The Occupy Movement and Rise of Direct Democracy


After winning the Argentine general election in 1989 for the Peronists, President Carlos Menem reversed his election platform and embarked on an unprecedented spree of privatisations. When asked years later about his volte-face, he quipped that he would never have been elected if he told the voting public what he was going to do. This famous example displays a crucial inherent flaw in representative democracy – politicians say one thing to get elected and then doing the opposite when in power. Barack Obama promised ‘Hope’ and ‘Change’ and delivered neither. He is blind to the rampant corruption of Wall Street, and continues the imperial US foreign policy. But the people are waking up.  And they have decided to take to the streets to make their own change.

In the modern form of representative democracy, we have seen the emergence of the Third Way. As the radio, print, and TV media became more and more consolidated into the hands of mega-corporations, they became more and more hostile to progressive values. The left/socialist parties of Europe and the US came to the realisation that this concentration of media power was starting to block their route to power. The only way for these parties to get their hands on the levers of power again, was to change ideology. So they ditched many of their core political beliefs, and betrayed their base. This betrayal led the parties of the left into the warm embrace of the financiers, who were traditionally associated with the right. Progressive labour friendly economic policies were abandoned.

The voters now had a choice between two parties, both of which were in the hands of the corporations and wealthy financiers. As the esteemed economist Dr. Michael Hudson points out, this has led to a most perverse and dangerous dynamic. The parties of the left, who got elected on a progressive vote, began to enact anti-labour, pro-capital policies that no right-wing party could get away with. This secured for them the corporate funding they needed to help them to stay in power. The great irony is that the former socialist and progressive parties in effect moved to right of the right-wing parties. This has left progressive voters with nowhere to go. And a political system that is designed such that the people have no way to address their grievances leaves only one option – revolt.

And the revolt has begun.

The Occupy Wall Street movement is what we have been waiting years for. Heavily inspired by the Egyptian Revolution and the Spanish Indignados, the movement has been characterised by both strategic brilliance and astonishing organic growth. OWS understood explicitly that their target was Wall Street, the epicentre of the financial and corporate world. They aimed a dagger right at the heart of the system that has run the world economy onto the rocks.

The Egyptian Revolution demonstrated how the radical act of occupying and defending a physical location can create it’s own alternative power structure. In Zucotti Park they have created their own ‘mini-society’, independent of the existing system. They have their own library to educate themselves, their own kitchen to feed themselves, their own democratic institutions to govern themselves. Everybody at the General Assembly is involved in the decision making of the occupation. This leaderless form of governance, puts power directly in the hands of the people and decision making is largely consensus driven.

The General Assembly gives ordinary people a hands on experience of how a more equitable form of government could work, one close to the social libertarian and anarchist traditions. It brilliantly dispels the idea that we need leaders or elites to make decisions for us. It completely decentralises power. This non-violent movement has no talismanic figurehead like the political movements of the past, no single leader to attack or co-opt, no single head to decapitate. With occupations sprouting up all over the place, I believe we are seeing the beginnings of a seismic political shift.

The creation of such power structures operating independently of the existing institutions is inherently revolutionary in nature. The elites have floundered in response, as we can see from the escalating brutality of police tactics:

mace -> batons -> mopeds -> horses -> tear gas -> rubber bullets

This sequence does not portend well. Lets hope we do not see a repeat of the awful scenes from the 1970 Kent State Massacre, where the Ohio National Guard entered the Kent State University and shot dead 4 unarmed student anti-war protesters.

The authorities currently seem to be in the end-stages of a losing chess game. Each YouTube video of peaceful protesters being beaten by police that goes viral, causes the movement to swell. Each accommodating action by the authorities has the very same effect. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. The movement has its own internal dynamic, beyond the control of the powers that be. And nobody knows where it will all lead.

The common mainstream media refrain of ‘What are your demands?’ displays a critical misunderstanding of the movement. This embryonic movement does not see itself as a movement which seeks to effect change through the existing political system. I think it is much more radical than that. After experiencing the liberating freedom of a General Assembly, people are being inspired to imagine and dream of what might be. The occupations are using this time to contemplate and design the alternative society we seek.

They do not want to fall into the same demands focused trap as the Egyptian revolution – once Mubarrak fell, momentum was lost. A premature list of demands could be the death-knell of the movement. The occupation movement may yet be crushed or simply dissipate on its own. It is guaranteed, though, to have a lasting effect on the body politic. It is common for revolutions to fail, only for it all to kick off again years later. Everybody knows about the 1917 Russian Revolution, but few can recall the Russian Revolution of 1905.

I believe the existing democratic structures of the Occupy movement, such as the General Assembly, need radical reform if they are to be scaled them up to a ‘state’ level. It is crucial at this point for us to work on ideas for scalable democratic structures which live and breathe the consensus driven, decentralised, and horizontal aspects of the movement. This blog has been created to put forward a theoretical solution for a new radically direct democratic political system.

The system I shall propose has the working title of Samplocracy. It is based upon the simple idea of using random samples of citizens to make decisions for the community. For centuries, juries across the world have worked on this basis and are a long established popular democratic form of justice. I hope to release and discuss the formulation of this solution in detail over the coming months, along with my general thoughts on the social, political, economic quandaries of the day.

Much like how the invention of the printing press changed the world, a new enlightenment powered by the internet is upon us. How ironic if 20 years after the fall of the USSR, that the US may be the site of the first successful truly democratic decentralised revolution.

Let the work begin!

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2 thoughts on “The Occupy Movement and Rise of Direct Democracy

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