The following post was contributed by Dave Warren, a member of the extended RevolutionTruth Community.
I think the recent RevolutionTruth panel discussion on the Chris Hedges Black Bloc article took many unintended turns and twists but, guided by serendipity, it ended up being very illuminating on a number of counts even if it juked from its initial topic on Black Bloc. I will save actual comments on the tactics of violence and Black Bloc for another post and deal with what I see as the real value that came out of the recent panel discussion on the backlash to the Chris Hedges article.
What intrigued me and what distinguished this panel from the last panel with Michael Moore, Hedges, Flowers, Zeese, Bolen et all was because it exposed issues of protocol regarding the internal rules of engagement on just how occupy arrives at finding its core message and how that message is to be carried to outlying power structures. In other words, protocols still seem to be in the fluid process of finding a common footing. This was more about internal power distribution and by what means and through what voice this power is to be conveyed to the status quo. Should the guidelines for putting successful panels together be kind of like the fine art of choosing the right guests for an easy mix dinner party? I don’t think so, unless you’re just looking for polite, congenial conversation. But if getting to core issues is the idea then to expect an easy go of it in a mixed debate is short sighted to begin with. It seems natural that any discussion on the tactics of violence should inherently involve some form of aggressive exchange, and the panel delivered on this count- rightly so. Black Bloc is a strategy of tactics that does include some aspect of violence. The Cari, Georgia , Hedges, Flowers , Lucas, Bolen mix was a microcosm of similar tussling dynamics that happens across the board at GA’s throughout the country. Here’s the question: Who speaks for occupy, and what are the forms this speech should take?
The personal chemistry was perfect in drawing this internal power struggle out and I think the choice of panelists was superb to this end. Credits due here to whoever decided on the panelists. Is the platform for discussion and the adoption of agendas to be based along lines of pure democracy, anarchy, traditional models, or is some other combined form developing through the occupy process itself? This is not easy stuff we are working with here and the business we are about is serious business and if the deeper passions are not stirred then our convictions would be found at shallower depths. So things did get a little tense but the atmosphere was riveting and telling precisely because anyone who has been to GA’s or been in on long fbook threads about Occupy knows that this tense dynamic plays out all the time.
What does this all have to do with getting our agendas out there? Everything-in short. It has to do with power, influence and the protocols of engagement that arise out of group dynamics. All these elements are all still in a relatively fluid state in this nascent movement. We are up against massive external power inertias and yet we have internal power and control issues ourselves and we have to deal with how power is to be distributed amongst ourselves if it is ever to be redirected to affect any real change outside the movement. I can’t imagine Nancy Pelosi and John Boehner having discussions on the house floor about whether or not the pronoun “I” or “ we” is appropriate to getting things done, but maybe it should be and maybe some of the fundamental problems in the established system have to do with these fine points of semantics.
Whoever developed the sign language dialect that has caught on across the country at GA’s instinctually understands the value of equalizing the inequities of personality in group dynamics, and how some can come quickly to dominate in groups while others are relegated to the background “spoken to” crowd. Well occupy is nothing if it does not represent the people’s voice en masse who are fed up with being spoken to by self- serving, flannel mouthed politicians. Perhaps this is why the phenomena of “ mic checking” got started. But can we all mic check our agendas at the halls of congress and expect that things will change if the chorus refrains are raised a few more decibels? The fingers up twizzle and the other signs could not be utilized in this online panel discussion but maybe there could be a way this could be done in the future to get around the issue of just who is perceived as the “expert” or the “authority” in the panel and who gets allotted the most time. In the end it seemed that Georgia was given more time than anyone and she was probably the most difficult to understand. Kudos to Tangerine for her patience on this.
Were both Cari and Georgia suggesting that the very notion of authority seeking is intrinsically flawed and has contributed to the very problems we are up against in the first place, and that occupy should stay away from ascribing authority figures within its own ranks? Is this subject itself worthy of a panel discussion? Cari and Georgia raise very cogent points as perhaps too much authority and trust have been placed in all branches of government and look where that has gotten us?
Chris Hedges knows his stuff and articulates it well and for what he talks about he surely is an authority. But has too much authority perhaps been granted him on this Occupy because he speaks and writes so well on foreign movements and the oppressive tactics of dark regimes? Is he an authority on the best strategy that this Occupy takes? How much does he really know about Black Bloc and does he know that some of the random acts of vandalism come at the hands of a designed Black Bloc strategy? This is a crucial point and this is where Cari and Georgia called their lines out even if Hedges himself never has claimed authority.
