Welcome David Graeber (The Guardian) (Twitter) and Host Joe Macare (TruthOut) (Twitter)

The Democracy Project: A History, A Crisis, A Movement

The Democracy Project: A History, a Crisis, a Movement is a remarkably ambitious book, given that is also several hundred pages slimmer than its predecessor, Debt: The First 5,000 Years. It’s also remarkably accessible, given its scope and the crucial issues with which David Graeber is concerned within.

There are several books worth of material contained in The Democracy Project. The first is a concise but highly informative and inspiring retelling of the early days of Occupy Wall Street, which is considerably better than many of the books published in the last year and a half bearing the word “Occupy” in the title.

It is a breath of fresh air to find an account of the Occupy movement that is avowedly radical instead of liberal, optimistic instead of regretful or bitter, and based on a first-hand insider perspective. The origins of Occupy Wall Street have become much contested, and at this point it is a badge of pride for some to say they were there at Zuccotti Park on the first day, September 17, 2011. But Graeber was there long before that, at the first General Assembly in New York following Adbusters’ call – which, as he tells it, was almost hijacked so that it was not a GA at all but rather yet another rally with designated speakers, until he and other anarchist-leaning “horizontals” who were there dragged it back on course.

But perhaps more importantly, Graeber was also present at various meetings and actions that paved the way for OWS before the Adbusters call, ranging from a visit to NYC from two founders of the Egyptian April 6 Youth Movement, to actions carried out by UK Uncut and its American equivalent. Graeber draws on all of this, as well as his history of participating in and thinking and writing about the Global Justice Movement (often erroneously called the “anti-globalization” movement), to inform a perspective on OWS that is fundamentally different from that of most commentators.

This experience leads Graeber to ask what Occupy Wall Street got right, instead of focusing on where the movement allegedly went wrong (as so many pundits and would-be strategists have done). Why did the occupation of Zuccotti Park rapidly achieve a level of success and influence that many of its more experienced participants had almost given up on expecting from any action?

The answers that are proposed in The Democracy Project run directly counter to some of what has become the received liberal wisdom about Occupy: Most notably, Graeber sees the movement’s commitment to horizontalism and consensus-based processes, as well as its refusal to acknowledge the legitimacy of the existing political system or engage with it, as factors that led to Occupy’s successes, not its later alleged failures. (To the extent that the movement has diminished in the last year, Graeber lays the blame primarily on not just the authorities and law enforcement who effectively abolished the right to peacefully assemble, but also the liberals who accepted this with little complaint and spent more time worrying about “the Black Bloc” and broken windows than police violence and repression.)

To explore why horizontalism and consensus might have been part of Occupy’s original appeal, the book also includes a history of the American democratic spirit, which Graeber credits not to the Founding Fathers – who were all keen to ensure that such a threatening and radical idea as real democracy was kept out of the Constitution of their new republic – but rather to such unexpected sources as Atlantic pirate ship crews and the League of Six Nations of the Iroquois.

But perhaps the most radical contention here is the simple but compelling argument that what we commonly think of when we use the word “democracy” is not democratic at all. Elected representatives are one of the tools used to ensure that “the mob” does not gain the ability to make their own decisions, and the fact that they overwhelmingly tend to be men of privilege is not a recent corruption of the system, but entirely in keeping with the system’s original design: A feature, not a bug. Real democracy would look very different: It would look, argues Graeber, much more like what is espoused by anarchists, which is only fitting since at one point the words “anarchy” and “democracy” were used as interchangeable abusive synonyms. One term has gained respectability, but it has done so at the expense of its original meaning.

None of which is to say that Graeber does not acknowledge how challenging horizontalism, consensus and direct democracy can be, or that he is unaware of the pitfalls into which activists have fallen when trying to put these ideas into practice, in Occupy movements and elsewhere. To address this, The Democracy Project also includes a practical guide to tactics and process, which includes suggestions for how to deal with problems that will be familiar to anyone who attended a General Assembly in the last eighteen months or so.

The book concludes with suggestions for what a revolution might actually look like – a revolution in thought rather than one carried out by force,

“a revolution in common sense.”

Suffice to say, for enough people to accept the central arguments of The Democracy Project would constitute exactly that: A profound change in how we think about democracy, how we define that word, and our sense of what forms of politics might be possible.


[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]

102 Responses to “FDL Book Salon Welcomes David Graeber, The Democracy Project: A History, A Crisis, A Movement”

BevW April 27th, 2013 at 1:44 pm

David, Welcome to the Lake.

Joe, Welcome back to the Lake, thank you for Hosting today’s Book Salon.

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Joe Macare April 27th, 2013 at 1:49 pm

Thanks Bev. Welcome all! Thanks to FireDogLake for hosting this salon and for inviting me to be a part of it, and thanks to David Graeber for joining us today.

Joe Macare April 27th, 2013 at 1:59 pm

We’ll get started with the first question in just a couple of minutes.

dakine01 April 27th, 2013 at 2:00 pm

Good afternoon David and Joe and welcome to Firedoglake this afternoon.

David, I have not had an opportunity to read your book but do have a question/comment. It was fairly obvious from almost the beginning that the politicians/banks/Traditional Media/Establishment were afraid of Occupy Wall Street as they were so adamant and quick to do everything they could to discredit things.

Forgive me if you do address this in the book, but how do we overcome that built in political institutional bias against responding to the needs and will of the citizens, especially with the size of the resource gap between the haves who obviously prefer the status quo and the have-nots fighting for change?

David Graeber April 27th, 2013 at 2:01 pm
In response to Joe Macare @ 2

Nice to be here.

Joe Macare April 27th, 2013 at 2:01 pm

David, as you can probably tell from the introduction, I found “The Democracy Project” very inspiring. When writing it, did you have specific hopes to inspire future activism and thinking?

DSWright April 27th, 2013 at 2:03 pm
In response to David Graeber @ 5

You talk in the book that one of the early protests you ran into at Occupy Wall Street was being run by the Workers World Party and how you had a real disinterest with both their principles and their tactics. You contrast the tactics you embrace/group you identify with “horizontals” with WPP’s which are considered vertical/heirarchial.

Beyond WPP’s ideological shortcomings you talked about the limits of their vertical movement structure – do you believe protests like the ANSWER against the Iraq War are good, bad, or irrelevant to the Global Justice Movement? Are there also limits to horizontal tactics?

And should tactics always directly or symbolically reflect values – in this case anarchism/horizontalism and general assemblies vs. WPP and centrally planned protesting – or should tactics merely adapt to the situation?

David Graeber April 27th, 2013 at 2:05 pm
In response to dakine01 @ 4

Well I always say that nothing scares the people running America so much as the danger of democracy breaking out. You can tell by the panic – and eventually very violent – reaction on the part of what was in theory a sympathetic government.

We’re in a trap right now. The official “left” in the US – the left wing of the Democratic Party, anyway – seems terrified of any popular mobilization that doesn’t confine itself to the terms of very political system they recognize to be almost systematically corrupt. I think there’s no way out unless such people understand that a social movement isn’t a threat to suppress, but an opportunity to change the political field back in a direction which would make their ideas more relevant again – if only as a compromise from even more radical ideas emerging to their left. They don’t seem to have learned this lesson yet.

