The Horizontalist


I have so many questions. Where do I start?

How about this: what would the Occupy movement in Tucson do differently, if we could start over at October 15, 2011? Which twists and turns of this movement did we foresee and which have taken us utterly by surprise? What has changed in the movement since those early heady days, and why? Can our decline in numbers be blamed on the American attention span? Or are we to believe the narrative of the mainstream media: the Occupy movement screwed things up so badly that people got frustrated and went away?

What mistakes did the local Occupy movement made? What successes can we claim? How have our own structures and values (direct democracy, horizontal decision-making, outdoor meetings) hindered us? How have they sustained us? Which strategies have worked and which need to change?

How well are we representing ourselves to the public? To what extent is honest representation even possible given the mainstream media’s hunger for conflict?

In what ways have we been manipulated and tricked by the police? How did the police and municipal government cooperate with national efforts, including the Department of Homeland Security, to quash Occupy encampments around the country, including Tucson’s? How have our weaknesses made it easy for them?

How have shenanigans perpetrated by individuals affiliated with Occupy Tucson damaged our credibility? How have these incidents of individual misbehavior been used against the movement, and to what extent might these incidents have been instigated by provocateurs? What do we do when an individual disrupts us? How do we react when a fellow Occupier becomes a hindrance to the movement? Does the movement eject that individual, and if so, how?

Given we’re a movement that welcomes and amplifies all voices, should we even be thinking in those terms?

How well have we treated one another within the movement? In what ways are we waylaid by the frustrations, angers and oppressions we are here to correct? How lousy does it feel to be on the receiving end of that anger & frustration? How much lousier does it feel to catch ourselves misdirecting that anger at our fellow activists?

What does it mean to be a movement that values transparency? What does it mean to make our decisions out in public, for everyone to see? What happens when that process is messy and conflicted and sometimes screwed up and subject to all the ways humans make mistakes? Now what happens when 8,000 people on Facebook watch those mistakes unfold, because we’re a movement that values transparency?

What happens when trust is compromised within a movement? How is the breakdown of trust an excellent tool for crippling the movement, and how does infiltration—and subsequent discovery thereof—feed that breakdown? How does our culture keep us from trusting one another?

How well are we applying the wisdom that comes with hindsight?

How has the diversity of this movement handicapped us? How has it been our strength? How could we possibly have believed we could organize “the 99 percent” into agreement? Do we need to relearn how to participate in our democracy? Do we need to relearn how to talk to one another?

Readers, will you join me in using this forum as a space for honest inquiry? Also, will you support me as I wield a heavy moderator mallet here? Will you say Oh Hell Yeah, let’s make this a productive and considered and deep dialogue, not a nasty-ass internet free-for-all? Will you smatter me with light applause as I smite (nonviolently of course) the trolls & haters & uncivil egomaniacs, to give us all some space to ask the tough questions?

In what ways are these the wrong questions, anyhow? In what ways are they right? What comes next? Where do we start?

14 thoughts on “The Horizontalist”

  1. Truly, you would throw open the floodgates ! Would any less be effective ? Probably not. I promise to respect the moderator’s mallet & other prerogatives – as we say back east, it’s just not possible to sail a ship by committee.

    Re. “Can our decline in numbers be blamed on the American attention span? ” – to which I answer basically no, & for two reasons :

    1) Attention span is probably longer in Canada, Mexico, Central and South America, etc, since they haven’t been exposed to decades of Unites States television : )

    2) Attention spans in the United States have often been shown to be woefully short, but I am not prepared to give that condition very much weight as an excuse. We had plenty of support early on, during that early grace period when people were really watching to see what we’d say and what we’d do. Lots of unpleasant things were expected of us, but were not yet proven. This is the United States, and we really were given the benefit of the doubt, and this for a longer time than I had expected.

