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Protest is Broken

Posted 8 years ago on June 29, 2015, 10:24 a.m. EST by OccupyWallSt
Tags: Activism, Micah White, Protest is Broken

From the co-creator of the Occupy Wall Street movement, a refreshing manifesto that inaugurates the future of social...

Posted by The End of Protest on Friday, July 31, 2015

Advice for the next generation of social movements: “Never protest the same way twice.”

“Protest is Broken.”

Attracting millions of people to the streets no longer guarantees the success of a protest, says Micah White, 33, the cocreator of Occupy Wall Street.

“Occupy was a perfect example of a social movement that should have worked according to the dominant theories of protest and activism. And yet, it failed,” says Micah in an interview with Folha de São Paulo, the largest daily newspaper in Brazil.

Micah White argues that the use of violence in protests is effective, but only in the short term. And he argues that learning to use social networks to benefit social movements is one of the greatest challenges of activism. “The biggest risk is becoming spectators of our own protests” he says.

Living in a rural community on the Oregon coast, with about 300 inhabitants, Micah, and his partner Chiara Ricciardone, now run Boutique Activist Consultancy, an activism think tank specializing in impossible campaigns.

Micah was in São Paulo, Brazil on May 26th to participate in the launch event of GUME (“Knife Edge”), an engagement agency founded by Regina Augusto.

Folha de São Paulo: How would you analyze Occupy Wall Street today? What went wrong?

Micah White: This is the big question and of course I've been thinking about it since the end of Occupy. For me, the Occupy movement was a “constructive failure,” which basically means it was a failure that taught us something about activism.

The real benefit of Occupy Wall Street is that it taught us the contemporary ideas and assumptions we have about protests are false. Occupy was a perfect example of how social movements should work. It accorded with the dominant theories of protest and activism: it was a historical event, joined millions of people across demographics from around the world around a series of demands, there was little violence. And yet, the movement failed. So my main conclusion is that activism has been based on a series of false assumptions about what kind of collective behavior creates social change.

F: What are these assumptions?

MW: First, the central idea of contemporary activism: urban protests, with large numbers of people in the streets, primarily secular, and that revolve around a unified demand. The idea is basically, “Look, if we get a million or ten million or a hundred million people in the streets, finally our demands will be met.” However, if you look at the last ten, fifteen years, we have had the biggest demonstrations in history. And the protests continue to grow in size and frequency, and yet they have not resulted in political change.

F: Now what?

MW: What we learned from Occupy, and also with the Arab Spring, is that revolutions happen when people lose their fear. So I think the main trigger for the next revolutionary movement will be a contagious mood that spreads throughout the world and the human community.

For me, the main thing we need to see is activists abandoning a materialistic explanation of revolution—the idea that we need to put people in the streets—and starting to think about how to spread that kind of mood, how to make people see the world in fundamentally different way. That's about it. The future of activism is not about pressing our politicians through synchronized public spectacles.

F: It's not about pressuring politicians?

MW: No. I think the standard forms of protest have become part of the standard pattern. It’s like they are expected. And the key is to constantly innovate the way we protest because otherwise it is as if protest is part of the script. It is now expected to have people in the streets, and these crowds will behave in a certain way, and then the police will come and some of the people will be beaten up and arrested. Then the rest will go home. Our participation in this script is based on the false story that the more people you have in the streets the higher your chances of getting social change.

F: Can you explain better what you're proposing?

MW: What I am proposing is a type of activism that focuses on creating a mental shift in people. Basically an epiphany. In concrete terms, I think there is much potential in the creation of hybrid social movement-political parties that require more complex behaviors of people like running for political office, seeking votes, participating in the city administration.

F: The use of social networks is quite controversial among contemporary activists. Some say it is a key tool to increase the reach of the protests, others say it exposes the movement to monitoring by the authorities. What's your opinion?

MW: This is one of the key challenges. Social media is one of the tools that activists have, and we need to use it in some way. But in fact, social media has a negative side, which goes beyond police monitoring.

During Occupy, we experienced it: things started to look better on social networks than in real life. Then people started to focus on social media and to feel more comfortable posting on Twitter and Facebook than going to an Occupy event. This to me is the biggest risk: to become spectators of our own protests.