David Graeber April 27th, 2013 at 2:07 pm
In response to Joe Macare @ 6

Absolutely. Some of it of course was more critical of OWS than it might have seemed – there was a lot of very crude and ineffective process in OWS. A lot of that wasn’t so much the fault of the young people that were its main participants but the older activists such as myself – even folks who first cut their teeth in the Global Justice Movement – who really should have been more active passing their accumulated wisdom and experience – especially in process matters – along. I like to think I was one of the exceptions. Still, I’m sure I could have done more. I was trying to make up for that a little in the chapters where I talked about process and direct action. How we could have done a lot of these things better. And of course that means: how we still could.

Joe Macare April 27th, 2013 at 2:09 pm

Given that the book begins with a first-hand account and analysis of the beginnings of Occupy Wall Street, were you tempted to include the word “Occupy” in the title? Why did you (assuming it was your decision!) decide not to?

TarheelDem April 27th, 2013 at 2:09 pm

Welcome to the Lake, David. Thanks for hosting, Joe.

As someone who experienced the travails of the efforts at “participatory democracy” in the late 1960s and early 1970s, I am curious as to the effects that minimalist structure, like formal facilitation, had on the success of success of Occupy Wall Street. Also, what are the process issues we need to attend to going forward?

David Graeber April 27th, 2013 at 2:11 pm
In response to DSWright @ 7

Well, there’s vertical and there’s vertical I suppose. The kind of groups I was mainly criticizing were basically 1930s “popular front” style organizations, ultimately controlled by central committees with a very specific ideological agenda, which most of the participants in the groups didn’t even know about. I definitely don’t think that sort of model is a good idea – not only is it dishonest, when such groups have won, in the past, the results have rarely been very pretty. You also have to remember that horizontality works. People had tried the vertical approach – chose a leadership, issue a set of demands – over and over and got nowhere. We tried out approach and the thing blossomed across the country almost overnight.

David Graeber April 27th, 2013 at 2:12 pm
In response to Joe Macare @ 10

Believe it or not authors don’t get a lot of say in their titles. You get to choose all the other words. But the title tends to be created by the publishers. If I’d had a title I absolutely loved, I could probably have pushed it through but on this one I was content with veto power.

Joe Macare April 27th, 2013 at 2:14 pm
In response to David Graeber @ 9

As you say, the focus on direct democratic forms, process and horizontalism in the book isn’t an uncritical celebration. But it does contrast with a recent tendency I’ve noticed on the part of pundits to view these processes and structures as where Occupy groups “went wrong” – to blame horizontalism and consensus for various problems OWS ran into in 2012. Why do you think these processes have got the blame, and why is that blame misplaced?

RevBev April 27th, 2013 at 2:15 pm

Your description of policy power was scary enough. Is there a way to
neutralize that force? Win them over? Other suggestions?

David Graeber April 27th, 2013 at 2:16 pm
In response to TarheelDem @ 11

Remember there’s been a LOT of progress since the ’60s and ’70s. Ever since the Jo Freeman’s “Tyranny of Structurelessness” more or less threw down the gauntlet huge amounts of creative work have been put into figuring out how you would actually do this stuff. I was amazed when I got involved in the Global Justice Movement just how well it could work, with an experienced facilitator or two and people most of whom had some idea what they were doing. Of course some of this was lost again by 2011, there was a lot of reinventing the wheel… But I think the main reason it’s difficult is we don’t really live in a democratic society. No one has any experience in collective decision-making, It’s so ironic because in places like Madagascar, where I used to live, that’s not the problem – everyone knows how to do consensus process, they’ve been doing it since they were kids. They’re a million years ahead of us. Obviously they have a lot of other problems… But mainly, we have to do the work of creating a culture of democracy where none has previously existed. It’s a lot of work. But I think OWS was a start.

David Graeber April 27th, 2013 at 2:17 pm
In response to RevBev @ 15

Policy power you mean in Fragments?

Joe Macare April 27th, 2013 at 2:17 pm
In response to David Graeber @ 13

I suppose I ask partly because it strikes me as in someways an advantage: Arguably too many books have been written with “Occupy” in the title by people who knew less about it, and the book certainly seems to situate OWS in a broader historical context, as well as looking towards how lessons learned can be used practically in the future.

RevBev April 27th, 2013 at 2:19 pm

Sorry…a typo. I meant police power….Thanks.

David Graeber April 27th, 2013 at 2:19 pm
In response to Joe Macare @ 14

Yeah that’s the cheap and easy solution. Look, I’m going to be honest: most of these pundits don’t have a democratic bone in their body. They don’t think people are capable of democracy and they don’t particularly want it. They mainly represent the perspectives of professional/managerial elites who have always operated in extremely hierarchical environments and whose view of human nature is shaped by that experience. So of course they want strong leaders to tell people what to do.

TarheelDem April 27th, 2013 at 2:21 pm

I’m still waiting for my turn at my library’s copy of The Democracy Project. You likely cover this, but what are the elements of a culture of democracy that require attention. How will we know when we create it that we have succeeded?

spocko April 27th, 2013 at 2:22 pm

Haven’t read the book, but am interested in understanding why OWS had the MEDIA success it did.

I’m curious if you had similar conclusions.
Traditional protesters believe it is necessary to have specific leaders and spokespeople, a list of messages or “demands”, show a big force and then leave and wait for the coverage) In the case of OWS movement its lack of specific leaders worked because it was not what the media expected, they couldn’t find and then dismiss a single leader. It also had the benefit of being new and different and TV loves novelty.

Joe Macare April 27th, 2013 at 2:22 pm

One of the most striking parts of the book address the liberal abandonment or even betrayal of the Occupy movement, specifically with regard to an acceptance of police violence and repression – a narrative that blamed a semi-mythical “Black Bloc” for the police violence became accepted by a great deal of well-meaning liberals. Is that connected to the undemocratic urge you mentioned earlier – a deep-seated acceptance of authoritarianism?

DSWright April 27th, 2013 at 2:23 pm
In response to David Graeber @ 20

Would you consider it solely pundits? You seem to take a surprised tone in the book that the corporate media picked up the story of police brutality.

What is the role of the establishment press in democratic movements given that the establishment press are naturally, given their position, elitist and hierarchical?

David Graeber April 27th, 2013 at 2:25 pm
In response to RevBev @ 19

Yes well that’s a HUGE problem. We have seen a militarization of our society that has become so pervasive people don’t even see that it’s there. Look at our culture. You turn on the TV you see endless shows trying to make you see the world from a policeman’s point of view. Cops and soldiers are obsessively celebrated. This is not the culture of a democratic society. Other democracies don’t do this. It’s not even what US culture was like until fairly recently – it was only in the late ’60s and early ’70s you started to see any real number of movies and TV shows where cops wer the heroes. Standards of acceptable violence by protestors, versus standards of acceptable violence by cops, have also changed enormously. Back in ’68 when Columbia invited any police on campus it was considered a scandal. Universities didn’t solve problems by the threat of violence. Now they bring in militarized riot cops, helicopters, SWAT teams, pepper spray, almost instantly without any violent provocation. Meanwhile, where once protestors had to actually attack someone to be considered violent, now just having people dressed as if they might be inclined to break a window is considered enough to justify violent state repression.

Here the media really needs to start doing their job. Jefferson used to say that freedom of the press is the most important of our liberties because it’s what guarantees we keep all the other ones. But only if the press actually reports what happens and sees state violence as what it is. The American press, increasingly , is simply refusing to play that role. They see themselves as part of the structures of power.

