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Occupy Wall Street, who decides how donations are spent

DCblogger's picture

[Readers, I'd like more information on this. As Marx said, love flies out the door when money comes innuendo. UPDATE I should explain more why this post worried me. The Occupations have given me the first real hope that I've had in, oh, a decade or so. And I think I share the feeling with many in my age cohort that if real change for the better is going to happen in my lifetime, this is it. So the Occupations are important to me (and in RL, too; I'm not completely lazing in the Barcalounger). And a huge part of the hope and the joy does, in fact, come from the GA, from self-organization. And over the past decade, we've seen a lot of collapsed ideals, and a lot of self-betrayal by self-identified idealists and change agents. And -- surprise! -- the Occupiers aren't saints; they're humans, just like the rest of us, and subject to all human failings. Now, when the first proposal for Spokes Councils was brought before the NYCGA, and rejected, I was watching the live twitter transcript of the questions and answers -- and I didn't like some of the group dynamics I saw or rather read. (Not that I was present on the ground, but I've been reading political texts 24/7 for eight years or so, and my ability to comprehend is reasonable.) This post reinforces those concerns about group dynamics. The poster may have an axe to grind, but... that's human. What would be helpful to me is concrete detail on how the Spokes Councils are working, on the ground. Readers? -- lambert]

A Chill Descends On Occupy Wall Street; "The Leaders of the allegedly Leaderless Movement"

On Sunday, October 23, a meeting was held at 60 Wall Street. Six leaders discussed what to do with the half-million dollars that had been donated to their organization, since, in their estimation, the organization was incapable of making sound financial decisions. The proposed solution was not to spend the money educating their co-workers or stimulating more active participation by improving the organization’s structures and tactics. Instead, those present discussed how they could commandeer the $500,000 for their new, more exclusive organization. No, this was not the meeting of any traditional influence on Wall Street. These were six of the leaders of Occupy Wall Street (OWS).

Occupy Wall Street’s Structure Working Group (WG) has created a new organization called the Spokes Council. “Teach-ins” were held to workshop and promote the Spokes Council throughout the week of October 22-28. I attended the teach-in on Sunday the 23rd.

According to Marisa Holmes, one of the most outspoken and influential leaders of OWS, the NYC-GA started receiving donations from around the world when OWS began on September 17. Because the NYC-GA was not an official organization, and therefore could not legally receive thousands of dollars in donations, the nonprofit Alliance for Global Justice helped OWS create Friends of Liberty Plaza, which receives tax-free donations for OWS. Since then, Friends of Liberty Plaza has received over $500,000. Until October 28, anybody who wanted to receive more than $100 from Friends of Liberty Plaza had to go through the often arduous modified consensus process (90% majority) of the NYC-GA—which, despite its well-documented inefficiencies, granted $25,740 to the Media WG for live-stream equipment on October 12, and $1,400 to the Food and Medical WGs for herbal tonics on October 18.

Maybe pizzas and in-kind donations are best.

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jumpjet's picture
Submitted by jumpjet on

Some people naturally take charge in any given situation. Some people have that thing that makes others listen to them, pay attention to them, follow them. Can you avoid it? Probably not.

This is not to say I don't have a problem with anyone who claims a non-participatory, unelected group is "representative."

Submitted by lambert on

Here is more from Fritz Tucker, the (Brooklyn-based) author. (If consensus-based decision making rots this fast, I'm going back to the Federalist papers).

Here, here, and here. These organizational issues are paramount.

However, I'm not sure I want to accept this uncritically. Readers, who knows more?

BDBlue's picture
Submitted by BDBlue on

I've long suspected the leaders were there in NY all along and the consensus-based decision process was, therefore, always being managed to some extent.

I don't think we should accept this uncritically, but I've always been doubtful there were no leaders, at least in NYC. Mostly because there has been too much discussion about the role of hard-core activists in setting this thing up. People rarely go to that much work and then let it go where it goes. They do it because they want to see something specific happen and are going to try to make it happen to the extent they can.

