Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Will Occupy Wall Street Turn Into Animal Farm?

George Orwell wrote a great book called Animal Farm in 1945. The basic plot of Animal Farm involves a group of animals on a farm who overthrow the farmer, who they feel is not treating them well. The animals form their own government where everyone is created equal, among other things. However, as time goes on, the pigs take over the leadership position, things slowly start to become less and less equal, other established rules are ignored, and the eloquent last line of the book compares the pigs to the farmers they originally sought to overthrow.

The Occupy Wall Street movement is still in its infancy, and looking to find a set of grievances or demands that all can agree upon. Based on what I’ve read in the Occupy Wall Street and Occupy Chicago discussion forums, most everyone agrees that it should be a leaderless movement, where everyone is allowed to provide input. In theory, this sounds nice. Everyone is equal, every single voice is heard. In practice, I don’t know how this would work. If no one is the boss, how will anything get done? It’s all fine and good to think that people will do things of their own volition, in a timely manner, and attempt to cooperate. However, as we can see from our own Congress, when push comes to shove that doesn’t often happen. Occupy Chicago uses a 90/10 voting system (which, sadly, someone on the discussion forum had to explain how to calculate), and it doesn’t seem to have accomplished much of anything. The movement here seems to be directionless, and in chaos. No one can figure out if they have the right to start a new committee or to take action, such is the fear that they will be viewed as trying to “lead” the leaderless movement. As a result, paralysis has set in.

Additionally, the Occupy movement is seeking monetary donations on their web sites. If they want to deal with this in a legal manner (which is still questionable), this leads to taxes, and some sort of corporate status. (It’s somewhat ironic that the movement will have to establish the very entity they appear to be against.) A corporation – or some other legal entity – will need to be established. This requires naming a board of directors and/or officers – in short, leaders. Even if the “leaders” are in name only (and who would agree to that if they have to have their name on the articles of incorporation and/or annual report as representing the corporation), someone will have to do the incorporating. Someone will have to either file the paperwork themselves or hire an attorney to do so. How will they choose an attorney? How will the attorney be paid? Who will write the check? Will this all be established via the 90/10 vote? Which decisions have to be run past the collective? All of them? What a colossal waste of time. I imagine our founding fathers figured this out over two hundred years ago, and hence ended up at a constitutional republic rather than a true democracy.

The discussion forums on the Occupy websites are a treasure trove of information on how things are really going on the inside. Already there are questions regarding where the donations are going and how to do things legally. (Good question – what are the monetary donations being used for, and how much has been collected?) Already people are seeking some consensus on what the group wants to have happen and the goals. How can you expect people to join a movement that can’t even clearly articulate what the end goal is? Many people have floated ideas from the reasonable (campaign finance reform) to the absurd (forgive all personal debts, including student loans.) Today the Occupy Chicago web site is promoting a discussion of the Communist Manifesto on Saturday. Is that what this movement is about? Who knows, but what a way to lose a lot of the 99% they seek to represent.

Some people are requesting that the group appoint a spokesperson; others disagree. There are complaints about lack of communication, the web site, changes in locations and plans, confusion about how the general assembly works, grumblings about the 90/10 vote, complaints about lack of solidarity, certain people attempting to take charge for the glory, the lack of organization, and the lack of meals for protestors. Indeed, the Occupy Chicago web site is only sporadically updated, and the official Twitter account rarely posts anything worthwhile other than “Come down to LaSalle/Jackson!” Since the media is providing very little coverage on this here in Chicago, it would seem to me that the web site, Facebook, and Twitter would be great ways to get the word out. But no one appears to be in charge of making sure this gets done. That’s what a leaderless movement gets you, and eventually will lead to a lack of interest. Who is going to sign on to a group that is in chaos?

And even assuming the whole “leaderless” movement works, things still have to get done – such as maintaining the website, organizing marches and other events, coordinating, organizing and distributing donations, communicating with the media, deciding how to spend donation money, filing tax returns, taking minutes during meetings, counting votes, deciding upon the grievances/demands worth pursuing, and seeking legal advice when necessary. Who decides who is going to do each of those things? What if you can’t get 90% of the people to agree to one person? (On how many things do 90% of people agree? I bet not many.) Does it just not get done? People may voluntarily do these kinds of things for a time; I would never discount the power of passion. However, after a certain amount of time has passed, they might want to get paid for the time they are putting in, or otherwise their jobs and other responsibilities may get in the way. And if they have to name a CEO or Treasurer for purposes of corporate documents, those people might want to get paid, too. So then you have some people getting paid, some people not getting paid…and the chance for the very corruption that was originally opposed.

Allowing everyone to have a voice is a valiant goal, and it is true that this whole movement is still in its infancy. But even though some of the complaints are valid, people aren’t signing on in droves, at least in Chicago. (Nor, for that matter, are the protestors who are there attempting to engage or convince anyone who walks by and wants to talk.  I know; I tried.)  Where it will end remains to be seen. And yet, while watching You Tube videos on this movement and the people involved, reading news articles, and reading the discussion boards and web sites, it struck me how quickly and easily it could lead to the end result in Animal Farm. At some point someone(s) will step up and take charge of things. And what will happen then?

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