In my last entry, “The Truth About the 99 Percent Declaration”, I tried to clear the air about one particular proto-viral document that assumed the name of Occupy Wall Street. Unfortunately, a lot of the information that was available to me at the time turned out to be wrong, and I ended up only confusing matters more.
So, this is going to be a standing, working document explaining and debunking various “Out-Of-Process Statements”, or OOPS (yeah, I just made that up), that risk spreading and defining peoples’ concept of the Zuccotti Park occupation, widely referred to as Occupy Wall Street. None of my entries in this list will be approved by the Zuccotti General Assembly and Occupy Wall Street can’t be held accountable for errors or missing info that may appear as this document transforms. I’d use a wiki for this, but I don’t have time to monitor editing to keep the result from being manipulated by the many interested and willing forces. I’ll try to avoid the mistakes made in my previous entry by a) not claiming to know “the truth” (such a classic, dick mistake) and b) explicitly avoiding and/or stating assumptions. Please comment with corrections and further info.
To restate more briefly: Last time, I wanted to draw a complete picture so people knew what was going on and why anything claiming to be “demands” from #OWS couldn’t accurately be described as such. This time, I will stitch facts together as they come, even if incomplete.
The 99 Percent Declaration
The 99% Declaration states that it is the product of an “#OWS Working Group on the 99% Declaration”, “announced to the New York City General Assembly on October 15, 2011 at 7:45 p.m.,” (which unfortunately happens to be the only evening GA I did not participate in since Oct. 12). However, the document itself has not appeared at a Zucotti GA and seems to have made its debut on the group’s website and there is a discussion around it in their forum.
They’ve also got a forum in the Working Groups directory on the nycga.net site, but its title states:
This Declaration is NOT representative of OWS or the NYC GA. This is a DRAFT document and will remain as such until issues are […]
That’s a fairly clear statement, but two further notes about its attribution to #OWS: 1., there is currently no voice that represents the entire Occupy movement. Zuccotti Park (Wall Street) is the original occupation and is seen, or has been appointed by the media and public as, the flagship occupation - but even if you’re inclined to appoint the Zuccotti GA’s voice as the voice of the movement, this document has not been proposed to or considered by that body, nor by any of its officially-recognized working groups (announcing a Working Group is not the process by which a working group is empowered by GA). So: it has no process connection to the occupations.
The second thing is that we don’t know how the document came into being. Did its creators organize using a direct democracy model, like the General Assembly model? I don’t know. Would that change its legitimacy? No, but it would mean that its introduction into the movement would be far easier than if it was ideated by a small and unaccountable group.
The way things stand right now, to gain legit status, the 99 Percent Declaration would need to be taken up by a Working Group physically linked to one of the occupations, operated using a consensus-based process, and recognized by a General Assembly to gain legitimacy. One reason why so many demands-oriented OOPSs seem to come to our attention is that entering a consensus-based, collaborative creation process would inevitably result in modifications that may not completely align with its original form. It would have a chance to become a document that everyone could get behind. But its creators would lose their power to wholly influence its vision and form. That is one genius of the process, and that is the reason why impatience — both in the demanders, and those looking for demands — is disincentivized within it.
The Zuccotti Park Demands Working Group
The Demands Working Group, which was officially recognized and empowered by the General Assembly as a group using modified consensus process to work on presenting to it a potential list of demands, went off the rails sometime between October 10th and October 16th, when it was announced to the Zuccotti Park General Assembly by one of its members that a small group within the WG had gone rogue and had contacted the New York Times with a working document not representative of WG consensus.
Although I had previously named two members of the group, that was based on a collective — and unchecked-by-me :( — assumption that the two members of the Demands WG named in this New York Times article were the ones contacting the press and pushing their own demands. But, because the reporter, and later, a photographer had been invited to the Demands WG meeting, it was more complicated than that. Consensus was usurped over the question of the Times’ presence and David Haack requested that a facilitator join the group to help them operate within process. At the next meeting, the process was bypassed again and the group was photographed by the Times. Beyond that, we know that Haack and another member, Sean Redden, ended up in the Times article, which has the general narrative that OWS is working on demands, though Haack is quoted emphasizing democracy instead of demands. Members of the working group have told me that Redden and others brought a pre-made list of demands to the working group, and attempted to bypass consensus process by reaching out to the media to inform them of their process for making specific demands, and philosophical assumptions, on behalf of OWS.
When as much was stated to the Zuccotti General Assembly on the eve of the Times article’s release, the GA consensed upon a statement informing the world that anything not proposed to nor consensed upon by the Zuccotti GA is not representative of the Zuccotti GA. The statement was kept general because it applies universally to all unaccountable processes, be they demands or otherwise.
This week, OccupyWallSt.org posted the following statement on the Demands WG:
A group claiming to be affiliated with the General Assembly of Liberty Square and #ows has been speaking to the media on behalf of our movement.
This group is not empowered by the NYC General Assembly.
This group is not open-source and does not act by consensus.
This group only represents themselves.
While we encourage the participation of autonomous working groups, no single person or group has the authority to make demands on behalf of general assemblies around the world.
We are our demands. This #ows movement is about empowering communities to form their own general assemblies, to fight back against the tyranny of the 1%. Our collective struggles cannot be co-opted.
The Demands Working Group forum and entry was removed from the nycga.net list of NYC GA Working Groups at some point as well.
Why did this happen? The narrative is somewhat blurry, but the point is that folks were not participating in the direct democracy process that Occupy Wall Street has consensed to operate using. Structures of hierarchy threaten what I see as core motivating values for Occupy Wall Street: an equality of voice and influence and the right to participate in decisions that affect you. The consensus process has brought us, and many, many others in occupations all over the world, closer together despite traditional contentions and across deeply-ingrained cultural boundaries. We’ve been able to create and build together, and hope to continue doing so in perpetuity. By not minimizing certain voices during our workflow we are smarter, more effective, and considerably wiser. A demands document — so-called, as I personally don’t hope that is language that we will ever use — that does not come about as a result of this collaborative process cannot reflect the powerful consensus that keeps us working, learning, and creating together.
So, if you want results from #OWS, join the process. It works. You’ll have to give and take a bit, you’ll need to truly listen to others and collaborate with them and win together. Hold on to your prerogatives, but leave your expectations at the door.