As groups of people become larger they tend to reach a critical mass where informal organizational methods become increasingly ineffective. They become more susceptible to frustration, disillusion, and disintegration through endless disputation, distraction, cooptation, manipulation, and subversion. Especially when wealth and power are at stake, undercover agents and provocateurs are to be expected, and they can operate most freely and effectively within a disorganized group.

Unfortunately, the remedy to the problem is often seen to be a highly centralized, top-down organization, typically controlled by people whose primary qualifications are their dominant personalities.

A remedy that best represents the goals of a democratic group is instead to form small sub-groups or "clusters" of a dozen-or-so members who appoint representatives on a rotating basis to an organizational committee. Such a committee can express their sub-groups' positions on issues and communicate group-wide ideas back to their sub-groups. The committee can create sub-committees for special purposes: organize actions, create agendas for group-wide meetings, deal effectively with the media, and monitor efforts to co-opt or subvert the group.

This is bottom-up organization. Sub-groups of about 12 people can have stable and intimate relationships rather than random interactions with the group as a whole. A small circle builds a sense of stability and solidarity among familiar faces. By delegating rotating members to the group's committee they can more effectively express their opinions, and can be better informed of other sub-groups' ideas. Undercover agents and provocateurs can be recognized and neutralized through sustained, small-group familiarity.

A general assembly can still be a worthwhile activity, but a committee of representatives can serve to develop an agenda and insure that it proceeds effectively with a clear focus. Sponteneous, ad hoc groups, spontaneous committees are fine too. OWS seems to be thriving with those. Specialized groups for purposes like police relations, press relations, new member orientation, etc. are needed in any case. But for sustained occupations, or long-term movements, bottom-up, democratic consolidation is powerful, extremely effective for intra-group communication, and essential in crises.

When there are so many sub-groups that the number of representatives become chaotic, another level can be added. A group that grows to 1200 might have 100 representatives to the coordinating committee. At some point groups of a dozen-or-so representatives might appoint representatives to a more central committee, each based on personal familiarity with their representative, and with ongoing direct contact. The mid-level groups can then serve as a reservoir for revolving membership in the core committee, for transmitting information and issues "up" and "down", for organizing and serving specialized tasks.

The government, the police, and economic interests are all well organized and focused. A formless group, especially a growing group, is a victim-in-waiting against those forces. The cracks may already be forming at OWS.

There's a real danger that the occupation movement might devolve into disillusion and a return to general apathy. This may be a once-in-a-generation opportunity. An effective, long-term occupation needs democratic, bottom-up organization!


Drew Peacock's picture
Drew Peacock 8 years 12 weeks ago

The simple solution to this is to reinstate the draft. Everyone would move to Canada. Free everything up there.

Vlperez's picture
Vlperez 8 years 12 weeks ago

Way too much acid

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