    So then what happened ? Well hey, – here is one example which I find especially embarrassing – I was there during two of the General Assemblies at Armory Park during which it was debated what was to be our approach & interface with the bicycle tour folks, El Tour de Tucson. There were at least three people who got up on stack, and rather loudly dissed el Tour de Tucson, and dissed further the very idea that we might cooperate with them. Yes I’ll defend valiantly their right to say what they said – all the while stoutly disagreeing with it. The people who said that stuff gave the wrong answer, IMHO. That sort of answer is a naïve answer, it is a hubristic answer, it’s got no class, and besides the obvious fact that such an answer is approximately guaranteed to piss off the police unnecessarily, – it also tends to brand one as not really understanding that words have sometimes rather unpleasant consequences, and that actions have sometimes rather unpleasant consequences. It tends to brand one as having the luxury to make a lot of high sounding talk, with no reprisals, – and please remember that most of the 99 percent do not have this luxury. And yes, to the best of my remembrance, all the ones who talked that stuff were men.

    It will be pointed out, that the suggestions of those who wanted to diss el Tour de Tucson, did not achieve consensus, and were not formally adopted. Remember however, we are being evaluated not only for our actions but also for our attitude. Even if it were really no more than three who got on stack and talked that attitude, – it was inevitably going to be assumed by some in our audience, that for each one of those who got up and said that stuff, there must be at least three or four more who feel the same way, or even worse.

    And how many days after that was it, that we got 86ed out of Armory Park ? No whining please, and no blaming the cops. I believe there must be ways of reducing the occurrence of such failures on our part.

    Just how would that failure have been solved, or avoided ? I am not sure. Someone else must remember that debate, & very likely they remember it a bit differently than I. So, what did you see ?

    • I do take Frank’s point as a valid one, but it also sets up a question as to what constitutes this radical form of democracy that Occupy preaches. Unfortunately, where there are a lot of people expressing opinions about things they care about, many a time they are likely to come on too strong. We can, of course, try to moderate that (and I think most of Occupy has been reasonably polite) but, still, there will be conflict and sharp things said and I think we all need to be aware of that. We often look to ancient Athens as being a model of horizontal democracy (BETWEEN the slave owning oligarchs who constituted the ruling), and yet things got very heated and insulting there too. But I also believe there are many other reasons why people have left Occupy, and I think that Erin Whitfield’s comic in the Occupied Tucson Citizen points out that some fair share of it has to do with unrealistic expectations on the part of some of the participants.

      • As of yesterday afternoon, I have heard of another one, – an instance which sure looks like inexcusable blatant racism and classism perpetrated by – it had to be one or more people in our outfit – and I am at a loss to make even an initial guess as to who would have allowed this to happen. Perpetrated upon the HardGround working group, basically – – they merely asked for bus passes so as to be able to attend General Assemblies. It was bought up at one or more General Assemblies, the answer was yes we will do this, the money has been allocated, – – and then nothing. No bus passes were ever handed out. I have heard this from people who I find to be credible, and too, I find the story to be quite credible. The very best that can be said about it, is that it indicates a broken and dysfunctional group, who failed to take care of their own. I am amazed and disgusted. This is [among other things] bad press which we brought onto ourselves, and it is just plain dumb. Checking for privilege, anyone ?

  2. Wonderful set of questions! Your column has great potential as a forum for reevaluating the local movement. And from that, I would love to see a stronger Occupy Tucson emerge.

  3. Excellent undertaking! Yes, let’s take an honest look, correct our erroneous practices, and continue with the work at hand.

    Given the difficult conditions (e.g., transient physical location, exposure to elements, ever-changing membership, police crack-downs, lack of political support, etc.), OT has been wildly successful in keeping our organization intact!

    To improve, however, we could tighten up our administrative functions. I don’t believe we have been conscientious about expressing our gratitude for the support we’ve received. We have failed to collect, organize, and use the contact information we’ve been given. Our meetings too often start late, meander through the business at hand, and generally waste people’s time. We do not bother to send out advance agendas for our meetings to allow participants to come prepared for discussion. Financial information is not readily available despite our avowed belief in transparency.

    So, with those thoughts in mind, I plan to do what I can, in conjunction with others, to shore up our administrative practices and to strengthen our organization.

    I’m deeply grateful to have OT as a force for change in our broken and rigged economic, political, and social systems. Thanks to each of you for your efforts to ensure a more equitable, just, loving, and sustainable future.

  4. Mary, you said it, sister: how we’re managing to keep this movement vibrant despite the obstacles thrown in our paths is a minor miracle in itself. So we do need to go a bit easy on ourselves even as we recognize our shortcomings.

