Friday, November 4, 2011

Dear Occupy Wall Street, It's time to purge the violent Anarchists and Vandals. Love, the 99%.

During Tuesday's General Strike, so-called "Black Block" anarchists vandalize stores and buildings as peaceful Occupiers try desperately to stop them. 
These are anarchists, folks. They are no more a part of the Occupy movement than the Koch Brothers, and will destroy the movement just as quickly if allowed to fester from within.

Occupy's Asshole Problem: Flashbacks from An Old Hippie
Sara Robinson
November 4, 2011

I wish I could say that the problems that the Occupy movement is having with infiltrators and agitators are new. But they're not. In fact, they're problems that the Old Hippies who survived the 60s and 70s remember acutely, and with considerable pain.

As a veteran of those days -- with the scars to prove it -- watching the OWS organizers struggle with drummers, druggies, sexual harassers, racists, and anarchists brings me back to a few lessons we had to learn the hard way back in the day, always after putting up with way too much over-the-top behavior from people we didn't think we were allowed to say "no" to. It's heartening to watch the Occupiers begin to work out solutions to what I can only indelicately call "the asshole problem." In the hope of speeding that learning process along, here are a few glimmers from my own personal flashbacks -- things that it's high time somebody said right out loud.

1. Let's be clear: It is absolutely OK to insist on behavior norms. #Occupy may be a DIY movement -- but it also stands for very specific ideas and principles. Central among these is: We are here to reassert the common good. And we have a LOT of work to do. Being open and accepting does not mean that we're obligated to accept behavior that damages our ability to achieve our goals. It also means that we have a perfect right to insist that people sharing our spaces either act in ways that further those goals, or go somewhere else until they're able to meet that standard.

2. It is OK to draw boundaries between those who are clearly working toward our goals, and those who are clearly not. Or, as an earlier generation of change agents put it: "You're either on the bus, or off the bus." Are you here to change the way this country operates, and willing to sacrifice some of your almighty "personal freedom" to do that? Great. You're with us, and you're welcome here. Are you here on your own trip and expecting the rest of us to put up with you? In that case, you are emphatically NOT on our side, and you are not welcome in our space.

Anybody who feels the need to put their own personal crap ahead of the health and future of the movement is (at least for that moment) an asshole, and does not belong in Occupied space. Period. This can be a very hard idea for people in an inclusive movement to accept -- we really want to have all voices heard. But the principles #Occupy stands for must always take precedence over any individual's divine right to be an asshole, or the assholes will take over. Which brings me to....

3. The consensus model has a fatal flaw, which is this: It's very easy for power to devolve to the people who are willing to throw the biggest tantrums. When some a drama king or queen starts holding the process hostage for their own reasons, congratulations! You've got a new asshole! (See #2.) You must guard against this constantly, or consensus government becomes completely impossible.

4. Once you've accepted the right of the group to set boundaries around people's behavior, and exclude those who put their personal "rights" ahead of the group's mission and goals, the next question becomes: How do we deal with chronic assholes?

This is the problem Occupy's leaders are very visibly struggling with now. I've been a part of asshole-infested groups in the long-ago past that had very good luck with a whole-group restorative justice process. In this process, the full group (or some very large subset of it that's been empowered to speak for the whole) confronts the troublemaker directly. The object is not to shame or blame. Instead, it's like an intervention. You simply point out what you have seen and how it affects you. The person is given a clear choice: make some very specific changes in their behavior, or else leave.

This requires some pre-organization. You need three to five spokespeople to moderate the session (usually as a tag team) and do most of the talking. Everybody else simply stands in a circle around the offender, watching silently, looking strong and determined. The spokespeople make factual "we" statements that reflect the observations of the group. "We have seen you using drugs inside Occupied space. We are concerned that this hurts our movement. We are asking you to either stop, or leave."

When the person tries to make excuses (and one of the most annoying attributes of chronic assholes is they're usually skilled excuse-makers as well), then other members of the group can speak up -- always with "I" messages. "I saw you smoking a joint with X and Y under tree Z this morning. We're all worried about the cops here, and we think you're putting our movement in danger. We are asking you to leave." Every statement needs to end with that demand -- "We are asking you to either stop, or else leave and not come back." No matter what the troublemaker says, the response must always be brought back to this bottom line.

These interventions can go on for a LONG time. You have to be committed to stay in the process, possibly for a few hours until the offender needs a pee break or gets hungry. But eventually, if everybody stays put, the person will have no option but to accept that a very large group of people do not want him or her there. Even truly committed assholes will get the message that they've crossed the line into unacceptable behavior when they're faced with several dozen determined people confronting them all at once.

