Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Tyranny of Structurelessness by Jo Freeman

I am republishing this wonderful article today from this site. Anyone who has been frustrated by recent experiences with consensus should read it!

The earliest version of this article was given as a talk at a conference called by the Southern Female Rights Union, held in Beulah, Mississippi in May 1970. It was written up for Notes from the Third Year (1971), but the editors did not use it. It was then submitted to several movement publications, but only one asked permission to publish it; others did so without permission. The first official place of publication was in Vol. 2, No. 1 of The Second Wave (1972). This early version in movement publications was authored by Joreen. Different versions were published in the Berkeley Journal of Sociology, Vol. 17, 1972-73, pp. 151-165, and Ms. magazine, July 1973, pp. 76-78, 86-89, authored by Jo Freeman. This piece spread all over the world. Numerous people have edited, reprinted, cut, and translated "Tyranny" for magazines, books and web sites, usually without the permission or knowledge of the author. The version below is a blend of the three cited here.

During the years in which the women's liberation movement has been taking shape, a great emphasis has been placed on what are called leaderless, structureless groups as the main -- if not sole -- organizational form of the movement. The source of this idea was a natural reaction against the over-structured society in which most of us found ourselves, and the inevitable control this gave others over our lives, and the continual elitism of the Left and similar groups among those who were supposedly fighting this overstructuredness.

The idea of "structurelessness," however, has moved from a healthy counter to those tendencies to becoming a goddess in its own right. The idea is as little examined as the term is much used, but it has become an intrinsic and unquestioned part of women's liberation ideology. For the early development of the movement this did not much matter. It early defined its main goal, and its main method, as consciousness-raising, and the "structureless" rap group was an excellent means to this end. The looseness and informality of it encouraged participation in discussion, and its often supportive atmosphere elicited personal insight. If nothing more concrete than personal insight ever resulted from these groups, that did not much matter, because their purpose did not really extend beyond this.

The basic problems didn't appear until individual rap groups exhausted the virtues of consciousness-raising and decided they wanted to do something more specific. At this point they usually foundered because most groups were unwilling to change their structure when they changed their tasks. Women had thoroughly accepted the idea of "structurelessness" without realizing the limitations of its uses. People would try to use the "structureless" group and the informal conference for purposes for which they were unsuitable out of a blind belief that no other means could possibly be anything but oppressive.

If the movement is to grow beyond these elementary stages of development, it will have to disabuse itself of some of its prejudices about organization and structure. There is nothing inherently bad about either of these. They can be and often are misused, but to reject them out of hand because they are misused is to deny ourselves the necessary tools to further development. We need to understand why "structurelessness" does not work.


Contrary to what we would like to believe, there is no such thing as a structureless group. Any group of people of whatever nature that comes together for any length of time for any purpose will inevitably structure itself in some fashion. The structure may be flexible; it may vary over time; it may evenly or unevenly distribute tasks, power and resources over the members of the group. But it will be formed regardless of the abilities, personalities, or intentions of the people involved. The very fact that we are individuals, with different talents, predispositions, and backgrounds makes this inevitable. Only if we refused to relate or interact on any basis whatsoever could we approximate structurelessness -- and that is not the nature of a human group.

This means that to strive for a structureless group is as useful, and as deceptive, as to aim at an "objective" news story, "value-free" social science, or a "free" economy. A "laissez faire" group is about as realistic as a "laissez faire" society; the idea becomes a smokescreen for the strong or the lucky to establish unquestioned hegemony over others. This hegemony can be so easily established because the idea of "structurelessness" does not prevent the formation of informal structures, only formal ones. Similarly "laissez faire" philosophy did not prevent the economically powerful from establishing control over wages, prices, and distribution of goods; it only prevented the government from doing so. Thus structurelessness becomes a way of masking power, and within the women's movement is usually most strongly advocated by those who are the most powerful (whether they are conscious of their power or not). As long as the structure of the group is informal, the rules of how decisions are made are known only to a few and awareness of power is limited to those who know the rules. Those who do not know the rules and are not chosen for initiation must remain in confusion, or suffer from paranoid delusions that something is happening of which they are not quite aware.

For everyone to have the opportunity to be involved in a given group and to participate in its activities the structure must be explicit, not implicit. The rules of decision-making must be open and available to everyone, and this can happen only if they are formalized. This is not to say that formalization of a structure of a group will destroy the informal structure. It usually doesn't. But it does hinder the informal structure from having predominant control and make available some means of attacking it if the people involved are not at least responsible to the needs of the group at large. "Structurelessness" is organizationally impossible. We cannot decide whether to have a structured or structureless group, only whether or not to have a formally structured one. Therefore the word will not he used any longer except to refer to the idea it represents. Unstructured will refer to those groups which have not been deliberately structured in a particular manner. Structured will refer to those which have. A Structured group always has formal structure, and may also have an informal, or covert, structure. It is this informal structure, particularly in Unstructured groups, which forms the basis for elites.


"Elitist" is probably the most abused word in the women's liberation movement. It is used as frequently, and for the same reasons, as "pinko" was used in the fifties. It is rarely used correctly. Within the movement it commonly refers to individuals, though the personal characteristics and activities of those to whom it is directed may differ widely: An individual, as an individual can never be an elitist, because the only proper application of the term "elite" is to groups. Any individual, regardless of how well-known that person may be, can never be an elite.
Correctly, an elite refers to a small group of people who have power over a larger group of which they are part, usually without direct responsibility to that larger group, and often without their knowledge or consent. A person becomes an elitist by being part of, or advocating the rule by, such a small group, whether or not that individual is well known or not known at all. Notoriety is not a definition of an elitist. The most insidious elites are usually run by people not known to the larger public at all. Intelligent elitists are usually smart enough not to allow themselves to become well known; when they become known, they are watched, and the mask over their power is no longer firmly lodged.

Elites are not conspiracies. Very seldom does a small group of people get together and deliberately try to take over a larger group for its own ends. Elites are nothing more, and nothing less, than groups of friends who also happen to participate in the same political activities. They would probably maintain their friendship whether or not they were involved in political activities; they would probably be involved in political activities whether or not they maintained their friendships. It is the coincidence of these two phenomena which creates elites in any group and makes them so difficult to break.

These friendship groups function as networks of communication outside any regular channels for such communication that may have been set up by a group. If no channels are set up, they function as the only networks of communication. Because people are friends, because they usually share the same values and orientations, because they talk to each other socially and consult with each other when common decisions have to be made, the people involved in these networks have more power in the group than those who don't. And it is a rare group that does not establish some informal networks of communication through the friends that are made in it.
Some groups, depending on their size, may have more than one such informal communications network. Networks may even overlap. When only one such network exists, it is the elite of an otherwise Unstructured group, whether the participants in it want to be elitists or not. If it is the only such network in a Structured group it may or may not be an elite depending on its composition and the nature of the formal Structure. If there are two or more such networks of friends, they may compete for power within the group, thus forming factions, or one may deliberately opt out of the competition, leaving the other as the elite. In a Structured group, two or more such friendship networks usually compete with each other for formal power. This is often the healthiest situation, as the other members are in a position to arbitrate between the two competitors for power and thus to make demands on those to whom they give their temporary allegiance.
The inevitably elitist and exclusive nature of informal communication networks of friends is neither a new phenomenon characteristic of the women's movement nor a phenomenon new to women. Such informal relationships have excluded women for centuries from participating in integrated groups of which they were a part. In any profession or organization these networks have created the "locker room" mentality and the "old school" ties which have effectively prevented women as a group (as well as some men individually) from having equal access to the sources of power or social reward. Much of the energy of past women's movements has been directed to having the structures of decision-making and the selection processes formalized so that the exclusion of women could be confronted directly. As we well know, these efforts have not prevented the informal male-only networks from discriminating against women, but they have made it more difficult.

Because elites are informal does not mean they are invisible. At any small group meeting anyone with a sharp eye and an acute ear can tell who is influencing whom. The members of a friendship group will relate more to each other than to other people. They listen more attentively, and interrupt less; they repeat each other's points and give in amiably; they tend to ignore or grapple with the "outs" whose approval is not necessary for making a decision. But it is necessary for the "outs" to stay on good terms with the "ins." Of course the lines are not as sharp as I have drawn them. They are nuances of interaction, not prewritten scripts. But they are discernible, and they do have their effect. Once one knows with whom it is important to check before a decision is made, and whose approval is the stamp of acceptance, one knows who is running things.