David Graeber April 27th, 2013 at 2:27 pm
In response to TarheelDem @ 21

Well every time you walk away from a large meeting feeling you’ve accomplished something, you’ve helped do so. Every time you come to a reasonable compromise. Or a creative solution to a collective problem without asking anyone to do it for you. It’s a voyage of a thousand tiny increments. But it’s already happening.

David Graeber April 27th, 2013 at 2:31 pm
In response to DSWright @ 24

Well as I said in another comment many used to take seriously the Jeffersonian idea that freedom of the press exists to protect the other freedoms by exposing government attempts to violate them. But that whole tradition of investigative reporting is largely dead in the US. And there are enormous efforts under way to suppress any attempts to create alternatives outside the corporate controlled media. The war on Wikileaks is only the most obvious. Again, the rules have changed dramatically from what they were in the 1960s. Daniel Ellsberg has said pretty much everything he did that made him a hero in the ’60s has now been made illegal – in fact, he could well have been tried for espionage or treason. There’s a lot of intimidation against anyone trying to create a mechanism that could operate that way.

DSWright April 27th, 2013 at 2:35 pm
In response to David Graeber @ 27

Agreed. Nonetheless, their they are with millions of readers and viewers, What’s left of the newspapers, TV (cable/network) and some of the digital publishers…

Should democratic movements or those participating try to cultivate relationships, should the be antagonistic to discredit them, ignore them?

Isn’t the establishment media too big to ignore? And while the Jeffersonian ideal is nice and they could, in theory, reform themselves. What should people do in the meantime?

CTuttle April 27th, 2013 at 2:36 pm

Aloha, David and Joe…! Mahalo for being here at the Lake…!

As I’m headed out shortly ,to attend Hawaii’s Green Party State Convention,(I’m not a GP member, but, I’ll be attending, as outreach, being an Occupy Hilo member) I was interested if you mentioned/looked at the Green Party in your book…?

David Graeber April 27th, 2013 at 2:38 pm
In response to Joe Macare @ 23

Precisely. I remember I was at one conference, and a very well-meaning liberal thinker was lecturing us on Gandhi, and saying, well, you know Gandhi suspended his “quit India” campaign when there was an outbreak of violence, you OWS’ers should learn from that. This was in the middle of the police repression. So I looked up the incident and it involved Gandhi’s own people chopping up – I think it was 17, or was it 27? – policemen alive, and then burning them. Yeah. I think if that happened in say, Denver, or Cleveland, we’d suspend our campaign too. But it shows how standards have changed. Do you really imagine Gandhi would have got upset if in one city in 500 a few guys who might have been part of his group broke a couple windows? He wouldn’t have considered it worth commenting on.

Now think of OWS in historical retrospect. 500 occupations – now admittedly, some of those were just one or two people, but at least 300 were major – and the worst reported violence was a couple of broken windows? The average not particularly rowdy Canadian hockey game has more than that! I think in historical retrospect, this was the least violent movement on its scale in US history. But is this how we’re remembered? It’s a sign of how powerful the propaganda machine has become, and how ridiculously squeamish American liberals have become about protest, and how bizarrely accepting of state violence, that it’s not – and that 99% of the incidents of police violence weren’t even reported. I know lots of people’s whose wrists and fingers were systematically, intentionally broken. People whose heads were smashed repeatedly against the concrete. Windows broken not by us but by cops using protestors’ heads. Why are none of these incidents even being talked about?

spocko April 27th, 2013 at 2:38 pm
In response to David Graeber @ 25

This is a very important point. I’ve written about and been following the various cases that have come out of the Occupy Movement where it regards violence against people, unwarranted pepper spraying etc.
I’m interested in how technology (especially video) has a role in the growth of the movement.

The two cases recent cases with video are interesting.
In one case the officer said that the protester had hit him which justified the cop’s attack. It was a “he said she said” and the judge was going to believe the officer. Bystanders said there was a police video there filming what happened and wanted access to it. They were told “The camera wasn’t turned on.” the case looked like a loss but a video made by a Democracy Now person shows that not only did the protester NOT hit the officer, the officer initiated the action. The cops clearly lied under oath. The case was dismissed, but I don’t know if it will be turned around and get the cop for perjury.

The other case was the famous pepper spraying of two women by Tony Bologana. That case was thrown out because the judge said that there wasn’t enough video before and after the spraying to know conclusively what happened.
Tony is still on the force and only lost 10 days of vacation time and forced to patrol Staten Island.

My reaction to this is to suggest that we protesters filming everything, get it stored off site and then use it as evidence.

Joe Macare April 27th, 2013 at 2:39 pm
In response to David Graeber @ 30

Do you think this was particularly bad because 2012 was an election year? Liberals and the more established left wanted Occupy movements into campaigning for Democrats, and when that largely didn’t happen, many lost interest. Or would it have played out the same way anyway?

Kelly Hayes April 27th, 2013 at 2:39 pm

Haven’t read the book yet. It’s next on my list after reading a bit of this discussion, but I am interested in hearing more about the critique of liberals in the Occupy movement. I haven’t often heard people put that on the table.

David Graeber April 27th, 2013 at 2:39 pm
In response to DSWright @ 28

I believe in diversity of tactics – I mean that in every sense of the term. Try everything. Sure. There are good people in the mainstream press. But if you base your strategy just on that you’ll get nowhere. There is a lot can be done with the international press. And of course we need to make our own media. It’s not a question of which. You have to do everything at once.

Joe Macare April 27th, 2013 at 2:40 pm
In response to Joe Macare @ 32

(I say “lost interest” but that’s not accurate entirely – some wrote editorials or showed up to actions chiding Occupy activists for “helping Mitt Romney”!)

TarheelDem April 27th, 2013 at 2:41 pm

Is one of the issues in coming to compromise the fact that Americans have a time-effficiency fetish about meetings and expect closure of big issues more rapidly than it is possible to sort them out in large groups among whom there might be folks with hidden agendas? Are dealing with all of those what you are pointing to as a culture of democracy?

David Graeber April 27th, 2013 at 2:42 pm
In response to spocko @ 31

Well you see that’s the problem – they NEVER try the police even for overt crimes. Take the famous Tony Bologna pepper spray incident. Everyone saw the guy just saunter up, maced some peaceful protestors in the face, and walk away. There’s no possible way that wasn’t an abuse at least of standard police procedure, which, among other things, says you have to stay on the scene and assist the people you’ve just attacked with chemical weapons. The police declared they weren’t going to prosecute him, or anyone else. “It was too complicated, there were other things not on the film…” Obviously nothing not on the film could have justified what everyone saw and they know it. They’re basically rubbing our faces in the fact that the law doesn’t apply to them.

David Graeber April 27th, 2013 at 2:43 pm
In response to Joe Macare @ 35

Yeah. “Helping Romney” indeed. If it wasn’t for us he’d probably be President right now. Remember the “47%” was the right-wing’s attempt to come up with their own answer to the “99%” meme. See how well that worked out for them

Antipanglossian April 27th, 2013 at 2:45 pm
In response to David Graeber @ 8

Very well said! Awesome idea for a book, I can’t wait to read it.

David Graeber April 27th, 2013 at 2:46 pm
In response to TarheelDem @ 36

Well there are techniques to speed up meetings, and they weren’t always employed, which is a shame. But again, we’re learning all this stuff from scratch. But it’s also true that Americans really don’t have a lot of time for anything. The number of hours those who are employed have to work keeps increasing, despite the stubborn recognition by many that most of those hours are meaningless, or even that the jobs are meaningless. I think the expansion of work hours and the increasing lack of job security are actually politically inspired ultimately; it’s not economically efficient at all; but it’s amazing if you want to destroy worker’s ability to engage politically, whether in unions or any other way.

