Will Direct Democracy always be as Shitty as it was in Occupy?

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boomerang
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Mar 20 2014 00:36
Will Direct Democracy always be as Shitty as it was in Occupy?

I know the Occupy experience was different in each location, but in my city, it gave direct democracy a bad name.

There was two or more meetings every day, they'd often drag on for hours, discussing everything and deciding usually nothing.

When I've mentioned direct democracy to people as an organizing principle for an anarchist society, during revolution, or during class struggle in general, I've had more than one person scoff because of their experiences in Occupy.

They think sure direct democracy is fine for very small groups, but even with a hundred people in a park it turned into bullshit.

So how to make the case it won't necessarily be so?

I'm sketching out a case and here's what I have so far, but I'm not really satisfied with what I wrote. I need your collective wisdom, please help me improve this.

* The problem was that the Occupy Movement had only a vague goal – decrease wealth inequality – and had even less of a clue about what to do about it.
* So people ended up using meetings as a soap box for talking about a million different issues and political theories.
* Using democracy to run a society is a very different experience. We’re dealing with specific and practical issues like irrigating a field, building or repairing housing, providing clean renewable energy to power a city, schooling children.
* When practical things like this are the topic, there’s no reason to discuss anything off topic.

This just doesn't sound convincing enough for me. Any ideas of what else I can say?

ajjohnstone
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Mar 20 2014 02:22

Occupy's positive aspect was the genuine contribution it made to raising political and class consciousness.

One of the main reservations of Occupy the SPGB had was about proclaiming one method of democracy into a principle applicable at all times and in all places. For example, the human mic practice was simply a way around NYC's bye-laws on use of amplifiers and loudspeakers in public spaces but became a theatrical performance in other places.

Perhaps the open-minded attitude in organising was to be applauded but as the saying goes, not as open-minded so that common-sense spills out.

Being anti-capitalist is not sufficient. Being for a new society is required and actually having some vision of what that is was missing which permitted so many to lay claim to the Occupy objective to the degree that Ron Paulists and David Icke appeared on the scene offering their solutions. We had the "educational" tents presenting arguments and analysis of pro-capitalist anti-banker reformists like "Positive Money". Occupy may have been asking the right questions but they were getting the wrong answers.

Clear demands are a must at some point to avoid being hi-jacked or diverted.

This also applies to the procedures. There required a structure accepted by all participating that excluded those in a minority to speak or act for the movement of a whole. This does include the capacity to delegate to committees giving them mandates and remits, but retaining responsibility and oversight over them.

It was too easy for media-savvy usurpers to declare themselves the spokes-persons for the movement's content and aims.

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Chilli Sauce
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Mar 20 2014 11:21

So, my only experience with occupy was in one city and very much on the periphery, so take that for what it's worth.

So, the big thing I saw - and I think this often accounts for the marathon meeting that went nowhere - was a fetishization of consensus. Consensus is fine as a goal and it's probably achievable in small groups with tight politics. However, at a certain point (sooner than later, imo) that shit needs to be put to a vote. Of course, you can and should have a democratic process with discussion and amendments and parliamentary procedure and all that good stuff, but once that's done, it's majority vote time.

The other problem problem I saw was that democratic decision making was seen as an end in itself. Now, I'm all for prefiguratory politics, but they need to have substance, and demands, and tactics. It's great to make democratic decision, but if that's not leading to victories (and if not victories, at least pushing the struggle), if it's not furthering the class' interests, well then, I don't see a whole lot of point to spending all that time making the decision in the first place.

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boozemonarchy
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Mar 20 2014 20:49

I think you spelled it out just fine bommerang, Chili hit a good note on consensus as well.

Seriously, my Occupy friends told me that their meetings where continually hijacked by the batshit to ramble on about the gold standard. I've heard from many places the "meetings" were really just poorly facilitated political discussions rather than decision making bodies anyway. That is actually not direct democracy, its something weird as shit.

About consensus, I've been frustrated several times since occupy with the folks who radicalized there. If you talk to them, they express frustrations about their meetings and the whole thing in general but when they hear your group actually just fucking votes on things and moves on, they suddenly decide to call you anti-democratic or express reservations about "majority-rule" with scare quotes and all. . .

Gah. . . .

boomerang
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Mar 20 2014 15:52
Chilli Sauce wrote:
So, the big thing I saw - and I think this often accounts for the marathon meeting that went nowhere - was a fetishization of consensus.

Ah yes, the need to always have total consensus! How could I forget?

bozemananarchy wrote:
I've heard from many places the "meetings" where really just poorly facilitated political discussions rather than decision making bodies anyway.

This is so true.

