On the Occupy Wall Street Action Plan

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A statement, called an Action Plan by one of the people circulating it, seems to have emerged from the Occupy Wall Street movement in New York, or from a working group set up by the people there. It's impossible to know how many people in and around OWS would agree with the thrust of this plan, but the two main points—if adopted and carried out—are extremely important. Even to get these points widely discussed would be a huge step forward. The details are less important than the main ideas.

      Point 1 is to create an elected National General Assembly which would convene on July 4, 2012 to come up with a "petition of grievances" that would be presented to all members of Congress, the President, the Supreme Court and federal political candidates. . . .before the 2012 elections. The ratification of the petition of grievances shall be by "simple majority vote."

      Point 2 is that "if the petition of grievances . . . is not acted upon within a reasonable time and to the satisfaction of the Delegates of the National General Assembly, said Delegates shall organize a new Completely Non-Partisan Independent Political Party to run candidates for every available Congressional seat in . . . 2014 and again in 2016 until all vestiges of the existing corporatocracy have been removed by the ballot box."

      The clear implication is that the National General Assembly will constitute itself (in some form) as an ongoing body capable of organizing substantial actions, campaigns and appeals to the public on specific issues and on behalf of a larger vision.

     I don't know whether it will be practical for the OWS movement, which is still in its infancy, to elect a meaningful, democratic National General Assembly, and to avoid being taken over by Obama loyalists in some areas, political sects in others, and opportunists elsewhere. The important thing is that the creation of a new, militant national organization is on the agenda, and there is recognition that it would have to be, in some sense, an elected representative body that makes its most important decisions "by simple majority vote" based on serious deliberation and consultation with constituents. This proposal, in one bold stroke cuts through the straitjacket of so-called "consensus decisionmaking," which in practice means giving veto power to people who might be in the minority, to those who have the lifestyle to sit through interminable meetings, and to those who know how to manipulate the process (for example, setting things up so that your proposals become the "default" and alternative proposals or changes require supermajorities to pass).

      The second point is essentially a call for the creation of a new political party, opposed to the Democratic and Republican parties. The expression "completely non-partisan . . . political party" might seem to be an oxymoron, but I think it was inserted to make clear that the intent is not to support Good Democrats the way PDA and some other groups in the liberal left have done. Most people think of a party as an organization primarily devoted to running candidates (like the Green Party), in other words, an electoral machine. However, the kind of party implied in this proposal would be the political expression of the new direct action movement, and a potential vehicle for uniting and empowering the "99 percent" or at least a very large sector of the population that sorely needs such a vehicle.

      The twenty items listed by the working group (as suggestions) contain some that are quite good and some that are pretty awful, in my view. They require a great deal of thought and in some cases, severe criticism, which I will not attempt in this piece. However, the intent and spirit of the list as a whole is consistent with the goal of democratizing the economy, challenging corporate power, and establishing genuine democracy in the political system in place of the elitist and corrupt system that is dominated by and serves the interests of the corporations and the very wealthy. Hopefully the petition of grievances will be improved and refined in the deliberative process and down the road as the movement gains experience, learns from mistakes and develops itself on the theoretical level. Right now the list of suggestions is a grab bag of ideas, including some leftish shibboleths that hopefully will be abandoned as the movement learns better.

      As a transition from direct action and lists of grievances to a more fully developed set of ideas, I would propose a principle such as the following:

"As long as the economic and political system is dominated by huge concentrations of wealth, small legal victories can be no more than marginally or temporarily effective. The real solution in the long run is to democratize the economy, which goes hand in hand with democratizing government and politics. Many intermediate steps can be taken toward this end, but it is important to distinguish between real progress and rhetorical flourishes or gestures designed to stall the momentum of the new movement and keep the old elites in power. It will be necessary to break the power over society of giant corporations and the very wealthy, and ultimately to subject large economic institutions to complete and effective democratic control. 'Government regulation' is not enough because the government itself can be bought, subverted or blackmailed by those who control the economy through corporations, the mechanisms of global capitalism, and media and propaganda machines for which 'private profit' is the only true value."

