David Graeber: On Playing By The Rules – The Strange Success Of #OccupyWallStreet

Yves here. I have to note that David DeGraw of Amped Status is widely credited as the originator of “We are the 99%.”

By David Graeber, who is currently a Reader in Social Anthropology at Goldsmiths University London. Prior to that he was an associate professor of anthropology at Yale University. He is the author of ‘Debt: The First 5,000 Years’ which is available from Amazon.

Just a few months ago, I wrote a piece for Adbusters that started with a conversation I’d had with an Egyptian activist friend named Dina:

All these years,” she said, “we’ve been organizing marches, rallies… And if only 45 people show up, you’re depressed, if you get 300, you’re happy. Then one day, 200,000 people show up. And you’re incredulous: on some level, even though you didn’t realize it, you’d given up thinking that you could actually win.

As the Occupy Wall Street movement spreads across America, and even the world, I am suddenly beginning to understand a little of how she felt.

On August 2, I showed up at a 7 PM meeting at Bowling Green, that a Greek anarchist friend, who I’d met at a recent activist get together at 16 Beaver Street, had told me was meant to plan some kind of action on Wall Street in mid-September. At the time I was only vaguely aware of the background: that a month before, the Canadian magazine Adbusters had put out the call to “Occupy Wall Street”, but had really just floated the idea on the internet, along with some very compelling graphics, to see if it would take hold; that a local anti-budget cut coalition top-heavy with NGOs, unions, and socialist groups had tried to take possession of the process and called for a “General Assembly” at Bowling Green. The title proved extremely misleading. When I arrived, I found the event had been effectively taken over by a veteran protest group called the Worker’s World Party, most famous for having patched together ANSWER one of the two great anti-war coalitions, back in 2003. They had already set up their banners, megaphones, and were making speeches—after which, someone explained, they were planning on leading the 80-odd assembled people in a march past the Stock Exchange itself.

The usual reaction to this sort of thing is a kind of cynical, bitter resignation. “I wish they at least wouldn’t advertise a ‘General Assembly’ if they’re not actually going to hold one.” Actually, I think I actually said that, or something slightly less polite, to one of the organizers, a disturbingly large man, who immediately remarked, “well, fine. Why don’t you leave?”

But as I paced about the Green, I noticed something. To adopt activist parlance: this wasn’t really a crowds of verticals—that is, the sort of people whose idea of political action is to march around with signs under the control of one or another top-down protest movement. They were mostly pretty obviously horizontals: people more sympathetic with anarchist principles of organization, non-hierarchical forms of direct democracy, and direct action. I quickly spotted at least one Wobbly, a young Korean activist I remembered from some Food Not Bomb event, some college students wearing Zapatista paraphernalia, a Spanish couple who’d been involved with the indignados in Madrid… I found my Greek friends, an American I knew from street battles in Quebec during the Summit of the Americas in 2001, now turned labor organizer in Manhattan, a Japanese activist intellectual I’d known for years… My Greek friend looked at me and I looked at her and we both instantly realized the other was thinking the same thing: “Why are we so complacent? Why is it that every time we see something like this happening, we just mutter things and go home?” – though I think the way we put it was more like, “You know something? Fuck this shit. They advertised a general assembly. Let’s hold one.”

So we gathered up a few obvious horizontals and formed a circle, and tried to get everyone else to join us. Almost immediately people appeared from the main rally to disrupt it, calling us back with promises that a real democratic forum would soon break out on the podium. We complied. It didn’t happen. My Greek friend made an impassioned speech and was effectively shooed off the stage. There were insults and vituperations. After about an hour of drama, we formed the circle again, and this time, almost everyone abandoned the rally and come over to our side. We created a decision-making process (we would operate by modified consensus) broke out into working groups (outreach, action, facilitation) and then reassembled to allow each group to report its collective decisions, and set up times for new meetings of both the smaller and larger groups. It was difficult to figure out what to do since we only had six weeks, not nearly enough time to plan a major action, let alone bus in the thousands of people that would be required to actually shut down Wall Street—and anyway we couldn’t shut down Wall Street on the appointed day, since September 17, the day Adbusters had been advertising, was a Saturday. We also had no money of any kind.

Two days later, at the Outreach meeting we were brainstorming what to put on our first flyer. Adbusters’ idea had been that we focus on “one key demand.” This was a brilliant idea from a marketing perspective, but from an organizing perspective, it made no sense at all. We put that one aside almost immediately. There were much more fundamental questions to be hashed out. Like: who were we? Who did want to appeal to? Who did we represent? Someone—this time I remember quite clearly it was me, but I wouldn’t be surprised if a half dozen others had equally strong memories of being the first to come up with it—suggested, “well, why not call ourselves ‘the 99%’? If 1% of the population have ended up with all the benefits of the last 10 years of economic growth, control the wealth, own the politicians… why not just say we’re everybody else?” The Spanish couple quickly began to lay out a “We Are the 99%” pamphlet, and we started brainstorming ways to print and distribute it for free.

Over the next few weeks a plan began to take shape. The core of the emerging group, which began to meet regularly in Tompkins Square park, were very young people who had cut their activist teeth on the Bloombergville encampment outside City Hall earlier in the summer; aside from that there was a smattering of activists who had been connected to the Global Justice movement with skills to share (one or two of whom I had to drag out of effective retirement), and, as mentioned a number of New Yorkers originally from Greece, Spain, even Tunisia, with knowledge and connections with those who were, or had been, involved in occupations there. We quickly decided that what we really wanted to do was something like had already been accomplished in Athens, Barcelona, or Madrid: occupy a public space to create a New York General Assembly, a body that could act as a model of genuine, direct democracy to contrapose to the corrupt charade presented to us as “democracy” by the US government. The Wall Street action would be a stepping-stone. Still, it was almost impossible to predict what would really happen on the 17th. There were supposed to be 90,000 people following us on the internet. Adbusters had called for 20,000 to fill the streets. That obviously wasn’t going to happen. But how many would really show up? What’s more, we were keenly aware that the NYPD numbered close to 40,000; Wall Street was, in fact, probably the single most heavily policed public space on the face of Planet Earth. To be perfectly honest, as one of the old-timers scrambling to organize medical and legal trainings, lessons on how to organize affinity groups and do non-violent civil disobedience, seminars on how to facilitate meetings and the like, for most of us, the greatest concern during those hectic weeks was how to ensure the initial event wouldn’t turn out a total fiasco, with all the enthusiastic young people immediately beaten, arrested, and psychologically traumatized as the media, as usual, simply looked the other way.

We’d certainly seen it happen before.

This time it didn’t. True, there were all the predictable conflicts. Most of New York’s grumpier hard-core anarchists refused to join in, and mocked us from the sidelines as reformist; meanwhile, the more open, “small-a” anarchists, who had been largely responsible for organizing the facilitation and trainings, battled the verticals in the group to ensure that we did not institute anything that could become a formal leadership structure, such as police liaisons or marshals. There were also bitter battles over the web page, as well as minor crises over the participation of various fringe groups, ranging from followers of Lyndon LaRouche to one woman from a shadowy group that called itself US Day of Rage, and who we sometimes suspected might not have any other members, who systematically blocked any attempt to reach out to unions because she felt we should be able to attract dissident Tea Partiers. On September 17th itself, I was troubled at first by the fact that only a few hundred people seemed to have shown up. What’s more the spot we’d chosen for our General Assembly, a plaza outside Citibank, had been shut down by the city and surrounded by high fences. The tactical committee however had scouted out other possible locations, and distributed maps: around 3 PM, word went around we were moving to location #5—Zuccotti Park—and by the time we got there, I realized we were surrounded by at least two thousand people.

The real credit for what happened after that—within a matter of weeks, a movement that had spread to 800 different cities, with outpourings of support from radical opposition groups as far away as China—belongs mainly to the students and other young people who simply dug themselves and refused to leave, despite the endless (and in many cases, obviously illegal) acts of police repression designed to intimidate, and to make life so miserable in the park (refusing to allow activists to cover their computers with tarps during rainstorms, that sort of thing) that its inhabitants would simply become demoralized and abandon the project. And, as the weeks went on, against calculated acts of terrorism involving batons and pepper-spray. Still, dogged activists have held out heroically under such conditions before, and the world simply ignored them. Why didn’t it happen this time? After so many years of vain attempts to revive the fervor of the Global Justice Movement, and constantly falling flat, I found myself, like Dina, asking “what did we actually do right?”

My first take on the question came when The Guardian asked me to write an oped on Occupy Wall Street a few days later. At the time I was inspired mainly by what Marisa Holmes, another brilliant organizer of the original occupation, had discovered in her work as a video documentarian, doing one-on-one interviews of fellow campers during the first two nights at Zucotti Square. Over and over she heard the same story: “I did everything I was supposed to! I worked hard, studied hard, got into college. Now I’m unemployed, with no prospects, and $50 to $80,000.00 in debt.” These were kids who played by the rules, and were rewarded by a future of constant harassment, of being told they were worthless deadbeats by agents of those very financial institutions who—after having spectacularly failed to play by the rules, and crashing the world economy as a result, were saved and coddled by the government in all the ways that ordinary Americans such as themselves, equally spectacularly, were not.

“We are watching,” I wrote, “the beginnings of the defiant self-assertion of a new generation of Americans, a generation who are looking forward to finishing their education with no jobs, no future, but still saddled with enormous and unforgivable debt.” Three weeks later, after watching more and more elements of mainstream America clamber on board, I think this is still true. In a way, the demographic base of OWS is about as far as one can get from that of the Tea Party—with which it is so often, and so confusingly, compared. The popular base of the Tea Party was always middle aged suburban white Republicans, most of middling economic means, anti-intellectual, terrified of social change—above all, for fear that what they saw as their one remaining buffer of privilege (basically, their whiteness) might finally be stripped away. OWS, by contrast, is at core forwards-looking youth movement, just a group of forward-looking people who have been stopped dead in their tracks; of mixed class backgrounds but with a significant element of working class origins; their one strongest common feature being a remarkably high level of education. It’s no coincidence that the epicenter of the Wall Street Occupation, and so many others, is an impromptu library: a library being not only a model of an alternative economy, where lending is from a communal pool, at 0% interest, and the currency being leant is knowledge, and the means to understanding.

In a way, this is nothing new. Revolutionary coalitions have always tended to consist of a kind of alliance between children of the professional classes who reject their parents’ values, and talented children of the popular classes who managed to win themselves a bourgeois education, only to discover that acquiring a bourgeois education does not actually mean one gets to become a member of the bourgeoisie. You see the pattern repeated over and over, in country after country: Chou Enlai meets Mao Tse Tung, or Che Guevara meets Fidel Castro. Even US counter-insurgency experts have long known the surest harbingers of revolutionary ferment in any country is the growth of a population of unemployed and impoverished college graduates: that is, young people bursting with energy, with plenty of time on their hands, every reason to be angry, and access to the entire history of radical thought. In the US, the depredations of the student loan system simply ensures such budding revolutionaries cannot fail to identify banks as their primary enemy, or to understand the role of the Federal Government—which maintains the student loan program, and ensures that their loans will be held over their heads forever, even in the event of bankruptcy—in maintaining the banking system’s ultimate control over every aspect of their future lives.

Ordinarily, though, the plight of the indebted college graduate would not be the sort of issue that would speak directly to the hearts of, say, members of New York City’s Transit Worker’s Union—which, at time of writing, is not only supporting the occupation, but suing the New York Police Department for commandeering their buses to conduct a mass arrest of OWS activists blocking the Brooklyn Bridge. Why would a protest by educated youth strike such a chord across America—in a way that it probably wouldn’t have in 1967, or even 1990? Clearly, it has much to do with the financialization of capital. It may well be the case by now that most of Wall Street’s profits are no longer to be being extracted indirectly, through the wage system, at all, but taken directly from the pockets of ordinary Americans. I say “may” because we don’t really have the numbers. In a way this is telling in itself. For all the endless statistical data available on every aspect of our economic system, I have been unable to find any economist who can tell me how much of an average American’s annual income, let alone life income, ends up being appropriated by the financial industries in the form of interest payments, fees, penalties, and service charges. Still, given the fact that interest payments alone takes up between 15-17% of household income,[1] a figure that does not include student loans, and that penalty fees on bank and credit card accounts can often double the amount one would otherwise pay, it would not be at all surprising if at least one dollar out of every five an American earns over the course of her lifetime is now likely to end up in Wall Street’s coffers in one way or another. The percentage may well be approaching the amount the average American will pay in taxes. In fact, for the least affluent Americans, it has probably long since overtaken it.

This has very real implications for how we even think about what sort of economic system we are in. Back when I was in college, I learned that the difference between capitalism and feudalism—or what was sometimes called the “tributary mode of production”—is that a feudal aristocracy appropriates its wealth through “direct juro-political extraction.” They simply take other people’s things through legal means. Capitalism was supposed to be a bit more subtle.[2] Yet as soon as it achieved total world dominance, capitalism seems to have almost immediately begun shifting back into something that could well be described as feudalism.[3] In doing so, too, it made the alliance of money and government impossible to ignore. In the years since 2008, we’ve seen examples ranging from the comical—as when loan collection agencies in Massachusetts sent their employees out en masse to canvas on behalf of a senate candidate (Scott Brown) who they assumed would be in favor of harsher laws against debtors, to the downright outrageous—as when “too big to fail” institutions like Bank of America, bailed out by the taxpayers, secure in the knowledge they would not be allowed to collapse no matter what their behavior, paying no taxes, but delivering vast sums of culled from their even vaster profits to legislators who then allow their lobbyists to actually write the legislation that is supposed to “regulate” them. At this point, it’s not entirely clear why an institution like Bank of America should not, at this point, be considered part of the federal government, other than that it gets to keep its profits for itself.

Still, this might explain the outrage at government’s alliance with the financial sector—the fact that bribery has, effectively, been made legal in America, a country that nonetheless presumes to go around the world pretending it is some sort of beacon of democracy. It does not explain the comprehensive rejection of existing political institutions of any sort.

This is where I must admit my own position is particularly confusing. On the one hand, this is exactly the kind of attitude I have been arguing for for years. I like to describe myself precisely as a “small-a anarchist.” That is, I believe in anarchist principles—mutual aid, direct action, the idea building the new, free society in the shell of the old—but I’ve never felt a need to declare allegiance to any particular anarchist school (Syndicalists, Platformists, etc). Above all, I am happy to work with anyone, whatever they call themselves, willing to work on anarchist principles—which in America today, has largely come to mean, a refusal to work with or through the government or other institutions which ultimately rely on the threat of force, and a dedication to horizontal democracy, to treating each other as we believe free men and women in a genuinely free society would treat each other. Even the commitment to direct action, so often confused with breaking windows or the like, really refers to the refusal of any politics of protest, that merely appeals to the authorities to behave differently, and the determination instead to act for oneself, and to do what one thinks is right, regardless of law and authority. Gandhi’s salt march, for example, is a classic example of direct action. So was squatting Zuccotti Park. It’s a public space; we were the public; the public shouldn’t have to ask permission to engage in peaceful political assembly in its own park; so we didn’t. By doing so we not only acted in the way we felt was right, we aimed to set an example to others: to begin to reclaim communal resources that have been appropriated for purposes of private profit to once again serve for communal use—as in a truly free society, they would be—and to set an example of what genuine communal use might actually be like. For those who desire to create a society based on the principle of human freedom, direct action is simply the defiant insistence on acting as if one is already free.

Small-a anarchists such as myself were at the core of the anti-nuclear movement in the ‘70s and the global justice movement between 1998-2001, and over the years, we have put much of our creative energy into developing forms of egalitarian political process that actually work. I should emphasize that this is not just an anarchist project. Actually, the development of consensus process, which is probably the movement’s greatest accomplishment, emerges just as much from the tradition of radical feminism, and draws on spiritual traditions from Native American to Quakerism. This is where the whole exotic language of the movement comes from: facilitation, “the people’s microphone,” spokescouncils, blocks; though in the case of Occupy Wall Street, augmented and transformed by the experience of General Assembly movements across the Mediterranean.

Obviously, what happened is exactly what we hoped would happen. The politics of direct action is based, to a certain degree, on a faith that freedom is contagious. It is almost impossible to convince the average American that a truly democratic society would be possible. One can only show them. But the experience of actually watching a group of a thousand, or two thousand, people making collective decisions without a leadership structure, let alone that of thousands of people in the streets linking arms to holding their ground against a phalanx of armored riot cops, motivated only by principle and solidarity, can change one’s most fundamental assumptions about what politics, or for that matter, human life, could actually be like. Back in the days of the Global Justice movement we thought we might expose enough people, around the world, to these new forms of direct democracy, these traditions of direct action, that a new, global, democratic culture would begin to emerge. Of course it didn’t quite happen that way. Certainly, the movement did inspire thousands, and played a major role in transforming how activist groups in Europe and North America conducted meetings and thought about politics; but the contagion was largely contained within pre-existing activist ghettos; most Americans never even knew that direct democracy was so much of what we were about. The anti-war movements after 2003 mobilized hundreds of thousands, but they fell back on the old fashioned vertical politics of top-down coalitions, charismatic leaders, and marching around with signs. Many of us diehard kept the faith. We kept looking for the moment of revival. After all, we had dedicated our lives to the principle that something like this would eventually happen. But, like my Egyptian friend, we had also, in a certain way, failed to notice that we’d stop really believing that we could actually win.

And then it happened. The last time I went back to Zuccotti Square, and watched middle aged construction workers and Latino hip hop artists using all our old hand signals in mass meetings, one of my old anarchist comrades—a one-time tree-sitter and inveterate eco-activist who used to go by the name Warcry, and was now established in the park as video documentarians—admitted to me, “every few hours I do have to pinch myself to make sure it isn’t all a dream.”

So the social scientist in me has to ask: Why? Why now? Why did it actually work?

Again, I think the answer is generational. In politics, too, as in education, we are looking at a generation of young people who played by the rules, and have seen their efforts prove absolutely fruitless. We must remember that in 2008, the youth vote went overwhelmingly to Barrack Obama and the Democrats. We also have to remember that Obama was running, then, as a candidate of “Change”, using a campaign language that drew liberally from that of radical social movements (“yes we can!”, “be the change!”), and that as a former community organizer, he was one of the few candidates in recent memory who could be said to have emerged from a social movement background rather than from smoke-filled rooms. This, combined with the fact that Obama was Black, gave young people a sense that they were experiencing a genuinely transformative moment in American politics.

All this happened in a country where there was such a straightjacket on acceptable political discourse in the US—what a politician or media pundit can say, without being immediately written off as lunatic fringe—that the views of very large segments of the American public simply are never voiced at all. To give a sense of how radical is the disconnect between acceptable opinion, and the actual feelings of American voters, consider a pair of polls conducted by Rasmussen, the first in December 2008, right after Obama was elected, the second in April 2011. A broad sampling of Americans were asked which economic system they preferred: capitalism, or socialism? In 2008, 15% felt the USA would be better off adopting a socialist system; now, three years later, the number has gone up, to one in five. Even more striking was the breakdown by age: the younger the respondent, the more likely they were to reject a capitalist system. Among Americans between 15 and 25, a thin plurality still preferred capitalism: 37%, as opposed to 33% in favor of socialism (the rest were unsure). But think about what this means here. It means that almost two thirds of America’s youth think it might be a good idea to jettison the capitalist system entirely! This in a country where most have never seen a single politician, TV pundit, or mainstream “expert” use the term “socialism” as anything but a term of condescension and abuse. Granted, for that very reason, it’s hard to know exactly what young people who say they prefer “socialism” actually think they’re embracing. Presumably not an economic system modeled on that of North Korea. What then? Sweden? Canada? It’s impossible to say. But in a way it’s also beside the point. Most Americans might not be sure what socialism is supposed to be, but they do know a great deal about capitalism, and if “socialism” means anything to them, it means “something, pretty much anything, other than that!”

In 2008, young Americans preferred Obama to McCain by a rate 68% to 30[4]—again, an approximately 2/3 margin.

How, then, do you expect a young American voter to feel, after casting a vote for a fundamental change to our political and economic system, on discovering that in fact, they have elected a man who twenty years ago would have been considered a moderate conservative?

