Archive for the ‘Socialism’ Category

The ISO: Where the Personal Becomes Political

May 31, 2015

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Lately, I have been thinking about an incident that happened when I was a member of the Los Angeles ISO branch in the late 1990’s. I think it illustrates a problem that far left groups sometimes run into.

One Saturday afternoon I received a phone call from a woman who was a member of the branch committee. She told me there was going to be an emergency branch meeting that evening and everyone was required to attend. When I asked her what this emergency was, she refused to tell me. This greatly annoyed me, because I had already made plans for the evening. However, being the “Leninist” that I thought I was, I felt obligated to go.

The meeting was held in the apartment of one of the branch members. There were about ten of us. There weren’t enough chairs, so some people sat on the floor. It turned out that the “emergency” consisted of this: two people (one of whom was the woman who called me on the phone) had been assigned the task of designing a flier for an upcoming event. One of them, the woman who called me on the phone, had gone ahead and made the flier and distributed it without consulting the other person. When this person complained to another branch committee member about this, he responded by calling her a “Menshevik”. (I’m not making this up. People in the ISO actually say things like this.)

So, this was the “emergency” that had caused me to cancel my plans. What struck me was how incredibly seriously everyone took this. (Everyone with the exception of me, that is.) A branch committee member read passages from Lenin and from James Cannon. He then lectured us about what a “cadre” is. (I swear, I’m not making any of this up.) He then claimed that there was a faction within the branch. (In the ISO, factions are considered to be very bad things.) I don’t remember much else about what was said. My mind had pretty much tuned out at this point.

When I drove home that night, I felt angry with myself for having allowed these people to waste my time with such nonsense. I was tempted to quit the ISO. But I didn’t. (The woman who was called a “Menshevik” left the ISO shortly afterwards.) I think this was because I liked the ISO’s politics, even though I didn’t always agree with what they did in practice. And I didn’t know of any other groups that had quite these same politics.

The point I’m trying to get at here is that one of the pitfalls of working in a small group is that people tend to develop strong personal ties to one another in this situation. A disagreement over a flier becomes an “emergency” that threatens to tear the group apart. It seems to me that the best way to try to avoid this sort of thing is to try to organize on as broad a basis as possible. I admit that’s not an easy thing to do, especially considering the deep divisions that exist on the Left at the moment. But I don’t see any other way to move forward.

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Secrecy, the ISO, and the Left, Part 2

February 26, 2014

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By now, most people on the Left have heard about the sexual assault allegation against a member of the International Socialist Organization (ISO). It is discussed in the ISO’s Internal Bulletin #19, which can be found on the Internet. What’s interesting about this is that this document was originally meant to be read by ISO members only. It appears that a disgruntled ISO member gave a bunch of the ISO’s internal documents to Ross Wolfe, who posted them on his blog, The Charnel House. This greatly angered many ISO members, even though there is nothing in these documents that is embarrassing or damaging to the ISO. Some of them said very insulting things about Wolfe. I find this inexplicable.

By now, most people on the Left have heard about the sexual assault allegation against a member of the International Socialist Organization (ISO). It is discussed in the ISO’s Internal Bulletin #19, which can be found on the Internet. What’s interesting about this is that this document was originally meant to be read by ISO members only. It appears that a disgruntled ISO member gave a bunch of the ISO’s internal documents to Ross Wolfe, who posted them on his blog, The Charnel House. This greatly angered many ISO members, even though there is nothing in these documents that is embarrassing or damaging to the ISO. Some of them said very insulting things about Wolfe. I find this inexplicable.

As I explained in my previous post, secrecy can be justified in some situations. However, most of what’s in these documents could just as well have in Socialist Worker. There is a danger in making a fetish out of secrecy. I remember when I was in the ISO, I would sometimes meet people who were hostile to our group because they saw us as secretive. As I said before, when you keep secrets, people assume you have something to hide. (Consider all the wild conspiracy theories that have circulated around the Freemasons, who are really just a glorified stag drinking club.) The ISO might consider having more openness.

Russell Brand and Jeremy Paxman

October 27, 2013

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I finally got around to watching that video of the Jeremy Paxman interview with Russel Brand that has caused so much comment on the Internet. Although I’m not a fan of Russell Brand (I find him annoying), I have to say that I found this interview refreshing. You would never hear anyone say these sorts of things on American TV. Here in the U.S., we seem to get an endless parade of washed-up rock singers, over-the-hill movie actors, and former Saturday Night Live cast members all stupidly babbling about how Obama is a “socialist”. Whatever his faults may be, Brand at least pays attention to what’s going on in the world.

