it “Correlary”).

The wish list — which they weirdly refer to as bullet-point visions — is incredibly vague. How do we “Empower marginalized people to express themselves, build community, and engage systemic/cultural discrimination”? Who are the “we” that grant “them” this power?

The economic planks:

• Create an economy in harmony with nature — by
• Researching, developing and implementing economic models that pursue thriving, abundant and prosperous outcomes for humanity and life — growing beyond the dichotomy of unsustainable and sustainable development. These economic models must be based on sound ethical assumptions and observed individual and market behavior through behavioral economics and econometrics
• Implementing and improving community currencies, barter, sharing, and trade systems
• Building the support and precedence for local and large scale production of renewable energy and food resources
• Eliminating financial/resource speculation that supports the current economy at the expense of future generations
• Learning from and empowering indigenous people in the transition to an economy in harmony with nature — as we
• Make NYC a pioneer of urban farming, renewable energy, grass roots urban/rural exchange, quantitative economic policy and indigenous leadership

are close to meaningless. Who are the “we” that would eliminate speculation, and how? Presumably not state bodies, so who then? What the fuck kind of econometrics do they have in mind? Vector autoregressions will set us free? Community currencies and barter are ludicrous — evidently they never consulted Graeber on the nonexistence of barter societies.

Did “Ketchup” have anything to do with this?

— Doug

Though I would probably not be as insulting as Doug Henwood, he is right about the economic “planks.” As someone who is thoroughly versed in economic theory (from classical liberal-bourgeois to Keynesian to Marxist), I can safely say that the vast majority of the proposals about urban agriculture and so on are half-baked to nonsensical.

All of this is external to the actual contents of the document. I almost feel that I can’t begin addressing its problems. I don’t mean to demean the contributions of anyone who has helped to compose it; there are doubtless some valuable points and ideas in there, though they are few and far between. But even these tend to get lost amidst the general gobbledygook and feel-good nonsense that constitutes most of the document (e.g. “Facilitate the peaceful harmony of humanity’s religious, spiritual and existential traditions” — I can almost guarantee whoever wrote that doesn’t know what “existential” means).

I don’t know how to characterize the document other than as a shapeless blob. It’s unwieldy and hopelessly confused. Even within the space of a single sentence the thoughts utterly lose their coherence.  Contradictions, incompatible propositions, and baffling non sequiturs abound throughout the text. Reading through it is like a ticking cognitive dissonance time-bomb.

I’ve read Nijinsky’s diary — the mad scribblings of a schizophrenic — and even that possessed more logic and coherence.

I almost lost count of how many times I read the words “paradigm-shift” and “empowering” (popular postmodern tropes long since rendered banal).

The disorder and dysfunctionality of the Vision & Goals Blueprint is mirrored by the group meetings to this point.  Besides the horror stories I myself could tell, here is the account offered Dustin Brown, a bright activist from Chicago who made the mistake of trying to rationally engage with the Vision & Goals “vanguard” of Ted, Abe, and Ketchup:

Essentially, the two ’leaders’ within the group with whom I was resonating with most in the latter part of that week were Zocera and Ryan. By Saturday, I was feeling resonance with Jayson, Jim (I don’t think you’ve met yet, he was out of town all last week but was relatively prominent the prior week), and multiple other folks who were in attendance at that Saturday meeting but whose names I do not recall in some cases, and in others I never knew. A few approached me introducing themselves, simply saying they appreciated my input to the Group that meeting, but were deciding to likely not return because of the Group dysfunction (i.e. ”Abe”)

Overall, I’d say the Sat. mtg was a relatively constructive one, but for Abe who was/is, as you know, disruptive, dogmatic, socially-/interpersonally-inept, distracting, etc. He also strikes me as having a relatively shallow perspective, while being ’quick-with-the-tongue’ and, obviously, loud/obtrusive, all of which is a precarious combination for constructive group-processing/-development.