Since movement groups have made no concrete decisions about who shall exercise power within them, many different criteria are used around the country. Most criteria are along the lines of traditional female characteristics. For instance, in the early days of the movement, marriage was usually a prerequisite for participation in the informal elite. As women have been traditionally taught, married women relate primarily to each other, and look upon single women as too threatening to have as close friends. In many cities, this criterion was further refined to include only those women married to New Left men. This standard had more than tradition behind it, however, because New Left men often had access to resources needed by the movement -- such as mailing lists, printing presses, contacts, and information -- and women were used to getting what they needed through men rather than independently. As the movement has charged through time, marriage has become a less universal criterion for effective participation, but all informal elites establish standards by which only women who possess certain material or personal characteristics may join. They frequently include: middle-class background (despite all the rhetoric about relating to the working class); being married; not being married but living with someone; being or pretending to be a lesbian; being between the ages of twenty and thirty; being college educated or at least having some college background; being "hip"; not being too "hip"; holding a certain political line or identification as a "radical"; having children or at least liking them; not having children; having certain "feminine" personality characteristics such as being "nice"; dressing right (whether in the traditional style or the antitraditional style); etc. There are also some characteristics which will almost always tag one as a "deviant" who should not be related to. They include: being too old; working full time, particularly if one is actively committed to a "career"; not being "nice"; and being avowedly single (i.e., neither actively heterosexual nor homosexual).
Other criteria could be included, but they all have common themes. The characteristics prerequisite for participating in the informal elites of the movement, and thus for exercising power, concern one's background, personality, or allocation of time. They do not include one's competence, dedication to feminism, talents, or potential contribution to the movement. The former are the criteria one usually uses in determining one's friends. The latter are what any movement or organization has to use if it is going to be politically effective.

The criteria of participation may differ from group to group, but the means of becoming a member of the informal elite if one meets those criteria art pretty much the same. The only main difference depends on whether one is in a group from the beginning, or joins it after it has begun. If involved from the beginning it is important to have as many of one's personal friends as possible also join. If no one knows anyone else very well, then one must deliberately form friendships with a select number and establish the informal interaction patterns crucial to the creation of an informal structure. Once the informal patterns are formed they act to maintain themselves, and one of the most successful tactics of maintenance is to continuously recruit new people who "fit in." One joins such an elite much the same way one pledges a sorority. If perceived as a potential addition, one is "rushed" by the members of the informal structure and eventually either dropped or initiated. If the sorority is not politically aware enough to actively engage in this process itself it can be started by the outsider pretty much the same way one joins any private club. Find a sponsor, i.e., pick some member of the elite who appears to be well respected within it, and actively cultivate that person's friendship. Eventually, she will most likely bring you into the inner circle.

All of these procedures take time. So if one works full time or has a similar major commitment, it is usually impossible to join simply because there are not enough hours left to go to all the meetings and cultivate the personal relationship necessary to have a voice in the decision-making. That is why formal structures of decision making are a boon to the overworked person. Having an established process for decision-making ensures that everyone can participate in it to some extent.
Although this dissection of the process of elite formation within small groups has been critical in perspective, it is not made in the belief that these informal structures are inevitably bad -- merely inevitable. All groups create informal structures as a result of interaction patterns among the members of the group. Such informal structures can do very useful things But only Unstructured groups are totally governed by them. When informal elites are combined with a myth of "structurelessness," there can be no attempt to put limits on the use of power. It becomes capricious.

This has two potentially negative consequences of which we should be aware. The first is that the informal structure of decision-making will be much like a sorority -- one in which people listen to others because they like them and not because they say significant things. As long as the movement does not do significant things this does not much matter. But if its development is not to be arrested at this preliminary stage, it will have to alter this trend. The second is that informal structures have no obligation to be responsible to the group at large. Their power was not given to them; it cannot be taken away. Their influence is not based on what they do for the group; therefore they cannot be directly influenced by the group. This does not necessarily make informal structures irresponsible. Those who are concerned with maintaining their influence will usually try to be responsible. The group simply cannot compel such responsibility; it is dependent on the interests of the elite.


The idea of "structurelessness" has created the "star" system. We live in a society which expects political groups to make decisions and to select people to articulate those decisions to the public at large. The press and the public do not know how to listen seriously to individual women as women; they want to know how the group feels. Only three techniques have ever been developed for establishing mass group opinion: the vote or referendum, the public opinion survey questionnaire, and the selection of group spokespeople at an appropriate meeting. The women's liberation movement has used none of these to communicate with the public. Neither the movement as a whole nor most of the multitudinous groups within it have established a means of explaining their position on various issues. But the public is conditioned to look for spokespeople.

While it has consciously not chosen spokespeople, the movement has thrown up many women who have caught the public eye for varying reasons. These women represent no particular group or established opinion; they know this and usually say so. But because there are no official spokespeople nor any decision-making body that the press can query when it wants to know the movement's position on a subject, these women are perceived as the spokespeople. Thus, whether they want to or not, whether the movement likes it or not, women of public note are put in the role of spokespeople by default.

This is one main source of the ire that is often felt toward the women who are labeled "stars." Because they were not selected by the women in the movement to represent the movement's views, they are resented when the press presumes that they speak for the movement. But as long as the movement does not select its own spokeswomen, such women will be placed in that role by the press and the public, regardless of their own desires.

This has several negative consequences for both the movement and the women labeled "stars." First, because the movement didn't put them in the role of spokesperson, the movement cannot remove them. The press put them there and only the press can choose not to listen. The press will continue to look to "stars" as spokeswomen as long as it has no official alternatives to go to for authoritative statements from the movement. The movement has no control in the selection of its representatives to the public as long as it believes that it should have no representatives at all. Second, women put in this position often find themselves viciously attacked by their sisters. This achieves nothing for the movement and is painfully destructive to the individuals involved. Such attacks only result in either the woman leaving the movement entirely-often bitterly alienated -- or in her ceasing to feel responsible to her "sisters." She may maintain some loyalty to the movement, vaguely defined, but she is no longer susceptible to pressures from other women in it. One cannot feel responsible to people who have been the source of such pain without being a masochist, and these women are usually too strong to bow to that kind of personal pressure. Thus the backlash to the "star" system in effect encourages the very kind of individualistic nonresponsibility that the movement condemns. By purging a sister as a "star," the movement loses whatever control it may have had over the person who then becomes free to commit all of the individualistic sins of which she has been accused.


Unstructured groups may be very effective in getting women to talk about their lives; they aren't very good for getting things done. It is when people get tired of "just talking" and want to do something more that the groups flounder, unless they change the nature of their operation. Occasionally, the developed informal structure of the group coincides with an available need that the group can fill in such a way as to give the appearance that an Unstructured group "works." That is, the group has fortuitously developed precisely the kind of structure best suited for engaging in a particular project.

While working in this kind of group is a very heady experience, it is also rare and very hard to replicate. There are almost inevitably four conditions found in such a group;

1) It is task oriented. Its function is very narrow and very specific, like putting on a conference or putting out a newspaper. It is the task that basically structures the group. The task determines what needs to be done and when it needs to be done. It provides a guide by which people can judge their actions and make plans for future activity.

2) It is relatively small and homogeneous. Homogeneity is necessary to insure that participants have a "common language" for interaction. People from widely different backgrounds may provide richness to a consciousness-raising group where each can learn from the others' experience, but too great a diversity among members of a task-oriented group means only that they continually misunderstand each other. Such diverse people interpret words and actions differently. They have different expectations about each other's behavior and judge the results according to different criteria. If everyone knows everyone else well enough to understand the nuances, these can be accommodated. Usually, they only lead to confusion and endless hours spent straightening out conflicts no one ever thought would arise.

3) There is a high degree of communication. Information must be passed on to everyone, opinions checked, work divided up, and participation assured in the relevant decisions. This is only possible if the group is small and people practically live together for the most crucial phases of the task. Needless to say, the number of interactions necessary to involve everybody increases geometrically with the number of participants. This inevitably limits group participants to about five, or excludes some from some of the decisions. Successful groups can be as large as 10 or 15, but only when they are in fact composed of several smaller subgroups which perform specific parts of the task, and whose members overlap with each other so that knowledge of what the different subgroups are doing can be passed around easily.

4) There is a low degree of skill specialization. Not everyone has to be able to do everything, but everything must be able to be done by more than one person. Thus no one is indispensable. To a certain extent, people become interchangeable parts.

While these conditions can occur serendipitously in small groups, this is not possible in large ones. Consequently, because the larger movement in most cities is as unstructured as individual rap groups, it is not too much more effective than the separate groups at specific tasks. The informal structure is rarely together enough or in touch enough with the people to be able to operate effectively. So the movement generates much motion and few results. Unfortunately, the consequences of all this motion are not as innocuous as the results' and their victim is the movement itself.

Some groups have formed themselves into local action projects if they do not involve many people and work on a small scale. But this form restricts movement activity to the local level; it cannot be done on the regional or national. Also, to function well the groups must usually pare themselves down to that informal group of friends who were running things in the first place. This excludes many women from participating. As long as the only way women can participate in the movement is through membership in a small group, the nongregarious are at a distinct disadvantage. As long as friendship groups are the main means of organizational activity, elitism becomes institutionalized.

