Follow No Leader

This weekend, the Occupy Wall Street protest in New York City's financial district reached a fevered pitch. Police arrested more than 80 protesters, and video evidence emerged appearing to show a New York Police Department officer indiscriminately spraying a group of protesters with mace. But according to some, the protest was more show than substance. In a New York Times write-up describing the mostly white young protesters wearing mainly black clothes, Ginia Bellafante writes:

The group's lack of cohesion and its apparent wish to pantomime progressivism rather than practice it knowledgably is unsettling in the face of the challenges so many of its generation face.

Bellafante mockingly characterized the protesters as a mix of punk anarchists and reincarnated hippies -- here a young woman in nothing but underwear, there a young man wearing "a knee-length burlap vest, fur hat, ski goggles and tiny plastic baby dolls applied to the tips of his fingers" -- with no clear message or purpose. Indeed, the group calls itself a "leaderless resistance movement" and claims inspiration from "our brothers and sisters in Egypt, Greece, Spain, and Iceland."

One of the downsides of anarchists is they tend to oppose most forms of organization -- including their own. Rather than the usual "we're all in this together" sense of purposeful community that propels meaningful protests, Occupy Wall Street felt like the political equivalent of a rave; it made recent uprisings across the globe seem like a trivial fad. Standing in its midst, I was reminded of the uppity kids from my college days who dressed up like punks and protested because it seemed cool.

If you want to see the difference between effective organizing and pantomime, compare Occupy Wall Street with the New Bottom Line coalition, a group of community organizations that have put together protests across the country to demand that big banks put back into our economy what they drained from communities. In San Francisco yesterday, groups of homeowners, community members, students, and clergy went to the offices of Wells Fargo, Bank of America, and JPMorgan Chase to demand that their congregations' money be withdrawn from these financial institutions. It is part of a series of coordinated actions over the next several weeks that not only has a clear message and concrete demands but is organized by accountable community groups that represent millions of Americans -- not some well-meaning but isolated and angry kids who met on the Internet.

The hacker group Anonymous, one of the groups behind the Occupy Wall Street actions, is better known for its online sabotage of everything from the Libyan government to the San Francisco subway system. So before the collective takes down my website, let me be clear: I love a good protest. Any kind of protest. As the saying goes, power never concedes anything without a fight, and those bold enough to stand up to the status quo with their bodies, words, and actions make me proud to be part of a nation borne out of precisely such expressions of popular discontent.

That said, I'm no anarchist. I'm too much of a Jewish mother to carp about all forms of authority for its own sake. I tend to favor the sort of well-ordered, well-bathed protests of the early 1960s; I want to know what democracy looks like, not what it smells like.

The point of a protest is not (merely) to disrupt the status quo but to paint a portrait of the harm the system is doing and highlight better alternatives. The image of four young black men sitting at a segregated lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina, was like a Norman Rockwell painting. Egyptians gathering in "Freedom" (Tahrir) square in Cairo acted out the secular, cross-ethnic unity of a democratic nation. At its best, protest is a collective art form.

But the Occupy Wall Street protests seem, tactically and optically, like an end in themselves -- for the protesters, the self-expression and disruption of the protest is the point. For grassroots organizations like those in the New Bottom Line, protest is a means to an end -- a tactic they employ to get the system to recognize the entire community's needs and demands. It's the opposite of anarchy -- an appreciation that to challenge autocratic power, we must build the power of those who have been targeted and marginalized, those who are together organizing for an alternative vision.

In other words, part of the "collective" in the collective-art form of protest comes not just from a loose association of strangers marching on the street but intentional, cultivated communities. That's why, for instance, Internet "organizing" has been effective at rapid-response, mass mobilizations but not the deeper, sustained work of movement building. There's a qualitative difference in what's achieved through on-the-ground community organizing.

That said, the makeup of community-organizing groups has often hampered the art side of protest. Privileged, entitled white kids with nothing to fear can put on very dramatic shows. Community-organizing leaders, on the other hand, are African American single moms who can't risk arrest lest there be no one to pick their kids up from school; undocumented immigrants who might be deported if they make too much noise; poor senior citizens who aren't exactly going to scale a building and hang a banner. Thus, community organizing has often been of the "show up, hold signs, and leave when the cops come" variety, mildly attention getting but mostly tame.

But not always. Wait and see what the New Bottom Line folks have in store. Circles of community organizers have been debating how to amp up their direct-action tactics given that big banks are resistant to existing public and political pressure. If past action by one of its leading partners, National People's Action, is any indicator, we can expect the actions to be poignant and entertaining (e.g., community members dressed like Robin Hood storming the moat-protected JPMorgan Chase headquarters). Certainly, the image of middle-class churchgoers and their pastors pulling their tithing funds from the big banks is so apple pie it's subversive.

Aldus Huxley once said, "What is art, after all, but a protest against the horrible inclemency of life?" These are horribly inclement times. I, for one, take solace in the resistance of the American people -- not only the angry kids who march with fists in the air but the displaced elderly homeowners, public school teachers, and unemployed workers who band together to create striking portraits of brave Americans demanding a better world for us all. That's the sort of protest that looks beautiful -- and maybe even smells good, too.

