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Thursday, October 13, 2011

Occupy Wall Street And The History Of Leaderless Movements

Occupy Wall Street protesters march around One Chase Manhattan Plaza on Wednesday. (AP)

Occupy Wall Street protesters march around One Chase Manhattan Plaza on Wednesday. (AP)

What started as a New York-based cry for economic justice has spread to 60 cities around the country, and is popping up around the world.

And yet, as critics point out, it’s not easy to pin-point what those participating in Occupy Wall Street and its sister protests are asking for.

Fordham University sociology professor and activist Heather Gautney says Occupy Wall Street is one of many leaderless movements in history. She explains how it works: they’re based on general assemblies and spokescouncils, and even though meetings take forever, there’s an integrity to it.


  • Heather Gautney, Fordham University sociology professor

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  • Jimsmith7011

    I support Occupy Wall Street! It’s time for American to express their oppion about all the money Companies have made with our bail out money but yet they have fired or decreased the salaries of their employees!

  • Kosta Demos

    I support Occupy Boston.  I am not an anarchist.  I am a financially secure, fifty year old small business owner who knows that the few anarchists in our midst are Americans too, whose first ammendment rights are as deserving of respect and protection as my own.

  • J Frog

    I’m for people getting involved.  I’m still not sure what OWS’s solutions are yet.  As far being “leader less”?  Reuter’s speculates:


    “Soros, 81, is No. 7 on the Forbes 400 list with a fortune of $22 billion, which has ballooned in recent years as he deftly responded to financial market turmoil.”….in other words, he’s cashed in on financial disasters.  He makes money on turmoil.

  • Anonymous

    Vote with your dollars, if you don’t like the business practices of a particular organization then don’t use their services, or the services of organizations related to/doing business with them.  Capitalism works if you let it.  But instead people use the wrong tools to fix the problem.  I hope that cities around the globe kick out these gimme generation persons.

  • Mattlove1

    Still the wine and brie crowd can’t resist trying to trivialize the
    movement, giggling like a school girl over how they vote – though
    quickly adding (with just a hint of condescension) that “it works.” 
    There are so many absurd things the decider class does, but they are
    always treated with gravity. With Obama and the rest of the deciders
    have pushed through more “free trade” (translated, that’s “more money
    for the rich, less jobs for the rest of us”) even as they pretend to
    have some sympathy for our plights, the movement will have to expand and
    get more militant. Laugh while you can, and maintain the fiction that
    this ISN’T about opposing autocratic leaders.  The Egyptians show they
    understand that, every time they order a pizza for the protesters!

  • Dan Scarl

    I support the Occupy movements.  Capitalism mihgt work if it ran with no government suppoorts, international companies or cartels, as ADam Smith said it shuld be.   That’s never happened in this country,   WHat we have is becoming just a plutocracy, rule by a group of the rich — who now are mostly corporations. That is not a part of democracy; peaceful public demonstrations are.  

    • Anonymous

      What makes you think this gocountry was ever a democracy, we are now and have been since our inception a republic(representative government).  The democratic part of a republic is the ability to elect your representatives.  So again get government out of the bedroom and out of the boardroom, I agree businesses should not be given an unfair advantage within the US free market, but they shouldn’t be handcuffed either.  If you would like to end the supposed plutacracy then VOTE AGAINST the major parties. 

      Point two, there is no definition of republic, or democracy for that matter that defines peaceful demonstrations as a requirement or even a part of their definitions.  That is a right as given by the constitution, so while it is their right to do so, maybe taking the time to get a job would be a better way of spending your time.

      A little about me, computer programmer (not wealthy by any means) but in the past 3 years I have moved positions twice, in Michigan, for better pay each time.  If you have skills and work ethic to offer companies will fall over themselves to put you on the payroll.

      • The times they are a changing

        I imagine all the people who invested in Wall Street (and Bernie Madoff)  had marketable skills and work ethic too otherwise they wouldn’t have had the money to invest. The people who worked for Enron ( I have a friend who lost her retirement after working for 25 years for PGE a subsidiary) had marketable skills and a work ethic. My husband has worked his entire life and has marketable skills but his job was outsourced to Asia. The money we invested for retirement (remember SS isn’t going to cut it for retirement) took a dump and at 62 years old with a chronic health problem was looking for work again just for the health insurance and the hope that our 401k rebounds to pre 2008 level.  

