I attended a general assembly at Occupy Boston on Thursday night and I got to see, as the slogan goes, “what democracy looks like.” A week earlier I’d attended the initial planning session and thought the group was laughably over-organized. There were subcommittees, a series of hand gestures, and a complicated procedure for calling on speakers and making decisions. At thursday’s meeting the reason for all that process became clear: it’s really, really hard to get passionate individuals to stay on topic.
We spent an hour discussing (arguing would be too strong a word) whether to add a specific general idea to a list of ideas that will be considered for inclusion on a document in the future. That overstates things a little: a lot of the discussion was clarifying whether or not the specific topic would be announced right away, or if it would be held back until the whole document was done. The worry was that by announcing this single topic, the media would assume this was the primary concern for the group. This was an important discussion to have, and I think everyone was happy with the decision that was reached.
But it’s easy to see how, based on the rules of process, it will be hard to come to an agreement on actual details. Right now anyone can veto a proposal, and as the vague amorphous anger becomes more specific someone is going to be annoyed with the result. As an example, either the Paul-ies are going to be mad that Ending the Fed isn’t a major priority, or a non-Paul-y (like me) is going to be mad that Ending the Fed is a major priority. As long as a decision hasn’t been made, every protester assumes that the group agrees with him or herself.
The Boston protest is still in its early stages, and the facilitators running the meetings are still getting a hang of the complicated process. I think they need to have a stronger hand and make sure the process is going ahead as it’s been defined. Then, as the rest of the people learn the rules it will get easier to stay on topic. There are always going to be idiots who offer a “friendly amendment” as an excuse to inject whatever personal pet issue they are obsessed with, but they’ll just be like the annoying radio show caller that gets shut down quickly.
The support for the movement is growing daily, with unions, (more unions), ice cream manufacturers, and general folk of all stripes joining up. And with a high degree of tolerance coming from the Boston Police, I think Occupy Boston will have the time they need to mature.
Or take the digg comments when Steve Jobs took X+200$ from people for an iphone, then gave them 100$ back so they can spend it at the Apple store. Commenters were falling over themselves praising Apple for doing the right thing, even though customers have still spent X+200$ at Apple, and the only thing Apple loses is the equivalent of a few months iphone subscription revenue. My response: “Thank you sir may I have another!”
Similarly, I often describe buying a Mac as a deal with the devil. You get the best-available computing experience money can buy, but you’ll have to put up with Steven P. Jobs’ odd whims — some of which cost money18-month 129$ charges for OS upgrades, plus money for simple utilities that should be free, others of which just make you mad“Why do I have to buy the expensive laptop to get it in black?”, some of which screw you over“you mean this device that worked with my ipod two days ago doesn’t work now because it doesn’t have a chip from apple?”.
But I think the most apt analogy for Apple and its users is the abusive relationship. Apple will slap you around and beat you up, but it’ll always come back with a bouquet of flowers and promise that this time things’ll be different.
In the recent much-linked interview with Michael Moore, Moore mentions that he can’t imagine what pharmaceutical company will be sponsoring the next commercial. Blitzer responds:
In fairness we’ve got a lot of commercials for Sicko that we’ve been running on CNN as well, so, uh, we have commercials. This is a business, obviously.
That struck me as an odd argument. I was expecting something more along the lines of “at CNN we have strict separation between our ad sales division and our news division, so the commercials we run have no impact on the stories we cover.” But he didn’t say anything like that. Is Blitzer tacitly acknowledging that CNN changes its news based on who the sponsors are?