Ontologies of Organizing Part III: On Playing Well With Others

Okay, let’s be clear #OccupyWallStreet has gotten awesome.  There are now solidarity occupations in 250+ locations nationwide.  Labor Unions and the Netroots are fully onboard, and yesterday afternoon’s march in NYC had somewhere between 15,000 and 20,000 participants.  As Jon Stewart put it last night, the media attention has gone “from blackout to frenzy.”  Impressive stuff, on every count.

Two of the best pieces I’ve read recently on the topic come from Ezra Klein’s Wonkbook.  The first is a guest post by Rick Yeselson, “The four habits of highly successful social movements.”  The second, by Ezra himself, is titled ‘A tipping point for Occupy Wall Street.

We’re now at the point where the two “ontologies” I’ve been talking about (organizing-as-public-art and organizing-as-public-process) come together.  Credit to Adbusters and the rest of that community — they’ve accomplished something that Alinsky-style organizing almost never does.  #OWS taps into a vein of broad public discontent.  The lack of a clear target, the lack of clear goals, has become a virtue rather than a vice.  As Ezra puts it “Occupy Wall Street has created a space for some type of populist movement to emerge.”  Community organizing is great for putting specific pressure on specific targets.  Broad cultural gestalts are outside of the organizing-as-public-process toolbox, though.

One thing that we’re going to begin to see now is a tension between these two styles, and the networks and organizations associated with them.  I was at the Rebuild the American Dream/Take Back America conference (#takeback11) earlier this week, and every single speaker made reference to the occupiers.  They then drew connections between the protest events and their specific issue agendas.  #OWS is a reason to oppose Bank of America.  It’s a reason to pass the American Jobs Act.  It’s a reason to support Net Neutrality (Demand Progress sent out an e-mail urging supporters to #occupytheinternet).  It’s a reason to oppose the Keystone XL pipeline.

The influx of these new organizations can occur artfully or poorly.  They need to know that this protest did not originate with them, and treat the original activists who have been camping out for weeks with respect.  I want to highlight two positive examples here, that I hope to see many organizations emulate:

The first comes from Chris Bowers, of DailyKos.  Chris was on a panel at #takeback11, and was asked what advice he had for the occupiers.  His response (I’m paraphrasing) was, “I don’t have any advice for them, I think they’re doing great on their own.  I just want to find ways I can help.”  He then gave a concrete example — the flood of interest in #occupy events was causing occupytogether.org, so he was setting up mirror sites through DailyKos to help out.  That’s pitch perfect: this isn’t a case where “the pro’s have no arrived.”  It’s a case where one style of activism has achieved something that another style couldn’t.  Now both are needed, and face the difficult task of coexisting.  Respect goes a long way, in that regard.

The second comes from Democracy for America.  DFA, like all the other netroots and labor groups, sent out e-mails yesterday urging people to attend the rally.  Then they also sent out an additional action request:


The Occupy Wall Street protest is a watershed moment.

For weeks, protesters have been camped out in Liberty Square near Wall Street.

They are marching during the day and sleeping on the street at night, facing arrest and police violence. They are gaining media attention, inspiring thousands more to join them every day in New York and in cities across the country — and they are giving a voice to the American working class that has been attacked by big corporations and their allies in Congress.

The Occupy Wall Street protesters are standing up for us — because of that, thousands of people across the country have joined together to send them food to keep them going.

These donations have worked. They’ve kept the occupation strong. But it’s October in New York City and getting colder each day.

 Protesters are now in immediate need of 200 sleeping bags to keep warm and keep the occupation going.

Donate $20 here to buy a sleeping bag to keep the occupation going in the cold.

The donation link goes to the NYC General Assembly donation page.

I can’t stress enough how important solidarity acts like this are.  Don’t use #OWS as an opportunity to fundraise for yourselves.  Offer direct support.  Then also add that the occupation is connected to the concrete policy proposals that your organization has been organizing around.

We’re in an exceedingly rare moment right now with #ows.  I don’t know what comes next, exactly.  There is no clear endgame.  It’s an exciting time, though – one in which terms like “cultural zeitgeist” seem not-so-overwrought.  Progressive organizers, activists, and organizations should all draw upon and participate with the #ows crowd.  In so doing, it’s going to be especially important that they “play well with others.”  Chris Bowers and DFA are two positive examples.  Hopefully I won’t need to write a follow-up post that lists and shames organizations that provide bad examples.



2 thoughts on “Ontologies of Organizing Part III: On Playing Well With Others

  1. I finally feel I have a voice, but live in Ft Myers, Fl and would like to know what is the closest town that it organizing a event that my voice can also be heard? on said:

    Want to be active in standing up for out american rights! Where in SW FL is this happening?

  2. Pingback: Zombies, mimes and anarchists, oh my! « The Rio Norte Line

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