Welcome Todd Gitlin (ToddGitlin.net) (Columbia Journalism School) and Host Joe Macare (Occupied Chicago Tribune)

Occupy Nation: The Roots, the Spirit, and the Promise of Occupy Wall Street

Right now, members of Occupy Wall Street are preparing to mark the one year anniversary of the occupation of Zuccotti Park on September 17 with an event halfway between a celebration and a protest. Meanwhile, Occupy’s energy and influence can be seen in a range of activism and dissent that stretches from coast to coast in America and beyond, from anarchist grand jury resisters in the Pacific Northwest to the solidarity networks supporting the forthcoming teachers’ strike in Chicago.

For something that happened only a year ago, not in a far-flung location but in one of the world’s largest cities and with plenty of cameras watching, the first few months of Occupy Wall Street have already taken on the hazy status of myth.

But in fact, especially for those who watched from across the country or indeed the world as the occupation of New York City unfolded, the re-named Liberty Park achieved that mythic power almost immediately. Why else did so many people make pilgrimages to the park, hurrying to experience it before the perhaps inevitable end?

And like any myth, Occupy Wall Street’s meaning, legacy and even the facts of how and why it came to be are contested. I have heard or read socialists paint it as a movement fundamentally begun by socialists that was later derailed by anarchists, and anarchists describe it as something fundamentally powered by anarchists who were later pushed out by reformists. There are those who think the movement – in New York City and nationally – needs to return to a supposed central purpose of “money out of politics” and focus on the corrosive influence of big banks, while others argue that, if it wasn’t true from the very beginning, that “all our grievances are connected,” embracing this intersectional view was a key moment in the movement’s growth.

Beyond these often misguided attempts at ideological reclaiming, there are nagging, anxious questions about how to duplicate Occupy Wall Street’s biggest successes. While Occupy movements have continued to take action throughout 2012, in new and interesting ways, these have rarely come close to achieving the numbers seen on the streets in New York in the fall – and numbers are usually the metric by which we measure movements’ success.

What was the essence of Occupy Wall Street’s appeal that made it seem not just a radical movement but a potential mass movement? How can its successes be duplicated, activists wonder – how to bottle the lightning?

There have been many words written on the subject of Occupy, but far fewer words that are informed, rigorous and in good faith, let alone both scholarly and radical. This is why we should applaud efforts to engage seriously with the story and meaning of Occupy Wall Street like Todd Gitlin’s Occupy Nation.

In Occupy Nation, Gitlin tells the story of some of the people who made Occupy Wall Street happen, and the human, social and ideological roots of the movement. He looks at the specific context that produced the movement: the “political-cultural ecology” including larger organizations, political parties and Wall Street itself.

But Gitlin is not just content to tell a linear narrative. Only the smallest third of his book is devoted to Occupy’s “Roots.” The other two focus on the “Spirit” and the “Promise.” Gitlin looks at the specific culture of Occupy – from leaderlessness and structurelessness to nonviolence and the participatory ritual of General Assemblies and the people’s mic – and traces what historical precedents exist. He explores “The Movement as its Own Demand” and “The Co-option Phobia,” and the divisions over conventional politics and reform versus revolution.

Finally, Gitlin looks to the future: To what he sees as the most promising directions of Occupy, and potential perils “I worry with this movement, not just about it,” he says, a sentiment that may be familiar to many of us who have both observed and felt caught up in the spirit of Occupy. He looks at the Occupy Our Homes initiatives, at the movement’s relationship with labor unions, and at the prospects of building international connections and global solidarity. And he looks at the potential for Occupy Wall Street to “make the political personal in a thousand ways” in the lives of people who may not even identify as part of the movement.

Todd Gitlin is well-placed to unpack and analyze these issues. He was a founding member of Students for a Democratic Society and its third president from 1963-64. Gitlin’s fourteen previous books about politics, culture, movements and media include The Whole World is Watching: Mass Media in the Making and Unmaking of the New Left, The Sixties: Years of Hope, Days of Rage, and Letters to a Young Activist. He is professor of journalism and sociology and chair of the PhD program in communications at Columbia University, and we’re very excited to welcome him to today’s FDL Book Salon.

[Joe Macaré is development and communications associate at Truthout and an editor and contributor at the Occupied Chicago Tribune. Follow him on Twitter: @exileinflyville - bev]

[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book and be respectful of dissenting opinions.  Please take other conversations to a previous thread. - bev]

167 Responses to “FDL Book Salon Welcomes Todd Gitlin, Occupy Nation: The Roots, the Spirit, and the Promise of Occupy Wall Street”

BevW September 8th, 2012 at 1:48 pm

Todd, Welcome back to the Lake.

Joe, Welcome to the Lake.

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Joe Macare September 8th, 2012 at 1:58 pm

Good afternoon! Thanks for inviting me, and Todd, thanks for joining us.

dakine01 September 8th, 2012 at 2:01 pm

Good afternoon Todd and welcome back to FDL this afternoon and Welcome Joe.

Todd, I have not had an opportunity to read your book so forgive me if you address this but how does Occupy compare in your eyes to the social movements of the ’60s? I remember how the anti-war protests were demonized and trivialized at the same time in the ’60s. Have you seen similar moves against Occupy in general?

Todd Gitlin September 8th, 2012 at 2:01 pm

It’s a serious pleasure to be here with the fire, the dog, and the lake.

Joe Macare September 8th, 2012 at 2:03 pm

Todd, I wanted to help situate your book in the context of the last year, because a lot has happened: You trace the movement from its beginnings, but when did you finish the book, and what was the status of Occupy Wall Street at the time?

Todd Gitlin September 8th, 2012 at 2:04 pm
In response to dakine01 @ 3

Dakine01, It’s a big question, but in brief: Moves to demonize and trivialize Occupy were comparable to those of the ’60s, but the big difference–and the lasting potential of Occupy–stems from the fact that the thrust of Occupy was popular. Public opinion polls are very clear on this, and I give you some of the numbers in the book. It has to be expected that the establishment press will gnash teeth at an outsider movement. But for the first three months, through the end of 2011, Occupy accomplished a great deal nevertheless. (The last nine months are, I think, another story.)

TarheelDem September 8th, 2012 at 2:04 pm

Todd, I likely would not be commenting of FDL if I had not read your and Carl Oglesby’s writings that appeared in the United Methodist university magazine motive. Thanks for coming to FDL. And thanks to Joe Macare for hosting. And BevW, for this wonderful opportunity.

Todd Gitlin September 8th, 2012 at 2:05 pm
In response to Joe Macare @ 5

Joe, I finished the first version (e-book) in February, then added some stuff in May for the paperback. In May, I was aware that (a) the media had turned their attention elsewhere (thus almost no serious coverage of the big march in New York on Mayday), and (b) the movement itself was repeating tactics & (to put it a bit starkly) stuck in some of the downsides of horizontalism. The problem of how to get to 2.0, an enlarging of the base to make for something more lasting, remains.

Todd Gitlin September 8th, 2012 at 2:06 pm

TarheelDem, Bless you!

Knut September 8th, 2012 at 2:06 pm

Welcome to the Lake Professor Gitlin. I’ve been waiting for this Salon all week. Don’t have any particular questions or comments for you, but as an aging Civil Rights activist of your generation, I can’t wait to hear what you have to say about this new movement.

Joe Macare September 8th, 2012 at 2:06 pm

Is there anything that’s happened within or to the Occupy movement since then that has surprised you, that you wouldn’t have expected?

Todd Gitlin September 8th, 2012 at 2:08 pm
In response to Todd Gitlin @ 8

I also want to add that the paperback (though not the e-book) contains a sheaf of wonderful black-and-white photos of Victoria Schultz, who’s been shooting the movement from the start. They make it abundantly clear how remarkable are the people who brought us to this point.

TarheelDem September 8th, 2012 at 2:08 pm

Todd, in researching the book did you consider some of the more farflung Occupy encampments–Tulsa and OKC, Missoula, Columbia SC, Mobile AL come to mind.