      This Action Plan is a step forward, or will be if it adopted by the OWS General Assembly as a whole. I hope that it is in addition to (rather than supplanting) the original Declaration, whose long list of grievances constitute an indictment of the system as a whole and can be understood even by people who might misunderstand or disagree with the Action Plan.

 

Dave Friedman has been a mathematician, teacher, writer and militant trade unionist. He is a veteran of the civil rights movement, the Berkeley Free Speech Movement, and movements against the Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

About Author
David Friedman

DAVID FRIEDMAN is a mathematician, educator and writer. He has been involved in struggles for free speech, civil rights, peace and trade unionism, and considers himself a democratic socialist in the tradition of Eugene V. Debs.

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3 comments on “On the Occupy Wall Street Action Plan
  1. E. Haberkern says:

    One of the problems I have

    One of the problems I have with the Occupy movement is that it reminds me too much of the movement of the late sixties. There too you had a mass movement fueled by anger at the established political parties and the ruling class in general. There too you not only had no organization and no program people were hostile to the idea. The result was that the movement came to be represented by whoever managed to grab the attention of the media. Naturally, then as now, the media’s attention was attracted by the most flamboyant and outrageous spokespersons. It wasn’t a plot. That is just how the media works.

    The anti-labor tendency exemplified by the demand to eliminate teacher tenure is also reminiscent. The disoriented, at least temporarily declassed, students focused their rage on organized labor. Partly this was a result of labor’s own political enslavement by the Democratic Party. But it was also fueled by resentment of those who had some means of fighting back. I doubt if the promoters of the Action Plan have any formal ties to the Tea Party movement but there is a similarity. The popularity of the attacks on collective bargaining rights in Wisconsin and Ohio reflects a political tendency that is as old as capitalism itself. It is easy for the unemployed, people whose homes are underwater, students with huge loans and no prospects to divert their anger to those who seem to have been able to defend themselves.

    To compare the Occupy movement to the soviets is meaningless. The soviets were reflections of popular outrage. But their organizational background was is in a decades-old underground movement. There was an organized core that had fought a political battle in the Tsarist run Zubatov unions and then in the social democratic run legal unions for a couple of decades.

    If there is an analogy with the soviets it is with the American civil rights movement including its offshoots like the FSM. Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King and people like Mario Savio were not just outraged citizens without politics or plan who happened to show up. They were the result of decades of struggle, organization and, god forbid, thought

    One of the encouraging things about the occupy movement is the participation of organized labor. Not just at the top. There have been several accounts, even in the NYT, of rank-and-file workers, often newly unemployed, participating i this movement.

    Personally, I think the revolts in Wisconsin and Ohio are more significant. Like the CIO and the Civil Rights movement they face the threat of being coopted and defeated by the Democratic Party. But they have far more similarities to those movements — and the soviets — than does the Occupy movement.

  2. Dave Friedman says:

    Addendum on the Action Plan

    Several people have made comments to me about aspects of the Action Plan that I did not address in my October 22nd piece. My main focus was and continues to be the two main ideas in the Action Plan: The formation of an elected National Assembly, and the strategy of independent political action as a political expression of the direct action movement.

    1. One comment concerns the specifics of the plan to create a National Delegate Assembly. It is simplistic, unworkable as written, and seems to be based on the assumption that OWS groups will be forming in congressional districts throughout the country. A certain amount of overoptimism is understandable, given the explosion of support for OWS and the rapid formation of groups in many cities that consider themselves offshoots of the New York OWS movement. However, it is likely that most congressional districts will not have any OWS groups, and many of those that exist will be mere shadows of the New York OWS. In the proposal as currently drafted, an OWS group with hundreds or thousands of participants would have the same representation as three people from some cow-town in the middle of nowhere. According to the current wording there doesn’t even have to be an OWS group in a congressional district to “elect” two delegates to the National Delegate Assembly. That really makes no sense at all; who is supposed to conduct such an election, and what is to prevent local Tea Party groups or Democratic Party loyalists or anyone else from electing their own two delegates?

    Clearly the proposal needs to be thought through more carefully with a view both to practicalities and to the political nature of an Assembly elected in such a free-form manner.

