Deconstructing the 99%ers

There were several hundred "training sessions" around NYC, as they tell it, over the past weeks, presumably to prepare the raucous and ready to protest the terrible, evil 1% who so bedevil America that average people become unhinged at the thought that the 1% are getting more than they "deserve."  They are not!  Paying!  Their "fair share," they hammer at us, ignoring the stats and the vast overpayment by the wealthy over their less moneyed confrères.

At the meeting on the Upper East Side, a three-hour slot on a weekend that replicated dozens elsewhere, we are told, there were three large newsprint sheets on the wall to remind us of what we were fighting for:

  • Who we are.  There were some 20 separate items of who we were, among them immigrants, atheists, muslims.  Not among the Magic-Markered scrawls: Jews, Christians, patriots, citizens, legal immigrants, illegal immigrants (they pretend there is no such thing as anyone here illegally -- all are bunkered into the foolish globalism "immigrant").
  • What we want.  Also 20 items.  Lower taxes, higher taxes for the 1%, no fossil fuels, "immigration reform," renewable energy, criminal justice, lower jail sentences, fairer judges; legalized marijuana; abrogation of nuclear, oil and gas, coal and anything used by all the people coming to the meeting (except for this correspondent, the sole cyclist in the 30 attendees and two moderators), income redistribution, more regulations on Wall Street and bankers, stronger unionism.  Absent from the list: recognition of the income distribution curve, knowledge of the importance of oil.
  • What we dream.  Some 18 items.  Utopian la-di-dah: no capitalism.  Lower taxes.  (Except higher for the rich.)  Cleaner air, water, food.  Local food and goods.  Better hospitals, in every neighborhood.  No closings of health care facilities.  No fracking to fracture the social fabric.  Absent from the listing: any concept of reality.

We 30 were all Caucasian, with one Hispanic woman, and possibly one Middle Easterner or second Hispanic woman.  There were at most two persons under thirty years old.  The rest of the crowd were easily seen to be either late bloomers or leftover '60s radicals nostalgic for backintheday.  Aside from the jaunty moderators, in their earning years, most featured snowy thatches, pepper-and-salt or fully grayed roofs; they could have been the ideal Bill Maher audience, rah rah one-sideds with blinkered social vision and hysterical claque views.  Most puddled in their '60s and '70s.  They seemed at or well beyond their earning years, which would account for why so few of them evidently conceptualized factories or working places to actually earn honest income via professions.  Some actually thought they could do without any workplaces at all.

At the self-criticism portion of the program, where the moderators stressed that they welcomed both positive and negative feedback, toward the end of the 3-hour training, one well-dressed pewter-haired lady expressed disappointment that there was not "more diversity."  Part of the problem, the leader explained, was that this meeting was in a mostly white neighborhood.  Were we uptown, in the Heights, there would no doubt have been numerous examples of "diversity."  "Some groups," we were told, "had filled up so fast that the group today was the spillover" and was "only accidentally" white.

We sat in a rough circle at a bright, airy (no windows, though) union hall.  We divided into four color groups: red, blue, purple, brown; we could do the three training exercises in nonviolent defense via group interaction by hue.  The three exercises seemed fun, though they had little spillover to actual nonviolent resistance or whatever was hoped/planned for upcoming protests on Wall Street and wherever else avaricious bankers and capitalists and 1%ers congregate evilly.

The first exercise involved each group creating, using crayons and markers, an "ideal community."  We set to work on the floor, drawing community centers, credit unions (no one dared think bank), animal sanctuaries, livable spaces, renewable and sustainable gardens, a small space for 1% (1% of the space for 1% ers, said one woman, smug with her own wit), a river for a hydro(electric) power source.  We pointed out that a flat, non-cataract-connected river would not go far in generating energy.  Geothermal and green algae were mentioned, but since they are pie-in-the-sky for the next two or three decades, they went nowhere in real terms.  A few minutes into the exercise, the leader, a comely, outgoing, energetic woman in her 30s or so, be-jeaned and be-T-shirted, came by brightly and tore off a corner of our schematic ideal community.  We did not understand why, but off she went to do the same to the other three groups.