That said, I could have actually dealt with all that, because everyone seemed to be on the relatively same page with respect to him, and I felt we all were poised to address the issue, somehow, that could ultimately prove constructive, Group-wise. Several individuals approached me after the meeting to offer their perspective on him, which was unanimously unfavorable. This Leia gal seems to be one in his corner, Patrick’s corner, Ted’s corner, etc., and I honestly don’t even know who she is. She was clearly at meetings I attended but I didn’t begin noticing the name until Saturday night, the night before I ultimately chose to leave

Actually I left Sat.’s meeting planning to extent my stay until mid-November. In the early evening Patrick sent an email to me [i.e. Cc-ing the Group] offering considerably unfavorable feedback to/about me, which I felt was not simply poor taste and counterproductive, but simply off-the-mark in his assertions/characterizations/etc. He and I essentially went back & forth a few times, with everyone else observing from the sidelines.

Incidentally, Patrick did not even attend the Saturday meeting, hwvr, he was at the Friday meeting which I was also at, a mtg in which I decided to walk out on due [what I felt was] obscene dysfunction to the degree of ’comedy’.

In the midst of my email exchange with Patrick which was totally unnecessary, a distraction, a wasteful diversion/allocation of energy, etc., there was a mildly off-putting/off-center exchange with Ed(Ted?) which I felt was also unnecessary, distracting, wasteful, etc. Both he & Patrick are peculiar one’s, in my opinion, and relatively precarious because they’re take-charge types of personalities with, in my opinion, lack of clarity, direction and depth of meaningful understanding. Hence, I often found/find them exerting much energy ’leading’ Group members into aimless, exploratory-terrain in which they, themselves, were choosing to wallow/wander, all-the-while characterizing such wallowing/wandering as ”constructive”, ”progress”, ”momentum”, etc.

As I contemplated extending my stay into the early-hour evening……i.e., the required investment, opportunity costs, the potential [though by no means guaranteed] benefits, I thought to myself…

”how many Patricks/Teds/Abes might there be out there, potentially…?”

”Is the present ’consensus-process’ really the optimal way to go, Group-wise/Movement-wise…?”

”who are the ’leaders’ in this Group/Movement, and what have they demonstrated thus far…?”

”if I stay, what will we likely accomplish over the upcoming week, and upcoming two weeks…?”

There were a few more reflective questions, hwvr, those were the main ones I recall.

Obviously, I decided the optimal decision was to return home, attend to my responsibilities, here [Chicago], which are plentiful, and do my best to continue contributing to the Group/Movement, remotely, as much as Group/Movement members would welcome/receive

Overall, I feel good/clear about my decision given all that was known/experienced at that time, although I am also wiling to come back if/when I feel such an investment makes sense from all angles. I’m not going to drop my life/responsibilities, again, obviously, to come to NY and engage in meetings/exchanges of the nature/lack-of-direction/-substance I did on my last trip. I’d have to sense something very constructive percolating there or, at least the promise of something constructive percolating.

I further received an e-mail from someone (whose name I will omit) who describes him/herself as one of the “high elders” of the Vision & Goals working group.  Apparently s/he had been involved in the group all the way from early October, and confirms my suspicion that the Blueprint was originally the product of one or two individuals and was simply workshopped by several others thereafter.

I still have no idea where the authors got the number of contributors to the Blueprint as “over 200 people,” as there are well fewer than 200 points (the nature of each individual’s “contribution” is unclear — did they just read over it once?) and I’m not sure how they kept count, anyway.  Anyway, here is the e-mail:

Ross,

 I don’t know if we’ve met or not.  I’m terrible with names, and haven’t been to a meeting in around a week.  But I consider myself a dedicated member of the V&G working group, and might be considered a “high elder” (i.e. I’ve been involved since a couple of meetings prior to our move to 60 Wall, way back when we didn’t have meetings in the evenings — the pre-historic times known as early-October).