    2. I alluded to, but was not explicit about serious problems with the content of some of the specific proposals. I would have preferred that the Action Plan stick with the grievances in the original OWS Declaration, without trying to come up with programmatic and policy “solutions” at this point. Given the intellectually fragmented and embryonic state of the movement at this stage, the result could only be a hodge-podge of nostrums and ill-formulated proposals inherited from liberal analysts, academics and half-remembered shibboleths from the New Left of the Sixties. Perhaps most important, there are some anti-union items that I hope are not really representative of OWS thinking; more likely, individuals in the Working Group threw items at the wall and whatever stuck got into this draft. (One of the many downsides of “consensus” decisionmaking is that people don’t like to say “no” to anybody.)

    3. A couple of people commented that “consensus” decisionmaking seemed to be working pretty well for the New York OWS General Assembly. Everyone’s voices were heard, etc. However, you can’t generalize from a group small enough to meet (perhaps interminably) at a single location in one city, to the vastly larger scale movement that will be necessary to challenge the power of the corporations, global finance capital, and the mainstream political parties and mass media. Moreover, you can’t generalize from relatively simple tactical decisions and broad-brush criticisms of the glaring inequities in American society, to decisionmaking on much more difficult matters of economic and political program, strategic questions, etc. Consensus decisonmaking doesn’t scale up in size, or work in situations where clear and timely decisions are necessary. Even in families, consensus often just means that the strongest-willed individuals get their way and everybody else acquiesces to avoid arguments.

    4. One of the more difficult problems that will face OWS starting in the near future is how to relate to the Obama campaign. The Action Plan is pretty clear that the issues raised by OWS transcend past party loyalties. The OWS Declaration is clear on the complicity of both mainstream parties in the policies that have led “the 99 percent” of Americans to a state of crisis. Nevertheless, it is naive to think that the pressure of lesser-evilism will be easy to resist after the Republican Party makes its nomination and the presidential race becomes the center of American discussion (however shallow the mass media-led discussion is likely to be). Many of the people who now support or express sympathy for OWS are likely to demand that they not say or do anything to embarrass Obama and the Democrats. Conversely, OWS might play a positive role in educating some of those people and helping them to grow political backbones. But that’s only if OWS itself is capable of formulating and publicly asserting an unpopular policy under pressure. To require consensus or supermajorities within OWS would probably produce a stalemate over the Obama campaign, especially as new people enter the movement and it grows beyond the New York core. If OWS takes refuge in the kind of anti-electoral abstentionism that dominated SDS and the New Left in the sixties, it will likely marginalize itself and lose the momentum and self-confidence that have been its greatest strength. There is hardly a single grievance in the OWS Declaration that cannot be traced at least in part to government policies and the actions or inactions of Congress and the Executive. The 2012 candidates will be arguing some of the same issues as OWS, but putting their own spin on every issue and diverting public attention from the power and culpability of mainstream corporate America. To stay aloof from that national political discussion would virtually ensure the impotence of the new movement.

  3. Michael M. Hirsch says:

    The Inaction Plan

    David, One swallow doth not a spring make, and the Action Plan is no Arab spring. The Action Plan has absolutely no standing at the occupation. None! And I say that without regard to its merits, demerits or David’s take on it. From day one a predominant feeling (I don’t want to say consensus because it never gelled as a consensus) was that moral witnessing and the fact of occupation took precedence over any demands, good, bad or indifferent. The actual, recognized Demands Group (which is not the Action Plan author) is struggling to get its minimal ideas accepted, and that’s been an uphill, almost Sisyphisian battle. They just had their website space removed, btw, abnd with no vote or even understanding of who among the bloggers was constituted to do that. So much for participatory democracy 2011-style. This Action Plan has as much standing as do the Ron Paul people. Probably less, as we see the handful of Ron Paul sycophants regularly. I wish we could persuade the Occupiers to formulate and accept demands as an outreach and organizing vehicle. The Action Plan ain’t that. Hell, we can’t even get the Millionaire’s Tax accepted as a demand. David’s putting up the Action Plan as descriptive of Occupation thinking is like the blind man grabbing the elephant’s sexual organs and declaring it an elephant. Surely not this time, David.