Read more from Sally Kohn on #OccupyWallSt

Comments

I just wanted to say a little about Occupy Wall Street and I think they deserve credit that generally isn't afforded them, I support the OWS kids, because what is impeding democracy from functioning is corporate money, not Washington  DC.

Now they show up and making that implicit statement and people look at it them and say yeah so what do you think we should do about it? The first step is starting the conversation, no one else had the guts to talk about it, much less do anything about it.

Now granted the first people show up and they are the ones with the least invested in the system and they aren't wearing their Sunday best to sleep in a park for months. But they do inspire more people to take action even if they don't affiliate themselves directly with the movement and that there are hoards of people just a few steps deeper in to this system (such as myself) that had to quell internal questions about the functioning of exploitative capitalism in the name of survival. That is part of the point, to make people choose sides about true issues.

Final note and I think maybe the most important.

Do not think it is dissorganized purely because it is organized in a horizontal fashion rather then a vertical one. It requires a very open mind to function in this way, but the best ideas do surface. People break into smaller groups  and discuss in detail legal and political ramifications. Give them a chance. This was only one step along the way, and they already know that.

Your article was, I thought, one of unique perspective and I found it very insightful. I think we can all agree that it is good news that people are getting active towards the true causes of our political problems.


At this point in time, when America is crippled by political schisms and it's inability to work together for ANYTHING, the people have FINALLY come together to speak out and... Now apparently they too should be divided/categorized and perhaps compared/contrasted for a comfy discussion on the couch. Take a look at some of the protest footage for Vietnam and Civil Rights, those people looked pretty kooky too, Im glad we didnt dismiss their protests.
There are much, MUCH more important issues at play here than the question of whose group is better organized. The point is that enough people from radically different backgrounds were driven to speaking out, that seems telling within itself.
Why is this very discussion about the protests themselves, rather than the outrage that drew these people together and the grassroots volunteer organization sites that have sprung up on the web?
 To be honest, I feel like if anything, the current generation has forgotten how to protest. This is a group of people who were able who were able to enjoy civil rights, never had to fight for desegregation or birth control, or women's suffrage or saw anti-war protests or activism as we had during Vietnam.
And so these kids have NO IDEA how to show their outrage and become an activist.
But they're learning, and they're learning fast - they're understanding that taking facebook polls, listening to NPR and shaking their fist angrily at FOX news isn't making anything better. That all the political, social and Left vs. Right pandering, "Rocking the Vote" and passively expecting who they think of as progressive thinkers to fight for them ISN'T WORKING. They're  learning that they need the guts to fight for themselves and stop waiting for a permission slip or a politician or an artist to say "NOW."
They're learning that taking to the streets and FORCING this country, the media and our leaders to recognize this the grave injustice facing us all is the best chance we've got. Maybe we all needed to be reminded of that.

Lumping us into categories is just a way for the current structure to divide and attack us. You can't attack a leaderless movement the way you could another group, so they immediately try to fit us into one of their qualifiers. The reason this message is so effective is because it is leaderless, it doesn't have a political dog in the fight, and it's just telling people that we're here, and we're involved, and we're going to fight for our country while the rest of you try to talk over us.

First of all,our resistance is far from "pantomime ".....a majority of us are working class citizens in our middle age who are  frankly fed up with being hand fed b.s. from politicians year after year,being told that we are  going to receive some sort of  tax breaks,or that new jobs are eventually going to be created,or that our children will even stand a chance in hell of being able to own our their homes in their lifetime...and that's just the gripe of those of us older Americans who have jobs... let's not talk about the fact that the unemployment rate is still at an all time high of 9%,and that there is also a majority of our group who are kids who have just graduated college and are being told that everything they worked hard to get (a college degree)  will be useless with helping them find work.Let's not talk about the fact that both old and young alike feel that they have to fight just to have a future in this country.Our national deficit is at the trillions of dollars mark,and social security is on the verge of depletion.You can hardly blame any of us at this point for feeling scared,and being afraid of what the future holds for tommorow. The bottom line is, we all feel that its time for us all to stand up and take back control of our democracy.To take back our rights and our freedom.Our right to pursue life,liberty,and,hapiness,and ultimately the freedom to do so.
To be honest,Wall Street was just the tip of the iceberg of what this was really all about.
We have all seen the political corruption, the big business frivoulus spending,and the blatant disregard congress seems to have with our constitutional rights.
We want change,and we want it now.
Our overall agenda is to have the government live up to its promises.Create new Jobs.Give the middle class tax breaks.Stop big business monopolization.
And is it also too much to ask to ask of our governement to help our children buy and to be able to keep their homes?Is it too much to ask to ask for small business funding be made more accessible so that they can help create businesses that will create  jobs to keep them?Is it too much to also ask that frivilous spending on countries other than our own be suspended,so that we can put the money into where it should be,like helping feed our poor,housing our homeless,or better yet,improve the standards of the educational system within our country? Something to think about,but keep in mind that our fight is hardly miniscule.This is only the beginning....

Thank you for this thoughtful critique of exactly the problem with Occupy Wall Street.  Without a goal that can be achieved, it's not actually a protest, just a gathering of people.  They constantly complain that there's not enough media coverage of them, but why would the media cover people with no demand?  How can we tell if they're getting closer to achieving their goal if there is no goal?  Where's the story in that?  "People continue to be upset and have no solution" is not newsworthy.


