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How not to win friends and influence people

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Occupy Seattle Disrupts Pro-Occupy Wall Street Forum, Drives Away Supporters

No sooner had the panel finished opening remarks last night than a woman scampered up onto stage and yelled, "Mic check!" It was an orchestrated effort by several dozen activists to use the People's Mic to interrupt a forum at Town Hall—a forum in favor of Occupy Wall Street, featuring three wonks and three activists from Occupy Seattle. Their stunt replaced what was supposed to be an informed discussion of the movement with an uninformative, shout-a-thon about process that consumed most of the evening. They booed opinions they disagreed with and drove supporters out of the building.

It is inevitable that we will see more of this sort of foolishness. So long as we can keep it down to manageable proportions the movement will continue to grow.

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malagodi's picture
Submitted by malagodi on

from Indeterminancy by John Cage, 1959:

"I must find a way to let people be free without their becoming foolish. So that their freedom will make them noble. 
How will I do this? That is the question."

Submitted by Lex on

Ideologues are, fundamentally, the same regardless of their ideology. Even when they've reached conclusions and formed their ideology through rational processes, they only argue backwards from the axioms they hold to be self-evident. Some of them are likely to threaten or commit actual violence in "defense" of their ideology. Most of them just talk down to or shout over anyone who dares question their ideology or seeks to enter into actual discussion.

No, it will not get better for the Occupy movement. Movements are led by ideologues. When the shouting turns off people who might be supportive of the movement's ideals, that leaves fewer people to challenge the ideologues. That's just how they want it, so from their perspective, it's a win-win.

It's more likely that this is the future of the Occupy movement, mostly because i'd be surprised to see a backlash against this kind of behavior like the one that vandalism provokes. For example, this post is significantly different than DCBlogger's post concerning vandalism and Wells Fargo deposits.

Jack Crow's picture
Submitted by Jack Crow on

...being worried that apparatchiks from complicit orgs, and the Democrats, co-opting a local OWS group, while holding a leadership meeting that excludes the actual group, is "losing friends?"

Who wants those kind of friends?

Submitted by lambert on

But the audience is another matter entirely.

I mean, I'm reading this, and it's so bizarre. Trying to take over a meeting and run it like a GA -- with a people's mic? How old were these people? Eleven? They remind me of the Trots, back in the day -- who were nicknamed the Trots for several reasons, all justified.

What better way to discredit the GA process?

I'm all for bold, persistent experimentation -- which might be a good frame to use for all of this -- but some experiments can be abandoned more quickly than others.

wuming's picture
Submitted by wuming on

What you have is some people who are drunk on power. People start to think that they can't possibly be drunk on power because "there are no leaders."

It's a failure to understand the human condition.

ChePasa's picture
Submitted by ChePasa on

is a remarkably astute publication and there are times -- like this -- when it descends into hilarious whining. I know it's rude, but I laughed out loud at Dominic's pissy and oh so prissy piece about how his beautiful meeting was taken over by people with BO. Ick!

The people who didn't like what happened basically didn't like the rudeness of it all, and they said they didn't like the process introduced to them by the hijackers (yes, it was a hijack) and they said couldn't hear. But I've seen a video of JM Wong's speech at this Town Hall, and if it reflects the acoustics in the room accurately (I don't know whether it does), there was no way to understand what was said anyway. The acoustics sucked.

Link to video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kq53kCFMORs

I hope I'll find a video of the hijacking.

At the Town Hall Seattle site, however, there were some interesting comments about the evening from two divergent points of view, both of which I think are pretty valid:

Robert Koch said:

Robert Koch
Posted November 14, 2011 at 9:34 am | Permalink

This event ended up in pandemonium, caused by some in the OS movement trying to take over the discussion. It was a sad outcome, because they shouted and jeered the opening comments of some of the panelists (who were, BTW, supportive of the movement) and then proceeded to try to force their outdoor call and response method of communication on the indoor audience, many of whom couldn’t understand what the crowd was shouting. Frank Greer, in particular, was shouted down. I felt so sorry for him. And Licata couldn’t control them, try as he might. Many older people, also supportive, left in disgust. I was tempted to leave, but didn’t, because I think the young people have something to say that we all need to hear, but gosh, shouldn’t they listen to us, too? Anyway, it was a missed opportunity for intelligent discussion. Part of the problem, I think, was that there was no specific, printed agenda to which Licata could have referred to, to keep the audience mindful of the meeting’s progress. On the other hand, I’m not sure the OS activists would have honored it, being so “democratic” as to want things to be done their way and no other way. Also, one of the activists at the real mic made some strong racial remarks about white middle class people not welcome in “the peoples of color movement,” and another spouted some dribble about destroying the capitalist system. All this is OK…everyone can have opinions, but it shows that the movement has some adherents who have agendas other than a fairer distribution of power and wealth in America.

His key statement is that it "was a missed opportunity for intelligent discussion." I would agree. It seems The Stranger's and Town Hall's intent was to have such an "intelligent discussion" along the lines of a literate panel discussion such as you might see at any high minded think tank, college or university. But it didn't happen. Couldn't happen once the ideologues took the stage.

I thought the following comment was even more interesting:

eandxoch
Posted November 14, 2011 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

I was there too. It was very uncomfortable. But it was important! And I believe the process–or lack of process–was a metaphor for what’s going on in the big picture.

These young Americans are on the front lines trying to take on Business As Usual in our country and around the world. The People’s Mic v the Mic as Usual was just a metaphor. They are the first ones to actually get off their couches and try to affect change since the 1960s. If it made some of us uncomfortable to watch and listen as they used their process to make their points–and not all of their points were shared by all of them (or us)–then I applaud the outcome. It was real and raw and beautiful. We all learned something!

And if there were some extreme and marginalized voices among them, I applaud them again. One of the most heartening (and disheartening) aspects of the Occupy encampments is the allure it holds for the most unfortunate among us. Drug addicts? Check. Homeless? Check. Mentally Ill? Check. These throw away people are being fed and shown respect in the encampments even though the burdens they place on the Occupy Movement is enormous– and is ultimately used against them. But they take it on as part of their responsibility to be inclusive–even when it threatens to make the movement a target for vilification (and subsequent removal) based on law enforcement concerns for health and safety. As if.

Let’s recognize the important contribution the Occupy movement is making, even if some aspects of it challenge our ideas. Like our ideas have worked out so well, eh?

I highly recommend attending a general assembly meeting. You can go to Occupyseattle.org, go to the calendar and find one. Don’t rely on the media to tell you what to think. Go and see for yourself.

He refers to how what happened at the Town Hall was a metaphor for what's going on in the big picture.

It can be hard to grasp that metaphor. Especially when the urge to be polite and rational and intelligent is so strong in so many of us. What the people there saw -- and some rejected -- was a metaphor for the way things really are.

You don't have a voice, you don't have a say, you don't live in a democracy, and what you think about anything doesn't matter. A process is imposed on you whether you like it or not. Nobody who matters cares about what you want, how uncomfortable you are, or whether you can even hear or not.

I have no idea whether that's what the hijackers were trying to get across, but that's what I've heard as a rationale for similar sorts of hijackings. No, it's not about winning friends or influencing people -- except in the form of knocking them upside the head.

It's a very challenging situation to be confronted with -- especially if it is not what you expected or were willing to endure. The people who left in disgust were -- to my mind -- right to do that. But apparently quite a few stayed. And at least one got something out of the experience.

From what I could make out, the statement JM Wong read at the Town Hall was essentially a revolutionary manifesto. Revolutionaries don't have much patience for adhering to forms, ritual courtesies, and proper deportment at panel discussions.

But then, how many of those who went to this meeting expected to be thrust into the middle of a Revolution?

Submitted by lambert on

.... you adopt tactics that make that happen.

If you don't, you don't. It's really pretty simple. For example:

"I walked in supportive and left unsupportive," said 69-year-old Mary Ann, who declined to provide her last name. "I’m turned off by the negative shouts, repetition, and all I can think about is a cult. And I believe in every one of their damn principles."

And:

But Melanie Jackson got up on stage to protest: "Some of us who are old, we don’t understand when people are screaming. This process alienates people and takes a lot of time."