We set to work replacing the town structures, even a single factory with smoke curling out of its chimney drawn by the moderator when she tore off our community corner.  Soon, a bouncy guy with a sign reading $$$$$ Bernie Madoff $$$$$ on his chest came by and tore off another corner, so we were again squeezed as to what our community could contain.  Soon, the exercise was stopped, and we re-circled for feedback.  What had we felt when we had been subject to the greedy bankers (the word "bankers" never occurred during the 3 hours without the adjective "greedy" to introduce and modify it)?  The literal ripoffs were evidently what the greedy bankers and Wall-Streeters do to decent town planners and average townspeople.  How did we feel about being depredated?  This is what happens "all the time," in corporate America.

The crowd gave their touchy-feelie responses: It did not feel good!  We tried to fend them off!  We did not like them coming in and ruining our plans.  They gave the feedback that was subtly telegraphed by the moderator.  Most of the group had just been flummoxed by the exercise and stayed quiet until the moderator teased us out.

The second exercise got us into two parallel lines of seven or eight on a side.  One side was "activists" seeking "their money" from the other side, "greedy bankers."  Tellers, basically.  One side was supposed to escalate temper or choler or whatever against the other.  Guess which side was supposed to resist.  After a few partnered exchanges, we were told to switch professions/statuses, and now "escalate" the temperature or whatever.

Some of the queue members started to shout and demand, scream for their deposits.  Some of the bankers/tellers shrank back in the face of the onslaught.  As expected.

Feedback time.  Some of us fooled the goal of the exercise by being courteous (as actual tellers are trained to be) and by accommodating the demands of the crazed depositors.  The exercise got us off the chairs, off the floor (where the town planning had taken place).  The expected responses were elicited: We were angry!  We wanted our money!  Or We tried to be polite.  We tried to provide them what they wanted...

The last exercise was somewhat diffuse.  The 14-page (double-sided) handouts were utilized: The Tactic Star on page 7 gave us all thumbnail breakdowns of developing your tactic:

  • There were points for regrouping, goals & strategy, targeting your goal,
  • location (home of the CEO? Workplace? Train station? News media hangout?), message (what exactly do you want to communicate-this was in fact a sticking point-what did we want to communicate?,
  • timing (early day, rush hour? Midday? Weekend? Why for each...),
  • resources (can you pull it off effectively, what money does the group have? Scale it up, or scale it back? Why?),
  • tone (very important: Solemn? Angry? Calm? Does shouting get the job done? Does it turn people off? Engage passersby or just the targets? Most people grudgingly acknowledged that media is not attending any more, and most of the public is now turned off to scream-fests),
  • organization (how will the action affect public perception, recruiting, member retention?), and
  • relationships (Will key stakeholders move toward or away from the group dynamic and action? Whom to consult, whom to ally with, whom to collaborate with?).

None of the four color groupings could get their mojo going.  We did not know what to do, although we were given our strategic action, and we were supposed to create our "action design" as we moved around the tactic star.  The source for the planning is credited on the page: Jessica Bell and Joshua Russell, The ruckus society, adapted from J.Matt Smucker, Beyond the Choir.

When we came to wondering what company to "attack," the obvious names floating back and forth were GE, for the obvious tax exemptions they had famously helmed.  I caused our own ruckus by suggesting we attack and focus on...ACORN.  Moment of silence.  Ah, er,... they are not really a corporation, so... said a few.  I rejoindered -- but they are corrupt, they extend over many states, they fail to observe the law in every state they are in, they are nefarious and flout the laws.  And so on.  Silence.

They decide to go with GE, but confusion ensues, as no one really knows what to do next.  Like Celebrity Apprentice without The Donald to preside over the avuncular wreckage.

Two days after the training, a robocall reminds us to sign up for training on Thursday or Saturday at the AFL/CIO HQ on W 38th Street, three hours, to "take back America from the 1% with nonviolent action."  Envy and begrudging resentment.  Ms. Kushner -- Ms. Robocallette -- announces that there will be 100,000 people across the nation who will be participating in these actions to take back the country from the 1%.  She sounds normal.  All the people at the training sound normal.  One on one, aside from their envy fetish, they are nice people, it seems.  Until you hear what they are not remembering: actual, lived reality.