For those groups which cannot find a local project to which to devote themselves, the mere act of staying together becomes the reason for their staying together. When a group has no specific task (and consciousness raising is a task), the people in it turn their energies to controlling others in the group. This is not done so much out of a malicious desire to manipulate others (though sometimes it is) as out of a lack of anything better to do with their talents. Able people with time on their hands and a need to justify their coming together put their efforts into personal control, and spend their time criticizing the personalities of the other members in the group. Infighting and personal power games rule the day. When a group is involved in a task, people learn to get along with others as they are and to subsume personal dislikes for the sake of the larger goal. There are limits placed on the compulsion to remold every person in our image of what they should be.

The end of consciousness-raising leaves people with no place to go, and the lack of structure leaves them with no way of getting there. The women the movement either turn in on themselves and their sisters or seek other alternatives of action. There are few that are available. Some women just "do their own thing." This can lead to a great deal of individual creativity, much of which is useful for the movement, but it is not a viable alternative for most women and certainly does not foster a spirit of cooperative group effort. Other women drift out of the movement entirely because they don't want to develop an individual project and they have found no way of discovering, joining, or starting group projects that interest them.

Many turn to other political organizations to give them the kind of structured, effective activity that they have not been able to find in the women's movement. Those political organizations which see women's liberation as only one of many issues to which women should devote their time thus find the movement a vast recruiting ground for new members. There is no need for such organizations to "infiltrate" (though this is not precluded). The desire for meaningful political activity generated in women by their becoming part of the women's liberation movement is sufficient to make them eager to join other organizations when the movement itself provides no outlets for their new ideas and energies. Those women who join other political organizations while remaining within the women's liberation movement, or who join women's liberation while remaining in other political organizations, in turn become the framework for new informal structures. These friendship networks are based upon their common nonfeminist politics rather than the characteristics discussed earlier, but operate in much the same way. Because these women share common values, ideas, and political orientations, they too become informal, unplanned, unselected, unresponsible elites -- whether they intend to be so or not.

These new informal elites are often perceived as threats by the old informal elites previously developed within different movement groups. This is a correct perception. Such politically oriented networks are rarely willing to be merely "sororities" as many of the old ones were, and want to proselytize their political as well as their feminist ideas. This is only natural, but its implications for women's liberation have never been adequately discussed. The old elites are rarely willing to bring such differences of opinion out into the open because it would involve exposing the nature of the informal structure of the group.

Many of these informal elites have been hiding under the banner of "anti-elitism" and "structurelessness." To effectively counter the competition from another informal structure, they would have to become "public," and this possibility is fraught with many dangerous implications. Thus, to maintain its own power, it is easier to rationalize the exclusion of the members of the other informal structure by such means as "red-baiting," "reformist-baiting," "lesbian-baiting," or "straight-baiting." The only other alternative is to formally structure the group in such a way that the original power structure is institutionalized. This is not always possible. If the informal elites have been well structured and have exercised a fair amount of power in the past, such a task is feasible. These groups have a history of being somewhat politically effective in the past, as the tightness of the informal structure has proven an adequate substitute for a formal structure. Becoming Structured does not alter their operation much, though the institutionalization of the power structure does open it to formal challenge. It is those groups which are in greatest need of structure that are often least capable of creating it. Their informal structures have not been too well formed and adherence to the ideology of "structurelessness" makes them reluctant to change tactics. The more Unstructured a group is, the more lacking it is in informal structures, and the more it adheres to an ideology of "structurelessness,"' the more vulnerable it is to being taken over by a group of political comrades.
Since the movement at large is just as Unstructured as most of its constituent groups, it is similarly susceptible to indirect influence. But the phenomenon manifests itself differently. On a local level most groups can operate autonomously; but the only groups that can organize a national activity are nationally organized groups. Thus, it is often the Structured feminist organizations that provide national direction for feminist activities, and this direction is determined by the priorities of those organizations. Such groups as NOW, WEAL, and some leftist women's caucuses are simply the only organizations capable of mounting a national campaign. The multitude of Unstructured women's liberation groups can choose to support or not support the national campaigns, but are incapable of mounting their own. Thus their members become the troops under the leadership of the Structured organizations. The avowedly Unstructured groups have no way of drawing upon the movement's vast resources to support its priorities. It doesn't even have a way of deciding what they are.

The more unstructured a movement it, the less control it has over the directions in which it develops and the political actions in which it engages. This does not mean that its ideas do not spread. Given a certain amount of interest by the media and the appropriateness of social conditions, the ideas will still be diffused widely. But diffusion of ideas does not mean they are implemented; it only means they are talked about. Insofar as they can be applied individually they may be acted on; insofar as they require coordinated political power to be implemented, they will not be.

As long as the women's liberation movement stays dedicated to a form of organization which stresses small, inactive discussion groups among friends, the worst problems of Unstructuredness will not be felt. But this style of organization has its limits; it is politically inefficacious, exclusive, and discriminatory against those women who are not or cannot be tied into the friendship networks. Those who do not fit into what already exists because of class, race, occupation, education, parental or marital status, personality, etc., will inevitably be discouraged from trying to participate. Those who do fit in will develop vested interests in maintaining things as they are.

The informal groups' vested interests will be sustained by the informal structures which exist, and the movement will have no way of determining who shall exercise power within it. If the movement continues deliberately to not select who shall exercise power, it does not thereby abolish power. All it does is abdicate the right to demand that those who do exercise power and influence be responsible for it. If the movement continues to keep power as diffuse as possible because it knows it cannot demand responsibility from those who have it, it does prevent any group or person from totally dominating. But it simultaneously insures that the movement is as ineffective as possible. Some middle ground between domination and ineffectiveness can and must be found.

These problems are coming to a head at this time because the nature of the movement is necessarily changing. Consciousness-raising as the main function of the women's liberation movement is becoming obsolete. Due to the intense press publicity of the last two years and the numerous overground books and articles now being circulated, women's liberation has become a household word. Its issues are discussed and informal rap groups are formed by people who have no explicit connection with any movement group. The movement must go on to other tasks. It now needs to establish its priorities, articulate its goals, and pursue its objectives in a coordinated fashion. To do this it must get organized -- locally, regionally, and nationally.


Once the movement no longer clings tenaciously to the ideology of "structurelessness," it is free to develop those forms of organization best suited to its healthy functioning. This does not mean that we should go to the other extreme and blindly imitate the traditional forms of organization. But neither should we blindly reject them all. Some of the traditional techniques will prove useful, albeit not perfect; some will give us insights into what we should and should not do to obtain certain ends with minimal costs to the individuals in the movement. Mostly, we will have to experiment with different kinds of structuring and develop a variety of techniques to use for different situations. The Lot System is one such idea which has emerged from the movement. It is not applicable to all situations, but is useful in some. Other ideas for structuring are needed. But before we can proceed to experiment intelligently, we must accept the idea that there is nothing inherently bad about structure itself -- only its excess use.

While engaging in this trial-and-error process, there are some principles we can keep in mind that are essential to democratic structuring and are also politically effective:

1) Delegation of specific authority to specific individuals for specific tasks by democratic procedures. Letting people assume jobs or tasks only by default means they are not dependably done. If people are selected to do a task, preferably after expressing an interest or willingness to do it, they have made a commitment which cannot so easily be ignored.

2) Requiring all those to whom authority has been delegated to be responsible to those who selected them. This is how the group has control over people in positions of authority. Individuals may exercise power, but it is the group that has ultimate say over how the power is exercised.

3) Distribution of authority among as many people as is reasonably possible. This prevents monopoly of power and requires those in positions of authority to consult with many others in the process of exercising it. It also gives many people the opportunity to have responsibility for specific tasks and thereby to learn different skills.

4) Rotation of tasks among individuals. Responsibilities which are held too long by one person, formally or informally, come to be seen as that person's "property" and are not easily relinquished or controlled by the group. Conversely, if tasks are rotated too frequently the individual does not have time to learn her job well and acquire the sense of satisfaction of doing a good job.

5) Allocation of tasks along rational criteria. Selecting someone for a position because they are liked by the group or giving them hard work because they are disliked serves neither the group nor the person in the long run. Ability, interest, and responsibility have got to be the major concerns in such selection. People should be given an opportunity to learn skills they do not have, but this is best done through some sort of "apprenticeship" program rather than the "sink or swim" method. Having a responsibility one can't handle well is demoralizing. Conversely, being blacklisted from doing what one can do well does not encourage one to develop one's skills. Women have been punished for being competent throughout most of human history; the movement does not need to repeat this process.

6) Diffusion of information to everyone as frequently as possible. Information is power. Access to information enhances one's power. When an informal network spreads new ideas and information among themselves outside the group, they are already engaged in the process of forming an opinion -- without the group participating. The more one knows about how things work and what is happening, the more politically effective one can be.

7) Equal access to resources needed by the group. This is not always perfectly possible, but should be striven for. A member who maintains a monopoly over a needed resource (like a printing press owned by a husband, or a darkroom) can unduly influence the use of that resource. Skills and information are also resources. Members' skills can be equitably available only when members are willing to teach what they know to others.

