Why I’m Not Occupying the People’s Plaza

Not far up the light rail here in Minnesota is a group of perhaps five or six people at their lowest and a few hundred on the nice days, holding up signs and shouting their concerns about a society that has forgotten about the collective in an attempt to wake those around them to the corruption that has infiltrated every level of government and regulatory agency.  They’re good people with good hearts and a worthy, important goal and I’ve spent some time with them (including rainy nights in a sleeping bag), but nothing recently.  Why, with my support of many of their most popular goals, am I not participating in the occupation today?

America is an interesting place.  I read anecdotes on a daily basis from our European brothers and sisters incredulously recounting how they saw American flags on cars and houses all up and down Main Streets and we even said a Pledge of Allegiance to our flag (which, for Americans who don’t know, is considered crass and xenophobic by many non-Americans).  We have created a life where you can get by under normal circumstances, which pacifies, but you can’t get ahead in most social situations and you can never be prepared for a crash.  We’re on a comfortable trapeze without a net but most Americans never look down and consider what would happen if we fell tomorrow.

With the occupiers, though, it’s different.  These folks see major wrongs within our society that they protest because they actually want real, tangible change.  They see that the net’s missing.  They are aware that despite its comforts, the trapeze of the working class is frayed and ready to snap.  For millions of Americans, it already has, and the outright cockiness of those who had been screwing with the ropes enrages them.  They saw the bankers pulling it apart, thread by thread, but nobody would listen until their own personal ropes frayed enough to finally break.

Why was it so difficult to make everyone look down at the lack of a net, or up at the ruling class working to fray the ropes?  Over the past thirty years, a cadre of influential charlatans such as Milton Friedman and Ronald Reagan have pushed an Atlas Shrugged-derived concept of self-righteousness, ruthlessness and carelessness onto American society.  They ushered in an era where each individual was taught that, according to Objectivism, “the proper moral purpose of one’s life is the pursuit of one’s own happiness.”  This damaged manner of thinking has become an alarmingly popular attribute even within the struggling working class, despite the dismissal of Ayn Rand’s book in 1957 as a hateful lesson in greed.

So we have a small number of compassionate, altruistic folks fighting a populace of greed and self-interest.  The challenge here is clear, but as momentum continued to build I became quite excited that this was our time.  Indeed, Massachusetts last week sued five large banks and a foreclosure mill for their fraudulent practices in that state as more people became sympathetic to a cause that featured Marines, former police chiefs, elderly ladies and librarians being pepper sprayed, assaulted with rubber bullets, and locked up in jail beaten and bloodied by a police force that forgot who they were supposed to serve and protect.

Sadly, there’s an issue with the Occupy movement that is making it difficult to build momentum.  Democracy is messy and I realize that.  However, democracy is not about ending power structure or always having unanimity.  Democracy needs representatives, branding, an organizational structure, and some concrete, direct messaging.  We aren’t going to accomplish anything by requiring a unanimous decision or by maintaining an unorganized structure with no means to release official statements or direct demands.

What the Occupy movement needs right now is structure.  They do not need to limit voices to do that; the leadership structure should be designed in a way that the individuals on camera are always representing the majority will of the people at the camp and will be quickly replaced if that doesn’t happen.  As long as the people control the message, it is not inappropriate to have a specific group of individuals delivering it.  We need trained media personalities, trained public relations experts, copywriters, producers… we need more structural organization for keeping the parks looking tidy.  We need to look like organized, clean, hard-working and respectful Americans.

What we need next is a voting structure that allows everyone involved to participate but does not require unanimous decisions.  Democracy is about majority, not unanimity.  Issues should be brought forward, explained in detail, voted on and passed or failed based on majority rule.  With this, we would be able to more quickly develop concrete demands and demonstrate that we are not on the fringe of society.  We are organized and ready to ensure our demands are met.

Then, finally, we need to focus on ONE DEMAND at a time.  We can’t have ten different campaigns going at once.  Base it one majority vote.  It’s a simple process:

  • Collect the proposed demands and hold a majority vote on each to determine if the group supports it
  • Hold a vote on each passed demand to ask if it should be the first demand
  • The one with the highest percentage of “yes” votes becomes the first demand until it is resolved
  • Hold another vote on each remaining passed demand to determine the next action
My guess is that the order would be similar to the following:
  1. Reinstate Glass-Steagall
  2. Overturn Citizens United
  3. Campaign Finance Reform to end unethical lobbyist behavior
  4. Break up companies which could pose a threat to the national economy if they were to fail
However, at our current rate we will not be creating a list of demands before the next presidential election and by that time the movement will have fizzled out as a footnote in American history books.  Sadly, as long as we keep believing leaderless anarchy and unanimous decision-making are the best call, we can’t change the path we’re on.
I urge my brothers and sisters in the Occupy movement to heed this warning.  The numbers in most of the country’s camps have dwindled during the past two weeks.  UC Davis was the last big media coup we had and it is fading from the front of people’s minds.  You can’t let that happen.  The time to take decisive and direct action is now and I’m ready to jump back in when we’re ready to move forward.