The Women's March and the Judean People's Front: After Occupy, after trumpism, a new networked politics

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Doubtless you’ve laughed at the ideological war between the Judean People’s Front and the People’s Front of Judea. I laughed along with you: having grown up in politics, I know firsthand about the enmities that fester between groups that should be allies – groups whose differences can only be parsed after months of study, but who are seemingly more at odds with one another than their obvious political opponents on the “other side” of the debate.


The problem is one of accretion.

The Tea Party originally was about cutting government spending (which I agree with). After a while, the silt of every other right-wing cause in the country started filling its intakes, to the point that it stood for everything and nothing.

Occupy originally was about punishing Wall Street crooks (which I agree with). After a while, the barnacles of every other left-wing cause in the country attached themselves to its hull, to the point that it stood for everything and nothing.

BLM originally was about getting rid of trigger happy cops (which I agree with). After a while, the dust of every other left-wing cause in the country started filling its air filter, to the point that increasingly it stands for everything and nothing.


Read Cory’s piece this morning after going to bed right after reading this last night… so much to think on, so much to do:


Yesterday as I marched in NYC I remembered marching in Madrid years ago in protest of the pro-austerity government. Those protests led to a huge political movement, new parties, a shift in the political discourse… but the pro-austerity party remains in power. Last June they won the elections. The erosion of rights in Spain keeps going. Marching, protesting, even organizing is sometimes not enough.


Accretion was one of the first patterns I noticed when I became politically active and it seems to be particularly common to leftist causes. (Though that might be a distortion, since I was involved with some of those causes.) It became irritating and exhausting quickly, which is why I ended up switching from ad-hoc grassroots to more established single-issue groups. I admit I felt like a less of an activist doing this but I just don’t have the patience for that primordial stage of grassroots politics.


“We’re almost there… but I feel there are other concerns we need to address.”

“Stay on target…”

“But we could bring more people on board by broadening our platform.”

“Stay on target…”


This is more or less what I came to say.

While the internet is great at connecting people on issues that they care about, that is only part of the coordination problem.

You often see splits and dissipation of energy because network politics can’t keep to a focussed package of proposals.

One of the functions of the traditional party or pressure group structure is to keep that focus on the main goal, and distributed politics doesn’t have that yet.

Therefore as time goes on, you get kitchen sink manifestos which have a high probability of containing something truly crazy that alienates a large chunk of potential supporters. Which leads directly to splits and irrelevance.

What we need to develop on the internet is a mechanism to prevent social movements from falling into the hands of those who shout loudest and keep the focus on the main goal. Otherwise, if you want to imagine the future of online politics, imagine tumblr and 4chan stomping on civilised discourse, forever.


Of course focus on the mission is important. But eventually you’re going to need to build coalitions because the number of people really enthused about, for example, ending factory farms is not high. Traditionally it’s been hard to form these coalitions in part because organizations believe they are competing for a finite number of volunteers-- a sort of activist mercantilism. So they try to broaden the goal of their own organization to bring everyone inside and reduce those transaction costs like Cory is saying. That dilutes the message. Now, though, we have ways to increase the number of volunteers through these network methods that lower those costs, so we may get some more effective coalitions in which individual causes can still keep their coherence.


I guess if nothing else, in the old days of paper publishing, activists couldn’t keep on altering their message as it would invalidate those big piles of mimeographed pamphlets in the cellar.


Cory - You’re mis-remembering the Philippines’ People Power revolution, which toppled Ferdinand Marcos’s corrupt regime in 1986, not 2001 as you report, and definitely without social media-led crowd coordination.
I suspect you’re thinking of the 2001 coup that ousted former Philippines President Joesph Estrada.


Perhaps the problem is one of factual representation.

The Tea Party was about effectively using astro-turf organizing to pressure the GOP into adopting a more hard-right stance, and cutting government regulations and taxes for the ultra-wealthy persons who funded the Tea Party.

Occupy was about demonstrating that Wall Street greed causes a myriad of issues that affect us all. It

BlackLivesMatter is about demonstrating that Black Lives Matter. It’s not just a few trigger happy cops that’s the problem and I think you know that.


Whoops! Right you are – thank you!


Being single-issue actually makes me feel more like an activist. After the election, I decided I would hunker down and hoard my energy for my clients (low-income mentally ill folks). But now I’ve joined up with an organization that focuses on state-level single-issue policy by helping people organize into precinct-level groups. They send us phone scripts and tell us which of the super-subtle bill variants we’re agitating for, and I just have to commit to maybe one five minute phone call a week. As a result, I feel a little less like I’m screaming uselessly into the night and may actually be able to dedicate more energy to it. I’ve thrown my hat in the ring somewhat arbitrarily for climate change, which does mean I’m probably not going to be making phone calls for say, LGBT rights, but I can find other, less energy-intense ways to support those causes.


The problem is leadership, which the Women’s march has. That’s how you form the largest protest to date.

The TEA Party was slapped together by extremist views, and when they started being called on violence and racism the leaders responded by basically saying “we don’t want to control how people feel,” and suddenly conservative media stars started to squeeze any penny they could out of the people and push Republican candidates that were universally more authoritarian and further to right. One of the most active figures gritting people out of their money was Donald Trump who just became President on an extreme version of the TEA Party’s agenda - the movement literally never died, and it’s face was never Teddy Cruz as much as he tried to claim it.

Occupy Wall Street became and impromptu flat organization of loosely associated protesters around the globe with economic centric grievances. It was never clear what it was or any goal it had - the defining scene was the champagne drinking assholes on a balcony because the only defined thing was the 1% sucks. That never went away, it got absorbed by lots of different organized groups (political or otherwise) and the nomenclature of the movement still stands. There would be no Bernie in the primary without Occupy Wall Street, and it was more successful in Asia.

Black Loves Matter was torpedoed by the extreme conservatism that spawned from the TEA Party’s grassroots for daring to accuse police officers of racial biases.


BLM proved its relevance almost out of the gate when right-whingers (deliberate typo) accused its messengers of ‘reverse racism’.


FYI, the number of protesters just in Washington DC yesterday exceeded the total number of people currently serving in the US Army worldwide.

It exceeded the number of soldiers in the largest battle of the US civil war by a factor of at least 3.


Propaganda of that sort is really below the level of this environment.


You are far too kind.

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Which got further muddled by AnCaps who successfully coopted the message and tried to make it about deregulation and whatever Ron Paul bullshit they wanted to spew.

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