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OccupyWallStreet: Nucleation and crystallization

Update:  Here is a photoessay from The Atlantic of last weekend’s OccupyTogether rallies held throughout the world.

In one of the more recent comment threads, r u reddy pointed me to a guest post that David Graeber wrote for NakedCapitalism about the origins of OccupyWallStreet and asked me if I cared to comment.  Why, yes, yes I do.

But first, I would like to point out one line that caught my attention in Graeber’s piece.  It’s about Obama and young people:

How, then, do you expect a young American voter to feel, after casting a vote for a fundamental change to our political and economic system, on discovering that in fact, they have elected a man who twenty years ago would have been considered a moderate conservative?

And that right there gives you an indication about where Graeber is coming from.  To him, it is Obama’s betrayal of “young people” that he appears to be most concerned about.  In his post, he uses the words “young”, “youth” or “student” 2o times.  Granted, it’s a long post but by the time you’re finished reading it, you get the distinct impression that young people with student loans are the ones suffering the most in this economy. How does Graeber think the unemployed middle aged professional feels about the election of a man who she knew would be a moderate conservative during a period of economic crisis?  It just goes to show that Graeber doesn’t understand his movement.  So, what is David missing, because this thing is still solidifying and we’re not certain what it’s going to look like when it’s finished.  Here’s my comment response with editing:

I think David Graeber gives himself and his friends too much credit. Remember, the PUMAs were in Denver with much the same grievances. We were the working class (of all ages, genders, educations and professions) that got thrown under the bus in 2008. And there were hundreds of people who showed up in Denver at the PUMA headquarters.  During the convention, this blog’s readership spiked to 52,000 unique page hits in a 24 hour period.  There were many people who were deeply concerned with the direction the 2008 election had taken.  From what I can tell, this movement might have started sooner if the left itself hadn’t sat on it.

The problem is that there was no way in hell anyone other than Obama was going to get the nomination no matter how valid the challenger and justified the cause. So, we had to wait through a couple of years of Obama trying to parley with the repulsive Republicans, knowing that he was going to be a disaster. It wasn’t that difficult to figure out what Obama really stood for after his scorched earth policy in the primaries, the way he accepted the treatment of voters in Florida and Michigan, his thin voting record, his vote for telecomm immunity, his campaign’s tolerance of overt misogyny against Hillary and Palin, his courtship of evangelicals coupled with the disappearance of reproductive rights issues from Democratic congressional candidate’s websites in 2008, and his acceptance of millions in campaign funds from the financial services industry.  If young people had unreasonable hope about what Change!™ Obama was going to bring, it’s because Graeber and his buddies at DailyKos whipped them into a frenzy.  We regular people who saw Obama for the passive, opportunistic, investment class wannabe that he was had to live in the wilderness while people in Graeber’s cohort fell madly in love and then out of love with Barry. It was DailyKos that lead the jeers and taunts against us by scornfully calling us a “shrieking band of paranoid holdouts”. Jane Hamsher called us a “certain kind of woman” and to this day, most of the left blogosphere can’t get over the conditioning that associates PUMA with racism and bitter menopausal women who don’t have college degrees.  But now that the Graebers of the country are over their infatuation, the revolution can return to it’s regular program already in progress.

Secondly, I see this from a chemistry perspective. In supersaturated solutions, you can frequently get crystallization to occur by scratching the inside of the beaker with the sharp end of a glass rod. The scratch provides something called a nucleation site onto which a crystal can build. At a certain point, crystallization becomes a concerted process and the crystals fall out of solution. But it won’t happen unless conditions are right for crystallization. The concentration of the solution has to be high enough, the temperature has to be just so, it has to be scratched or seeded.

This is what we have with OWS. The conditions were right for crystallization and the movement fell out because they picked the right spot to scratch.
I see a lot of blather about anarchism and anti-capitalism and blahdeblahdeblah. I’m not sure those things are as relevant as Graeber makes them sound. That’s because the 99% consist of more than the friends he has with the crushing student loans and you will find people of all ages, genders and backgrounds at an occupation site. That right there should tell Graeber something. This was a movement waiting to happen that goes way beyond his little circle of progressive activists. This is a movement for former PUMAs as well.