    As to the question of the occasional misinformed/angry/loud/irritating individual disrupting/usurping/misdirecting our General Assemblies: uh huh, yep. That’s what happens when you’re organizing among 99 percent of the population. A pretty hefty percentage of the 99 percent are just assholes. Yet another obstacle: on a day-to-day level, direct democracy can be a real slog.

  5. I think that yes….. mistakes have been made, and certainly we had hoped to accomplish a complete U-turn from the direction in which our nation…. our world…. has been going. However, I think the real accomplishment we have succeeded in achieving is to have awakened the American public. Our 99% Gulliver may still be lying down with eyes half closed, but he is now beginning to awaken to the knowledge that the restraints holding him down are Lilliputian, and can be easily broken once he is completely awake, and decides to exercise his full strength. In my opinion, the changes we seek will take generations to come about. We need to take deep breaths and remain committed for the long haul. Occupy has seeded the entire world, and some of those are now sprouting. I am guardedly thrilled that the M & C appear on the verge of issuing the “Move to Amend” statement.

  6. Yesterday evening I went down to Armory Park at 7:00, – General assemblies are still scheduled for there, and I was one of only six people who showed up. Not a terribly impressive showing, but hey it’s midwinter, and lots of folks will want to hibernate for a bit.

    We didn’t holler a mic check, but merely sat and jawed for a while. No reports, no agenda items. But I have been asking during the past few days, in relation to the recent mass murder in Newtown, Connecticut, and a speech delivered shortly thereafter by Wayne laPierre, [head of the National Rifle Association], – who here in our local Occupy outfit has actually read the whole of Mr. laPierre’s speech ? There are plenty of vehement opinions about it being bandied all over the place, but so far I know of only one person besides myself, or perhaps two, who have actually taken the trouble to read the whole of it.

    Is this an instance of dumbing down ? Am I perhaps in need of a Reality Check here ? I found in the whole of that speech [it is not very long] only one statement which I know to be untrue. What other statements in that speech are untrue, or in some other way unworthy ?

    • Unfortunately Frank, that’s the state of the political discourse in 2012. Every side of the political debate is dominated by arguments that fail to pass a test of due diligence (i.e., bothering to review primary sources).

      That said, I don’t agree with everything LaPierre says in that speech, but I did actually watch it.

      Unlike a lot of people associated with Occupy, I don’t take the liberal position on guns (ironically, a position that would put assault rifles exclusively at the disposal of the so-called “1%” and out of the hands of the so-called “99%”). I take seriously the radical implications of a second amendment that supports not only hunting rights and personal defense, but actually posits that a free state necessitates a population free to form militias for their political defense. Our second amendment is among the most important bulwarks against an ascendant police state.

      But Mr. LaPierre hypocritically (and cowardly) attacks another bulwark (though not explicitly): free speech. LaPierre complains that the media demonizes the NRA, and as a representative of the NRA turns around and demonizes the violence in the media as “the filthiest form of pornography” and media investors as “silent enablers if not implicit co-conspirators” of massacres. He shakes his head at the activists from Code Pink, and without missing a beat commits the exact same offense.

      I say “cowardly” because there’s a very good reason that videogames and movies are full of disturbing, violent imagery and experiences: because the overwhelming majority of media consumers demand that imagery and those experiences. But instead of pointing his finger at an unpopular target (i.e., all of us), he picks a very comfortable and predictable demon to waive his finger at: the media.

      But his finger waving is just as ignorant and divorced from reality as the liberal aversion to guns. The inherent contradictions of his position are actually made very clear in this speech, if you pay close attention. Early he says that, “federal gun prosecutions have decreased by 40% to the lowest levels in a decade” and immediately connects this to the fact that violent crime (as measured in the US) is only recently increasing again after steady declines over 19 years. But think about that, if violent crime (and, as measured in the US, these always involve a weapon–unless it’s a very serious beating) has been decreasing for two decades, how is it a rational complaint that federal gun prosecutions have also been decreasing “to the lowest levels in a decade”. The homicide rate, before the recent upswing, was at its lowest levels since the 1960s! Irrationally, LaPierre expects prosecutions to plateau or increase in the face of a decreasing rate of crime. But let’s take this further, that decreasing rate of crime is concurrent with an increasing intensity and prevalence of grossly violent imagery and experiences in American media.

