Thursday, October 27, 2011

Why No Leaders?

Reports about the Occupy Chicago protests and other occupations around the U.S. keep pointing out that there are no leaders of these groups. The reporters, with no leaders to talk to, have had to talk with several protesters each day in order to get a sense of what the protesters want. As a result, the reports have taken on a very different tone than what we usually see in political reporting, which is a quote from a leader on one side of an issue and a quote from a leader of a group that disagrees. Instead, we are getting quotes from a bunch of ordinary people. The quotes are not all polished, but they seem very authentic and sincere.

The stories that have been written about the Occupy protesters leave the reader thinking that the protesters are not all of one mind. It's really quite refreshing. People in any political movement are never all of one mind, but the usual reporting makes it look like they are.

I doubt that the Occupy protesters are consciously trying to alter the way they are covered in the news. I do think, however, that they see themselves as different, and they want the public to appreciate that difference. The Occupiers see themselves as being part of a popular uprising, not as followers of any particular leader or party. The protesters are, to a great extent, young. They believe in individuality, and in collective action, but they reject the political organizations that they see as having led us into our current difficulties. They not only do not trust leaders to represent them, they do not feel that leaders are necessary.

People who have been involved in other political efforts and reporters who have covered those efforts may think that the Occupiers are naïve and poorly organized. They probably are. But the way that the Occupiers are conducting themselves can also be viewed as profoundly uncomplicated. At the core of the Occupy movement is a desire for change in methods, not just in message. The Occupiers have seen, in the Obama presidency, the incompatibility between a message of change and a machinery that preserves the status quo. The Occupiers are getting their inspiration from protesters around the world who achieved their goals by working outside of the established power structure, and usually by toppling that structure.

The demands that the Occupiers are making don't sound very radical. But the image that the Occupiers have in their minds of how people can exert power is very different from the way that power is wielded right now. That image is what the reporters are having a hard time covering, because it is something they haven't seen in this country in a very long time.

1 comment:

  1. Occupy Springfield was beautifully organized. While I believe the event generally fit your description, there were people who were given assignments to make sure the march did not disrupt traffic and that no one disrupted the peaceful nature of the protest. The invitations were artfully done and respectfully distributed around town, not creating any sort of litter or nuisance. I think these folks are teaching everyone that you do not have to follow a party to be organized and that groups can be led through consensus and without the creation of a hierarchy where those at the top matter more than anyone else. I have been very impressed so far and in many ways more impressed with the Occupy movement than with more outwardly organized movements.