And the movement is going to be what it’s going to be. It is an open source concept. That means that the users determine the way the end product works by collaboration, iterations, feedback and adjustments. Anarchism means absolutely nothing to me. (well, I know what it means, I just don’t think it’s a particularly good working model) Neither does tearing down a capitalist system. I don’t think the vast majority of regular people want to tear down the system. I think they want out from under its grasp.  They want an economy that works for them.   That may mean reviving and reinforcing the rules or setting up a parallel economic system without Wall Street’s dirty mitts on everything but whatever that means, the open source model demands that it is responsive to the users and can’t be determined beforehand by people like Graeber.

So, I think what Graeber and his friends did is scratch the glass. The public was ready for this. And now, he and his friends need to lose their egos and join with the rest of us so we can get things done.

By they way, Graeber is overlooking the strength of this movement if he thinks it is centered on young people. The reason it has become so incredibly successful is that when there is a big march, it is the regular working stiffs who show up to them. If it were just students, the media would have an easier time writing them off. But it’s not just students. It’s union people and unemployed people and teachers and actresses, and chemists and older people and families with kids. The 99% percent really means just about everyone.  It doesn’t mean “all 99%-ers are equal but some 99%-ers who are young with student loans are more equal than others”.  Some of us have mortgages and no jobs.  We count.

When I was at the march on October 5, I saw why the thing was taking off. The marchers looked like everyday people, not like a college pep rally. Graeber is already out of touch with his own constituency. Not only that but as wonderful as young people are, I’m surprised that OWS hasn’t taken advantage of the technical expertise of some of their sympathizers who are NOT 25 years old. We might be middle aged but most of us cut our teeth in the internet age. We wrote the first web pages, configured the first apache servers and played with the tools that brought us smartphones and social media. We learn quickly. It’s stupid to leave all that knowledge and experience on the table in order to celebrate youth to the exclusion of all else.

For example, there are a lot of unemployed scientific researchers right now.  To pass on all that talent, experience and insider knowledge while the OWS young people go on at length (and quite foolishly sometimes, IMHO) about the dangers of modern pharmaceuticals would be to miss out on an opportunity to make pharma work for the public at large and not just the big corporations.  Instead of going off on uninformed tantrums about how evil pharma is, they could be spending their time figuring out how to set one up that would be responsive to them.  Like having the 99% own the patents and decide what therapeutic areas to explore. I am willing to help take on this kind of working group on if there isn’t one already formed.  Preserving our scientific infrastructure is extremely important and there is all that talent and knowledge out there. This is something that “young people” and social scientists are unlikely to get a grasp of without our help.

If Graeber wants to keep this movement going, it would be much better to make middle age sexy and invite as many working class people in to share what they know that they have learned after years of experience. Youth is wasted on the young.

******************************

When I think of OWS, this is what I see – here’s another video of protestors singing Do You Hear The People Sing in the rotunda of the Capitol in Madison, Wisconsin.  Yes, there are young people.  But they are not by any means the majority or the only ones with a grievance.

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40 Responses

  1. It’s not organic. “An SEIU board member, (and #OWS originator) Lerner is one of the architects of a subversive plan that aims to destroy the nation’s financial system through intimidation, mass protests, and the mob violence that accompanies it. As part of it, Lerner targeted JPMorgan Chase for attack earlier this year because the bank would be “a really good company to hate.”

    “Lerner told a receptive union audience that it is necessary to demonize people like JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon in order to generate hatred and envy that will help to foment revolution. “We’ve got to be clear on the human beings who are bad,” he told the SEIU 775 convention in Seattle on Sept. 22. Wealthy corporate leaders must be made into social outcasts, despised even by their children, he said. “How do we make it so politicians don’t even want their money because their money’s toxic, it’s dirty, it’s evil.”

