October 12, 2011
These excerpts were culled from Christian Science Monitor reports on the subject of the “leaderless movement” which has remained a constant since Occupy Wall Street protestors organized in New York.
But, say media and political pundits, efforts to locate the leader or leaders of this movement begs the ever more pressing questions: Does it have any? If it doesn’t will it fizzle? Who speaks for these vocal masses and do they have a unified voice? What are the strengths and weaknesses of the leaderless approach? What does “leadership” even mean in the social media era?
“The ‘Occupy Wall Street’ and related movements represent a resurgence of direct democracy – not really known since ancient times,” says Fordham University communications professor Paul Levinson, author of “New New Media. “The danger is always that such groups can degenerate into a mob. But the advantage is that their decisions can more truly represent the will of the people, and be more satisfying to the participants than decisions made by elected leaders.”
“The problem isn't leaderless-ness, but spokesperson-less-ness,” says University of Southern California sociologist Nina Eliasoph, who studies grassroots social movements.
She says there have been many leaderless movements in the past 30 years of American activism, and some have been successful and well-organized. “Leaderless’ doesn't mean ‘unorganized.’ It's the opposite,” Eliasoph says. “If a leaderless movement is going to survive, it has to be tightly organized, but just in a non-hierarchical way. There are pretty firm guidelines for running a leaderless organization. Leaderless-ness isn't the problem.”
Vince Schiavone, founder and CEO of ListenLogic, a firm that analyzes social media, says, “this is amorphous, without clear leadership, and this benefits its growth because it spreads virally, not from one central authority…. But it can also be negative as things start to get out of hand, because there is not one Martin Luther King, Jr. to call for calm or to rally troops behind one single response.”
There are two clear issues here. First, that the “leaderless-ness” of the group automatically makes it “spokesperson-less” as well. Not so. Andrew Young was right when he said the movement lacked organization and articulation, (just a few days after it came into existence). While the organizational aspects of this will fluctuate according to the needs of each local group, the articulation, the cumulative message is articulated, then aired or published, in one form or another every day.
The established media organizations have taken it upon themselves to help us define the movement. Fine. More reporting and commentary from those sources is taking place and will continue indefinitely. Not to worry. The “collective message” for example, can be found here and elsewhere in the form of comments to the posts. The General Assembly is primarily an organizational body. This site is dedicated to articulation (along with schedules and accounts of organizational issues).
All of the comments are considered part of the dialog that is necessary for this “articulation” evolution to occur. They are appreciated perhaps more than those that make them realize. Use this resource to participate in this dialog. Be specific. Don’t lambast the others or divert attention from the policy statements that people are trying to make. Tell us what you think, but try to use the English language for the purpose it was intended to the best of your ability.