The main thing I've learned from Occupy Wall Street is that we don't need to worry about an anarchist revolution anytime soon, since anarchists are, as this article points out, incapable of organizing anything, even something so simple as defining an objective they're trying to achieve.   Many pompous speeches have been Livestreamed from Zuccotti Park, declaring the anarchist model is the pattern for the "new American Constitution" and insisting these few hundred people are the beginning of a revolution, but I'm confident the traditional Army model of organization will be able to handle them with ease if it comes to that.

Sounds like the Communists´ treatment of the Anarchists during the Spanish Civil War.  Progressives say, my way, or I´d prefer the status quo.  And how does criticizing what the protesters dress like have anything to do with their attitudes at all?  Not very logical is it?

What we are witnessing in lower Manhattan, San Francisco and elsewhere (including London just a few weeks ago. Is the new style of political action that old Weathermen and their groupies can not comprehend. It's primarily the work of the "Millenials", the people who have come of age on or after "2K2" . Their style, low key and often of a compromising nature and they have justified doubts about the political and economic system that has left almost everybody but the "uber rich" sadder, poorer and disillusioned. They will soon be taking control of the system (providing it doesn't implode in or before 2012) Ms. Kohn appears to be out of the loop. Maybe she's too old to get it

This well-written article offers one perspective, a view from the 'organized,' and does much to highlight the effectiveness of PICO -- for this I say, brava; however, the author does not account for the transient culture of the young adults who may have begun as "a loose association of strangers marching on the street." Many are highly educated yet unemployed with student loan debt that is now due. Many were employed for a time and have since been laid off. They are forced to keep looking, keep moving, and find means to keep their dreams/aspirations alive. As a result, they have not yet put down roots. Organizing "intentional, cultivated communities" takes time, takes relationship building, takes a certain level of risk and trust. It is my hope that Occupy Wall Street has stirred those involved to begin building relationship that will focus their efforts. There are positive signs that this is indeed happening via their brand of doing the work of organizing on a public stage via fb, blogs, websites, twitter, live stream, youtube, etc.: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v... and http://occupytogether.org/. If nothing else, Occupy Wall Street has succeeded in getting a conversation started among an age group that has in the most recent past been motivated to vote for a candidate that promised 'change.' Perhaps, this is the beginning of these individuals becoming the 'change' this country needs.

This is the first I've heard of this wall street protest, but frankly, Ms. Kohn you sound like a short minded jerk.  I'm going straight to google this.  Hope to never read anything from you again.

At least the protesters know SOMETHING'S WRONG!  All this division and catagorizing, which big media is promoting, is part of what's wrong. A wake-up has to start somewhere. The negative reactions being published to the general pubic are designed only to keep us asleep in the lovely dream that the government knows what's best for us. Sleep tight!

I went ahead and posted your link to my facebook feed, but made the following qualification:  "This article (below) makes
some valid points about the "white, privileged trouble-making anarchist
ravers" image of the Occupy Wall Street protesters, but also sells out
the truth that these are Americans too--facing a dismal post-college
reality with plenty of reasons to protest and put into action their
constitutional rights to peaceful civil disobedience in the way they
freely choose--without fear of police grabbing, throwing and pepper
spraying them from the other side of their legal protest lines. Though
I've only participated with the "other protesters" portrayed as the
"good protesters" in this article, I don't believe you need to blow out
one candle to make your candle burn brighter. I personally believe way
more protest is needed that focus' its anger at the source of the
problem, even if The Occupy Wall Street kids are young and grappling
with the question of how to effectively direct their anger and transform
it into tangible demands, recommendations and solutions. We need to
get contentious political debates going on in our country right now off
the twitter feeds and into more direct face-to-face confrontation. We
need these kinds of actions to wake America up to the need for
structural change from Wall Street to D.C."What I regret in my own depiction is that I reinforced yours.  As "Wall Street Bandit" rightly pointed out, not all the protesters are anarchist college kids.  I think you further create an idyllic,  misinformed representation of what 60s protesters were like, as "Mister J" points out.  I'm a former organizer at NPA, the group you highlight as the "more acceptable protesting alternative"; I also worked with the current E.D. at The New Bottom Line while we were both at NPA.  I personally hold a preference for NPA's traditional style of direct action tactics.  Rather than walk into a situation where, though the protesters may have all been operating peacefully (and let's be honest, a few won't be--that's just how these kinds of protests go--the protesters were obviously responding to the overwhelming police presence and repression through what I believe is justified antagonism at times, as evidenced by the videos) NPA protests actively engage police in their protests, explaining their situation and in many instances are successful at getting police to negotiate on their behalf.  And yes, for NPA, the protest is a strategy toward getting a "foot in the door" and a negotiation meeting with the source of their protest.  They are not just throwing rocks at the train.  Yet the Occupy Wall Street cats are self-admittedly figuring things out as they go.  They're openly soliciting input on specific demands over facebook and twitter; they are seeking to grow their populist (not fringe!) movement and they are seeking to further develop their stance as they go.  Sure, NPA organizers are trained to know what specific demands they are looking to make before they put on the funny costumes and engage in political street theatre.  They have more of a pre-plan ready set in motion.  They receive full-time salaries to be full-time organizing professionals.  Like I said, I was one, so I know.  These Occupy Wall Street participants aren't doing it with the privilege of training and salary.  I saw one woman in the crowd with a copy of "Rules for Radicals" in her hand, as if she was learning as she was going.  But that's okay.  Perhaps it's a more organic movement in that respect.  NPA has 40-plus years of experience leading successful nonviolent protests.  And you're right, as they're mobilizing poor people, people of color, immigrants, seniors, high-school age youth, they tend to be more methodical in ensuring that no one gets arrested.  It's built into their strategy because many of their members would be vulnerable to police repression that could get them deported, not just keep them from picking their kids up from school.  The Occupy Wall Street protesters have taken a somewhat different stance; they are exhibiting a willingness to take a different set of risks into the streets with them.  But they have the courage to do so; they're certainly not "arm-chairing it" from the safe cubicle of a left-leaning think tank.  If there actions and the necessity of responding to the police repression that Lawrence O'Donnell spoke eloquently about:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v... means that their message to the outside nation and world devolves into a conflict between police and protesters and obscures the real content of the message they're attempting to send to Wall Street, an amazing opportunity will be lost.  But don't sell them short yet.  They're 11 days into this and show no signs of backing down.  What I finally want to warn against is idealizing one form of protest at the expense of another.  And turning participants into stereotypical caricatures of "white privileged anarchist raver kids" that come to sound a heck of a lot like what the conservative media will say about them.  To quote Public Enemy:  "WHAT SIDE YOU ON? WHAT MUTHERFUCKIN' SIDE YOU ON?"  There is room for variations in protest tactics.  What there is not room for is complacency and over-intellectualizing from the "don't trust anybody over 30" over-30 set of paid-with-health-benefits professional self-described "organizers" content to sit back and quibble about how the battle is shaping up rather than engaging in the battle itself.  This country needs more, more, more protest from people with the heart to show that they care enough about this country to show their patriotism by getting up in the face of those who, by their current actions--from Wall Street to D.C.--would rather watch them suffer than step up and pass a single piece of legislation to create jobs or agree that "maybe the rich need to pay their fair equal share."I end with this:  the angry kids with marching fists are Americans too.  We're a diverse nation; we're a diverse left.  There's room for all our discontent; and enough room that we don't need to judge the integrity of a protest movement by the clothes it wears or how it "smells" In fact, we can't have enough public displays of discontent right now, as oppressive as the situation has become.  Maybe if you don't dismiss these Wall Street protesters, they won't dismiss you when it comes time to sit down and hammer out the details of some of this pie-in-the-sky change we're all collectively seeking.  Then maybe all our diversity can be effective in speaking together with one voice.

