THE 99 PERCENTERS: Steps Toward Success
by B. Channing Hillway, Ph.D.
Copyright 2012 by Bayard Channing Hillway, Ph.D.
Occupy Wall Street began as a spontaneous expression of concern and outrage. Occupiers came together from all parts of the nation. Their actions led to the formation of the OWS movement. It has been the most exciting political action in a great while.
Much has been learned since the movements of the 1960s and ‘70s. Those movements, emerging to full force in 1968, may be seen as the grandparents OWS. Occupy Wall Street has been smarter and more well organized. It has been effective in bringing national attention to core issues facing the nation. It created the icon, “The 99 percent.” That’s about it.
Here’s the deal. If what has gone before in OWS is to count for something, there has to be more. There has to be a lot more. That’s what this message is about.
My present activism is as a writer. I have served as a labor negotiator, walked the picket lines on strike, served as political campaign communication manager, have done my share of doorbelling, served on state-level boards and commissions, volunteered for nonprofits, written grants, and I have served as an organizational development trainer.
Organizational development training is what is needed now. Getting to the point, how can individuals and organizations be most effective? How can OWS, specifically, continue to count for something? That must be clarified in order for past actions to have any meaning whatsoever.
Writing is my contribution, and training when appropriate. Pardon me if I put a few things forward as absolutes. I’m much older than most of you. There’s no use playing games with what are just the plain hard facts about some aspects of organizational life. We can take a lesson from Egypt.
The Lesson of Egypt
The lesson of Egypt is that a group of people cannot come together for a large public demonstration – even if it lasts for weeks or even months – and then expect other people to do all of the work.
Yes, you read that correctly. An inspired group of people cannot make their voices heard, appeal to “the powers that be” to take some new direction and, then, expect that it will all happen.
It won’t. It didn’t for the progressives in Egypt. It didn’t for Occupy Wall Street. Both groups of sincere progressives seem to have had no idea what it takes to develop a movement with genuine growth potential.
Most idealists have not paid their dues. They have not put in the long hours needed to make any serious progress toward social or political change. They often seem to feel that if they can only have the chance to be heard, that everyone will listen to reason and join the movement.
The problem is that the people causing the problem are not attentive idealists hoping someone will appeal to them and tell them what to do. They are people with vested interests who are quite determined to resist change. They have a lot more money and are well organized. They can usually hire people to engage in tactics undermining any organized movement seeking to change things. They may be able to influence the police. Politicians and the military are often on their side. There is no use addressing appeals to such people. They are in it for the long haul. They are in it to win.
Egypt has its own occupy movement. A group of activists, better educated than the average Egyptian, inspired a lot of people to occupy Tahrir Square. All kinds of nasty things happened as the Mubarak regime cracked down in a brutal manner. The activists paid a heavy price. Suddenly, they seemed to have been successful in bringing down the regime.
But the subsequent election seems to have been a major disappointment. The activists paid in blood for the election. But none of their preferred leaders survived the primary. They were stuck with a top leader from the Mubarak regime running against a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood. The progressive voice seems to have been lost and the activists who were out front leading the revolution see themselves as victims. They went back to the Square, trying to revive their revolution. But their special moment in the sun seems to be over.
The Egyptian progressives in Tahrir Square were cheated. They did it to themselves.
They felt that, if they made a loud noise, the powers that be – which turned out to have been the military – would pay attention and make some big changes. They appealed to the military to step aside, to give up the role they had played for decades. That was it. Listen and you can hear the undercurrent of the demonstration. “Okay, now, you big military guys. Please just step aside and let the folks here the Square take charge.”
The same undercurrent revererated from OWS. “Okay, you guys and gals in the big buildings on Wall Street. You know that you have been naughty. We want you to admit it, change your ways, and it will be good for the nation.”
What has changed because of all of that? What has changed because of the days in the parks and in the streets?