      Later he says that the only way we can protect our kids from these monsters is to be “invested in a plan of absolute protection”. But there’s no such thing as “absolute protection”. Armed guards were present at Columbine and Virginia Teach. The sad fact is that “a good guy with a gun” wasn’t enough to stop the bad guys with guns from carrying out those two massacres. The answers are not as simple as Mr. LaPierre would like; but neither are they as simple as the answers from the Code Pink activists.

      Where I agree 100% with Mr. LaPierre is in his complaints about the predictable “wall-to-wall coverage” of these individuals, and how this plays a crucial role in inspiring copy-cat acts of violence. However, my point is that it is *us* who predictably click on those stories online, or pay advertisers with our attention by lingering on channels with coverage of these horror stories. It is *us* who bring infamy to these “monsters”, and not merely some media operating in a vacuum.

  7. Robert, you write: “Unlike a lot of people associated with Occupy, I don’t take the liberal position on guns (ironically, a position that would put assault rifles exclusively at the disposal of the so-called “1%” and out of the hands of the so-called “99%”). I take seriously the radical implications of a second amendment that supports not only hunting rights and personal defense, but actually posits that a free state necessitates a population free to form militias for their political defense. Our second amendment is among the most important bulwarks against an ascendant police state.”

    But, so long as we’re attacking positions that might be a bit facile, there is something of that quality in what you’re writing here. Besides helping various members of the 99% kill one another, there’s little automatic or semi-automatic weapons can do in the hands of the people if the ruling establishment decided to make our country into a police state. As David Caute once showed, revolutions and counter-revolutions in industrialized, urban nations are always decided by what the army officer and/or rank and file soldiers choose to do if ordered to attack protestors or political opposition. The reason is simple: NRA mythologies aside, there is little that such weaponry can do against the heavy armor of an army. Now, I suppose that if we all had rocket propelled grenades, mortars and the like it might at least be possible to cause an army some real trouble if that army was willing to follow the orders of some deranged ruling class and impose a police state, but I don’t think even the NRA is insisting on that kind of weaponry for our citizens.

    In reality, I think even many in the NRA realize this reality. I think, for some of the more paranoid among them, the real political “self-defense” motivation for having assault weapons lies in their belief in a post-financial meltdown, Mad Max type world in which armies in the current sense won’t exist and we’ll have to defend ourselves against marauders.

    Me, I prefer to go by the belief that a general strike is the most effective form of resistance to the imposition of tyranny — one can’t, after all, put a bayonet at every worker’s back. But that might be a bit of a facile belief as well…

    • Greg, I disagree. The US military had trouble meeting all its objectives in Iraq: holding down a third of the North American continent would prove far more difficult. The US citizenry is far better armed than the Iraqi citizenry ever was. This would be an incredibly difficult country to occupy by force. It’s true that a police state can still emerge: but until the citizenry is disarmed such a state will emerge within boundaries set by a well-armed citizenry. What David Caute has perhaps failed to consider, is that army officers and soldiers ultimately make decisions based on hard facts on the ground, and the threat of being overwhelmed by popular violence is one of those facts.

      Assault rifles do help some particular people kill other members of society (whether of the 99% or the 1%) in many of the most covered (and sensationalized) stories of gun violence, but assault rifles themselves are not the weapons of choice when we look at the big picture. Handguns are the most popular, and then perhaps knives or rifles of all types, but if we set “assault rifles” aside as a subset: it’s very likely that blunt weapons are more popular (as well as simply using your own body as a weapon).

      The federal statistics which bear me out:

      The contribution of assault rifles to our homicide rate is in the low single percentage points, if not less.

      I’m not saying that’s insignificant, but it’s too bad that so many liberals can’t help but jump at the opportunity to exploit each and every one of these mass-shootings (just as it’s too bad so many conservatives can’t help but jump at the opportunity to exploit each and every incident of terrorism) for political purposes. The United States has a strong gun tradition, and the popular liberal effort to ban assault rifles only ensures an inability to find common ground with the right. The idea that we would be meaningfully safer if assault rifles were banned is perfectly analogous to the idea that we might be meaningfully safer if we prosecute another occupation to fight terrorists. Terrorism and mass-shootings are responsible for only marginal amounts of death, but for different reasons, inspire grossly disproportionate (and ultimately irrational and therefore manipulable) attention from, respectively, conservatives and liberals.