When these principles are applied, they insure that whatever structures are developed by different movement groups will be controlled by and responsible to the group. The group of people in positions of authority will be diffuse, flexible, open, and temporary. They will not be in such an easy position to institutionalize their power because ultimate decisions will be made by the group at large, The group will have the power to determine who shall exercise authority within it.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Eugene Victor Debs on "Sound" Tactics

"Sound Socialist Tactics", by Eugene Debs, was written in Feb 1912 and was part of the Socialist Party USA's discussion period before their convention that year. It is well worth reading today.

You can read it as a PDF here, and I am also republishing it on this blog.

Lessons and Repression

* “If a homeless man dies in Pioneer Park and there aren’t hippies around to blame… does SLCPD made a sound?”
~ Bob Aagard

If you haven't seen on the news, last weekend the Police kicked approximately 150 homeless people and political activists out of their tent city encampment in SLC's Pioneer Park. 19 were voluntarily arrested as they refused to leave in protest of the eviction. Several thousand dollars of donated camping gear were destroyed and thrown away by the police, scooped up by a large loader and placed inside of dump trucks. Much food, literature, and the kitchen were evacuated, but the camping gear wasn't and the retreat was generally conducted chaotically and in a highly personal manner.

Similar evictions have occurred at other occupations elsewhere. There's news stories about it you can read on news websites and I'll probably write about my personal experiences that day soon. But today, let's start a discussion about the political lessons of the movement.

First, let's begin a review of movement literature and some political criticisms that I have been raising and contributing since the beginning of my involvement with Occupy SLC. The point is not to go over every argument here, but to provide you with an index of what they were.

The political document I am most proud of that this movement was able to produce before its repression was a newsletter that was produced as a project of the free school at Pioneer Park. It is online at The PDF version, which is what was actually printed out in 200 copies is online here.

It was edited together from 10pm-midnight the night before the eviction so that we could have something to give out the next day. It is about 50% interviews with people living at the park and the rest involves movement news and accounts by different activists. Jesse F, Michael W, Aharon, Justin, myself, Badger, Mearle, and three other people who are anonymous from the park all have contributions in it.

This is newsletter, of course, has been a completely separate project from my own blog, here. I got involved with Occupy SLC about a month ago when I came into town while I was looking for a winter job and housing. The park was a convenient thing to have because I was living in my truck and people in cities usually look at you weird for doing that. So I had a place to sleep and eat and cook while getting my act together and, as I also have a political background in social justice movements I was excited about the political movement as well.

I was, however, rather disturbed by the lack of long term planning or strategy, the lack of a clear articulation of demands or focus among the various fronts of the movement, and in particular a lack of accountability, definition of roles, or democratic structures in the movement. As a result, and as I am a writer, I began a series of blogs about the movement, most of which I also printed out with my own money and shared with people I had met at the park. Here they are in ascending order:

The Occupation of Wall Street (reposts of some a perspectives article by someone else and the demands of Occupy Wall Street.)
Sat Oct 15

Two Counteroffensives of the 1%: Middle Class, Will You Join Us?
(Arguments against the middle class prejudices attempting to be cultivated around the "53%" anti protest slogan) Wed Oct 26th

Political Perspectives for Broadening the Occupy SLC Movement (discussion and proposals for outreach, producing more educational materials, why it makes more sense to protest in the day rather than at night time)
Thurs Oct 27

We Took the Park, Now What?
(Arguments that bringing down plutocracy takes more than camping. We shouldn't fetishize a tactic. Proposals for homeless advocacy as a focus of pioneer park, generally acting more efficiently so as not to waste time, and a humorous critique of "leaderlessness" and the "consensus" model of decision making).
Sun Oct 30, 2011

Occupation in Danger
(Critiques of the "town hall" meetings as being undemocratically run, unclear in their purpose or structure, confusing to new activists, and inefficient. Frustrations and difficulties with the fact that the web site manager is out of touch and the site is not being updated. "How to Run a Meeting" Proposals for having the most basic structures of facilitators, time keepers, stack takers, and minutes takers at meetings. A very poignant prediction that "If you are very involved in some kind of political work but you are not trying to come up with a longer term plan and goal for the park, the whole occupation will stagnate around you and eventually crumble.")
Wed Nov 2nd

To Empower the 99%
(What are the resources and the campaigns of the movement and how can we make it work? I critique the proposed campaigns of "buying locally", using credit unions instead of major banks, and calling for a "general strike" with zero organized labor support and none of the infrastructure to run it as solutions that are not likely to produce the kinds of political, regulatory, and economic changes that are needed to actually empower "the 99%" and limit the control of the "1%". Arguements for more organization and for recognizing leadership and keeping it accountable rather than pretending it doesn't exist. Ends with a concrete proposal and political plan to turn pioneer park into a campaign to expand the inadequate shelter system. Sadly, the day this was written was the day the police announced they would be shutting down the park).
Friday Nov 11, 2011

Another blog that talks about the park and the movement is Deb's blog. I met Deb just as the park was being shut down. Here is her blog about after Eviction Day. Here is her blog about the eviction itself.

"The usual suspects say the campers (of which a large percentage are homeless) should go to the shelters in the community. What they seem to not understand is that the shelters are full. You also cannot get into the shelter if you do not have identification. Instead of identification, you can bring a utility bill or a credit card statement (if you’re so lucky to have had an address at one point or the luxury of a credit card). The media does not tell you that to get into these shelters, the homeless need to have their TB shots. Without healthcare, how is one supposed to keep up with luxuries like a TB shot? Homeless are also not allowed to bring anything with them into the shelter, so if they have a suitcase full of their prized possessions, they are expected to abandon it."

"We have been told the camp is undermining the services available to the homeless community. They don’t seem to understand that we, as Occupy, are trying to address the fundamental issue of how one becomes homeless in the first place...."

"...The reason why many resist the negotiations to come back daily yet not camp is that it is an attempt to hide the issue of homelessness. Asking us to come back everyday assumes that the population has somewhere else to go. We stand with the 99% and the homeless in Pioneer Park in addressing the fundamental flaws in our communities..."

* * *

Struggle moves forward. It takes different forms and creates different organizations and adopts new tactics and strategies in light of new experience. Let the struggle continue. And let the popular classes of the "99%" re-group and re-organize themselves for a new assault on the "1%". But let us not do so on the basis of the same disorganization and confusion that has hindered, rather than helped, our Occupying movement hitherto.

Ultimately, I believe the movement was repressed and is experiencing serious setbacks today as a result of its own inherent weaknesses. The spontaneity of it and the fact that anyone could get involved and start doing whatever they wanted did bring a lot of people together, but there was never a specific list of demands or focus for the work of the Pioneer Occupation. Neither was it professionally and sanitarily managed well enough (the kitchen passed the code, but there were feces and needles in some tents) to actually be a "winter long" homeless camp as many of the organizers there envisioned, even if we didn't have any deaths and we could have retained political 'goodwill' from the police. The nature of movements is that if they don't have a plan for how to move forward, and they stagnate, the power structure eventually comes up with a plan for how to repress them.

That is, of course, exactly what happened. It is almost surreal how completely oblivious most of the movement's leading activists were about the need for long term plans, strategy, and efficient, reliable structures up until the very moment they were looking repression in the face. Less than 18 hours before the police announced the park would be closed I interviewed a few leading activists who specifically told me they rejected the idea of listing specific demands, or even articulating a vision of what we could "win" as a victory before ending the occupation. One leading activist who was arrested at the park closure and was on the radio talking about it the next day told me a day and a half before his arrest that he was against us ever leaving the park "until the plutocracy was turned into a democracy". A term prospect indeed. Another activist, J___ who has been very active with the Federal Reserve Occupation, and whose interview was published in the newsletter, spoke glowingly and full of confidence in the police to me less than a day before the same police said they were shutting the park as well as the newly won Fed- Gallivan Occupation down!

I generally think that activists like myself or perhaps you who may also read politics and history a lot more than most people often run the risk of over estimating how effective literature can be in people's political education. I have always believe that most people don't form their political opinions on the basis of what things they read, but by the life they live. That is why the Occupy Wall Street movement is huge now in a way it wasn't- and couldn't have been- for the past 3 years. It took that long of living in a recession for people's ideologies and illusions in the system to be broken down by their own life experience to the point where they were willing to seriously consider, and be involved with, systemic critiques of the system.

We too, however, are people. And with regards to political education I agree with the statement that "Theory is gray, but green is the tree of life!". I hope we all will look long and hard at the successes, as well as the challenges, limitations, and recent repression of the Occupy SLC movement and in doing so identify our strengths and weaknesses, successes as well as mistakes.

Consensus-based decision making, the experiment of "leaderlessness", the fetishizing of one specific political (occupying) tactic, and the overall theories of actions and propaganda designed to spark "spontaneous" movements without strategic plans are all good places to start.

I will contribute to the assessment of these weaknesses in the coming days on this blog. I hope my discussion about these things digitally are being mirrored by similar discussions among occupiers and ex-occupiers far and wide.