Todd Gitlin September 8th, 2012 at 2:10 pm
In response to Joe Macare @ 11

Good question. I guess I’m surprised (though not amazed) by the following: 1. that the demos in Tampa and Charlotte were as meager as they seem to have been; 2. that student movements in the spring failed to erupt (especially given the role of dumb market-cures-all economics in legitimizing the bubble that led to disaster); and 3. that a more formidable coalition to take us to 2.0, with concrete demands and a multi-year strategy for winning, hasn’t emerged. What in the book I call the outer movement needs to step up, & then some. Perhaps we’ll have to wait until after the election.

Joe Macare September 8th, 2012 at 2:11 pm

One of the fears for the movement you mention in the book is that America might “approve of the Occupy message and come to despise the messenger.” This seems particularly resonant in election season – would you agree that that’s what has happened at least with the Democratic Party and its supporters, who adopted some of Occupy’s message to hammer Mitt Romney while actual Occupy protesters were kept back from the DNC by an overwhelming police presence?

Todd Gitlin September 8th, 2012 at 2:12 pm
In response to TarheelDem @ 13

I did mention a few. I had some contact with a man in Missoula. But my emphasis in the book is on New York, and secondarily Oakland and Boston. I welcome amendments.

Todd Gitlin September 8th, 2012 at 2:14 pm

I was just looking at the latest poll data earlier today. In an August survey, for example, 18 percent say they identified with the Occupy or “We Are the 99 Percent” movement, half of them strongly, and another 27 percent say “a little,” for a total leaning pro of 45 percent—as against 48 percent who do not identify with Occupy “at all.” In a July poll, of those who expressed a feeling, 39 percent said they felt positively toward Occupy. Comparisons with the Tea Party come up mixed. In one August poll, the Tea Party claimed 24 percent support (24 as against 18 for OWS, that is); in another, about one-third of those who expressed an opinion said they looked favorably on the Tea Party, as opposed to two-thirds unfavorably.
I do think that OWS did shape the campaign as you said, while freedom of assembly was routinely violated. (I’d love to see some state lawsuits based on that, btw. In the afterword to the paperback I discuss the constitutional issues briefly.)

Joe Macare September 8th, 2012 at 2:16 pm
In response to Todd Gitlin @ 17

Can you share with us who did that polling?

Joe Macare September 8th, 2012 at 2:17 pm
In response to Todd Gitlin @ 17

It’s interesting that the wording of that poll conflates Occupy with the “We are the 99%” language – it seems that the second part, but not the former, is what’s been seized on by the Democrats and affiliated organizations.

Todd Gitlin September 8th, 2012 at 2:18 pm
In response to Joe Macare @ 15

Btw it’s interesting that no less a fool than Newt Gingrich understood in the primaries that the way to hammer Romney (with the help of Sheldon Adelson) was as a 1-percenter. The Democrats understood this too. But to jump to the unasked question, in my view, to work and vote for Obama during the next two months doesn’t mean to “support” the Democrats any more than to occupy Zuccotti Park meant to “support” New York’s odd privately-owned-publicly-operated zoning regulations. There’s a landscape we occupy on and it can’t be wished away.

Todd Gitlin September 8th, 2012 at 2:18 pm

I’d have to get back into the Columbia library system to confirm but from memory these were Ipsos & NBC/Wall Street Journal polls. Can check later.

Joe Macare September 8th, 2012 at 2:19 pm

You have a chapter in the book devoted to what you call “The Co-option Phobia.” Looking back now, how much of that fear of co-option was well-founded?

Todd Gitlin September 8th, 2012 at 2:20 pm

In haste, I may have misstated, Joe. That particular poll offered *both* “Occupy Wall Street” and “99 Percent Movement” as the subjects on which they were asking attitudes.

Todd Gitlin September 8th, 2012 at 2:21 pm
In response to Joe Macare @ 22

Another excellent question. I don’t think any of it was justified. The fact that some Dems started talking “99 percent” I take to be an achievement.

TarheelDem September 8th, 2012 at 2:22 pm

In your research, did you delve at all into the response of local, state, and federal governments that resulted in the coordinated November through January evictions?

We know now of the role of NYC in framing the government attitude and the Chicago Police Department in triggering the coordination through PERF. But are there any insights into what drove those responses? Aside from the usual, “of course they would shut us down; we were gaining popular support”. Was it profiling, undercover work, or just the political pressure from economic elites that triggered the quick and hostile response?

Joe Macare September 8th, 2012 at 2:22 pm
In response to Todd Gitlin @ 24

It was widely hailed as one of the initial successes of OWS that it had shifted the public debate. But isn’t there a big gap between that and shifting policy?

Todd Gitlin September 8th, 2012 at 2:24 pm
In response to TarheelDem @ 25

Yes. There’s no question but that there was collaboration among mayors, though there’s no evidence of a specifically federal role. (Corey Robin wrote a careful blog post on this somewhere.) I think that governments were greedy about their right to dominate political life, and therefore felt threatened by assemblies. I think they were also feeling cowed by business interests–surely in New York, where Bloomberg’s girlfriend sits on the board of the company that owns Zuccotti Park!

Ready September 8th, 2012 at 2:24 pm

What can you say about the fact Occupy was started by some of the same people who were part of the Indignants movement in Spain.

They told the people in that movement to stay home and not to vote and the Right won the election by a large margin.

September 8th, 2012 at 2:25 pm

Mr. Macare,
Thank you for your introduction.
Loved the co-option phobia line.
In extreme actions, might we be apt to reveal extreme fears/self-defense reactions. They’re That Close, but still frailties raise their uglies.
Hopefully, focusing on the common goal of getting $$$ out of It, will be healing and helpful for the next battle.

Todd Gitlin September 8th, 2012 at 2:26 pm
In response to Joe Macare @ 26

Debate has to shift first. There was a big shift, & even though public opinion toward OWS itself turned negative, the public is still progressive on issues like driving money out of politics, progressive taxation, etc. But I wholeheartedly agree that shifting policy requires that the energy liberated by the initial movement be channeled into an engine of policy change. That’s why I’m hoping for 2.0. One promising initiative along this line is the move for a Robin Hood Tax inaugurated by the National Nurses United. See robinhoodtax.org/

Joe Macare September 8th, 2012 at 2:27 pm
In response to Ready @ 28

In Chicago at least, I can say that Occupy Chicago hasn’t told anyone “to stay home and not to vote,” but that intelligent critique of the two party system, or of Obama and Democratic policy, has often been interpreted as such by critics, many of whom are not arguing in good faith.

Todd Gitlin September 8th, 2012 at 2:28 pm
In response to Ready @ 28

I met a couple of Occupy people who’d visited the indignados in Madrid, but I don’t think there was *that* much overlap. Inspiration, of course, yes. –I’m not super-expert about Spain but your description as far as I know is accurate. I’d love to know whether the indignados now think they did the right thing. But different local conditions generate different imperatives.

Joe Macare September 8th, 2012 at 2:28 pm

Staying on the topic of police response that TarheelDem raised… You mention the RNC and DNC protests being relatively meager, but at the same time, as with the protests against NATO these seem to be instances in which a large police presence was justified by hype about supposedly violent protest that didn’t emerge. Does this tell us more about how police and politicians use the “threat” of protest than it does about the movement itself?

TarheelDem September 8th, 2012 at 2:28 pm
In response to Todd Gitlin @ 16

The diversity is fascinating to me. One of the first YouTubes for “Occupy Appleton WI” was of a speech by a Ron Paul surrogate. In Pensacola FL and Columbia SC, self-identified Tea Party members participated in general assemblies. In October, multiple groups were trying to co-opt the movement through the general assembly soapbox process. Given the polarization the Wall Street media has enforced, I found that a fundamental change that the process could work.

Ready September 8th, 2012 at 2:30 pm
In response to Joe Macare @ 31

Yeah, but these people from the start made sure Occupy would be ineffective by maneuvering Occupy to make no demands and keeping Occupy spinning their wheels by locking in the total consensus modal.

They were organized opposition in my opinion. Contain and make sure nothing substantial came of all the energy and anger at the elites.

Todd Gitlin September 8th, 2012 at 2:31 pm
In response to Joe Macare @ 31

I have no quarrel whatsoever with a critique of Democratic policies & the two-party system. I’m at that a lot, & I don’t think anyone could read the book & say that I pulled punches on either Reaganomics or Rubinomics. A campaign for full public financing of elections would get my intense support. But it’s a hard fact that the two-party system is esp. entrenched by the fact that we have a presidential rather than parliamentary system. To uproot it strikes me as plain impossible.