    In his own words.

    • Oh, PLEASE, Rose, will you grow some sense?? Of course JP Morgan is an easy bank to hate. It’s because it’s full of amoral people who don’t give a rat’s ass about your sorry little life. They play with our money and it isn’t real to them. They see no connection between their gambling addiction and the deterioration of the middle class.

      I think someone last night said that Greg Palast came up with a new name for servile people such as yourself who would rather let the out of control greedy financiers stand on the back of your neck and insist that it’s the natural order of things. He says you are “kissing the whip”.

      The financiers *are* bad people, Rose. They are selfish, aggressive, arrogant, indifferent to the suffering of others, careless and greedy. Don’t be a whip kisser, Rose. It makes me think badly of your wits.

    • waaaaaa, they are using mean language to talk about banks!!!!!

      Rose, the guy at SEIU is using inflammatory language, but no more inflammatory than that used at the monthly meetings at jp morgan chase. It is called “motivation”.

      • Sweet Haruhi preserve us, what is Rose’s source for that alleged statement of Lerner? How does she even know he actually said that?

        Shorter Rose: “Help! Help! They’re being repressed! The 1% are being repressed! Come see the violence inherent in the system!” :mrgreen:

  2. Good morning RD, Graeber and many others like him with their Madison Ave. mindset see everything through the prism of 18-35 yrs old; anyone older than that is invisible. Casting OWS as a youth movement is also a way of keeping older fence sitters on the fence. It’s why people like myself didn’t get out there until the thing was three weeks old.

    Rose, “It’s not organic. “An SEIU board member, (and #OWS originator) Lerner is one of the architects of a subversive plan that aims to destroy the nation’s financial system through intimidation, mass protests, and the mob violence that accompanies it. As part of it, Lerner targeted JPMorgan Chase for attack earlier this year because the bank would be “a really good company to hate.”

    I don’t know where you got that quote, but the use of the words “subversive” and “destroy the nation’s financial system” make it clear that it’s and OWS hit piece. I don’t know whether Lerner is and OWS originator but I do know that “destroying the nation’s financial system”, which is not the same as destroying particular banks that have been particularly heinous, is not one of the objectives of OWS.

    This belongs in the previous thread. Not great for marching, but good beat and motivational lyrics.

    • I love that song. Great to dance to as you march. But you’re right that it’s a little harder to sing en masse.

  3. And the movement is going to be what it’s going to be. It is an open source concept. That means that the users determine the way the end product works by collaboration, iterations, feedback and adjustments.

    I’ve followed open-source software for some time, and to me saying a movement has an “open-source” organization seems a bit like saying that it’s carbohydrate-reduced or that it’s built as a cantilever. “Open-source” projects don’t have any one particular style of organization, what sets them apart is that the developers do not claim an exclusive right to maintain or distribute the software.

    I suppose it’s intended as a synecdoche for the “bazaar” style of development identified in Eric Raymond’s “The Cathedral and the Bazaar”, but OWS so far doesn’t much resemble the “bazaar” style of development to my eyes beyond the more generic “crowdsourcing” aspects.

    • Expect nucleation sites within the movement now that it’s started.
      My bigger point is that a social scientist like Graeber doesn’t have as much influence on the movement that he thinks he does. If he thinks he can perpetuate it by giving it all over to students, who have legitimate grievances, don’t get me wrong, he’s going to find that it either fizzles out or there will be factionalism very quickly. He’s one of the anti-nuke tree hugging academic cloud dwellers who ignores what’s right in front of his face. Well, what can you expect from social “scientists”.

      • are you saying that what he does is an art and not a science? I would agree with that. But I don’t see it as an insult, being an artist myself. I know most people can not do what I do and most of what I do can not be learned, you either have the gift or not.
        Medicine used to be considered an art. We might have been better off then in some ways.
        Well, anyway, I do not have a very high opinion of the guy at least in this instance, after reading this diary and his piece.