Firstly, I’m in love with your document.  In one of the first meetings I attended, I talked about wanting to craft some sort of “Declaration of Human Liberation,” and it seems you have done just that.  I’m incredibly excited to start thinking about/editing/adding-to/etc. you’re well-crafted and forward-thinking piece of prose.

[…]

My understanding of The Blueprint‘s history is that it was written before I joined, mostly by one person, and then workshopped by a group[!!] By the time I got involved, the task at hand was to condense the document, so it could be brought to the GA.  That new document was discussed in a break-out session at the GA, and since then, we’ve been incorporating the feedback we got, as well as our own ideas, into the document currently at hand.

[…]

As I mentioned, I haven’t been to a meeting in a while.  But someone told me that we’re [the Vision & Goals working group] getting close to bringing something to the GA.  (I don’t know whether it is a proposal to be consensed upon, or just something to be workshopped.  Ether way, I’m excited).  I assume that document is “the blueprint.”

I don’t know when I’ll next make a meeting, so here’s what I have to say.  For now:

If we’re close to being happy enough with a/any document to bringing it to the GA (for whatever reason), than please god, lets do so.  To have something to show the world on Friday the 11th would be amazing.  Not necessary, but pretty damn cool.

Meanwhile, let’s remember that our WG is pluralized: it’s not Vision and Goal. We can/should/must have multiple documents. We already do (Dec. of Occ. of NYC, Principals of Solidarity, et. al.).  Let this Blueprint be another.

As your doccument is much closer (than the Blueprint) to the types of documents I want to be working on, I see a much more epoch process ahead. A process where, after we compose it, and give it to the GA, and then re-work it, and than give it to the GA again, and then re-work it, and then put it in a Wiki for other occupations to edit, and then re-work it, and then translate it into hundreds of languages and put it in a wiki for the world (!!!) to edit, and then re-work it, maybe then we’ll have the founding document(s) of a global, utopian, brave, new, world.

Of course, in the meantime, Ketchup has appeared on the national comedy show, The Colbert Report.  The irony is that she had been so militant against talking to the media.  This irony was not lost on members of the Demands group:

Jay Arena wrote:

Even Ketchup, who berated us for talking with the press in the past, but who now seems to have become a darling of the mainstream media, would be hard pressed to object to your proposal.

Susan wrote:

Watch both parts one and two of the Colbert piece.  Priceless.  And these idiots think they had a triumph.  Unprecedented levels of cluelessness!

Ketchup, one of the brave protestors behind the Vision & Goals faction

Don’t get me wrong.  It’s not like I am fully supportive of everything the Demands working group suggests.  I think that concrete demands are problematic (this doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be discussed, however).  The legacy of dogmatic, sectarian Marxism is in some sense just as pernicious as the persistence of weirdly authoritarian anarchoid tendencies.  Still, the Demands working group has been treated incredibly unfairly.

17 thoughts on “The Vision & Goals working group from #Occupy Wall Street: Its wretched prehistory, followed by an insider’s harrowing account

  1. First of all, great blog. I love reading it for the really out-there Marxist futurism and now OWS gossip. I’m not going to say much about my politics other than that they are broadly left-liberal, which means I can bang on Marxists plenty, but that’s been done. I’d rather bang on anarchists, and some of the material I’m reading here has been a lot of help.

    Okay. The point about anarchists creating a bizarre authoritarian orthodoxy is an underexplored, but very salient and interesting topic. There are few resources about this on the web that I’m aware of. And hunting it down is difficult because the web is swamped with anarchists making ideological arguments about why they’re against authoritarianism and hierarchy ad nauseum. There was some scattered but very on-point criticisms by Orwell who thought anarchism was implicitly totalitarian. Zizek has also talked about this. There’s a lengthy right-libertarian criticism called “The Anarcho-Statists of Spain” (I think) that makes some other good points, albeit it comes from a perspective which I think is radioactive and toxic in a pretty fundamental way.

