Openness versus effectiveness in activist organizations

Occupy Wall Street comprised the people who responded to the call. Ultimately, however, uncritical openness was Occupy’s downfall: the general assemblies were paralyzed by the inability to distinguish between true and false. Participants who had been with Occupy for a day were given a say equal to that of committed activists who had founded the first encampments. In our fully horizontal social movement, no one had the authority to determine who ought to be expelled for being disruptive. Occupy faced adversaries inside and outside. Half wanted to destroy the movement, and the other half wanted to control it. Occupy never developed a way to vet participants. Anyone (worthy or unworthy) could claim to be an equal spokesperson of the movement. Thus the movement faced both police infiltrators who disrupted our assemblies with belligerence and the 99% Spring, an initiative financed by the progressive Left, that mimicked Occupy in a successful bid to dissipate the movement’s revolutionary momentum into a re-election campaign for President Obama.

White, Michah. The End of Protest. p. 112-3 (paperback)


Author: Milan

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Relations and a general focus in the area of environmental politics. In the fall of 2005, I began reading for an M.Phil in IR at Wadham College, Oxford. Outside school, I am very interested in photography, writing, and the outdoors. I am writing this blog to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, provide a more personal view of graduate student life in Oxford, and pass on some lessons I've learned here.

2 thoughts on “Openness versus effectiveness in activist organizations”

  1. I attended a number of the assemblies at the occupy Vancouver encampment at the Art Gallery. It was impossible to discuss anything as there didn’t seem to be any agenda or protocol. It just seemed like an open-mike kind of situation where people vented. As much as I supported the occupy movement, it seemed to have little legitimacy and authority. I still admire the idea and the courage of people to do this, but I am not sure what would be a better approach that would include more groups of society.

  2. While I don’t think we have had any police infiltrators at meetings, there have certainly been disruptive individuals: people who take us off track, attack others, use meetings to rant and complain, make grandiose claims about themselves but never do any work, etc. They are a challenge for chairs, especially inexperienced ones, and can often make meetings unpleasant, driving away volunteers.

    This is partly a cost of being open and democratic – groups less committed to these ideals would probably have asked them to stop attending long ago (and they may stick around with us specifically because we keep giving them this platform).

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