I mean that word, “conservative,” in its literal sense by the way. This literal sense is now rarely used. Nowadays, in the US, “conservative” has come to mean “right-wing radical,” but it used to mean someone whose main political imperative is to conserve existing institutions, more or less exactly as they are—and this is precisely what Obama has turned out to be. Almost all his greatest political efforts have been aimed in one way or another at preserving some institutional structure under threat of radical transformation: the banking system, the auto industry, even the health insurance industry, since Obama’s main argument in pushing for health care reform was that the US health care system, based on for-profit, private insurers, was not economically viable over the long term, and indeed, what he ended up doing was preserving exactly that for-profit system in a way that it might endure for at least another generation. Considering the state of the US economy in 2008, it required genuinely heroic efforts not to change anything. Yet Obama did expend those heroic efforts, and the result was no structural change in existing institutions of any kind at all.

I am a frequenter of the liberal blog Daily Kos. Reading it regularly is probably the best way to get a sense of what the “progressive community” in the US—left-leaning voters and activists who still believe in acting through the Democratic Party—are currently thinking. Over the last two years, the level of hatred directed against Obama is extraordinary. He is regularly accused of being a fraud, a liar, a secret Republican who has intentionally flubbed every opportunity for progressive change presented to him in the name of “bipartisan compromise” with a rabid and uncompromising Right. Others suggest he is a well-meaning progressive whose hands are tied; or, alternately, blame progressives for not having mobilized to provide sufficient pressure to his Left. The latter seem to forget the way the grassroots activist groups created during the campaign, which were expected to endure afterwards for just this purpose, were rapidly dismantled once Obama was in power and handing the economic reigns of the US over to the very people (Geithner, Bernanke, Summers) responsible for the crisis, or how liberal groups that actually try to mount campaigns against such policies are regularly threatened with defunding by White-House friendly NGOs. But in a way, this feeling of personal betrayal is pretty much inevitable. It is the only way of preserving the faith that it’s possible for progressive policies to be enacted in the US through electoral means. Because if Obama was not planning all along to betray his Progressive base, then one would be forced to conclude any such project is impossible. After all, how could there have been a more perfect alignment of the stars than happened in 2008? That year saw a wave election that left Democrats in control of both houses of congress,[5] a Democratic president elected on a platform of “Change” coming to power at a moment of economic crisis so profound that radical measures of some sort were unavoidable, and at a time when popular rage against the nation’s financial elites was so intense that most Americans would have supported almost anything. If it was not possible to enact any real progressive policies or legislation at such a moment, clearly, it would never be. Yet none were enacted.[6] Instead Wall Street gained even greater control over the political process, and, since Republicans proved the only party willing to propose radical positions of any kind, the political center swung even further to the Right. Clearly, if progressive change was not possible through electoral means in 2008, it simply isn’t going to possible at all. And that is exactly what very large numbers of Americans appear to have concluded.

Say what you will about Americans, and one can say many things, this is a country of deeply democratic sensibilities. The idea that we are, or are supposed to be, a democratic society is at the very core of what makes us proud to be Americans. If Occupy Wall Street has spread to every city in America, it’s because our financial overlords have brought us to such a pass that anarchists, pagan priestesses, and tree-sitters are about the only Americans left still holding out for the idea that a genuinely democratic society might be possible.
[1] http://www.federalreserve.gov/releases/housedebt/default.htm.

[2] Similarly, Max Weber argued that the “irrational political capitalism” of “military adventurers … tax farmers, speculators, money dealers, and others” of, say, the Roman world, was an historical dead end, since it was ultimately parasitical off the state, and had nothing in common with the rational investment of production of modern industrial capitalism. By Weber’s logic, contemporary global capitalism, which is dominated by speculators, currency traders, and government contractors, has long since reverted to the dead-end irrational variety.

[3] See http://attempter.wordpress.com/2011/10/12/underlying-ideology-of-the-99/ for a nice essay on Occupy Wall Street and “neo-feudalism.”

[4] http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/27525497/ns/politics-decision_08/t/youth-vote-may-have-been-key-obamas-win/

[5] The conventional response to this was to insist that the Democrats didn’t really control both houses because the Senate rules had changed, irresponsible use of the Filibuster meant that a 60-vote majority was required. This only makes sense if one assumes that any minority party, at any previous period of American history, could have gotten rid of majority rule and moved to a 60% system had they really wanted to, but somehow chose not to do so—which is obviously absurd. If the Republicans got away with it in 2008 it’s because the Democrats decided not to make a major issue an unprecedented opposition policy of systematically violating all previous tacit Senate rules.

[6] Obama’s health care legislation, I will repeat, does not count since it is not comprehensive and effectively reproduces Bob Dole’s Republican health plan of 2006.

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    1. Richard Kline

      So David, it was YOU then!! I’ve wanted to know who had the 99% moment.

      I am copying and saving your post as an historical document on the origin of this activist vector. It has been my analysis for a decade and more that ‘small-a anarchists’ would be the seed corn of activist change in this generation and historical moment rather than socialists or liberal reformers. So I take keen interest in finding that to have literally been the case in the events just past which you describe.

      A few thoughts for what worth you find in them; Graeber: “After about an hour of drama, we formed the circle again, and this time, almost everyone abandoned the rally and come over to our side.” That is just so _beautiful_ an image I want to lie back smiling looking up at clouds floating in the sky. I can think of several socio-cultural traditions where exactly that happens, where the populace gravitates to the cluster of truth; that of the Adyges (Circassians) comes to mind. Your remarks further on concerning the roots of consensus assembly as both Native American and Quaker hold resonance for me, as I was raised a Quaker and know the process. The egalitarianism in it is inherent, and imprints every decision.

      Graeber: “In a way, the demographic base of OWS is about as far as one can get from that of the Tea Party—with which it is so often, and so confusingly, compared. The popular base of the Tea Party was always middle aged suburban white Republicans, most of middling economic means, anti-intellectual, terrified of social change—above all, for fear that what they saw as their one remaining buffer of privilege (basically, their whiteness) might finally be stripped away. OWS, by contrast, is at core forwards-looking youth movement, just a group of forward-looking people who have been stopped dead in their tracks; of mixed class backgrounds but with a significant element of working class origins; their one strongest common feature being a remarkably high level of education.” That is the most dead on and concise characterization of the Tea Potters I have yet read, or will. Obviously I’m not in New York, but your characterization of the Occupiers seems exceedingly dead on as well both from what I’ve read, and from those I’ve met out here in Seattle. Young; mixed class and ethnicity; highly educated; debt smacked; left for dead by the political system; a scattering of grizzled horizontals like you/me around the edges mostly, actually, staying out of the picture while those coming up get hold of the skills and intentions since all will depend upon what they do with those. (I’ve only been quite peripherally involved here; was down over night Tuesday as a legal observer where the actualized Occupiers are holding on while the tame Occupiers have been coaxed into a little seen camp elsewhere.)

      Regarding late stage capitalism as re-feudalization, I would argue that serfdom is a more exact historical analogy. This has been on my mind actually. Feudalism has an intrinsic web of personal oaths of allegiance and familial heritance which don’t apply well to the present. By the enserfment of the former middle class alongside the already largely enserfed working class is very much in process; it’s more than simple debt slavery. The middle class have lost all political rights at the national level, for example, since political power is presently reserved to the 1% (or less). If one takes the instance of Russian serfs (which I won’t and in fact can’t summarize closely here), the serfs continued to hold the land in a legal sense, but the labor and in many senses person of the serfs was entailed to the ownership class—who might change individually entirely without in any way changing the enserfment—cuts close to the bone we have to pick in our own place and time, to me.

      Graeber: Even the commitment to direct action, so often confused with breaking windows or the like, really refers to the refusal of any politics of protest, that merely appeals to the authorities to behave differently, and the determination instead to act for oneself, and to do what one thinks is right, regardless of law and authority. Gandhi’s salt march, for example, is a classic example of direct action. So was squatting Zuccotti Park. It’s a public space; we were the public; the public shouldn’t have to ask permission to engage in peaceful political assembly in its own park; so we didn’t.” To me, going to the park permission or no is actualization; refusing to leave when commanded by the authorities is direct action. A particularly powerful and subtle kind of direct action. I was explaining this particular perspective last night to an Occupier who fits your profile exactly: young, transgender, mixed race, educated, not an activist-by-descent. Maria wondered if the group there shouldn’t to something more “like direct action.” I told her that’s exactly what she was doing. She and the rest went there to witness against and protest a great crime and a failed system; the City and the police said ‘Go;’ she and the rest declined to do so. That’s direct action by those who hold themselves free.

      Regarding why now, I would say two things, which won’t mean much in the immediate telling, I’m afraid. 1) Timing counts. Syndynamic moment really matters—the time in an historical vector—and this is a particularly choice moment for the urban US. Notice that the occupations have been an overwhelmingly urban movement thus far. 2) The Occupiers ‘broke the frame’—the frame of the narrative and the conditioned response, but more than that too—by acting ON THEIR OWN AND WITHOUT REFERENCE TO AUTHORITY, and above all in flat, reasoned, and non-negotiable rejection of the official consensus reality on economics and politics presently operative in our society.

      Power to the empowerment. Sez I.

      1. David Graeber

        Reading your comment made me very, very happy.
        Yes, breaking the frame. I think you put it perfectly. Can I use that?

        1. Richard Kline

          So David, Yes you can use anything I put in comments or a post. My goal here is specifically to crystalize an observation, or knock off a phrase, that others who find value in it can take and run with.

          If you’d like, ask Yves to forward an email from you to me, and I’ll reply, if you want a direct contact for future reference.

          Your work has made _me_ very happy as well. It’ll take a lot of hands to push this wheel forward . . . .

  1. Pith Helmet

    On August 2, I showed up at a 7 PM meeting at Bowling Green
    Living here in flyover country, I thought you first met in a medium-sized city in Ohio.

    1. beowulf

      I thought the same thing, why would on Earth would a London professor, a Greek activist and a Canadian magazine be involved with a “General Assembly” concerning Wall Street protests in OHIO? If it was to avoid predator drones or whatnot, the fieldcraft would impress even fugitive Saddam Hussein. :o)
      Didn’t dawn on me until your comment that there might be a Bowling Green in New York:
      Bowling Green is a small public park in Lower Manhattan at the foot of Broadway next to the site of the original Dutch fort of New Amsterdam.

      Beyond that, an excellent account. I’ll have to read more about this modified consensus decision making process. That alone would make for an interesting structural reform in legislative bodies.

      1. psychohistorian

        There is a consensus helping tool that I used in the early 70’s called the Delphi Technique and it needs to be built using open source folks and integrated into this process….IMO, webifying this tool would make it more powerful if done right.

        THANK YOU YVES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

        THANK YOU DAVID GRAEBER!!!!!!!!!! I will have to get your book now.

          1. luke of #occupypittsburgh

            Please consider posting this to Daily Kos as well. It is really great history of the movement and there are so many there that will not see it here.

          2. aletheia33

            there is an urgent need for an oral history project to be undertaken on the occupation movement.

            and for occupiers to blog on their days of occupation. (as if they did not have enough to do! but surely someone is doing this or is enough blog-inclined to take it on.)

            as david graeber’s piece shows, great matters are unfolding on a daily basis in these first days and weeks. they need to be witnessed and recorded for the sake of history and for developing the kind of understanding that he conveys here.

            if anyone hears of such activities, hope you will post that info here at nc.

    1. Tory

      >>>Three weeks later, after watching more and more elements of mainstream America clamber on board, I think this is still true. In a way, the demographic base of OWS is about as far as one can get from that of the Tea Party—with which it is so often, and so confusingly, compared. The popular base of the Tea Party was always middle aged suburban white Republicans, most of middling economic means, anti-intellectual, terrified of social change—above all, for fear that what they saw as their one remaining buffer of privilege (basically, their whiteness) might finally be stripped away. OWS, by contrast, is at core forwards-looking youth movement, just a group of forward-looking people who have been stopped dead in their tracks; of mixed class backgrounds but with a significant element of working class origins; their one strongest common feature being a remarkably high level of education.<<<

      Nice dichotomy – why not just say good Vs. evil? That's the implicit juxtaposition you're creating. The Occupy movement in England – if it could be called that – is characterised as a mish-mash of losers, misfits or do-gooders; come down from your Guardian ivory tower, David. Just a load of left wing waffle.

          1. aet

            Come to think on it, maybe that saying applies to America, too, seeing as Republican Presidents ( since 1950…Eisenhower, Nixon, Reagan, Bush 1, Bush 2… a pattern emerges?) have, each and every one, presided over some period of economic downturns and/or recession, during the courses of their Administrations.

      1. Philip Pilkington

        Since when did the NC comments section begin to look like that of the Guardian?

        For everyone not familiar with the trolling that goes on on the Guardian’s website, it’s mostly stuff like this by self-indentified ‘Tories’.

        I’ve come to suspect that many are just trolls out to annoy lefties that they, in their infinite capacity for childish humour, see as overly ‘serious’.

        Either that or they really are British conservatives who, having realised that their political allies are boorish, stupid and outright boring, trawl left-wing websites looking for arguments with the very people they secretly, in the depths of their souls, identify with.

        1. aet

          Oh, those so-called “trolls” are just trying to be funny.
          And they don’t often do a very good job of it, imho.

        2. Dan Duncan

          And the “I”s have it!

          F*ckin’ A. Graeber…how many self-references can you insert into a single post?

          “I did this”…”I want that”…”I knew how”…”Me, My, Mine”… Are you kidding me?

          Here we have an oxy-moronic anarchist leader of OWS on the wide-reaching Naked Cap platform with an opportunity to clarify the ultimate aims of a heretofore criticized fuzzy movement…and all we get is David Graeber reducing the 1st person perspective to the zero-dimension singularity that only exists in the dot on an i.

          A 30 month old infant, mired in the Terrible Twos is reading this post and thinking, “Wow. This guy is really self-invloved.”

          Is this Graeber’s idea of “intellectualism”?

          What a joke.

          As to Tory’s comment: There is a point in Tory highlighting this excerpt of Graeber’s post…which, of course, Pilkington missed:

          Beneath the “We are 99!” rhetoric is a snide dismissal of…

          1. “Tea Baggers”
          2. All Republicans
          3. Obama supporting Dems.

          Which puts the OWS at “We are 15!”

          And this is why OWS is DOA.

          Instead of dismissing and insulting the disparate groups that do, in fact, comprise a meaningful portion of The 99, just focus on the matter at hand: The overarching corruption between the government and large corporations.

          1. Anonymous Jones

            Oh, Danny Boy…it was right there for the taking, and you went at David’s solipsism instead and then petered out with swearing and incoherent “numerology.”

            In the seventh paragraph, there is literally a sentence, the “anarchists refused to join in”.

            I mean, say it with me, the “anarchists refused to join in.”

            I was reading this on my phone and had to wait to sit down and comment appropriately. I’m still laughing an hour later.

            The “anarchists refused to join in.”

            It’s HIL-AR-IOUS.

            And you blew it. It was teed up like a melon waiting for your 460cc driver! So disappointing, my man. Your own loathing of humanity always seems to get in the way of the comic possibilities (except for the unintentional ones, natch).

            Anyway, that aside, good to see you around again. Kinda.

          2. Lajoinie

            Anonymous Jones: “I was reading this on my phone and had to wait to sit down and comment appropriately. I’m still laughing an hour later. ….The “anarchists refused to join in.”…..It’s HIL-AR-IOUS.”

            Yeah, I’m still laughing. As an anti-moralist (like you), who is opposed to all forms of rebellion, of nationalist or revolutionary struggle, and, in reality, against political action itself, I found this example to be hilarious as well.

          3. CaitlinO

            Various local Occupy groups have invited Tea Party supporters to visit/join. And Denninger, one of the Tea Party founders, has come out in support of OWS.

            Obviously, there’s a lot of daylight betweeen the philosophies of the groups and their diagnosis of the American disease.

            But both groups seem to share a profound disgust for the stench rising from government/corporate collusion and corruption. Maybe that’s enough to start a conversation.

        1. Philip Pilkington

          Yeah… it isn’t going to work on here ‘Tory’. People on here find narrow ideological arguments about ‘hippies’ and ‘misfits’ and whatever college stereotypes you can muster boring. If you want to start a fight on here you have to be a little smarter and actually engage based on an issue that people are interested in — trust me, I know.


          Back to the Guardian with you, mister!

          1. readerOfTeaLeaves

            Oh, speaking of the Guardian, Charlie Brooker produced a tour de force this week: “Everyone knows David Cameron is a lizard. So why does the Telegraph continue to deny the truth?”
            I haven’t laughed as hard in ages as I did over this gem of clever verbal evisceration. And some of the comments… well, they’re not all trolls at the Guardian. I go there (partly) for the wit.


          2. Tory

            Oh I’m sorry, was I supposed to construct an elaborate piece of intellectualism? Some sort of sophisticated repartee for this garbage written by the socially useless Mr. Graeber? His little article is seeping, nay, almost bursting at the seems with latent narcissism & a casual haughtiness that it’s almost too much to stomach – hence my citation, or did that go over your head?

            Yes yes yes, we get it David: the progressive, enlightened, sagacious and oh so educated (they can quote Marcuse almost verbatim! Woopdy doo, that’s handy for creating wealth) and other sorts of concerned souls can be adequately juxtaposed to those pernicious, wicked, soul destroying and WHITE (cue the boos & hisses – didn’t you all know? The Tea Party mob and are oh so scared that their ‘white privilege’ is being atrophied). Classic good Vs. evil – why not just say it David and put the cherry on the cake? What not be even braver and so group A) are bad because I disagree with their politics whilst B) are good because I agree with their politics. Such a puerile article. There’s always this perception from these bourgeois socialists that they are somehow representative of the ‘working class’, that as a collective they’re somehow voicing the concerns and beliefs of ‘all’; it’s the biggest load of solipsistic garbage I’ve ever heard. Graber wouldn’t know ‘working class’ if a drunk Pearly King smacked him in the face.

            So, Pilkington, ‘trolling’? Don’t even know what that is and quite frankly it sounds like something concocted by a man in serious need of a life – but in any case, I will not satisfy what I consider to be nothing more than a prejudicial rant from this ‘social scientist’ – talk about disutility! I’ll continue to create wealth for me & my family while this parasite can continue to sustain himself on my stolen wealth; I’m sure he’ll keep spouting all sorts of extremist left wing drivel.

          3. Philip Pilkington

            Yep, here it goes. This guy is definitely a Guardian commenter. Note that he has nothing particularly interesting or relevant to say. Note the little moral truisms and the misused pseudo-intellectual terminology and citations that pepper his sentences.

            This is the type of person you meet at a dinner party and he ruins your night. You know, you’re having a real conversation and then the half-educated idiot chimes in with his ‘opinion’. You sit there, politely smiling but wincing on the inside — praying that he will finish his cloned rant soon so you can get back to the conversation; which, of course, he’ll never be able to be a part of. You ask yourself: who invited him? And then you realise that he’s a member of an SME lobby group or something.

            Again I’ll say: back to The Guardian comments section with you where you can moralise with your truisms and try to defeat ‘the left’ by boring them to death…

          4. Tory

            Do me a favour Pilkington – your strained ‘intellectual’ jab has about as much force as a three year olds slap. You people try ever so hard to posture as tortured ‘intellectuals’ – hence ol’ Graeber’s little jibe that the OWS mob are ‘educated’ – as if being well versed in the works of Horkheimer & Adorno is something to boast about – who cares? Believe me, don’t loose your footing in the real world and become too lost in the ether of bombast. (I bet the working class you purport to represent love all this sort of chat).

            It makes me laugh that you think I’d ever want to bore the crap out of myself by being ‘oh so intellectual’ (har har) at some boring dinner party: I could think of a million & one things I’d rather do than be covered in phlegm from the jibber-jabber of a bunch of supercilious bourgeois socialists. ‘Dinner party’? Christ Almighty…

            You seem to be well versed in the habits of the ‘enemy'(typical ‘Guardian’ poster am I?): may I cordially suggest you get out more? Perhaps you can camp out with the OWS mob and learn the bongos or take heed of a pro-Palestinian neo-Victorian paint-poet?

