Lately I’ve been seeing pieces about the difficulty the “Occupy” movement has been having, due largely to the consensus governance model adopted at the start at the behest of its anarchist members (see here), in communicating to the public a clear message about its rationale and aims — and about how Big Labor has increasingly reached into the movement to turn it to its own purposes.
On Occupy’s general messaging problem, for example, is this essay by Russell Working in today’s PR Daily, excerpted in part by Ed Morrissey on HotAir.com: ”the movement blew it by having no overriding purpose, stated goals, or visible leadership, . . . and it is increasingly perceived as a bunch of publicity-hungry complainers intent on disrupting others who are making a living.”
Like nature, politics abhors a vacuum. Big Labor’s efforts to coopt the “Occupy” movement are illustrated by last night’s Occupy Boston march, which was organized and directed by Big Labor as this Boston Herald article summarizes. Indeed, to make sure that the union’s media strategy would not be disrupted by any outbreak of violence, the union forces worked with the police to prevent the Occupy anarchists from taking over a bridge. Boston’s police superintendent is quoted in the article as follows: “The anarchists tried to take it over, but the union organizers wouldn’t let them . . . . They actually stopped them before they reached the (police line).”
The recent coverage of the “Occupy” messaging problem and Big Labor involvement convinced me that I should take the time to polish up my notes from the meeting of the “General Assembly” of Occupy Harvard held on Monday evening (November 18). If you’re interested, you can read them here. In summary, the meeting lasted well over three hours. It consisted largely of speeches by Big Labor officials and debate about a press release that student representatives of Big Labor had proposed, focused on current bargaining objectives on behalf of employees of Harvard or Harvard-owned entities.
The objective of the meeting was seemingly simple: to issue, for the first time, an official statement as to why the Harvard students and others were occupying Harvard Yard — either the proposed Big Labor statement, or some other statement. The consensus governance model, however, posed a huge obstacle to that objective, as there was a fundamental divide between two warring camps in the movement, and neither camp was able through rational debate to convince enough members of the group that its approach was the correct one (a finding of “consensus” requires a vote of either 75% and 90% of those present in favor, depending on whether a “block” is announced).
The Big Labor activists favored a concrete focus on benefiting Harvard union workers. Others, who for lack of a better word I’ll call “social utopians” (anarchists, Marxists, socialists, etc.), favored no statement at all, or a broad statement about a need for a radical restructuring of society. In the end, despite all the talk in the “Occupy” movement about governance by consensus, the Big Labor activists prevailed through the hard-ball political tactic of threatening to shut down Occupy Harvard if they did not get their way.
Monday’s “General Assembly” meeting thus provides a window into the process through which it seems the “Occupy” movement may well lose its soul, as the broad-minded and idealistic (if perhaps naive) originators of the movement are muscled to the sidelines by focused operatives of Big Labor. Harvard undergraduate Max Novendstern addressed this dynamic in an essay published Wednesday in the Harvard Political Review (here), and last night in a debate at the Kennedy School of Government he commented that Occupy Harvard “is not a “broadly inclusive social movement” but instead more of “a specific, special interests campaign.” (Harvard Crimson article on debate here.)
So here are my notes on Monday’s “General Assembly” meeting. If my recollection strikes anyone as incorrect or incomplete in any material respect, please comment below, and I will certainly make any correction to this post that might be needed.