[I censored my own one swear word this time (which was a quote, not my words); maybe you'll post this one]

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 I
went ahead and posted your link to my facebook feed, but made the following
qualification:  "This article (below)
makes some valid points about the "white, privileged trouble-making
anarchist ravers" image of the Occupy Wall Street protesters, but also
sells out the truth that these are Americans too--facing a dismal post-college
reality with plenty of reasons to protest and put into action their
constitutional rights to peaceful civil disobedience in the way they freely
choose--without fear of police grabbing, throwing and pepper spraying them from
the other side of their legal protest lines. Though I've only participated with
the "other protesters" portrayed as the "good protesters"
in this article, I don't believe you need to blow out one candle to make your
candle burn brighter. I personally believe way more protest is needed that
focus' its anger at the source of the problem, even if The Occupy Wall Street
kids are young and grappling with the question of how to effectively direct
their anger and transform it into tangible demands, recommendations and
solutions. We need to get contentious political debates going on in our country
right now off the twitter feeds and into more direct face-to-face
confrontation. We need these kinds of actions to wake America up to the need
for structural change from Wall Street to D.C."



What I regret in my own depiction is that I reinforced
yours.  As "Wall Street Bandit" rightly pointed out, not all the
protesters are anarchist college kids.  I think you further create an
idyllic,  misinformed representation of what 60s protesters were like, as
"Mister J" points out.  I'm a former organizer at NPA, the group
you highlight as the "more acceptable protesting alternative"; I also
worked with the current E.D. at The New Bottom Line while we were both at
NPA.  I personally hold a preference for NPA's traditional style of direct
action tactics.  Rather than walk into a situation where, though the protesters
may have all been operating peacefully (and let's be honest, a few won't
be--that's just how these kinds of protests go--the protesters were obviously
responding to the overwhelming police presence and repression through what I
believe is justified antagonism at times, as evidenced by the videos) NPA
protests actively engage police in their protests, explaining their situation
and in many instances are successful at getting police to negotiate on their
behalf.  And yes, for NPA, the protest is a strategy toward getting a
"foot in the door" and a negotiation meeting with the source of their
protest.  They are not just throwing rocks at the train.  Yet the
Occupy Wall Street cats are self-admittedly figuring things out as they
go.  They're openly soliciting input on specific demands over facebook and
twitter; they are seeking to grow their populist (not fringe!) movement and
they are seeking to further develop their stance as they go.  Sure, NPA
organizers are trained to know what specific demands they are looking to make
before they put on the funny costumes and engage in political street
theatre.  They have more of a pre-plan ready set in motion.  They
receive full-time salaries to be full-time organizing professionals.  Like
I said, I was one, so I know.  These Occupy Wall Street participants
aren't doing it with the privilege of training and salary.  I saw one
woman in the crowd with a copy of "Rules for Radicals" in her hand,
as if she was learning as she was going.  But that's okay.  Perhaps
it's a more organic movement in that respect.  NPA has 40-plus years of
experience leading successful nonviolent protests.  And you're right, as
they're mobilizing poor people, people of color, immigrants, seniors,
high-school age youth, they tend to be more methodical in ensuring that no one
gets arrested.  It's built into their strategy because many of their
members would be vulnerable to police repression that could get them deported,
not just keep them from picking their kids up from school.  The Occupy
Wall Street protesters have taken a somewhat different stance; they are
exhibiting a willingness to take a different set of risks into the streets with
them.  But they have the courage to do so; they're certainly not
"arm-chairing it" from the safe cubicle of a left-leaning think tank. 
If there actions and the necessity of responding to the police repression that
Lawrence O'Donnell spoke eloquently about: 
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v... means that their
message to the outside nation and world devolves into a conflict between police
and protesters and obscures the real content of the message they're attempting
to send to Wall Street, an amazing opportunity will be lost.  But don't
sell them short yet.  They're 11 days into this and show no signs of
backing down. 