      2. Heron

        Oh well obviously you must be correct; the Tories are so well known for their honesty, dedication to democracy, and political fair dealing, after all.

        1. pws

          Being an American (and thank God for that, we have our problems here in the good old U.S. of A. but my ancestral homeland is a Hellhole these days… and a Hellhole led around by it’s nose by whatever idiot or mountebank we choose to elect here! I mean, I’ll take Occupy Wall Street over loot-and-burn race riots any day of the week.) the only thing I know about Tories is from that “House of Cards” series they did about Francis Urquhart.

          You know, a sleazy politician climbs to power through back room double dealing and murder. So, I figure that’s what Tories are like, something like the British version of the American Mafia, except with some kind of sneering, and totally unearned, elitism. Nothing I know about Tories would lead me to believe anything different.

      3. davver

        OWS people are mostly priviledged white kids from middle and upper middle class families that happened to not get jobs after college. They are about as white and priviledged as you can get.

        Tea Party people are mainly working class white folks in flyover country. Many of these people never got a chance to go to college like the OWS people.

        Tea Party people tried to stop bank bailouts, and almost succeeded at one point. OWS people shut up, supported all of Obama’s corporatist policies for two years, then showed up to complain they had a lot of student loans.

        1. John Emerson

          Bullshit about the working class part. Teapartiers are mostly pretty well off. Or a lot of them. Last I saw they were educationally and financially fairly close to the mean — mostly not trailer trash, not ignorant, not poor, and not working class. Both their enemies and their friends get this wrong.

          The Tea Party people didn’t like the bailouts but had no idea what was going on or what should have been done instead. If you look at the Tea Party people in Congress, e.g. DeMint and Cantor and Bachmann, they mostly vote with finance down the line. even worse than the Democrats.

          I followed those guys for awhile but it didn’t take long before they made it clear that they were just the conservative hard core of the Republican Party,

          1. John Emerson

            In “Red State Blue state” etc. Gelman concludes that the culture war is a war within the middle class. The conservative culture warriors can pretend to be “working class” because they’re not collegiate and urban and hip, but they have money. Some of them have lots of money.

          2. jonboinAR

            I live in a Tea Party-like hotbed area. If I were to put my hand in the generalization fire I’d say that the “typical” Tea Partier around here is a mediocerally educated small-businessman/contractor type. I keep wondering if the typical small-business-person has actual or legitimate grievances regarding say, government regulation. I don’t know, just wondering.

        2. sgt_doom

          “Tea Party people are mainly working class white folks …”

          Reporting from the Puget Sound region, Seattle, WA.

          I remember the drooling oldsters (not exaggerating here), about seven or eight in number, who were bused downtown a year or so ago for that healthcare political event.

          They were from an assisted living facility (beginning rate: $100,000 per year) in northern Seattle. They had several reporters/organizers accompanying them. They were proud Tea Party members, aside from the drool, but unable to answer any simple questions coherently (could have been the excitement?).

          Meanwhile, the opposing number in support of the public option, single payer, etc., numbered in the thousands.

          Didn’t make the local news, oddly enough, but that’s all corporate-controlled, now isn’t it?

        3. BDBlue

          Actually, most people who identify themselves as being “Tea Party” are wealthier and better educated than most Americans. They are also older (which may account for the wealth) and more male. See here.

        4. David Graeber

          Why, because you say so?

          Actually they have surveyed Tea Partiers pretty systematically by now and found that they tend to be middle aged suburban Republicans whose incomes are substantially above the median.

          As for your demographic analysis of OWS – this is based on what, exactly? You’ve been out surveying occupiers and tabulating the data? Or you’re just making things up?

          1. Pitchfork

            Where, pray tell, did you “survey” this:

            “[A]bove all, [Tea partiers] fear that what they saw as their one remaining buffer of privilege (basically, their whiteness) might finally be stripped away.”

            Talk about projecting! I enjoyed your article, but this point is simply fact-free nonsense. You do realize, do you not, that this this kind of crap (unwittingly?) serves to reinforce the left-right paradigm and to discourage Tea Party members who are or would be allies/participants in OWS?

          2. John Emerson

            Pitchfork: Graeber didn’t say that he had surveyed the Tea Party, he said that they had. I’ve seen the same surveys, and as far as I can tell they all show the teaparty to be 80% or so hard core Republicans. Furthermore, all the issues I ever hear teapartiers talking about are the same old Republican deficit / debt / tax / regulation issues.

            And pray tell, who told you that you can win arguments with nothing but sarcasm?

          3. JerryDenim

            The whole left-right paradigm of American poltics is tragic, and this of course is one of the many ways those in power divide and conquer the 99%, but I’m with Graeber. The Tea party is 100% pure astroturf and any contingency of the Tea party that might share certain sympathies with the Occupy Wall Street Movement have been deceived by the Tea party and are ignorant of how power is wielded and exercised in modern day America.

            It is impossible for one to embrace both the Tea party and Occupy Wall Street. The populist veneer of the Tea party is just slick marketing and the tell-tale signs of the big-money K-Street PR firms that stage manage the whole pony show. Like I said, astroturf. The goals of the two groups are diametrically opposed. One of the two central tenets of the Tea party are protecting “Free Markets” (a fake neo-liberal ideological construct which is used as a justification for all that the OWS crowd hates; runaway laissez-faire capitalism, globalism, wage-arbitrage, union busting, out-sourcing, the promulgation of a wild-west, unregulated frontier business environment ripe for predatory capitalism and sharp practices) and the other tenet is lower taxes for the wealthy, whom the Tea party believe pay too much already. The OWS movement is a big tent, but anyone who claims to be a part of the 99% cannot hold on to their old bias and right-wing brainwashed memes and still be a part of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Knowledge is power and OWS is all about knowledge, hence the library in Zuccoti park. You cannot go around blaming ACORN, black welfare moms and the Community Reinvestment Act for the financial crisis of 2008 and still have anything useful to contribute to the OWS discussion. You can have your own opinions but not your own facts. Any Tea-party member who wants to join forces with the OWS movement is welcome I’m sure, but they must first jettison the lies and myths that have been feed to them by the hacktocracy of economists, academics and think-tank political consultants who spew Wall Street approved slogans and sound bites.

            That’s what Yves Book “Econned” was all about. I donated my copy to the OWS library. You should stop by and check it out sometime.

          4. jonboinAR

            -“You do realize, do you not, that this this kind of crap (unwittingly?) serves to reinforce the left-right paradigm and to discourage Tea Party members who are or would be allies/participants in OWS?”-

            It’s been my contention for awhile that it probably discourages them a lot, especially if they ARE white. Graeber’s remark to which you refer would be considered a horrible ethnic slur to anyone with the slightest progressive pretentions were it applied to any racial or ethnic group but white. I’m glad some have called him out. The progressive movement hasn’t much chance of winning over the white working class cohort as long as they continue to encourage their demonization. I hope Mr Graeber and others realize this when they see the response and change their tactics a little.

          5. David Graeber

            Oh give me a break – I am white working class in my own family background, and I’ve written extensively about why right wing populism often better appeals to the white working class than left-wing populism (see my “Army of Altruists” piece in Harpers a few years back.) Nonetheless the fact remains that racism and white privilege exists and the idea that it’s somehow racist to point that out is completely absurd and frankly offensive. Anyway, the Tea Party is not a primarily working class movement. So this is wrong on just about every level you can be wrong on.

        5. nobody


          I’m occupying on the other coast, and here at least the group seems predominantly working class and poor, and the composition is definitely less “white” than the demographics of the city or the region. There are disproportionately high numbers of people from, say, 18-28, but there are quite a few people from older generations.

          1. Pitchfork

            John Emerson,

            What are you talking about???

            I pointed out that there is ZERO evidence to support the assertion that the Tea Party is motivated “above all” by the fear of losing white privilege. The reference to “survey” was not mere sarcasm, but a means by which to point to Graeber’s hypocrisy in, to put it bluntly, making shit up.

            Your response to me is a complete non sequitur.

          2. Pitchfork

            David Graeber,

            The poll you cite says nothing about Tea Party motivation nor about white privilege. Shockingly, according to the poll 41% of “Tea Party opponents” do NOT agree that black people are “intelligent.”

            What motivates the Tea Party people “above all” is clear enough. Motivation includes the bank bailouts, the stimulus package, the increasing national debt and Obamacare. “Above all,” Tea Partiers are motivated (much like OWS) by the fact that government is unaccountable to the people and does not listen.

            The bailouts were opposed something like 95 to 1 (or 99 to 1 depending on the data used). The stimulus, which came on the heels of the bailout, was also massively unpopular — people were and ARE angry that more and more debt was being accrued for their children to pay off down the road. Ditto on Obamacare. It is massively unpopular and Democrats said, essentially, F*** you, we’re going to pass this massive Big Pharma/Big Insurance subsidy anyway.

            Sorry, but there is ZERO evidence that white privilege motivates the Tea Party “above all,” or even significantly. Feel free to retract your smear at any time.

        6. CaitlinO

          I call bullshit on the Obama support, too. Read any progressive blog, not just Daily Kos, and your eyeballs will fry from the fury burning up at you from the screen.

          There isn’t a right-wing whack-job nut-case in the country who’s more furious with Obama than the people who supported him and believed in his promise of change 3 years ago.

    2. JEHR

      I read the bit on Plutonomy until I got sick to my stomach. I was surprised to see Canada as one of the great Plutonomies. Our PM and the finance minister insist that Canada isn’t anywhere near as problematic as the US. But the Canadian banks were bailed out(Harper and bankers say not but when the Central Bank gives money to another bank in order to buy toxic assets, that is a bailout). Besides, the Federal Reserve also loaned money to three Canadian banks. We are so lied to by our government!

      1. ambrit

        Mr Pilkington;
        The Hollywod Spartacus, the Roman Spartacus, or the Bavarian Spartacus? All three?!
        To be fair, the original Tupac was the last indigenous ruler of the Incas. For that association to be linked to “The 99%” suggests that ‘beowulf’ has a Degree in Advanced Subtelty.

  2. billwilson

    Great read.

    I would add one more thing to the “why did it grow this time?” question. And that is simply that the police over reactions, filmed and uploaded to YouTube for everyone to see … and for the media to not ignore (if you want media attention a bit of conflict dos not hurt … and this time it was the police that were responsible), made this into a big story … which then fed on itself, helped by regular police overreactions – usually by the “white shirts”.

    More than anyone it is the police behavior that has underpinned the growth in the movement. Had the police just ignored what was going on this would likely have gained a lot less traction.

    1. Heron

      Actually, I’d say the media’s initial decision to ignore the police violence played just as big a part in growing the movement as the violence itself. Those videos spread all over the internet very quickly after the attacks occurred, and were pretty much ignored by the MSM for 2-3 days. This didn’t go unnoticed. Folks would see these vids on their favorite blog news-aggregator; Fark, or Daily Dish, or the like, then they’d turn on their televisions, not see it, and ask themselves “wait, why isn’t the media covering this stuff?” I think that’s what made allot of people start questioning, maybe for the first time in their lives, the media portrayal of these protests, and when The Daily Show came out with generally favorable coverage of OWS, that served not only to “mainstream” that sense that the protestors were being treated unfairly, but to amplify their message as folks started realizing they felt the same exact way about our politics and the role of finance in our economy.

    2. JerryDenim

      No way.

      One of the main thrusts of Graeber’s piece is “why now” and I think he does a good job of answering that question.

      Gleeful and wanton police violence against peaceful young college girls protesting didn’t do anything to hurt the OWS protesters and certainly helped garner publicity and sympathy, but 15,000 people didn’t show up in Times Square last weekend because they are upset about police brutality.

      This is simply an idea whose time has come. Many people such as the indebted, idealistic Gen-Y crowd who voted for and then were betrayed by Obama have finally wised up and realized they have been sold out by a highly undemocratic and corrupt system that cares nothing for them. They are feed-up, pissed off and want to see a return to democratic governance, law and order, and a logical society that promotes the greater good instead of grinding up 99% of the population for the benefit of a select few.

      1. sgt_doom

        Just an aside on the police and their pitiful unions (with the occasional exception): they are scheduled for privatization and attacks on their pension funds around 2014.

        Of course, they are the last to go, as police acquiescence is necessary. Small preliminary privatizations of police forces in California, Indiana, Georgia, Michigan, and probably elsewhere, have already taken place.

        That governor in Wisconsin, Wanker or Walker (?), first privatized courthouse guards when he was county executive (using G4S Wackenhut, now called just G4S), but it was later overturned by the Wisconsin court (Wanker, or Walker, didn’t have proper authority to privatize anything at the county exec level, etc.).

        Interesting to note that G4S is the second largest private employer of record, and the number one security services employer in size.

        Their chief lobbyist in Washington, D.C., is Jeffrey Starr, formerly a top dog at the Defense Intelligence Agency, and was on loan to Goldman Sachs’ Business Intelligence Group back in the early ’00s for some reason.

        Believe he is a member of the AIG Starr family (Kenneth Starr a nephew of the founder of AIG, etc.).

        Don’t think there will be much sympathy for the cops when their turn arrives.

      2. aletheia33

        “This is simply an idea whose time has come. Many people such as the indebted, idealistic Gen-Y crowd who voted for and then were betrayed by Obama have finally wised up and realized they have been sold out by a highly undemocratic and corrupt system that cares nothing for them. They are feed-up, pissed off and want to see a return to democratic governance, law and order, and a logical society that promotes the greater good instead of grinding up 99% of the population for the benefit of a select few.”


        whether or not this explains the success of OWS, it rings true as a description of many of the participants. young as they are, one then must ask, what would such a “return” look like to them, when they’ve never experienced such a thing in the first place? this would go toward explaining why they seem to be simply starting to build a new system from scratch–holding an assembly to debate the structure of the new government the people will now create, and the like.

        having grown up cheering for the chicago 7, and watched that whole movement fade out (at least from its street form), i never imagined that the sheer idealism and energy of youth would gather such power as it now is mustering in its constructive response to its recent recognition of how the deck is actually stacked.

        looks like obama was too eloquent and stirred up more than was bargained for.

  3. M

    About a month before the Occupy Wall Street protests started, a friend and I were talking about how incredible it was that no youth protest movement had sprung up in the US.

    I also totally agree with the writer that Obama and the entire Democratic party letting people down has been a partial spur. I campaigned for Obama in Virginia and what I saw there was amazing – that energy was for change and not just for one person; it may have dissipated after the election, but it is not going to go away until things actually change.

    I also noticed during the Obama campaign, since the Republicans were the ones who brought up Socialism, and would actually refer to Sweden, that a lot of people were thinking, hmmm, Sweden seems like a pretty nice place, what’s wrong with Socialism?

    I also think that ‘ordinary’ people really, really, really want this movement to succeed. If you read comments on some of the early mocking articles about it, you’d find almost universal opinion in favor of Occupy Wall Street and anger at the mocking, and that’s one of the ways the internet helped, because it has only been recently that you could comment on articles in the news in real time.

    Another thing may have been the relentless news for the past year that seems to have focused only on crazy right-wingers; people right away saw that 10 Tea Party activists could show up and be on the nightly news, but hundreds of anti-Wall Street protesters didn’t merit any coverage? And it seems that almost once a week the Republicans have a free forum to air their views at their debates. If for nothing else I thank Occupy Wall Street for changing the conversation.

    The subway I take home stops near Zucotti Park and I often see people with signs after having spent the day at the park, or just having finished a General Assembly, and last night I saw a nicely dressed man who must have been in his 70s with a sign, on his way home and it made it clear to me how much people need things to change.

    1. M

      Also, I know Yves has always hated Obama, but I am really thankful I got to see what I saw ‘on the ground’ as the political reporters say. As I said, that energy was clearly not just for one person, it was about change. We got the person, but not the change, and I can only imagine that the need for change has intensified.

      1. JerryDenim

        Not always, just after he made it clear he was a total fraud who intended to completely sell out those who got him elected. I would say this became clear by the time he announced his cabinet picks, so after his election but well before he was sworn in Obama had already demonstrated he was a lying fraud dedicated to preserving the Washington consensus.

        Yves hasn’t always hated Obama, but almost.

      2. Yves Smith Post author

        I was never keen, and will even confess that watching the Palin VP acceptance speech led me, during her speech, to give $20 to Obama, so I am guilty of having been an official Obama supporter.

        But as soon as he appointed his economics team, it was clear he was a great big phony.

        1. Richard Kline

          Obama’s _voting record_ was straight liberal Republican. David Graeber describes him with great focus in the post as a moderate conservative, and that was well-demonstrated for years before the 2008 elections. Much of what he has done since—the Af-Pak Offensive, moving to privatize security, discarding single payer while retaining for-profit insurers, sitting down with industry to take notes on what they wanted—were positions he described DURING the 2008 campaign. These things weren’t hidden; he said them. He was patently the most conservative of all the Democratic candidates in the primaries based on the substance of record and program.

          Now, he also said a lot of hot air, with a smile, of the hope-a-dope sort. And there was the single shred of the fact that he voted against the 2003 invasion of Iraq. (Largely because his consitutents were leery, and he voted for all authorization of funds from that moment forward.)

          These two sets of things did not go together; record and program on the one hand, rhetoric and single, non-repeated gesture on the other. Obama was going to abandon one of these two images the moment he had power because he certainly couldn’t act on both. Those wanting change, those believing in a good face on things, let themselves be lied to; indeed all but demanded that they be lied to. No one should have been surprised that it was the behaviors that hung around after the election while the rhetoric and the hopers found security posted on the door with their names not on the list for admittance.

          One among the many things I like about the Occupiers is that they have stopped lying to themselves. That’s the first step to Recovery, aren’t we always told, hey?

    2. Praedor

      I had long ago written off the younger generations in the USA as vacuous, twittering, texting, self-absorbed manikins. I am VERY happy to see that there actually is a percentage that isn’t so vacuous and isn’t so self-absorbed.

      The system is setup and operating to pound out long lines of vacuous manikins but it seems to not be functioning with the efficiency that the 1% hoped it would.

      On another note entirely, banking should be treated entirely as a public utility. No one should be able to get rich being in banking anymore than one can get rich working in water treatment plants, the Post Office, etc. Let’s cap executive pay in banking at the GS-15 level. Let’s control the money for society rather than for the interests of 1%.

  4. skippy

    The ultimate peer to peer exorcise in information sharing between global human beings in real time, all seeking to define human rights.

    Skippy…@David. Taking my 15 year old son with me on the weekend to the Occupy Brisbane gathering with a copy of yours and Yves books. Probably add them to the library.

    Hint folks…its better than typing comments on Yves blog (sorry Yves, still its a close 2nd, honest). Real time interaction with others, its called growing and sharing, it feels good[!], try it, teach and learn at the same time!

    1. psychohistorian

      Thanks for the suggestion Skippy.

      I too have been and continue to be involved, mostly as observer at this point, in Occupy Portland. I also encourage other readers to get out and join/support or start your local Occupy movement.

      The sooner we bring about change the less ongoing damage to society and our environment.

    2. Fíréan

      How does one achieve “real time interaction with others” who, across the country and not just in the big cities, have been subjected to fraudulent mortgage foreclosure, a well covered subject in this blog, and who are not aware that they too may now have a sympathetic public and collective platform ?

  5. Eleanor

    A terrific article, full of useful information. Graeber is a really interesting guy. I need to get his book.

  6. Don

    I don’t see any “success” yet… I see a bunch of people sitting in confined areas being watched over by the police. Not sure how that is any different than the impact of the traditional American underclass — to which estate some of these protesters have unfortunately newly arrived.

    Wake me when something actually changes.

    1. Foppe

      It is surely new that cameras are recording the police watching the people sitting there. In fact, I would go so far as to call that a significant point.
      But I guess it is your prerogative to sit (sleep?) at home waiting for hope & change to be FedExed to you.

      1. Don

        Yes, I’m fortunate that I can sit and home and plan coherent actions against specific targets; those things are best done from a stable, physical home base, not from the middle of park/homeless holding area/ghetto.