The awareness of a great many Americans has changed, but not anything close to a majority. A national movement didn’t mushroom out of the demonstrations. Being presented with the truth, a majority of the American people didn’t rise up in anger and transfer all of their money out of the big banks and into their local credit unions.
The progressives in Tahrir Square were actually more successful. People in Egypt are still engaged in a general discussion.
Some Basic Ideas
Every successful organization has a managed structure. There must be people in charge and people serving in central leadership roles. The elimination of management is not an option. The key to success is to choose the correct management structure that pulls together everyone to serve on the team in a manner they feel is liberating and satisfying.
I served for a number of years training classroom teachers. Some beginning classroom teachers were highly enamored of the idea that the classroom should, as they saw it, be a democratic environment where students have freedom and can make their own decisions. Yet, the teacher is responsible for student learning. Teachers who had been my students have told me, years later, “It took me seven years to realize that the classroom cannot function as a democracy.” Which is true.
I told them that during their training. But people sometimes have to find out for themselves. When the teacher is not in charge, students will assert themselves to fill the vacuum. Students numbering 22 in a classroom will have three or more potential leaders who will try to gain influence over others. Classes in some high schools number over 50! The result will be chaos, bullying, and no learning will take place. Structure in the classroom is required, managed by the teacher. If managed well, students may have the sense of having freedom and the ability to make their own decisions. The same is true for all successful organizations. They may have a democratic decision making process, but management must take charge to make it all work.
It is a delusion to believe that millionaires and billionaires have the right to leadership roles in the nation due to their status. It is more accurate to see them as efficient robots blind to anything for which they are not programmed. They are programmed to seek domination over the competition, unlimited growth, consuming of more and more resources to produce more and more products and/or services, and to see any person, place or thing they believe to be hampering their activities as an enemy to be overcome or eliminated. (There are some more altruistic exceptions.)
The self-made entrepreneur millionaire – or billionaire – is not necessarily the smartest person in the room. Some, in fact, seem to be quite clueless on things outside of their business obsession. What they do have is a single-minded commitment to their goal to build a successful business or, that done, to steadily increase profits. They have, in other words, imperialistic tendencies. They choose their alliances carefully, fully aware of the competition, often taking the attitude that anyone is either for or against the success of the business. “You’re either for this business, or against it,” may not be uttered, but is the silent mantra of a significant number of successful business owners who became the target of OWS activism.
Outsiders become either friends or enemies. The EPA, for such a person, is the enemy and must be eliminated. Regulations over the financial institutions and large corporations are seen as the enemy and must be eliminated. Anything that gets in the way of the success of the business is labeled as the enemy and is marked for elimination. Such business owners develop tunnel vision and become deaf of appeals to halt pollution that is killing people, to stop financial practices that are destroying people’s lives and the national economy, and any other vital issue that will interfere with their profit margin. They feel entitled because they have put their hearts and souls into the business and will not – will not – allow anyone or anything to interfere with their continued accumulation of wealth. The rise of the OWS movement is a response to such totally unacceptable behavior.
The teacher’s unavoidable need to structure and manage the classroom is just one convenient example illustrating that there must be a managed structure in any organization. OWS laid down a set of rules that were followed effectively, especially in New York, resulting in a self-organizing society in extremely close quarters. It was possible due to the education and/or prior experiences of the participants. Occasionally it was necessary to eject individuals lacking the requisite education, experience and/or commitment and who were not able to participate in the self-regulating society.
The example of the millionaire or billionaire business owner, with single-minded commitment to the business, is a description of how people, making an honest effort to advance themselves and their businesses, can end up as sociopaths, or even psychopaths, corrupting everything. They may lose the ability to see things in an even-handed and realistic way. At that point, they will in no way change one iota of their behavior because of OWS activists in the street. Instead, they will intensify their efforts to prostitute members of Congress to do their bidding. They are out to win, like the coach of the Lakers or the Red Sox, and they want nothing getting in their way. Direct appeals to them will not work, just as appeals to the Egyptian military did nothing to change its behavior, even after Mubarak was in prison.