What I finally want to warn against is idealizing one
form of protest at the expense of another.  And turning participants into
stereotypical caricatures of "white privileged anarchist raver kids"
that come to sound a heck of a lot like what the conservative media will say
about them.  To quote Public Enemy:  "WHAT SIDE YOU ON? WHAT
MUTHERFU#*IN' SIDE YOU ON?"  There is room for variations in protest
tactics.  What there is not room for is complacency and
over-intellectualizing from the "don't trust anybody over 30" over-30
set of paid-with-health-benefits professional self-described
"organizers" content to sit back and quibble about how the battle is
shaping up rather than engaging in the battle itself.  This country needs
more, more, more protest from people with the heart to show that they care
enough about this country to show their patriotism by getting up in the face of
those who, by their current actions--from Wall Street to D.C.--would rather
watch them suffer than step up and pass a single piece of legislation to create
jobs or agree that "maybe the rich need to pay their fair equal
share."



I end with this:  the angry kids with marching
fists are Americans too.  We're a diverse nation; we're a diverse
left.  There's room for all our discontent; and enough room that we don't
need to judge the integrity of a protest movement by the clothes it wears or
how it "smells" In fact, we can't have enough public displays of
discontent right now, as oppressive as the situation has become.  Maybe if
you don't dismiss these Wall Street protesters, they won't dismiss you when it
comes time to sit down and hammer out the details of some of this
pie-in-the-sky change we're all collectively seeking.  Then maybe all our
diversity can be effective in speaking together with one voice

just has a way to voice,no exact  the same kind of organized protest.just let the goverment to learn. dragon nest goldlove the way it is .

SOLIDARITY. I don't really mind if the protesters appear to "smell" or don't appear sufficiently "clean" to win the author's respect. I support their cause of initiating a dialogue about wealth inequalities ("We are 99%"). Regardless of their race or class or age or relative positions of privilege, I admire their courage.  

I support the New Bottom Line movement the writer mentioned (sounds great).

I'd say the biggest problem with the protesting I've seen since Columbine is that protests aren't targeted towards resolving issues, they're usually targeted towards "awareness" and media attention.

There's a good reason people are critical of the protest.  We're seeing the same thing here that we saw during the Anti prop-8 protests, and it was ineffective.  The protesters don't know their enemy, and it's glaringly apparent.  The Boomers and GenX knew their enemy.  If the GLA could achieve changing archaic and oppressive laws against homosexuals during an era of AIDS hysteria and homophobic ex-beauty queens, you'd think getting same sex marriage in California would be a cake-walk.  I blame the protesters, they don't know their opposition, they don't know how to change minds, and they don't care.  They're the same age as the Boomers and GenX when they were protesting, so you can't blame it on youth.  Those kids are there for the soundbytes and the photo ops.

This is shaping up to be the Wall Street version of Slutwalk.  The focus of Slutwalk should be simple ("don't shame the victim--if consent is not given, it's rape") but instead we see a bunch of contradictory messages and an obvious clash of second and third wave feminists promoting their own agendas.  Again, no focus, and no one's listening.

This generation's approach to protesting is unfocused, and at first it's irritating, but eventually you learn to tune it out completely.   Hopefully the next generation will focus on changing minds again, instead of generating "awareness".

A movement has to start somewhere.  Wall Street is the perfect place to start.The Occupy Wall Street understood this and acted on it.Kudos to them for figuring that out! I applaud the actions of these young people (and many not so young and white) because there efforts are paying off.  We should all join them including, respectfully, the New Bottom Line folks.

Frankly, this is a disappointing article.  We in the Progressive community spend a lot of time arguing for uniformity in our tactics.  From the video that I have seen, many of the protestors are in fact young, and it is not surprising that this influences their methods.  But so what?  Young people can't be part of our movement?  Middle class, god forbid rich, white kids can't be a part?  There isn't room for a protest that looks like this alongside the traditional community organizing groups?  I was an organizer for one of these traditional groups for a long time, and yes we do things well...but we are also painfully slow, and rarely nimble.  Perhaps this is true because of the reasons you describe, because of our "African-American single mom" constituency, but it is true nonetheless.  This idea that every act of movement building has to fall within the canon of the agreed upon community organizing model is foolish.  Working people are getting their asses handed to them in this country, and if a group of young, rich kids are angry and want to unleash some of that rage?...I say let's make some space in the Movement.


