Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Occupy Tyranny

Sean Ewart

Photo from The Legislative Gazette
 Every Occupy event leaves me with the same feeling. I am at once thrilled with the overall message and disgusted with the method. “This is what democracy looks like,” is the refrain repeated by Occupiers at nearly every single one of their events, and they are right; Occupy is a very good example of true direct democracy. But that’s exactly the problem.

The tyranny of the majority is clearly displayed within the Occupy movement. Occupiers all the time criticize American government for being a “pay-to-play” system (and just check out campaign contribution levels if you doubt they are correct), but Occupy itself has been, from its inception, a rigged system dominated by the most vocal. There is no specific spokesperson for Occupy, they brag, but this just means that the loudest person gets the lime light and dictates the direction of the movement.

Moreover, without specific leadership the movement is incapable of developing or maintaining a set vision. Take the recent May Day protest in Albany, New York, where 23 people were arrested. Occupy Albany never applied for a permit to utilize Lafayette Park, across from the State Capitol, citing “ideological” reasons. However, the real reason for their failure to obtain a permit was explained by Mark Mishler, an attorney involved with Occupy Albany.

“You have to understand that within a group like Occupy there are lots of different views. There are some people who feel very strongly that you should never ever ask the government officials to approve something. There are other people who don’t necessarily have that philosophy. Part of the issue is, in a sense, a very pragmatic issue that going through the processes of trying to get the group to agree to apply for a permit would have taken a lot of time. It probably would never have passed.”

This certainly explains why the group never applied for a permit, but it isn’t an excuse. All the time there are good bills that are hard to get passed through legislative bodies. There are referendums that are, for whatever reason, unpopular despite being legitimately good ideas. But because something is difficult to get passed doesn’t mean that democracy should be put on hold – that’s dictatorship, or in the case of Occupy, the tyranny of the majority.

Occupy Albany violated the first principle of civil disobedience: you attempt to follow the law first. Instead Occupy decided to abandon the law without ever attempting to work within it – all because those members who have tacitly taken on leadership roles felt it would be too much work to go through the democratic process. Isn’t that exactly what they are very rightly calling out the state and federal governments for doing? If Occupy resorts to law breaking and the authoritarianism of mob rule as its first recourse, how we take it seriously as a movement standing for social justice and human rights?

The Occupy experiment has only proven what political scientists have known for centuries: direct democracy is fundamentally flawed and leads only to dictatorial majority rule. Occupy is a slave to whoever has the loudest megaphone or the catchiest mic-check. So instead of challenging the system and working as a true ally of the 99%, Occupy has merely proven that it takes more than an anarchical willingness to be arrested to make real and lasting change. It takes the audacity of Thomas Paine, the courage of Martin Luther King, Jr., and the organization of Harvey Milk to be a real revolutionary.


  1. There needs to be an Occupy Organization. I think it is fine for occupy events to be a direct democracy. That keeps pulling people in, the excitement of real democracy is a powerful thing. But there should be a real, dues-paying organization that works within the occupy protests, but is not the protest itself. The organization should educate members (and the general public) and volunteer to do things like getting permits and providing security. All of these should tasks should be approved through the general assembly. The organization needs to be a force to keep the movement on target. The thing that has hurt occupy more than anything was the violence out west. You don't have the moral high ground when you break windows and fight with cops. An organized group can keep the undercover agents, racists and other morons who want to fight the cops out and keep the pressure on the plutocrats and their corporations that bleed us dry.

  2. Occupy while far from perfect is certainly better then most apathetic people commenting on the internet. The author could use his time productively by actually meeting people at occupy rather then just assuming the worst.