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News :: Occupy Boston
Occupy Boston Struggles to Achieve Democracy
06 Oct 2011
Over the last few days the Occupy Boston protest has made some remarkable achievements. On the infrastructure front, an organized miniature city has emerged to feed, house and provide medical care for campers and visitors alike. Donations of food, equipment and supplies have been pouring in daily. The volume of corporate media coverage has been impressive, and the tone generally less hostile and dismissive than is usual for protest coverage.
This has all been accomplished in a remarkably egalitarian fashion. Formal leaders do not exist, and all decisions are made by consensus, at least in theory. General assemblies are held every morning and evening to attempt to make sure that everyone's voice can be heard.

Yet behind the scenes creeping authoritarianism threatens the occupation.

For starters, the protest marches that regularly leave from the camp are often far less democratic than the assemblies and working group meetings. While the march last Friday night was a freewheeling affair that went where marchers felt like, took the streets, and ended with a spontaneous demonstration in front of a (mostly empty) Federal Reserve building, subsequent marches have been heavily scripted by facilitators with little to no input from outside. A march on Monday morning featured a man with a bullhorn directing the route and tactics with no regard for the wishes of marchers. Anyone straying from the sidewalk was forcibly pulled back and scolded. Furthermore, the march target, originally the Fox News office, was changed to the State House in the middle of the night by a small handful of organizers, without any consultation with the general assembly. The bullhorn dude even attempted to end the march after a speech at the State House steps, but was finally overridden by his exasperated followers, who insisted on making a brief stop at Fox News before marching back to the occupation.

Even the general assemblies, on the surface a model of participatory decision making, have taken on an authoritarian tone. A small group of facilitators largely controls the meeting procedure. While in theory the facilitators are just another working group, open to all, they do not issue group reports like other groups such as Food, Medical or Outreach. In addition their meetings are not always well publicized, and they either have no group liaison or the liaison is seldom at the camp.

The result has been general assemblies where the process for getting a proposal before the assembly has been unclear or even nonexistent. Participants have been reduced to futilely expressing opinions with no obvious way to turn them into reality. Individual facilitators have used their control of the process to push their own agendas and stifle proposals they did not approve of.

None of the above is to say that the situation is beyond salvage. The facilitators meeting on Tuesday was announced, and newcomers were able to block several undemocratic proposals. In addition Direct Action, the working group responsible for planning marches and other protests, saw a flood of new people at their own Tuesday meeting, leading to refreshing discussions on a variety of topics and a couple of ideas for actions.

More importantly, the actions on Wednesday were a stunning rebuke to anyone who sought to control the occupation. These included a student march and blockade that stopped traffic on Atlantic Ave for about 20 minutes, and two marches, one with members of the Mass. Nurses Association, that took over the streets for hours with no preset routes.

More such actions are needed. If the Occupy Wherever movement is to grow into a genuine revolutionary force it must not be hijacked by liberals and politicians. Anyone who wants to prevent this should come to Dewey Square as soon as they can get there, ready to throw down.

This work is in the public domain.
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