Back in the ’30s they were predicting we’d have a 20 hour work week by now. And you know, technically, we pretty obviously could. So why don’t we? I think we should think about that.

Joe Macare April 27th, 2013 at 2:47 pm

You go so far as to say in the book there were ways in which some conservative reactions to OWS were more insightful, or at least more honest, than the liberal equivalent. I noticed something similar in the sense that a Beck or Breitbart acolyte would be more likely in the early days to identify OWS as anti-capitalist, as fundamentally radical.

Then again, springing off Kelly’s comment – it does seem that in, say, October 2011 there were more likely to be people with more mainstream liberal views identifying as part of Occupy. Were those people just projecting their own views onto the movement, or could they have been accommodated – could consensus have been found – if they’d been more willing to stick around?

DSWright April 27th, 2013 at 2:47 pm
In response to David Graeber @ 38

Alan Greespan once testified before Congress that high debt loads were the reason America had such a stable workforce – people could not go on strike or agitate for fear of missing a mortgage payment.

Some have even said that the mortgage interest deduction is a capitalist plot to keep people from labor activism.

You note in your book the role student debt played in bringing young people out into the streets, did the collapse of the housing market also free up other Americans from being active in Occupy?

spocko April 27th, 2013 at 2:49 pm
In response to David Graeber @ 37

And there again is why I think that the use of video can help.
There is a reason that cops seize cameras and cell phones they don’t want evidence.

A lot of people have smartphones with video, but people also should have tiny covert cameras to use and wear when they are tied up moved to cages.
I know we talk about the surveillance society working against us, my attitude is, have your OWN surveillance so you can show the things they don’t want the world to see. The chant, “The Whole World is Watching’ is interesting, but what happens after the world moves onto the next crisis? We need to use what we learned and prep for the next event.

I liked how people figured out that they can create their own media.

Antipanglossian April 27th, 2013 at 2:51 pm

People whose heads were smashed repeatedly against the concrete. Windows broken not by us but by cops using protestors’ heads. Why are none of these incidents even being talked about?

When I called internal affairs to complain about my cracked rib they just laughed at me. Yet I, for one, was motivated by NYPD violence to get involved in the Ramarley Graham protests, and the End Stop and frisk movement in a more intense way than I might have otherwise.

David Graeber April 27th, 2013 at 2:51 pm
In response to Kelly Hayes @ 33

Well, let me put it this way: the thing which the mainstream Republicans understand, which mainstream Democrats don’t, is that you can’t sell out your radicals on policy issues if you have already sold them out on existential issues. That is, they have no intention of actually repealing Roe v Wade, they want to keep the anti-abortion folk mobilized, they have no intention of giving the radical right much of what they really want – but they want to make damn sure those guys are out there so they can seem the reasonable alternative, and keep moving that Overton window rightward. So they go ballistic, for instance, if the Second Amendment is threatened. Not because they like the militia / black helicopter crazies, they think they’re nuts, but they want to make sure they’re out there. But the Democrats don’t do that. If they went half as crazy over First Amendment issues as the Republicans go over Second Amendment ones, OWS would still be there and I’d bet you anything we wouldn’t be debating whether to cut social security right now, we’d be debating whether to cancel mortgage debt and jail banksters. But even the left wing of the Democratic party sell us out on the existential issues regularly, and then they wonder why no one listens to them on policy issues. Or they get mad at us for not doing their job for them and developing and pushing progressive legislature.

RevBev April 27th, 2013 at 2:52 pm

Do you see some parallels with work places also becoming more authoritarian? I seem to be hearing more of that lately, after a period of more participatory groups.

David Graeber April 27th, 2013 at 2:55 pm
In response to DSWright @ 42

That’s a very important point you make about Greenspan – it’s very true, there was an intentional policy of encouraging debt in part because of its political effects. (It’s the same point I made about working hours. It’s not paranoid to think these guys are conscious of the political effects of economic policy. They’re actually quite up front about it when they talk to each other, as Greenspan was in that case.) And it worked; unions hardly strike any more, and wages stagnate or decline. But of course mass unemployment does throw people into the streets. And mass indebtedness makes new alliances possible. In the past, a NYC transit worker wouldn’t have felt she had much in common with a college graduate burdened with student loans. In fact, unionized labor was pretty hostile to radical students. Now, suddenly, there was a remarkable sympathy. Because who exactly were the people stuck with all those subprime mortgages? Basically people of color and the working class.

Aly H April 27th, 2013 at 2:55 pm

What are your thoughts on “celebrity” (using that term loosely) culture and how it fit in with OWS? Did you ever feel uncomfortable with being a somewhat high-profile person within a horizontal movement?

David Graeber April 27th, 2013 at 2:57 pm
In response to RevBev @ 46

I wasn’t aware of that but it doesn’t surprise me. The militarization of US society has effected us on any number of levels we’re barely aware of. Again, a lot of those drab conservative stuffy people from the ’50s we all think we’ve gotten so far away from would be horrified by what’s just accepted as normal today.

Joe Macare April 27th, 2013 at 2:57 pm

To me, this seems like the one positive outcome of the police repression of Occupy: There are unequivocally some activists and journalists (primarily white and middle class) who are now concerned with and involved in work around police repression of poor communities, of black and brown communities, and who were motivated to do so by how police treated Occupy in New York, Oakland, Chicago, etc. This isn’t the only cause (a book like The New Jim Crow clearly had an impact), but it’s a big factor.

David Graeber April 27th, 2013 at 2:58 pm
In response to Aly H @ 48

Oh absolutely, that’s one reason I took off for a while during the height of things, so they wouldn’t make me into a leader. I also refused about 90% of the interview requests I got. Mostly I agreed to talk about my book, and about OWS as an observer, but not as an organizer.

RevBev April 27th, 2013 at 2:59 pm
In response to David Graeber @ 49

That makes me weep. I really enjoyed your book; I felt a sort of freedom
from authority in reading it and its emphasis on a caring and/or artistic community.

Phoenix Woman April 27th, 2013 at 2:59 pm

Welcome, David and Joe!

Two things:

1) Towards the end of the book, you refer to Somalia and how after twenty years of no central government, some health and other issues seemed to have actually improved for the average person. That’s not something we hear about in the mainstream media — we’re more likely to hear about how various European and other companies have taken advantage of Somalia’s lack of a central government to do things like dump nuclear waste and overfish the seafood stocks. Would you like to address this?

2) I’ve noticed that OWS, infamous for being slow to act due to its consensus system, was very quick off the mark to deal with Hurricane Sandy — much more so than most official relief groups. Have you been a part of this ongoing effort to aid and to educate Sandy’s victims?

Joe Macare April 27th, 2013 at 3:01 pm
In response to David Graeber @ 49

That ties into my final question on some of the forms of police behavior that have been essentially accepted by the media in the last year: What do you make of the NATO3/5 case in Chicago, and the Cleveland 4/5, where we saw police and/or FBI infiltrate movements and arguably create a crime to justify that infiltration? It seems that the police just showing up to a peaceful movement and pretending to be protesters for weeks or months, as they did in Chicago, and then suddenly giving information leading to arrests for alleged planned violence that they may or may not have been involved in planning, is no longer an outrage. The NATO cases have not even received much coverage from the independent media (it just so happens that Truthout and FireDogLake have been exceptions to this…).