Structured Management, Recruitment and Public Empowerment Can Win the Day
If Occupy Wall Street is to advance, a well-developed management structure, with strong leadership, is a vitally necessary element for success in the future. Without it, there is no future for OWS.
Mind you, it will be a flat, networked structure, not the pyramidal power structure of corporations. Leaders will be at multiple points of overlapping concentric circles of participation, with a central circle with unhampered inputs and outputs and persistent adjustments and adaptations.
The OWS assemblage is not quite a structured organization. Some founders of OWS will cringe at the notion of a well-developed management structure. Those should bear in mind that there are some wonderful, highly structured organizations in our nation that encourage the openness, sharing, and self-managing functions prized in OWS.
Taking OWS to the next step calls for adopting a proven tactic that will leave participants feeling validated and empowered while also allowing the strongest ideas to rise to the top to guide next steps. It will also allow for the identification of capable leaders who will move to the management center, and who have the talents needed to represent the organization to the general population.
One my mentors in print, W. Edwards Deming, and his colleagues revolutionized Japanese industrial management following World War II. One of the structures that they used is the Quality Circle. A rule of seven can be employed. Here is how it works:
Seven people meet in a circle. There may be seven such groups in a room. Less than seven can work, so long as it’s an odd number. They are given these instructions (for example):
“Individually and then in your groups, identify up to seven most important issues we need to address, up to seven opposing forces to be overcome in effectively addressing the issues, and up to seven tactics we might use to overcome those forces.” Each of the lists is taken in turn, and the process completed prior to going to the next list. “Most important issues” would be the first list to be considered.
Each person, acting individually, writes a list of up to seven issues to be addressed. Not everyone has the full seven on each list, which is okay.
Each person shares in turn, with the others not interrupting, and the seven issues identified by each are listed on easel paper, without discussion, until all are listed. Some people will have identified the same issues so there will usually never the maximum possible. All must be listed. Being listed on the easel paper is essential to validate every person’s contribution. Next, participants prioritize the list by, acting individually, selecting their top seven issues from the master list and writing them. Some people will list differently than on their original list. Then a new master list is prepared on a new easel paper, and the list is usually shorter. Next, there is a timed discussion and, then, open voting to identify the top seven issues. Each person gets to vote for only three. The top seven are included in a final list for the group. The list, which at the outset could have been many critical issues, has been reduced to a list of seven. Such a process of brainstorming and elimination is important because only the highest priority issues can be given the attention and resources for effective management.
Will some participants find that none of their original issues are on the final list of the top seven? Yes, some will. There may be some frustration, but they will have an idea of the motivations of their fellow participants. Also, if seven groups of seven are engaged in the process in the same room, when the seven groups each send their representative to sit in a central group and produce the final list for the entire assembly, some of the discarded ideas in one group may be favored by another group. Typically, only one or two issues will prove contentious. If only nine people show up for the meeting, the process may be carried out with three groups of three. Each group must have an odd number of people.
The same process is followed for the forces to be overcome and the tactics to overcome those forces. It will take some time. There will be debates in each group regarding prioritization, which necessitates time limits or the process will never end. A good time limit for each step is seven minutes at the outset, then reduced down to three minutes as people learn what to do.
Engaging in the process means that participants will get to know each other better. The personality characteristics of leadership will be recognized in some members, while others will prefer a non-leadership role. The group will see who has emerged in other groups and become familiar with them.
Over time, certain participants will be identified as leaders to represent the lists in the central group of seven in the room, then meeting with other central groups of seven from around the city, the county, the state and the nation. Note that there is no single individual who emerges at each level in, for example, a room. Rather a group of seven emerges at the local, city, county, state and national level. Groups must actually meet face to face, spend some time with each other, and get to know each other. Later, some work may be done on the Internet.