Jeremy Paxman starts out by making the idiotic “if you don’t vote, you can’t talk about politics” argument, and then goes to the inane “you can change the world by voting” argument. These are things that I’ve heard American liberals say. These are just ways of evading discussion of how seriously screwed up our world is. Brand is at least willing to acknowledge this, even if his arguments are sometimes confused.

The ISO and the Future of the US Left

October 4, 2013

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I was a member of the International Socialist Organization (ISO) for many years. When I left, it was because of health problems I was having, not because of any disagreements I had with the group. However, the recent crisis in Britain’s Socialist Workers Party (which the ISO models itself after) has caused me to have second thoughts about the viability of democratic centralism as an organizing principle. This is a question I am still grappling with.

Up until now, all of the critiques of the ISO that I have read have been either ill-informed or downright dishonest. However, a recent article on the To the Victor Go the Toils website is a refreshing change. Although I don’t entirely agree with the article’s arguments, the author, a former ISO member, makes some shrewd observations about how the group operates. This article should be read not just by people interested in the ISO, but by people who are trying to come to grips with the question of how the Left should organize in the current political climate.

Victor Toils says that the ISO places a heavy emphasis on recruitment, which jibes with my own experience with the group. The argument that was made to me by “cadre” members was that the ISO needed to have many members to accomplish its goal. And what is its goal? Victor Toils succinctly explains it:

    The goal of the ISO is to create a vanguard party. That is, a mass organization of the most militant members of the working-class, the best and most consistent fighters who know how to build workplace resistance and mass struggles but also have their eye on the larger goal of societal transformation.

    Nonetheless, the ISO does not claim to be a vanguard party, not simply because of its size but because the vanguard of the working-class does not yet exist. It will be created, they say, not by the ISO, but by the working-class itself, which will throw up leaders as class struggle increases. The goal, then, is to have an organization sufficiently large, experienced, sophisticated and rooted in the working-class in order to help shape and organize the vanguard as it is created and launch a vanguard party in the future.

If the goal of the ISO is not to become the vanguard party, but rather to influence the creation of such a party, does it really need to have a large number of members? Relatively small groups of people can sometimes have a surprisingly large amount of influence during political struggles. The Workers World Party, which is much smaller than the ISO, has (unfortunately) exerted a remarkable amount of influence in the various anti-war movements that have come and gone over the years. Even the shriveled up Communist Party has sometimes been able to exert influence in certain struggles. (Again, with unfortunate results.)

The real reason for the ISO’s need for heavy recruitment is its high turnover rate in members. I know about this from personal experience, as well as from conversations with other ISO members. During the time I was in the Los Angeles branch, it underwent an almost 100% turnover in members. There are probably a number of reasons for this. Some people eventually decide that they don’t really agree with the ISO’s politics. Others strongly disagree with a particular position the ISO has taken. Others decide that they simply don’t like having to sell the newspaper. Another reason, though, may be what Victor Toils calls the “Big Bang Theory”:

    …at some point the American working-class would explode as it did in 1934–with three mass strike in three different cities, all led by radicals–and then newly-radicalized workers would flood the organization, especially since the Stalinists were no longer an alternative. Therefore, it was necessary to urgently build and recruit and grow to meet this future challenge.

This strikes a nerve with me. When I joined the ISO in the mid-1990’s, it had a perspective that said there would soon be a huge upsurge in working class struggle. To help prepare its members for this, the leadership urged them to read Teamster Rebellion, Farrell Dobbs’s account of the 1934 Minneapolis General Strikes. (I have heard many people speak highly of this book, but I must confess that Dobbs’s turgid prose defeated me. I was unable to get more than halfway through it.)

The leadership was so impressed by this book, that they adopted the dubious “buddy system” that Dobbs describes in it. In this system, party members are divided up into groups of two. Each of these couples are required to spend a certain amount of time each week discussing Marxist theory with each other. The “cadre” assigned to me as a buddy was a person who, they said, was an experienced member who could answer all my questions about the ISO’s politics. My “buddy” turned out to be a painfully shy little man who seemed to have to force himself to look me in the eye. We met in a Manhattan coffee shop. (I joined the ISO when I was living in New York.) I found that getting him to discuss ideas of socialist politics was like pulling teeth. I remember this as one of the most awkward and uncomfortable experiences of my life. A week after this meeting, the guy quit the ISO. To my relief, I was never assigned another buddy. For months afterwards, though, I would always feel a vague sense of alarm whenever I heard someone utter the words “buddy system”.

