On leaderlessness and strategy: reflections on Occupy Wall Street

Deep Green Resistance believes strongly that for a social movement to be effective, it must have a strategy: a clear path to get from where we are now to where we want to be instead. Effective leadership is also necessary, and should be nurtured. Jo Freeman’s classic essay “The Tyranny of Structurelessness” addresses the folly of believing a group can or should operate without leaders; in the absence of a formal planned structure, informal and often undesirable bids for power will inevitably arise.

A new essay by Yotam Marom, sharing lessons from the Occupy Wall Street movement, confirms the importance both of strategy and of fostering good leadership. Marom attributes the collapse of OWS in large part to the deliberate tearing down of leaders and general in-fighting, And without a viable strategy, people in movements are at risk of losing focus on the goals, and instead get sucked into horizontal hostility:

We call each other out and push one another out of the movement, because we are desperate to cling to the little slivers of belonging we’ve found in the movement, and are full of scarcity — convinced that there isn’t enough of anything to go around (money, people, power, even love). We eat ourselves alive and attack our own leaders because we’ve been hurt and misled all our lives and can’t bear for it to happen again on our watch. We race to prove we are the least privileged, because this is the only way we can imagine being powerful. We turn our backs on people who don’t get it, because organizing them will not only be hard but also painful, because we will have to give up some of our victimhood to do it, because it will mean being vulnerable to the world we came to the movement to escape. Our ego battles are a natural product of a movement that doesn’t have a clear answer for how leadership is to be appreciated and held accountable at the same time. Our inability to celebrate small victories is a defense from having to believe that winning is even possible — a way to avoid the heartbreak of loss when it comes.

And perhaps most importantly: Our tendency to make enemies of each other is driven by a deep fear of the real enemy, a paralyzing hopelessness about our possibilities of winning. After all, whether we admit it or not, we spend quite a lot of our time not believing we can really win. And if we’re not going to win, we might as well just be awesome instead. If we’re not going to win, we’re better off creating spaces that suit our cultural and political tastes, building relationships that validate our non-conformist aesthetic, surrendering the struggle over the future in exchange for a small island over which we can reign.

DGR’s strength lies in our realistic plan, Decisive Ecological Warfare, to obtain ecological and social justice. We have a clear focus, a sense that we actually can win, and strong leaders to organize group efforts toward our shared goals. We invite you to join us, and we encourage all activists to proactively develop structures that make sense for their groups.

Read the entire essay by Yotam Marom: The inside story on what really caused the Occupy Wall Street movement to collapse

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