Friday, November 11, 2011

To Empower The 99%

A perspectives document on Occupy SLC
by Christian Wright


Where is Occupy SLC today? What do we have to work with? What could we do with ourselves?

Occupy SLC is moving along. A major recent victory was the gaining by the Fed Occupiers of a winning a space at Galavin Plaza, near 200 South between State and Main Streets, as an "educational front" in the center of the financial district. There we are able to directly protest the rule of the rich and powerful by bringing an anti-corporate message to large groups of people 24/7! Elsewhere, the "Town Hall" meetings which are held at "Room B" in the lower level of the library on Mondays and Thursdays from 7-9pm, and which involve much broader forces of "the 99%" who wish to challenge corporate power have in the past week gotten much better organized, efficient, and empowering. The focus of those meetings is to allow specific working groups to meet, communicate, plan and organize the actions, outreach, and messaging of the movement.

At Pioneer Park, organization and disorganization pose great challenges as well as opportunities. Last week a low point was reached when it snowed, several tents collapsed from the snow, and most crucially the kitchen was unable to cope with the weather. This was overcome by the energetic actions of several occupiers, including Jesse F, who quickly raised money online and drew up plans for the current, weatherproof design of the kitchen which is working well.

Yet, what we need is not just a better tarp or shelter here and there, what we need is a clarity of purpose and sense of direction. The park survives today, as much from luck as from anything else. Like a ship adrift at sea, no one is at the helm, half the sails aren't even out, and the anchor is dangling somewhere several meters below the surface. We are drifting along aimlessly among the currents, our maps and compasses and political signs have for weeks remained scattered about the floor of an abandoned room where they are periodically chewed up and stolen away for bedding by humble and self interested creatures while most of the crew has gotten into the rum and occupied the galley where they continue to be served by dutiful cooks themselves completely unaware whichever direction they are drifting in today, what time they will run out of provisions, or whether land and treasure or reefs and enemies are in sight, right behind us, dead ahead, or ominously close.

As I write this, I have just been informed there was a death today in the park. Other deaths, one a homicide and another an apparent suicide, have occurred at occupations in other cities. Camping in a park forever waiting to be evicted, run out of food, get snowed on or see people freeze to death is not a political program. It is not the answer to capitalism. It is not even a sane activity for anyone other than a completely desperate and actually homeless person to engage in.

I believe that ordinary people coming together and talking to one another can figure out the solution to just about anything. This method of discussion, thinking, honest collaboration, and the use of pens and paper has allowed us to do everything from inventing antibiotics to the construction of sewage and water systems to the abolition of legalized segregation and inter-planetary travel. I recommend, that instead of waking up, going about our day, and then going back to bed, that we begin a serious discussion that attempts to find a way forward for us all out of the cold and hunger and apathy and powerlessness and homelessness of our present condition.



Our movement has much potential, but most of our currently planned actions and events are (at the moment) completely Utopian. What are our events? We have education and propaganda, that is good. There are signs and fliers and there is Street Theatre. Perhaps that will "raise some consciousness", but again it avoids the question of direct struggle and material conditions. We have so much support because "consciousness" has already been painfully raised for most people by having their lives fall apart over the past 3 years of recession and greater than 10% real unemployment.

What we need is to challenge power directly and organize specific things that can win concrete improvements in the living standards of the 99%. In this article I will address the problems with several currently organized and proposed "actions", discuss a different way to view one's organizational potential, and offer a few concrete suggestions of my own.

Current active campaigns of the movement are as follows:

-To take money out of major banks and put it into credit unions.

-To protest shopping on "Black Friday" after Thanksgiving.

And, for good measure,

-to have a General Strike.

Let's look at these one at a time.

With regard to banks, I bank with Wells Fargo. I have not taken my money out of their bank and I have no plan to. But I know they are an evil institution. I was a fancy waiter in Denver in 2008 during the Democratic National Convention and I worked a party where banking lobbyists, including Wells Fargo, paid lots of money to the Democrats and bought for them king crab and raw oysters and expensive alcohol and chocolates with little pieces of flake silver and gold on top of it to eat. Yes. Gold and silver that is mined out of the earth in deadly mines and that is very precious. And they were eating it, during a recession. The heartless bastards. Later that fall, after business dropped down and I got laid off, I had bought $10 of $3 a gallon gasoline and a $1.50 coffee on a debit card. An old transaction had gone through unbeknownst to me and Wells Fargo inflicted upon me punitive overdraft fees totaling $70. This really bothered me and I think educated me very well about the inherent evilness of banks that bribe our politicians who look out for their interests, but who then punish their customers when they are caught up in the teeth of the recession.

To the credit of Wells Fargo, however, I spoke with a sympathetic banker and got the fees taken off. So there are humans there working at the branches after all. Yes. No human pushing papers around an office opening and closing accounts is an enemy of mine. The problem is at the top. And I realize the banks are evil. Though I appreciate the convenience of doing business with them. They have many convenient ATM and branch locations. I move around seasonally for work and work in different towns and states at the same time so it is a convenient bank for me to use. Sure they are an evil bank. But so is every bank.

I don't think taking my money in or out of any bank is going to accomplish any concrete changes. The social movements of the past in the 1930s and the 1960s that won things like unions, 8 hour working days, the weekend, health insurance, social security, unemployment insurance, that fought racism and segregation and expanded the right to vote and legalized abortion.... none of these things were won by people taking money out of one bank and putting it into another.

Credit Unions are not the solution. There will still be troops in Afghanistan and a $600 billion dollar pentagon budget and a $69 billion dollar military R&D budget compared to a paltry $6 billion dollar federal investment in alternative energy whether I use a credit union or a major convenient bank. There will still be a two party dictatorship masquerading as a democracy where ever I bank. They still won't let Ralph Nader or the libertarian or the green or any other candidate in the presidential debates. Immigrants will still be scapegoated for our problems and deported and abortion will still be unavailable in over 80% of counties in the United States. Where I bank will change none of this.

The problem here is much deeper than any one bank. Any one United States' president. Any one law or any one corporations' behavior. The problem, fundamentally, is one of POWER. An elite of super rich and corporate executives have too much. The great majority of the working and middle class have very little. Power, not hard work or luck or thrift or honesty, determines the appropriation of wealth in a capitalist society. It is not against Wells Fargo, or the Bank of America, or Chase , or General Motors, or the Democrats or the Republicans or Lockheed Martin or Boeing or the Pentagon that we have now been driven to revolt against. It is an entire system controlled by parasites and plunderers that is too abominably filthy to be cleansed by a single law, a single reform, or the abolition or even nationalization of a single corporation.


Another action proposed by the movement is that of refusing to shop, and attempting to discourage shoppers, from shopping at large stores on "Black Friday". Black Friday is the day after Thanksgiving when many stores offer great deals. The anticipated crowds of Black Friday, and the ensuing holiday season offers inadequate though much needed and happily agreed to employment to many citizens. Of course these great deals are quite useful to poorer and working class folks. And you know what? I think poor and working class folks should be able to have things like clothes, blenders, washing machines, and TVs. Sure, most TV rots your brain. And FOX news is straight racist propaganda. But the Daily Show and the Colbert Report and South Park (all on "Comedy Central") are the best news programs on TV and people will get smarter and think more if they see them. Animal Planet and the Discovery Channel are super cool. So is National Geographic Explorer. And Cuddling up with a loved one to watch a movie is fucking awesome. Do you like cuddling up with a loved one and watching a movie? Of course you do. It is romantic and sweet to lie together under a warm blanket and drink something nice and eat popcorn and watch a movie. It could be a movie about anything. Just love or comedy, something lighthearted to allow you to escape for a few hours the soul-destroying horror of ordinary life. Or perhaps you might even watch something political and inspiring that motivates you to become a better revolutionary. Have you seen the movies "Malcolm X" or "Defiance" or "V for Vendetta" or "Land and Freedom"? Those are fucking awesome movies that will make someone way more inspired to take action to challenge the system than will, say, attending many of our movements' meetings!

It has been suggested that instead of shopping at the large stores we shop at local, smaller stores. Perhaps local and smaller stores do less harm, on average, than the giant capitalists. But it is the nature of capitalism that if we so succeed in patronizing small and local stores that they will only become large capitalists themselves one day, which is precisely the dream of every small businessman. And I do not fall for that marketing trick that "local" businesses are inherently better than "non local" businesses. In 2009 I worked at a small, "local" independent family run restaurant. They did not exploit as many workers as a larger corporate restaurant I worked at in 2007 did. But that is only because they weren't big enough to hire that many people yet. And they did exploit me! The owner illegally stole 20% of waiters' tips every day. He pretended it was going to the kitchen, but the kitchen never saw them and they were only paid an hourly wage. This small businessman was a fucking asshole who stole money from me and from nice, intelligent hard working 18 year old waitresses. He was a fucking parasite. And a "local" one. So a small businessman is not inherently better than a large businessman.