Ready September 8th, 2012 at 2:31 pm
In response to Todd Gitlin @ 32

These people were defiantly at the all the pre-September 17 meetings.

Todd Gitlin September 8th, 2012 at 2:32 pm

Surely the police (and Homeland Security) used the threat of trouble & their big show of armaments, “free speech zones,” etc. to reduce numbers. So I wouldn’t make so much of those reduced numbers at the conventions.

Joe Macare September 8th, 2012 at 2:35 pm

Let’s talk a little about the “Spirit”, the specific culture of Occupy you write about. Some have presumed an encampment to be integral, but in at least Chicago it never manifested (again, largely due to policing) and (I would argue) not only has there been an important movement here but it has had less of what you describe in the book in terms of mistaking a means for an end. Nevertheless, the idea that Occupy Wall St needs to “re-occupy” a space persists in some circles, at least outside the movement. Why is that so appealing?

Todd Gitlin September 8th, 2012 at 2:35 pm
In response to Ready @ 35

Look, I think the anarchists and anti-demand people are sincere. They did a great thing–one interesting thing I note in the book is that the decision not to agree on demands meant, in effect, not having to get tied up in knots about exactly what the demands would be! (This hadn’t occurred to me at the time but worked out just fine.) But I think their encampment mission is accomplished. Continuing civil disobedience focused on specific banks, foreclosures, etc. can still be useful. But I think the movement has to go on learning from a changed landscape.

TarheelDem September 8th, 2012 at 2:35 pm
In response to Todd Gitlin @ 27

The federal role that I saw in liveblogging the events was through the Federal Protective Services (Federal building security) and the Transportation Security Administration (significant infrastructure, like bridges). There were reports of the Police Executive Research Foundation (funded by DOJ and DHS) coordinating the local efforts through conference calls, with the US Conference of Mayors coordinating the conference calls among mayors. There is no indication of which cities were involved in those conference calls.

john in sacramento September 8th, 2012 at 2:36 pm
In response to Todd Gitlin @ 27

There’s no question but that there was collaboration among mayors, though there’s no evidence of a specifically federal role.

Hate to contradict you but …

http://my.firedoglake.com/wendydavis/2012/05/14/dhs-releases-more-docs-on-coordinated-efforts-to-quash-occupy/

Ready September 8th, 2012 at 2:37 pm
In response to Joe Macare @ 39

It’s important because it give people meaning and structure to their lives that aren’t fitting into what society has ordained for them.

They feel empowered and not alone. Their energy is going to something other then meaningless jobs that they feel disengaged from (rightly so).

Todd Gitlin September 8th, 2012 at 2:39 pm
In response to Joe Macare @ 39

I’ve heard it said that the on-the-ground logistics in Chicago, given the topography of LaSalle St., worked against an integral assembly. (Do you agree?) I like the fact that some Occupy groups in Chicago were supporting workers’ actions. As for the appeal of space, it’s real. Face-to-face community accomplishes a human force that can’t be accomplished strictly online. (Think about that the fact that Silicon Valley or Alley etc. also cluster even though in theory they could accomplish everything online. Human beings in concert want to brush up against each other, look each other in the eye, & so on.) I’m serious about lawsuits to open up public spaces under the First Amendment assembly provision and the state equivalents. The interesting and important question is whether, without physical assembly, the horizontalist ideal needs to be modified.

Ready September 8th, 2012 at 2:40 pm
In response to Todd Gitlin @ 40

It really didn’t work out because Occupy wasn’t able to force any change.

By not having any demands, the corporate MSM rushed in to define and vilify Occupy.

And they succeeded. When Occupy first started many more people were identifying with it then after the MSM got to paint them what they wanted.

Todd Gitlin September 8th, 2012 at 2:40 pm
In response to Ready @ 43

Thanks for this. I’ll study later. Am willing to change my mind when the facts appear!

Joe Macare September 8th, 2012 at 2:42 pm
In response to Todd Gitlin @ 44

I agree that the topography of Jackson & LaSalle didn’t lend itself to a GA or an encampment – I think that’s why “the Horse” at Congress & Michigan became the site for the former and the two attempts at the latter. What’s most interesting to me is that this put Occupy Chicago in a position that other Occupy groups had to deal with at a later date, which is an interesting reversal given the initial tendency of local offshoots to look to NYC as the model.

bmaz September 8th, 2012 at 2:42 pm

Mr. Gitlin, do you not think that a lot of the Occupy momentum and credibility has been lost to the insistence on long term, as opposed to short term demonstrative, insistence on encampments on centrally located public property and conflict with police that, after a time, came to be the means onto itself and diluted the original powerful message of anti-Wall Street and anti-Income Inequality?

Todd Gitlin September 8th, 2012 at 2:43 pm
In response to Ready @ 45

Occupy thrived in the fall even when MSM were sneering & belittling that there were “no demands” when it was obvious to any open-eyed observer what the thrusts of the demands were. Of course black bloc tactics helped the sneers get traction. I would be careful not to overrate the power of media acting all by themselves to crack the movement. But I do think it’s past time to consolidate on a slate of demands.

Joe Macare September 8th, 2012 at 2:44 pm

Another process that has often been presumed to be integral to Occupy’s “Spirit” is the General Assembly. Anyone who’s sat through a few GAs knows they can be hard, frustrating work, but also (I think) incredibly inspiring and rewarding. Is the GA model something that you think can endure without a physical camp, or does it need to adapt more?

Joe Macare September 8th, 2012 at 2:44 pm
In response to Joe Macare @ 50

(Here we have another reversal, as GAs have continued at least twice weekly in Chicago but not in New York.)

Ready September 8th, 2012 at 2:45 pm

I believe the only way to truly challenge power is from the inside.

Or, to turn your backs on their system.

Todd Gitlin September 8th, 2012 at 2:45 pm
In response to bmaz @ 48

I really do blame the police most of all. Tony Bologna and Lt. Pepper-Spray at UC Davis were great allies for the moment. But what I think is irrelevant in the making of public opinion. Staunch nonviolence was & remains crucial. Credibility can be gained by winning results. The anti-foreclosure actions in Minneapolis & Atlanta got some results. Now the results focus needs to be concentrated, amped up, made national. See above on the Robin Hood Tax, e. g.

TarheelDem September 8th, 2012 at 2:46 pm
In response to Todd Gitlin @ 44

Having spent 2/3 of May in Chicago, the logistics of maintaining a presence at LaSalle and Jackson was difficult, especially due to the rules that CPD enforced on Occupiers. The obvious venue, Grant Park was denied through mass arrest of 300 people. Occupy Chicago decided to winter by renting warehouse loft space, a still controversial decision, but is beginning to occupy the entire city through a nomadic general assembly and support of the actions of coalition partners, including standing with the CTU in the upcoming teachers strike. The effective occupations when I was there were at two closed mental health clinics and some housing foreclosure eviction occupations.

Knut September 8th, 2012 at 2:47 pm

it strikes me that one of the things that made OWS 1.0 initially so effective is what would make any attempt to replicate it ineffective. I am thinking of the lack of specific demands. During the Civil Rights Movement, especially in its initial phases, they were extremely specific–integrate a barber shop or a specific lunch counter, or a greyhound bus waiting room. The targets of course had wider significance, but they small enough to see and deal with. We had the same phenomenon this spring in Quebec with mass demonstrations bt the students against tuition hikes. They morphed into something bigger and more general, but there was always the unifying core. I don’t see that core in OWS.

Jane Hamsher September 8th, 2012 at 2:48 pm

Hi Todd, thanks so much for this and thanks for being here.

It’s my impression that Occupy keeps getting pulled down by the undertow of people’s intrinsic allegiance on the left to the Democratic party. It essentially marries them to the corruption they’re protesting against, and they can’t truly pursue the non-partisan mission and only hold half of the corrupt political system accountable.

How do you see people walking this tightrope? We saw so many occupies swarmed with OFA operatives pushing them to close the encampments and get on the Obama bus in early spring. It just seemed to suck all the life out of groups across the country, who don’t see any true hope for change there.