The successful UPS strike of 1997 seemed to confirm the ISO’s perspective. However, it was not followed by an upsurge in labor struggle. Instead, Ron Carey, the leader of the strike, was railroaded out of the union on trumped up corruption charges and replaced with the genuinely corrupt Jimmy Hoffa, Jr. Even so, the ISO carried out paper sales outside UPS hubs around the country. In the Los Angeles branch, which I was then in, we managed to recruit a UPS driver after months of selling papers. It turned out, however, that what he really wanted was to shack up with one of our female members, which he succeeded in doing. The two of them then quit the ISO. The UPS paper sales were eventually discontinued because members were finding them demoralizing.

The Battle in Seattle and later the Occupy movement both raised similar hopes that were similarly dashed. The expectation of the Big Bang can lead to disappointment and in some cases demoralization. (An interesting question here is why the Big Bang hasn’t come. That is something I will have to take up at another time.)

Victor Toils also comments:

    The same leading member who renounced “The Big Bang Theory” has also praised the ISO’s work around the death penalty, in which individual members have built up real relationships with family members of death row inmates. This slow, patient work actually built up networks and relationships with working-class Blacks and Latinos who are fighting around real political issues dear to their lives. And yet, year after year, this work is deprioritized. Why? Because it is so much easier to recruit college students.

This jibes with my own observations. The Los Angeles branch was able to build strong alliances in the black community in that city because of its anti-death penalty work. It’s worth asking if that type of organizing is more valuable in the long run than recruiting college students.

Victor Toils also argues that the ISO’s “bigger and broader” approach to movement building sometimes results in it siding with liberals against radicals. This is true, but it is not necessarily a bad thing. It depends on the particular circumstances and the particular arguments made by the contending parties. There are self-styled “radicals” out there who have some dubious ideas (conspiracy theories, support for dictators, etc). Just because someone calls himself a radical doesn’t automatically mean that he is right about every issue.

This article has caused a good deal of discussion both inside and outside the ISO. Debate and discussion are always healthy things, despite what some may say.

Letter from a Young Radical

May 24, 2013

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Bhaskar Sunkara

Bhaskar Sunkara, the young editor of Jacobin magazine, has an article in The Nation entitled Letter to ‘The Nation’ From a Young Radical. He begins by making a critique of liberalism that is both non-dogmatic and non-sectarian. He writes:

    Liberalism’s original sin lies in its lack of a dynamic theory of power. Much of its discourse is still fixated on an eighteenth-century Enlightenment fantasy of the “Republic of Letters,” which paints politics as a salon discussion between polite people with competing ideas. The best program, when well argued by the wise and well-intentioned, is assumed to prevail in the end. Political action is disconnected, in this worldview, from the bloody entanglement of interests and passions that mark our lived existence.

Liberals see politics as a conflict of ideas, when it is actually a conflict of class interests. This misapprehension leads liberals to view the Democratic Party as their party, when it is actually a party representing corporate interests. Most of them have lined up behind President Obama, who is not a liberal, not even on social issues. (Consider the frantic efforts of Obama’s justice department to prevent the Morning After Pill from being sold over the counter.) In effect, liberals are in an impossible position politically.

Sunkara is more optimistic about the situation of radicals, despite the defeat of the Occupy movement, citing the emergence of new radical thinkers and journals, but he believes that radicals need to reach out beyond their narrow circles. He writes:

    Which is to say that the left needs a plan—a plan that must incorporate more moderate allies. American radicalism has had a complex and at times contradictory association with liberalism. At the peak of the socialist movement, leftists fed off liberal victories. Radicals, in turn, have added coherence and punch to every key liberal struggle and advance of the past century. Such a mutually beneficial alliance could be in the works again. The first step is to smash the existing liberal coalition and rebuild it on a radically different basis.

Sunkara cites the recent struggles against school closures in Chicago and in Philadelphia as an example of an issue on which radicals and liberals can work together.