Giving money to some businesses instead of others in not going to change the systematic injustices of capitalism, the wealth inequalities, the closed nature of our political system, or end the wars or win investment in solar and wind power. As the working and middle classes, we don't have the money that the rich have. Our greatest strength is not with our pocket books. It is with our numbers. On the street, gathering together, defending our jobs and homes from foreclosure and outsourcing, and in the workplace and the school where we can occupy and go on strike and shut down the flow of profits to the top. That is where we are most powerful.

The "politics of shopping" ignore this, fail to recognize and take advantage of it, and ignore direct actions that could improve people's material conditions. The problem in a recession isn't that people are buying too many things or buying things from certain places instead of others. The problem is that people are broke and don't have a job and they can't buy things they need to survive. Like food. Or housing. Or a fucking TV to watch an awesome movie on and cuddle with a loved one to feel like a human being.

We need to fight for ourselves. Fight for our material interests. The wealth in society we have produced by our collective toil has been greatly concentrated in the pockets of the greedy and evil few. The people who work the hardest get hung out to dry and blamed for all the problems. The people who work the least and cheat the best get all the money. That needs to change in a big, big way. As a fellow revolutionary I would agree with Martin Luther King, Jr., that it is not just a question of providing a handout for a beggar, but of realizing that a system which produces beggars is an edifice in need of restructuring!

* * *

Are there other ideas? Other actions or campaigns? Yes, there is one! There is the idea of a General Strike! The fucking General Strike! In Salt Lake City, Utah in November 2011! Holy Fucking Shit Indeed! Has there ever been a General Strike in the entire history of the State of Utah? None come to mind, and I am a reasonably well informed person on matters of Utah State History! What is a General Strike? A General Strike is when everyone doesn't go to work, and they picket and march and elect people to a Strike Committee to run the strike and they make leaflets and daily newspapers and they are really really really really really well organized. What was a general strike? There was one in Seattle in 1919 when the working class ran the city for 5 days. There were big ones in Minneapolis and San Francisco in 1934. The was a huge, nation wide one in France in 1968. And who ran these strikes? Who called them? They were run by unions. Not the stagnant, bureaucratic declining shells of corruption like we have today. They were living, breathing unions led and run by an active, involved, radical and democratic membership. The active participation of Socialists and Communists was key to their well managed effectiveness and political leadership. Lessons we have forgotten today.

Today our movement is calling for a General Strike for a date later this month. And there is no labor support! Ahh, but I am told by a General Strike Organizer that "I talked to some people [in labor] and they were really excited". Wonderful, indeed!

Calling for a general strike when you have no unions and no organized working class support and no auxiliaries is completely meaningless. There will be no general strike. And yet one is called for. Called like a witch doctor speaking to invisible spirits, expecting to summon them from thin air! What is wrong here?

It is obvious. A great revolutionary in a revolution once suggested to an assembled crowd three basic principles for them to take into consideration. They were as follows, 1) Distrust the Bourgeoisie. 2) Control Your Leaders, and 3) Rely Only on Your Own Organized Strength.

And where are we today? We've got #1 pretty good. Though we've re-defined things from a scientific class analysis based on relations of humans to the way things are produced and owned to a vague, neo-populist analysis that focuses on wealth alone in a sweeping an abstract way: the "99%" verses the "1%". But the basic understanding is there. The super wealthy are the problem.

Then there's #2: Control Your Leaders. That is slightly less than halfway there. Most of our leaders pretend they are not leaders even though they are clearly leading in important areas of work. Behind the pseudo-radical semantics of us being a "leaderless" movements lies the reality of leaders who are unaccountable and uncontrolled. There in lies a tremendous danger. Elections, a great way to tie accountability and responsiveness to any important position (such as a newsletter editor, a website manager, a room facilitator, a minutes writer, an email list organizer, a permit holder, etc...) are usually ignored. At a few times when they are so obviously necessary to the basic functioning of the movement, such as a facilitator at a town hall meeting of 65 people, a facilitator is elected. Though it is not called an election. And instead of a clear and simple raise of hands to validate the authority of the elected facilitator a confusing "consensus" is taken that many people in the room do not participate in one way or another, nor do they understand. So we are still learning the most basic rules of leadership that every professional, political, and union organization in the world has spent the past few hundred years developing.

And #3? The last one? Ahh! This is the hardest, and the weakest. We do NOT rely on our own organized strength. We rely on phantoms and hopes. The same mistake many of us made with Obama- where we not only trusted a leader we didn't control, or even try to control, but we trusted a leader we couldn't control and we relied on his promises, rather than on what was organized, real, visible, and our own!

How the General Strike proposal exposes our great failure to appreciate this third point! Instead of being at the place, where perhaps we may be several years from now, where organized and unorganized workers are largely won to the idea of struggle and in communication with one another through official as well as informal horizontal networks; where the idea of a general strike might actually be possible, we are, instead... here. Today. In Salt Lake City in November 2011. Where we have nowhere near the organized strength necessary for a general strike. But does this stop the printing presses? No. It does not. The flyers are made and printed, "General Strike" proclaimed boldly on the front. And they are hung up. And instead of relying on our own organized strength we are relying on the vague HOPES (that no one, deep down actually believes in) that somehow, if we have a nice enough looking flyer, and we manage to put it up in enough places, that it will just *convince* several hundred thousand breadwinners in a recession to risk their jobs and put their families at risk to refuse to go to work and to come out to a demonstration called by people they've never met on behalf of a cause infamous for its chaotic leadership and its inability to coherently define itself!

So of course, there will be no general strike, and it will fail, and any union representative from a president to the lowliest shop steward or card holder looking at our flyer will laugh at the Utopian ultra-leftism of it. Such is the level of thinking currently leading the work of the Town Halls' events committee!


I will ask, then, what IS our own organized strength? What DO we have to work with? What CAN we realistically count on?

Look around Pioneer Park and see us for what we are! Talk to us and interview us and ask us questions! Get to know us, each other, ourselves! We are the people with good ideas and morals and intentions who are confounded in every election cycle by a pathetic choice between two heartless war mongering and out of touch elites bought and paid for by defense contractors, polluting energy companies, the pharmaceutical industry and the at-large super-rich. We are the ripped off unappreciated toilers who built the country only to then get thrown out on the scrap heap when the money changers on Wall Street pushed papers around wrong and fucked the economy up. We are the broken down, homeless, hated and scapegoated and made fun of and feared Salt Of The Fucking Earth. We are between jobs and caught up and addicted and degraded and alternately selfish and selfless because we have Traumatic Brain Injuries and personality disorders and a keen interest in personal survival. We are also activists and who are smart and skilled and who are probably spending a lot of our time worrying about and feeding and clothing and sheltering a lot of other people who probably don't give a damn about us or the cause. Yes. We are what society is, and what society needs, whether it knows it or not! We are the 99%, no doubt about that.

The crisis has arrived. Injustice, and the distribution of Power that makes this injustice possible, is clear to us all. And now we must deal with it, develop solutions and strategies and concrete campaigns. And we can't half ass it, or put our faith into illusionary forces. We can't rely on propaganda alone, and hope that the right call to action, or the right slogan, will bring everyone out to some great big jolly "fun" activity. Let us become more serious than that! Let us agree with the great Revolutionary, Thomas Paine, who famously said:

"When it becomes necessary to do a thing, the whole heart and soul should go into the measure, or not attempt it. That crisis was then arrived, and there remained no choice but to act with determined vigor, or not to act at all."

What we need is to challenge power directly and to organize specific actions and campaigns that can win concrete improvements in the living standards of the 99%. Victory is the best propaganda. People are busy and their time is important. They will rightfully distrust any persons or movements who seem to enjoy wasting time and working inefficiently. And what we need to inspire people today isn't hollow slogans on leaflets or the collapsing rhetorical masturbation of a directionless, unaccountable, inarticulate and "leaderless" inertia! THE AMOEBA IS BUT THE LOWEST FORM OF LIFE- it is not an organizational structure to be replicated by higher beings! Propulsion by any creature takes a great deal of division of labor among constituent parts, as well as coordination, accountability, and definition of roles. Let us abandon all empty talk and focus instead upon the original, radical idea, that revolution will not happen in a day, and that a protracted struggle on ideological, political, and economic fronts over months and years is necessary to build up the confidence, will, and organization among the popular classes that is absolutely a necessary perquisite for any political or economic restructuring of society from below.



Unlike most Occupations currently happening around the country, in our unique case, we have become predominately a park full of actually homeless people, and it is a minority of us who are out here for the purpose of making a political statement. I agree with Seth that this is perhaps a blessing in disguise, and provides us with an opportunity to organize support around a concrete campaign that could directly improve the material conditions of the people hardest hit by the recession, as well as politically attack and win ground against the currently dominant morality of selfishness, greed, and degradation of human life.

I propose that we should organize ourselves to a political campaign around the slogan "Housing is a right." We have through no intention or fault of our own managed to organize much of the city's homeless into a political movement that asserts housing and feeding oneself as a human right. We have dramatically demonstrated the need for comprehensive housing and the inadequacies of the current private shelter /charity and cash strapped governmental housing assistance programs by our tents that are set up in the park.