        Good for you. You have a marketable skill and a work ethic. Too bad you are missing the important human quality of compassion.

  • Anonymous

    Why not consider passing an Amendment that clearly states that human voters are the primary beneficiaries of the Constitution and its Amendments.  It would open up so much potential reform if legal entities were not seen as equal to actual humans as citizens. Think of how Citizens United would have been decided in such a case, for example.

    If you agree, sign the petition at this link: http://signon.org/sign/citizens-amendment-to

  • Eric

    OWS  must move into the political arena. Backing a presidential candidate is not enough that  will not create change . We need people running locally, On the state level and for Congress

  • Anonymous

    I am listening now and have to wonder what is keeping the media from addressing the real problem and the foundation of the problem, our broken election system. We are forced to vote on easily hacked and manipulated with malware electronic voting and/or vote counting machines.
    Please take a look at Occupy Elections;  https://www.facebook.com/groups/123218561114298/

    Look at the document there, the information posted under the member list. You will find a list of sources for information about the lack of election integrity in the USA. Politicians are not held accountable and do not have to answer to citizens because of the broken election system. We must take back how we vote so that our voices are heard. You in Boston have an excellent resource in The Center For Hand Counted Paper Ballots. I’d also recommend BradBlog as Brad recently had an article about how all electronic voting/vote counting  machines can be easily hacked.

  • Teanorth

    I am 65 in MI , a widow and  very close to foreclosure. I have 5 yrs on my mortgage and asked the bank – to  just lower the payments by adding 5 yeras to my loan.Keep the same  amount the same rate just extend it 5 yeras. NO the bank say no.  Yet they got helped out bailed out. However they  never sat down -all those highly educated idoits – but they will not try to help  find a solution. ??? Why are they not Americans or has the $ replaced the blood in their veins. Do they live in Ivory Towers -tinted cars – private jets- gated communities – private clubs – thye do not know or see us. It was OK for the  gov to help banks but banks refuse to find ways to help fellow Americans VERY SAD

  • Rachel

    Just wondering if you refer to your male guests who are professors by their first names too?

    • Kbmiller

      Hi, I’m the producer on this segment, and yes, we do. We generally ask the guest how they would like to be addressed. Many prefer a more conversational tone. Thanks! Karyn Miller-Medzon

  • Montrevino

    There was a good piece recently on leaderless movements on HuffPo

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Leonardo-Fibonacci/100002846253669 Leonardo Fibonacci

    Consistently during this story the OWS protesters were referred to as “anarchists”.  This is incorrect.  Anarchists seek to bring down government, like Tea Party protesters who seek to close the Departments of Education, Energy, EPA, the Fed Reserve, etc.  That is anarchy.  OWS protesters who believe in greater government regulation of Wall Street are quite the opposite.  Please get your terms straight.

    • Anonymous

      anarchists are against hierarchy, patriarchy, matriachy, any  so called -archy–where one person or group has power over others.  Anarchy is not necessarily bomb throwers or even violent.  I’m against patriarchal power as residing in church and state (often mushing the two together).  I want choices and the power to make reasonable decisions on my own behalf.  If being pro-choice, for example, is anarchy, then I’m an anarchist. 

  • Robin Young

    Hi Rachel..

    good question.. we ask everyone how they want to be addressed and follow their lead.


  • Anonymous

    think of the rabble who started the American Revolution…sitting around talking and discussing…they didn’t have leaders at first.  There is an honorable tradition of leaderless 
    groups.  We’re so used to looking to a spokesman (sometimes even a woman!) or to a pope or head honcho to do the talking.  This movement, at least listening to WBUR, is more democratic where everyone has a say and all voices are heard.   Give it time, they will speak with authority but, I certainly hope they will never become as authoritarian as the times demand now.  

    Maybe this is something new.  Authoritative leadership that does not become authoritarian.  Anyone who grew up with an authoritarian father or father figure (principle, clergy, coach, military) knows how harsh that can be.   I admire people who can lead and not boss, control, over-manage, who trust the process is as important as the outcome, in fact, the process determines the outcome. 

  • Karen395676

    I love the repeated comment that it is hard to figure out what the occupiers want.  Yikes, read the signs!
    “Repeal Citizens United”, “Reinstate Glass Steagal”, “Get the money out of politics”, “No more corporate ownership of the government”.
    I get it!!  And I support it, 100%

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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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