But I agree with Ian, the important part now is how the movement metastasizes - the few in NYC, to the extent they exist, can't control everywhere else (although others, of course, could) and may, in the end, not even be able to control NYC. I also think lately Oakland, which as Che Pasa points out in the Ian Welsh thread on this article, is where a lot of the action currently in because Oakland has a long history of radicalism, which we've seen in terms of actually shutting down the port.

Submitted by lambert on

... is what cancers do. But, point taken. I just don't want to see all the old heirachies reinvent themselves; and OWS is important because it was first and has the richest experience. People will look there for a model of what to do. Maybe.

Here are more links on SpokesCouncils in general, and a long paper on consensus-based decision-making in large groups.

It's clear that the Spokes Council is an evolved process that has been used by consensus-driven activists in the past. However, it also looks to me like Puerto del Sol had difficulties integrating the GA and the Spokes System due to differing views on the role of the Occupation; almost an Iron Law of Institutions moment!

I was watching @Dicetroop's reporting from the GA where the first Spokes proposal was voted down; and all my antenna on corrupt discourse and bad arguments by Spokes Countil proponents were really quivering (and my track record on such things IMNSHO is not so bad).

To me, "efficient" decision making is far less important than the joys of self-organization. That's the impetus for spreading Occupations, not a more functional decision making process. The joy wins the war, not committees.

All from the Barcalounger, and I'd like a lot more reporting from the ground. Diceytroop's reporting and the post DCB linked to are all we've got...

coyotecreek's picture
Submitted by coyotecreek on

...I have noticed that some people are rising to the top in terms of speaking and organizing and others are not happy with that because they feel that their agendas are not being considered.

With regard to the "leaders" - I have never seen any of them stop a discussion or a dialog except when it veers off course drastically. One group decided to start a splinter group because their "spiritualism" was not being discussed often enough and they felt they were being censored.

Trust me, they were not. The 90% just didn't see their agendas as important to the overall good of the Occupy Movement here in Tucson.

I got a little sense of the same when I read this article - can't be sure. That being said, I still see a totally democratic process going on in Tucson. Maybe size contributes to that.

Submitted by Lex on

Granted, i'm inherently distrustful of most things New York. I'm also a little distrustful of groups that gather large amounts of donated money and sit on them. And this seems to be as much about who gets to control where and how the money is spent.

Seems to me that such sums should be being used for things like soup kitchens or various programs that reach out to larger numbers of the downtrodden these protests are supposed to represent. Power and money coalesce, so i'm uneasy about the idea of a small group of white males gathering both up. Once upon a time, Lenin's circle decided that what the workers needed was a select group of "brain workers" to make decisions for them.

And while i understand the symbolic importance of the occupation at Zuccotti Park, it doesn't seem like the OWS group is doing much (i could well be wrong). Oakland seems to be taking the next step while New York sits around and talks about its money. Kinda feels like the vanguard is ready to co-opt itself.

coyotecreek's picture
Submitted by coyotecreek on

Again, a much smaller group and, I'm sure, donation total. But this process seems reasonable and is working:

Question: Is there a policy for how donations are allocated? Who is in charge of those funds? Who/how are these decisions made?

Answer: Occupy Tucson here, yes the working groups give a list of needs and weekly budjet to Donations working group. A request to the public for donations goes out first if those items are not donated funds are allocated to cover needs under $100.00. Requests for spending over $100.00 goes through GA for approval. Only exception to that is items necessary for groups well being such as Legal cost for filing in court, expenses like Porta Potty, and food needs not donated for current day ,ect (Things that can not wait for GA) In addition to that , onsite members of Donation working group have the ability to fill needs as required each day, ie Ice , gas needs ect, under $100.00 as required with proper documentation. If you have questions or needs we are having a meeting today at 10am at the park with all the groups onsite .

coyotecreek's picture
Submitted by coyotecreek on


Eureka Springs's picture
Submitted by Eureka Springs on

in North West Arkansas... Our actual occupation begins Sat 11-12. And we still have no corporate free structure or expensive non-profit place to deposit funds. I'm wondering if this and so many others questions shouldn't be formulated with successful answers somewhere?