    I think what’s really important to take from that bulletin agenda is how muddied and obscure the language is. This should immediately send up (ahem) red flags, not necessarily that they don’t know what they’re talking about, but that they’re attempting to conceal something and manipulate people in a don’t-look-behind-the-curtain kind of way. (Marxist writing shares this in a lot of ways too.) More than that, I feel like I’m listening to a robot. You could easily have had an anarchist language machine write those points, and it would probably be better written. Well that’s a sign there’s some pretty serious groupthink going on, and it’s a reflection of how anarchists have never really grappled with the dangers of conformity and peer pressure, which are arguably more oppressive than the formal hierarchies they oppose, or at least believe themselves to oppose. And finally, power is attracted to a vacuum. If you don’t formalize your movement, someone else is going to do it for you, and not the kind of people you want.

  2. The demands working group is definitely not one of the most serious working groups — that honor belongs to food, sanitation, medical, direct action, and labor. The fact that they are getting their clocks cleaned by people (facilitation) you claim to be semi-literate politically proves it.

    • I consider the division of labor between the groups you mentioned (Food, Sanitation, Medical, Direct Action, and Labor) and groups centered more around the political dimensions of the movement (Demands, Vision & Goals, Think Tank) to recapitulate the division between manual & mental labor. In terms of the day-to-day functionality of the group, certainly the groups you alluded to are more important. They also are probably far less contentious.

      This is not meant as an apologium for the Demands group. They chose a really bad proposal (“Jobs for All”) to start out with. But the Vision & Goals working group (Facilitation’s “alternative” to Demands) is even more hilariously dysfunctional. All I’m saying is that things are pretty miserable all around.

      • The group to pay attention to in terms of political messaging/thought (besides the press group, obviously) is the Think Tank group. They are literally recording everyone they can in the course of daily discussion circles on a wide range of topics — what does success mean, how to coordinate with other occupies, and so on. They are only 10 people, but they are discussing tons of issues with dozens of people daily and have taken on the monumental task of recording, distilling, and indexing said discussions and putting them online. The demands group is populated with ideologues of the Old Left who are more interested in talking than listening, hence the “jobs for all” thing which totally misses the dimension of political corruption that is just as much a motivator for the occupy movement as economic hardship is.

        You may rail against the self-appointed anarchist leaders/vanguard, but the reality is that the Marxist left has completely failed to out-compete them for leadership (or hegemony if you prefer academic terms), displace them, or provide a credible alternative. If you want to talk about political forces that are hilariously dysfunctional, you should be talking about the Marxist left.

      • You’ll hear no disagreement from me regarding the comedy of errors committed on the Marxist Left. Much of it is to be expected, really. These paleo-Marxist groups already bring with them their weighty sectarian baggage and long history of disputes and schisms.

        And yeah, I actually am very much attuned to the Think Tank working group. I’m actually a Mod for the Think Tank group at the nycga.net website. For the most part, the people who are running it are anthropologists (Tim, Hannah, Lily, etc.). At first I thought the whole group might have thus been a big anthropological experiment in which they had “gone native,” and were hanging out with the park-dwellers. But they pointed out to me that anarchist anthropologists such as David Graeber and Marxists like David Harvey (though he’s more of a “critical geographer”) have largely politicized the field. I’ve been at roughly half the meetings of the Think Tank.

      • I’d like to hear about your experience as part of that group. In my opinion, the Marxist left should be doing what it can to do those types of discussion circles in order to organically infuse Marxist politics into the plethora of discussions going on down there daily. I emailed Tim to be put onto their logistics list serve so that I could get announcements of when the daily talks happen; can you put me on there?

      • I’m not sure about the “logistics” listserv, but the discussions take place every day from noon till 6pm near the center of the park. And thanks about Jacobin and Platypus and the work our groups have done trying to engage with this movement. The Kasama Project has also been working in conjunction with Occupy, though in a slightly different manner.

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    • Yeah, I saw that! I haven’t been down to the park since the eviction and the big demonstrations, so I don’t know exactly what’s going on. But the anthropologist core to the Think Tank is great — all really smart people. Probably the best group to come out of OWS.

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