I think that Sunkara’s arguments are worth consideration and discussion. It certainly doesn’t appear that anyone else on the Left has any better ideas at the moment. The “red-brown” strategy favored by websites such as Counterpunch and Dissident Voice is obviously a dead end. Kasama Project is trying to revive Maoism – as if a peasant rebellion were a real possibility in this country. And the ISO’s particular brand of Trotskyism appears to have only limited appeal. We need to find a way for the Left to move forward.

Some Thoughts on the Crisis in the British SWP

January 15, 2013

I’ve been following the discussions on the crisis in the Socialist Workers Party of Britain on the threads at Lenin’s Tomb and at The North Star. I’m reminded of the fact that this not the first time that a “democratic centralist” organization has imploded. In the 1980’s, this happened to both the American SWP and the British WRP. These implosions happened for different reasons, which suggests to me that these types of organizations are inherently fragile. Building up a layer of cadre who are financially dependent on the organization perhaps creates a structure that does not stand up to internal stress. There is also a problem, I think, in trying to build and maintain an organization with revolutionary politics during a non-revolutionary period. The promise of revolution underlies the group’s activities, but when year after year goes by without the promise being fulfilled, it can be dispiriting for some people and can perhaps create an inward-looking mentality among others. I am curious as to what other people think about this.

The Legend of Bhagat Singh

January 13, 2013

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After reading my review of The Baader Meinhof Complex, a friend of mine recommended that I watch the 2002 Indian film, The Legend of Bhagat Singh, which also touches upon the question of what tactics should be used in the struggle against injustice. Although Bhagat Singh (1907-1931) is little known in the U.S., he is famous in India for his role in the Indian independence movement. He rejected Gandhi’s notion of non-violent resistance. He was a founding member of the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association, which sought to organize a mass uprising against the British. When the Indian writer, Lala Lajpat Rai, died after being beaten by the police, Singh and his comrades killed a British police officer in revenge. Later, they threw bombs in the Indian National Assembly, with the intent of getting themselves arrested. Singh hoped that his speeches at the trial would inspire the Indian people to rise up against their colonizers. His trial received considerable attention, and for a time he became as popular as Gandhi. However, this did not stop the British from executing him.

This film shows Gandhi in an unflattering light. It accuses him of dropping his demand that the Viceroy commute Singh’s death sentence so that he could get a political pact with the British granting limited rights to Indians. Given all the adulation given to Gandhi in both India and the West, it’s interesting to see a film that portrays him in a negative manner. In effect, it accuses him of being willing to sacrifice principle in order to get an agreement with the British.

The director, Rajkumar Santoshi, paints the story of Singh’s life in broad strokes. He doesn’t spend much time on character development. Singh (Ajay Devgan) appears fearless and wise almost from the time of his birth. And in true Bollywood fashion, there are musical numbers. Singh sings. He sings (twice) while he is on a hunger strike, and he sings while he is going to his execution. The Legend of Bhagat Singh emphasizes Singh’s advocacy of Hindu-Muslim reconciliation. (Singh came from a Sikh family, but he became an atheist at an early age.) Santoshi clearly wanted to remind his fellow Indians of Singh’s politics, which are more relevant than ever with the sectarian violence that has sometimes taken place in that country in recent years. No doubt Santoshi thought that following the conventions of Bollywood would give the film more appeal, although I’m told that it actually did not do well at the box office. In all honesty, I could have done without the singing, but I found this a compelling film nonetheless.

Two Films by Eisenstein : Battleship Potemkin and October

July 26, 2012

Sergei Eisenstein’s 1925 film, Battleship Potemkin, is loosely based on an actual incident in Russia’s 1905 revolution. The crew members of the Potemkin, which took part in the recent Russo-Japanese war, are given rotten meat to eat by their officers. When the captain finds out about this, he threatens the crew with severe punishments. He has a group of sailors rounded up, and he announces that they will executed as an example. A squadron of marines raise their rifles, but the sailors persuade them not to shoot. The sailors overpower the officers and throw them overboard, but one officer manages to shoot and kill Vakulinchuk (Aleksandr Antonov), the leader of the mutiny. The sailors take his body to the nearby port of Odessa, where it is put on public display with a sign reading “Killed for a bowl of soup.” The townspeople support the sailors, with the exception of a small group of men who shout, “Kill the Jews!”, but they are shouted down. Soldiers show up and open fire on the townspeople, killing many of them. The sailors of the Potemkin retaliate by opening fire on the soldiers.