DSWright April 27th, 2013 at 3:02 pm
In response to David Graeber @ 47

Few may remember, but that picture from Adbusters with the text “What is our one demand?” was not rhetorical. The one demand was supposedly a presidential commission to end money in politics.

That faded away and now many don’t even know that history.

In the book you say making demands and forming a leadership structure for Occupy Wall Street would make it into a scrapbook of “worst advice ever given.”

Can you expand on why that is such bad advice?

David Graeber April 27th, 2013 at 3:03 pm
In response to Joe Macare @ 50

To me one of the things that’s most striking about OWS – one sense in which it might be said to mark a turning-point – is because the police did not hesitate to attack crowds full of middle class white people. If you look at US history, well, there’s been lots of state repression against social movements, but the violence has mainly been directed either at working class movements, the Wobblies, strikers, communists and anarchists – or against people of color. On those rare occasions when middle class white people are effected in any numbers (McCarthyism, the Vietnam War protests) it’s usually followed by a moral crisis of some sort. Now, I’m not saying OWS is mainly a white middle-class movement, actually it has always been remarkably diverse. But the fact that the police were willing to mete out such violence against a group that had lots of middle class white kids in it was remarkable. And it will be even more remarkable if it’s not followed by some sort of reckoning. Which, unless we are going to be totally hypocritical, has to mean looking at the violence that’s always been meted out, quite systematically, against everybody else.

Phoenix Woman April 27th, 2013 at 3:03 pm
In response to David Graeber @ 38

Yup. OWS — leaving aside the work the Occupy Sandy wing is doing to build community (and fight off disaster capitalism) in NYC, LI and Jersey — would have been a success if only for the fact that they wrested the microphone away from the Pete Peterson debt scaremongers.

RFShunt April 27th, 2013 at 3:05 pm
In response to David Graeber @ 16

how well it could work, with an experienced facilitator or two and people most of whom had some idea what they were doing.

My experience with the occupation here in my town very much bears this out – but mostly in negative way I’m afraid (not always, though).

Facilitators who were not only skilled but trusted – to be fair and agenda free – were the one thing that allowed actual, useful work to get done. This however is dicey, since it’s tailor-made to create a defacto hierarchical caste.

I haven’t read your book, but what are your thoughts on enhancing facilitation while keeping things inclusive and flat?

David Graeber April 27th, 2013 at 3:06 pm
In response to RevBev @ 52

Yes thanks for mentioning that we shouldn’t be too bleak. One of the things I do regret about the book is that the pictures from the “We are the 99%” web page didn’t make it in. That was my favorite part: the people holding up the posters with their stories, their troubles. Many of them did bring tears to my eyes. But almost all of them were saying the same thing: we want to live lives where we do good in the world. We want to care for others, help others, do something to benefit them. Yet somehow America is rigged in such a way that the more your work is of obvious and undeniable benefit to others, the less you’re paid. So if you want to care for others, you won’t be able to care for your own family! I think this is the ultimate moral crisis on which the OWS revolt was founded. That our economic system has driven us to a sort of moral perversion, and people are sick of it. They are, weirdly enough, reduced to demanding the right to be decent human beings. But they are beginning to demand it.

spocko April 27th, 2013 at 3:07 pm
In response to David Graeber @ 45

I hear you on the whole “selling out of radicals” What I’ve found is that they are happy when the radicals brings up what they want to talk about but they will constantly do things to distance themselves from actions.

I’ve proposed a couple of actions that people loved, and they wished me luck, but that they would only support me if it was impossible to track their help back to them.

Right now I’m working with New York Communities for Change and they are doing some great work following upon mortgage foreclosure actions. I helped with with “Occupy the Boardroom” website and book, but some of my more rascal PR actions scared them because of fear of legal attacks from the people we were targeting. When I go after someone, I don’t mess around, and often I suggest ways to make it personal and make it hurt a company financially, legally and/ or reputationally. No violence (unless you count economic violence) but effective economy hits. Sadly this stuff scares them and so we don’t’ more forward on ideas they love.

David Graeber April 27th, 2013 at 3:08 pm
In response to Joe Macare @ 32

To be honest it might have sped it up but they’d have reacted the same way, and anyway, every other year is an election year.

Joe Macare April 27th, 2013 at 3:11 pm

Moving on a little to the section in the book that relates to the history of democracy in America, you suggest that any real American democratic impulse is more influenced by, for example, Atlantic pirate crews than the Founding Fathers. It’s an exciting idea, but as you say it seems “at first, genuinely startling.” Can you say more about what we owe pirates?

David Graeber April 27th, 2013 at 3:12 pm
In response to RFShunt @ 58

It’s largely a matter of training and experience. Rule number one of course is that facilitators shouldn’t make proposals themselves or even express opinions unless there is an urgent need. And of course the more people you have trained as facilitators, the more you can rotate, and the less likely you are to have problems with those who have an agenda. Back in the GJM we did trainings all the time. Before every action. Just regularly. Legal trainings, facilitation trainings, anti-racist or anti-oppression trainings. Education is a crucial part of this and there wasn’t enough of it this time around. Though now that we’re out of the public eye, and things aren’t so urgent, there’s more time to start seriously working on this stuff and getting it right. Solutions to these problems do exist. It was just the movement grew so quickly, and so massively, the people with experience didn’t always get to the right places to explain it.

David Graeber April 27th, 2013 at 3:16 pm
In response to Joe Macare @ 62

Well we can’t know for sure about the pirates because as I also point out it’s the last influence respectable people (who wrote most of the texts we have preserved) would have acknowledged. But it does seem that a lot of what we now consider democratic procedures are first documented on pirate ships! So authors like Marcus Rediker have argued. I argued that makes sense, because mostly pirates were mutineers who rebelled against some authoritarian captain, and they tended to be extraordinarily diverse – you’d have English sailors, but also Africans, Swedes, Native Americans, pretty much anyone you can imagine, and ordinary folk who had experience with village assemblies and the like often, drawing on a vast range of experience, having to come up with something fast in an emergency situation. The perfect place for democratic creativity! But the history of the frontier, of all those spaces like pirate ships just outside the range of states, were often like that: experimental zones where a wide range of people were thrown together with an urgent need to make something up so they could collectively solve their problems.

Phoenix Woman April 27th, 2013 at 3:20 pm
In response to David Graeber @ 56

Well, hippies were (or were depicted by the media as) largely middle- to upper-class white kids, too, and the cops had no problems beating them and gassing them, especially at the ’68 Democratic National Convention. And in fact a number of liberals (like the proprietor of the Mahablog) have pointed to the hippies’ unconventional dress and mores, unfavorably comparing them to the black civil rights leaders who insisted their people turn out in their Sunday best, carrying professionally-printed signs, for their marches.

But yes, this time around, it wasn’t just the “weirdo” hippie types and dreadlocked hipsters getting pepper sprayed. It was cute wholesome looking redhaired girls and young children and Iraq war vets and eighty-something grandmothers. Even off-duty cops who wore their uniforms to Occupy events found that they still got treated as badly as all the others their cop brethren kettled.