F: What do you think of the Black Lives Matter protests that are happening in the United States since last year, the result of racial tension in the country?

MW: Of course I fully support this movement. I am black, I have experienced the discrimination that they are protesting. But thinking strategically, I believe it is very important never to protest directly against the police. Because the police are actually made to absorb protest—the objective of the police is to dissipate your energy in protesting them so you'll let alone the most sensitive parts of the repressive regime in which we live: politicians and big corporations. We must protest more deeply.

F: What do you think of the use of violence in protests?

MW: Studies suggest that protesters who use violence are more effective than those that do not. I think violence is effective, but only in the short term, because you end up developing a kind of organized structure that is easy for police to infiltrate. In the long run, it is much better to develop nonviolent tactics that allow you to create a stable and lasting social movement.

F: But doesn’t violence exclude the public from the movement?

MW: People become alienated and become frightened when they see the black bloc tactic because they do not understand and can not imagine doing it. And movements work when they inspire people, when they are positive, affirmative and make people lose their fear.

It's a difficult balance, because you also do not want to be on the other side and only support forms of activism that are tepid and tedious—you have to find a middle ground that excites people and also leaves them with a little fear. No one really has a remedy to resolve the issue.

F: Your book THE END OF PROTEST decrees the end of the protest as we know it. Can we reinvent protest?

MW: Protest is reinvented all the time. Every generation experiences its own moments of revolution. The main thing is that we are now living through a time when tactical innovations are happening much more often because people can see what others are doing around the world and innovate in real time.

I think the future of revolution starts with people promising themselves that they will never protest the same way twice. This is very difficult for activists because they like to follow patterns. But when we are committed to innovation, we will invent totally new forms of protest. People did not expect to see something like Occupy when it emerged. And now we do not expect the next big movement... but it will come.

Micah White's first book—THE END OF PROTEST—will be published by Random House of Canada on March 15, 2016.

Interview Source: Folha de São Paulo


Activism in Crisis

Posted 8 years ago on June 15, 2015, 11:30 a.m. EST by OccupyWallSt
Tags: Micah White

I dream of a hybrid movement-party that wins elections in multiple countries.

The Crisis Within Activism is a Crisis Within Democracy

“We are living through a period with the largest protests in human history. But they are not working. And when you reach that point, instead of repeating the traditional protest behaviors, screaming and holding posters, you have to innovate,” says Micah White, cocreator of Occupy Wall Street and formerAdbusters editor, in an interview with Brazil's CartaCapital about his book, THE END OF PROTEST.

Micah spoke with CartaCapital during his recent visit to São Paulo for the launch of GUME ("Knife Edge"), a new engagement consultancy.

CartaCapital: Is there a crisis in today's representative democracies?

Micah White: Absolutely. In addition to a crisis in representative democracy, there is a crisis in the model of activism, how people protest. There is a crisis in the power of people to force governments to do what they want. We live in a time when there appears to be no way for ordinary people to influence their governments through protest… This means there is no democracy.

CC: Does this mean that the democratic system does not work anymore?

MW: I do not think in any way that the dream of democracy is dead. The dream of democracy has been going on since the beginning of civilization and humans have always been fighting for democracy. For five thousand years we’ve been overthrowing pharaohs, kings and tyrants in a struggle for democracy. Now we're in one of those moments in history when we have a low point of democracy, but there will be a high point of democracy soon. This requires, however, a kind of innovation within our concepts of activism.

CC: How is it possible to reduce the power of corporations in government?

MW: The only way to remove the power of corporations in our society would be to create a social movement capable of winning elections. As movements and as activists, we have avoided the only solution, which is: we have to build social movements that can also function as political parties. This is a need that we do not want to hear. We think we can just organize large protests and get really angry. Occupy Wall Street was a once in a lifetime event and it did not work because we were chasing a false theory of how social change happens. We believe, or wanted to believe, that a large number of people going to the streets can cause changes in their governments, but when we achieved a historical social movement, we realized this story of change is not true. Now it is clear that the only way to win power is to create a hybrid between a social movement and a political party. Something that does not have leaders, but has spokespeople and an organizational structure that lasts more than six months.