        I’m sorry to splash cold water on all this “whee, look at us, we so cool” sermonizing, but the facts of life are this: when the authorities decide they have more homeless people in one place than they can control, they will – as they do every day – make use of their many longstanding strategies to disperse them. It’s probably not going to be as spectacular a dispersal as the Bonus Army (U.S. or Canadian versions).

        The grievances are real… the actual power of these particular people is not. Let’s take advantage of the smokescreen here, but let’s not forget it’s a smokescreen.

        1. Foppe

          There’s something about ‘protesting too much’ that is at the tip of my tongue here.. You seem rather more interested than you are willing to admit.

      2. Don

        What’s “new” about the activities of police being reported on by the homeless or their advocates?

        As usual, people of this generation think everything they do is “brand new” and “unprecedented.”

        We had cameras recording Rodney King’s beating. It hasn’t stopped police beatings. At all.

        1. Patricia

          Curmudgeons are important, Don. Being fortunate enough to have “a stable, physical home base”, I am sure you are working your hardest on “coherent actions against specific targets”.

          “Wake me when something actually changes.” Oops, I guess not.

          Wakey, wakey. Time to get to work.

        2. jonboinAR

          -“We had cameras recording Rodney King’s beating. It hasn’t stopped police beatings. At all.”-

          I would guess that it has, some. The cops at an earlier time might well have given those kids a few whacks with billy clubs as well as the mace. Well, next time they might think twice about the mace, too.

          You’re overdoing the cynicism, IMO. Street protests historically have achieved a lot by drawing attention to particular causes, focussing previously inchoate frustrations, etc. They contributed, I think most would agree, to the end of the Vietnam War, for example. I think that most would also have to agree that sometimes they grow into something real, other times they peter out. Time always tell.

      3. ajax

        Many readers here surely know about the barricades
        and temporary fences in the New York Financial District.

        The barricades separate the pavement reserved to
        Financial District workers from the pavement used
        by protesters, roughly speaking.

        If memory serves me well, either Russia Today
        or Al-Jazeerah had video footage taken from
        the side of the barricades where Wall Street people
        go about their business.

        This confirmed the massive police presence from
        a vantage point we don’t usually get with
        Occupy-Wall-Street-made videos.

    2. Jill


      Here is what I think is happening with OWS.

      The U.S. govt.is becoming openly totalitarian. One aspect of a totalitarian govt. is its insistence on subsuming all groups to its own purposes. People who form groups which do not conform to those purposes are attacked in the hope of eliminating them. At least part of OWS consists of such people. They have formed a group which breaks free of elite ideology and goals. If OWS never does anything else, this is an amazingly valuable accomplishment.

    3. citizendave

      The most interesting aspect of the OWS movement is the process. David’s article furthers our understanding of this movement. In its essence, it is participatory democracy in action — you need to be present with other people engaged in the process to fully understand it. I hope that one day soon we will be able to hold in our hands a new “little red book”, a small-a anarchists’ cookbook, translated into every living language, to guide us through this process toward true democracy.

      The problem with true democracy, which led to the founding of a republic, the United States of America, is that We The People, the undisciplined drunken rabble, cannot be trusted to make good public policy, or to be wise and prudent in our actions. But true democracy is possible, as we have seen before and see now in OWS. Perhaps it is the American dream coming true, which the founders envisioned, but could not instantiate in their day and age. Instead, they constructed in the constitution a sort of time machine, that would carry us forward until we could figure out how to achieve the ideal form of true democracy, in which no human could hold dominion over another.

      Modern technology can facilitate the democratic process, but it does not create it. The democratic process arises out of the human mind and spirit yearning to be free. That the Occupations can arise in other places so quickly, without a guidebook, demonstrates that this movement is deeper and broader than mere transitory popular political activism. The yearning of the human mind to be free from the shackles of ignorance and prejudice will sprout and flower again and again. Eventually some big, strong trees will evolve, like the oaks and the redwoods, loose organizations of public-spirited anarchists determined not to be overshadowed by greedy little minds bent on feathering their own nests at the expense of others. Any place two or more people are gathered, there true democratic cooperation can exist and flourish.

      Consensus is a balancing act. What should emerge in the marketplace of ideas is a way forward that is mindful of future generations who will inhabit this planet. We who are alive now should not consume it all or otherwise destroy Earth for the sake of creating wealth for the one percent in this brief moment in geological time. We can devise an economy that delivers the basic essentials — food, shelter, health care, etc. — at minimal cost, to everyone, regardless of available jobs. We should modernize our transportation infrastructure, continue to pursue science and technology, and expand outward into the final frontier.

      Now we are up against a behemoth, the vast status quo, which exists not because it deserves to exist, or needs to exist, but because it can enforce its continued existence. One theory of evolution is that small mammals — an emergent life form — brought down the mighty reptilian dinosaurs. The one percent can cause the 99% to disperse, but We The People will reconstitute elsewhere and else-when, until we are everywhere.

      We humans have an existential dilemma. What should we do? We should learn how to live comfortably in harmony with Nature. The relentless extraction of natural resources is only necessary for the creation of wealth for the one percent. All people can live in comfort and good health without digging up the planet. We need to retool, and much economic activity will arise from that retooling. We need to recalibrate the value of an hour of human labor. We need to leave the natural earth basically intact for the thousands of generations of humans who will live here in the future.

      1. RanDomino

        Anarchism is not a doctrine but the fulfillment of Western philosophy. A “little black book” requires libraries- which is probably a reason why a major activity of American Anarchists is to establish and fund Infoshops (radical libraries).

        1. citizendave

          The subjects of Anarchists and Socialists were taboo for me growing up in Wisconsin in the 1950s and ’60s. Frank Zeidler was the Socialist mayor of Milwaukee (45 minutes away from my home) from 1948 (the year I was born) until 1960, but I didn’t know his name or that he was a socialist until many years later. The orthodoxy in my family was mainstream capitalist economics. I still don’t know much about Anarchists, and they aren’t the people I was talking about. My use of lower-case “anarchist” was intended to mean anyone who is self-possessed, and who neither needs nor wants leaders, rulers, kings, presidents, chiefs of police, or neighborhood watch busybodies. The problem with a community full of such people is that they must coordinate their activities with each other. That, to my way of thinking, is what the General Assemblies are about: they attempt to reach consensus. If anarchy is not a good description of a group that tries to coordinate without anyone taking a leadership role, then I’ll be looking for a better term. Equality fits in here somewhere. Liberté, égalité, fraternité?

          As for the book, what I crave is knowledge of how the facilitators conduct the General Assemblies, how they ward off side-trackers without alienating anybody, keep the process flowing, and so on. I’m not interested in doctrine or dogma right now, not looking for “books”. I’m totally interested in the process. I’m hoping to see documentation, good journalism, to help spread the word on how it’s done. How did Occupy Chicago get started? How closely does it resemble OWS? Were there people common in both, did people from NYC travel to Chicago to facilitate there? How much do the many Occupations around the world resemble each other? We don’t have an OccupyMyTown here, and I’m not sure I would know what to do to initiate the process. “Book” is probably the wrong word. Pamphlet?

          1. Frank Powers

            @citizendave: This might be just the thing for you:


            Quick guide on group dynamics in people’s assemblies

            This text has been prepared by the Commission for Group Dynamics in Assemblies of the Puerta del Sol Protest Camp (Madrid). It is based on different texts and summaries which reached consensus in the internal Assemblies of this Commission (and which will be made available on the official webs of the 15th May Movement) and from the experiences gained in the General Assemblies held in this Protest Camp up until 31st May 2011.

            The purpose of this Quick Guide is to facilitate and encourage the development of the different Popular Assemblies which have been created since the beginning of the 15th May Movement. This Quick Guide will be periodically revised and updated. On no account is it to be considered a closed model which cannot be adapted through consensus by any given Assembly. From the Commission for Group Dynamics in Assemblies of the Puerta del Sol Protest Camp we invite our friends and comrades to attend and take part in the meetings, work plans and internal Assemblies of this Commission, which are open to anyone who wants to come to them and actively participate in maintaining, perfecting and developing them.

          2. bmeisen

            Thanks for making this available. I think it makes sense sometimes to try to re-invent the wheel. The vocabulary that is evolving with the General Assembly is fascinating, e.g. the term “intervention” for proposals and questions.

            Ideally the moderator is an un-biased facilitator, much as your linked text defines the position. As moderators know, the position offers opportunities to influence the consensus-building process. These opportunities frequently present themselves as a consequence of irrational human behavior associated with group dynamics. For example, if everyone around us raises our hands and shouts “Heil Hitler” most of us tend to go along.

            The opportunities to influence general assemblies give the moderator position a degree of power that remains a factor even when an individual moderator is functioning ideally. IN self-selecting groups that pursue self-less, constrained goals the power issue isn’t a problem because even when a self-serving, manipulative individual becomes moderator the consequences are containable.

            In groups that adopt the challenging task of pursuing fundamental political change in the Empire, a position such as that of moderator in the OWS General Assembly is inevitably a source of conflict as well as danger. It is wise in the profoundest sense of the term for groups like the General Assembly to acknowledge this issue and to accomodate it in the process. Your linked text offers little information in this regard.

  7. b.

    “they have elected a man who twenty years ago would have been considered a moderate conservative – someone whose main political imperative is to conserve existing institutions, more or less exactly as they are—and this is precisely what Obama has turned out to be.”

    I completely disagree with this. Twenty years ago, Obama (like Bush) would have been (if not considered) a radical, an enemy of the constitution. You might think he is a structure conservative, but he is protecting the oligarchs, not the structures. He has protected, indemnified, continues to facilitate, and quite possible continued, torture. He has prevented accountability for illegal war and illegal wiretapping. He has eroded the rule of law with a comprehensive refusal to hold oligarchs and their retainers to account for a multitude of crimes, including homicides among those illegally – and often pointlessly – detained. Every exceptional transgression committed by Bush has been normalized, endorsed, and institutionalized. He has extended – against his own explicit commitment – unitary acts of aggressive war, the pervasive and dysfunctional use of state secrets to cover up, and to establish secret laws and secret, unaccountable panels. He has, last but no least, pushed farther than Bush with respect to extrajudicial assassination of citizens and foreigners alike, more often than not by non-uniformed, illegal combatants in US government employ, and he has used every opportunity to commit hostilities without, and often against, the consent of Congress.

    That is not the ledger of a conservative, that is a radical. The architecture of exploitation and repression has changed dramatically over the last two decades, and it will change even swifter and more sweepingly now. Ubiquitous surveillance, “non-lethal” authority enhancers such as tasers, and, within the decade, remote controlled law enforcement devices are the visible symptoms of a shredding of the bill of rights.

    It really makes my heart ache for those first-time voters that followed the tunes of “community organizer” in 2008. I cannot think of a more comprehensive betrayal of the principles and spirit of democracy in my lifetime. But the problem is not Obama. Who else could they have voted for? Who could they possibly vote for in 2012? At the core of that architecture of repression are now the “free vote zones” of the booth, to channel us as they channelus into “free speech zones”. It isn’t even necessary to steal the elections – and it isn’t even necessary to control the primaries. The Savior Himself could get elected to the Senate, and short of a miracle, it wouldn’t make a difference.

    I would not dare to tell that betrayed generation that O is a moderate or conservative. He is the perfect product, the manicured, polished expression of a retainer system that has decades ago produced an entirely different generation, one of hollow men, of empty shells without spine or heart – and apparently incompetent at anything but a modicum of self-advancement. These ain’t even McNamara’s, not by a long shot. We are ruled by fools – or worse, by financiers.

    1. b.

      OK – I’ll try a synthesis..

      Obama is trying to preserve the institutions of government at all cost. He is taking the ‘Nam approach – in order to save them for future generations, he has to destroy.

      Works for the New Deal, too.

      1. LeeAnne

        With all this trying to figure out just who Obama is, the most logical construct that he is pure and simple CIA.

    2. JerryDenim

      I would agree with almost everything you said about Obama but really your exception to Graeber’s characterization of Obama as ‘moderate conservative’ is pure semantics.

      Is there any famous ‘conservative’ leader or politician in all of history who is known for their persecution of those in power or their personal crusade to destroy the entrenched power structure of the day?

      Conservatives by definition are those who endeavor to preserve the status quo (be it right or wrong). Conservatives are always deferential to those with wealth and power and apologetic for their misdeeds. Conservatives don’t really change, only the amount of corruption and injustice in the system vary making the conservatives from eras past look like saints compared to the conservatives from our rotten times. I know his name is frequently mentioned but the Republican war-hero General Eisenhower would be considered a completely left-wing nut job by today’s consensus and would not be allowed anywhere near a television audience let alone the Oval Office. Times and morals change but conservatives always defend the status quo.

    3. sgt_doom

      I truly have to agree with your appraisal of Obama (and I voted for Cynthia McKinney in ’08, and Nader in ’00).

      Too many today are thinking and behaving irrationally: Obama’s administration has preemptively arrested large numbers of political acitivists (chiefly anti-war people), as well as those who criticized those preemptive arrests in the second wave of arrests.

      Obama has illegally kept Bradley Manning in jail at Leavenworth, when he’s chief right is to a speedy courts-martial.

      Obama has authorized assassinations without due process of any kind (on both US and non-US citizens) on a large scale.

      Obama has ignored any real employment issues until it’s time for his reelection campaigning, while supporting the passage of three more jobs-offshoring free trade agreements.

      Obama has appointed a 100% neocon administration, and is best described by the three people he has fired today date:

      Vann Jones (the green jobs advocate)
      Susan Crawford (the network neutrality advocate)
      Shirley Sherrod (a USDA employee, and small farmer advocate, not even a presidential appointee)

      (Recall who was fired by President Kennedy: the three top people at the CIA — Allen Dulles, Richard Bissell and Gen. Cabell, along with a bunch of rightwinger generals [Lemnitzer, LeMay, etc.])

      Obama has both extended and expanded previous Bush neocon policies, both warrantless wiretapping and a number of others.

      Obama has appointed three people with the worst jobs-offshoring records conceivable: Diana Farrell (McKinsey Global), Jeffrey Immeld (GE), and Jim Kolbe (formerly a Reagan point man of jobs-offshoring in congress).

      And one could go on for pages…..

  8. harvestmoon

    Graeber on Debt is asks for a meaningful historical definitions of “finance”, “money”, “credit”, and “debt”. The abuse of debt by those in power is an ancient story that we are seeing played out today. OWS is articulating what the body politic is feeling. OWS is happening for two reasons now, 1)social media, and 2)dreams and desires all of which are spreading to the horizon. With his perspective, Graeber is one person at the right place at the right time. That sense of historical proportion seeps out of OWS. It is feed by group after group, link upon link, prayer after prayer. The energy going into now is historic and horizontal. Thank Yves for educating us.

    1. LeeAnne

      Yes, thank you EmilianoZ -a perfect fit. “… The perceived arrogance of the nobles, and their ability to act absolutely and without legal oversight, were the grounds upon which Sieyès justified noble privilege as “treason to the commonwealth”

      Just substitute ‘bankers’ for ‘nobles.’

  9. Middle Seaman

    I find very little joy reading a too long recitation of what some Greek, Egyptian, American and Canadian were doing and thinking. For such stories literature is a better source.

    OWS is still work in progress although it’s already a miracle we were looking for. Wide grassroots protests, despite damage to long term memories, did not start with the Arab Spring. Although, the Egyptian protestors deserve a Nobel for peace and as much praise as possible, we had protests 5000 years ago. Furthermore, the Arab world is fighting a war the developed world fought hundreds of years ago. It’s about time we see OWS as a genuine Western movement of the 21st century. Let hope we succeed.

    1. David Graeber

      Yes I thought I mentioned them in the text. There was a couple named Begonia and Luis – I can mention their names because they were named in a Mother Jones essay – who were there from the very first meeting on, and were extremely active and passed on an enormous amount of experience, insight, and wisdom from the movements there. A couple other Spanish indignados were involved from early on as well, and there was another woman who flew all the way from Barcelona, I think, on September 17 just to be with us and help.

      1. Goin' South

        You’ve probably seen the piece by Gelderloos on Counterpunch. I was especially interested in your response to this:

        The fact of the matter is, the neighborhood assemblies are not open to everyone. They are not spaces for fascists, for politicians, for journalists (at least in the case of some neighborhoods), or for bosses. They are places for building a struggle against capitalism, among those of us who are angry and who respect the principle of solidarity. As such, they fly in the face of democratic fundamentals such as equal rights, free speech, and universal participation. As much as the ideologues of direct democracy try to hide the conflict between the notion of rights and the ideal of freedom, there’s no getting around this fact. The principles of democracy were drafted by elites interested in mediating class conflict and allowing the preservation of a class society. A struggle, to challenge the foundations of this system, must be antidemocratic.

        1. David Graeber

          Oh there’s a faction within anarchist thought that prefers to embrace the elite definition of “democracy” as “a republic with some limited democratic elements” and then say they’re against it. I suppose you can define words however you like, but it seems to me that

          a) most Americans love the idea of democracy
          b) most Americans hate politicians
          c) most Americans are a bit suspicious at least of government

          therefore, concluding that most Americans think democracy is a matter of empowering politicians to run a government seems contradictory. No, most think democracy means freedom to run one’s own affairs in a collective, equal, and participatory way, however we may figure out to do so, and it seems decidedly unwise to therefore discard the word – which comes very close to how anarchists define anarchism – and try to make up a completely different one.

          I wrote a piece called “There Never Was a West” where I map out my own feelings on such matters – I’m sure it can be googled up pretty easily on the internet somewhere if anyone is curious.

          1. robotslave

            “freedom to run one’s own affairs in a collective, equal, and participatory way […] comes very close to how anarchists define anarchism”

            Of course, one has to completely ignore individualist schools of anarchism to make this assertion. But then, socialist-aligned anarchists are far more common than individualists, and majority rules, no?

  10. bigsurtree

    OWS reminds us that “the people” represent the spirit of Democracy, a spirit that must animate the words and phrases of the constitution and be the major force in moulding our institutions and laws. The Constitutional Convention was held is secret, and its content revealed only after its release. The debate is still going on despite its ratification with its appended rights. Documents are just words. History shows that with great clarity. Human rights are built upon Natural Rights. These Rights trump any written constitution. POWER TO THE PEOPLE–

  11. Lloyd S. Meunier

    It’s great to get a chance to talk to the man who actually
    started this horizontal movement and was at the core of the 70s anti-nuke protests.

    What I mostly wanted to tell you is watch out for attacks on you as being “anti-Semitic”:


    1. David Graeber

      Well for what it’s worth I wasn’t actually involved in the Anti-Nuclear movement, or even at Seattle – I got involved in the months right after the WTO protests. So I’ve only been doing this ten years.

      As for anti-Semitism: it’s hard to control who shows up at a protest, but you’re right, there’s always a danger when dealing with populist anger at High finance. Though it cuts both ways. Check out this link to get a sense of the sort of reaction one has to deal with once genuine anti-Semites notice you exist: http://brianakira.wordpress.com/2011/10/15/the-jew-graeber-the-jew-occupation-of-the-jews-wall-street/

      1. John Emerson

        Jesus, that guy has a few things to learn about how to write persuasively. At least that’s how it looks to this shabbos goy here in Jew-controlled Minnesota in the Jew-nited States of America.

  12. donn

    Amped Status may very well be responsible for coming up with the term 99%, but go to their site and you’ll see they call for investing (speculating?) in “hard assets”. I guess that means buying gold, silver, copper (what, stored in the garage), oil (stored in a tank located in the backyard?) . . . I call boloney on this. I suppose I could be wrong, but then I don’t know what else they could have on their minds.

    In any case, storing (hoarding?) hard assets and buying up silver and gold (ignoring the environmental consequences of mining) to make money and situate oneself in the age of resource depletion doesn’t sound progressive to me. Rather, it comes off like just another ego-centric, make money and out for myself strategy.

    The bottom line here: those who have the money and means to collect “hard assets” cannot be said to be to be part of the 99% (or is it more like the 80%?).

    1. Patricia

      A few of the 99% think we’re beyond the point of no return and have become involved in the survivalist mentality.

      My sense is that Amped Status tries to cover many eventualities and they see societal collapse as a possibility. They are young, intense and emotional.

      Talking of the 99% paints a broad brush.