  8. This range of discussion came up early in the day on Saturday, the 5th, just before the Visioning Exercise got started. Two others had arrived there a few minutes previously, and were discussing this news :

    [I believe these to be correct, though the same news has do doubt appeared at other sites as well.]

    I listened at first, then listened a bit more closely so as to be sure I had been hearing right, and then quite Consciously and Intentionally Exploded. Got a bit vehement, I did, and declared that for anyone to actually Voluntarily ?!? turn in a gun of any sort ?!? and this for a paltry consideration of Fifty Dollars ?!? was about the dumbest thing I had ever heard of, and why in hell would anyone be so numb and so clueless as to do that ?!?

    In the ‘normal’ course of one of these discussions, I was expected to have said that the PERSON was dumb. But quite intentionally I did not say that, I said instead that the idea and the action were dumb, and inquired whether he was aware of any of the history behind such actions.

    Apparently I frightened him, or at least he acted as if I had frightened him, or maybe he just found that to be a convenient excuse to avoid explaining why he thought it would be a good idea for law abiding and peaceful citizens such as himself to be at the mercy of a lot of gun-toting lunatics.

    If there is a good reason for that, then we as decent people and as conscious Occupiers ought to be able to state it. As is well known, there are some who do not yet agree. If we wait until no one has any emotions about it, it will then most likely be too late.

    I have seen this before. A discussion gets shut down inappropriately, and we miss valuable information, and we lose credibility. Rather convenient for the banksters and warmongers, no ?

  9. How often have you seen a suggestion that all national borders ought to be abolished ? How often have you heard someone cite the photographs of the Earth taken from outer space as proof that national borders do not exist ?

    I have been seeing and hearing those sentiments expressed for the past forty years and more. In recent years the cries for the abolition of national borders have taken on a tone of increased urgency – or maybe I’m just listening a bit more closely.

    Pattern : corporatists and warmongers and mass-murderers like to ignore national borders, along with ignoring lots of other sorts of borders and boundaries.

    Pattern : human rights workers often take the photos of the Earth taken from outer space as being more true than maps of the Earth which show national borders.

    Note the phrase “more true” – I used that intentionally. There’s a book from the 1970s, “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” by Robert M. Pirsig, which has discussion of : “is Aristotelian geometry more true than Euclidean geometry ?” – among other things. He shows that that is a fake question, it has no meaning, and either or both system(s) of geometry may be useful to you, depending on what you are hoping to do, – and one needs to be clear about what one is hoping to do. He shows also that insistence that one system has to be in all cases “more true” than another, is a sure path to madness.

    When I hear someone say that all national borders ought to be abolished, I remember which factions have benefitted the most from ignoring and violating national borders : that’d be corporatists and warmongers and mass-murderers, now wouldn’t it ?

  10. Been hearing this line at various odd times for the past forty-five years, at least : oh just look at how awful THEY are – – they they they they oh they are just so awful and my life sucks and my life sucks and it’s all their fault they they they they – –

    Word of Honor : when someone else acts stupid it does not give you an excuse to act stupid.

    Example : when someone evicts you from your house it does not give you an excuse to spend the rest of your days whining and blubbering and living in filth. Identify a place or a situation where you CAN live with dignity – yes genuine dignity, the kind where huge numbers of people instinctively want to help you – and scheme for it, plan for it, find others who also want to live as human beings rather than as victims – and go there, make it happen. It won’t make good TV, and to the wealthy bloated looters it will be absolutely incomprehensible, perhaps even frightening, – but it can be made to happen.

    Anticipated rejoinder : that’s easy for you to say, that’s easy for you to do, and it’s not fair, your life is so easy because [fill in the blank] and that’s the only reason you have any free will, I know that nothing awful has ever happened to you ever ever ever, and my life sucks because I don’t have any free will, because those awful awful [fill in the blank] took my free will away from me !!! Don’t you understand ?!?!?!


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