CC: How is it possible to achieve social change through protests?

MW: Today, social movements ask their participants do very basic and small actions: to take to the streets, holding posters and shouting. These are very basic behaviors and no longer have a political effect. Occupy Wall Street and the 15M in Spain, brought more complex behaviors, such as participating in general assemblies or utilizing hand gestures, but these are still very simple behaviors. I think we have to ask more of social movement participants. We must show that social movements require difficult behaviors like, winning elections, drafting legislation, governing our cities ... We need to demand a greater investment than just show up. The Internet allows us to ask for more. Thanks to social networks, it’s time to treat participants as capable of developing sophisticated behaviors and teaching each other how to to spread these actions globally.

CC: Do social networks have a new role in organizing and promoting protests?

MW: Absolutely. I think the role of the Internet is spreading contagious emotions. If we look at the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street, it seems that the trigger was a mood that spread all over the world and was basically a sensation of losing one’s fear. People said “I do not care about the risks, this is the time to act” and went to the streets. That's what social networks do: they allow us to transfer that contagious mood of rebellion to the whole world. The other power of the Internet is in allowing us to innovate our tactics in real time. From the moment when a new tactic emerges in one city, it can be deployed in another city. So it was with Occupy Wall Street.

CC: Can the internet become something more than a network in which feelings are spread?

MW: There is a hope that perhaps the Internet allows us an electronic democracy. That's the idea of the 5 Star Movement in Italy. Participants use the internet to decide on legislation and to select candidates for the elections. The idea of the Internet enabling collective decision-making is very interesting, but difficult to achieve.

CC: Some people prefer digital activism to the street. What do you think?

MW: In the early stages, the Internet is very important for social movements. However, over time, the Internet becomes harmful because things start to look better online than in real life. This happened with Occupy. The protest looked better on Facebook than it did in the streets. This is negative because people start to prefer the online experience to the real world. So the Internet is a double-edged sword. The internet is a weapon that is not fully under our control, and it is very difficult to wield effectively.

CC: Do you believe that the advance of neoliberalism has helped reduce the importance of social movements around the world?

MW: Protests are a form of war and war is politics by other means. Protests are ways of influencing the political system by unconventional methods. And the revolution is a change in the legal regime. It is transforming what is legal into something illegal or making what is illegal legal. If social movements are a form of warfare then it is clear that the forces that are in power will use all possible means to destroy social movements. The problem is activists do not see their protests in the context of war. We see them as a big party or something, while the other side realizes the importance of the event. Above all, however, it is crucial not blame others. We must blame ourselves. Social movements do not fail because the police are very strong. Throughout history, people have overthrown governments with a much stronger police, either because they found a way to defeat them in the streets or because they managed to get the police to change sides. So when our protests fail it is because our theory of change was wrong and not because the other side was stronger.

CC: Occupy Wall Street was born in 2011 and influenced many movements around the world. To date, we have several social movements emerging in Europe also influenced by 15M or Occupy. What is the role of the internet?

MW: What happened is that a new tactic emerged and it worked, so it spread worldwide. Occupy Wall Street combined tactics in Egypt with those of Spain and applied them to the United States. The police could not anticipate this new protest strategy and that's why the movement worked. Once the police discovered how to respond to our encampments, they destroyed all the movements worldwide in the same way. Protest is a constant war of new attack strategies and counter-attack. Interestingly, at the moment we are increasing the frequency of protests. This is very good, but on the other hand, we must be skeptical because we are living through a period with the largest protests in human history, but they are not working.

CC: Do you believe that we can be in a historic moment of rupture?

MW: What I imagine is the birth of a social movement that wins elections in a country and then begins to win elections in multiple countries. Then you will see Syriza or the 5 Star Movement in three, seven or ten different countries. Yeah ... I really think it's about this storyline of a global social movement.

CC: You do not think that is too optimistic?

MW: I think we live in a time when activists are so focused on what seems possible that we do not achieve anything. We need to disturb power and not act only in safe ways. That's what Occupy Wall Street and the Arab Spring did. The best activism is the one that asks participants to do the things they fear.