        • No, art is art. Science is science. That article I read has the feeling like it came from someone who is giddy. He’s not really collecting data. He’s decided what it means and stamped his own personal preferences on it. This despite the many thousands of pictures from all around the country and the world that show people of all ages participating. Those older folks are not being lead around by the nose by a bunch of young whippersnappers.

    • From the wiki, this is a pretty good explanation of the concept of “open source”:

      The open-source model includes the concept of concurrent yet different agendas and differing approaches in production, in contrast with more centralized models of development such as those typically used in commercial software companies.[2] A main principle and practice of open-source software development is peer production by bartering and collaboration, with the end-product, source-material, “blueprints,” and documentation available at no cost to the public. This is increasingly being applied in other fields of endeavor, such as biotechnology.[3]

      (Given the high cost of biotechnology startup, applying this concept is too optimistic. You need a lot of money distributed to all of the individual pieces of the biotech project. )

      Open source is not just about licensing. if that were true, anyone could just deposit their stuff for free. Open source is a way of working together. The reason you put all of the documentation out there is for other people to pick up the project and add their own stuff to it. Does it make it better or worse? Does the community accept it and incorporate it into the main body or does it spin off to become something else.

      BTW, I use OpenOffice that was developed this way. It’s a free open source alternative to Microsoft Office. I like it, it works well and it formats to everything MS Office anyway. Yeah, the interface is a bit different but not so it’s too hard to learn to use in about 2 minutes. And if you’re really interested, you can make alterations.

      So, I think OWS has the potential to become more organized, probably based on participants flocking to particular areas of expertise and developing the structure from working groups and initiatives. We are already seeing that at OWS in Zuccotti Park. On Monday, a new working group focusing on education curriculum started to meet. I assume that educators will be among that group but former school board members and parents who like that kind of thing might also be attracted to that kind of group.

      It happens rapidly these days.

      • Open source is not just about licensing.

        Strictly speaking, it is. The term was coined partly to distinguish it from the more broadly-based idea of “free software”.

        if that were true, anyone could just deposit their stuff for free.

        And indeed that happens on occasion.

        Open source is a way of working together. The reason you put all of the documentation out there is for other people to pick up the project and add their own stuff to it. Does it make it better or worse? Does the community accept it and incorporate it into the main body or does it spin off to become something else.

        That’s not true of all open source projects, though over time the more closed ones tend to give way to a more open “fork” of their code base.

        • I thought the main advantage to having the source open was that if anyone (with the ability to code) wanted a feature or didn’t like the way a particular feature had been implemented, they could write their own code for the feature and recompile.

          If Word was open source, auto number could be fixed without Product Management pretending to run focus groups to support the business decision that it isn’t relevant to the product road map.

  4. I hope you are right about OWS. My fear is that they brats are about as ready to share occupy wall street with the majority as they were willing to share the 2008 primary with the majority. the millennials were supposed to save the world. To me they seem like entitled scmucks. They’re our kids, we raised them. ……or maybe I am just cranky today. All I know is we have them to thank for the a$$hole in the whitehouse.

    • You’re just cranky today. But yes, some of them are getting swelled heads. If they’re parents weren’t out there marching too, they’d still be a ragtag group of squatters.

    • All I know is we have them to thank for the a$$hole in the whitehouse.

      I’ve seen that said a million times but it’s just not true. The people we have to thank for the a$$hat in the whitehouse are the early big money contributors which allowed them to buy the advertising/marketing to get those young people to root for him Take away that money and hype, he would have been nothing. The young were bamboozled but so were lots of older people or he would not have won anything.

      • honk. and a lot of them are negative toward ob now. they’ve been vaccinated. got a new drum now.

  5. ” So, I think OWS has the potential to become more organized, probably based on participants flocking to particular areas of expertise and developing the structure from working groups and initiatives. We are already seeing that at OWS in Zuccotti Park. On Monday, a new working group focusing on education curriculum started to meet. I assume that educators will be among that group but former school board members and parents who like that kind of thing might also be attracted to that kind of group.”