Todd Gitlin September 8th, 2012 at 2:48 pm
In response to Joe Macare @ 50

GA’s were inspiring to those they inspired! But the numbers of such people are limited. It’s an interesting question, whether some GA elements can be adapted to different structures. I wouldn’t discount the possibility. But (if you’ll pardon me) the spirit has to be adapted with an eye to results. Pragmatism is a clean word in my book.

Ready September 8th, 2012 at 2:48 pm

The Occupy movement happened too late.

It needed to come in the Fall of 2008 when the banks were stealing trillions of dollars from us and stealing our future.

But no one was in the streets then.

Too little, too late but it was fun while it lasted.

Todd Gitlin September 8th, 2012 at 2:49 pm
In response to TarheelDem @ 54

Thank you. What’s a nomadic GA?

Joe Macare September 8th, 2012 at 2:50 pm
In response to Todd Gitlin @ 59

(Not to answer for TarheelDem, but right now the Saturday GAs at rotating through different neighborhoods for two weeks at a time, while the Wednesday ones remain at “the Horse.”)

Todd Gitlin September 8th, 2012 at 2:50 pm
In response to Knut @ 55

The movement called itself a “freedom movement”! Pretty general. “What do you want? Freedom! When do you want it? Now.” Now, we want to block plutocracy. Drive money out of politics. Those generalities can carry us a long way.

TarheelDem September 8th, 2012 at 2:51 pm
In response to Todd Gitlin @ 59

Chicago has 77 neighborhoods. This week the Occupy Chicago GA is meeting in the second one of the those neighborhoods (outside of the Loop and its Pilsen loft).

Todd Gitlin September 8th, 2012 at 2:54 pm
In response to Jane Hamsher @ 56

Jane, It’s great to have this venue. Thank you. I don’t feel allegiance to the Dems. I think they are actual forces, that’s all (but it’s a lot). This is a very big & complicated country & a lot of them love Obama. Sobeit. My feelings here don’t matter. But it’s my assessment, not wish, that Obama’s Term II would afford a strong oppty for new organizing for concrete demands.

Todd Gitlin September 8th, 2012 at 2:55 pm
In response to Ready @ 58

I think I quote Jeremy Varon in the book to the effect that if McCain had won the election Occupy would have come along 2 years earlier. But spilt milk is spilt.

Beerfart Liberal September 8th, 2012 at 2:55 pm

how was the participation of the many colleges in Boston (especially BC)

Todd Gitlin September 8th, 2012 at 2:56 pm
In response to Todd Gitlin @ 63

What if there were a huge campaign in January to promote the Robin Hood Tax? Think about how much concretely was achieved in the ’70s by the electoral & lobbying Indochina Peace Campaign & such efforts, capitalizing on the years of mass mobilizations.

Joe Macare September 8th, 2012 at 2:57 pm
In response to Jane Hamsher @ 56

Jane – to me, this is why Chicago’s movement is specifically interesting besides the fact that it’s the city I live in. Who Rahm Emanuel is, how closely he’s tied to the Obama administration, Obama’s Chicago roots and the fact that the campaign HQ is located here have made Occupy Chicago specifically resistant to the Democrats, even as OFA staff have attended some GAs and events. That culminated this week with protests outside Obama HQ to coincide with the DNC, which I wrote about here: http://occupiedchicagotribune.org/2012/09/breaking-with-convention-chicago-protests-gop-in-tampa-democrats-at-home/ – and will be writing about more.

But it’s not uncontroversial – there are still a lot of other people within Chicago communities that would otherwise be Occupy allies (political and demographic) who have a strong loyalty to Obama.

Todd Gitlin September 8th, 2012 at 2:57 pm

I don’t know about BC but in Oct. and Nov. when I visited Boston there were very large contingents from Harvard & BU, and I also met activists from Northeastern. I don’t know what’s come of them.

TarheelDem September 8th, 2012 at 2:58 pm
In response to Todd Gitlin @ 57

Participatory democracy was one of the touchstones of the movement in the 1960s and 1970s. What the GA does is deal with some of the issues that arose in participatory democratic meetings by using a method of facilitation developed at the Puerto del Sol Protest Camp in Madrid, and likely drawing on a long movemental history.

It is easily transferred into institutions (the inside game) and retains its integrity as long as the facilitators as a team are honest brokers and not rigging an agenda.

Joe Macare September 8th, 2012 at 2:58 pm

Todd, in the “Promise” section of the book, you discuss the Occupy Our Homes movement. This seems to me one of the most interesting and important off-shoots of Occupy, and one of the ones that has endured and maintained its relevance, but you also talk about some of the skepticism within OWS towards what could be seen as a narrower, more manageable focus. Would you agree that it’s an exciting aspect of the movement right now?

Todd Gitlin September 8th, 2012 at 2:58 pm

Sorry, didn’t direct my reply (above) directly to you.

Todd Gitlin September 8th, 2012 at 3:00 pm

Joe, I still have high hopes for Occupy Our Homes. It gets the activists out of a closed circle of supporters. There are some impressive people working in it in New York, and in addition to Minn & Atlanta, which I mentioned, I’m told there’s a lot going on in Detroit. I’d like to know more.

Ready September 8th, 2012 at 3:00 pm
In response to Todd Gitlin @ 66

While I am for the Robin Hood Tax I think it is way too small of a demand and the focus shouldn’t be put on it entirely because if it is, people think that if it’s passed it will solve the massive massive problems we are facing in this country.

But it is only a small start and what we need to focus on in my opinion is that the elite are clearly above the laws of the land now in America.

TarheelDem September 8th, 2012 at 3:01 pm
In response to Todd Gitlin @ 66

National Nurses United is out there for a Robin Hood tax and for Medicare for All, plugging away. They could use some support. Most places Occupy is supporting them.

Todd Gitlin September 8th, 2012 at 3:02 pm
In response to TarheelDem @ 69

Sometimes facilitation works well, sometimes not. (I give examples in the book.) But it’s not a cure-all. This is a much longer thread than we can pursue here but I’d say that at least in early SDS the emphasis was on participatory democracy as a social goal & not a method for conducting the organization’s work.

Todd Gitlin September 8th, 2012 at 3:02 pm
In response to Ready @ 73

All starts are small. But people need to see it’s possible to win. People are not so dumb as to think that a RHT would make the ruination go away.

Todd Gitlin September 8th, 2012 at 3:03 pm
In response to TarheelDem @ 74

Completely agree.

Joe Macare September 8th, 2012 at 3:05 pm
In response to TarheelDem @ 74

The Robin Hood tax may well be a goal worth supporting, and worth some occupiers supporting, but I’d agree with those who think it would no longer be Occupy, as it were, to focus on that – not just because it’s a single piece of legislation, but because what made Occupy what it is was the inclusion of political perspectives including those who don’t see progressive redistributive taxation as a viable solution.

TarheelDem September 8th, 2012 at 3:05 pm
In response to Todd Gitlin @ 75

It is not a cure-all but it is a gradually emerging organizational method that complements the affinity-group and team structures that emerge in Occupy events.

Todd Gitlin September 8th, 2012 at 3:06 pm
In response to Ready @ 73

PS. Think about the civil rights movement. Working to integrate public accommodations wasn’t a restriction on the movement, it was a galvanizing choice. Working for voting rights was crucial to all progress since then. We had no doubt what “Eyes on the Prize” meant. It meant looking one step ahead & to the distant horizon too (if that doesn’t make you cross-eyed).

Joe Macare September 8th, 2012 at 3:06 pm

Todd, one of the things that, to me, seemed to define Occupy was an initial lack of sectarian divides – even if they arose in discussions at GA, battles for ideological ownership didn’t seem to define the movement. Is that something that’s been lost in the time since?

Ready September 8th, 2012 at 3:06 pm
In response to Todd Gitlin @ 76

Ok I didn’t word it right.

It not that they will think it will make ruination go away, it’s more that people only have a limited amount of energy to devote to social actions and RHT will only be a small dent.

I believe the people of this country need to start making big demands.

1. The rule of law is returned to this country.

2. The elite are punished for their crimes.

3. And all elections are publicly financed.

bmaz September 8th, 2012 at 3:06 pm
In response to Todd Gitlin @ 53

Fair enough; but it is not just the police, now is it? I have a friend who, although shall be unnamed, whose law office was literally right across the street from Occupy Oakland. He confirms that many of the bad things reported about Occupy Oakland were indeed true. This is a man whose life and practice have been devoted to civil liberties (and in a nationally significant way) beyond belief, yet that was his honest report.