    2. David Graeber

      Well, if 1% of the population controls most of the wealth and all of the power, and has managed to capture pretty much all the benefits of growth for the last decade, and if a lot of people are remarking on this fact, then it seems reasonable to assume a lot of different people thought of the idea of organizing on behalf of “the 99%”. It’s just kind of obvious. All I’m saying is that I suggested the idea at an early meeting of OWS – and even then, someone did say, “hey, but hasn’t someone already done a campaign saying ‘we’re the 98%’?”

      My guess is that if we look into it we’ll find a lot of different people came up with the expression independently. I was just one of likely twenty who thought of a very obvious idea.

      1. sgt_doom

        Exactly and well said, Prof. G!

        I am a descendant of the NYC reporter who first coined the term “shyster”** to describe the corrupt politicians at city hall, and I doubt he ever expended time fretting after that descriptive word was appropriated and misappropriated.

        **(Dutch-American spelling of the wellknown German word, slang for the fellows who followed the horse-drawn carriages, cleaning up the horse droppings from the street.)

  13. bmeisen

    I’m sympathetic to ows and am contributing to the action in Frankfurt. I liked Graeber’s treatment of debt that appeared here, like his dismissal of liberalism and his rabble-rousing potential. His talk about horizontals and direct democracy, however, is utter crap.

    The Pirate Party has a substantial fraction in the Berlin legislature. Their platform is something like libertarian socialism. The Green party controls the government in Baden-Württemburg, a state whose significance for Germany is similar to CA’s or NY’s for the USA, even more significant because German state governments have an explicit, formal role in Germany’s upper house.

    These parties have attracted substantial constituencies and once in power the Greens are enacting policies that reflect their platform. IN short, hierarchical organizations can serve the commonweal. For large populations the commonweal can not be served without them, and successes in Gemrany and elsewhere demonstrate conclusively that democratic government can function.

    It does not function in the US because the Constitution fails to establish a formal role for parties (i.e. there is no 5% threshhold) and fails to sufficiently regulate elections.

    I have experienced anarchy successfully work in very limited contexts, e.g. patient-directed treatment programs.
    Like responsible parents however, responsible citizens reject anarchism when looking for a useful tool to apply to complex tasks.

    Anarchism can inspire ows and the rest of society for a brief period. We will know that that period has come to an end when either an organization with effective democratic leadership transfer mechanisms emerges, or a despot.

    1. Foppe

      So it is crap because a. you don’t believe that it is possible, so it should not be tried, and b. because most (progressive?) organizational structures are hierarchical, all must be? It seems to me that you are confusing the function of the representative with the function of (permanent) ‘leadership’. Certainly it is true that keeping a ‘horizontal’ structure takes a lot of work (rather more than a hierarchical one, I suspect), but that doesn’t really seem to prove all that much, except that people lose interest (or, just as likely, that an organization is coopted).

      1. bmeisen

        Anarchy with a small a has a long history of very small successes. As Nathanael notes, projects composed of self-selected groups that formally reject hierarchy can function anarchically with success if they adopt minimalistic goals and guidelines, enjoy supportive environments and promote group identity,sometimes at the expense of individual member identity. Such groups have shown long-term success, as measured by overall project age and willingness of members to remain members, which can correlate to effectivity.

        Evolution demostrates that human beings are irrational. There is no evolutionary or historical evidence to support the viability of rational humanistic programs like anarchism with a large A.

        Describing OWS as anarchy at work is dubious. For their sacrifices I am very grateful to the occupiers. They are self-selected and supported by lots of people, including me. Many may reject hierarchy. They may seek to achieve their goals through anarchic or directly democratic means.

        Organizers have attempted to keep the goals of the occupation minimalistic. For example, in Frankfurt spokespeople have claimed that the goal is communication. This would indicate an anarchist methodology at work. When pressed they add that they want to expand democracy.

        In reality the project is complex and is being pursued in a hostile environment: it’s not just getting cold, the police have truncheons and pistols. While group identity is vital the stakes are large and very personal. I do not expect that members will be willing to subordinate themselves to the group over the long-term. I personally can not promise to always look the other way when an animal rights plank is proposed.

        Political culture in the US has devolved substantially. Multi-level hierarchy did not cause the devolution. It was caused by the passivity of voters, which is a function of failed education (i.e. failed multi-level hierarchies) and successful corporate marketing (successful multi-level hierarchies). OWS is a sign of hope and I hope we get an effective democratic leadership transfer mechanism in place soon.

    2. Nathanael

      I also do not believe that consensus generally works in large populations — or even in large groups which are not able to be self-selected.

      However, *common consent* is necessary for a government to function other than by brutality. How is that achieved? By consensus. Not total consensus about everything. But consensus about how to make decisions, or consensus about who should make decisions, or consensus about how to decide who should make decisions. This is called “consent of the governed” to the government.

      Right now, we are watching the majority of the population withdraw their consent to the current form of government-by-bank-executive, for fairly obvious reasons. The electoral system, already defective, has been subverted to such a large degree that it has become impossible to put in place a government which the vast majority (near-consensus) of people can consider legitimate. What is truly astounding is that the elite does not recognize the danger to their own persons in becoming illegitimate.

      1. RanDomino

        But Anarchists don’t believe that “large populations” necessarily must be part of the same decision-making body. A person only needs to be consulted in affairs that affect them.

        1. Don Delgado

          Please tell me how you plan to sell Americans on a complete reorganization of their entire political society before they lose interest.

          I’d suggest you start working on things that can be presented to Congress.

          1. David Graeber

            Hey I got a better idea, Don. How ’bout YOU start coming up with some ideas that can be lobbied for in Congress, or raising money to lobby, or whatever it is you think OWS should be doing, and stop wasting your time scolding someone else who’s actually making a difference in the world to do something else that you think would be better but you’re clearly not interested in actually doing yourself.

    3. Frank Powers


      Wait a minute – you are talking aboput the Green party, right? Isn’t that (along with the German Social Democrats) the very party that actually betrayed their constituents and values every single time they actually came to power? Like, abolishing regulations for the financial industry, joining wars in foreign lands, eroding the social safety net etc.? And you talk about the virtues of horizontal “democracy” and politics?

      I’m sorry, but that’s – as you put it – “utter crap”.

      1. bmeisen

        Living in a city that is governed by a coalition of Greens and CDU I am aware of compromises that have been made as a result of having to share power. Meanwhile workers are nearing completion of a new tram line that will connect several heavily subsidized housing projects with the city center. Many of the new buildings meet the highest conventional energy efficiency standards. Elsewhere in the city public/private enterprises are contructing several more large-scale projects tht use the latest passive technology.

  14. CaitlinO

    I’m sure they understand this and don’t need to hear it from me, but they will need to continually work on bringing in middle aged, middle class participants.

    The protests against the war in Vietnam didn’t begin to gain effectiveness until people from outside the youth movement began to participate and speak up. The same was true for the civil rights movement.

    On the one hand, this shouldn’t be a tough sell. The banks probably could have raped and pillaged the poor through sub-prime loans forever but they got greedy. They are foreclosing on millions of formerly middle and upper-middle class families today. Anger at these actions by the banks, not to mention widespread disgust with bailouts, fraudclosure and no indictments means that it isn’t only the young who feel they have played by the rules just to face a future of limitations, poverty and powerlessness.

    On the other hand, there will be the inevitable culture clashes to overcome as dentists rub up against Teamsters who rub up against circle drummers, but we’ll just have to deal with it. Maintaining a focus on the shared screwing we’ve all received at the hands of both our government and the financiers should help break down some of the barriers between groups and classes.

    Thanks for a really great article.

    1. Nathanael

      You hit on a point I’ve been banging on about for years: the banksters, like the Republican leadership, just don’t know when to stop. It is possible to exploit and abuse a *limited* population for a very long time, but they’re so greedy that they just won’t stop — they start trying to exploit and abuse *everyone* — and eventually they tick off too many people, and that’s game over for them.

      I don’t think their mentality is sane, which is why I keep referring to them as kleptocrats. The thievery seems to be compulsive. They don’t need the extra money, trying to get it is going to make them many, many powerful enemies, it’s going to unify people who would otherwise not cooperate, but they just *have* to steal from *more* people…. it’s a disorder.

      1. psychohistorian

        And again here we are talking about the bankster puppets who are hired, fired and directed by the global inherited rich.

        Please folks, it is time we aim at the right target.

        Laugh the global inherited rich out of control of our society and into rooms at the Hague.

  15. John Merryman

    As someone living on the sociological fringes of society(horseracing industry), I tend to view broad political movements from the perspective of physical processes and biological evolution, rather than from the immediate personal interactions that those directly participating in them experience.

    Reality is a dichotomy of top down information/structure and bottom up non-linear energy. As such, when large groups of people representing these polarities come in conflict, they are essentially speaking different languages, even if they represent opposite sides of the same coin.

    If the structure can effectively contain and direct that bottom up energy, it powers the structure upwards, but if the direction is lost, or the structure becomes unstable, the energy will break it down. Think in terms of anything from a rocket spinning out of control, to grass pushing up through concrete.

    There are going to be innumerable efforts to contain this raw energy and focus it in different directions of utility to corruptibility. Think in terms of how countercultural movements, music, fashion, etc. have become marketing trends over the last generation.

    So eventually this energy too will exhaust itself and the issue will be whether it accomplished large cultural transformation, or whether these energies were drained off and co-opted by current elements.

    To the end of creating significant change, there is one trend which should be concentrated on and that is toward promoting public, community, utility banking. The fact is that a market needs a medium of exchange in order to function and when this medium is a player in the market and not part of the playing field, then everyone else is subject to its control.

    The situation is very similar to replacing monarchy with democracy, in the sense that monarchy was government as private enterprise and democracy is government as public trust.

    While this movement toward public banking is gaining support and understanding from those pushing for change, it might be further legitimized by developing the broad historical and ecological context. Government is equivalent to society’s central nervous system, but banking and finance are equivalent to its circulatory system.

    It should be noted that there are two primary components to the circulatory system: The pathways, streambeds, vascular/arterial systems, are equivalent to the banks and financial processes guiding this process. The other component is what actually flows through these systems; The blood/money/water that is the actual carrier of energy exchange.

    While there is a strong focus on making banking a form of public utility, there is less attention on the nature of money itself. Recently Naked Capitalism did a post on how economists could never find emergent monetary systems among aboriginal cultures, but still assumed these must have happened at some point, irrespective of the evidence. This is because there is a misunderstanding of the nature of money. The working assumption is that it is notational value, but the reality is that it is notational trust. It is a contract, not a commodity. That is why there is no need for it among primitive cultures, because they are fundamentally based on organic trust and when that trust breaks down, the effect is not bankers, currencies, lawyers and contracts, but schism and warfare. Only when societies grew larger and diverse enough that they could not rely on organic trust, but still had to coordinate and function as ever larger groups, did the need for contracts and common currencies come into being.

    The entire notion of banking and money, as we are currently experiencing it now, is simply due to a misconception of money as a form of commodity. One which can be manufactured by creating demand, ie. debt. Thus the response it to do whatever possible to find those willing to accept debt.

    If we recognize money as a form of contract, then it becomes apparent that only as many promises can effectively be made, as can be kept. This would seriously reduce the amount of capital the financial system could produce and require societies to rebuild alternative systems of trust based exchange.

    The banking system took over government at the inception of its financial coming of age, around the time of the Civil War. There is no real budgeting process built into the system. It is designed to create debt, by congressional bills that bunch desires and need, to only be passed or vetoed by the president. Actual budgeting would require the congress to order these expenditures and allow the president to draw the line at affordability.

    This would likely reduce local funding, that would be replaced by community banking systems that directed local wealth into local infrastructure.

    1. citizendave

      On public banking, there is a recent post by Ellen Brown (Web of Debt) about public banks in Germany in particular, and how they contributed to prosperity. But, Quelle Surprise! – the EU and IMF don’t like public banking.


      On banking and finance being equivalent to society’s circulatory system, when Michael Moore was in Madison last winter he said something similar. Money is the lifeblood of the body politic, and it needs to circulate to continually replenish the entire body. But the system’s lifeblood is not circulating well enough, it’s being collected by one percent of the body, depriving the rest of what we need to live and thrive.

    2. Nathanael

      You’ve got the basics of money *right*!

      You’ve drawn some not-quite-right conclusions from it though. You’ve fallen into the “hard money” trap, which is a common error.

      In fact, it makes sense to have continually devaluing money. Why? Because it means that doing something real later is always worth less than doing something real now. (Think about it if it’s not clear.) This is an important feature of a society and one which our natural contracts of trust generally include. If you don’t set up your money this way, horrible results ensue, known as “deflationary panics”. Like we had in 2008.

      Now, someone tends to profit, in a sense, from the printing of that continually devaluing money. Who should this be? Obviously, the people as a whole; it should fund projects which help the people as a whole. This is the only thing most people would consider ethical. Hence (when it’s functioning), a democratically controlled government should be the only entity to profit from the printing of money.

      This is, of course, not what we have right now. We have privately owned, undemocratic operations (major banks, Federal Reserve) collecting the profits from money-printing… *and* causing deflation. On top of that, most of them have decided to change their business model to one of fraud and lies, which is *never* viable in the world of money, since money is based entirely on trust.

      1. John Merryman

        I agree money has to have strings attached and these can take a variety of forms. Just like everything else, it makes sense to have it depreciate in some situations. Obviously in controlled circumstances, or it loses utility.
        Like any idea, the details get worked out over time.

  16. Schofield

    I guess it’s time to throw the money lenders (money creators) out of the temple (symbol of moral socialty) because the only thing they seem to do these days with their creation powers is to get people into massive debt and blow inflationary commodity and asset bubbles which then burst and deflate the economy. It’s not hard for a majority of people to intuitively realize there has to be a better way.

  17. Rehabber

    So disaffected, unemployed Gen Y-ers are teaming up with international activists who have never created anything or earned an honest dollar to take on the paragons of how to earn a dishonest dollar. The future’s looking darker every day for this 30something.

    “Clowns to the left of me; jokers to the right . . .”

    1. John Merryman

      When that big old rotten to the core oak tree falls over, the future belongs to the acorns. Quit whining. It could be worse. It could have gone on another twenty years and used up far more resources, before collapsing and you would be a fifty-something drone, wondering why the day isn’t as sunny as they promised.

      1. Rehabber

        What a wonderful keyboard warrior you are. Your ilk is worthy of all the disdain that’s heaped on you, as much as the bought politicians and the corporate parasites. Two faces of the same devil.

  18. Hugh

    An interesting narrative. I diverge though toward the end where Graeber gets into analysis. It is deeply mistaken, even misleading, to characterize Obama as a moderate conservative. The institutions he is seeking to “conserve” are extreme coming out of 35 years of burgeoning kleptocracy. The policies he is “conserving” are those of the radical right Bush-Cheney Presidency.

    Then there is this odd bit:

    But in a way, this feeling of personal betrayal is pretty much inevitable. It is the only way of preserving the faith that it’s possible for progressive policies to be enacted in the US through electoral means. Because if Obama was not planning all along to betray his Progressive base, then one would be forced to conclude any such project is impossible.

    If you look at the truly radical nature of Obama’s conservatism, questions of faith don’t enter into it. All you need are a pair of eyes. Of course, Obama always meant to betray progressives. There is nothing startling or unique about that. The Democrats in general have been playing and betraying progressives for years. And that is the wider lesson with regard to the electoral process Graeber perhaps has not yet arrived at. Americans may be deeply democratic, but a vote for any Democrat or any Republican is a vote against those democratic values. If people want a meaningful political process, they are going to have to look elsewhere.

    Finally while I agree with Graeber that much of this has come from the uncoopted margins of the progressive left, I am bothered that he embraces the dismissive elite characterization of those margins “anarchists, pagan priestesses, and tree-sitters.” They may be there but so are many ordinary concerned Americans.

    1. David Graeber

      This is the second such comment so I guess I should really reply. Actually I agree with a lot of your analysis.

      First of all, I think I did make a mistake in my phrasing here – I said thirty years ago he’d have been considered a moderate conservative, when what I really meant was, that thirty years ago, “conservative” meant someone who wants to conserve things, while now it means “right-wing radical.” I didn’t mean to say Obama’s actual positions would have been considered conservative thirty years ago. It is surely true that Eisenhower would nowadays be treated as insane Communist, that Nixon was far to the left of Clinton, and Clinton far to the left of Obama. The Overton Window has shifted so far to the right that Obama’s economic positions, which would have been considered right wing extremism in 1972, are now considered moderate left – but it’s precisely that which makes him a conservative in the sense that he wishes to maintain that situation, without changing much in one direction or the other, and above all, to keep the existing institutional structure in place.

      As for whether Obama was always intending to betray his progressive voter base or actually would have liked to have given them more and found himself unable – well, I myself am intuitively drawn to the former conclusion, but frankly, I don’t know, and I’m not sure how anyone can. I can’t know the man’s heart of hearts and frankly, I don’t think his heart of hearts should really be the issue. The one thing I hope we can all agree with is that there was what seemed a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to achieve major change through electoral means, there was a huge mobilization, and nothing happened. Such an opportunity is not likely to happen again any time soon.

    2. David Graeber

      Oh I forgot to reply to this part:

      “Finally while I agree with Graeber that much of this has come from the uncoopted margins of the progressive left, I am bothered that he embraces the dismissive elite characterization of those margins “anarchists, pagan priestesses, and tree-sitters.” They may be there but so are many ordinary concerned Americans.”

      I wrote that from the perspective of being one of the “anarchists, pagan priestesses, and tree-sitters” – or at least the former, with close friends and comrades among the latter two categories as well. The question I was asking is why ideas and forms of organization that had been promulgated in largely anarchist circles are suddenly being embraced everywhere, by ordinary concerned Americans. It isn’t denying that they are! It’s start from the fact that they are and asking what has changed.

      1. Hugh

        It’s important to remember that the Overton Window is defined by our political classes and media and academic elites. It doesn’t indicate where most Americans are.

        Re Obama and betrayal, I don’t need to know or particularly want to know Obama’s heart. I don’t think you need to to see that betrayal was always the plan. I have pointed out these things many times, but as I said above, first, it wasn’t just Obama betraying progressives but the Democratic party, as in every national officeholder (Congress and White House) in the last 10 years. The roots of course go back even further. If you have been around here much, you would know that the beginnings of the kleptocracy, or whatever you wish to call it, began 35 years ago under Carter and it has developed and expanded under both parties ever since. Second, Obama froze out progressives from his Administration, both the people and their ideas. There were only a handful of nominal progressives, as in not really, like Van Jones, and they were soon pushed out. Third, during the 2008 campaign Obama was caught lying about putting NAFTA up for renegotiation and there was his reneging on filibustering the FISA Amendments Act. And there was his whipping for the TARP. Fourth, the Presidency has acquired vast imperial powers. Presidents are seldom constrained by the Congress and even in the absence of Congressional support, the unitary/unilateral Executive retains enormous power to act on its own. Obama could have investigated and prosecuted Bush era torture and criminality as well as that of Wall Street and the banksters. He could have pursued trustbusting through the DOJ. He could have ended the wars and dismantled the surveillance state. He could have returned to the rule of law. He could have chosen a ham sandwich over re-appointing Ben Bernanke. There are a million and one things he could have done completely within the confines of the Executive. It’s not like he didn’t do some of them. He did none of them. Nor did he fight the good fight and lose. Nor was he simply neutral. He actively pursued anti-progressive, corporatist, neoliberal policies.

        To run on “Change” and “Yes, we can!” and to deliver up this kind of record, there is simply no way that this just happened, that it was not betrayal. The the rhetoric and the actions are not just different. They are light-years apart.

        1. David Graeber

          To be honest I don’t really disagree with you. The question I was raising was whether it matters: whether even if Obama really had been the guy he pretended to be, he would have been able to accomplish anything significant.

          1. HTML Reader

            If that is seriously the question–could he have accomplished anything significant?–then the answer is yes. He could have successfully filibuster the unconstitutional FISA law; he could have campaigned in Congress against the TARP and won, and once a bank or two more had failed, he could have pushed to have them put into receivership, and then later broken up so that they were no longer TBTF; he could have shut down Guatanamo; he could have initiated investigations into the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld war crimes; he could have ended the military operations and not started new ones; he could have appointed someone other than Bernanke; he could have not created an assassination/execution policy.

