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Retribution Against the Financial Elite

Principle Seven of Activism – Edge Leads The Pack: Invert the Ladder of Engagement

Posted 4 months ago on Dec. 14, 2013, 11:46 p.m. EST by MicahWhite
Tags: Authenticity, ladder of engagement, direct action, Minoritarianism

The dominant paradigm of activism is the ladder of engagement. In this model, there are a series of rungs leading from the most insignificant actions to the most "revolutionary," and the goal of organizers is to lead people upwards through these escalating rungs. This makes sense on a commonsense level but it has a nasty unintended consequence.

When taken to its logical conclusion, the ladder of engagement encourages organizers to pitch asks to the lowest rung on the assumption that the majority will feel more comfortable starting with clicking a link or social network sharing.

This is a fatal assumption.

The majority can sniff out the difference between an authentic ask that is truly dangerous and might get their voices heard and an inauthentic ask that is safe and meaningless. The ladder of engagement is upside down. We are judged by what we ask of people. Thus, we must only ask The People to do actions that would genuinely improve the world despite the risks.

Rather than the ladder of engagement, I live by the minoritarian principle, in which, the edge leads the pack. This principle means that when trying to shift the direction of the majority, pitch action ideas from the edges of politics. Authenticity goes hand-in-hand with edginess. The campaign ideas that work are the ones that thrill us into asking “Would I do that?”

Would I camp on Wall Street if it meant an end to the financial stranglehold over our democracies?

Would I uproot my family and move to Nehalem if it meant liberty, equality, community for all?

Would I blow the whistle for the greater good no matter the cost to myself?

The majority does not follow its center; it undulates towards its inspirational edges.

The corollary of this principle is that our political imagination must be in constant flux as it incorporates emergent tactics. This principle is minoritarian in the sense of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari because it places a greater emphasis on cultivating (or cool-hunting) tactics that are being developed by political minorities.

The edge, Left or Right, is where we find the best tactics to transpose into our struggle.

This is why—and here I am speaking to Chris Hedges, a great orator of our movement—it is necessary to respect the partisans of the Black Bloc or any other fighting force that shares our principles but insists on a different tactical approach.

It is oftentimes these tactical approaches that need to be merely tweaked and applied to a new context for their potential to take off. The street level anarchists were the source of most of the tactical innovations following the collapse of the mainstream antiwar movement in 2003. The so-called “cancer of Occupy,” as Hedges unjustly called them, deserve more credit for their role in sparking Occupy Wall Street.

For one, I very closely watched the student occupations of 2009 that swept universities in London, New York City, Berkeley, and dozens more. These protests used the tactic of occupation: students would takeover campus space for political reasons. In the UK this began as a way to force universities to take a public stand against the Israeli war against Gaza.

As the tactic spread to the United States, it lost its focus around demands and the popular slogan of the time—“Demand Nothing! Occupy Everything!”—emerged. I was present at the Sproul occupation at the University of California Berkeley and watching the students trapped in a classroom and shouting impossible to hear words to the crowd below is when I had the first idea to apply the tactic of occupation to public space. I remember thinking that the students should be occupying the grassy parks rather than the cloistered classroom.

By reminding ourselves that the edge leads the pack then we are often able to see the potential of a new idea well before it has matured.

Micah White is a board member of the Occupy Solidarity Network. His website is http://micahmwhite.com.

18 Comments

18 Comments


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[-] 6 points by shadz66 (17706) 4 months ago

''This week marked the 65th anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It was drafted by a commission of the United Nations that was chaired by Eleanor Roosevelt. The Convention became effective in 1951, the United States finally ratified it in 1988 and it was signed by President George H.W. Bush.

''What would it be like if people in the United States knew they had these rights and demanded to have them realized ? ... We believe it would be a very different world – the economy would be a more equitable with full employment, healthcare for all, no people without housing and more humane on every front. Instead, this week an annual report of Credit Suisse ranked the US as the most unequal of all advanced countries.

''As a general guide for understanding human rights there are five principles that should be applied to every policy: universality, equity, transparency, accountability and participation. In a nutshell, universality means that policies apply to all people. Equity means that people have what they need in order to be at the same level as others. Participation means that people have input into the policies that affect their lives.'' from :

So yes, 'Micah White' .. ''By reminding ourselves that the edge leads the pack then we are often able to see the potential of a new idea well before it has matured'' and factor on top of that, Benoit Mandlebrot's idea's of ''The Infinite Edge'' and may many thousand flowers bloom ~*~ Solidaridad Siempre @ OWS !!

per aspera ad astra ...

[-] 5 points by francismjenkins (3713) 4 months ago

Excellent article ... thanks.

[-] 2 points by 4parecon (16) 3 months ago

The minoritarian principle sounds pretty vanguardist, if you ask me.

I am also personally baffled by the continued pushing of black bloc strategies. I understand the idea behind black bloc and the history. I know that it is misunderstood. The problem, however, is that if it is not understood and is misinterpreted by the media or those who witness it, that's a problem. It's a problem if people can't identify with what you're doing. It's a problem if you can't get the larger group to agree with you, especially in a movement that is supposedly based on direct democracy. It's an even bigger problem if your tactics backfire and turn the public at large against you, or, even worse, if those tactics (like black bloc) are used by saboteurs to discredit you (which happened).