When the Occupy refuses to operate in other than a GA structure, to where the anarchist, socially and rule of law destructive, elements flourish, should any normal citizen pay them any heed?

Todd Gitlin September 8th, 2012 at 3:07 pm
In response to Joe Macare @ 78

You may be right, Joe, that it would “no longer be Occupy.” But the outer movement needs to step up. (And btw I was giving RHT as an example, not a totality.)

john in sacramento September 8th, 2012 at 3:08 pm
In response to Jane Hamsher @ 56

That’s exactly right. People are being distracted by the election and the progressive rhetoric of the campaigns

Wait until January/February when Preznint Zero and the Congressional Dems start talking about the bipartisanship of debt reduction, and we get a Bowles Simpson part II

bluewombat September 8th, 2012 at 3:08 pm
In response to Todd Gitlin @ 20

to work and vote for Obama during the next two months doesn’t mean to “support” the Democrats

This is a pragmatic observation, but as someone who’s voted for nearly 30 years’ worth of Democrats who don’t reflect my views (and I’m not much of a radical at all), I’m a bit weary of being told I may be able to vote my conscience in the future, but not now.

Isn’t withholding votes from the Democratic Party a legitimate way of either getting them to move in our direction or undermining them to the point that a more liberal and progressive opposition party springs from their ashes?

Todd Gitlin September 8th, 2012 at 3:08 pm
In response to Joe Macare @ 81

Sectarianism can crop up when you’re winning or losing. It’s always a menace. But that just goes with the territory. There needs to be a whole lot of mutuality & common sense. But sometimes there need to be partings of the ways.

Todd Gitlin September 8th, 2012 at 3:09 pm
In response to bmaz @ 83

Important. But then the thing is not to “join Occupy” or to limit yourself to criticizing it but to work out some other organizational form that can get the larger work done–Eyes on the Prize.

Todd Gitlin September 8th, 2012 at 3:10 pm
In response to bluewombat @ 86

Did Ralph Nader move the Democrats to the left?

Knut September 8th, 2012 at 3:10 pm
In response to Todd Gitlin @ 80

That’s what I was trying to get at in my post. If the Robin Hood tax is the same step forward, all the bettrt. I think calling it the Fiscal Justice Tax would be better PR and closer to the truth. I think Fiscal Justice is a good medium level rallying point.

Todd Gitlin September 8th, 2012 at 3:11 pm

I’m distracted from my higher pursuits when I have chores to do. But I do them. Keeping the Republicans from controlling all branches of government is a *very important* chore.

TarheelDem September 8th, 2012 at 3:11 pm
In response to Joe Macare @ 78

Where I see life in the Occupy movement is in its functioning as a action-event clearinghouse, public space for coalition consensus, and network of citizen journalists that ensure that the actions and coalition deliberations get broad public exposure. The very looseness of its structure and lack of focus on particular demands allows it to embrace and amp up the participation of coalition partners to work together. The idea that it needs to focus is in my opinion mistaken. It is focused. On a movemental process.

Todd Gitlin September 8th, 2012 at 3:13 pm
In response to Knut @ 90

This is for many interested parties to decide. But I take seriously that there’s already a robinhoodtax.org effort & people have been working on it for more than a year.

Joe Macare September 8th, 2012 at 3:13 pm
In response to bluewombat @ 86

“Isn’t withholding votes from the Democratic Party a legitimate way of either getting them to move in our direction or undermining them to the point that a more liberal and progressive opposition party springs from their ashes?”

I would agree – in fact I think the reverse, whereby organizations of any stripe make demands of a party or candidate while simultaneously promising them their vote in advance, is of very little value, even counter-productive. (The larger unions have been terrible on this in the past year.) Personally I see the tendency to demonize third party voters as one of the American left’s most regrettable and self-destructive tendencies (this is almost off topic, but these are discussions that are happening within and about Occupy right now, for sure).

bmaz September 8th, 2012 at 3:13 pm
In response to Todd Gitlin @ 88

How exactly is that supposed to occur when the operational ethos of Occupy is a horizontal structure that is antithetical to political involvement within the Constitutionally provided structure?

Is there not kind of a disconnect there?

Todd Gitlin September 8th, 2012 at 3:15 pm
In response to TarheelDem @ 92

TarheelDem, I agree with your first two sentences. But there’s also a need for networks who work on particular demands. There does not need to be a *single* focus & probably shouldn’t be. But total diffuseness also has its downside, no?

Ready September 8th, 2012 at 3:15 pm
In response to TarheelDem @ 92

Really? Most Occupys have long disbanded.

I will find it interesting to see how many people come out for the anniversary.

I’m betting it will be huge. Because people just don’t have public outlets for their dissatisfaction of our society that is ruled by elites.

But the day after? Not much change gonna happen.

Kevin Gosztola September 8th, 2012 at 3:16 pm

Todd & Joe,

In your chapter (Todd), “Work the System? Change It? Smash It?”, you highlight the “built-n disputes” in “outsider politics” that erupted amongst the movement over fracturing over how to relate to the 2012 Election. I’ll throw a few questions out there:

To what extent do you believe what the late great people’s historian Howard Zinn called “election madness” has had an impact on weakening the power and visibility of the Occupy movement? As elections happen to have this effect on movements especially during presidential election years, would you predict a resurgence of Occupy movement activity post-election simply because no matter who is elected the key issues that led to the rise of Occupy will remain? And what about the idea that elections exacerbate tensions in movements and that is what the country has seen happening in the past six to eight months?

Todd Gitlin September 8th, 2012 at 3:16 pm
In response to Joe Macare @ 94

I have argued with friends in unions on exactly this point. During an election year, they’ve been adamant. This is not helpful.

Joe Macare September 8th, 2012 at 3:18 pm
In response to Todd Gitlin @ 99

I should add that some of the most trenchant criticism of this tendency comes from within labor (and labor journalism). So I see hope there.

Knut September 8th, 2012 at 3:19 pm
In response to Ready @ 97

Beat on pots and pans for 20 minutes at a preassigned time. It sends a collective signal to people that they are not alone.

bluewombat September 8th, 2012 at 3:21 pm
In response to Todd Gitlin @ 89

No, but I don’t think he’s responsible for Gore’s defeat either. That was a combination of Republican chicanery in Florida and the weaknesses of Gore’s own candidacy.

TarheelDem September 8th, 2012 at 3:23 pm
In response to Todd Gitlin @ 96

In practice, I don’t think the current Occupy movement is that diffuse. There are a fairly common set of issues and even demands across the current movement. Money out of politics, foreclosure eviction defense, privatization of prisons, police brutality, deportation, and so on. And people from each of those show up in support of the actions of the others. Total diffuseness has a downside, but I think that’s not what’s happening.

Ready September 8th, 2012 at 3:23 pm

Will millions of Americans take to the streets when Romney/Obama slashes their safety net?

Oh, what’s on cable tonight? Hell no.

bluewombat September 8th, 2012 at 3:24 pm
In response to Joe Macare @ 94

Ah, thank you.

Todd Gitlin September 8th, 2012 at 3:26 pm
In response to Kevin Gosztola @ 98

Joe, Do you think third party efforts would have accomplished more than they have if they weren’t demonized? Evidence?

Ready September 8th, 2012 at 3:27 pm

Some people who were trying to register people to vote for Obama today told me that Obama couldn’t jail any bankers because they didn’t break any laws.

And, besides, they paid all the money back.

Yeah. Not kidding. Hopeless this country is.

Joe Macare September 8th, 2012 at 3:28 pm
In response to Kevin Gosztola @ 98

That’s a very interesting question, Kevin, and while I’m sure Todd will have something to say, I can’t resist adding something. On the one hand I think Zinn was entirely right. I increasingly see the independent media as shouldering some blame here: too many outlets and prominent commentators abandon their independence to become Democratic Party cheerleaders during election season. This means they not only neglect to cover activism and dissent that doesn’t fit that narrative, but in some cases will actively turn on that dissent and criticize it.