Micah White's first book—THE END OF PROTEST—will be published by Random House of Canada in 2016.

"A democracia está em crise porque o dinheiro controla governos"

Criador do movimento Occupy Wall Street, o ativista Micah White culpa a influência de corporações nos governos pela crise política e afirma que os protestos são ineficazes e precisam se reinventar

Uma onda de revoltas contra o sistema político tomou o mundo desde 2010, com protestos se estendendo de Túnis a Brasília, passando por Madrid, Atenas e Nova York. Apesar de separados por milhares de quilômetros, os atos possuem elementos comuns. Para Micah White, ativista e criador do Occupy Wall Street, as revoltas e protestos expõem o descontentamento da população em relação à representação política e à influência do dinheiro das corporações nos governos.

Segundo o ativista, as diversas manifestações, que aconteceram em diferentes continentes e em um espaço curto de tempo, são um sintoma de um "sentimento contagiante de descontentamento" e só "foram possíveis graças à internet". Contudo, tanto a Primavera Árabe, em 2010, quanto o 15M na Espanha, em 2011, ou as manifestações de junho de 2013, no Brasil, foram incapazes de produzir os resultados esperados. "Estamos vivendo o período com mais protestos da história humana, porém eles não estão funcionando. E quando se alcança esse momento, em vez de repetir os comportamentos tradicionais, de gritar e segurar cartazes, é preciso inovar", afirma Micah White em entrevista a CartaCapital, na qual fala também sobre seu livro, O fim do protesto.

CartaCapital: Existe uma crise nas democracias representativas de hoje em dia?

Micah White: Com certeza. Além de uma crise na democracia representativa, existe uma crise no modelo de ativismo, de como as pessoas protestam. Existe uma crise no poder dado às pessoas para forçar os governos a fazer o que elas querem. Como não há uma forma para que pessoas comuns protestem e aprimorem ou mudem os governos, de certa forma, não existe democracia. Essa realidade gerou o Occupy Wall Street e diversos outros protestos que estão acontecendo ao redor do mundo.

CC: O problema é que a democracia já não funciona mais ou que não temos instrumentos de democracia direta?

MW: No caso dos Estados Unidos, eu realmente não acho que haja democracia no sentido de pessoas conduzindo o governo. O que realmente acontece é que o dinheiro conduz o governo e é impossível se eleger sem ter muito dinheiro. A outra ponta dessa realidade é que quem gasta mais dinheiro vence as eleições. Essa é a crise de representatividade. Com isso, também temos o problema de corporações e associações poderem financiar partidos políticos de forma ilimitada. Na verdade, nós não temos uma democracia. Temos alguma outra coisa, algo mais distante.

CC: Isso significa que o sistema democrático não funciona mais?

MW: Eu não acho de forma alguma que o sonho da democracia esteja morto. O sonho da democracia vem acontecendo desde o princípio da civilização e os humanos sempre estiveram lutando por democracia. Por cinco mil anos derrubamos faraós, reis e tiranos à procura de democracia. Agora, estamos em um daqueles momentos da história em que temos um ponto baixo de democracia, mas haverá um ponto alto de democracia logo. Isso requer, contudo, um tipo de inovação dentro de nossos conceitos de ativismo.

CC: Como é possível reduzir o poder de corporações no governo, seja por meio de financiamento de campanha, seja por meio dos lobbies dentro do Congresso?

MW: A única forma de remover o poder das corporações em nossa sociedade seria criar um movimento social capaz de vencer eleições. Como movimentos e como ativistas, nós temos evitado a única solução, que é: nós temos que construir movimentos sociais que também possam funcionar como partidos. Essa é uma necessidade que não queremos ouvir. Pensamos que podemos apenas organizar protestos baratos e ficar realmente bravos. O Occupy Wall Street foi um evento que acontece uma vez na vida e não funcionou porque estávamos perseguindo uma falsa teoria de como mudanças sociais acontecem. Nós acreditamos, ou quisemos acreditar, que um grande número de pessoas indo para as ruas causarão possíveis mudanças em seus governos, mas quando se alcança isso percebe-se que isso não é verdade. A única forma de vencer é criar algo híbrido entre um movimento social e um partido político. Algo que não tenha líderes, mas que tenha porta-vozes e uma organização que dure mais do que seis meses.