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Mar 20 2014 21:56

If you haven't already, I think its worth it checking out this older thread which discussed Occupy, http://libcom.org/forums/general/any-critique-or-criticism-occupy-out-th....

This, http://libcom.org/library/how-do-you-build-movement-solfed, was posted in the Occupied Times. It sort of like a good response to that movement and what should have been done.

This, http://libcom.org/blog/where-politics-07122011, is also pretty good too.

The last piece was by Joseph Kay.

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Fnordie
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Mar 21 2014 06:06

I was very involved in Occupy. No matter what the decision making method, it still would have sucked.

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boozemonarchy
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Mar 21 2014 12:37
Fnordie wrote:
I was very involved in Occupy. No matter what the decision making method, it still would have sucked.

I think this is a good point.

It seems that recent experience around the world is showing that governments cannot withstand sustained square protests for very long. That said, its of limited use as capitalist social relations don't seem entirely upset by the events. . .

Agent of the International's picture
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Mar 21 2014 14:28

The trend, seen in Occupy and other related movements, seems to be marked by an obsession with 'public spaces' and overly exaggerated anti-authoritarian politics that's afraid of 'majority rule' (which backfired and led to minority rule by activist types). All of it is part of a larger trend where the 'old' (which includes class struggle) is rejected and in with a 'new', more inclusive approach (e.g. 99% vs 1%). Is this accurate? And if so, why is it happening? Can an analysis be done similar to what was done for right 'libertarianism' here?

I don't think it would be fair to say that most participants were unemployed. At least, I heard of a survey which said that most Occupy Wall Streeters had employment. Quite a number of others actually quit their jobs to participate. Is it largely because these folks were largely unorganised and never had experienced such things as a strike?

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Chilli Sauce
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Mar 21 2014 15:14
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Quite a number of others actually quit their jobs to participate.

Wow. If that's the case, that needs some serious unpacking and I'd love to see someone write an analysis.

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ocelot
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Mar 21 2014 17:35

Direct democracy is a decision-making method best suited to maintaining the maximum possible unity, and maximum possible potential, of a group of people bound by a common purpose and direction. In the absence of common purpose or direction, it cannot prevent purposeless or directionless meandering. It is a technique for organising activity, not an activity in itself. Ditto direct action. That's not to say that direct democracy and direct action are somehow politically "neutral", i.e. do not partake of values such as self-organisation, autonomy, solidarity etc. But they are action principles, not actions in and of themselves.

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Kureigo-San
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Mar 21 2014 19:25

Yeah, a couple of people have said something about how direct democracy shouldn't be viewed as an action in itself. I've noticed the same phenomenon going on when you challenge people's beliefs, asking them to explain themselves for things they've expressed. An attitude comes on where they defend their right to have an opinion, as if the practice of believing itself were the important substance. What they're doing here amounts to 'believing in believing'. It's kind of like the aforementioned problems with direct democracy..it's as if we become enchanted by the atmospheres and flavours of real things, wishing to really be with them but shy away from their difficulty.

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Chilli Sauce
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Mar 21 2014 19:28
Quote:
An attitude comes on where they defend their right to have an opinion, as if the practice of believing itself were the important substance.

I see you've been Christmas dinners at Grandmother's house, too?

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Juan Conatz
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Mar 21 2014 20:27

Most Occupys used some form of modified consensus, which I don't think is the same as direct democracy. Terminology issues aside, the decision making process itself was looked at as an end itself, like has already been mentioned. This is not a hugely surprising thing, as life under capitalism is a very alienating experience where we rarely get to decide on much. And also, some of the dominant strands of radicalism (anarchism, feminism, environmentalism, anti-globalization) of the last 30 years have also looked at decision making processes as a end in itself. But even with this, Occupy took this further. Where before the process was limited to groups and individuals doing an action, Occupy was a wide open forum where anyone could show up, with people who lived at the space and others who didn't, united by little except a vague feeling that the American Dream was a lie. There was tons of stuff that should never have come up in assemblies of people in a park. Not every single little thing has to be voted on by everyone. At a certain point the jurisdiction of the assembly becomes an obstacle in itself. I remember the ultralefts involved in the Occupy student movement in California and NY, a couple of years before #occupy, made similar criticisms.

boomerang
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Mar 22 2014 03:02
ocelot wrote:
Direct democracy is a decision-making method best suited to ... a group of people bound by a common purpose and direction. In the absence of common purpose or direction, it cannot prevent purposeless or directionless meandering.

Juan Conatz wrote:
Occupy was a wide open forum where anyone could show up, with people who lived at the space and others who didn't, united by little except a vague feeling that the American Dream was a lie. There was tons of stuff that should never have come up in assemblies of people in a park. Not every single little thing has to be voted on by everyone.

Both these comments are better expressing what I was originally trying to get at.