#OWS: We are ALL leaders!

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What is the difference between saying none of us is a leader and saying all of us are leaders?

At first glance these two phrases may seem like two ways of saying essentially the same thing. We believe in organizing in a way that is more horizontal than vertical. We believe in equalizing participation and resisting social hierarchies.

But the word leadership can mean a lot of things. There are things we associate with leadership that have nothing to do with hierarchy. Taking leadership can mean taking initiative on moving a project or task forward. It can mean looking for what is needed in a group, and stepping up to do that thing.

These positive group-serving associations with leadership are the reason why there’s an important difference between the idea of “no leaders” and the idea of “all leaders”.

If we are part of a group that talks about having no leaders, this phrase can inadvertently make us overly hesitant about stepping up to take initiative. It can create a group culture where as individuals we become reluctant to be seen as moving something forward &#151 because our peers might see us as a “leader”, which would be a bad thing.

But if we really want to change the world, we will need a lot more people stepping up to take initiative. The more initiative we each take in our work together &#151 the more skills we learn and hone &#151 the greater our collective capacity will be. Building our capacity means increasing what we are capable of achieving together. It means building our collective power. And building up our collective power is one of the most important challenges of grassroots organizing.

We need to build a culture where we’re all invited to step up. That means stepping up in ways that also make space for others to step up &#151 where others feel invited to step up and take initiative too. Stepping up can mean actively listening and learning from others. Stepping up can mean taking time to reflect on how different people can be socialized differently around leadership. For reasons that often have something to do with socialization around our genders, “race”, age, economic class, or other aspects of our identities, some of us are predisposed to speak confidently and to take on more visible leadership roles. While others are often predisposed to speak less in the group, or to take on less visible roles. So, stepping up can also mean recognizing and valuing many different forms of leadership in the group. And it can mean looking for leadership potential &#151 for strengths within the group that are latent, waiting for the opportunity to become active.

If we’re all leaders, we can also take leadership by stepping up to support each other and hold each other accountable in our work together.

But if we stay in the framework of thinking we should have no leaders, why would we be inclined to seek to develop more leadership in our movement? If all leadership is viewed negatively, we may develop a “circular firing squad” group culture, where we tend to cut each other down and we hold back because we’re afraid to stick our heads up.

We need a movement where we are constantly encouraging each other to step into our full potential and to shine as individual leaders who are working together collectively for a better world.

So, let’s all be leaders. Let’s step up and do this.

#OccupyWallStreet & the Political Identity Paradox

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Strong group identity is essential for social movements. There can be no serious social movement&#151the kind that challenges the powerful and privileged&#151without a correspondingly serious group identity that encourages a core of members to contribute an exceptional level of commitment, sacrifice and heroics over the course of prolonged struggle. This kind of group identity is clearly emerging right now among core participants in occupations across the country and around the world, and that’s a good thing.

However, strong group identity is also something of a double-edged sword. The stronger the identity and cohesion of the group, the more likely people are to become alienated from other groups, and from the broader society.

The Political Identity Paradox states that while social change groups require a strong internal identity in order to foster the level of commitment needed for protracted struggle, this same cohesion tends over time to isolate the group; and isolated groups are hard-pressed to build the kind of broad-based power needed to achieve the big changes they imagine.  

Strong bonding within a group tends to create distinctions between groups &#151 that’s true to an extent for all kinds of groups. However, it tends to have particular consequences for groups involved in political struggle. Consider a sports team that defines its group identity partly in distinction from rival teams. The team is likely to play all the harder against rivals as a result of the distinction. No problem there. A group engaged in challenging entrenched power, on the other hand&#151as the occupy movement is doing&#151has not only to foster a strong internal identity; it also has to win allies beyond the bounds of that identity, if it is to build the collective power it needs to accomplish its goals.