CC: Como é possível alcançar mudanças sociais por meio dos protestos?

MW: Hoje, os movimentos sociais pedem para que seus participantes façam coisas muito básicas e pequenas, como ir às ruas, segurar cartazes ou gritar. Esses são comportamentos muito básicos e que não possuem mais efeito. O Occupy Wall Street e o 15M, na Espanha, trouxeram comportamentos mais complexos, como participar de assembleias gerais ou com gestos de mãos, mas ainda são coisas muito simples. Eu acho que temos de pedir mais dos participantes. Temos de mostrar que movimentos sociais requerem coisas difíceis, como vencer eleições, escrever legislações, governar nossas cidades... Precisamos de comportamentos que envolvam um investimento maior do que apenas aparecer, e a internet nos permite isso. Graças às redes sociais, é hora de tratar os participantes como capazes de desenvolver comportamentos sofisticados e ensiná-los a fazer isso.

CC: As redes sociais podem ter um novo papel para organizar e promover as comunicações dos protestos?

MW: Absolutamente. Eu acho que o papel da internet é espalhar emoções contagiantes. Se olharmos para a Primavera Árabe e o Occupy Wall Street parece que o gatilho do movimento foi uma sensação que se espalhou pelo mundo inteiro e era uma sensação de basicamente perder o medo. Pessoas diziam “eu não me importo, este é o momento” e iam às ruas. Isso é o que as redes sociais fazem: elas nos permitem transferir essa sensação para o mundo todo. O outro poder é nos permitir inovar nossas táticas em tempo real. A partir do momento em que pessoas vêm algo nosso surgir em um lugar, elas podem reproduzi-lo em outro. Foi assim com o Occupy Wall Street.

CC: A internet pode se tornar algo maior do que uma rede na qual sentimentos são espalhados?

MW: Existe uma esperança que talvez a internet nos permita uma democracia eletrônica. Essa é a ideia do Movimento 5 Estrelas, na Itália. Os participantes vão aos debates eleitorais, mas também usam a internet para decidir sobre a legislação e até eleger os candidatos das eleições. A ideia de a internet ser um grupo decisão é muito interessante, mas difícil de atingir.

CC: Algumas pessoas preferem um ativismo digital a sair às ruas. O que você acha disso?

MW: Nos estágios iniciais, a internet foi muito importante para os movimentos sociais. Contudo, com o tempo, a internet passou a ser prejudicial porque as coisas começaram a parecer melhor na internet do que na vida real. Com o Occupy foi assim. O protesto parecia melhor no Facebook do que ele era nas ruas. Isso é negativo porque as pessoas começam a preferir a experiência online à do mundo real. Por isso, é uma faca de dois gumes. A internet é uma arma, que não está totalmente sobre o nosso controle, e que é muito difícil de usar.

CC: Você acredita que o avanço do neoliberalismo ajudou a reduzir a importância dos movimentos sociais pelo mundo?

MW: Protestos são uma forma de guerra e guerra é a política por outros meios. Protestos são formas de influenciar o sistema político por métodos não convencionais. E a revolução é uma mudança no regime legal. É transformar o legal em ilegal ou o ilegal em legal. Ou seja, é uma forma de estado de guerra. Por isso, é claro que as forças que estão no poder irão usar todos os meios possíveis para destruir os movimentos sociais. O problema é que não vemos os protestos no contexto de guerra. Nós os vemos como uma grande festa ou coisa do tipo, enquanto o outro lado percebe a importância disso. O mais importante, contudo, não é culpar os outros, mas culpar a si mesmo. Movimentos sociais não falharam porque a polícia era muito forte. Durante a história, pessoas derrubaram governos com uma polícia muito mais forte, seja porque eles descobriram uma forma ou porque conseguiram fazer com que a polícia mudasse de lado. Por isso, quando falhamos é porque nossa teoria estava errada e não porque o outro lado era mais forte.