Grannies in the streets work, as in Argentina before they threw out the IMF. It's stupid to alienate them. Two alienated here, plus however many there are in their circle of friends.

* * *

Yeah, as for tone, I read some of the other stories, and I thought the Stranger was creepy and weird.

wuming's picture
Submitted by wuming on

That's probably one of the things that bothers me the most about some of the people at Occupy, the hardcore certainty that they alone possess the truth. I reflected on this also when I attended a conference recently at UC Berkeley, put on by Derrick Jensen. He was essentially advocating for "Deep Green Resistance," his idea that industrial society must be dismantled via guerrilla warfare if necessary. I had heard that Chris Hedges was speaking, which is why I attended. Hedges got sick and cancelled, but I stuck around anyways. Some of the presenters were pretty interesting, but I found some of the conference's content to be disturbing.

I was particularly disturbed by the presentation I viewed from Aric McBay, which was a sort of doomer-porn apocalypse scenario, full of assumptions that are probably non-falsifiable. Specifically, McBay detailed his view that peak oil will prevent the world from transitioning to non-oil based fuels, since there won't be enough "spare energy" around to do it, which will usher in feudalism, slavery and potential nuclear exchanges. Therefore, people should try to destroy the industrial civilization now to prevent the earth from being destroyed by nuclear exchanges and global warming caused by burning coal. There were a couple of callouts to Dmity Orlov as well.

The absolute certainty with which McBay painted his scenario chilled me. He can't possibly know enough to forecast the trajectory of the political-economic-technical situation going forward. His absolute certainty reminded me of the kind of teleology you used to get from the Marxist-Leninist revolutionaries (and today hear from Dominionists) and this should disturb everyone who recognizes the totalitarian impulse. For one thing, I can't see how destroying industrial society wouldn't just accelerate the rise of warlordism. But I was still not quite sure what Jensen's endgame really was, until a questioner asked him if he was basically saying that only hunter-gatherer societies were sustainable. Jensen ducked the question and answered in a long winded way that said yes.

I want everyone to stop and think about how insane that is, for just a second. Destroying industrial society means millions will starve for food-- Jensen claimed that agriculture only uses a minuscule amount of petroleum compared to industry, but I don't buy that for a second. He did not address the fact that agriculture depends on heavy machinery as well as transportation infrastructure that are classic heavy industry. That is, steel and aluminum based. These things are very complex and to pull down one piece threatens the entire thing-- which is exactly McBay's point.

What also was troubling to me was Jensen's push to create this resistance movement with an "aboveground" and "underground" wing, essentially a Sinn Fein and IRA arrangement. I really, really listened in disbelief as he asked people to help him set up the above ground groups. During the Q&A several people asked questions about how to do that, and some said well they wanted to help with this but were scared to do it.

No shit. They should be. Because what he was asking for was totally insane. Sure, there are times where violence becomes necessary for personal survival--plenty of historical examples. But it sure as hell is a terrible thing, and to want to unleash that in the domestic United States is monstrous. Because we still have other alternatives.

Some people will then argue that "well the US is founded in violence, and there is violence every day that is used to extract resources from the third world and we benefit from violence every day so therefore we must push violence up the chain to really make it stop." That is some of the most ignorant, ill founded bullshit I've ever heard in my life and it makes a mockery of the places where political violence is real and personal. I'm talking about places where people are snatched out of their homes and tortured to death simply for talking about politics in a cafe, and their mutilated bodies are dumped in the town square. I'm talking about places where the response to non-violent protest isn't rubber bullets, but real bullets, fired from machine guns into the crowd. I'm talking about places where old friends, brothers, sisters, classmates find themselves on the opposite side of a political line, where "crossfire" doesn't refer to a cancelled news show on CNN, but what happens when everyone starts pulling triggers.

That is not the situation in the United States today at all. I guess some people want it to be, though, because they want to live out their revolutionary romantic fantasies of personal power and liberation-- on the backs of everyone else.

And as far as sustainability, it's a good goal, but in the end it's unreachable. In the end the sun will burn out, the universe will reach a constant temperature and all life ceases. In the end nothing is sustainable-- all we can do is try to make the most efficient use out of what we have, while we have it. That's all there is.