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In light of the chaotic and exhausting, but eerily fascinating, “General Assembly” (or “GA”) meeting on November 14, I decided to attend the next GA, on November 18, which was touted as the GA that would determine the fate of “Occupy Harvard.”  I think it lived up to that billing, though probably not in the way its key organizers intended.  It’s pretty clear that “Occupy Harvard” will never get its act together, so this was probably the last GA I’ll be taking the time to attend.

Important to this Friday night GA was the back story.  Two days earlier, many of the Big Labor activists, and their allies, who played a key role in setting up the encampment and staffing it, and who had pushed for a labor-focused mission statement at the November 14 GA (see here), had a pre-meeting meeting which apparently lasted for several hours. Reportedly about 40 people attended, and all but two agreed that the upcoming GA should approve two measures:  (1) a date certain for ending the encampment should be set (either shortly before or shortly after Thanksgiving); and (2) some sort of noteworthy event should be scheduled to coincide with decampment, such as declaring victory and having a big party, and holding a march, or moving some tents over to the business school to occupy it for a day, or something similar.

The basic impulse behind this proposal was that the Big Labor activists who have been the driving force behind the encampment were getting burned out, that they’d achieved their key aim of helping the Harvard custodians win an acceptable new contract, and so all things considered it seemed best to end the occupation on their own terms by declaring victory, having a party, and leaving Harvard Yard.  Indeed, as I noted in a comment back on November 13 (here), apparently this was the plan of the Big Labor activists from close to the beginning of the occupation.

As in the November 14 meeting, a determined majority, led by the Big Labor activists, insisted on the two measures.  Twice a majority voted for them.  But a determined minority thwarted this plan.  Its members, who comprise what I’ve termed the “social utopian” bloc, led by Kavi, who was particularly outspoken, explained that they hadn’t joined the movement to advance the short-term interests of Big Labor, or to make particular demands, but instead to occupy Harvard for the sake of occupying Harvard, and thereby calling attention to a variety of issues (just which ones they didn’t seem particularly focused on specifying).  As before, when the Big Labor activists did not get their way, they did not abide by the consensus process but instead made threats and ultimatums.  These proved fruitless.  Eventually several of the Big Labor activists walked out of the meeting, quitting the movement.

Before he left, one of the Big Labor activists, Jesse (who, borrowing one of his frequent expressions, I call the “Do Stuff Guy”) expressed what turns out to be the governing philosophy of “Occupy Harvard”:  governance by anarchy.  He didn’t see any point in further debate or voting on the direction of the movement.  He suggested that people should just do what they want to do, camp if they want to camp, demonstrate if they want to demonstrate, etc., and on this — perhaps because everyone was so exhausted by the marathon debate, which was obviously fruitless — he was received with widespread expressions of support.  However, some people responded with what I regarded as an excellent point:  that given the immense strain of trying to occupy the site during cold weather and the limited base of support the movement currently has, such an undisciplined, anarchic approach would inevitably mean that the encampment will fizzle out without any definite decision to end the encampment, and without the occupation ending on the movement’s own terms, so that ultimately it would be viewed as a failure.

This is just a very brief summary of what occurred at the meeting.  For a detailed — probably too-detailed — rehash of the meeting, you can read my complete and heavily polished-up notes here.  It strikes me that “Occupy Harvard” will in the not-too-near future end in failure. If so, these notes on the November 18 GA may in the future be a useful resource in the examination of why the movement failed.

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One Response to “More on the “Occupy Harvard” power struggle”

  1. Space Occupants » Blog Archive » #OccupyFail: “Occupy Harvard” Left Vacant — This is What Anarchy Looks Like says:

    […] November 18 “General Assembly” meeting (previously summarized here) was even more chaotic.  By the end it descended into anarchy, setting the stage for the […]

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