Does his rich, worldly experience necessarily outfit him with an advantaged expertise on the particular characteristics of this intrinsically American occupy?. Are Cari and Georgia authorities on past authority models and how the flaws of past models may have led to where we are now? These all are very valid points to look at. Chris seems to be most comfortable and has been mostly cast in Occupy forums where he has more or less held forth as the interlocutor of Occupy’s role in the face of the oppressive power structures.
He does not seem to be well suited to scrappy mix ups with heightened emotion as part of the mix. This open format rigged with cross opinions may not be his forte. Sadly, though, the movement will lose depth if he declines future online panel invitations. It’s too bad that his boxing experience with the project ruffians post Harvard Divinity school could not help him in these close quarter online emotional scraps. After all, the scrap can be held at safe distance-even coasts apart. Cari seems certainly well suited to this forum because her debating currency is emotion combined with intellect and so is Margaret Flowers for different reasons – because she redirects rather than confronts direct charges.
Tangerine, as moderator probably has the hardest role in such scraps because she is supposed to be neutral and no one can be neutral on these matters. She is so well suited to the task, however, and was the brunt of the lowest blows at the very end by Georgia and Cari who seemed to vent all the anger they had for Hedges, Lucas and Zeese onto Tangerine. That was clearly the most out of line part of the whole panel and it was too bad that it happened at the very end and was directed at the person who was trying the hardest to remain neutral. It all had to do with Georgia and Cari not accepting the standard protocols of how panels are usually conducted and what the role of the moderator is and how the notion of authority is to be delegated. These are valid things to look at if only because they are well part of the underlying occupy internal struggle.
Although for the most part I personally agree with Hedges stance on the dangers Black Bloc poses to the heart of the non-violent vocabulary Occupy must pursue as a discrete strategy, I also can accommodate the right of impassioned refutation on the part of Cari and Georgia. They may understand the nuances of the Black Bloc through a perspective that Chris or I have not considered and that is what Cari was trying to say I think about educating on this one tactic before judging the entire thing as negative. One thing we learned is that one does not tell Hedges he needs more education. I think we all have to be able to take open faced criticism, though, and realize that the best Queensbury rules of debate engagement will not always be observed during panel discussions and in other formats. Through these mix ups, though, we learn about the underlying neuronal make up of these crucial issues. How would the next panel go if the identical people came back? I think it would go much better and more of the stuff of tactics and strategy would be covered.
Hedges is no politician and that is what is so welcoming about him. Is he a leader? Definitely his intellect and his writings have well presaged the actual formation of occupy. But will occupy ever come to terms with drafting set policies and specific agendas if not actual leaders to articulate these agendas? Well, that remains to be seen as Occupy evolves. With Hedges, there is no mincing of words, styling or spin in his delivery. It is straight off his cerebrum, uncut and packaged directly, and in this he both inspires and provokes. I think if people entering into discussions realize there are going to be these issues of power and influence dynamics at the outset, that participants can be more sensitive to their own emotional trip levers and can therefore be self-regulating to watch for personal over reaction. Margaret Flowers and Lucas seemed to be the best equipped for this. Amazing at his age that Lucas seems such a natural. But, I say let the games go on and that these emotive displays are all part of the evolution of the movement and are in themselves defining parts of the whole.
And I think that the Occupy zeitgeist early on came to some consensus on how not to delegate authority but is finding it difficult to find its collective voice through other means. Can 1 million of us mic check the capitol from the reflecting pool? And just who is the first chanter, the prime interlocutor and how much power does h/she have? We are actively dealing with these things now and I think the panel exposed this struggle unwittingly. It was an expose` on the underlying power and influence dynamics as they are distributed through the group liberally or condensed through individual personalities. Are traditional power structures hindered by individual personalities arranged in strict hierarchies? And is there a reaction to this in this new occupy?
These new modes have developed and they may well speak for the direct democracy or even anarchic strains in occupy, but can they be a hindrance by other measures. Can this very divisive dynamic threaten all that is best about Occupy? That seems the most important question to come out of the panel debate to me. What is it about emerging leadership figures, perceived or real, like Hedges, Zeese or Flowers, Cari or Georgia that threatens this established zeitgeist that stresses group consensus and liberal power distribution above all else?
The issue of strategy and tactics is critical to the movement, but it seems that long before any cohesion can unify its aims, a general clearing of forms and behaviors regarding the rules of inter movement engagement must worked out. How do we talk to each other? And how do we frame our differences of sex, age, race, political background, pre-set biases, fundamental philosophies, protocols of conduct, idea generation and adoption of agendas. These are crucial components of how we come to some discrete consensus on where we are going.