David Graeber April 27th, 2013 at 3:21 pm
In response to spocko @ 60

Yes, there’s an enormous fear of operating outside the legal order, even when the legal order has been intentionally designed to make things as difficult as possible for progressive forces. Again, I put this to the unconscious militarization of US society – one aspect of which is the acceptance of the extreme punitive use of the law against dissidents. Someone once pointed out that in all Martin Luther King’s many years of civil disobedience, he only faced two felony charges (and he was acquitted.) Aaron Swartz downloads some files from JSTOR as an act of civil disobedience and he immediately faces what was it? 8 felonies? The law is used as a bludgeon and people just accept it.

The other infuriating thing is how as a result, your allies want you to do your work for you. OWS folk in New York often find union officials don’t even want to help us unless we set up specific legislative goals (which they are happy to dictate to us) and then do civil disobedience to win them. Aside from the fact this would never work, what on earth are they doing asking us to do what they should be doing? We should be supporting their campaigns and they should be supporting ours. Instead they’re so terrified they will operate only on a political field that has been pretty much designed so they only lose, and insist we should drop anything else we’re doing and do the civil disobedience they refuse to.

Steve Horn April 27th, 2013 at 3:22 pm

Your book has the overall assumption of a mass movement being built and in its early stages. Morris Berman, the cultural historian and author of the book “Why America Failed: The Roots of Imperial Decline,” says that the books are cooked and there’ll never been an American revolution. The logic of “free enterprise” is embedded too deeply within the ethos of the US citizenry. What do you make of his argument, that an imperial decline is basically almost inevitable and how do you reconcile that with your work covering, following, and writing about Occupy?

David Graeber April 27th, 2013 at 3:23 pm
In response to Phoenix Woman @ 65

And remember, there actually was push-back about beating up on hippies – a lot more than there is nowadays. Even before Kent State.

Joe Macare April 27th, 2013 at 3:24 pm
In response to Phoenix Woman @ 65

That’s true, and I think the “spitting on veterans” idea is a great example of a tiny act of semi-mythical alleged “violence” which is then used to downplay police violence. There have been plenty of liberals willing to blame to protesters of Chicago ’68 for Nixon’s victory that year, too. And the comparison was specifically invoked by at least one Chicago politician to berate Occupy Chicago’s radicalism, as I wrote about here: http://inthesetimes.com/article/12343/occupys_radicalism_prompts_disdain_from_liberal_class/

David Graeber April 27th, 2013 at 3:28 pm
In response to Steve Horn @ 67

Oh there are always people preaching there’s no hope. The fact that people are arguing that doesn’t tell you anything one way or the other. Myself, my impression is that Americans, particularly young Americans, are much more open to possibilities than most intellectuals are willing to acknowledge. For instance, when they do polls asking what system Americans prefer, capitalism or socialism, almost a third of young people go for socialism, and about a third are undecided. Now, of course you have to ask yourself what they mean by socialism, since you never hear anything positive about socialism anywhere on the media ever – but given the way the question is framed, “capitalism or socialism” the only reasonable way to interpret socialism in this context is “whatever capitalism isn’t” – i.e., ‘I don’t know what it is, exactly, but I know what this system is and it sucks so give me the other thing.’ That’s pretty amazing. Two thirds of Americans aged 18-25 are willing to at least consider ditching capitalism entirely!

I even saw one where 10% of Americans would prefer “Communism.” That’s just crazy. I’m not even sure what I’d say on that question.

David Graeber April 27th, 2013 at 3:31 pm
In response to Joe Macare @ 69

Yes, but you have to look at long term and short term. The ball was moving left. So sure, there will be leftist extremists. But when the ball is moving left, even if it really was true that leftist extremists offended people enough that a right-wing President was elected (I’m not saying that’s necessarily true), that right-wing President had to govern from a place we’d now consider the far left. Nixon was way to the left of Clinton, who in turn was to the left of Obama. Now that the ball is moving to the right, even if right-wing extremists like the Tea Party offend people so much that Obama is re-elected, what does he do when he’s re-elected? He moves to cut social security!

Joe Macare April 27th, 2013 at 3:31 pm

You talk in the book about how some of these tools like consensus and horizontal structures can’t work within a group that contains existing sharp and rigid inequalities.

One problem I’ve observed though is what is sometimes called the invisibility of privilege, especially to the people who have it. Some inequalities in our society are so entrenched that it may not be obvious when people who are male, white, able-bodied, cisgender, and so on are pushing people who are not those things out of a process or movement.

How can this be addressed? Is it just a matter of better education and training for facilitators?

David Graeber April 27th, 2013 at 3:34 pm
In response to DSWright @ 55

Because people had tried that a dozen times and it didn’t work. It never worked. Adbusters had tried similar campaigns many times in the past and nobody came. Another group in New York tried an occupation of Zuccotti park a few months before we did, with a leadership structure and demands just like that – again, nobody came. It failed. Over and over that approach was tried and completely, utterly failed. We tried our open-ended approach and within weeks we had 500 occupations across America. That’s why I say it’s the worst advice ever. Both approaches had been tried. One consistently failed. The other worked.

spocko April 27th, 2013 at 3:35 pm
In response to David Graeber @ 66

Wow. I’ve had the same experience! One of the things I’ve done is go to lawyers before hand and say, “I want to do this.” and they are “OH NOEES! You can’t do that! And then they think their job is done. So I challenge them. ‘What CAN I do that will draw attention to this issue that IS legal? How can I design the action so I avoid the obvious?”

The other thing I tell them is that we need to have a legal and media strategy for if we DO get caught/arrested for doing something. They need to get that when the other side overreacts that is a media opportunity.

I suggested a couple of actions for my friends in the Teachers Unions pushing back against Michelle Rhee and Rupert Murdoch. Actions that would be new media friendly, legal and would give the MSM something to talk about rather than their standard, “Here are teachers picketing”
In one case they said, “LOVE the idea, but then didn’t want me to do it” in another case they said, “Well you can do it, but don’t tell them that we told you to do it.” So of course I did the action, it got great coverage and it gave the MSM an excuse to bring up topic Murdoch didn’t want to address.

Afterwards one of the teachers Unions people told me they loved what I did, but they don’t really have the stomach for more radical actions.

Steve Horn April 27th, 2013 at 3:37 pm

Occupy itself has a unique culture that to many is a bit of a shock to many “mainstream” (for lack of a better term…maybe “dominant culture” is a better way of putting it) US citizens in the broadly defined Left. As a trained anthropologist, what do you make of bridging the gap or is it an insurmountable one? And as an aside, why is smoking cigs such a big part of Occupy’s culture? Seems odd, given huge labor-abusive, multinational tobacco corporations produce these carcinogens on a stick.

DSWright April 27th, 2013 at 3:38 pm
In response to David Graeber @ 73

Black Bloc makes many appearances in the book, which you recognize as a tactic not an organization.

Criticism of “Black Bloc” generally has colored much of the coverage of Occupy (and the WTO protests). Even criticism from Occupy supporters like Chris Hedges.

Where do you stand on BLack Bloc generally and the question of whether property destruction is smart politics and should be considered violence?