I propose that we consciously organize this into a movement to make housing a right. We have an incredibly wonderful strategic position to do this. The city would rather us disappear from the park. I as a homeless person would rather have shelter with a roof and central heating than I would freeze to death in tent in a park all winter. Most of the homeless people here feel the same way. Many people in the city politically support our message, that people should be placed over profits, and that housing should be provided for those who need it. And we've put a lot of embarrassing pressure on the city power structure as well as the deep pockets of the large financial institutions. We can use that pressure and this opportunity to win a better shelter and housing assistance program.

Also through no fault of our own, the highly visible presence of drug addiction in this park can be featured front and center in this movement to radically challenge the way drug addiction is treated in our society. Currently it is treated as a criminal problem. In reality it is a medical problem, and it is a moral crisis that we as a society have chosen to keep our drug addicts freezing outside in the street, rather than welcomed into the shelter of a secure and warm and humane treatment system. Asserting the right of housing and treatment for even the most disparaged, "hopeless", drug addicted and mentally ill people is not only a moral necessity, but it is a great political attack against the prison industrial complex. Millions of dollars are made building prisons and employing judges, lawyers, sheriffs, policemen, and prison guards to take non-violent drug users and turn them into felons who must unproductively be housed at great public expense in dehumanizing facilities where useful education is denied and an informal criminal education is abundantly accessible. This is a system that degrades human life. There is no other way to put it. And it is here that we could at best strike a great blow, and at worst at least cause a few cracks in the politics that hold it all together.

Therefore, my proposal is:

We, the residents of Pioneer Park, have hereby decided to constitute ourselves into a movement to abolish homelessness in the Salt Lake City area. We are directly abolishing homelessness by taking over a public park and using it to shelter and feed ourselves. This is a temporary solution, and in the interests of finding a permanent solution we hereby have set ourselves to advocate the following demands:

1) For funds to be made available, via grants and tax payer subsides, to improve the existing and inadequate shelter system as well as to construct new homeless shelters. New Shelters must be made ASAP and they must be well lit, well heated, handicapped accessible and conveniently located. They must be staffed by well paid and highly qualified social workers as well as by security guards who are able to ensure a violence and drug free environment for all seeking to escape street life. Wherever possible, every effort must be made to secure the dignity and the safety of all needing shelter by having private rooms available for families, couples, and individual citizens in need of shelter.

2) In addition to the construction of new family- friendly, drug and violence free shelters, we must acknowledge the special needs of other populations. For the safety and health of all citizens separate shelters should be constructed for mentally ill people who have special needs. Private institutions with documented and respectable experience in managing group homes for intellectually disabled people need to be invited to Salt Lake and involved in the solution to the housing crisis. Along with this, publicly managed institutions and systems must also be included as part of the solution.

3) A third category of drug addicted individuals also exists among the homeless population and everywhere in every shelter system has threatened and troubled the life of non-drug users seeking themselves a way out of homelessness. We recognize fact that people who are addicted to hard drugs are more likely to have their morals corroded by the vices of theft, violence, and unreliability. This does not change the fact that all those who are addicted to drugs are still human beings with lives that have value. Housing is a right for them as much as anyone else. Therefore, we propose a joint state- and private partnership to secure funding and management for a system of shelters and group homes for the drug addicted. While we believe the exact details of the management of such a place be left to experts with experience in this field, we propose the following suggestions:

-No one is arrested or put in jail for non-violent drug use.

-A needle exchange program is made available at all locations and drug treatment programs are made available. Free transport is also provided from each location to AA or NA type groups' meetings and back.

-Instead of being hoarded and stolen, theft and security is obtained by having institutional security supervise the keeping of residents' drugs in guarded, private on-site safe deposit boxes.

-Private, monitored rooms are made available for drug addicted individuals to do their drugs in. This reform is recognized as being safer for the individual as well as the general public than the current policy of forcing drug addicted individuals to seek public places to do drugs in.

-24/7 on site security is maintained and all violent persons are referred to city authorities for prosecution.

4) Upon the erection of a shelter system that safely, and with dignity, meets the needs of our city's homeless population, we will happily disband our occupation of Pioneer Park where we are currently with difficulty and discomfort housing ourselves within inferior system of shelter. This does not signify the end of our resolve to fight the abuses of the current power structure and priorities, but it will allow us to return the park to the city for other uses while we focus our energies productively and efficiently on other campaigns to reform other aspects of injustice in the Salt Lake City area.

At the moment, many of our "activists" feel that camping in a park forever without issuing any concrete demands or statement of purpose is going to somehow... be a good idea. I think these people are out of their fucking minds, and what they are most likely to do is to piss away a great opportunity to challenge corporate power, make lives better for people, and ultimately, they're going to get evicted and the kitchen will be torn down and the tents will be confiscated and the people who were relying on the protective cover of their movement to camp in the park are going to be out on their own once again scurrying about in an uncaring world of isolated homelessness.

The right to housing, and the act of providing love and care for all persons regardless of their position is a notion that has deep roots in many religions. Here in Utah, we can use this fact to gain support from many religious faiths.

As I political program of activity to win the above demands I propose:

1) We discuss this proposal with all homeless members of the Pioneer Park Occupation to see how they feel about it, and what level of involvement they would be able to contribute.

2) All of us educate ourselves as much as we can on the nature of the existing shelter system, and that we produce a document that lists its deficiencies. Also, we should educate ourselves on the struggles of places that have comprehensive and well functioning shelter systems and see what we can learn from them. These lessons can be added to the above document to produce a useful literature.

3) We hold a press conference at the Park announcing this campaign and these demands

4) We elect delegates we trust who are articulate and smart to meet with state legislature members to discuss our demands.

5) We empower the same delegates to meet with members of the most powerful financial institutions that we are currently protesting, especially if they have been bailed out by public funds, and we invite them to made charitable grants towards the construction of an improved SLC shelter system. Our movement has given them a political motive to participate in this. But obtaining their participation we would win a concrete victory for our own material relief, and in the process demonstrate the effectiveness of social movements to organize against the morality and power structures of capitalism.

6) We attempt to secure the broadest possible involvement in a public campaign of protests, at the park and at strategic targets, from homeless members of the park, homeless people not currently sleeping at the park, and any other political supporters.

Monday, November 7, 2011

New Blogs

This blog has been interesting and good to have for the past several years.

But it is too convoluted. Theres political things, geological things, river things, ghost town things, personal things... it's too all over the place.

So I decided to seperate things out to give them their own focus and better organization. From now on, in addition to the already built promotional site for the ghost town project, I am running The blogging format there will be a conveient one, not just to share photos with, but to begin the process of drafting articles that will later become chapters on the histories of some 40 - odd places all around the state.

As far as specifically river things and personal guiding life things go, I also started

Both of those already have a few updates. As the winter approaches I should be having time to update them with many more.

What then, for laughing fish?

Maybe it'll become a more political blog. Can't see what else is left!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Occupation in Danger! Undemocratic meetings! An unaccountable Website! And How to Run A Meeting!

Thoughts on the Movement by a Participant No 3: Nov 2, 2011
( Available as a PDF here).

Distrust the rich and powerful, control your own leaders, rely only on your own organized strength!

(this newsletter is written, edited, printed, and distributed with his own funds and on his own behalf by an anonymous citizen who is part of the occupy movement and who values accountability, transparency, and democracy).


1.Undemocratic management of the Town Hall Meetings
2. The website is not controlled by this movement
3. How to Run a meeting
4. The Park is really chaotic and as a result the occupation is in danger.


1) The last town hall meeting that took place at 7pm November 1st at the Library was run completely undemocratically. The people who showed up never had a chance to be part of deciding what the agenda was, how long it was going to last, or who was going to be the facilitator.

I was invited to speak to a church's Sunday School last Sunday and I had a very productive time discussing the movement with the people gathered there. They generally supported the 99% message and several of them expressed an interest in getting involved and they gave me their emails. I told them about the town hall meeting and invited them to it. I don't think any of them made it out, which is fortunate, because I felt it was probably the least accessible, understandable, or democratically run meeting I have ever been to in my life.

If a meeting is started without any structure or organized roles in place, it is not going to be a productive meeting. At the town hall, people who were comfortable talking over others who had raised their hand up before them spoke to one another for one hour and 15 minutes. No time was allotted to discuss any specific topics. After hearing committee reports discussion wandered aimlessly. People who cared more about their own comments being heard than they did about listening to everyone's opinions dominated the evening. Many people who probably had good things to say or good questions to ask raised their hands and looked around confused. They often looked at the person who had been talking the most and who on their own initiative but with no democratic mandate had been “leading” the meeting. People hoping to be called on by this person were never called on.

