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Graeber on Occupy

I like this, possibly not entirely because I agree with it:

How much has Occupy changed the global political landscape?

That depends on how you define Occupy. If you see it as a single revolutionary movement starting with the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings, then carrying through to Greece and Spain, then finally exploding when it hit America ... well, then I think you can even speak of a world revolutionary moment in many ways parallel to the world revolutions of 1848 and 1968. Everything has changed. [yup] And as in those cases, we won’t know what’s really changed for some time yet.

In the US, we managed to put the issue of social class, and not just social class, but class power [good distinction], back on the political agenda. No one’s managed to do that in the US since the Great Depression. I’m also convinced that if it wasn’t for Occupy, we would probably have a President Romney. Back when he was planning his campaign, he was doing so on the assumption that most Americans would take the fact that he was a Wall Street executive as a positive. [Not such a bad point, assuming they didn't just assume entitlement (being, as Sachs points out, sociopaths.]

Was there anything the Occupy movement should have done differently?

In the US at least, there was a real problem with passing on the wisdom of past generations. Since the 1970s, anarchists, radical feminists and other anti-authoritarians have placed enormous energies into creating forms of democratic process. The problem was that, now that our great moment arrived to try these out on a larger scale, a lot of that wisdom had been lost.

Many old activists were burnt out, and the young people had to invent everything from scratch. The other big mistake (again, I really know only about what happened in the US) was a naive faith in our liberal allies. Mainly they were trying to co-opt us, turn us into a left-wing version of the Tea Party. We had no intention of doing that.

Where does Occupy go from here?

We have so many campaigns going on simultaneously it’s hard to count them all. In much of the US, the main energy is around anti-eviction campaigns. In New York, we have some remarkable campaigns like Occupy Farms, but the real energy, I think, has been in Occupy Sandy. We had 40,000 people, I think, registered for relief efforts there at its height – where we showed up long before the city or federal government to organise relief after the hurricane – and the Strike Debt campaign.

There are all sorts of fun campaigns but in a larger sense, we’re trying to consolidate our democratic culture. As with Sandy, we want to be the ones who are quickest to provide practical solutions when things start breaking down, before the radical right gets in there, as we all know they will.


You coined the phrase “We are the 99 per cent”. How worried should the 1 per cent be?

Well, I was part of the team that came up with it, yes. In the short run, not so worried. They basically own the political system and all political parties, which no longer resembles democracy in any meaningful sense of the term. Almost all new wealth continues to flow upwards. In the longer run, I think they should be – and are – quite worried indeed.

Look at the panic reaction to Occupy. Clearly they are very scared at the idea that people are starting to figure out what they’re up to, how the system works. Add to that the fact that current financial, not to mention ecological, arrangements are clearly unsustainable, and I think the wisest among them (and granted that isn’t a huge proportion, maybe 5 per cent) are very near to desperate. I’ve had people at the IMF and Federal Reserve seeking my advice. If these guys are talking to me, you know they’re in trouble!

Very very interesting. Incidentally, I'm with the Archdruid on organizational forms: Roberts Rules is the way to go. Every Al-Anon meeting I ever went to used a form of it, and the bigger the meeting, the moreso.

Average: 5 (1 vote)


affinis's picture
Submitted by affinis on

Yeah, I liked it also. And I agree with Archdruid and you on organizational forms – on the need for Robert’s Rules or something closely analogous. Many of the housing coops in Madison, WI have long used Roger’s Rules of Order (developed by "Roger" essentially as a community-oriented modification of Robert’s Rules), typically with a quasi-consensus decision mechanism - i.e. genuinely aiming for consensus if possible, but using majority or supermajority vote decision thresholds if consensus cannot readily be achieved (though very small coop houses with few members may use pure consensus – more feasible with small groups). Consensus Oriented Decision-Making is another potentially useful formalized framework – seeks to build consensus, but with flexibility around the decision rule. Conversely – I first participated in Occupy-General-Assembly-style meetings in the early 80’s (when AFAIK that organizational form first came into vogue), and the outcomes have always been the same, and less than ideal (interminable meetings, impossible to make decisions, tyranny of structurelessness, many participants dropping out).

Notorious P.A.T.'s picture
Submitted by Notorious P.A.T. on

" if it wasn’t for Occupy, we would probably have a President Romney"

Whew! We dodged a bullet there! If Romney had won, we'd have a president who proposed cuts to Social Security, wanted to privatize national assets like the TVA, and fast-tracked free trade agreements like the TPP. I'm glad that didn't happen, because Obama and Romney are so different.

Submitted by lambert on

I think Graeber is right, with the big caveat that by Sachs's Conjecture, Romney's a sociopath, so who knows what process of thought was involved?

Notorious P.A.T.'s picture
Submitted by Notorious P.A.T. on

What, then, of Obama, sitting in his comfortable office sipping coffee, choosing which people to obliterate with missiles based upon little or no evidence, only a hunch that perhaps they might be doing something possibly suspicious--and better fire at the people who come to help too, just in case?

I like what Mr. Graeber wrote too, it's just that one remark scratched its nails across the chalkboard in my head.

Rainbow Girl's picture
Submitted by Rainbow Girl on

Sachs's failure to mention Obama even once struck me as bizzarre (given the tenor and ardor of this statement) as his other failure -- mentioning, and perhaps addressing, his own career as a sociopathic Shock Doctrinaire who has helped crush the societies of countries by the application of his particular brand of looting ("shock doctrine" austerity programs for other countries).

To me it is an open question whether this latter omission indicates sociopathy and narcissism in Sachs. If he does not see that his own career as a Shock Doctinaire exhibits every single odious feature that he ascribes to bankers and their lackeys in the White House, Congress, DOJ and various "bank regulators" in his current diatribe -- and does not feel it appropriate to atone (very publicly) or even to make reparations for his own toxic acts -- all we're seeing is a case of one sociopath bad mouthing other sociopaths, where all are united in sucking wealth from working people and the poor in order to enrich a very few.

Which helps to smash or reform the current system how, exactly?