David Graeber April 27th, 2013 at 3:38 pm
In response to Joe Macare @ 72

Well yes, that is indeed absolutely the problem with creating forms of direct democracy: internalized forms of power that people aren’t even aware of, based on forms of structural inequality – structural violence, in fact – that flow through us constantly without our being aware of it. The problem is that consensus process operates by giving others the benefit of the doubt for sincerity and good intentions, you have to treat others as if they mean well even if you suspect maybe they don’t. This actually is the best technique ever discovered for bringing out the best in people but when you are dealing with forms of racism, sexism, etc that people are not even aware of, you can’t just rely on that. You need constant education. And you need a form of education that doesn’t just encourage privileged people to meditate on and think about their own privilege, the endless white guilt trap which gets you no where, but actively think about and empathize with other people and try to understand what they are experiencing. Privileged people are taught to assume that everything is about themselves. Even the question of privilege. The trick is how to teach people, no, this is mainly about other people.

David Graeber April 27th, 2013 at 3:41 pm
In response to spocko @ 74

It’s amazing, isn’t it? Obviously you can’t totally blame the union leadership, they’re like abused children of the system, they are kind of slightly allowed to be part of it, to have a place at the table, but always reminded they can be beaten up in a way that no one else ever is if they slay even slightly from expectations. But I always try to remind people of Wisconsin. After the big actions against Walker, the unions rejected the idea of continuing a course of civil disobedience and direct action and insisted on going the legal, political route. And they got SLAUGHTERED. They totally lost. The safe route just isn’t the safe route any more.

Aly H April 27th, 2013 at 3:44 pm
In response to David Graeber @ 77

So then how do you apply this to yourself in your own life, as a vocal, public white male person who has been given legitimacy? Do you ever think about “stepping back”? Have you thought of any ways to help make an audience for more traditionally marginalized voices?

Joe Macare April 27th, 2013 at 3:44 pm

Of the different activist groups and campaigns that have arisen out of or clearly been somewhat inspired by Occupy, it seems Strike Debt is close to your heart. Why do think Strike Debt is so important, and are there any others that you think have particularly strong potential, especially to inspire the kind of changes in thinking you discuss in the book’s last chapter?

TarheelDem April 27th, 2013 at 3:46 pm

Given spocko’s experience @66, it seems that building a culture of democracy has to do with overcoming the fear factor of “we can’t do that” to the point that a critical mass of people can do exactly that. Coverage of the Arab Spring in Egypt harped over and over about the point at which the fear factor was broken and Egyptians felt their own democratic power. Bernice Johnson Reagon tells about how singing “This Little Light of Mine” in those church services before a civil rights march had to do with dealing with the fear factor.

RFShunt April 27th, 2013 at 3:48 pm
In response to David Graeber @ 77

you have to treat others as if they mean well even if you suspect maybe they don’t.

How great to see this articulated.

Not to make it about me :) but the biggest lesson I got from my involvement with the occupy movement was the importance of giving everybody the benefit of the doubt when it came to their own experience – even if you suspect there’s an agenda behind their words. If an agenda is truly there, you will discover it soon enough. But to start from a place of suspicion is guaranteed to kill solidarity.

And solidarity is the most important goal – achieve that and the struggle is won.

David Graeber April 27th, 2013 at 3:49 pm
In response to DSWright @ 76

Black Bloc? Well, I think I expressed my views pretty openly in my response to Hedges. Look, I’ve done Black Bloc. I did a lot in Quebec City, as I document in some detail in my Direct Action book. I’ve never done any property destruction, well, unless you count helping pull down a chain-link fence once, but then that’s true of the overwhelming majority of people who’ve done it. Most people who do BB are gentle vegetarians who don’t step on worms, they literally wouldn’t hurt a fly. Rarely do BBs even do property destruction and when they do, it’s always to my knowledge after the police have started the violence by attacking pacifists, and it confines itself to carefully chosen corporate targets. As for “is it violence” – well, there’s a division within practitioners of non-violence over whether property damage should be considered a violation of codes of non-violence, it’s often framed as the Gandhi/MLK school (where even harsh language is inadmissible) and the Plowshares approach. If you want to say a BB kid damaging a window is violent, then you’d have to say a nun hammering a nuclear missile cone is violent too. I personally don’t see it that way. I prefer to see violence as hurting people, either directly or indirectly.

On the other hand, the people who organized the first GAs in OWS, many of whom had done BB in the past, all agreed that sort of tactics would be counter-productive in New York. We didn’t feel there was a moral issue involved in damaging corporate property if no one was hurt, but we did all agree it would be stupid, so there was no one who had any interest in doing anything like that. I’m actually proud that it was anarchists, many of whom were BB veterans, who were responsible for organizing what I would say is perhaps the most studiously non-violent movement in US history. I mean, 500 occupations and we had what? Four broken windows? Gandhi never pulled off anything like that!

David Graeber April 27th, 2013 at 3:49 pm
In response to Aly H @ 79

As I mentioned i did step back. I left New York and gave almost no interviews during the heigh of OWS specifically so other sorts of people could step forward.

David Graeber April 27th, 2013 at 3:50 pm
In response to RFShunt @ 82

Well put!

David Graeber April 27th, 2013 at 3:52 pm
In response to TarheelDem @ 81

Yes, unfortunately many Americans really do live in fear. And the police played on that, and drove all but the bravest, or most hardened activists away. We really do need to think about what it would take to overcome that.

BevW April 27th, 2013 at 3:53 pm

As we come to the end of this great Book Salon discussion,

David, Thank you for stopping by the Lake and spending the afternoon (your evening) with us discussing your new book, and the need for a real Democracy movement.

Joe, Thank you very much for Hosting this great Book Salon.

Everyone, if you would like more information:

David’s website and book (The Democracy Project)

Joe’s website (TruthOut)

Thanks all, Have a great weekend.

Tomorrow: Robin Marty and Jessica Mason Pieklo / Crow After Roe: How “Separate But Equal” Has Become the New Standard In Women’s Health And How We Can Change That; Hosted by Leigh Ann Wheeler (author, How Sex Became A Civil Liberty)

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

FDL Book Salon has a Facebook page too

DSWright April 27th, 2013 at 3:54 pm
In response to David Graeber @ 83

I read the Baffler piece and watched your lecture on technology related to it. Given your view that the slowing down of technological progress could be a result of over-bureaucratization and that unlike say Green anarchists you don’t consider technology a particularly malevolent force, should democratic movements see themselves as anti-bureaucratic or rather continue their critique of corporate power into the realm of bureaucracy itself?

Though you seem unimpressed by smartphones (compared to say flying cars) were not those technologies democratizing and ultimately one of the reasons the establishment press was forced to cover Occupy? There was video via smartphones that they could not easily ignore.

RevBev April 27th, 2013 at 3:54 pm

Thanks, Bev, and guests….a great discussion and an important book.
Many thanks, all.