CC: Occupy Wall Street nasceu em 2011 e influenciou diversos movimentos pelo mundo. Até hoje, temos diversos movimentos sociais surgindo na Europa ainda influenciados pelo 15M ou pelo Occupy. Você atribui isso à internet?

MW: O que aconteceu é que uma nova tática surgiu e funcionou, por isso, se espalhou. Occupy Wall Street combinou táticas usadas no Egito com as da Espanha e aplicou nos Estados Unidos. A polícia não soube responder a essa nova estratégia e é por isso que o movimento funcionou. Uma vez que a polícia descobre como responder, ela destrói todos os movimentos da mesma forma. É guerra constante de novas estratégias de ataque e contra-ataque. O interessante do momento em que estamos é o aumento da frequência dos protestos, assim como da repressão. Isso é muito bom, mas por outro lado, é preciso ser cético porque estamos vivendo o período com mais protestos da história humana, porém eles não estão funcionando.

CC: Você acredita que podemos estar em momento histórico de ruptura?

MW: O que eu imagino é o nascimento de um movimento social que ganhe eleições em um país e depois começa a ganhar eleições em múltiplos países. Aí você terá Podemos, Syriza ou o Movimento 5 Estrelas em cinco, seis ou dez diferentes países. É... eu realmente acho que é sobre esse enredo de um movimento social global.

CC: Você não se acha muito otimista?

MW: Eu acho que vivemos em um momento em que as pessoas estão tão focadas naquilo que parece possível que nós não alcançamos nada. É preciso incomodar o poder e não agir apenas com aquilo que é seguro. Foi isso que Occupy Wall Street e a Primavera Árabe fizeram. O melhor ativismo é aquele que mexe com as coisas que temos medo.


Yo Occupy! Let's help Rami Shamir publish a new edition of TRAIN TO POKIPSE, the novel that's been called a Catcher in the Rye for the Occupy generation.

Posted 8 years ago on June 11, 2015, 11:34 a.m. EST by OccupyWallSt
Tags: Train to Pokipsie, Rami Shamir

In the past two and a half years, Rami Shamir's indie novel, TRAIN TO POKIPSE, has dispelled a lot of publishing myths.

Drawing comparisons to the works of J. D. Salinger, Jack Kerouac, and Allen Ginsberg, TRAIN TO POKIPSE has discredited the criticism put forth by traditional publishers—that books which are published by their authors bear little artistic merit. Upon its release in February 2012, the Brooklyn Rail declared POKIPSE “to be something of a gem which might well glitter on your bookshelf.” This sentiment would be reafarrimed throughout POKIPSE's first edition run. Whether it was Adbusters Magazine concluding its seminal "Best of 2013" issue with an excerpt from the book; the Huffington Post interview, in which I directly took on the Corporate book publishing status quo; or the 2013 Acker Award, of which I was the youngest recipient, POKIPSE's literary and social value has been firmly established.

Simultaneously, TRAIN TO POKIPSE has debunked the impression that authors who undertake the publishing of their books can expect no entry into independent bookstores. At the conclusion of its first edition run, TRAIN TO POKIPSE was carried by 40 independent booksellers nationwide. While the shelf-life of contemporary books (traditionally published or not) rarely exceeds a few months, booksellers afforded POKIPSE with prime shelf space for the full two and a half years of its limited, first edition run.

And now Rami Shamir needs your help to move forward.

In contributing to this Kickstarter, you will ensure the continuation of this novel's existence, as well as its greater availability in the world. And you'll empower me to move forward as an author.

Your support will go to:

Printing a new, high-quality trade paperback edition of TRAIN TO POKIPSE. Layout and Design Promotion Storage and Distribution of books Producing the first POKIPSE e-book This includes the labor, text conversion, layout, and design. The e-book will be an annotated edition with explanatory notes and selected photographic record.

You have the power to make sure that TRAIN TO POKIPSE remains in the world.

Together we'll continue to show that a contemporary writer can bring their work out with 100 % independence from the Corporate status quo.

Please click here to support the TRAIN TO POKIPSE kickstater

I'm so happy to announce that after a year of hard work TRAIN TO POKIPSE's Kickstarter has finally launched! Thank you...

