Next attack strategy on the Occupations begins to emerge
In an otherwise not really disparaging column from Market Watch's Karl Denninger, this paragraph (emphasis in original):
There's been plenty of detractors spewing about the "Progressive Stack"; I have not witnessed it, and if it's true that actual discrimination is being practiced, then we have a problem, as the fact remains that representative government demands that justice be color and gender-blind. If it's not, and the allegation is being made that it is not, then gentlemen, we have a problem - a serious problem.
But I won't throw bombs on this issue until I know. And toward that end, this weekend I will be attending one of the local protests. With a bullhorn. [which, note well, OWS cannot use, and would disrupt The People's Mike and the GA process generally] With others. With people in the political sphere. I am going both to talk to those who want to listen (if there are such people) and to listen and observe myself, and will take pictures while there.
OK. I'll be looking forward to the coverage. But what is the "progressive stack" that Denninger's on about?
Well, it's a process used in the Occupations' General Assemblies (see here for the field guide, and here for commentary). And as I've said consistently, it's the working of the GAs that is the truly innovative and vital part of the Occupations: A new form of political economy, practiced on the ground, that all should go see -- which Denninger, bullhorn in hand proposes to do.
So, we expect the usual self-contradictory and over-heated tribalist R Big Lies -- "Lazy hippies!" "Violent radicals!" "Get a job!" "Drugs!" "Sex!" "Hair!" -- from the usual suspects seeking to smear the Occupiers, who by all accounts are mostly a sober, serious, and highly educated group of young people resolutely dedicated to non-violence. And, we expect the usual talking points from the usualprocess types, so replete with seductive class and cultural markers, from the usual D shill Big Liars -- "The message is unclear!" "What are their demands?" "Elect [my guy]!" "Support [my bill]!" -- whose goal is to decapitate and destroy the Occupiers, just as they decapitated and destroyed the Occupiers in Madison (last I checked, the Ds haven't found anybody to run to recall Walker. What a shocker they're getting such a late start).
Critically, it's the GA process that, besides being the Occupier's consensus-driven way of taking decisions, is also the Occupier's "immune system" that protects them from infiltration by agents of the state, protects them from decapitation and co-optatation by the Ds, and above all gives the participants a real taste of a different process of doing democracy (because our current process works so well, right?) So, the attacks by the usual suspects, though seemingly brutal, are tactical, off-point, and in essence harmless (except insofar as they reinforce the system of Big Lies in which we are all enmeshed). Attacks on the consensus-driven GA process, by contrast, are strategic, on point, and have the potential to do real damage. And when such attacks begin, it's a sign that more subtle minds are entering the fray (rather like the the Egyptian generals taking over from the baltigaya, who had no strategic sense whatever). And, despite Denninger's claim that he "won't throw bombs on this issue until I know," the set-up seems pretty clear to me.
So, all that said, what is "the progressive stack"?
First, I'll define the stack. Then, I'll give an example of its beneficial effects. And finally, I'll make a personal statement on it. [Sorry if I suddenly changed styles and got all schematic, but I have a local meeting I need to go to in a half an hour!]
Occupy Wall Street’s General Assembly operates under a revolutionary “progressive stack.” A normal “stack” means those who wish to speak get in line. A progressive stack encourages women and traditionally marginalized groups speak before men, especially white men. This is something that has been in place since the beginning, it is necessary, and it is important.
On Thursday night I showed up at Occupy Wall Street with a bunch of other South Asians coming from a South Asians for Justice meeting. Sonny joked that he should have brought his dhol so we could enter like it was a baarat. When we got there they were passing around and reading a sheet of paper that had the Declaration of the Occupation of Wall Street on it. I had heard the “Declaration of the Occupation” read at the General Assembly the night before but I didn’t realize that it was going to be finalized as THE declaration of the movement right then and there. When I heard it the night before with Sonny we had looked at each other and noted that the line about “being one race, the human race, formally divided by race, class…” was a weird line, one that hit me in the stomach with its naivety and the way it made me feel alienated. But Sonny and I had shrugged it off as the ramblings of one of the many working groups at Occupy Wall Street.
But now we were realizing that this was actually a really important document and that it was going to be sent into the world and read by thousands of people. And that if we let it go into the world written the way it was then it would mean that people like me would shrug this movement off, it would stop people like me and my friends and my community from joining this movement, one that I already felt a part of. So this was urgent. This movement was about to send a document into the world about who and what it was that included a line that erased all power relations and decades of history of oppression. A line that would de-legitimize the movement, this would alienate me and people like me, this would not be able to be something I could get behind. And I was already behind it this movement and somehow I didn’t want to walk away from this. I couldn’t walk away from this.
And that night I was with people who also couldn’t walk away. Our amazing, impromptu, radical South Asian contingency, a contingency which stood out in that crowd for sure, did not back down. We did not back down when we were told the first time that Hena spoke that our concerns could be emailed and didn’t need to be dealt with then, we didn’t back down when we were told that again a second time and we didn’t back down when we were told that to “block” the declaration from going forward was a serious serious thing to do. When we threatened that this might mean leaving the movement, being willing to walk away. I knew it was a serious action to take, we all knew it was a serious action to take, and that is why we did it.