Having said that, some of the most divisive ideological fractures within Occupy that I’ve observed have been between two groups neither of which have any time for the Democrats right now: whether it’s socialists versus anarchists, or even just different stripes of those two broad political identities fighting (the ISO versus not-the-ISO, or the different kinds of anarchism Chris Longenecker talks about here: http://clongenecker.wordpress.com/2012/07/12/anarchists-and-the-occupy-movement/). And that’s before we even get onto the insurrectionary anarchists or the libertarians… This is what I was alluding to with the question about sectarianism: It now seems like more of a miracle that any one movement, however broad, was ever able to contain all of these elements.

Todd Gitlin September 8th, 2012 at 3:28 pm
In response to bluewombat @ 102

With due respect, you’re evading the question of what Nader accomplished.

Everyone is responsible for a failure–and for failing to learn from it.

Sorry I was gone for a while, btw–storm knocked me offline, but I seem to be back now.

Todd Gitlin September 8th, 2012 at 3:29 pm
In response to Ready @ 107

Shall we then dissolve the American people & summon another one?

Joe Macare September 8th, 2012 at 3:32 pm
In response to Todd Gitlin @ 106

I think the level of debate/political discourse would be much improved, for a start. Before concrete alternatives emerge, people need to start being able to imagine alternatives, and right now too much of our political discourse seems to be about shutting down the capacity to imagine those alternatives, whether it’s who’s excluded from the presidential candidate debates, or the tendency to shut down criticism of one party by implying it’s support for the other.

Third parties in themselves are not necessarily a solution, as the recent history of the United Kingdom shows: At the point where the Liberal Democrats were able to have a significant impact on the electoral process, they also revealed the extent of their own corruption, how much they were willing to sacrifice for power. So systemic change is needed, too.

Ready September 8th, 2012 at 3:33 pm

I’m all for some thinking, caring Scandinavians.

Or don’t they really exist either?

But to tell you the truth I’ve had it with the Red states and their hate and idiocy.

We have been deliberately and hopelessly divided in this country and before we destroy each other we should go our separate ways.

Joe Macare September 8th, 2012 at 3:34 pm

Since this has been alluded to, I wanted to ask about non-violence and steer us back to Occupy Nation.

In the book you say you agree with those who wanted Occupy Wall Street to “renounce violence more specifically and formally.” Do you still think this is necessary, and if so, why?

Todd Gitlin September 8th, 2012 at 3:34 pm
In response to Kevin Gosztola @ 98

This is like saying that Americans suffer from baseball madness or big-country-bravado madness. Yes, sure (though election madness is far more pronounced in other semi- or actual democracies).

“…would you predict a resurgence of Occupy movement activity post-election simply because no matter who is elected the key issues that led to the rise of Occupy will remain?” I’m not much at predictions. (Who predicted Zuccotti Park?) I do think there are big opportunities & they are bigger after the election if Obama is president. Then the demand is for independent action by the president, assuming that the Republican bulldozer is sustained in Congress. There should also be an alternative bank, anti-foreclosure actions, targeting of specific banks, shaming of bankers, criminal charges, & so on.

“And what about the idea that elections exacerbate tensions in movements and that is what the country has seen happening in the past six to eight months?” That may be. But again, it’s like saying that winter exacerbates skidding accidents. True, but then what?

Ready September 8th, 2012 at 3:36 pm
In response to Joe Macare @ 113

The violence only happened on the West Coast for some reason.

Maybe not many anarchists in the East.

Todd Gitlin September 8th, 2012 at 3:36 pm
In response to Joe Macare @ 113

I’d like to get back to your earlier point, #111, in a moment, but on this: At this point, I think it’s not so urgent that there be a more explicit statement about nonviolence. I think the movement’s weaknesses are manifesting themselves in other ways far more urgently.

Todd Gitlin September 8th, 2012 at 3:36 pm
In response to Ready @ 115

Different tradition.

Joe Macare September 8th, 2012 at 3:37 pm
In response to Ready @ 115

“Anarchism” and “violence” are not synonyms.

Todd Gitlin September 8th, 2012 at 3:37 pm
In response to Joe Macare @ 111

What is the systemic change you advocate?

Todd Gitlin September 8th, 2012 at 3:38 pm
In response to Joe Macare @ 118

Totally true.

Ready September 8th, 2012 at 3:38 pm
In response to Joe Macare @ 118

I know. But those are the people in the West I was attributing the violence to.

Might not be correct.

Kevin Gosztola September 8th, 2012 at 3:40 pm
In response to Todd Gitlin @ 114

Then what? Then there needs to be a call for more explicit and specific activism around electoral reform. There needs to be action as well.

econobuzz September 8th, 2012 at 3:40 pm
In response to Todd Gitlin @ 114

I do think there are big opportunities & they are bigger after the election if Obama is president.

Really?

Joe Macare September 8th, 2012 at 3:42 pm
In response to Todd Gitlin @ 119

That’s a big question and I don’t know the extent to which I can fully answer it at all, let alone here. However I will say that I’ve been very influenced recently by Gar Alperovitz’s arguments in his book “America Beyond Capitalism,” specifically on democracy, regionalism and scale (some of this is excerpted here: http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/11391-democracy-is-a-continent-too-big). This gets back to the question of whether direct democracy in Occupy was a process, or an end: I don’t favor opt-out utopianism, but I also think there is something there about the GAs as a better model for partication than the electoral process in which the US is currently caught up.

Phoenix Woman September 8th, 2012 at 3:42 pm
In response to TarheelDem @ 92

I see it as a seedbed for progressive activism of all sorts. People who were disillusioned with Obama or with the Democratic Party in general and who were thus not active in public life a little over a year ago are now active in their local communities, working with various local groups that existed long before Occupy, as well as staying in touch with the OWS mothership and the Occupy branches worldwide.

Todd Gitlin September 8th, 2012 at 3:42 pm

State campaigns for total, mandatory public spending on elections could win. There’s a big effort coming in NY State soon, I’m told. These state campaigns could amalgamate into a campaign for a constitutional amendment, the only remotely conceivable way to change the electoral system in this nightmare of a political system. This would be a long campaign. So was abolitionism.

bluewombat September 8th, 2012 at 3:43 pm
In response to Todd Gitlin @ 109

With due respect, you’re evading the question of what Nader accomplished

At the risk of appearing obtuse or cranky or both, I didn’t evade your question. You asked me if Ralph Nader had moved the Democrats to the left and my answer was a straight-up “No.”

I do understand that the Republicans are batshit insane as opposed to the Democrats, who are simply happy to take corporate money and allow just enough of their members to vote with the Republicans to let the R’s accomplish their goals (what Jane Hamsher calls the “Rotating Villain” strategy).

But when a Democratic President asserts the right to snuff me or permanently imprison me without due process — something not even GW Bush asserted — then I’ll have to ask you to respect my decision not to vote for him.

Joe Macare September 8th, 2012 at 3:43 pm

Since anarchism and violence came up a couple of times, let’s briefly address this head-on:

A range of prominent commentators on the left, ranging from liberals explicitly aligned with the Democratic Party like Joan Walsh, to a more radical critic like Chris Hedges, have singled out anarchists and the use of “black bloc” tactics for criticism, specifically citing Oakland as a geographical focal point. Doesn’t this just play into the hands of the authorities and status quo by demonizing anarchism as a school of political thought, dividing protesters into “good” peaceful and “bad” violent camps, and placing the blame for police brutality on protesters, not the police? Or is there a valid critique there?

Todd Gitlin September 8th, 2012 at 3:43 pm
In response to econobuzz @ 123

Really. Not to say the chances of reform are huge. But there you are.

Kevin Gosztola September 8th, 2012 at 3:44 pm
In response to Todd Gitlin @ 106

Todd,

Since you’re reprising your role as adversary in the documentary on Ralph Nader, An Unreasonable Man, one you played well alongside Eric Alterman, how about offering words that more constructively contribute to the book you’ve put together instead of picking at people who find the idea of third party politics alluring?

There are a number of occupiers that have been inspired by the candidacy of Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein. Now, I would expect you to diminish this reality given the more significant reality—that America’s electoral system is not parliamentary and does not offer third party candidates any other role than that of “spoiler.” I am not going to choose to disagree on that point.

So, given your exploration of the Occupy movement with your book, what kind of hope, ideas or advice might you offer to occupiers seeking to impact the electoral process and possibly engage in the Sisyphean task of reform? I note Al Gore recently called for a popular vote in elections.