    Actually I see this development as potentially problematic. I think OWS should remain narrowly focused on the economy. While there are myriad and various factors that impact the economy i.e. education curriculum, minimum wage, weakening of organized labor, outsourcing etc., I think it’s a mistake to try to attack all of it at once. some things have a bigger impact than others. OWS, to me, should be about changes that will have an impact in the short term and build momentum for attacking side issues later.

    I was just over at Corrente and I saw a tweet about OWS marching (tomorrow I think) against a police station on W. 125th St. to highlight the stop and frisk policy of the NYPD. I don’t know if this is for real, but if it is, then I think it’s a big mistake. OWS cannot afford to go off on tangents. To be clear, I don’t support the NYPD’s methods which are sometimes arbitrary and more often than not directed at minorities. But this fledgling movement has to remained tightly focused or it will see its growing support decline precipitously.

    The economy is why people are coming out into the streets; not police brutality, not failed schools, not abortion rights, not gun control, not immigration reform, not campaign reform, not gay marriage, the economy. If OWS loses sight of this and starts to paint itself as here to fix all of society’s ills, it will quickly become just a convention in a park.

    • That would appear to be someone co-opting OWS for their own agenda. I hope they don’t get pulled into these side issues.

    • I would happen to agree with you that focusing on the economy is the most important thing. That’s the stuff that the 99% respond to. But I’m also glad that they have started this open source think tank in between massive solidarity marches. It gives people an opportunity to use their expertise to say, “What if…?”. Not at all a waste of time as long as it doesn’t detract from the main message.

      • we’ll see. I hear they’re planning Occupy Central Park. that could turn out to be even bigger than Times Square.

  6. There sure are many young people. I am glad many got wise to the Obama swindle. Maybe the decision to avoid leaders had something to do with that. That being said, I too saw all ages represented at OWS. And here I am, another former PUMA participating.
    Unlike the young deluded we sensed from the start that Obama was a sleek product packaged by Wall Street to divert the anger of the masses that coalesced during Bush. Eventually, that wore off so former PUMAs get to protest alongside former Bobots. It was bound to happen.

  7. Thanks for this corrective post. I took it for granted that Graeber’s analysis and description of events, especially the beginning phases, was all that there was to know. I passed over Graeber’s extreme emphasis on anarchism because I am not an anarchist myself. But
    he clearly does view all these events as being merely a live-action visual aid illustrating his anarchist theories.

    As the movement gets bigger, different groups of people with their own specifically-targeted sets of problems and grievances will need to
    be taken equally seriously to eachother. Any one subgroup claiming excess credit for the movement or the times, or claiming priority for its own problems, will drive apart all the other groups and people. Hopefully the different sets of economic problems will all be seen as facets of one big process of deliberately engineered economic and social decay and collapse; and the people who engineered this outcome can be targetted and their power broken. Then at some point particular policy corrections will indeed have to be spelled out and pursued to correct specific problems and relieve specific grievances.

    Someone named John Robb of Global Guerillas looks at the open source nature of this from a different perspective. He is a retired Air Force Colonel/ Intelligence Officer who became a private security consultant. He spent years blogging about insurgent/guerilla/terrorist movements and his work was even read by people from some of those movements. He (unfortunately in my view) hopes to foster the spreading of political disorder and the collapse of nation-state governments so as to be able to sell private security consulting services to private rich and super-rich people who will want to stay safe in a world made disorderly and dangerous. In that sencse he is sometimes “talking his book” in his predictions. But his views on the open source nature of OWS and how to spread it around and entrench it and build or grow out from it may have merit.

  8. RD, what’s your take on the brouhaha over some rape(s) that allegedly occurred at Occupy Cleveland and maybe elsewhere. Was over at Dak’s place where they’re getting bent out of shape because they’re not happy with the response of Occupy to these occurrences?

