Todd Gitlin: "Doubloons?"Nope: "I think it's booty, booty ... booty, that's what it is!"
If you don't know the reference, then you're old. Or possibly too young. But in either case a square. (The kids still say that, right?)
Yesterday, I tore to shreds Columbia Professor of Journalism Todd Gitlin for his recent New York Times' Sunday Review front page opinion piece. But there is still lots to criticize, especially in comparison to Chris Hedges' great piece, Why the Elites Are in Trouble.
Where to start? Let's go back to a passage I quoted from yesterday:
This new protest style is more Rousseau than Marx. What the Zuccotti Park encampment calls horizontal democracy is spunky, polymorphic, energetic, theatrical, scattered and droll. An early poster showed a ballerina poised gingerly on the back of Wall Street’s bull sculpture, bearing the words: “Occupy Wall Street. September 17th. Bring Tent.” It likes government more than corporations, but its own style is hardly governmental. It tends to care about process more than results.Three things: 1) Gitlin picks up the obvious horizontal self-organization of the protests, but offers no reporting about it; 2) He shares what he thinks the protest "tends to care about," which is a ridiculous construction; and 3) He says the protest cares more about process than results.
These three points prove beyond a doubt that Gitlin never went to Liberty Plaza. Even "more than a few observers" know the organization is largely flat, but those who have been to the protest know it's not entirely flat. Here's Ketchup:
“So it’s 9:30 p.m. and people are worried that they’re going to try and rush us out of the camp,” she said, referring back to the first day. “At 9:30 they break into work groups. I joined the group on contingency plans. The job of the bedding group was to find cardboard for people to sleep on. The contingency group had to decide what to do if they kick us out. The big decision we made was to announce to the group that if we were dispersed we were going to meet back at 10 a.m. the next day in the park. Another group was arts and culture. What was really cool was that we assumed we were going to be there more than one night. There was a food group. They were going dumpster diving. The direct action committee plans for direct, visible action like marches. There was a security team. It’s security against the cops. The cops are the only people we think that might hurt us. The security team keeps people awake in shifts. They always have people awake.”Gitlin types the words "working group" in his piece, but it's within his reminiscing of his glory days. He doesn't know that a working group is the basic unit of organization for OccupyWallStreet. Next he makes up how the whole protest "feels." Well, Ketchup could have told him how she felt:
The work groups make logistical decisions, and the general assembly makes large policy decisions.
“We get to the park,” Ketchup says of the first day. “There’s madness for a little while. There were a lot of people. They were using megaphones at first. Nobody could hear. Then someone says we should get into circles and talk about what needed to happen, what we thought we could accomplish. And so that’s what we did. There was a note-taker in each circle. I don’t know what happened with those notes, probably nothing, but it was a good start. One person at a time, airing your ideas. There was one person saying that he wasn’t very hopeful about what we could accomplish here, that he wasn’t very optimistic. And then my response was that, well, we have to be optimistic, because if anybody’s going to get anything done, it’s going be us here. People said different things about what our priorities should be. People were talking about the one-demand idea. Someone called for AIG executives to be prosecuted. There was someone who had come from Spain to be there, saying that she was here to help us avoid the mistakes that were made in Spain. It was a wide spectrum. Some had come because of their own personal suffering or what they saw in the world.”Finally, Gitlin dips back into his protest song past (yes, a Bob Dylan lyric is quoted) to project how they did it in the 60's onto OWS. Sure, process is very important to the protesters. Everyone gets a chance to be heard. But they don't just talk it out:
“After the circles broke I felt disheartened because it was sort of chaotic,” she said. “I didn’t have anybody there, so it was a little depressing. I didn’t know what was going to happen.”
The heart of the protest is the two daily meetings, held in the morning and the evening. The assemblies, which usually last about two hours, start with a review of process, which is open to change and improvement, so people are clear about how the assembly works.I could go on all day with more criticism, but I'll limit myself to the graf after the Rousseau and Marx part. Here, "it" is the protest:
“You wait till you’re called,” [Ketchup] said. “These rules get abused all the time, but they are important. We start with agenda items, which are proposals or group discussions. Then working group report-backs, so you know what every working group is doing. Then we have general announcements. The agenda items have been brought to the facilitators by the working groups because you need the whole group to pay attention. Like last night, Legal brought up a discussion on bail: ‘Can we agree that the money from the general funds can be allotted if someone needs bail?’ And the group had to come to consensus on that." [It decided yes.]
And oh, how it loves to talk. It is no surprise that it makes fervent use of the technologies of horizontal communication, of Facebook and Twitter, though the instinct predated — perhaps prefigured — those tools. Not coincidentally, this was also the spirit of the more or less leaderless, partyless revolutions of Tunisia and Egypt that are claimed as inspiration in Lower Manhattan. An “American Autumn” is their shot at an echo of the “Arab Spring.”Cliches checked. In this case, it's not a cliche because it's true, it's a cliche because everybody else has already said it. Another point that belies the protest is more than one horizontal layer: Facebook and Twitter can transfer messages horizontally. But they don't create messages horizontally. Someone is behind the keyboard typing out updates and tweets. There is only one "official" FB and Twitter account. "More or less" leaderless - well, which is it? In Egypt is was definitely less leaderless. Labor union organizing had taken place months and sometimes years ahead of Tahrir Square. Now I don't expect Gitlin to know much about the Arab Spring. It's halfway around the world. But couldn't he just have taken a subway downtown to the protest before he wrote about it?