Given the time this takes, it's tempting to cut corners by confronting several people all at once. Don't do it. Confronting more than two people at a time creates a diffusion-of-responsibility effect: the troublemakers tell themselves that they just got caught up in a dragnet; the problem is those other people, not me. The one who talks the most will get most of the heat; the others will tend to slip by (though the experience may cause them to reconsider their behavior or leave as well).

This process also leaves open the hope that the person will really, truly get that their behavior is Not OK, and agree to change it. When this happens, be sure to negotiate specific changes, boundaries, rules, and consequences ("if we see you using drugs here again, we will call the police. There will be no second warning"), and then reach a consensus agreement that allows them to stay. On the other hand: if the person turns violent and gets out of control, then the question is settled, and their choice is made. You now have a legitimate reason to call the cops to haul them away. And the cops will likely respect you more for maintaining law and order.

Clearing out a huge number of these folks can be a massive time suck, at least for the few days it will take to weed out the worst ones and get good at it. It might make sense to create a large committee whose job it is to gather information, build cases against offenders, and conduct these meetings.

And finally:

5. It is not wrong for you to set boundaries this way. You will get shit for this. " looks a whole lot like a Maoist purge unit!" No. There is nothing totalitarian about asking people who join your revolution to act in ways that support the goals of that revolution. And the Constitution guarantees your right of free association -- which includes the right to exclude people who aren't on the bus, and who are wasting the group's limited time and energy rather than maximizing it. After all: you're not sending these people to re-education camps, or doing anything else that damages them. You're just getting them out of the park, and out of your hair. You're eliminating distractions, which in turn effectively amplifies the voices and efforts of everyone else around you. And, in the process, you're also modeling a new kind of justice that sanctions people's behavior without sanctioning their being -- while also carving out safe space in which the true potential of Occupy can flourish.


  1. can we not lump all anarchist together. I agree the way the tactic of the black bloc has been used is shortsighted and stupid. But there are other anarchists that put there effort into organizing and direct democracy. Lets not exclude them just because a variety of people identify as "anarchists."

  2. Point taken. I'll add the descriptor "violent" to "anarchists" to differentiate.

  3. Thanks! Sharing. A lot of these young people think they're the authors of a new playbook
    I have seen them alienate a number of "old head" who have treid to give them the benefit of their hard-won experience. They may have that "don't trust anyone over 30" syndrome. Come out to our General Assembly and.keep sharing you opinion with anyone who will listen. Face to face seems to reach them best.

  4. "Come out to our General Assembly and.keep sharing you opinion with anyone who will listen. Face to face seems to reach them best.

    Can't second that suggestion enough. If you're in Oakland, or any city where's theres an Occupy camp, please GO. Make your voice heard. If you're rebuffed, keep trying.

  5. BlacK Block: The Police Violence so far is what has brought sympathy, woken up Millions in the #Ows Growing Community. The crowds have swelled because The Occupy Movement has remained peaceful, in spite of the injustice.

    Black BlocK: Do U even understand what is at stake, what humanity is collectively WORLD FUCKING WIDE trying to accomplish..... Do U think 7000 or is the estimate 100K??? on one march is going to take down the Banksters, take down the Military Industrial Complex that they fund? Or even begin to tackle Congress and Lobbyists, Or Monsanto, Or Tarsands, or Koch Bros, Or Getting off of the Oilgarghy’s teet? Or the million other problems that need addressing in this world?

    Black Block: Do Ur freaking Math People THere’s 307 Million+ in America Alone..... This Movement is in it’s infancy and if U don’t remember London's recent failure due to Black BlocK U were born yesterday. Now if Ur paid Provocateurs U know what, I got no problem walking down 6 foot 7 dudes.... I have no Fear of ASSHOLES! I Do U want the movement itself to tackle U to the ground, so that U can Righteously be arrested! And I’m a girl. I’m sure there’s allot of Football fans that would feel the same, if more passive means of justice or exclusion doesn’t work. Do U really want to just vent ur piddly yah yahs, smashing up stupid replaceable shit or do You want to change the world for the better for all?

    Black Block: It’s Rage against the Machine not Rage against concrete and windows. Windows aren’t even a speck of dust on the Machines Armor, so if U don’t know how deeply rooted the causes of injustice are in this world, PLEASE go to a GA near U and get educated, talk to some of the oldtimers and surprise surprise some are even anarchist that learned Gandhi and MLK tactics are some of the best that work. So there’s plenty to learn and even more ways to vent the frustration in a positive way and help grow the movement. And don’t even begin to think UR personal Woes are worse than mine or anybody else, we’re all stuck in this boat Together. We are all Equally talented as a collective to make this movement succeed.

