Observing from beyond the solar system, a cultural outsider looks in.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Respect Our Authoritah!

(Part 5 of my series on Occupy Baltimore)

The Callow Clique, and others who were grasping for the reins, seemed to alternate between desiring more participants to get actively involved in the “democratic consensus” movement, along with its increasingly byzantine committee and subcommittee structure, and then shouting down and giving the wormy wiggly downfingers treatment to anyone whose opinion they didn’t like. “Get involved, but respect our authoritah!” That seemed to be the message. (The Cartman Clique?)

At first, the drummers were regularly accosted, and shouted at to cease and desist immediately, any time the leaders of our leaderless movement felt like having an impromptu meeting. Although there was ample room to meet in the square or nearby, apart from the steady pulse from the music side, individuals would bolt across the square at any time of day and shout “STOP,” often right in the middle of an innovative groove, which took 20 minutes to get up to synch speed. They clearly didn’t begin to understand that this was simply rude and uncalled for, or that upon a quiet heads up request, the musicians could wind down within 5 to 10 minutes and take an extended break.

It was clear they assumed that whatever they were doing was more valid and significant than mere music.

Eventually, a compromise was worked out in the GA, where there would be certain times the music would not be interrupted, and also designated times when no music would be played, to allow for regularly scheduled meetings, like the 8 PM GA. Other times were open to whatever seemed to be the thing to do at the time: meet, play, or coexist in the square. To the credit of both camps, the welcome compromise was largely respected on both sides.

After “pamphletgate” erupted over a botched Sexual Offense Policy implementation initiative, Revo and I attempted, via the Google group, to get the group refocused on economic issues. We were completely ineffectual in that effort, roundly attacked and shunned by the Callow Clique in particular.

Back when we had first entered the protest at McKeldin Square, the Revolting Protester and I were treated to an assurance that we were free to talk amongst ourselves, we heard statements various participants made to the General Assembly (GA) that began with such grandiose assumptions as “If our revolution is successful, and we’re going to take over and replace all of the existing government services, we need to...,” and we met one of the self-appointed leadership clique who had “ironically” assigned himself the name of a Russian communist leader whose legacy of mass murder vies with Adolf Hitler’s for infamy. (Hint: What does barely composite character Callow S. Narrowmindsky’s middle initial stand for?)

For all these reasons, the apparent leadership clique, the group that seemed to run and control the GA each night, became known to Revo and me as the K-Rouge. Revo called them that on facebook a few times, and I suppose that didn’t endear us to that faction of OB.

When we later tried to participate in a meeting regarding the Baltimore Development Corporation, Revo was immediately accused of “unforgivable red baiting,” due to some of his posts on FB and the OB google group. (How do you “red bait” self-professed communists? By repeating their own claims of what they name themselves?)

Revo, with 25 years of experience dealing with the BDC and its predecessors, was compelled to leave the meeting within 5 minutes.

The more radical faction, self-described communists and anarchists, had apparently seized an opportunity to break out of the coffeehouse cabal, and had called dibs on OB early in its formation.

They did get the motor running, and set up the basic organizational structure, but then they fell into dominating it with Viva La Revolution fervor. They now facilitated every G.A. and most of the committees, ran the web site, and dominated the open Google discussion group. Any suggestion that something should be done differently was often met with defensiveness, group think, and accusations of trolling.

I began to picture this group in their sad and lonely days, before Occupy Wall Street, meeting in small groups of five or ten people and talking about “when the revolution comes.” It was clear to me that some of them probably thought the Occupy movement was their long-awaited glorious revolution, which they would lead.

Unfortunately for them, the majority of Americans who support the Occupy movement don’t want to replace our entire system via revolution, but simply want significant political and economic reforms, with the outcomes of a better economy, more jobs, and a government that once more represents us, and not just the wealthy 1% and the corporations. Nationally, this is not, at its heart, a particularly radical movement. The fact that it may look a bit like one is merely a measure of how bad things have gotten. When Revo and I tried to point out that communists and anarchists did not represent the 99%, we were once again labeled as red baiters and trolls.

Any dissidents in the group were labeled “divisive,” which is a favorite tactic of anyone pushing an extremist agenda; on the national level, George W. Bush was a master at this.

It was apparent that, although the self-appointed leaders claimed that everything was being decided via democratic consensus, the participants in the General Assembly were a self-selecting group of individuals who had not yet been turned off by these heavy-handed tactics. Others hung around on the sidelines, quietly griping, refusing to participate, or left the square, abandoning the movement entirely.

It was all somewhat comical. I was reading the Occupy Baltimore Google group and listening in on some meetings, but I also was spending quite a bit of my time in the square, interacting with the people on the margins of the protest, most of whom were interesting, nice people with serious concerns that were largely not being heard in the General Assembly. Many of the people on the margins were homeless, unemployed, or otherwise seriously hurting.

A more paranoid mind than mine would have assumed that at least some of the Red Emma’s crowd had been planted by “Da Man” to ensure the failure of the movement in Baltimore, but I don’t think that was it. They couldn’t have derailed the movement more effectively if that had been their intention, but the failure was evidently due to youthful inexperience, arrogance, and rigid, dogmatic thinking, not malice.

Nationally and internationally, the Occupy movement seemed to be growing exponentially. Here in Baltimore, the local occupation was stagnating and struggling against attrition.

As the wolves of FAIL circled Occupy Baltimore, the defensive leaders looked for explanations. Perhaps they had chosen the wrong location? Perhaps the word was not out? Perhaps the homeless and the real victims of economic oppression who had shown up on the margins of the protest were scaring away other, more committed parties? Many explanations were considered, but the most obvious explanation was supplied in various forms by Revo, myself, and other visitors to the google group, and was repeatedly labeled as “trolling”: the self-appointed leadership clique’s radical agenda did not represent the 99%, and their dogmatic, humorless, and didactic approach did not invite participation.

The most disturbing part of all of this was that the clique, which had seized control of the movement in Baltimore, was genuinely afraid of the economically downtrodden, often homeless, huddled masses yearning to be free who had gathered on the margins of the protest. Discussions in the Google group often focused on how to limit the use of the volunteer-cooked food to people who were “actually doing the work” (i.e. engaging in pointless circular discussion in the GA and other meetings), or how to eject the homeless from the square, or at least prevent them from sleeping in communal tents.

Even at Occupy Baltimore, there was a ruling elite class that looked down on those who needed help the most. The unspoken message was “We’d like to help the 99%, as long as we don’t have to interact with them. After all, they’re kind of icky.”

Previous posts in this series:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

Next Part

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