I just found the piece posted below. It's by Jonathan Askin and it was published in the Huffington Post in November. I hate it because of the way it attempts to de-politicize the movement, that is, to extract the movement's political content and then insert the movement back into communicative capitalism. By extracting the political content, Askin misses the fundamental point: if the movement were basically a start-up, why didn't it just start-up? That can only be explained in light of its politics.
Pundits broadly criticize the Occupy Wall Street movement for its lack of coherent messaging. These observers do not understand digital startups, which are designed to reinvent themselves or "pivot" quickly in order to meet the needs of their users. Pivot or die is the mantra of the startup venture. The startup is always in perpetual "beta" -- a work in progress with a readily mutable business plan.
In order to build a modern, sustainable social movement, the Occupy Wall Street movement must function like an innovative startup venture and learn to pivot, to distribute control and to evolve substantively, while sustaining its core theme. And, contrary to its framing by the mainstream media, there is an underlying theme at the heart of this multi-issued Venn diagram of the Occupy Wall Street Movement -- government must answer to its citizens not its corporations.
The substantive issues of concern to the Occupy Wall Street subgroups -- from the environment to health care to race relations to economic justice -- are, at best, secondary and should evolve according to the consensus of the people. Like an online platform built for public discourse, the content of the forum is not as important as building the functional platform. Occupy Wall Street is providing a platform -- a user-friendly forum -- in which we may engage in civic discourse, and develop the processes and policies that might govern a modern democracy. The content and substantive issues are transitory, but the platform and process reform issues are sustainable.
The paragraph above is deeply confused--what is user friendly about occupation? It's physically demanding on the occupiers. And, it doesn't scale. I would say that the author has completely inverted what matters--treating what is transient as permanent.
As far as I can see, Occupy Wall Street is creating a functional, distributed platform upon which we all might answer the most daunting, intractable questions of our times, and I've participated in virtually every American-born political or social movement since I was born -- first as a "red diaper baby" on my parents' backs during the civil rights protests of the '60s, as a young environmentalist and peace activist in grade school, as an anti-apartheid, South Africa divesture activist in college, as a Lawyers' Guild mass defender during the Presidential Convention protests of the 90s and '00s, as a member of the Obama tech policy committee in 2008 (during which time we pioneered the use of social media to build a national, user-generated, grassroots campaign), and now as a tech law professor amidst the first digitally-powered, grassroots civic movement.
We are witnessing the birth of a new, sustainable, non-hierarchical, pivotable movement, run by a new generation, with digital tools, capabilities, processes and flexibilities that the analog world -- and its old, corporate and political, guard -- cannot yet process. The digital generation, coming of age with the PC and the Internet, understands how to harness digital technology, the Internet, and information flow to make government answerable to the people. They have already harnessed these tools to transform every other industry, service, system and community ... except civics. They, however, have seen their contemporary counterparts in the Middle East harness these tools for even more dramatic civic transformation.
Askin writes as if all the technology around us were created by the 20-somethings, that it has nothing to do with corporations, and that the impact of communications technologies has been democratic. He ignores the increase in inequality from the last 30 years, the rise in unemployment and precarity, the 'winner-take-all' dynamics that have been ushered in. Government answerable to the people? Really? That has not happened--it's been the opposite. In fact, government has become less and less answerable (the book, Winner-Take-All Politics is excellent on this in a mainstream kind of way). Distributed media has distributed responsibility and personalized participation.
We've seen the Internet and digital natives flatten hierarchies, empower participants, disintermediate existing industry structures and processes. All they've had to do is pose the question "What if" to any industry, service or issue before them. The old guard's response has been "Yeah, but ...." The digital generation's response is always "Why not?" These digital natives have already transformed media, television, film, music, and telephony. Civics will not be exempt.
Where are hierarchies flattened? It's the opposite--the 80/20 rule (power-law distributions in complex networks) have meant that there is more hierarchy. It's amazing how this entire piece is "new economy" bullshit--no evidence just wide-eyed claims of transformation. If the 20 and 30 something tech whiz kids have actually flattened hierarchies and empowered participants, then why is there an OWS movement against capitalism? Why is there high unemployment and high debt? Maybe the transformations our bright-eyed author is going on about have actually benefitted the 1%.
We, however, have seen the degeneration of noble causes co-opted and compromised by egos and entrenched interests reframing the message to wage tangential battles at the expense of the root mission. We saw it most recently with the Tea Party movement, which arguably started as an assault on what members of the Tea Party viewed as government's warped economic priorities and now has been largely co-opted by "coherent" special interests like the Christian Right.
Substantive issues aside, there is much that would unite the root mission of the Tea Party with that of Occupy Wall Street and their overlapping goal -- to create a modern, functional democracy, answerable to the citizens. If we allow the digital natives to build the platform for civic engagement, then we, the people from across the political spectrum, may populate that platform with our ideas and let the power of the online collaborative marketplace digest, synthesize, evaluate and prioritize the merits of our individual and collective ideas.
The putting of substance aside is CAPITALISM. CAPITALISM is the problem. That's why he says the word marketplace. This is the worst sort of co-optation of the movement.
I stand in awe of what the digital startups have done to every industry. I stand in awe as these digital pioneers turn their attention and powers to politics and civic engagement. With that "What if" and "Why not" attitude, they then disrupt and transform and, ultimately, make whatever they touch more functional and responsive to users. The "What If" Generation (or the "Why Not Generation" if you prefer) has the tools and the vision to reimagine our democracy, and to give us the platform to make government more responsive to its people.
Digital start ups--really? The ones that went belly-up in the dot.com crash? The one's that became Facebook and Google that now own our souls? The ones that work their employees to the bone or the ones that rely on unpaid labor or the ones with working conditions so bad that employees jump out the windows and kill themselves? Responsive and functional? Really? That's a joke. Which industry is responsive? Not computer companies--Dell has outsourced and distributed everything so that I never speak to someone who actually works for Dell when there is a problem--instead, I get various offices all over the world. Tech consultants on one continent. A battery of local repair people nearby --and no one knows the other or can say why or what another was doing. The same is true with mortgages--local banks issue them, then sell them, then those are packaged and resold and even foreclosures are undertaken by yet another company so that people who are foreclosed upon find themselves entangled in a distributed mess that protects the banks most of all.