Occupy Wall Street has never made an official demand, nor has it worked directly with politicians, but this week a group of organizers from New York agreed to meet with members of congress about legislation, before canceling the meeting at the last minute lest they offend the consensus-driven movement. The news of what appeared to be an Occupy delegation was planning to meet with members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus seemed like a big deal for Occupy: The group has so far refused to issue specific legislative demands because doing so would make it appear that once its demands were met, it would be appeased. But the organizers traveling to D.C. couldn't be called a delegation. Rather, they were a group of independent activists who agreed to speak to the caucus as individuals without putting the plan before Occupy's consensus process -- the only way it "officially" makes decisions.
On Monday night Roll Call reported that "ten organizers from New York’s OWS group will speak to the caucus about their legislative priorities, according to an email sent to Members and obtained by Roll Call." Occupy denied that it was sending a delegation, but our sources confirmed that yes, a few individual organizers did agree to speak to the CPC about what Occupy wanted, though not as official representatives of the group. Official or not, however, they were the ones getting an audience with members of Congress. That annoyed enough occupiers and drew enough attention to the planned meeting that the would-be unofficial delegates canceled it.
On Twitter Tuesday, some Occupy organizers scorned the idea that those ten people could represent Occupy Wall Street. "Which #OWS group is meeting with lawmakers? your article gives impression it is an official delegation. it is not," tweeted Dicey Troop, who regularly tweets minutes from Occupy's general assemblies, in a message directed at Roll Call reporter Jessica Brady. "This maneuver is against consensus," he wrote later.
Indeed, Occupy never agreed to send the delegation in its General Assembly nor its Spokes Council, the two consensus-building units of the group, whose minutes are available online. "Anyone can say that they're working with Occupy Wall Street, but from what I understand OWS is against endorsing political candidates," Occupy spokesman Patrick Bruner said. The group's not endorsing legislation, either, though unofficial lists of "suggestions" have advocated for a return of the Glass-Segal Act and an end to corporate personhood, among others.
But if Occupy is a leaderless movement that doesn't engage with existing power structures, what was a small group of organizers doing planning to meet with congressional representatives? It's been reported before that at some point there does have to be a more streamlined power structure working in the group in order for it to get anything done. New York magazine's John Heilemann pointed to the phenomenon in his big feature "2012=1968?" from a couple weeks ago:
In such an environment, formal claims to leadership are invariably and forcefully rejected, leaving the processes for accomplishing anything in a state of near chaos, while at the same time opening the door to (indeed compelling) ad hoc reins-taking by those with the force of personality to gain ratification for their ideas about how to proceed. “In reality,” says Yotam Marom, one of the key OWS organizers, “movements like this are most conducive to being led by people already most conditioned to lead.”
They would never admit it, but that appears to be what's happening with the visit to the CPC: Somebody's taking the reins in terms of representing the group to Congress. But the rest of Occupy's not ready for that yet.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.