The sailors learn that a naval squadron is coming to help the soldiers. They get together to decide what they should do. There are strong disagreements. (Some things never change.) They eventually decide to sail to meet the squadron. They will try to persuade the other sailors to join them. If that fails, they will almost certainly die, since they are outnumbered. They go to meet the squadron. They signal to the other ships, but they get no response. They load their guns and get ready to fire, but just then they receive a signal that the other ships will join them. The sailors rejoice.

Eisenstein clearly meant Battleship Potemkin to be propaganda. During the scene when the sailors are about to be shot, for example, we see numerous close-up shots of officers grinning ear to ear in eager anticipation of what is about to happen. And yet this film somehow manages to be something more than that. The massacre seen on the Odessa steps is extremely powerful to watch. It is impossible not to be moved by it. Eisenstein used this scene to test his theories about the use of montage in film. (The massacre did not happen in real life. Nor was it in the script. Eisenstein and the cast and crew improvised it on the spot.) Battleship Potemkin manages to be not just propaganda, but art as well.

Eisenstein’s 1928 film, October, is a commemoration of the tenth anniversary of the Russian Revolution of 1917. (It is also known as Ten Days That Shook the World, although it is not actually based on John Reed’s book.) The film is shot in a documentary style. (I remember seeing it on TV as a child. I thought I was watching actual film footage of the Russian Revolution.) Many of the people we see actually took part in the revolution, and the scenes were shot in places where the fighting took place. Despite these efforts at authenticity, this film is basically propaganda. During the Kornilov coup, for example, we see Kerensky hiding underneath pillows. We also see Bolshevik soldiers smashing bottles in the Tsar’s wine cellar. According to Victor Serge, the soldiers drank the wine and got stinking drunk.

The storming of the Winter Palace is fun to watch, but it doesn’t have the same emotional power as the massacre scene in Battleship Potemkin. Also, Eisenstein used this film to test out a type of montage he called “intellectual montage”, in which a series of unrelated images are shown to illustrate an idea. We are shown a Russian Orthodox priest, and then a series of images of Buddhist, Hindu, Chinese, and Aztec sculptures. This is meant to be an attack on religion, but it doesn’t succeed, unless you think there is something inherently objectionable about sculpture.

Before this film was released, Eisenstein was forced to cut out a number of scenes that had Trotsky in them. Trotsky had just been expelled from the Communist Party. The irony here is that in commemorating the revolution, October marks the beginning of the counterrevolution.

Some Thoughts on the Occupy Movement

July 8, 2012

At CounterPunch, Alexander Cockburn has an article about the Occupy movement. Although Cockburn makes some valid criticisms, I think he is too dismissive of the movement as a whole. He writes, “People have written complicated pieces trying to prove it’s not over, but if ever I saw a dead movement, it is surely Occupy.” In fact there are still Occupy groups all over the country, and many of them still hold regular meetings. It is true, however, that the movement doesn’t have as strong a presence as it did last winter. It’s possible, I think, that the movement might be in better shape if some things had been done differently.

In hindsight, I think it was a mistake not to put forward clear demands. The argument that I often heard for not doing so was that demands would lead to disagreements, which would lead to divisions. Yet disagreements and divisions happened anyway. Political clarity was sacrificed in order to attain an impossible ideal of group harmony. The greatest division, it seems to me, was, and is, between those who favor Black Bloc tactics and those who advocate Gandhian non-violent resistance. These two approaches are, in fact, mutually exclusive. This can not be covered up by platitudes about “diversity of tactics”. Some tactics are incompatible with others.

I suspect that this exaggerated fear of division is what drives the insistence upon a consensus approach to decision-making. The argument was that consensus, although time-consuming, will bring everyone into harmonious agreement. Yet some people became dissatisfied and left anyway, as would have happened under simple majority rule. So, what has been gained by having consensus? Nothing that I can see.

Then there is the pretense of “leaderlessness”. The truth is that some people become unofficial leaders, either because they are very good at making arguments, or because they possess specialized skills that are useful to the movement, or because they are simply both willing and able to devote an enormous amount of time and energy to the cause. Wouldn’t it make sense to acknowledge this and make these people directly accountable to the entire group?

Cockburn makes one point that strikes me as particularly salient. He writes:

    Where was the knowledge of, let along [sic] the respect for the past? We had the non-violent resistors [sic] of the Forties organising against the war with enormous courage. The Fifties saw leftists took [sic] McCarthyism full on the chin. With the Sixties we were making efforts at revolutionary organisation and resistance.
 