This one person (that no one elected to anything!) effectively ran the meeting and talked as long as they wanted to during the first one hour and 15 minutes. At that point I was rather fed up with seeing people raise their hands and not get called on. I asked this person, who had herself done most of the talking and who started the meeting and was defacto leading it if she was indeed the facilitator. She said she was not. She said “no one” was running the meeting. Clearly, that was not working very well. In an effort to remedy the situation I then introduced a resolution to the floor for me to take stack for the next 10 minutes to go through people who had been raising their hands and hear their comments. The motion was seconded. And consensus was taken in favor of it.

I called on the first person who had had his hand up for a while and wrote down the next two people who also put their hands up on a speakers' list. At that point the aforementioned one person who had talked more than anyone else in the room for the previous 1 hour and 15 minutes interrupted that speaker and said “we didn't have time” to hear more people. She was asked to respect the stack and she had trouble doing this. As the last person who raised his hand was heard from she walked towards the back of the room and began talking to others who gathered around her about how upset she was with the fact that I tried to take a speakers' list. At this point the meeting broke out into working groups, which met, though there was not time for them to come back together and say what they discussed to the general body.

Was the shortage of time due to the fact that I had intervened to allow a few previously ignored people to be heard before we broke up into working groups, or was the shortage of time due to the fact that THERE HAD BEEN ABSOLUTELY NO STRUCTURE, AGENDA, OR TIME KEEPING FOR THE PREVIOUS ONE HOUR AND 20 MINUTES?

Our movement is plagued by many difficulties. We are plagued by people who show up to meetings and talk as long as they want . We are plagued by people who come to meetings and attack people who try and propose a useful, democratic structure for them. We are plagued by people who want to make decisions on behalf of an “occupying” movement who have themselves never occupied anything. I don't know if these are just people with poor social skills, or if they are actual enemies of the movement who have infiltrated it in order to disrupt it. It is pointless to accuse such a person of being either, because the the effect is the same. These people, unrestrained by democratic structures work to perpetuate the continued disempowerment of everyone present. And they will continue doing this just as long as structurelessness, disguised as “liberatory anarchism” is allowed to continue unchallenged.



2) Those Occupying SLC today do not Control the website

The people occupying Pioneer Park do not control it. The people occupying nothing but their apartments and their chairs but who do attend town hall meetings at the library in order to relate to “the movement” in some way also do not control it. Neither do the people occupying the Fed. WHO DOES CONTROL IT?

I don't know.

As it was discussed at the last town hall meeting, someone built the website, and then “got busy” with their personal life. So they have not been updating it. People with events to post on the calender and not been able to do so. I have not been able to post minutes from GA meetings that take place at Pioneer Park on it. We do not control our own public face! A new web team has assembled as a working group at the last town hall. They are planning to build a new site and get access to put it up. I asked how long they thought this would take. They said they don't know. I reminded them that many people who are sleeping out in the cold every night for several weeks very much ought to have prompt control over their own public face. I was criticized for phrasing things so “dramatically”. This is exactly why our “leaderless” movement will fail! We have no accountability! People volunteer for things and then flake out! People in positions of power, such as website mangers, are not elected! Under the name of “Anarchy” the same structures of power we say we oppose have been recreated!

Please come to the next town hall at the library this Thursday at 7pm if you are a serious person with web skills who can help us to remedy this situation.


3) How to Run a Meeting

This is how you run a meeting. First, leave your ideology at the door. It doesn't matter whether you think “consensus” or “voting” is a better way of making decisions. It doesn't matter if you think “after capitalism” having “no leaders” would be nice. You have to look here at the crowd that is right in front of you right now. Think about how much time you have, what things need to be accomplished, and then start figuring out how the meeting can best be run to be efficient, to allow everyone to participate, to make sure malicious and disruptive people will not be able to hold up the meeting, and to make decisions in an orderly way.

First, get roles assigned. You will need to get people to volunteer and be approved by the group to be a facilitator, a time keeper, a stack taker, and a minutes taker.

A Facilitator is important. He or she is not a dictator, but they can at times jump in and say things. They are there to make sure we do not get off topic, that what should be a general discussion does not devolve into just two people talking to each other about specific details that could be worked out after the meeting. They keep an eye on the big picture, and if, say, people start trying to all talk about what someone just said as an announcement, they can remind the crowd, “Hey, this is just announcements right now. Please only raise your hand if you have an announcement. After announcements are all heard we will have general discussion.”

The Time Keeper is also important. Let's say the agenda of a meeting is a) 5 minutes for announcements, b) 15 minutes for committee report backs, b) 20 minutes for general discussion c) 30 minutes for working group break outs, and d) 15 minutes where working groups come back and report what they just discussed and introduce proposals to be voted on by the generally assembled people. A time keeper needs a watch and can give like a “5 minute warning” if we're running close on time. He can remind the facilitator when time is up for a specific topic.

The “Stack Taker” keeps a speakers' list. A speakers' list is sometimes called a “stack”. This person must be very observant and look around the whole circle or room often. If someone raises their hand, they write it down on a piece of paper. During the discussion they call on the people who raised their hand in order that their hands were raised. An exception to this is if one person keeps raising their hand and always seems to want to talk after every person talks. The stack taker should move this person to a lower place in the list and allow people who haven't spoken before yet to speak before them. A stack taker should be a different person from the facilitator. If a facilitator is so focused taking stack he will be distracted and forget to keep his eye on the bigger picture.

Lastly, have a responsible person be the Minutes Taker. This person writes down the essence of what was said, what announcements were made, what issues were discussed, what were the basic arguments of each side of a discussion, what proposals were introduced, and what decisions were made. In a democratic organization these minutes are shared with everyone who is part of the movement as soon as possible after the meeting. In a movement such as an occupation with limited internet access, minutes should be sent out online and also put on the website, but they must also be printed and distributed among everyone at the occupation.

Decisions in a meeting can be made in many ways. Sometimes decisions are never up for discussion or debate, they are just spoken of like they are already going to happen. That is an undemocratic way of making decisions. A better way is to allow voting, or if you absolutely must to use “consensus”- which I personally think is really confusing and redundant- but which some people who are part of this movement which is currently extremely disorganized, inefficient, unaccountable, and in danger of collapse seem to think is a better way to make decisions. I don't care how you make decisions. But whether you vote on stuff or use “consensus”, here is how it must work:

Number one, someone formally introduces a Proposal. Number 2, the proposal is not discussed or voted on unless it is seconded. You second a proposal by raising your hand and say “I second this proposal”. Then some time should be set aside for it to be discussed. NO OTHER DISCUSSION NOT RELATED TO THE PROPOSAL SHOULD OCCUR UNTIL THE PROPOSAL IS EITHER VOTED/ CONSENSED ON AND ADOPTED, OR UNTIL THE PROPOSAL IS REJECTED.

That is it. That is how you run a meeting. If you decided not to have a facilitator, and a stack taker, and a time keeper, people who love to hear themselves talk are going to talk the most, while people who like to hear what is said, think about it, and then maybe say something are not going to be heard at all. Any meeting with more than a small handful of people who already agree with each other on what they are there for and who are very respectful of each other, will require these basic structures. If you have a facilitator, a stack keeper, and a time keeper, you have a chance at having a democratic meeting. If you decide not to have these things, you WILL be condemning yourself to a “dictatorship of the loud and arrogant.” There is no middle ground. That is exactly how it is. And lastly, beware, for



4) The Park is Really Chaotic and the Occupation There is in Danger

The park is super chaotic. Someone named “Tank” who hung around for a while and decided to be park of the medical team stole Heathers' dog. It is a pregnant black and white pit bull. People still fight each other pretty frequently. We are organized enough to feed ourselves, and we finally got port a potties. Jesse is trying to organize donations better. Rob is trying to make the free school work better. Edward and Johnathan have done great work to get finances more organized and flyers finally printed and distributed. But there is still much to be done. Of all the people sleeping here, there is not enough energy or inspiration or self discipline to EVEN HOLD SIGNS UP ON THE STREET CORNER DURING RUSH HOUR. That is the ONE most basic thing we can do to share our message. I was at the park today and at 11:22 AM I took the tarp off the library/ lit table. That table is the one most basic political resource we have. It is where you go when you visit the park and where we have materials to share with visitors. And by 'nigh noon no one of all the people sleeping there had even bothered to take the tarp of it so the stuff there could be seen.

Most people staying at the park are more interested in personal survival and not freezing to death than they are in political protest and fighting the 1%. They are not helping with day to day organizing, but because of this the future of the park existing as a safe place for them to eat and sleep is not guaranteed. Most people “part of this movement” who say they are interested in fighting the 1% do not show up at the park, do not help us get things organized, and do not help create, print, and distribute political materials. The park is loosing its political focus. Our best activists are over extended and burning themselves out. We have no security, no control over our website, we do not write up and share minutes of the General Assemblies, and very few people camping here even bother to come to the General Assemblies. If we want the occupation to continue some behaviors need to change. If you are camping here and you like the fact that you have a place to not freeze to death you need to step up and help keep it clean and peaceful. If you are very involved in some kind of political work but you are not trying to come up with a longer term plan and goal for the park, the whole occupation will stagnate around you and eventually crumble.