Posted by Rami Shamir on Sunday, May 17, 2015


F.E.C. Can’t Curb 2016 Election Abuse, Commission Chief Says

Posted 8 years ago on May 2, 2015, 4:05 p.m. EST by OccupyWallSt
Tags: news

Spread the word... The Federal Election Commission is openly declaring they can't and won't enforce the law. This article should spark an insurrection!

(Written by Eric Lichtblau for The New York Times)

WASHINGTON — The leader of the Federal Election Commission, the agency charged with regulating the way political money is raised and spent, says she has largely given up hope of reining in abuses in the 2016 presidential campaign, which could generate a record $10 billion in spending.

“The likelihood of the laws being enforced is slim,” Ann M. Ravel, the chairwoman, said in an interview. “I never want to give up, but I’m not under any illusions. People think the F.E.C. is dysfunctional. It’s worse than dysfunctional.”

Her unusually frank assessment reflects a worsening stalemate among the agency’s six commissioners. They are perpetually locked in 3-to-3 ties along party lines on key votes because of a fundamental disagreement over the mandate of the commission, which was created 40 years ago in response to the political corruption of Watergate.

Some commissioners are barely on speaking terms, cross-aisle negotiations are infrequent, and with no consensus on which rules to enforce, the caseload against violators has plummeted.

The F.E.C.’s paralysis comes at a particularly critical time because of the sea change brought about by the Supreme Court’s decision in 2010 in the Citizens United case, which freed corporations and unions to spend unlimited funds in support of political candidates. Billionaire donors and “super PACs” are already gaining an outsize role in the 2016 campaign, and the lines have become increasingly stretched and blurred over what presidential candidates and political groups are allowed to do.

Watchdog groups have gone to the F.E.C. with complaints that probable presidential candidates like Jeb Bush and Martin O’Malley are skirting finance laws by raising millions without officially declaring that they are considering running.

Ms. Ravel, who led California’s state ethics panel before her appointment as a Democratic member of the commission in 2013, said that when she became chairwoman in December, she was determined to “bridge the partisan gap” and see that the F.E.C. confronted such problems. But after five months, she said she had essentially abandoned efforts to work out agreements on what she saw as much-needed enforcement measures.

Now, she said, she plans on concentrating on getting information out publicly, rather than continuing what she sees as a futile attempt to take action against major violations. She said she was resigned to the fact that “there is not going to be any real enforcement” in the coming election.

“The few rules that are left, people feel free to ignore,” said Ellen L. Weintraub, a Democratic commissioner.

Republican members of the commission see no such crisis. They say they are comfortable with how things are working under the structure that gives each party three votes. No action at all, they say, is better than overly aggressive steps that could chill political speech.

“Congress set this place up to gridlock,” Lee E. Goodman, a Republican commissioner, said in an interview. “This agency is functioning as Congress intended. The democracy isn’t collapsing around us.”

Experts predict that the 2016 race could produce a record fund-raising haul of as much as $10 billion, with the growth fueled by well-financed outside groups. On their own, the conservative billionaires Charles G. and David H. Koch have promised to spend $889 million through their political network.

With the rise of the super PACs and the loosening of legal restrictions on corporate spending, campaigns and groups are turning to creative new methods of raising money. Writing in March in The Washington Post, Ms. Ravel charged that some candidates — she did not name names — appeared to have been amassing large war chests at fund-raisers this year without acknowledging that they were at least considering a presidential run, which would trigger campaign finance limits and disclosure.

She said it was “absurd” to think that such politicians were not at least considering a White House run under federal law.

“It’s the Wild West out there in some ways,” said Kate A. Belinski, a former lawyer at the commission who now works on campaign finance at a law firm. Candidates and political groups are increasingly willing to push the limits, she said, and the F.E.C.’s inaction means that “there’s very little threat of getting caught.”

As a lawyer in Silicon Valley who went after ethics violators in California during her time there, Ms. Ravel brought to Washington both a reformer’s mentality and a tech-savvy background, and she has used Twitter and other media to try to attract young people and women to politics.