And, because of the nature of oppositional struggle, the tendency toward isolation can escalate very quickly in politicized groups. Oppositional struggle triggers an oppositional psychology, which can do a real number on a group.  Movements that meet the kind of brutal resistance that the Civil Rights movement endured, for example, have a tough row to hoe. On the one hand, participants need to turn to each other more than ever for strength and support. They feel a compelling cohesiveness to their group identity in these moments of escalated conflict. On the other hand, they need to keep outwardly oriented, to stay connected to a broad and growing base. This is difficult to do even when leaders (we are all leaders) are fully oriented to the task, let alone when they are unprepared, which is so often the case.

Take, for example, Students for a Democratic Society (the original SDS that fell apart in dramatic fashion in 1969, not the contemporary SDS). At the center of the epic implosion of this massive student organization&#151underneath the rational arguments and accusations that leaders were slinging at each other&#151there was the political identity paradox. Key leaders had become encapsulated in their oppositional identity (or, rather, a few factionalizing identities) and they became more and more out of touch. They lost the ability and even the inclination to relate to their broader membership&#151a huge number of students at the moment of the implosion&#151let alone to broader society. Some of the most committed would-be leaders of that generation came to see more value in holing up with a few comrades to make bombs than in organizing masses of students to take coordinated action. This is the tendency toward isolation taken to the extreme. Dedicated radicals cut themselves off, like lone guerrilla fighters in enemy territory. It might have felt glorious, but it was a suicide mission.

The political identity paradox speaks to the need for political groups to develop both strong bonding and strong bridging. Without strong within-group bonding, group members will lack the level of commitment required for serious struggles. But without strong beyond-group bridging, the group will become too insular and isolated to be able to forge the broad alliances that are even more necessary for achieving big changes.

Good leaders have to perform an extraordinary balancing act between the conflicting imperatives of building a strong sense of identity within their groups and connecting with allies and potential allies beyond the group. This balancing act will be more and more critical as the occupy movement grows, as the core develops its own culture, and as our opponents attempt to drive wedges between the movement’s most active participants and the broader society.

#occupyWINNING: what I’m up to at Occupy Wall Street

The past ten days have been amazing. I took the train down to NYC last Wednesday, to see if I might lend a hand to the Wall Street occupation for a few days. There is so much going on. I don’t even know how many working groups there are, but today I heard that there are at least a few dozen. There are so many moving parts. I feel like a pebble in a volcanic eruption, and it’s a wonderful feeling.

Before coming down, I had talked with some friends here on the ground who I used to work with back during the global justice movement days (aka “antiglobalization movement”). They encouraged me to get involved with the press working group and the training working group. Sh!t hit the fan the day after I arrived with Bloomberg’s backhanded eviction attempt, and so I’ve been doing much more press work than training. The press work has mostly been helping to write and edit press releases, helping to prepare folks for interviews (to get their message out through the filters of the mainstream corporate media), helping reporters find the folks they want to interview, and I’ve done a handful of interviews myself too. Here’s one from NY Daily News:

http://player.ooyala.com/player.js?height=272&embedCode=Y0ZXV3MjpC57ZS_v9MKQK8oG1KYssYdQ&video_pcode=twZWQ6S37y9LvtgiLHQv56JeyH7s&width=485&deepLinkEmbedCode=Y0ZXV3MjpC57ZS_v9MKQK8oG1KYssYdQ

A longer print version of the interview can be read here.

I’ve decided to stay a while longer &#151 probably at least a few more weeks. I’m hoping to stay involved in the press working group, but to concentrate more of my time on training and leadership development. It’s amazing how many new folks are pouring into this social change effort right now. It’s hard on the ground to not to get caught up in almost continuous crisis/triage mode, but it’s so important that we seize this moment to help some of these great young folks become long-term leaders.

I’m trying to carve out a little time each day to write up or adapt a new one-pager covering a particular #occupy-related skill or strategy concept. Two days ago I set up a basic WordPress site called #occupyWINNING (@occupyWINNING on Twitter), which will house this project. I plan to format most of the materials into PDFs too, so that people can easily print and distribute at occupations if they find any of the tools useful. I’ll be cross-posting everything here too.

In addition to what I post at #occupyWINNING, I’m hoping to soon start collaborating with other trainers.