Thanks for sharing info. Keep up the good work...

You have no clue why these people are there. If anything, this sort of backlash is the result of people LIKE YOU and the tow-the-line "activists" who are ashamed of the fact that you've lost your guts and our "progressive thinkers" are more concerned with begging for 5 min. of airtime so they can become political pundits/talking heads than contributing to solidarity amongst people who want change.
We don't need Bill Maher. We don't need armchair quarterbacks. We don't need a committee/subcommittee designating people spearheading a commission to create another committee to start a fundraiser to MAYBE get a meeting with a representative to possibly talk about demands.
We need to get to the streets and shake people up by showing the country that we WILL act, and we WILL come together.
And we're not going to wait for your permission. We've waited too long, because YOU'RE scared.
So don't "blame the protesters" instead, since you know so much - go help them organize. Teach them what you know so we have a better chance of succeeding. If you can get off the couch and turn off Politically Incorrect or Fox news for a few hours.

Your comments make it sound like being young and white and somewhat disorganized means that they were not making a valid statement. Yet in another article you acknowledge that Wall Street may be usurping power from voters.  That looks very undemocratic and worthy of protest.

I am shocked at the demeaning and divisive attitudes towards the Occupy Wall Street protestors, I haven't heard about the new bottom line coalition, it sounds like they are doing great but it sounds like these are two coalitions who would support each other's work what good to be accomplished by this short sighted, "if you want to see a real protest" approach. I have been down there a few times and the group of protestors I have seen are alot more diverse in every way from what you describe, could it be that you are projecting your own feelings about being an elitist white liberal onto the protestors?  Here is a group of people who have put their bodies on the line risking arrest and camping out on the street to protest wall street's sacking of democracy and your complaint is that they smell??? and yes i am a working class woman of color who is proud of the sacrifices that the protestors of every race, age and class background have made

So what have you done?  Provided photo-ops for LaRouche?  Marched with folks who believe the financial institutions are a Zionist conspiracy?  Because that's what I'm seeing in the images that are coming from Occupy Wall Street.   Adbusters, the organization that was a major part of planning OWS, isn't innocent when it comes to their own brand of hipster anti-semitism.  A focused protest would have weeded out that "support", and the protesters would have known what they're supporting out there.  Without a leader there's no focus or accountability, and just like an unmoderated forum, it makes it pretty easy to hijack a cause.
You want help from the older generation?  Stop being so defensive, stop wading in a "safe space" of confirmation bias, and listen to the people critiquing your protests. You say you're doing something, but until you put some time into actually focusing in on some real issues, all you're doing is spinning your wheels.

It's not disorganized because it's organized in a horizontal fashion, it's disorganized because everyone's off protesting their own thing.  We see signs that are pro anarchy, promote negative stereotypes about Jews, bash Christians, support fringe political groups (like LaRouche) and an assortment of other messages that end up offending the people whose minds you're trying to change.

This protest looked more like the political booths at Lollapalooza, and less like a unified effort.  With about 200 people left, wandering around, you need to honestly ask, what was actually accomplished here?

When a group sets out to change something, you need to be familiar with the arguments on both sides: the side promoting change, and the side resisting it.  When you can't even agree on what actually needs to be changed, then you're just hanging out in a park with a bunch of people complaining about the economy.  That's "pub politics" not protesting.

Sally Kohn has missed the whole point.

Is Ms. Kohn on drugs?

First she writes this rather nasty, condescending piece about the protesters, then she turns around the very next day and publishes an article on a different site taking an almost 180 degree different point of view (see http://www.cnn.com/2011/09/28/... ).  Did she experience some overnight insight or change of heart?  A Damascus Road experience, as it were?  And does she really think she owes readers of neither article anything by way of explanation?

What a shitty, waste of  time article.

You addressed none of the points I made in my reply and instead spiraled off into some anti-semitic tangent. Which has NOTHING to do with this discussion. I even encouraged YOU since you know so much, to share your knowledge and help with organization. No response there either. The people of the Occupy protests are having general assemblies where poeple are discussing what they want in open forums and structuring something we can present to the government. This IS THE DEFINITION OF GRASSROOTS ACTION.
What have I done? I woke up. I got off the couch. Im encouraging others to do the same and take this energy in a positive direction.
And honestly, nothing you say is going to make me see that as a bad thing.

They smell bad? They wear odd clothes? They're just acting out? They should not be taken seriously? Their offices are always "shabby." I remember that from 1967, when I was a leader of Stop the Draft Week.  I don't remember what deodorant I was wearing. But we stopped the military draft.

Tell that to the Bolshevics.
Pretty much how their movement began.

I'm sure that when the right wing saw the tea party movement, they had the same reaction you did to this: let's do everything possible to cap this movement at the knees. What a wasted opportunity, what a reminder of why the left keeps losing, ugh.