          2. David Graeber

            Yes but I guess what I’m asking is: do we really know the actual constraints he was working with? We’ve had a series of imperial right-wing presidents, but whenever we have a Democrat in the White House, they seem to act as if their powers are extremely limited. Perhaps it was a matter of funding: he was told in no uncertain terms that if he did any of these things, the entire power elite would throw all its money to whoever ran against him. Perhaps it was something even more serious: remember all that talk a few weeks ago about how Obama was afraid if he pulled out of Afghanistan, he might have faced a coup? Who knows how power really works in this country? I’m not saying any of this is necessarily true, I don’t know, but in a way it doesn’t matter. Either the only kind of Democrat who can actually get elected in the US is one who is intending to betray his progressive base, or any Democrat who gets elected will then be pressured successfully to do so. The effect is the same.

      2. RanDomino

        Nothing’s changed. Anarchist praxis is picked up intuitively because it’s designed to be based completely on actual human nature. It’s simply taken us a long time to get to this point. And why shouldn’t it have? Suppose we’ve been at it for perhaps 50 years, generously; there was 80 years of organizing in Spain before the CNT-FAI-led revolution in 1936, and that was with a much smaller and more homogenous population. We’ve been lucky enough to have the basically-magical Internet; at this rate, we might see the final end of tyranny within our lives! Ha!

        1. Don Delgado

          I’m extremely wary of ANY movement that claims “nature” as its basis. I’m not aware of any scientific theory comprehensively identifying any political system as closer to human biology or psychology.

          1. RanDomino

            Specifically, Kropotkin’s biology in “Mutual Aid,” and ‘primitivist’ anthropology such as Graeber’s. For most of human history, people were organized as very small bands rather than nation-states of hundreds of thousands or millions. Anarchism is the only political theory I know of that is primarily concerned with day-to-day life; for example we’ve completely stolen the Situationist analysis from the Marxist universe. It was too good for them anyway.

        2. Classicist

          Which anarchist praxis?

          There are factions upon factions of anarchists and have been for 100 years.

          1. RanDomino

            You need some of everything. The actual activity of Anarchists these days crosses the lines reflexively.

  19. Charles Meyer

    Oustanding piece, David.

    Of the many inspirational and explanatory articles on OWS, this may be the best.

  20. craazyman

    I thought Al Gore invented #OWS. Jus kydEng.

    It occured to me today, like a sudden shot of mind light, that Al Gore could rally all the hippie queens, tatoo chicks, earnest bespectacled activists, anarchists, off duty policewomen, union deer hunters, and weirdoes like me.

    And, being a patrician blue blood, he could kick bankster ass right inside their own house, not on their front lawn like OWS (as much as I love OWS and I’ve been there 3 times and handed them 60 dollars cash).

    We need somebody who can go right into the bankster’s house — right into the Bored Room — and kick their butts from wall to wall — bring back Glass Stegal, break up the SDIs and get Bill Black loose with a few thousand subpoenas and a big office in Washington. yeah. Like going down to Texas stadium and whupping the Cowboys 45-0.

    The hippie chicks and tatoo dudes, they’d even forgive the record label thing but we won’t mention that and it was so long ago.

    Serioulsy, #OWS is beginning to run out of time, not yet, but after Thanksgiving the time starts running like Cornell Wilde in Naked Prey. Politics is not an encounter group therapy session, even though the cultchure needs therapy big time. Dr. Graeber, I appreciate the sublime quality of this experiment in social consciousness, and the dazzling atmosphere of Rapture that hangs lovingly around the whole experience, I really do — I was even thinking this might be a 2012 Galactic Consciousness sort of moment — but it may be a few hundred years ahead of its time or a few thousand. This reminds me vaguely of the life of the Apostles and all that stuff and it, frankly, did degenerate into dissension and pettifoggery. And to get through Congress it really needs an ass kicking big dude like Al Gore who can just stand there and give the hard stare. Or an ass kicking woman dude like Margaret Thatcher used to be. Or even an ass kicking California cowboy like Saint Ronnie himself. None of this touchy feely “can’t we all get along” stuff like we have now.

    No sir. Maybe Alan Grayson can but he gets so riled up it even scares me and I’m on his side. Where are you Al Gore? Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you. And if you can’t do it. Who can?

    1. Nathanael

      Al Gore asked on camera for an “American Spring”.

      Al Gore is definitely on the side of OWS. I don’t think he has the hubris to imagine himself as a leader, but if asked by a large General Assembly to help out in a particular way, I would lay bets that he would do so.

        1. David Graeber

          It means you have to weigh both. For instance: if the facts say that course of action A will be the most effective, but most people in the group feel personally disgusted by the idea of doing it, you need to take that into consideration.

  21. Bagbalm

    It was interesting until you got to talking about tea party people and fell into the same trap of arrogance as other do by telling them what they are and what they believe instead of listening to them tell you what they are in their own voice. You treat them just as others are treating you. How do you like people shouting over you and defining you against your will? Ugly isn’t it?

  22. Tim

    OWS: “Yes government and banks, we did realize you broke the social contract and now that contract which provides for your existence is void.”

    Certainly there is no shortage of students that are under this scenario, and more and more young people will get it, which lessens my worry about this type of movement dying off.

    It only last year when I saw a poll on opinions of the US economic future and the age group with the most optimism were the 20 somethings. This article suggests they finally are waking up.

    1. Nathanael

      Or maybe they’re optimistic because they think revolution is guaranteed, so it’s “all uphill after that”.

      Maybe not, but again I have to point out how hard it is to interpret polls!

  23. LAS

    As a non-activist type, I think the tipping point is … seeing the teachers in Wisconsin striking and the miserable austerity debate performance in Washington. And un-ending propoganda to lower the taxes on the wealthy, increase the burden on the poor (latest rendition via Cain, but the creative marketing never stops).

    When you see strikers composed of teachers, nurses, builders, college grads, etc. that’s the core of the helping professions of a society. That’s not fringe. It is salt of the earth human nation building material we all depend on. Likewise when a retired firefighter loses a pension unfairly anywhere in the country it threatens social cohesion everywhere.

    For the core of the helping professions there is no independent political voice in the halls of power and none on the horizon. That is a pathetic statement about the allocation of resources for this nation and where this will ultimately end without civil intervention.

  24. John Smart

    For anyone hoping for real change this article is tragic and sad on many levels.

    For starters we are getting a nostalgic history of a movement that is 6 weeks old. Doesn’t anyone else find that odd? It’s a movement that’s had one good weekend. We’re already getting the summations?

    Secondly, as an essay on how decision making came to be at OWS this piece is a good first draft of history. Better than the 1st drafts the Right is writing right now….As a person who cares about the country it’s a horror story. Really, what kind of people THINK like this? “Verticals” “Horizontals” Degrees of anarchists. Circle making. A zillion groups and sub groups to make decisions about making decisions…it’s a freaking freak show. It’s betrays a deep, DEEP misunderstanding of the people who are actually harmed by the current system…and a silly disregard for them as well. How does anyone in these horizontal encounter groups think that any of the their message will be heard by anyone who needs to hear it? Assuming they can ever come to agreeing on a core message. These ner do well professional street “organizers” (irony alert!) are, in fact, wandering wasterals slapping together mostly meaningless “protests’ then congratulating themselves about “showing them”..of course the “them” that was “shown” barely noticed…and why would they? Who has the time to be bothered?

    Finally, the analysis of the Tea Party is faux intellectual clap trap. In one short burst all are treated to the EXACT reason why the Right wins and the Left whines. Condescension, assumption of racism…(for what else could it be???), a smug punking of all every possible desire or hope a huge group of people may have…I find it stunning that people who wander from protest to protest over decades dare to imply that stressed middle class people – of any race – are some how more stupid about their situation than the wandering horizontals are. More galling: I don’t even think the writer has enough self awareness to know how insulting and silly all this blather looks from “out here”. This fetishizing of consensus stops cold at the moment it might actually be useful…reaching out to tea party sympathizers.

    The deification of all this horizontal decision making nonsense is the poison. It’s the fetish that keeps these movements on the losing end. I don’t think they want to really achieve anything. That’s the truth of it. It’s a way to AVOID progress. Cuz, what exactly, would any of these professional “consensus” builders do if they every actually won the day? It’s toxic. And tragic. What is this hatred of vision? of leaders? of visionary leaders? I am thankful MLK didn’t stop talking at countless Baptist churches for “break out” sessions with 600 committees. Hierarchies are not the demon. Every single anything that gets anything done from this website to a moon landing is some form of hierarchy.
    Everyone needs to stop hearing “patriarchy” when someone says hierarchy.

    As for the reference to the wobblies. ..gee that’s nice. history. Perhaps a little research on movements that succeeded would be more helpful.

    1. Nathanael

      You’ve made a fundamental error of analysis, Mr. Smart.

      This isn’t about having a message heard by someone who “needs to hear it”.

      The people in power know damned well what they’re doing and they’ve been given the message — for several years now. They have simply chosen to ignore it.

      This is about creating a competing power base to dislodge them. Or, better and more peacefully and orderly, to scare the people in power into capitulating — which I suppose is a sort of message.

      This sort of thing always looks disorganized. It doesn’t need to be organized at this stage, and it won’t be a sufficient power base if it tries to force organization too early, before general consensus is reached on some major points of strategy.

    2. Foppe

      My, aren’t you angry. Anyway, you’re free to try to organize a movement along the lines you propose, of course; having said that, you strike me as the type who only manages to sound angry when writing stuff while sitting safely removed from those you are trying to convince of your analytic prowess/rightness, but who has little interest in getting his hands ‘dirty’ himself.
      Two questions, though:
      1. what do you base your conviction on that only once everything is organized along ‘proper’ hierarchical lines, everything will (magically?) turn out right?
      2. What does this assertion mean: “It betrays a deep, DEEP misunderstanding of the people who are actually harmed by the current system”? I mean, I’m sure this sounded really catchy and deep to you when you were composing your response, but it mostly strikes me as vacuous rhetoric.
      Put differently, while I’m sure you Really Care about “the people who are actually harmed by the current system”, I somehow doubt you’ve actually ever spoken to anyone whom you would judge to be in such dire straits.

      1. Foppe

        (I would really suggest you find a more constructive way to channel that anger than to berate others for losing faith in hierarchical structures; you yourself seem plenty afraid of the right, but what you seem rather too willing to ignore is that the “left” party is just as corrupt as the other one, for precisely the same reasons. Neither party is ever going to support things like publicly funded elections unless they first become deathly afraid that their institutional/organizational structure might otherwise become entirely irrelevant.)

    3. Anarcissie

      I agree with Foppe. If you think things should be done differently, organize a movement. Or else point out one that you think acts properly, and tell us why it is better than OWS.

    4. jonboinAR

      -“This fetishizing of consensus stops cold at the moment it might actually be useful…reaching out to tea party sympathizers.”-

      Ya, that’s gotta change. Keep sneering at them and dismissing them and they’ll keep on voting (hard core) Republican.

      But I disagree about the Wobblies. They were hugely successfull in initiating the labor movement.

      1. David Graeber

        Hate to point this out but most of those Tea Party guys vote hard-core Republican because they actually _are_ hard-core Republicans.

        Sure maybe 10% of them are just along for the ride, and could potentially get peeled off. Telling OWS to stop being an experiment in recreating democracy in order to be able to possibly win some of those 10% is about the worst political advice I could imagine.

        1. RanDomino

          Moreover, continuing to be an experiment in democracy may actually peel off that 10% of ‘principled libertarians’.

          1. John Smart

            I want to thank most of those who responded to my comment for confirming my worst fears…”Go organize a movement yourself” Now there’s a brave answer. It is an admission of failure. It’s an admission that what matters here is not results but the nerdy joy of organizing something. Prom for example. …Glad we got that out of the way.

            On the one hand I am to believe this rump tent city in lower manhattan is extremely important to the nation. On the other if the obvious is pointed out that the circle jerk self regarding nonsense of fetishizing leaderlessness will reach no one that needs reaching…and will therefore mean that the Right will tag, smear and bury this movement and win yet again well then I must be “angry” – as if that matters or is on point at all. Of course, I’m angry. What sentient being isn’t angry about this? …The faux Left is beyond help. It’s a victimhood hall of mirrors.

            Please come to terms with the fact that most of these alleged consensus builders WANT TO LOSE this battle. Most are so consumed with the echo chamber they live in that winning is, in fact, a bizarre and scary idea. Far better to camp this one out and wait for the next WTO pow wow to restart the circle jerk… and feel alive again! Making a few simple demands is avoided (make many absurd ones is now all the rage) because…why? Because a few simple demands implies clarity and direction, which freaks anarchists out.

            Also mock the midterm TP voters with a truly stupid reading of that eruption in 2010. No they are not “hard core republicans” – they are – or were – swing voters. Who voted for Obama in 2008 and ran to the GOP in 2010 because the GOP had the common sense to know elections are about 1 or 2 ideas. How many elections need to be lost before the knee jerk “racism” yelp is proven to be counter productive? 6? 12? 400? Chomsky got this right when he said about the TP: ” The Left ought to be organizing those people” Damn right. But alas too many of them are white, so they must be suspect.

            Of course, the true pathetic irony here is that there ARE leaders in OWS. They are people like the man who wrote this post. They are all those who are fantasizing that not coming to clear decisions in a timely manner is a ‘new way of doing things’. It actually a just an old way of avoiding things. The wandering drum circle of failure – those are the leaders by default. 30 years of drum circles. 30 years of corporate state take over. Do the math. (or is math too hierarchical?) The horizontals have already failed. And will continue their perfect record of failure.

            Unless and until 2-3 specific demands are made, with consequences attached, then this entire event is simply this month’s media distraction. The only winners will be those “horizontals’ who will wander off with one more story to tell about their martyrdom.

            Note: Mubarak is gone. Why? Because people made 1 very specific demand and did not budge until it was met.

            1 demand. Demand reinstatement Glass Steagal. Don’t budge. Occupy the entire city of NY if that’s what it take. G.S. comes back, the whole house of financial cards totters. That would be a huge win. Those of you who are not polluted by college faculty lounge brain freeze know this is true. 1-3 clear demands. Then occupy until demands are met. 600 committees on toilet manners is simply the expression of a fetish…that probably springs from some sort of arrested development. I’d say around age 14.

          2. Foppe

            I’m sure you haven’t noticed, but the guys behind Mubarak are still there, and are currently trying their darnedest to create a civil war in order to fuel the old divisions. Similarly, by the time Glass-Steagal was abolished, it had been largely undressed already, while the regulatory agencies had similarly already stopped doing their jobs. Reinstating a piece of legislation is pointless unless it is accompanied by a shift in ideology on the part of the regulators.

            As for the rest of your post: you seem to be in a state of what is sometimes called “learned helplessness.”
            Hope&Change promised concrete things, lots of them. How much did it get you exactly? Institutional democracy is broken, with representatives who no longer care about representing actual constituencies any more. So why do you still argue that everything and everyone must go through established institutions, and via established conduits of power, when this only ensures that nothing will happen?
            Lastly, your armchair social scientific speculation about what attendees of OWS want strikes me as rather silly. “They want to lose?” What is it with this axe you’re trying to grind here? Either go visit before you “describe,” or become a tad more modest in your claims; what you’re doing now is little more than wasting people’s time by forcing them to read through an analysis that exudes fear for the unknown on the one hand, and an implicit suggestion that you feel other people than yourself have a duty to fix the system for you on the other.

  25. Paul Tioxon

    Well, now my worst fears are confirmed. This is a neighborhood blog, for NYC and the boroughs. And I never include Philadelphia as a borough. And Yves should never have mistaken Pittsburgh for Philadelphia. But then, New Yorkers just don’t get that they are an acquired regional taste. They should since they are mostly from the why o why o did I ever leave Ohio crowd. But enough complaining. Onto global concerns. It should not be long before OWS can be measured as having a longer lasting effect on politics. Just the operational details of street actions and non hierarchical consensus decision making and organizing skills learned in theory and then in practice will show a lot of young people how to go forth and take direct actions in the countless thousands of ways that are necessary for extensive co-evolving political and economic and cultural change to take place.

    This is the BIG BANG, trying to predict what it all means is beside the point right now, right now, all of the possibilities are hurtling out in thousands of galaxies of hope. Right now, it is finally the unleashing of the energy and so much more can now be accomplished because so much more can not be stopped.

    The biggest reason why social change stops, is that it is deliberately stopped. There is no Communist Party USA funded by the KGB and directed by the Kremlin from the top down. There is little left wing New Deal/Great Society Democratic Warriors left, and even Uncle Tom Cain is the walking billboard that the Civil Rights Movement will be erased by the Talented Tenth once they get enough billionaires in place to set up their own power bloc, and trade with the other 1%.

    But of course, the big problem for the 1%, is that enough people are needed to work to keep them wealthy. It does not just fall from the sky like rain. Profits have to be made in order for wealth to be concentrated. And a lot of people are needed to keep reproducing all of that wealth. So, during times of crisis, it is important to extract as much progress as you can, while so many are suffering and not being socialized by their everyday lives.

    And this comes to what I believe is the most important point of the political calculus that can be seen and understood with our common sense. When life in America went well, and it did for just about everybody, even for many of the poor. We are only 6% of the population and have and still do consume over a 1/3 of all of the natural resources. The world economy measured in USD is $55 Trillion and we are about $15 Trillion of that. Here, we are the 99% but to the rest of the world, we are all the top 1%. We are better educated than previous generations of protesters, better connected and better able to figure out a way to resist, work around, fight against, monkey wrench, build alternative institutions and see more ways forward, than we do when we are being socialized by our everyday American lives during the times when everything is going well. I like my family, I enjoy my community, I want to get out and get around and not be hassled by cops, panhandlers, crazies that should be in mental health homes, and the persistent thought that when I get home, the stock market has crashed so badly, and cupcake MBAs are so sick and the government too conflicted, that the social order really breaks down into ugly violence in a matter of days and weeks. I like normal routines better than dies irae end of the world riots. I and most people, even the hard core left over and aging radicals from the 50s, 60s and 70s, like our everyday routines.

    But more and more people are not being socialized by the humdrum cycle of winter holidays summer vacation planning and birthdays and anniversaries. Millions and millions are being educated about bankruptcy, foreclosure and debt collection and unending stress of what can possibly happen next to fuck things up more than they are already fucked up in their lives.

    And then, the republicans push default and government shutdown. During a time of several wars, and economic catastrophe and oblivious to the rest of the outside world of other nations who smell blood in the water.

    People do not have bosses to listen to when they don’t have jobs, and they don’t like to be told blame themselves when they have no job, and now those people and students and many generations of radicals have all of the time in the world to figure out what to do. Politics moves to the street because there is no other place else to go. Many of us do not have the old lives and the old routines and when they show up on the street, it is not at first with a powerpoint presentation with an action plan. That will come. But for now, when the ties that bind are cut, when we are pushed out of our old lives and told to fend for ourselves, this is what you get.

    People taking direct action and more on the way, because of all of the time people have to think and read and talk and wonder all because we are no longer socialized by the regular routines of family and job, of community life and shopping, of life passages with the coming of age. Age is surely coming for the young, but with a diploma and no job. Age is coming for the mid life set, but will they still have a job in a few years or the same spouse? And age is coming for the baby boomers who are cruising into the golden years with the once alleged greatest transfer of wealth from the WWII generation to them, along with pensions, and social security and medicare and a better sexier quality of life brought to you by Viagra and Medical Marijuana for your bad glaucoma pain. Ouch. None of that seems likely with the Paul Ryan generation planning an Austerity America instead of Great Society. None of that seems likely with the Obama Cupcake generation defending the previous social gains of the 20th century.

    Our one saving grace is that we do like to keep busy and if we are gong to have anything before being stripped by the financialized locusts of greed we are going to have to do it ourselves. And intuitive activism is better than planned complacency. It will be informed by the practical and spread by the motivated crusaders and knitted together by the coalition builders. Networks of power will self organize and all because of one big bang.