Electoral politics and movement politics almost seem to be treated here as parallel universes. I struggle with how their separation helps American society move closer to the type of society the people of this country want to live in.

Joe Macare September 8th, 2012 at 3:47 pm
In response to econobuzz @ 123

I would actually agree with this, but not for any reasons that favor Obama. For example, I’d fear the prospect of otherwise useful social movements being subsumed into Democratic electoral campaigns far more in the next four years if Romney wins.

Todd Gitlin September 8th, 2012 at 3:47 pm
In response to Joe Macare @ 128

First of all, I accept the point (against Chris Hedges) that black blocs are not so much an identity as people trying a tactic. Then what has to be asked about the tactic is, What does it accomplish? This is a question that can’t be answered well with a wave of the hands & saying something like “showing the ruling class they can’t get away with murder” or “sticking up for an alternative for capitalism.” What do you think was accomplished by black bloc tactics in Oakland? Did the movement recruit more people? Did more people want to create an encampment, or take up facilitation, or what?

I blame the rotten police. But my blame is useless.

juliania September 8th, 2012 at 3:48 pm

Mr. Gitlin, I apologize for not having read your book, and I have had no direct experience with Occupy except for what people have written, were writing, on forums such as this, so my ‘take’ will be one from the outside. And that is, if you would perhaps comment further, that the importance of Occupy and the strategies it employed for me was to give voice in a meaningful, peaceful but audible fashion to the truly important issues that have not been addressed in public either by the political parties or the mainstream media. I believe this is still going on, case in point the young man who was a delegate to the DNC and left because of the reinstatement of certain items into the party platform in spite of the fact that at least one of them was not agreed to by delegates assembled.

You have stated above that “public opinion toward OWS itself turned negative.” Is that your perception from polls, or do you have other evidence of that? It is my feeling that public opinion actually reflects more and more the physical reality that our government is run by oligarchs, and I think that was a powerful message embodied still by those in the movement. And I myself still have a very positive attitude to it.

TarheelDem September 8th, 2012 at 3:49 pm

Here are some systemic changes that I can think of.

Move to Amend – local Occupy movements have gotten city councils and county commissions to sign on in support — even where those same jurisdictions have arrested them and evicted their encampments. This is a major accomplishment that has not been widely reported.

Prohibition of charging for distribution campaign communications (take away the Wall Street media’s Christmas season)

National primaries open to any party that can put 5000 legitimate signatures, get on one state ballot, and field a slate of candidates.

Constitutional amendment prohibiting the establishing or restricting the access of associations of people to put candidates on the ballot. Or some such language that breaks open the institutional privileges the two parties have granted themselves in the process.

Those are for starters and the details are subject to much wrangling.

bmaz September 8th, 2012 at 3:49 pm
In response to bmaz @ 95

I will throw my question @95, then, open to anybody who can provide an answer.

How exactly is that supposed to occur when the operational ethos of Occupy is a horizontal structure that is antithetical to political involvement within the Constitutionally provided structure?

Is there not kind of a disconnect there?

Ready September 8th, 2012 at 3:49 pm
In response to juliania @ 133

Polls showed a steep decline from the beginning of Occupy till the media got done vilifying it. Very steep. Sorry, I don’t have links to them.

Todd Gitlin September 8th, 2012 at 3:50 pm

Kevin, I’ve been replying to questions. Should I ignore them?

Of course we should support popular elections, and damn the idiotic electoral college. But the chances of accomplishing this abolition are approximately nil. Or do you disagree?

The strength of the 3rd-party critique is that it presses supporters of the Dems to justify what they do–by outcomes, not pious wishes. Good. But why don’t 3rd-party advocates accept the same challenge. What do they, you, *accomplish*?

Todd Gitlin September 8th, 2012 at 3:52 pm
In response to juliania @ 133

Polls, yes. In the book I write about polls during the early months. If you write me (toddgitlin@toddgitlin.net) I can supply particulars about the more recent ones.

Todd Gitlin September 8th, 2012 at 3:53 pm
In response to Todd Gitlin @ 137

PS. Wishing to awaken people is not an accomplishment. It’s a wish.

BevW September 8th, 2012 at 3:54 pm

As we come to the last few minutes of this great Book Salon discussion,

Todd, Thank you for stopping by the Lake again and spending the afternoon with us discussing your new book and the Occupy Movement.

Joe, Thank you very much for Hosting this great Book Salon, and your work at Occupy Chicago.

Everyone, if you would like more information:

Todd’s website (ToddGitlin.net) and book (Occupy Nation)

Joe’s website (Truthout) and Occupied Chicago Tribune

Thanks all, Have a great weekend.

Tomorrow: Greg Palast & Ted Rall / Billionaires & Ballot Bandits: How to Steal an Election in 9 Easy Steps; Hosted by WaterTiger

If you would like to contact the FDL Book Salon: FiredoglakeBookSalon@gmail.com

Todd Gitlin September 8th, 2012 at 3:55 pm
In response to TarheelDem @ 134

I don’t know about Move to Amend. Can you say more?

bluewombat September 8th, 2012 at 3:55 pm

Thank you very much, Todd and Joe.

Joe Macare September 8th, 2012 at 3:55 pm
In response to Todd Gitlin @ 132

what has to be asked about the tactic is, What does it accomplish?

I would agree broadly with the idea of assessing tactics in a strategic sense, but I’d be careful of judging them by their accomplishments in the face of overwhelming odds. The huge irony here is that it’s Hedges who has articulated this best in some of his writing by talking about acts of resistance as worthwhile not because of their success, but because they are acts of resistance in the face of (in his words) “tyrants.”

So I don’t really accept that it’s hand-waving to say that “showing the ruling class they can’t get away with murder” or “sticking up for an alternative for capitalism” are valid reasons to do things. What do I think was accomplished by black bloc tactics in Oakland? Well, if we’re going to extend black bloc tactics to include de-arrests and bearing shields, I think the answer has to include some successful self-defense.

It’s also worth noting that the point at which Occupy moved towards a critique of the police that was more structural and more severe may have alienated some, but it opened up possibilities for critiques of police repression of lower-income communities and communities of color, and mass incarceration, that may not previously have been on the agenda of the people who initially came out to Zuccotti. But we’re running out of time here!

econobuzz September 8th, 2012 at 3:55 pm

Great discussion, thanks to all.

Todd Gitlin September 8th, 2012 at 3:56 pm

Thank you all, & I’d be happy to hear from anyone at toddgitlin@toddgitlin.net/ Good discussion, I thought.

TG

Joe Macare September 8th, 2012 at 3:56 pm

Very quick final question if Todd has time: You talk in your book about how from the start both well-wishers and not so well-wishers beset OWS with advice about what it should do – “Everyone is a critic.” This is something I observed and it’s something I’m always trying to be aware of when writing about Occupy – that the movement doesn’t usually need my advice. How do you avoid elevating yourself to the position of expert, or pundit, especially when writing about a movement that values horizontalism?

Kevin Gosztola September 8th, 2012 at 3:56 pm
In response to Todd Gitlin @ 137

The chances of ending slavery in this republic were once nil.

Joe Macare September 8th, 2012 at 3:57 pm
In response to bmaz @ 95

I wouldn’t really accept the premise – some occupiers and Occupy actions are open to working “within the Constitutionally provided structure,” others are interested in critiquing that very structure.

Todd Gitlin September 8th, 2012 at 3:58 pm
In response to Joe Macare @ 143

You may be right about the funneling of Occupy energy in New York into the movement against stop-&-frisk. Which is terrific.

We should have a long talk sometime about the question of consequences–it’s crucial.

But till the next crossroads–

TG

Joe Macare September 8th, 2012 at 3:58 pm

Thanks Bev, thanks Todd, and thank you all for participating.

bmaz September 8th, 2012 at 3:58 pm

Before it dissipates, I would personally like to thank Todd Gitlin for standing up, and standing in, on yet another important and critically valuable movement.

This is hard sledding, and this man has been doing it longer than most (though not me) have been alive. That is work well done and to be commended.

And thank you to the host, Joe Macare, for a wonderful and smooth flow on the discussion today.

TarheelDem September 8th, 2012 at 3:59 pm
In response to bmaz @ 135

My answer is not that satisfactory.