Give me a break.  At least they're in the streets, protesting the blatant unfairness of what our American system has become.  The rest of us 99% should be there too, even if they're not orderly and "well-bathed" like the ones you're nostalgic for.  The only way things EVER really change is when the people get into the streets and raise a fuss.  I think I'll head down to the one in Boston as soon as I can...

the civil rights movement, including the first lunch counter sit-in, which was carried out by college students, basically happened because new african-american youth grew up in the South who couldn't stand, or very well understand, their parents' and grandparents' habit of fearful submission. the senior, most powerful existing advocates of voting rights and desegregation at the time were the leadership of the NAACP, and they made a strong effort to control, and arrest, the young activists' movement. they were afraid. they persisted in the belief that progress could be made through deal making with the white power structure. some of them had made their own deals and benefited. the youth saw that this "approach" had been practiced for decades and had never achieved progress of any kind (except for perhaps a token few). they were ready to admit this reality and then take a step forward to question and in doing so change it, risking everything. they simply wouldn't agree to continue the status quo--not for anything. 

correct my history if you were there and your recall is better than mine of what i've read, please.

time will tell whether these kids in wall street have reached or will reach a moment of reckoning of that level of seriousness. but i doubt many of the youth who started the civil rights movement in the South, at the very beginning, knew what the long-term consequences would be for themselves. many of them just started acting spontaneously because they simply could not take it any more. the adults around them then had to scramble to catch up. 

of course the moment, the issue, the culture, the people are all very different. the only analogy i'm making here is with how old activists may not be able to see that the next movement won't look at all like the one they knew. it's sort of like art. politics evolves, just as cultures evolve. it never stays the same. the basic meaning and use of the public square continues, but how it is worked with will always keep changing. beethoven was very hard to listen to for his contemporaries. some were able to welcome the new sound, even though they realized they couldn't fully "hear" it. others simply couldn't stand it.

the kids in wall street are beginning something. it will have to form in its own way. it cannot spring fully formed from some sophisticated political person's brow. it can't be rushed. it looks unformed and infantile, perhaps because it might be the infancy of something great. time will tell. those of us who think we know "how" to do "it"--whatever "it" is that is somehow not managing to be done yet, in the face of the forces crushing our society--maybe it would be a good idea to remember the power of pure potential before it forms its action. that is the power of youth. we can help nurture it, or like the NAACP of the early 1960s, we can try to divert it toward our own exhausted purposes. which feels more like life, hope, a reason to engage or reengage, a reason even for dusting off our old peace sign necklaces?

if these kids don't know what they're up against, all the more reason they need support  from those who do know--to hang in, not get discouraged, learn, develop their own mastery of politics and power. if they do get discouraged and give up, it will be because not enough of the rest of us gathered with them in their action to keep it alive. who's failure would that really be?

Sorry, Sally, I'm not buying your argument.  I get you.  I think you're great.  But this is just knee-jerk.  I'll take any kind of protest by anybody at this point.  And, frankly, for you to criticize these people as being privileged hippies while referencing the 60s is also just a little, well, off. 

I mean, wasn't it mostly privileged white hippies who played a vital role in ending the war in Vietnam?  Wasn't it women burning bras and refusing to shave (and I suppose to bathe) who drew the attention of so many to humiliation of submitting to the male gaze?  And weren't privileged white kids a vital force for civil rights, using their privilege to protect black protestors and draw the attention of northern law makers and media to the black struggle? 

My take on you is that you're quite a privileged type.  You've got the college degree and the career that went straight from elite university to elite liberal institutions.  You're white, you've not lost a house to the crisis or stretched your monthly foodstamp allotment to feed your family, have you?  Yet, your work is to offer commentary on issues most directly affecting a class of people of whom you are not one.  Isn't that what these protestors are doing, or at least the ones who fit your description?  Just as I think your commentary is valuable, so do I find their protest valuable.

I think these "kids" you're referring to are affected by this crisis, many more than you are I'm guessing. 

Sorry, I take it all a little personally because, while I have no "college days" to harken back to, nor a house to call my own, it having been repossessed, nor white skin privilege, I do have in my memory a time when I was a lot younger and wilder and protested the ravages of tourism in Hawaii by flattening the tires of rental cars.  I'm not proud of it, but I'm neither of the mind that those acts of vandalism were not legitimate protests in the context of the problem being addressed. 

Well, I'm about to unsubscribe to Mother Jones in all forms. I'm 72 and a lot older than you, Sally, and I think I know something about the demonstrations of the '60's and I don't think they all smelled that great either. Where were you? How snarky can you get? This is the trouble with 95 % of Progressives. They think of themselves as the brightest and the only ones who  know what's going on. Well, it's time you got your hands dirty little girl.

I dont know exactly what the Occupy Wall Street's purpose is but I do know that it does have a purpose. The older people of America are laughing it off and paying no serious mind to it because they are just a group of young and funny dressed people.  I do think that its cool that my generation is trying to stand up and oppose something and it is getting the reaction I would expect from the "leaders" of America. Maybe they should stop and listen to the people that are protesting,rather then look from the outside and criticize them for being young and trying to have their voice heard, maybe they have a unique perspective on America. But then again I know nothing about this protest and the logistics that comes along with it im just an onlooker, watching "Americans" tear other "Americans" apart bit by bit but i dont think they realize it.