I’m excited and grateful to be here.

#OWS: Welcome Visitors & Plug In New Participants

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Three Tips for Plugging People In

Bringing in new participants and volunteers is essential to an occupation-or any group or organization-that wants to grow in size and capacity.  The momentum of the Occupy Wall Street movement has quickly attracted a lot of people to occupations across the United States and around the world. But attracting or recruiting new people to your occupation or group is only the first step.  Getting them to stick around is a much bigger challenge.

The good news is that there are tried-and-true methods you can use to plug new participants and volunteers into tasks and roles that will build their investment and leadership in the collective effort, and will increase what you all are capable of achieving together.

1. Greet and get to know newcomers.

When someone shows up at your occupation, march, rally, or action, they are indicating an interest. Greet them!  Find out about them!  And don’t just invite them to come to your next meeting.  Even the most welcoming and inclusive groups tend to develop their own meeting culture that can unintentionally make new folks feel like outsiders.  To increase your new participant retention rates, take a few minutes to stop and talk with new folks.  Get to know the person.  Find out about what attracted them to your effort.  You might ask about what kinds of tasks they enjoy doing, what they are good at, etc.  If that goes well, you might ask them how much time they have.  You can tell them more about what’s going on with the effort – and discuss with them what their involvement could look like.  While this level of orientation requires some time in the short-term, it saves you time in the long-term – because more people will plug into the work faster, and stick around longer. It may make sense a working group to take on the ongoing task of greeting, welcoming, and orienting new folks.

2. Accommodate multiple levels of participation.

In short, some people can give a lot of time, and some can give a little. Organizers with more time on their hands should avoid projecting their own availability as an expectation onto others. A foolproof way to drive new folks away from your occupation or group is to consistently ask them to give more time than they are able to give. Instead learn what kind of time commitment is realistic and sustainable for them. Help them plug into tasks and roles that suit their availability. Check in with them about how it’s going. Are they feeling overextended, or would they like to take on more? Take responsibility for helping new folks avoid over-commitment and burnout.

3. Make people feel valued and appreciated.

If you want to inspire people to stick with this burgeoning movement for the long haul, make them feel valued and appreciated. It’s basic. People like to be around people who respect them, and who are nice! If we want to compete with the myriad of often more appealing options for people’s free time, then we have to treat each other well and take care of each other. Notice and acknowledge new folks’ contributions, however small. Make time to check in with them outside of meetings. Ask their opinions often: What did they think about the meeting? the event? the action? Bounce your ideas off of them and ask for their feedback.

Occupy Tactic Star

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Occupation of a space is itself a tactic. It is an action intended to help us build momentum and to move us a step closer toward our goals. And it’s been wildly successful so far!

But an ongoing occupation of space is also more than a tactic. An occupation serves as a base camp from which we launch many different tactics. Right now occupation movement participants are deploying different actions and making complex tactical decisions every day.

Choosing or inventing a successful tactic typically involves some intuition and guesswork – and always risk. But the more we think critically about our particular contexts, the better we can become at judging how to act strategically. Projecting and measuring our success is complex, but we shouldn’t let the murkiness of these waters deter us from diving in. Patterns do emerge. We can learn a great deal from our experiences when we critically analyze them. This tactic star (see PDF) names some key factors that change agents can consider when determining tactics. The same tool can be used to evaluate actions together after they have been carried out.

Strategy: How will the tactic move us toward achieving our long-term and short-term goals?

Message: What message will the tactic communicate? How are our actions likely to be interpreted? How will we use the tactic to connect with people’s values? How will the tactic carry a persuasive story?

Tone: Will the action be solemn, jubilant, angry, or calm? Will the energy attract or repel the people we want to engage? How?

Timing: Can we leverage unfolding events and new developments as opportunities? What potentials does the political moment hold for us? How are our opponents vulnerable right now?

Audience: Who do we want to reach with our tactic? What response do we want our action to inspire in them?

Allies: How will the tactic affect our allies or potential allies? How will they receive it? Will it strengthen our relationship with allies or jeopardize it?