David Graeber April 27th, 2013 at 3:54 pm
In response to Steve Horn @ 75

the cigarettes are interesting aren’t they. I actually noticed that in the Global Justice Movement too. Here’s an extract from my Direct Action book on the subject:

notebook extract, july 2000
“A lot of activists smoke. Most older ones seem to have smoked at some time in their lives. I always found it a bit incongruous at A16, to see all these idealistic kids blockading the streets with cigarettes hanging out of their mouths; especially, teenage girls sitting around bumming cigarettes from each other. But this is actually rather appropriate because it creates a constant mobilization of feelings of need, discipline, sharing and desire (the “community of addiction” as I used to call it that binds all smokers). Usually for every 3-4 activist who smoke, or might, there’s one who actually has a pack. Kevin was cast in this role with Scully et al last week. The distribution of cigarettes, lighting them off others, etc., becomes a constant willed collapse of autonomy – me, when I used to smoke, it was a matter of principle for me never to allow myself to trapped in a situation where I’d run out and wasn’t in a position to buy more, but here it’s the opposite – one is dependent on communal good will and sharing for what one really desires most urgently in the world, at least at that moment
“Especially large proportions of vegans smoke
“it rather reminds me of a story I heard about Martin Luther King, that he was actually a chain smoker but was convinced early on it would convey the wrong lesson to the nation’s youth to ever be seen smoking in public. Endless discipline, but with endless desire lurking behind the public facade. Needless to say no one smokes in meetings, or indoors at all. Thus the end of meetings is usually followed by clusters of people immediately running out to smoke, sitting on the concrete to roll tobacco, bumming butts from one another, people just taking a few puffs off someone else’s or passing individual cigarettes around…”

Joe Macare April 27th, 2013 at 3:55 pm
In response to David Graeber @ 86

Since we’re talking about police repression again, I just want to draw attention to the question about the NATO3/5 and Cleveland 4/5 cases again, and perhaps frame it a little differently – what if anything can activists do to avoid infiltration, and also, how can activists ensure enough support and solidarity is offered to people who are imprisoned while also continue to fight for their main cause(s)?

anon45 April 27th, 2013 at 3:55 pm

DG – On result of Occupy’s push towards radical action has been the gravitation of union direct actions toward that end, but they’ve fallen short of anything disruptive. The most recent low wage worker campaign in chicago, fight for 15, sees union (SEIU as a funding entity) organizers squashing breakouts of random marching/picketing/demos by workers, for example, and sets the tone, pace, and media projection of workers in “their” campaign, so as to allign with what the larger union is aiming for…similar instances occurred in Walmart worker strikes with UFCW, and so on. What is your opinion on this sort of controlled direct action? Is it effective? Does it actually empower the bottom?

Steve Horn April 27th, 2013 at 3:57 pm
In response to David Graeber @ 90

Interesting. Thanks for the response!

David Graeber April 27th, 2013 at 3:58 pm
In response to DSWright @ 88

Well if smart-phones were the reason they were forced to cover us, they would still be covering us and the police violence, and they’re not!

I think smart-phones are great, I am so addicted to mine my partner complains constantly. And I don’t drive, so I don’t even want a flying car (I just used that as it’s kind of a recognizable cliche. And remember the author doesn’t choose the title.) I am much more interested in the robot that will do my laundry and tidy up the kitchen. Also I’d like some way to go to Mars over the weekend and come back again. And to live at least 300 years. Living forever would probably get boring but I can easily think of things to do right now that would take at least a couple centuries.

David Graeber April 27th, 2013 at 4:02 pm
In response to Joe Macare @ 91

We have to recognize that infiltration will take place, too much security culture will just mean that the cops know what we’re doing but other activists won’t. I’m for openness. But I’m also for not letting cops disrupt our process – if people are obviously trying to cause trouble, we shouldn’t treat them with kid gloves on egalitarian principles. And jail solidarity is crucial. I think we have won some important legal victories and if there are any liberal law people out there, please, please, this is important! Basic freedoms are at stake.

Personally, I think one resource we’ve not made enough use of is the international. Think of the UN. On the one hand, UN human rights groups are inclined to say, “oh I should care if 300 people are arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge when 70,000 have been killed in Syria?” On the other the wiser ones realize, if the US is allowed to get away with something, then everyone thinks they can do. And we’ve seen that. Right after the Brooklyn Bridge the President of Indonesia arrested several hundred protestors and actually said, “if they can do it in the US, who’s going to say I can’t?” We need to internationalize all this.

spocko April 27th, 2013 at 4:03 pm
In response to David Graeber @ 78

Excellent point on Wisconsin. The ability to subvert the system when they go the legal political route has become easier with the oceans of money that politicians need.

The weapons lobby understood this and therefore kept telling people to slow down and not “Politicize” the issue after every shooting. That gave them time to get to the politicians after Sandy Hook. Can you imagine that being defeated if it was 4 days after Sandy Hook not 4 months?

Because I think about media and how they cover things, I also know that they always try and ram stories into the same model. And when one side knows the game and the other doesn’t you can lose.

My example was in Occupy Oakland, the MSM knew who to talk to with the police, they knew the MSM will need to have an ongoing relationship with them in the future (police often provide credentials for the media)

When the police were throwing exploding flash bang grenades into the crowd the Police information officer was telling KTVU channel 2 that “The protestors were throwing rocks and bottles at the police.” Now that wasn’t true and even though KTVU had cameras there they didn’t have them everywhere so they took the word of their usual contact. So that is what the people heard, “The Protestors started it.”

Fortunately, we had video of the event where the cop thru the flashbang. (Ironically the most clear footage was from KTVU itself!)
Now this is a case where the Oakland police understood what the media wanted but the OWS people couldn’t speak with authority and say, ‘It wasn’t us” not until we got the video.

But we made our own media, which then the MSM had to respond to. What didn’t happen was the MSM saying, ‘Well clearly the police information officer lied to us, I won’t trust them again.” (another reason the press don’t cover police abuse, they want future access.)

The lesson that I learned is that you have to know what the media want, know that they will not do you any favors and create your own media. If it is better then people will share it and force the MSM to acknowledge it. “Who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?”

David Graeber April 27th, 2013 at 4:03 pm
In response to anon45 @ 92

Don’t let yourself be controlled. If we radicalize things, the unions will be angry, sure, but then a few years from now they’ll probably be claiming they did it themselves.

Joe Macare April 27th, 2013 at 4:11 pm

Thanks Bev, and thank you David for all your answers! And thanks to everyone who took part. If anyone wants to carry on this discussion on the slightly more restricted format of Twitter, I’m @exileinflyville there should you want to include me.

TarheelDem April 27th, 2013 at 4:14 pm
In response to spocko @ 96

Access bribery of the media is the counterpart of campaign bribery of elected officials and a key reason the system is no longer self-correcting. Call it what it is. Political corruption.

spocko April 27th, 2013 at 4:22 pm
In response to TarheelDem @ 99

Access bribery of the media is the counterpart of campaign bribery of elected officials

Oh, that is really well said TarheelDem. I’m going to start using that!
Thank you.

In LA the police went to the TV station and said, “You embed with us or we won’t be able to protect you.” of course they went with it because Military police in riot gear is cool” and that means that they didn’t catch the stories that the police didn’t want them to see.
I was following 3 livestreams that evening and found stories of police chasing down protesters and beating them. Of course it was off camera so did it really happen?

The identification with police or the protester gives them a specific viewpoint. I remember talking to a friend of mine from Canada about torture and she said, “Did you ever notice that when Americans talk about torture they always put themselves in the position of the one DOING the torture and whether or not they should do it. They never put themselves in the position of the person who is BEING tortured. Because of course the scenario is if you are being tortured you must be guilty and know something. Maybe they wouldn’t be so quick to okay torture if they thought of themselves as being innocent and being tortured to get non-existent information, you know like a bunch of people who we tortured.

TarheelDem April 27th, 2013 at 4:27 pm

Thanks, David and Joe for an excellent book salon. Thanks, Bev for arranging to have David here.

Alice X April 27th, 2013 at 8:18 pm

I am only making note here that I was busy elsewhere and could not attend. Mr. Graeber’s understanding and exposition of the trajectory of anthropologic/social history is a revelation, to me, and others, I am certain.

Thank you Mr. Graeber.

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