But her aggressive efforts have angered some Republicans, who charged that an F.E.C. hearing she scheduled for next week on challenges facing women in politics was not only outside the commission’s jurisdiction but a thinly veiled attempt to help the presidential bid of Hillary Rodham Clinton. Ms. Ravel called the accusations “crazy.”

Some disputes between the commissioners have gotten personal.

A disagreement over how to treat online political ads, for instance, turned tense when Ms. Ravel received anonymous online threats over charges that she was trying to “regulate” the Internet. She angrily confronted Mr. Goodman, charging that he had unfairly “fanned the flames” against her by mischaracterizing her position in an interview he did on Fox News. But Mr. Goodman said he had no regrets about challenging her position, which he saw as opening the door to greater regulation of Internet activities.

Relations between the two have been difficult ever since.

Last fall, Ms. Ravel did join Republicans on the commission — and took some criticism from the left — in a 4-to-2 decision that eased rules growing out of the Citizens United decision and a related case. But she has had little success in persuading Republicans to vote with her on enforcement measures.

She said she was particularly frustrated that Republican commissioners would not support cases against four nonprofit groups — including Crossroads GPS, founded by Karl Rove — accused of improperly using their tax-exempt status for massive and well-financed political campaigns.

A surge in this so-called “dark money” in politics — hundreds of millions of dollars raised by nonprofits, trade associations and other groups that can keep their donations secret — has alarmed campaign-finance reformers who are pushing to make such funding public.

But Mr. Goodman said the problem was exaggerated. He and other Republicans defend their decisions to block many investigations, saying Democrats have pushed cases beyond what the law allows. “We’re not interested in going after people unless the law is fairly clear, and we’re not willing to take the law beyond where it’s written,” said Caroline C. Hunter, a Republican commissioner. Democrats view the law “more broadly,” she said.

The commission has not always been so hamstrung. In 2006, it unanimously imposed major fines against high-profile groups — liberal and conservative — for breaking campaign finance laws two years earlier by misusing their tax-exempt status for political fund-raising and campaigning. The penalties put political groups on notice, and experts credited them with helping curb similar abuses in the 2008 campaign.

These days, the six commissioners hardly ever rule unanimously on major cases, or even on some of the most minor matters. Last month at an event commemorating the commission’s 40th anniversary, even the ceremony proved controversial. Democrats and Republicans skirmished over where to hold it, whom to include and even whether to serve bagels or doughnuts. In a rare compromise, they ended up serving both.

Standing in front of a montage of photos from the F.E.C.’s history, Ms. Ravel told staff members and guests that there was a “crisis” in public confidence, and she stressed the F.E.C’s mandate for “enforcing the law.” But the ranking Republican, Matthew S. Petersen, made no mention of enforcement in his remarks a few minutes later, focusing instead on defending political speech under the First Amendment.

As guests mingled, Ms. Weintraub — the commission’s longest-serving member at 12 years — lamented to a reporter that the days when the panel could work together on important issues were essentially over.

She pointed to a former Republican commissioner standing nearby — Bradley A. Smith, who left the agency in 2005 — and said she used to be able to work with commissioners like him even when they disagreed on ideology.

Laughing, Mr. Smith assumed a fighting stance and yelled at Ms. Weintraub: “Let’s go right now, you speech-hating enemy of the First Amendment!”

A few feet away, Mr. Goodman was not laughing. As Ms. Weintraub condemned the F.E.C.’s inertia, he whispered a point-by-point rebuttal to show that things were not as bad as she made them sound.

With the commission so often deadlocked, the major fines assessed by the commission dropped precipitously last year to $135,813 from $627,408 in 2013. But like most things at the F.E.C., commissioners differ over how to interpret those numbers.

Republicans say they believe the commission’s efforts to work with political groups on training and compliance have kept campaigns within the legal lines and helped to bring down fines.

The drop in fines “could easily be read as a signal that people are following the law,” said Ms. Hunter, the Republican commissioner.

Ms. Ravel scoffed at that explanation.

“What’s really going on,” she said, “is that the Republican commissioners don’t want to enforce the law, except in the most obvious cases. The rules aren’t being followed, and that’s destructive to the political process.”


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