I have never blocked something before actually. And the only reason I was able to do so was because there were 5 of us standing there and because Hena had already put herself out there and started shouting “mic check” [see here] until they paid attention. And the only reason that I could in that moment was because I felt so urgently that this was something that needed to be said. There is something intense about speaking in front of hundreds of people, but there is something even more intense about speaking in front of hundreds of people with whom you feel aligned and you are saying something that they do not want to hear. And then it is even more intense when that crowd is repeating everything you say– which is the way the General Assemblies or any announcements at Occupy Wall Street work. But hearing yourself in an echo chamber means that you make sure your words mean something because they are being said back to you as you say them.
And so when we finally got everyone’s attention I carefully said what we felt was the problem: that we wanted a small change in language but that this change represented a larger ethical concern of ours. That to erase a history of oppression in this document was not something that we would be able to let happen. That we knew they had been working on this document for a week, that we appreciated the process and that it was in respect to this process that we wouldn’t be silenced. That we demanded a change in the language. And they accepted our change and we withdrew our block as long as the document was published with our change and they said “find us after and we will go through it” and then it was over and everyone was looking somewhere else. I stepped down from the ledge I was standing on and Sonny looked me in the eye and said “you did good” and I’ve never needed to hear that so much as then.
Which is how after the meeting ended we ended up finding the man who had written the document and telling him that he needed to take out the part about us all being “one race, the human race.” But its “scientifically true” he told us. He thought that maybe we were advocating for there being different races? No we needed to tell him about privilege and racism and oppression and how these things still existed, both in the world and someplace like Occupy Wall Street.
Let me tell you what it feels like to stand in front of a white man and explain privilege to him. It hurts. It makes you tired. Sometimes it makes you want to cry. Sometimes it is exhilarating. Every single time it is hard. Every single time I get angry that I have to do this, that this is my job, that this shouldn’t be my job. Every single time I am proud of myself that I’ve been able to say these things because I used to not be able to and because some days I just don’t want to.
This all has been said by many many strong women of color before me but every time, every single time these levels of power are confronted it I think it needs to be written about, talked about, gone through over and over again.
And for pragmatists -- of whom I am one -- not only is the progressive stack the right thing to do, it was the strategic thing to do. For the Occupations to be a success, "all walks of life" must be able to participate. The Declaration, as amended after the operation of the progressive stack, had a broader appeal.
(3) Here's why I have no problem with the "progressive stack." First, it's rule-governed (even if not by Roberts Rules, the rules are still present and can be appealed to). Next, sweet Jeebus, the GA is not about me. It's not about whether I get to speak. And at my time of life -- and readers, this may surprise you -- my GENIUS thoughts may not be as important as I once thought they were. If somebody else speaks my mind, or says better what I had to say, or says something I would never have thought of saying, it's no skin off my white ass. And, third, my ass is really, really white; I'm exactly the kind of guy that Denninger is trying to get riled up. Well, I have great facility with words. I am a symbol manipulator par excellence. As a recovering Episcopalian, I can do call and response. I can do the reading from the lectern without my knees trembling (too much). Public speaking is a snap for me. I will never have a problem getting my voice heard in any public meeting, if I so choose; I have a lifetime of training in how to that. And all these abilities are, precisely and exactly, the fruits of WASP male privilege. (I happen to think there is much of value in the traditions that come with that privilege, but that's another discussion.) People who do not have those privileges, I would argue, are entitled to speak for the good of the GA and the Occupations because -- pragmatically, and strategically -- they will bring qualities to the discourse that I do not bring, exactly and precisely because of the class and cultural lens through which I necessarily filter all that I would say. And the proof of the pudding is a better Declaration, which is of benefit to all, including me.
So I'm happy to wait my turn. And so what if it's a long line?
So should Denninger, if it comes to that.
So if Denninger and his bullhorn have a problem with the "progressive stack," then he should consider unflexing his ego. Or, better yet, he should check it at the door.
UPDATE Here'sMR SUBLIMINAL Cough. Gag.SpewTNR gearing up for the same attack strategy as Denninger, quelle surprise:
recent debate about whether to allow Congressman John Lewis, a civil rights icon, to speak to Occupy Atlanta was captured on video and ended up on YouTube. As Lewis looked on [this is bad why?], arguments on both sides were bandied about [Oh, the humanity!]. “The point of this general assembly is to kick-start a democratic process in which no singular human being is inherently more valuable than any other human being,” argued one protester [which is wrong why"]. Ultimately, because no “consensus” could be reached, Lewis was turned away.
So, some liberal icon doesn't get to jump the queue? Quelle horreur! And why the shudder quotes around "consensus," anyhow? Also, IIRC, Lewis understood and had no problem at all. Then there's this:
The air of group-think is only heightened by a technique called the “human microphone” [sic] that has become something of a signature for the protesters. When someone speaks, he or she pauses every few words and the crowd repeats what the person has just said in unison. The idea was apparently logistical—to project speeches across a wide area—but the effect when captured on video is genuinely creepy.
Well, not if you're there. It's no more creepy than call-and-response in church. And Stiglitz, who accepted the technique, clearly feels differently. Anyhow, for creepy, give me pro-Obama torture-lovin' liberals from Joe Lieberman Weekly any day of any week.
So, the emerging critique: If only the Occupiers would abandon their process, Versailles will start saying nice things about them and then they'll really get somewhere. Goody.
Oh, no, I don't know why Lewis didn't get to the top of the progressive stack. Each GA makes its own rules, so maybe Atlanta is different from New York. Or maybe all pols go to the bottom of the stack. Personally, I'd support that. Lewis already has a forum. 99% of the GA participants do not.