Note that this plan calls for local meetings, everywhere in the nation, focusing on local issues, including issues of national importance discussed in terms of local considerations. Everyone, on the other hand, should be networked to be aware of, and engaged with what is happening elsewhere.
The people who emerge as leaders should not be individuals advancing themselves and being pushy, attempting to convince others to choose them as leaders. Those are narcissistic leaders who are to be avoided. We might as well choose leaders from some of the corporations that are the focus of OWS demonstrations.
The natural leaders will be those who are the most trusted by other members of the group. They will be the ones who validate the concerns and feelings of other group members. They will be, therefore, the best ones to represent the feelings and concerns of other group members to more central groups representing larger numbers of participants.
There is no choice other than to establish an issues platform, identify the leadership team, and seek to identify symbolic satisfactions and survivals of the general public, appeal to those, and lead the populace to support the key issues identified in the groups of seven.
The error of the Egyptian progressives appears to have been that their determination to be fair and inclusive of each other resulted in their failure to articulate their key issues to the general population, and their failure to unify in support of one candidate who would carry their banner in the election. All of their candidates were defeated. OWS appears to the public to be in disarray, apparently, suffering the same fate as the Egyptian progressives.
The 99 Percenters are stepping forward.
The one brilliant icon that emerged from the OWS movement was branding “the 99 Percent.” It spells out the two sides, the one percent of obscenely wealthy multi-billionaires who see themselves as kings, and everyone else who have been their victims for decades. The true depth of multi-billionaires’ manipulations of consumerism and engaging in war profiteering is coming into the spotlight as more books are carefully researched, written and published.
A national platform of issues must emerge from the 99 Percent in a manner such as the one I have outlined, above. A leadership group of seven, at each level, must search and promote a list of most viable candidates, at the various levels of political office, that the 99 Percent would choose to support in elections. This must be done. There is no choice if the 99 Percent is to mature into the successful political force that I, personally, believe is its destiny.
The 99 Percenters meetings become the blueprint for recruiting the public.
Key to the entire process is engaging the broad range of American publics in the discussion, giving them a voice in a similar manner, and then soliciting their support for the respective candidates. The 99 Percent cannot succeed unless it becomes a populist cause where average Americans sense they are included and represented in a manner they can trust.
Members of the general public should be invited to participate. A low-key approach can work, and various groups can meet separately, such as at a table at a coffee shop. Invite people by explaining something like, “I’m working with the 99 Percent. We have made some progress. But we need to know what the American people really think. We need to know what are their needs and feelings about local and national issues. I will be leading a discussion group so we can find out what some people think who live right around here. I would appreciate it if you could participate.” The conversation may progress so that you can explain that there will be ground rules to insure that everyone’s views are shared and so it will not turn into a big argument.
Use care. We are inviting people to participate who would like to participate. Some who show no interest at the first invitation may decide to participate later. Keep asking people. Remember that every “No” is bringing you closer to “Yes.” Also, be on the lookout for those who understand this approach and will show up to disrupt the process. Start with people you know and build your network.
We will be working to establish trust among participants. Trust is the key element, Americans learning to trust one another more than they trust or are awed by the political system and its players. If we are not building trust in a whole new process, neighborhood by neighborhood, city by city, state by state, we will end up with nothing. Trust is the key to everything else.
Such meetings, described above, led by at least two 99 Percenters, will be held in homes, community centers, churches, and wherever they are welcome. People will be invited to participate “so that we can appreciate our neighbors concerns and feelings about what’s going on in America.” Getting the first meeting will be difficult. Those attending one meeting may be willing to sponsor a meeting elsewhere. The focus will be the same, the list of issues, the forces to be overcome, and the tactics to be employed. The best tactic will be for individuals attending each meeting to agree to sponsor another meeting, with new people so that the experience of the meeting can be shared with more people.