The media loves to try and trivialize the protests, by pointing out a few individuals and ignoring the actual problems that have degraded our lives. this author seems to be looking for soundbites and slogans instead of addressing the real problems with the corporate takeover of government, the failure to prosecute bank fraud, the failure to enforce regulations on white collar crime, the attempts to charge the poor for the crimes of the rich, and the failure to rein in the excessive embezzlement of tax payer funds through privatization schemes and military adventurism for the sake of corporate profits.
  Refusing to listen to the protesters does not equal a lack of a message.

Oh, please! What a bunch of crap! You don't have a clue what's going on. You work for a so-called "think tank"? Wow, that must be one sad organization!



USING THE BOYCOTT TO TAKE BACK OUR USING
THE BOYCOTT TO TAKE BACK OUR COUNTRY


by Charles Steinhacker


 


Now that some people in this country are coming out
of their long-term comas and finally recognizing that they've been had by our
conspiratorial rulers, what, besides occupying Wall Street, are they going to
do about it?


 


I've thought long and hard about how you can get back
at the criminals. The most effective way to go about it is through a word
called “BOYCOTT.” If you don’t like the behavior of a corporation, you boycott
them. You don’t buy their products.


 


What I propose, then, is a carefully constructed
rating system for large corporations, big banks, the Federal Reserve and the
forever on-the-take politicians. For example, a corporation will be graded on
many aspects of their behavior. A few that come to mind include how they treat
their workers. Do they offer health care benefits? Matching funds for employee
401K programs?  Pensions? Decent wages?
Safe working conditions? Are their products safe for consumers? Do they adhere
to truth in advertising? Do they use lobbyists and breathtaking amounts of
money to buy the politicians? Do they treat the environment with care and
respect? Do they engage in union busting? Have they outsourced their jobs to cheap
foreign labor? Have they paid their fair share of taxes?


 


            Each
corporation’s category of behavior will be rated on a scale from 1-10 (with 10
being deemed the best behavior). We then total up each corporation’s score. If
they fail to meet a minimum total score, they are put on a black list and their
products are boycotted. The American people, also known as consumers, simply
will not buy the products of a boycotted corporation. Period.


 


Politicians can be rated on the basis of their voting
record. In this case, it will not be necessary to go through all of the many
issues they voted on. Instead, each vote can be judged purely on whether it
represented the American people or special interests. Boycotting politicians
will be done in voting booths across the country strictly on the issue of
representation. After all, we elected them to represent us, not
"them."


 


The Federal Reserve has only one class of
constituents: the bankers. They always have, and they always will. Federal
Reserve policies are based on what is good for the bankers, not the American
people. Bankers thrive on fiat money that has no backing. To help their banker
friends, the Federal Reserve, all central banks for that matter, increase the
paper money supply at the expense of the masses who lose purchasing power as
more confetti money is created out of thin air. We boycott the Federal Reserve
by buying gold and silver, which, of course, is the only money mandated by our
Constitution. The Federal Reserve and the big banks hate precious metals because  they expose their pieces of colored paper for
what they are: plain old fashioned counterfeiting. In Asia, the Middle East and elsewhere in the world people put their
savings into precious metals. It has served them well for over six thousand
years as a store of value and for the preservation of wealth. Americans, always
the last to know, place their assets in depreciating paper dollars. I predict
that they will soon change their ways.


 


Last, but certainly not least, are the biggest banks;
the ones that are supposedly too big to fail. We boycott them by taking our
money out of their vaults. I’m not asking you to do this, I’M TELLING YOU THAT
YOU MUST DO IT.


 


If you insist on placing your savings in doomed U.S.
dollars, then do so in your own small community banks. You’ll still lose money
to the greatest hidden tax ever thought up by homo sapiens: inflation. But you
will be sending the conspirators, who have robbed you blind for decades, a
powerful message. I repeat: TAKE YOUR MONEY OUT OF BANK OF AMERICA, CITIBANK, J.P. MORGAN
CHASE, WELLS FARGO ETC. When you do, you will be robbing them of their life’s
blood. They will learn to hate the word: “boycott” even more than real money,
otherwise known as gold and silver..


 


            A
proper boycott rating system has to be administered by someone a lot younger
and smarter than me. It requires a sophisticated website that makes itself
known throughout the land by an Internet marketing genius. Large, bold ads
should be taken out in the mainstream media. They, of course, will be torn
between loyalty to their masters and taking the money. My guess is that they’ll
take the money. Business for many of them is not so good these days. Money will
speak louder than usual. The grading of our adversaries can be adjusted on a quarterly
basis.


 


            Remember,
these people have perfected the strategy that keeps us passive and under
control. They will not like our coming back to life and aggressively fighting
their authority. They will likely retaliate by congressional votes and/or presidential
executive orders that will steal even more of our personal freedoms from us.
Our response must be to vote them out of office at our earliest opportunity.


 


This must be seen for what it is. We are involved in
an intense adversarial encounter with our own companies, our own big banks and
our own government. Sitting passively by occupying Wall Street and other real
estate with signs, while a worthy and significant start, is not a plan.  Remember, this conspiracy's only interest is
to enrich themselves while keeping the rest of us down. We must respond by
going on the offensive with a well-targeted strategy that will get them where
it hurts. It's time to BOYCOTT THE BASTARDS.


 


© Charles Steinhacker


 


_________________________________________________________


 


Charles Steinhacker is both a well known
photographer and a political and financial 
journalist. He graduated from Dartmouth
College and received his
master's degree from


New
York University.


 


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