  26. David Smith

    David, you mentioned “profits are no longer to be being extracted indirectly, … we don’t really have the numbers”. But I contend we have enough mathematical evidence to backup your claim and more. Since nearly every dollar in the economy was created by borrowing it from a bank to be repaid with interest, there is ALWAYS more debt than money in this system. The money supply must increase at the prevailing interest rate just to maintain a constant buying power. This has been going on since 1913 with the creation of the Federal Reserve, the same year income tax was initiated, which was required to help pay the anticipated interest on the national debt. Since interest is compounded, our debts must grow exponentially compared to the entire money supply. A dollar today was worth about 4 cents in 1913. And as long as this system of money creation continues, it can only get worse. All this debt can be abolished if our government would issue debt free money that did not have to be repaid and did not demand additional interest. The borrower is servant to the lender, and it is the same with governments. For a good reference see “No More National Debt” by Bill Still. I have become increasingly convinced that all this was known and planned from the beginning. By using a private monopoly in creating money with interest, countries can be conquered without a standing army, and the entire world is next on their agenda. For some eye-opening jaw-dropping books see: “Confessions of an Economic Hit Man”, by John Perkins, “Brotherhood of Darkness”, by Dr. Stanley Monteith, and “Hope of the Wicked”, by Ted Flynn.

  27. Colin

    The timing of the ability to exchange information seems to be very important. I attended an Australian Computer Society conference in the late 1970’s and listened to a talk about the downfall of the Greek Junta in 1974. The main point of the talk was that when the number of telephones in Greek society reached a sufficient amount the ability of people to talk to each other resulted in the end of the Junta. It seems that other downfalls of dictators since then have been assisted by telephone and internet technology. For example the recent protests in Spain, Tunisia, Egypt and now occupytogether all around the world. Even here in Melbourne Australia.

  28. Fiver

    “I did everything I was supposed to! I worked hard, studied hard, got into college. Now I’m unemployed, with no prospects, and $50 to $80,000.00 in debt.

    Forgive me, but this strongly suggests the reason it “worked” this time is that it is middle class, credit worthy (meaning parents are solvent) largely white kids rather than representatives of the 120 million+ permanent underclass.

    I’ve been a faceless, nameless rank-and-file “protester” from Vietnam to anti-nuclear arms, from anti-poverty to all manner of environmental causes, from civil rights to anti-globalization etc., etc. all of my life. And the most important lesson I learned was how it played out during Vietnam – the big protests ended long before the War did. Once it was clear that the GROUND war really was being “Vietnamized”, that the troops were returning and the Draft was no longer a direct threat to white middle and upper income males, broad opposition ended.

    That’s why I don’t like the “We are the 99%” claim. Because it’s simply not true that this is all the result of the diabolical actions of a mere 1%. Far from it. Make it at least 10%, and more like 20%.

    1. David Graeber

      Fair enough – but you have to ask why so many people don’t write such kids off as spoiled elitists – as they would have almost certainly done in the ’60s – and instead wish to join them. This is the question I was asking.

      Also, how would you suggest we create a social movement that joins together everyone in the 99% except by focusing on shared issues, so as to allow the middle class to understand they have something in common with those below? What alternative are you proposing?

      1. Fiver

        As noted, it is NOT “99%”. Remove the existing 1% and they are immediately replaced by drooling members of the next 1%, and on down the line until you hit people who have NOT already completely compromised anything remotely resembling integrity of any kind, let alone real “concern for the common good”.

        We’re talking about an utterly corrupted elite class, not just the supreme turds of Finance that floated to the very top, AND all their truly faithful minions on down the line. What about the scientists who work for Pfizer making drugs that work no better than placebo while killing and maiming others, or the lawyers who work for Monsanto throwing small farmers off their land, the Colonel who orders the drone strike even though the target is surrounded by children, the doctors who fight against a real health care system, the professors who re-write the history of the Middle East or turn economics into a farce, the police chiefs and senior officers who protect….who again?, the teachers who pass kids who can’t read, the generation of students who believe cheating is “normal”, the media that wouldn’t air the Truth if Christ Himself delivered it “Live”.

        You can’t just pretend that 2 generations of abject moral and ethical decay hasn’t badly damaged the pre-existing value set and replaced it with what amounts to a new Darwinian nightmare. It has. Nobody takes responsibility for anything – again, how could anyone who claims to “care” possibly work for, say, Northrup Grumman? There are now tens of millions of Americans who totally buy into “It’s all about Me, and I’m OK, so the rest of you can just piss off.”

        They will not relinquish power willingly. What you will see are a couple bones tossed by Obama during the campaign, and some more half-witted job creation when re-elected (Wall Street loves him). The students would be advised to lobby for the ability to go bankrupt, because $1 trillion in student debt is not going to be written off by this Admin.

        This is about a rotten, hyper-hypocritical class that is now completely out of control. They do not even care about their children’s dessicated futures – the complete wreck that is going to be planet earth by 2030 or so.

        You need a tactic of radical non-cooperation that the “We the People Who Care” can effect in their own lives whenever the opportunity presents itself. Something that clearly conveys that the action is in sympathy with OWS, and in some measure disrupts or denies support to anything that maintains the current, putrefacted order of things.

    2. Don Delgado

      “We are the 99%” is a slogan that perfectly embodies the anger behind the protests, it is easy to understand, and it will engender support.

      Picking apart winning strategies because this or that niggling little element wouldn’t work on a whitepaper is one of the Left’s biggest problems.

      Don’t repeat that mistake.

      1. Fiver

        BS. This is all about a completely corrupted, morally bankrupt elite leadership that has created a monstrous, globalized, integrated systems complex that is wreaking economic, military and environmental havoc, that has become quite literally the Scourge of Humanity.

        What I’m saying is that it’s long past time far, far more “good” people took a good long look around, then in the mirror, and then ask what they are really prepared to give up to get us where we need to be if we wish to avert calamity – because guess what? This is going to mean REAL sacrifice – that is, if you’re serious.

  29. Kaymee

    David – I wanted to take a moment to thank-you for speaking to me: one of the finance industry employed, tree-hugging, pagan, politically disenfranchised People. I have been waiting for this moment all my life. We are all trapped right now. Getting free though. Thank-you for so vigorously helping to make this moment happen, and for speaking with my voice at the Peoples Mic. Blessings.

  30. TC

    “Why would a protest by educated youth strike such a chord across America—in a way that it probably wouldn’t have in 1967, or even 1990?”

    In 1967 Bretton Woods was but beginning its breakdown that completed in August 1971, after which began “the financialization of capital” whose invariable consequence led to creation of the greatest Ponzi scheme the world has ever witnessed (structured finance), still evolving in 1990, and now bust, thus raising the pulse of those swindled. Has there ever been a Ponzi scheme to end differently? King Solomon was right. There is nothing new under the sun.

    So in answer to the question “what did we actually do right?,” the truth is simple: you arrived at the right moment…

    Anarchist? Count me O-U-T, as this article’s conclusion brought on the gag reflex much like well-known, free market anarchist, Larry Kudlow.

    1. Don Delgado

      Agreed – I don’t think I’d forward this article to anyone who wasn’t already an anarchist, because this particular perspective (one that does not capture the involvement of unions or other larger groups) would probably make them like OWS less.

      I don’t think it was a great idea for Joan Walsh to link this story.

      1. David Graeber

        People were trying to get unions on board for something like this for years and they always balked at the last minute at any hint of too much democratic organization or civil disobedience.

        So the anti-authoritarians did it themselves, with no support, and it blossomed into a global movement.

        Now you’re saying “let’s not tell them who actually started this, and why, and on what principles, let’s try to deceive them on such matters, and pretend it was the guys who refused to do this who actually did it, because it might put them off a little.”

        Good move.

        1. robotslave

          Alternate phrasing:

          “Syndicalism died somewhere between WWII and ~1980.”

          That’s a rather interesting phenomenon; I’d be quite interested in pointers to more-or-less objective, non-partisan analysis.

  31. Hacksaw

    Reading the comments on this thread has saddened me to no end. If the left, progressives, anarchists, whatever, continue to misjudge and make false assumptions about what is behind the anger at and desire by Americans to reign in the 1%, the whole thing is doomed to a slow and painful death. If you all can’t let go of all the old ideals of the left then you have no more chance than the tea baggers. If you insist on making this about killing off capitalism, implementing socialism, or bringing back the communes of the 60s, you have no clue and no chance.

    First it isn’t 99% against 1%, it’s 80% against 20%. The 1% you have identified are the Monarchy and then the 19% just below them are the managers or Lords if you want to look at it in a feudal sense. The 1% have less than 50% of the wealth, but when you add in the Lords they control 93% of the financial wealth in America. You all must get the support of the majority of the 80% to be successful. Talking about all these left leaning ideals won’t get that done. The dialog must stay focused on taking away the ability of the 20% to buy control by bribing politicians. It must stay focused on the crimes of the financiers and holding them accountable for those crimes. It must stay focused on doing away with charters of incorporation except in extreme situations. It must stay focused on ending the wealth extraction and transference known as free trade.

    You see, the desire isn’t for democracy, not in the sense you all talk about. Governance by referendum isn’t what the average Joe is looking for and if you all lose the average Joe then you are nothing more than what the radical right say you are, the radical left. Freedom is the answer, freedom do do what one thinks best, freedom from government interference, freedom from corporate influence, freedom from financier induced debt. Freedom that is tempered by accountability to one’s fellow citizens for one’s decisions and actions. Freedom and accountability are what’s been lost. The system isn’t the fault, those defrauding within the system which set up the moral hazard with out accountability is the fault. That moral hazard has led to an implosion of morals in general.

    I’m not trying to start an argument and take my observations for what they’re worth. I hope the movement is successful if it gets it’s shit together. I’ve waited a long time to see those who believe that birth gives them the right to rule take it in the shorts. The oligarchy and slavery have marched hand in hand for a long time and there’s nothing I’d rather see than for both of them to go away before I do.

    1. skippy

      Slowly, ever so slowly, no need to rush, so much information to disseminate, mentally masticate.

      Skippy…cooking is about love and patience and still…you…have to_wait_for the dinners consensus. It took me 15ish years to prefect my potato salad, set against 3 or more, all ways a clean bowl. Better too get it right in the end…methinks!

      1. Don Delgado

        Fifteen years:

        1) will not be enough time to convince Americans that anarchy is a good idea
        2) represents the suffering and death of countless Americans who could be helped by reforms with majority backing

        1. RanDomino

          “reforms with majority backing” are not possible. The government has been completely captured by corporate interests.

        2. Skippy

          Concur with both your points. I would only add that with the advent of technological interfaces, the speed to discovery is only limited by *bias friction* (* an unknown in an ever increasingly chaotic environment…eh).

          Skippy…free mental steel wool…on me…I have loads too spare ;)

    2. Don Delgado

      I agree completely. American support for OWS is not based on support for its anarchist elements or for the idea of general assemblies, horizontal democracy, etc.

      It is based on a desire to reform our society and government’s interactions with Wall Street. Refusing to accept this, or refusing to use it to change what can be changed with the support OWS has, will lead to a movement that cycles out into New Left-style infighting without changing a thing.

    3. Don Delgado

      However, I do want to note: “We are the 99%” is accurate and catchy. Do not mess with it. Do not invite average Americans to believe that they are included in some mythical and nebulous 15% or 20%.

      As of right now, Americans support OWS because they have identified the common foe: Wall Street and the 1%.

      Messing with that will lead to confusion and it will diminish support. Don’t do it.

  32. J

    This is a great piece David and an inspiration when it comes to horizontal organising. One point though: at #occupylsx I have started to feel some doubts about fetishising the assembly form. It is very difficult to have in-depth discussions in such large forums, even when we break into smaller groups and report back. To some degree I am more hopeful about the interaction that is happening outside the assemblies at the moment.

    Even if, at a stretch, assemblies work okay for short to medium term occupations, I think we need to think about how the form needs to be altered to scale up. I am interested in what happens after the occupations, and in building long-term movements. I’m not convinced the alter-globalisation movement cracked it, because frankly after the big summit convergences people went home and their lives went on. The long-term organising never happened.

    My experience in ‘non-hierarchical’ groups also says that there is always a hierarchy. The important thing is not to eliminate it completely (impossible) but to expose it and make everyone aware of it. This isn’t happening at #occupylsx yet, so I see sneaky hierarchies going unchallenged.

    I hope we can occupy all our lives together, and I want that to build into a large number of people. I think our horizontal organising forms need a little work before that can happen.

    Yours, hopefully constructively

    1. David Graeber

      To be honest I’m kind of startled any kind of consensus process works with giant assembly groups – in the Global Justice Movement we assumed it wouldn’t and worked with spokescouncils. There’s a huge amount of learning to be done. I’m skeptical of the “we must accept hierarchy” argument if that’s indeed what you’re arguing – which I’m not sure you are – because I think delegitimating it is crucial, whether or not some defacto inequalities of some sort exist. But that’s a long conversation. Anyway, just a few weeks into this, I’m pretty amazed we’ve gotten as far as we have. We have so much work yet to do.

      1. John Merryman

        A functioning hierarchy is more like a funnel, than a tower. It develops circumstantially and dissolves when there isn’t the need for concentration.
        To make a theological point, the problem with monotheism is that it assumes the universal state, the absolute, is an apex, but it is basis. So a spiritual absolute wouldn’t be some moral and intellectual ideal from which we fell, but the raw awareness from which we rise, with good and bad as simply the biological binary code of attraction to the beneficial and repulsion of the detrimental.
        Politically it re-enforces the idea of authority as being granted from on high, ie. divine right of kings, as opposed to arising from need or consensus. When that person on top can argue that God must have meant for him to be there and who are you to argue with God, it give authority a big stick. The fact is that it was the polytheists who developed democracy. When you have the Gods arguing, then who is to say the people can’t.
        Like protein folding, our complex sense of identity arises from that elemental awareness and it will constantly build up structures as far as they are viable and then break them down just as inevitably.

      2. Don Delgado

        The way I see it, you are functioning on a deadline: the attention span of the American people, decided by the media outlets that determine the topics of the day.

        You do not have time to convince Americans that anarchism is good, that they need general assemblies, that your anti-statism is somehow better than that of the libertarian far right, etc.

        You need to come up with a platform that includes reforms that the state can enact, or you will lose your opportunity.

        1. RanDomino

          We don’t need to “convince Americans” of anything. We will liberate ourselves, and if anyone wants to join us there is an open invitation, based on will rather than ability.

      3. J

        Hey David, thanks for replying. This is a complex topic. I think all top-down hierarchies of all institutions should be de-legitimised, yes. But non-institutional hierarchies emerge through personalities, resource imbalances etc, and though we might try to minimise this, we never can entirely get rid of it, and so to talk of legitimising or not legitimising seems a little too absolute to me. I think having minimised hierarchy on an institutional level, the question remains about what to do with what hierarchy is left. And the one thing you should never do is ignore it, which is why I talked about exposing it, admitting to it. To some degree I think it is better to have a little (minimal) bottom-up hierarchy (i.e. recallable and controllable from below) than to pretend the hierarchy isn’t there. I suppose spokescouncils were temporary task-based bottom-up hierarchies. I think bottom-up hierarchy, in more permanent form than the spokescouncils, will probably be the key to scaling up horizontal organising, but we are going to have to try things we haven’t tried before.

        Anyway, keep up the good work!

    2. Don Delgado

      My experience with consensus-based organizations is that often, the loud and the pretty dominate without challenge.

      I trust a hierarchy that has been modeled and presented publicly far more than the hidden hierarchy that inevitably arises in “non-hierachical” groups. In both situations, there are structures of power that are hidden, but in the latter case, pretty much ALL of them are hidden, and acknowledging that ANY of them exist leads to vicious infighting.

      1. David Graeber

        Well if you want to be a follower, you’re free to follow people.

        The argument that formal legitimate hierarchies are better than illegitimate informal ones strikes me as extremely weak. True, inequalities of influence, power, charisma, will always emerge – though not necessarily to any major degree, how much they emerge varies enormously. Making it clear they are not legitimate gives others the means to challenge them when they become genuinely oppressive or undercut the autonomy or effectiveness of the group or its members. Formalizing a leadership structure and making it official does not make it easier for the other members to control, does not make it more transparent, and does not make the leadership less likely to do other covert things they’re not supposed to be doing – if anything, an argument could be made that the exact opposite is the case. To be honest, it’s the notion that formalizing a leadership structure would have such beneficial effects that’s genuinely naive and utopian.

        1. John Merryman

          Marx said the state would wither away, if the workers owned the means of production. That didn’t quite work as planned.
          Fact is, multicellular organisms exhibit hierarchies. Your brain cells tell your feet what to do and then deal with the feedback, when the the feet complain about the thorns and rocks. The problem isn’t the hierarchy, it’s the breakdown in the feedback mechanism, as those at the top start treating those below them with disregard.

          1. Foppe

            Actually, calling the processes you mention there hierarchical is probably incorrect; and if you look at examples of emergent organization in nature (be it in slime molds, ants creating living bridges, or geese flying formations) you’ll see that all of these things are organized without top-down control.

          2. John Merryman

            I certainly agree that top down ordering is an emergent process and subject to interpretation. Plants incorporate any neural functions within the circulation system. On the other hand, animals do have extremely complex control mechanisms because they have to navigate in a singular and linear fashion. If a society doesn’t have a particular objective to attain and sufficient resources not to require much complex organization, there is little need for government. That said, ignoring the need for organized focus in times when it is necessary puts you fairly far down the food chain. If you want to make the earth a sustainable environment, there is some need to understand how nature operates and how some responses suit some situations, but not other situations. Everyone is going to have different perspectives on various situations and that’s how distributed intelligence functions. What needs to be determined is what goals this movement should focus on and that does require some editing of desires. As I argued earlier, given the protest is specifically aimed at the financial system and not at all the various injustices of society in general, then it should focus on promoting banking as a utility and understanding money as a social contract, not a commodity. We can only make as many promises to ourselves as can be feasibly delivered on and beyond that, are creating expectations that will be manipulated by those lacking social consciousness.

        2. robotslave

          There is a nontrivial distinction here between internal and external systems of control.

          Don Delgado’s complaint is with the internal system of control operating in Occupy Wall Street particularly, or in radical political organizations generally. He is not comparing it to external systems of control.

          Would you argue that the General Assembly is not a formal system of internal control?

          Clearly, the GA does not have Leaders, in any sense that might be useful to external vertical control structures, but does it not have internal legitimacy?

          In short, does OWS not have a formal, legitimate system of internal control?

  33. Hudson

    Truly great read. Really appreciate you writing this. You hit the nail on the head.

    I will look for more of your work, and I fully acknowledge that I may just be playing into the hands of confirmation bias. :P

    Regardless, thank the fates for what OWS has brought, and especially for what it might bring.

  34. SidFinster

    The talk about “horizontals” and “verticals” and “direct action” is great and all, but the trick is to sustain it for any length of time.

    Students of history will find the Russian, Iranian and Egyptian revolutions to be instructive.

  35. Options Trader

    This really was a terrific piece. Although I am fully indoctrinated in the world of “the right” I am one of the many peons on the fringes of that lifestyle.

    I think the most instructive words of your article involve the youth perceptions of socialism versus capitalism. Those cronies in power would do well to pay attention to that and act on it with true leftward thinking programs or suffer the likely consequences of inaction in due time.

  36. vicx

    I find the General Assembly accounts fascinating. I recall an account of the Assembly from one of the mass media calling it tedious and agonizing to watch. I’m sure it is and yet … so far so good.

  37. Don Delgado

    Eventually, you will have to put forward reforms that can be enacted by the state, or OWS will squander its momentum.

    Most Americans support OWS, but most Americans are not anarchists, and many of them see the anti-government, anti-state rhetoric of the right as a real threat. I do not think it is realistic in the slightest that members of OWS will convince Americans that the state is unnecessary or evil.

    1. David Graeber

      Why does OWS have to do this? There are plenty of people who are putting out reform programs, very detailed reform programs. Who better than anarchists to provide the appropriate pressure from their left?