An extremely important rule for the meeting is that no names of politicians or political activities may be named. That means the elimination of all the usual icons. Icons are symbols that elicit emotions. That means they introduce bias into the discussion, which we need to avoid.
People may be concerned about healthcare. That must be discussed using generic terms. If icons are condensation symbols that “condense” emotions within people, referent symbols are those with little or no emotional impact. We want to restrict the discussion to the use of referent symbols to remove strong emotions and bias from the discussion. Where healthcare is listed as one of the top seven issues, then factors that are opposed to what people want must also be stated in non-emotional terms. The inability of Congress to make decisions would be acceptable, but any mention of the political parties or “Obamacare” would not be acceptable.
Those conducting the meetings must have patience. A meeting scheduled for one hour may expand to three hours. Participants may move from the polite, guarded level of sharing to a more open and self-disclosing level, genuinely sharing with each other their true feelings that are based less on what they have seen in the mass media and more on what they actually feel as a person living in the local community. That’s the starting point we are seeking.
Yes, I said starting point.
Demonstrations play an important role in raising awareness and inspiring potential participants. Demonstrations alone, regardless of the conflicts with police, arrests and some injuries, are not the hard work necessary for moving the nation forward. They raise awareness. They inspire. But the yeoman labor is done, over time, in neighborhoods. Carpooling, getting on the buses and trains to travel to a demonstration can be exhilarating experience. Living in the encampment can result in a satisfying sense of standing for something and making a statement to a national audience. They serve a “raising the flag” function. They are inspiration points. Then the hard work begins in neighborhoods, cities and towns, states, and across the nation.
We will dealing in our participants’ survivals and satisfactions. Everyone has an unconscious list of satisfactions and survivals. The survivals are basic, including, for example, food, shelter, intimate relationships, social status, and sleep. Satisfactions are sometimes mixed with survivals. Some point to music as essential for survival. Satisfactions are what make people happy and give them a sense that everything is okay on a level above just surviving.
Effective leadership addresses both survivals and satisfactions in a manner that reassures the populace that the leaders can be trusted. The greater citizenry may not actually be engaged in the decision-making process, but they must sense that their concerns are addressed. Our local meetings, all over the nation, are a way for us to demonstrate that we are truly listening and seeking to fully understand the survivals and satisfactions of all who choose to participate. We want the project to snowball so that people all over the nation are listening more to each other, and honestly discussing the issues with more energy than they are listening to political advertising and commentaries in the mass media.
Some may complain that following the plan I have proposed would result in the 99 Percent becoming another political party, which certainly could be true. It would be a party developed over time, on a solid foundation, and not something thrown together at the last minute as we have seen in the past. If the party should eventually fall prey to corruption, then, as Jefferson noted, the process would have to start all over again. The process never ends. It will never be final. The work must go on. Best, then, to be sure our children are schooled in the principles of political activism so that they, when necessary, can pick up the torch to maintain national focus on new reforms as they become necessary.
As the 99 Percent moves to the forefront in the manner I have described, there will be those seeking to avoid anything that will result in structured management and central leadership in OWS. I must say to them that I am very sorry, but there really is no choice. They must either work for a well-developed management and central leadership network structure or witness disintegration as the present organization fades into oblivion.
Sometimes there is no choice. Those who don’t understand the rules of the game, or who fail to follow them, are unlikely to succeed. So, let’s embrace the rules and get on with the process.
B. Channing Hillway, Ph.D., is a registered Democrat, dissatisfied, but pragmatically supporting the party likely to do the least damage to the nation. He describes himself as a social democrat interested in making capitalism work as a competitive system instead of the present monopolistic system. A recent important reading is The Spirit Level http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1608193411/ref=pd_lpo_k2_dp_sr_1?pf_rd_... , well documented, showing the happiest people on the planet live in social democracies, mainly in Northern Europe and the Scandinavian nations where there is the least spread between the wealthy and everyone else.
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