Resources: Is the action worth our limited time, energy and money? Can we get more out of it than we put in? Do we have the capacity to pull it off effectively?

Target: Do we want to influence particular decision-makers? Who? For what end? What message will the tactic send to those we’re targeting? Will it pressure them to capitulate to our goals, or will it enable them to dismiss us, retaliate, or turn public sentiment against us?

#OccupyWallStreet: Perfectly Coherent



General Assembly in Iowa City

Much has been made by some news outlets and pundits about the supposed “incoherence” of the Occupy Wall Street protests. “The protesters” don’t have a coherent message, we are told. They can’t even agree on any solutions. What the heck are they proposing?

This angle is wrong-headed. The strongest and most successful social movements in history have always tapped into multiple concerns that are important to different swaths of society, and often articulated in different ways. It’s not typically the responsibility of a broad movement to propose specific policy solutions &#151 at least not at this stage in the process. It’s on us to create pressure to move society in a direction. When we do that successfully, windows will open to fight for this or that specific change. The bigger a movement we grow, the more pressure we create, the more substantial and meaningful those windows for measurable gains become.

And historical perspective is not all that’s wrong with the “incoherence” frame. There’s a pretty damn clear coherence to Americans’ anger at Wall Street right now. If it doesn’t upset you that the top 1% is still making record-high profits and paying record-low taxes while the rest of us struggle just to survive, then I don’t know that I’ll be able to explain it to you. But I think most people feel it in their gut. That’s why us being here is resonating with so many people. That’s why this movement is drawing so much attention, and why I think it’s going to continue to gain momentum over time.

The momentum is really starting to spread beyond the “usual suspects”. It’s important to emphasize and encourage this. For example, while coastal occupation actions have drawn the most media attention so far, actions are also happening all across “Middle America”, from Ashland, Kentucky to Dallas, Texas to Ketchum, Idaho.

I just heard a first hand report about four hundred Iowans marching in Des Moines, Iowa today as part of the October 15 international day of action. I’m working on the press team here at Occupy Wall Street, and I just got the chance to talk on the phone with Judy Lonning a 69-year-old retired public school teacher who participated in the Des Moines action today. Here’s what she had to say:

People are suffering here in Iowa. Family farmers are struggling, students face mounting debt and fewer good jobs, and household incomes are plummeting. We’re not willing to keep suffering for Wall Street’s sins. People here are waking up and realizing that we can’t just go to the ballot box. We’re building a movement to make our leaders listen.

Cheers to that.

What a day at #OccupyWallStreet!



Hundreds participate in Occupy Wall Street General Assembly

What a morning! Mayor Bloomberg’s attempt to frame Occupy Wall Street participants as dirty and unsanitary and to use the slander as a ruse to evict us from Liberty Plaza failed miserably. Not only that, in classic political jujitsu, organizers used the ploy to catalyze even broader popular and political support.

With the threat of eviction, yesterday local and national organizations put out the call to come to Liberty Plaza this morning and to call the Mayor. By 6am this morning the crowd had swelled into the thousands. By 6:30am the Deputy Mayor had announced that the “cleanup” was off &#151 at least for today. And the prospect of trying something similar anytime soon probably doesn’t look very appealing either to Bloomberg or to Brookfield Office Properties, the owner of the park (the park’s usage is public). Brookfield’s involvement in the subprime market is starting to generate some attention since their decision to mess with the anti-Wall Street occupation.

This is the perfect build-up for tomorrow’s actions in NYC and the international day of action. This thing is really building, and who knows how far it will go. Time Magazine just conducted a poll that found “54 percent of Americans have a favorable impression of the protests, while just 23 percent have a negative impression.”

That’s certainly better than the Tea Party has ever performed.

I keep having these “wow this is really happening” moments. I took the train down to NYC on Wednesday morning and plugged into the press team here. I’ve been swamped with that and too busy to write much here, but I’ll be tweeting (follow me here) when I can, and I hope to write more soon. I’ll be here for at least the next week or so.