Yet when one [sic] raised this history with someone from Occupy, I encountered total indifference.

Typographical errors aside, what Cockburn says here is true of much of the U.S. left. How many American leftists have even heard of A.J. Muste? Or the Dodge Revolutionary Union Movement? Or C.L.R. James? (Although you can always find an anarchist who is willing to talk your arm off about Kronstadt.) On left-wing British websites you can find informed discussions about such topics as the Battle of Cable Street, the 1926 General Strike, or Trotsky’s conception of the united front. We have nothing quite like this here in this country. There is little effort among the U.S. left to learn from the successes and failures of the past. It’s as though we must continually re-invent the wheel. What’s more, this historical amnesia makes us vulnerable to all kinds of dishonesty, as when, in Capitalism: A Love Story, Michale Moore reminds us of the 1936 Flint sit-down strike – only to make the false claim that F.D.R. sent in National Guard troops to defend the strikers from the police. In fact, they were sent there to intimidate the strikers.

These are just some thoughts I have had about the Occupy movement and about the U.S. left in general. I would be interested to hear what other people have to say about these topics.

Occupy Eugene

October 9, 2011

Earlier this evening I went to an organizing meeting for Occupy Eugene. I did not know what to expect. I initially did not plan to stay long because I have a bad cold. However, I found it so interesting that I ended up staying the full three hours.

About 150 people showed up, which is a very large turnout for Eugene. They were mostly young people, although there were some older people as well. Some faces were familiar, but there were a lot of people I couldn’t recall seeing before.

The meeting began with someone reading the declaration by Occupy Wall Street. Then someone proposed that we should use a consensus approach to making decisions. I wasn’t keen on this idea, since consensus can be an unwieldy and time-consuming method. Someone from the floor pointed out that Occupy Wall Street uses a 90% consensus approach, which is also used by Occupy Portland. During the discussion, I initially thought that I should argue for a simple majority vote approach. It quickly became clear, however, that there wasn’t any sentiment for that position. So when it was my turn to step up to the microphone, I argued instead for modified consensus. I pointed out that this approach has worked well for Occupy Wall Street, and it is being used by our comrades in Portland. We should learn from the experiences of other groups. This argument seemed to get a good reception. Several other people, however, suggested that we should first try a full consensus approach, and if this didn’t work out well, then we should go to a modified consensus. This argument carried the day.

A woman got up and taught us hand signals that the Portland group has been using. These included a signal to let a speaker know that he or she is going on too long. Very useful.

There was then a fifteen minute breakout for committee meetings. Everyone was encouraged to join one or more committees. These were: Community Outreach, who are concerned with building support in the community and raising money. Communications, concerned with making flyers and posters, writing press releases, and spreading the word through the Internet. Sexy Sanitation, concerned with doing clean-up after events. Morale, concerned with developing chants and other methods of raising spirits. Legal & Research, concerned with legal matters and with researching what has worked for other occupy groups. Medical, concerned with the health and safety of occupiers. Facilitative, concerned with facilitating meetings and events. There were also some sub-committees. Engineering, for example, would be concerned with making structures for people camping out at the occupations. I joined Communications, which seemed logical, since I know graphic design. After the breakout, each committee reported on what it had decided. Morale, for example, reported that they had decided to build a Wall Street Bull piñata.

We then took a vote on whether on not to get legal permits, which other occupy groups don’t do. A woman expressed concern that people on probation might be reluctant to come if there were no permits. Another woman who was a lawyer pointed out that the police are required to warn people to leave before they can arrest them. It was voted not to get permits. There was a discussion about photographs. It was agreed that if someone asked not to be photographed, the person with the camera should respect that. There was also a discussion about whether we should issue demands before or after the first occupation. The debate went back and forth. It was decided to table the vote until the next meeting.

I was impressed by the high level of discussion and the lack of rancor. It helped a lot that there were no sectarian groups jockeying for position. (This was often a problem at activist meetings I attended when I lived in Los Angeles.) Since this was Eugene, I was afraid there would be some people there who would be, to put it politely, strange. Fortunately, it appeared that only one such person had bothered to beam down. He was an old guy who had a U.S. flag draped over his front and a Soviet flag draped over his back. (Was he nostalgic for the Cold War? Was he intellectually conflicted? Or did he forget to do his laundry?) He went up to the microphone and started talking about Nietzsche. He got a chilly reception.

I am excited about this new movement.