We absolutely need to have discussions about new and different tactics, but we also need to realize that before people will engage in such tactics, they need to build trust in not only each other, but in the consensus process. The consensus process is just as important as the actions themselves, possibly more so. A successful group needs to be unified and strong. The more radical tactics are something you have to work toward. You can't force them on people. I find this whole "minoritarian principle" troubling because it seems to be a vanguardist stance against the idea of consensus.

[-] 2 points by aaronparr (612) 4 months ago

And still with this blacblock nonsense. Violence is indefensible and not a serious "ask". It is self-defeating, destructive, and if you need to understand where it can lead look no further than how socialism was perverted in Germany during the lead up to WW2. Violence had a great deal to do with that.

Is our culture so militarized that there is no imagination left?

[-] 2 points by Axis116 (39) 4 months ago

Not an argument really... just a comment on Micah's statement "I remember thinking that the students should be occupying the grassy parks rather than the cloistered classroom."

Well that did happen...remember Peoples Park? People were killed there and Reagan oversaw it. Lesson learned? We will not beat the State through "street fighting", it only gives the rulers the excuse they need to let loose the full fury of the the Police State.

Sometimes I think that only a grassroots awakening to the political and economic realities we live under will we accomplish what is needed. The edge leading the pack can lead down wrong roads as well. Back in "those days" white radicals fell all over themselves to follow the Black Panthers. Once again, the Panthers (and Weatherman SDS), as an edge made the wrong choices thinking if they waved enough guns and made enough bombs they would defeat the State. Bang...Panthers exterminated, SDS shattered.

[-] 3 points by MattLHolck (16833) from San Diego, CA 4 months ago

violence can't be ended with more violence

[-] 6 points by grapes (2626) 4 months ago

Violence can be ended with a change of mind of the people. There has to be enough sporadic pain from twisting the arms but not enough to trigger violence, to effect the desired ends. Violence is only beneficial to those who control the big guns and often devastating to innocent bystanders. There are many nonviolent means to cause some real pain. The best ones make those with the big guns grow suspicious of each other. This is simply the same strategy borrowed from the power that be.

[-] 5 points by grapes (2626) 4 months ago

Some concrete actions could be: bringing to the attention of every politician the names and amounts of funding of the corporate funders of their opponents in elections, letting everyone worldwide know that any U.S. multinational corporation can be an intimate intelligence gathering partner for the NCTC, NSA, FBI, CIA, USPS, DHS, ICE, SSA, DIA, FEMA, ATFE, etc.

If you want your U.S.-multinationals-made gadget or service to spy on you, buy American to support the hegemonic multinational dominance by our "elites." When the multinationals see holes in their bottomlines, they will go onto the side of supporting the U.S. Constitution. A good name can be ruined very easily.

Another thing that the "almighties" will learn is that somebody ALWAYS knows. A little U.V. from time to time can kill some molds. The peons like me know NOTHING - I am just a plain old mushroom.

[-] 3 points by Builder (4202) 4 months ago

Informed mushroom, grapes.

Let's use the correct descriptors, shall we?

[-] 2 points by grapes (2626) 4 months ago

Sure, will un-uniformed moldy grapes masquerading as a mushroom eating horse manure suffice for whatchamacallit?

[-] 1 points by Builder (4202) 4 months ago

I'll run it past the moderators, shall I?

[+] -4 points by jennifer (-67) from Allentown, PA 4 months ago

I distract mods with a dance they don't forget. They won't need Viagra this time.

[-] 1 points by MattLHolck (16833) from San Diego, CA 4 months ago

the corps can spy on their own ya know

[-] 1 points by grapes (2626) 4 months ago

I am shocked. I am absolutely shocked! How could they do this? Oh yes, it is only performance monitoring, good for the continuous improvement of the bottomlines.

[-] 1 points by AlwaysIntoSomething (42) 4 months ago

So bascially what you are saying is that the "radical" -be it the idea, the process, or the individual- is the aspect that spurs the action because it spurs the excitement?

[-] 1 points by josephcouturedotcom (1) 4 months ago

Creating a new world requires new ways of thinking. Old school activism no longer works. It is obsolete. It is dead. Before change can happen in the system, we need to change ourselves to find new ways to bring about the change we desire. Read "Seeking A Brave New World" at www.josephcouture.com for an analysis of how this might happen.

[-] -3 points by jennifer (-67) from Allentown, PA 4 months ago

I agree. Things change very fast these days. I have a feeling Black Bloc tactics are already expired. Already old and dead. I don't think they added anything to Occupy.

[Removed]

[-] -2 points by jennifer (-67) from Allentown, PA 4 months ago

The edge does lead the pack, but that does not mean every and any edgy idea will lead the pack. The idea must also be good. There are many ideas on the edge, most are not good. Only a few are.

Black Bloc is on the edge, but what we must question is whether it is a good tactic, or just an edgy one. Being edgy, different, etc... can be very easy if edginess is the only criteria.

I don't position myself in regards to the goodness of the Black Bloc tactic, I just wonder how good or bad it is? What do you think?

What are the attributes of the Black Bloc tactic that give something good for Occupy?