    Black Block: Too bad U can’t march in formation like the Armed Forces that are joining the movement as a THREAT to the establishment. Then U would have some HONOR! They’re scared spitless of us coming together and with the Military coming out in Support this freaking early on.... is making all the Cops think really hard whose side they’re on. Several have already quit and joined! With out Violence on the Protesters part Revolution can be easy, and what will make #Ows grow to where we cannot be put in UR 2 cents at a GA. Be heard, so we can all get rid of the System Overlords that are Fucking Up This Planet!! I’ve been waiting going on 52 years for this to happen, so don’t mess up MY REVOLUTION!


  7. I live near Portland, Oregon, and I must say that for the most part our occupation has been better behaved than most and fewer incidents have occurred. However, suppose you turn this around. Put the hundreds of people occupying our two parks in the center and put the thousands of non-occupiers on the outside.

    I think you'd find a large number of non-occupiers saying that the occupiers are being assholes simply by building a tent city and refusing to get event permits for their marches. Portland is an amazingly liberal city - I can't recall spending any amount of time in one more liberal.

    Mayor Sam Adams and most of the Portland City Council have been amazingly supportive of the occupation, as has the police bureau. Yet when they ask for the courtesy of filing a permit to march, they are told, "We don't need a permit - the Constitution gives us the right to peaceably assemble."

    Perhaps more frightening is that as winter approaches, the continued presence of a tent city has potential to be a public health disaster. Screwing up peoples' commutes is one thing - filling up hospitals with cholera, influenza or even tuberculosis patients is quite another.

    The other issue is that it's not terribly clear to us outside the "movement" just exactly what the "bus" is that one is either on or off. We don't know where the bus is going and we don't know who is driving it. The occupiers may have eminently worthwhile aims, but it's got to be something more than "Don't be an asshole, don't be violent, and don't do drugs."

  8. you have no understanding of what anarchism is.

    you therefore misinterpret the actions of others, labeling it as "violence." The system you are trying to reform is the utter epitome of violence.

    you're stuck in a paradigm that leaves you with nothing but tunnel vision.

    I hope one day you are able to see the picture much more clearly

  9. Your way has never worked, and never will, except in dictatorships. You're not interested in social changes, but in getting your yayas off.

    Feel free to play anarchist on your own, but don't claim to be part of Occupy Wall Street. Or the 99%.

  10. purge anarchists from the #occupy movement...? OK! you first?

    this movement is not in its infancy. maybe you didn't know that the #occupy movement began with anarchists in 2008 who occupied the New School in NYC. maybe you didnt know it began on wall street with anarchists like David Graeber, as i found out from an article in businessweek. maybe you didn't know Anonymous Operations is an anarchist hackbloc. maybe you didn't know that adbusters who created most of the message / design is an anarchist magazine in the situationist international style. maybe you didn't know they chose the colors red and black for the reason that these are anarchist collective/syndicate colors. maybe you didn't know these principles of anti-hierarchical organization and antiauthoritarian self-governance work and are empowering because these are anarchist practices... didn't know all that...

    you're a jerk for spreading this bullshit. this movement was never designed to be just for anarchists, only for anarchists. this is everyone's movement. it's been thought through by years of anarchist praxis, the movement is anarchist in sentiment even if people taking on the #occupy tactics don't identify as anarchists. you're telling anarchists to "hi jacking" "your movement"? if getting on TV and having good press is all you want... maybe you should reconsider your own involvement. if being on TV is so important, quit occupying and run for some silly political office.

  11. You clearly don't understand what the issues are.

    First of all, the issue isn't the anarchists, it's VIOLENT anarchists and vandals bent on short-term emotional gratification over long term strategic goals.

    The reason why OWS took hold when other attempts ( including those by the anarchist "movement") failed is because average people finally had had enough. They got angry, took to the streets, and vowed to stay there for the duration.

    It's what MLK and Gandhi did - they committed themselves to non-violent civil disobedience, and committed to doing it for YEARS if need be. Because they did, they were successful. They showed the people through deeds and words that their cause was just, and by doing so, they turned the tide of oppression.

    This isn't about getting good press or being on TV, if you think it is, you're incredibly misinformed. This is about changing the hearts and minds of average Americans, to help them finally understand that they're part of the 99%, that they have the power to take back their country.

    Causing minor property damage won't make that happen, no matter how great it makes you feel at the time.

    In short, if you want to commit violence, you're on your own.

    You don't represent me, or anyone else I know who cares about the Occupy Movement.