    Anytime I hear “rape” connected to something or someone who’s challenging TPTB, I’m immediately suspicious. The Klown lost me with his views on the Assange rape and now I feel it’s happening all over again with the “feminists” both male and female seeing this as something that discredits the movement my view is when you have an event where anybody can come, there may be some rapists in the mix, so forearmed is forewarned. What do you think?

    • I don’t know enough about the circumstances of the rape. If an alleged rape has occurred, the person raped should immediately report it to the police for an investigation. I’m not sure what the Occupiers are supposed to do about it except provide witnesses if any are available.
      Yeah, it would figure that Dak would get her knickers in a twist.

      • Actually it’s quixote with the same stuff about that nitwit and his “hawt chicks” bit that was over at corrente. Now it seems to have spread to “rape” reporting etc.

  9. rd,spammy has me in it’s grip again

    • Did you post the name of a certain former governor of the northernmost state of the USA, or was it something else? ;)

  10. I think you’ve rushed to judgment. David’s an excellent anthropologist whose book Debt, the First Five Thousand Years is well worth anyone’s time to read. This interview is a good introduction: http://www.leftbusinessobserver.com/Radio.html#S110813 (August 13, 2011) program.

    • I can only evaluate what I have read in the article. And while he might be an excellent anthropologist, it’s not the first 5000 years we’re talking about. It’s OWS and what preceded it in the last three years. If you’re wrong, you’re wrong no matter how your reputation may have preceded you.

  11. “Neither does tearing down a capitalist system. I don’t think the vast majority of regular people want to tear down the system. I think they want out from under its grasp. They want an economy that works for them.”

    I think it’s important to understand (as Ha-Joon Chang points out in his most recent book) that there are different forms of capitalism. The libertarians have convinced Americans to stick the “socialist” label on anything that isn’t 100% Milton Friedman-approved Total Laissez Faire capitalism — a form which I call Predatory Capitalism or Anarchic Capitalism.

    But this is a false dichotomy: “Socialist” refers to direct government ownership of what was once quaintly called the means of production. I think very few OWSers are asking for that.

    Before the advent of Predatory Capitalism, we had Regulated Capitalism. This was the system in place between WWII and Reagan. It worked, albeit with some bumps in the road.

    I think it is important to emphasize that we want nothing new. Regulated Capitalism was the system in place BEFORE. It was the system Grandma and Grandpa voted for. The system that made America the envy of the world.

    Predatory Capitalism, by contrast, has turned this entire country into something like one of those companies that gets strip-mined and tossed aside by the Gordon Geckos of this world.

    “Regulated Capitalism versus Predatory Capitalism” makes for a better sales pitch than “Capitalism vs. Socialism.” If you like, you may substitute the term “Eisenhower Capitalism” for “Regulated Capitalism.” That may be an even easier sell to middle America.

    Oh: As for castigating OWS for an allegedly insufficient response to an alleged rape — well, since no-one is in charge and there are no real rules, whom do we castigate?

    • How about Productive Capitalism vs Casino Capitalism? Even ‘regulated’ sounds a bit negative.

      • Since regulations used to serve to make sure we had a free market. It could be Free Market Capitalism vs Monopolistic Capitalism.

    • “Eisenhower Capitalism” for “Regulted Capitalism.” That may be an even easier sell to middle America.

      Honkhonkhonk!!! If they’re old enough.

    • “Neither does tearing down a capitalist system. I don’t think the vast majority of regular people want to tear down the system.”

      Neither do the vast majority of OWS at Zucotti. Only about 4% of them mentioned anything like that. (Per the raw data at capitalnewyork.com.)

  12. This bit from Truthout reads like it could have been written by RD:

    Dear Democratic Party,

    Cave into pressure from us.

    Do it. Go whole hog with it. Now is your moment. You have never had the type of political cover you have now, and you never will again. Stick a big middle finger up in the direction of Wall Street, fire your revolving-door-begotten staffers, declare yourself now and forever the party of working people, and be done with it.

    http://www.truth-out.org/some-unsolicited-advice-democratic-party/1319216084

  13. speaking of kissing the whip… have you done any laundry lately?

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