      1. RanDomino

        He does make the point that OWS needs to go SOMEWHERE. It’s not large enough to overthrow anything through sheer mass like in Egypt, or interested in armed revolution like in Libya. I would personally love to see a million new ‘movement infrastructure’ projects, like co-ops, infoshops (with whatever contemporary twist makes sense), and radical unions, to “build the new world in the shell of the old”.

    2. JTFaraday

      “I do not think it is realistic in the slightest that members of OWS will convince Americans that the state is unnecessary or evil.”

      Yeah, the state is doing that well enough on its own already.

  38. Mattay

    David – This post, and #OWS in general, makes me feel something that I do not remember having felt in a long time – optimistic for the future.

    In 2008, I did feel optimistic as well, but it was that sort of optimism which is tinged with cynical political realism.

    This feels different.

    It has also made me look at “anarchism” in a different way.

    On another note, I read “Debt, the First 5000 Years” last week. I think it may be the best book I’ve read since “Guns, Germs, and Steel.”

    1. RanDomino

      Don’t forget the other great Diamond book, “Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed” which has a lot of great lessons for us right now.

  39. Fiver

    All this talk re heirarchies vs “horizontalism” completely misses some very obvious truths:

    1) There are 7 billion of us now, and 3 more coming inside 40 years. There is no chance, as in NONE, that the systems complex that created and underlies this situation (far, far too many people grown from oil) can be maintained absent a large number of heirarchical structures of control.

    2) There simply is no capacity to support the existing global population even at a US middle-middle-income level, as that now translates into resource (farm land, water, oceans, forests, energy etc.) consumptive behavior, let alone those on deck.

    3) So if we are to avoid a total human population collapse before mid-century, those structures MUST largely remain. What is going to matter is WHO CONTROLS THEM and WHAT they are aimed at achieving.

    1. David Graeber

      How do you know this?

      There is a big difference between complex forms of organizations and the sort of hierarchies people are talking about here: basically, the sort that can only work with the backing of people with weapons who will show up if called to say “I don’t care what you think, shut up and do what you’re told.” Saying such systems of bureaucratic coercion must exist – it’s simply an opinion. You can’t prove that no other form of organization would be possible.

      If your argument is “if you want to maintain the level of material prosperity middle class Americans now enjoy you’re going to have to continue to exploit lots of miserable impoverished people” – well, possibly, though it’s not clear, since we don’t really know what we could do if technology were really unleashed to serve human needs rather than capital. But the bigger point is: yeah, driving around in giant SUVs through ecologically unsustainable suburban sprawl requires empire. All the more reason to figure out a more reasonable way to live. There are things that can be offered in recompense for reducing the scale of consumerism: most obviously, free time, access to culture and education, etc, that in no way requires us to keep others in misery and slavery.

      etc etc

      1. robotslave

        ‘people with weapons who will show up if called to say “I don’t care what you think, shut up and do what you’re told.”’

        This, of course, is the core problem with end-state non-violent anarchism; those dissident “people with weapons” will quickly replace your end-state society with feudalism or warlordism or street-gang-ism or cult-ism or militia-ism or any other -ism in which some sub-community has decided not to abide by the idea that violence* shouldn’t be used to achieve immediate social and/or political aims.

        * ruthless violence, of course– they’d have to be willing to simply butcher any non-violent resistors you line up in their path.

  40. David Graeber

    By the way, Yves –

    Just for the record:

    I never claimed to be the first to come up with the idea of talking about or speaking in the name of “the 99%” – it always struck me that many people had already likely done so, quite possibly independently, since once people like Stiglitz started pointing out that all increases of national wealth had gone to the 1%, it just seemed like an obvious move to make.

    My only claim is I was the first to suggest OWS call themselves that.

    1. aletheia33

      @ david graeber:

      just for the record, can you state the location, day, and hour at which you made this suggestion, what exactly you said when you made it, who was there, who can corroborate your claim, and how you know that you were the first in all the world to make it?

      you need answer only if you think it is important to establish your claim as historical fact. otherwise, i’ll assume you don’t really think it matters exactly who suggested it first.

      1. David Graeber

        well, if you really want to know, I do have in my files an email send on August 4, two days after the first GA, where I suggest it in a discussion on the listserv. Seems no harm to publish it since as we all know the contents of the list were made public by Brietbart (and are publicly available to anyone who joins anyway so I don’t know what the big deal is anyway) – so if you want to verify, you can check on the archives that have been made public on whatever rightwing web site that is.

        I must insist though that I absolutely don’t think I was the first person ever to coin the phrase, though I don’t remember having specifically gotten it from anywhere else, the idea of the 1% was just buzzing around and I’m sure that lots of other people did the obvious thing and inverted it.

        From: David Graeber
        Subject: Re: [september17discuss] Re: [september17] Re: a SINGLE DEMAND for the occupation?
        Date: August 4, 2011 4:25:38 PM CDT
        To: september17@googlegroups.com

        What about the “99% movement”

        Both parties govern in the name of the 1% of Americans who have received pretty much all the proceeds of economic growth,
        who are the only people completely recovered from the 2008 recession, who control the political system, who control almost
        all financial wealth

        So if both parties represent the 1%, we represent the 99% whose lives are essentially left out of the equation


  41. michael

    “The popular base of the Tea Party was always […] terrified of social change.”

    David, would you please explain that statement. The way you write it, it’s a little too broad, meaning everyone can project into it whatever he wants, but nobody knows for sure exactly what you mean.
    Another interesting question is if you believe the Tea Party folks had played by the rules.

    I actually see very little core differences between OWS and TP in its original, non-co-opted form.

    1. skippy

      Cough… the Tea Party mythology was started by a bond trader on CNBC having an aneurism over dead beats vs. a garage band spontaneously erupting globally…over might[$$$$] makes right.

      Skippy… core diffrances[?], humanity vs. its mine fook off bum.

      1. michael

        Oh the humanity! Well that explains everything. How is that on ‘playing by the rules’ vs. humanity?
        And because it is grass-roots, hrmm sorry I mean real TRUE grass-roots (only pure-blood “liberals” are to decide on), it must be good, right? I think we had enough well-intended BS in the past decades already… we don’t need Krugman-like “more, MOAR!” of that.

        1. skippy

          Michael the rules were changed and yet those amendments were still too constrictive, hence the MBS meltdown. Now_you_should consider the hole enchilada…cough…all secularized debt. The same math applies to all category’s, fail rates are its Achilles heel (it is impossible to calculate, forward time travel is necessary). Why do you think every thing including the kitchen sink is being throw at it, above and beyond the needs of the main street economy world wide.

          Who broke the rules first…eh. The rule (Law) makers broke the old ones to make new ones and then broke them. And for what[?] bonus multipliers?

          Left, right, up, down, not interested mate, no blinkers for me please, nor a pigeon hole either. I’m more about information discovery and sharing and seeing what bubbles up from that…in the citizens pot.

          Skippy…I’m semi plugged into the system. So I get to see and hear stuff from the inside, not just rely on others opines. With that said I ‘ll leave you with this observation — The folks in charge are more *concerned* about their own back pockets than the over all state of the economy (they blew up) or the fates of those that they sheared / fleeced. they don’t want financial genocide, but, collateral damage is acceptable.

          PS. People vs, Fiat electrons[?]… I choose people. If that makes me a bad sort in your book…so be it!

          1. michael

            Good to hear you are not into that left/right bull either.
            But you seem a little inconsequential on the ultimate remedy against rules being broken: enforcing them again.

            And help me get this straight: you despise “the Tea Party mythology” because it was a bond trader who started it (is that bad because he is by definition part of the *fraudulent* system?), and where did someone mention “dead beats” in that context?
            Back to the original article: It seems the Tea-Party-supporters also want at least some things to change, so what are they allegedly terrified of at the same time?

          2. skippy

            Sorry for the delay, threads fall into the ether after a day or two.

            As a Goldwater baby I understand conservatism from that point on in my earthly travels, I personally repudiate this social order. To many false assumptions predicated by armchair thinkers whose ideology’s have wrought untold damage to our species and the entire world. The tea party wish this to continue, acolytes of demigods (bond traders) too their masters desires (koch brothers) methinks.

            Sure Rule of Law, society cannot function with out it. Although the past 40ish years of law has only enabled the current problems, so I guess reapplying them is only a few steps back in time and guarantees a repeat – see history. To me the tea party means more of the same in the long run, I have higher hopes for the future and OWS crowds are willing to discuss alternatives rationally, for the most part. Regrettably it is a longer path to consensus, a quick fix not in the offering, but, it will encourage participation firstly, a sense of belonging and responsibility to ones self and others.

            Skippy…BTW I stick out like a sore thumb in the OWS crowd, the juxtaposition is delicious, breaking down visual mental fences, understanding your rights as a Sovereign Being is the first part, secondly I submit for your consideration the “Declaration of the Occupation of new York City”.


            One is inclusive (OWS) where the other is exclusive (tea party), I choose inclusive!

  42. David Green

    Hi David Graeber,

    First, I very much look forward to reading your book.

    A technical point or concern about your reference to the Federal Reserve figure: I think they’re referring to debt servicing, which includes principal and interest, not just interest. Obviously, the poorer suffer more, and interest rates are usurious. But on average, households have paid down a lot of debt since 2008. Just another argument against the “personal responsibility” argument.

    1. David Graeber

      Yes I was talking to Doug Henwood about this and we wasn’t sure – says there might be some principal in there, but it also probably excludes certain types of interest payments, so probably it balances out. But he wasn’t sure, and if he’s not sure, I sure don’t know, because he knows way more than me about this sort of thing.

  43. different clue

    I have recently started reading a very interesting blog called The Confluence by someone blog-named Riverdaughter. She is one of the pharmaceutical research-chemists who has been disemployed in the waves of mass-jobicide directed against the pharmaceutical industry. She has been attending the OWS camp at Zucotti Park. She has an interesting take on this Graeber article and its possibly inflated view of the importance of students in particular to this growing movement. Here is the link.

  44. Kelly Ball

    Rift or Shift
    Kelly ball

    Fire burn and cauldron bubble
    Hey!…Wall St. you’re in trouble
    With the truth we’ll resonate
    And smash your flimsy paltry gates
    The meditation of our hearts
    Will rip your lies from part to part

    We all did this long ago
    At the walls of Jericho
    We will circle all around
    And blow our horns till you fall down
    It is we who are this land
    And you will meet the earth’s demand

    We will know and understand
    Realization of this command
    A world of haves and have nots
    A world of slaves and robots
    Where our souls are sold and bought
    Is a world that happens…not

    We intend to burn your ears
    And pierce your soul until you hear
    No more psycho warring tyrants
    And their bankster lying pirates
    No more making dollar bills
    From the numbers that you kill

    You grey suits that slither by
    Don’t you think you catch our eye
    You look askance at ground or sky
    Your furrowed brows betray your lies
    Don’t you know the truth slips in
    Illuminates your hidden sins

    And your crimes against the people
    From sanctimonious perverted steeples
    We’ll track you down to where you live
    And pound our drums till you give in
    And in day… or by stealth
    We’ll place – roadblocks – to your wealth

    We shall never let it be
    That you steal and you walk free
    We will change your attitude
    Or chomp you up like you were food
    We would rather mend the rift
    And have you join us in the shift

    All the money that you make
    You will not accumulate
    The only law is circulate
    Stars and planets all rotate
    Oceans, rain and rivers mate
    The dance of life oscillates

    One for all and all for one
    The only way that Heaven’s won


  45. Micah Sifry


    Fantastic piece. I used it to try to illuminate for my progressive friends why other recent efforts–“The Other 98%”, the US Uncut network, and Rebuild the Dream–haven’t managed to ignite an economic populist wave. See http://techpresident.com/blog-entry/ows-other-98-us-uncut-rebuild-dream-look-shoes-didnt-drop.

    A question for you: how do you think being “hypernetworked” (to use Mark Pesce’s term) is affecting the communications among the Occupiers? It’s obviously helping spread the message rapidly to new joiners, but how we all deal with over-communication?


    1. David Graeber

      Thanks for saying.
      That’s a really interesting question and I wish I knew the answer. So far I don’t think it’s been particularly pernicious – what do you see as the dangers?

      1. Micah Sifry

        Two concerns: The first is a variation on the “strong ties” vs “weak ties” argument about what enables social movements to take on hard tasks. Right now the face-to-face communication in Zuccotti Park is a reinforcing source of strong ties; people learning who they can trust. James Miller’s book “Democracy is in the streets” makes the point that when SDS hit its take-off phase (chapters forming on their own, based on people reading the Port Huron Statement), it lost its cohesion, because its leadership couldn’t build those same bonds of trust fast enough. I suppose the GA model may solve for that problem, but it’s an open question.

        Second is over-communication. There’s a fascinating study that Rasmus Kleis Nielsen wrote called “The Labors of Internet-Assisted Activism: Over-communication, Miscommunication and Communicative Overload” (http://rasmuskleisnielsen.net/2009/03/31/the-labors-of-internet-assisted-activism-overcommunication-miscommunication-and-communicative-overload/) that raises questions about how a crowd of well-intentioned volunteers and organizers can be overwhelmed by all the ways the Internet now makes communication easier. I’d add to his argument that the Net also makes certain spectacles spread faster and thus may cause groups to respond in more polarized ways–it can be a lens amplifying the most outrageous moments in a movement’s life.

        I don’t expect you to have answers to these questions but I appreciate the chance to engage with you.

        1. David Graeber

          Well, in the first instance, I’m not too worried – I do think the GAs and of course the camping out especially encourage the development of strong ties. I think the whole anarchist strategy is based on how quickly such profound ties can develop when people engage in direct democracy and especially civil disobedience.

          The social media problem – that one is more interesting. Part of the problem is not even so much the amount of information as the tendency of different media to bring out different sorts of behavior. In the days of the global justice movement, we mainly used listservs, and it was notorious that certain topics – basically anything having to do with racism, sexism, social class – should not be discussed on the list, because it brought out the worst in everyone – a kind of contentious macho mock hyper-rationalism – the exact opposite of the sort of behavior elicited by face-to-face consensus meeting process. It’s my impression that new social media are not necessarily so one-way – twitter doesn’t seem to encourage that sort of thing, facebook pulls in other ways… i’m not sure if it pulls in entirely salutary ways but it’s not the same. The whole thing deserves more thought and investigation.

  46. wtfisthis

    I would really really prefer that the writer first studied some economics, and then replied.

    Conservative in political-economical arena implies being conservative with money…

    Obama is the least conservative president we’ve ever had. 20 years ago we had presidents more liberal? Are you talking about Carter? He had HUGE unemployment rates running wild in the country, the people were close to rioting quite like they are now. Or are you talking about about Clinton 10ish years ago? Underwhom we’ve had a SURPLUS, NOT because we collected more money but because we SPENT LESS (a CONSERVATIVE quality)

    God… Blog less, and educate yourself more.

    THe entire article you think you’re bashing capitalism, but really you’re bashing corporatism… It is the GOVERNMENT that gives corporations the power to use “judiciary” methods to take wealth from others. A real capitalist society doesn’t have lobbyists, and doesn’t have the government making regulations that pick winners and losers in the economy, because the government doesn’t have this power in a real free market.

    The purpose of the government is to protect human rights… One of the more important ones is property rights. Socialism is a direct violation of property rights, and the regulations that you’re so vehemently arguing for are actually the TOOL that corporations use to avoid fair free market competition so that they could rip off their workers and customers without the danger of being out-competed in the marketplace.

    I guess thanks to contributing a whole lot of wrong to the internet… it appreciates it.

    1. David Graeber

      Yes how foolish of me to describe capitalism as it actually exists and has always existed as opposed to your particular utopian fantasy of how you think it ought to.

      1. wtfisthis

        I think what you mean to say:

        “Yes how foolish of me to describe government as it actually exists and has always existed as opposed to your particular utopian fantasy of how you think it ought to.”

        The government is the tool that corporations use to break the free market.

        It is YOUR view of the world that’s utopian, because you somehow believe that if you can just elect noble, and fair enough people into the government they will not succumb to the lobbyists of the corporation.

        Guess what, that’s a completely irrational hope. Everyone has their price.

        There are only 2 “solutions” (in fact there’s only 1 real solution,) to stop the collusion between government and large businesses:

        1) Remove the government incentives to deal businesses. What can the businesses offer? they can offer large sums of money and their products… The only way for the individuals in the legislative body to be immune to such offers is to give them the power to take what they want in the country without asking, which tramples all over individuals’ property rights, and results in a totalitarian government with little to no civil liberties for the individual.

        2) Remove the incentive of the business to deal with the government, meaning enforce the law of constitution that defines the role and power of the government in our nation, which will severely limit its authority and power in creating economically oriented legislation.

        If you remove this power from the government, the corporations will no longer be able to pull strings behind the political curtain that trample on small businesses and their other competitors, and they will actually be forced to compete in the free market which always results in higher quality and lower prices for the consumer…

        You think that the fact that the big banks on wall street got bail-outs from the government is wrong… but who’s to stop the government from giving out bail-outs when they have the power to do so, and the incentive of being repaid by the special interest groups.

        It is the government that needs to be regulated not the banks, all the regulations that are making it hard for small businesses to start and exist, the regulations that significantly increase the cost of hiring our American work-force (thus giving enormous subsidy to the big corporations that have the infrostructure necessary to outsource these jobs) they’re all helping the corporations and they’re all created by the government.

          1. David Graeber

            More like anyone who read the piece I wrote and managed to get from it that I think we should elect honest candidates is so absolutely in their own world, and incapable of even noticing what’s actually going on around them, that there’s no point in even trying to have a conversation with them.

          2. wtfisthis

            You never said it but the implication is there. You’re saying more people want socialism, and progressive change. This involves having a big government. Big government is the weapon of corporatism.

            You want anti-corporate regulations, but you don’t propose a mechanic by which you will have the politicians pass those regulations other than rioting. There’s also no incentive for them to not pass pro-corporate regulations after the protests are over. Although I do agree to some extent, when the government is ignoring the Constitution it’s probably time to riot, but why on Wall street? What do you expect them to do for you?

          3. David Graeber

            Anyway the piece specifically says the electoral politics will not work to bring about progressive change in America. You clearly didn’t read it. There is a certain habit of very stupid sectarian reading where you basically read a piece until you see some keyword that sets you off – in this case “socialism” – and then ignore everything else the person says, fit them into some preconceived category of wrongness you already have, and then start lecturing them about what they must think. This is a surefire way to make a fool of yourself and totally miss the point if you are reading something that is not pure cookie-cutter ideology of a totally familiar variety. I’ve seen a lot of this, but rarely have I seen anyone do it so blindly, arrogantly, and incompetently as you just did.

          4. wtfisthis

            It was coming off as libertarian socialism. There’s a bunch of different anarchists out there, but whatever. My point is still that OWS is simply acting like a riot, and I understand that from the anarchist stand-point it’s a good thing that it’s not making any specific demands, but at the end of the day, you’re all on the wrong street, being on Wall Street only perpetuates the social warfare, not everyone who works at Wall Street is part of the extremely rich, some are working simply slightly highering paying than average white-color jobs. And once again, why is it in downtown New York and not outside the Capitol?

          5. David Graeber

            You started the post with condescending arrogance saying I knew nothing about economics and then demonstrated you weren’t even bright enough to read simple English sentences. Why on earth do you presume to think I would have the slightest interest in knowing your opinion after that?

  47. Cullen

    Friendly correction: [1] doesn’t refer to interest, it refers to debt payments. Spending 15-17% of your income on your mortgage sounds more reasonable than spending that much just on the interest.

  48. Pam Miner

    THis is an excellent article. I like to read about how to cause changes and the people who are doing it. I would like to join them if possible.
    I have been extremely discouraged but OWS and the 99% speak for me! It is great to see, I’ve been waiting years for this. It’s hard for an introvert like me to Start something.
    But it’s about time! Of course we feel wronged. The people who play fair and by the rules are always taken advantage of the cheaters, liars, and the shameless ones. The Democrats all have been to trusting. There has been a planned take over by republicans who have worked and schemed to get a one party system.
    Not because they are better or smarter really, but because they are ruthless dominators who know how to fight dirty and will do it at every opportunity. Some even admit to saying right and wrong don’t matter, only winning.

Comments are closed.