But the operating ethos of a horizontal structure does not in and of itself make it antithetical to involvement in the Constitutionally provided structure. The ethos is that the horizontal structure is preferable and experimental–and necessary because the Constitutionally provided structure is corrupt.

And within any Occupy discussion you will get a whole lot of different opinions as to what to do about it.

Todd Gitlin September 8th, 2012 at 3:59 pm
In response to Joe Macare @ 146

Good question. I say what I think I should do, & urge people who agree to do the same, but try hard not to preach to Occupy people that they should be other than who they are. I deeply appreciate what they’ve done, & I think the book makes that clear. The question is now what Occupy should do. The question is what should *we* do.

john in sacramento September 8th, 2012 at 4:00 pm

Honestly, this looks like an interesting book

PS I’d like to echo TarheelDem’s first sentence at 92 and the entire comment at 103. The strength (and weakness) of OWS is its diversity and malleability. I think OWS is heeding the lessons of Sun Tzu

The army’s formation is like water. The water’s formation avoids the high and rushes to the low. So an army’s formation avoids the strong and rushes to the weak. Water’s formation adapts to the ground when flowing. So then an army’s formation adapts to the enemy to achieve victory. Therefore, an army does not have constant force, or have constant formation. Those who are able to adapt and change in accord with the enemy and achieve victory are called divine.

The fact there’s not one person or one issue that can be demonized and minimized is its strength. And, like TD said, there are several issues that are universal.

I think a lot of time some people get caught up and distracted by the tactics of Occupy – and there are some mentally ill who show up. and there are some not very good people who have taken advantage of occupy – but the tactic of occupying public space to voice your concerns, is a precursor to the next tactic of lobbying your elected reps in voicing these issues, in the larger strategy of eventually changing policy.

TarheelDem September 8th, 2012 at 4:00 pm
In response to Todd Gitlin @ 141

Link’s in my comment.

juliania September 8th, 2012 at 4:00 pm
In response to Ready @ 136

Well, there seems to be a disconnect then, between polls and bodies on the street, because I remember huge outpourings of New Yorkers, and also the manner in which Occupies sprang up all over the country, as documented so well here. And I would give less weight to folk answering ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to questionably crafted questions (given that only some folk are being polled or are willing to be polled) than I would give to the actual arguments Occupy individuals were voicing on different topics or to the sacrifices so many of them visibly made. As far as having had an impact, which was my point, I think they have brought a lot of people to start thinking about what has happened in this country and what should happen in future.

This coming election, I feel, will have been influenced by Occupy in very meaningful ways. For me, an oldie, the Occupy was the boy in the legend standing up and shouting “The emperor has no clothes!” He may have been only one boy, but scales fell from a lot of eyes. That’s something very hard to quantify.

bmaz September 8th, 2012 at 4:04 pm
In response to Joe Macare @ 148

Yes, agreed. Yet, the dividing line has become so diffuse that it is impossible to distinguish. Movements are much more difficult, and hard to define and constrain, in the modern social media world. Optics on a quick time frame count. That is what led to the awesome and commendable success of Occupy early, and what has killed the momentum in the aftermath.

TarheelDem September 8th, 2012 at 4:04 pm

Thanks much Todd and Joe for an interesting Book Salon. And thanks BevW for getting these guys here.

juliania September 8th, 2012 at 4:04 pm

“The strength of the 3rd-party critique is that it presses supporters of the Dems to justify what they do–by outcomes, not pious wishes. Good. But why don’t 3rd-party advocates accept the same challenge. What do they, you, *accomplish*?”

I disagree. The strength of the 3rd party critique is to hold the government in power to account – not to hope for future improvement, but to judge by the record so far. And it stands to reason that a new party will not have a record – it can promise, and then we’ll see if it lives up to the promise. And if it does not; don’t vote for them – as I will not vote for the Democrats.

Third parties have Occupy to thank for framing many of their issues with the status quo.

juliania September 8th, 2012 at 4:05 pm
In response to Todd Gitlin @ 153

Yes, very good.

bmaz September 8th, 2012 at 4:16 pm

Thank you to both Author and Host for providing this discussion forum.

I sincerely hope both will follow up in this forum with answers missed, opportunities missed and discussion necessary to the greater audience. I await the same.

Michael from Occupy Portland September 8th, 2012 at 4:23 pm
In response to Todd Gitlin @ 109

She doesn’t have to answer the question of what Nader accomplished, your reasoning here is flawed. Bluewombat gal is merely saying that withholding might be a way to get the Democrats to move left. Not that it necessarily will. Besides which, there could be a certain threshold that has to be achieved that Nader didn’t get to: The Democrats could reasonably expect to win elections in the future if there were no longer a third party as powerful as Nader (which there hasn’t been). It proves nothing about whether withholding votes is a good strategy or not to point to one example of withholding that failed.

Furthermore, there could be many other factors involved. Maybe Nader did move them to the left, but 9/11 and the resultant political calculus moved them to the right. That the Dems are now to the right of where they were when Nader was running for president proves very little about Nader. And that doesn’t even matter because even if everything you said is correct, that Nader caused withholding and withholding didn’t work, it does not mean that withholding isn’t the best strategy (though it does provide some evidence indicating that it’s not, it doesn’t prove anything and bluewombat doesn’t have to explain every example of failed withholding just as someone who says you should give money to create influence doesn’t have to explain every example of somebody giving money and gaining no influence).

TBogg September 8th, 2012 at 4:35 pm

Maybe Democrats moved to the right following Nader’s example:

On April 7, Tyler Dixon (with Whitney Trettien) wrote, “In a fit of finger-pointing blog entries, well-respected writers such as Michael Berube and Max Sawicky have even fatuously alluded to a conspiracy theory: apparently Ralph Nader intentionally tipped the election to Bush, for reasons known only to him and his wacky co-conspirators.”

I presume that Dixon and Trettien are referring to this post, in which I noted that Ralph Nader himself said that he would prefer Bush to Gore in 2000. All I did was quote from this June 2000 issue of Outside magazine:

If California tips Green enough, Bush could win the state and the whole damn election. Which, Nader confided to Outside in June, wouldn’t be so bad. When asked if someone put a gun to his head and told him to vote for either Gore or Bush, which he would choose, Nader answered without hesitation: “Bush.”

Jane Hamsher September 8th, 2012 at 4:36 pm
In response to Joe Macare @ 67

Thanks, Joe. Agreed. I think Rahm has really united people in Chicago to make them both cohesive and resistant to the corrosive influence of blind partisan loyalty.

bmaz September 8th, 2012 at 4:39 pm
In response to Jane Hamsher @ 164

Agreed! And this is a perfect forum to really make a difference on. Done locally can not only benefit the local, but the national. It is an unique opportunity. And a critical one for any portion of the movement as originally constructed.

caleb36 September 8th, 2012 at 4:53 pm

Two weeks ago, I would have said Occupy had petered out and was, in the grand historical perspective, a failure or at best a very partial and limited success. Then we saw Occupy memes repeated at the Democratic convention, specifically,that “the game is rigged” for ordinary Americans, which was chosen as one of the convention’s talking points. Clearly the Democratic convention organizers, who are nothing if not hard-headed realists, are cognizant of great latent political strength in the Occupy world view.

The more one watched the convention, the more it became evident that the Democrats are not a monolith but contain many layers. Much more than the Republicans, they are onion-like in structure. Judging from the great differences in tone and content between Bill Clinton’s and Obama’s addresses, the two leaders belong to different layers (there are of course, union and progressive layers to the left of Clinton representing the old party of Humphrey, Mondale, Robert and Ted Kennedy, and those even further left).

Obama’s rightist layer increasing looks like a thin covering imposed on the body of the party, which may be peeled off as the president increasingly becomes a lame duck. At that point, Occupy ideas will grow in resonance.

maa8722 September 8th, 2012 at 5:45 pm
In response to caleb36 @ 166

I think what you are observing is the country in general is drifting rightward while at the same time becoming more polarized.

Maybe that problem revolves around people who self-identify as independent, unaffiliated, or whatever they want to call themselves, and who are getting co-opted by conservative messages. They seem to be growing in numbers.

They may not consider themselves Republicans per se, but they are still getting lulled into voting against their own interests. It’s the bad center of a screwed up bell curve.

It’s just my unscientific hunch.

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