In Micah Sifry’s piece #OccupyWallStreet: A Leaderfull Movement in a Leaderless Time he says: “…the Occupy Wall Street movement, like the Tea Party before it was captured and turned into a marketing vehicle for the Republican right, represents the flowering of something very deep about our networked age. It is personal democracy in action, where everyone plays a role in shaping the decisions that affect our lives.”
With the benefit of hindsight, I certainly hope Sifry was wrong. If Occupy truly is, as Sifry purports, a “very deep” manifestation of our networked age, then I’m really not all that hopeful about the power of technology. Where is the massive push to elect like-minded individuals to Congress? Where are the voter registration and education canvasses, alerting people about the mission of the Occupy movement and what they can do to battle the 1%?
Malcolm Gladwell, with almost eery precision, predicted Occupy’s pointless protests nearly a year before they occurred. The revolution will not be tweeted, he professed, nor will it be liked, +1′d, or tumbld. Rather, revolutions require the type of “strong-tie” connections like those that led to the lunch counter sit-ins in the south, not the weak ties that make up so-called “revolutions” today. Over 350,000 people like Occupy Wall Street on Facebook — what percentage of those do you think have ever donated money or attended an event?
The Occupy New Haven members I’ve spoken with have argued that their presence on the Green is itself a protest. But if it could be considered a protest, it’s certainly a far cry from most of the protests of old. Without a center leader, figurehead, organizing body, Occupy has found it impossible to settle on any agenda or tactic besides “Camp until change comes.”
As Massachusetts Representative Barney Frank (D-MA) told me last week, Occupy Wall Street lost any power it had once it decided not to make itself political. At the very least, he argued, occupiers should have been registering people to vote at all of their events.
But when you’re organized in a truly networked fashion, like Occupy is, it’s nearly impossible to accomplish anything. All of the best “networked” revolutions eventually elevate a few among themselves to leaders: protests against SOPA and PIPA would not have had the success they did without the support of Wikipedia and Google leaders, and even the Tea Party centralized to a degree. Networks, it seems, have the power to connect us. But getting things done, in the end, requires good ‘ol people power.