Did it equip us for "nonviolent protest"?  Your guess.  Seemed more like a high-school sensitivity training gym meet than anything anyone could put into practice with 99,999 others in their massive action against the 1%.

There were several hundred "training sessions" around NYC, as they tell it, over the past weeks, presumably to prepare the raucous and ready to protest the terrible, evil 1% who so bedevil America that average people become unhinged at the thought that the 1% are getting more than they "deserve."  They are not!  Paying!  Their "fair share," they hammer at us, ignoring the stats and the vast overpayment by the wealthy over their less moneyed confrères.

At the meeting on the Upper East Side, a three-hour slot on a weekend that replicated dozens elsewhere, we are told, there were three large newsprint sheets on the wall to remind us of what we were fighting for:

  • Who we are.  There were some 20 separate items of who we were, among them immigrants, atheists, muslims.  Not among the Magic-Markered scrawls: Jews, Christians, patriots, citizens, legal immigrants, illegal immigrants (they pretend there is no such thing as anyone here illegally -- all are bunkered into the foolish globalism "immigrant").
  • What we want.  Also 20 items.  Lower taxes, higher taxes for the 1%, no fossil fuels, "immigration reform," renewable energy, criminal justice, lower jail sentences, fairer judges; legalized marijuana; abrogation of nuclear, oil and gas, coal and anything used by all the people coming to the meeting (except for this correspondent, the sole cyclist in the 30 attendees and two moderators), income redistribution, more regulations on Wall Street and bankers, stronger unionism.  Absent from the list: recognition of the income distribution curve, knowledge of the importance of oil.
  • What we dream.  Some 18 items.  Utopian la-di-dah: no capitalism.  Lower taxes.  (Except higher for the rich.)  Cleaner air, water, food.  Local food and goods.  Better hospitals, in every neighborhood.  No closings of health care facilities.  No fracking to fracture the social fabric.  Absent from the listing: any concept of reality.

We 30 were all Caucasian, with one Hispanic woman, and possibly one Middle Easterner or second Hispanic woman.  There were at most two persons under thirty years old.  The rest of the crowd were easily seen to be either late bloomers or leftover '60s radicals nostalgic for backintheday.  Aside from the jaunty moderators, in their earning years, most featured snowy thatches, pepper-and-salt or fully grayed roofs; they could have been the ideal Bill Maher audience, rah rah one-sideds with blinkered social vision and hysterical claque views.  Most puddled in their '60s and '70s.  They seemed at or well beyond their earning years, which would account for why so few of them evidently conceptualized factories or working places to actually earn honest income via professions.  Some actually thought they could do without any workplaces at all.

At the self-criticism portion of the program, where the moderators stressed that they welcomed both positive and negative feedback, toward the end of the 3-hour training, one well-dressed pewter-haired lady expressed disappointment that there was not "more diversity."  Part of the problem, the leader explained, was that this meeting was in a mostly white neighborhood.  Were we uptown, in the Heights, there would no doubt have been numerous examples of "diversity."  "Some groups," we were told, "had filled up so fast that the group today was the spillover" and was "only accidentally" white.

We sat in a rough circle at a bright, airy (no windows, though) union hall.  We divided into four color groups: red, blue, purple, brown; we could do the three training exercises in nonviolent defense via group interaction by hue.  The three exercises seemed fun, though they had little spillover to actual nonviolent resistance or whatever was hoped/planned for upcoming protests on Wall Street and wherever else avaricious bankers and capitalists and 1%ers congregate evilly.

The first exercise involved each group creating, using crayons and markers, an "ideal community."  We set to work on the floor, drawing community centers, credit unions (no one dared think bank), animal sanctuaries, livable spaces, renewable and sustainable gardens, a small space for 1% (1% of the space for 1% ers, said one woman, smug with her own wit), a river for a hydro(electric) power source.  We pointed out that a flat, non-cataract-connected river would not go far in generating energy.  Geothermal and green algae were mentioned, but since they are pie-in-the-sky for the next two or three decades, they went nowhere in real terms.  A few minutes into the exercise, the leader, a comely, outgoing, energetic woman in her 30s or so, be-jeaned and be-T-shirted, came by brightly and tore off a corner of our schematic ideal community.  We did not understand why, but off she went to do the same to the other three groups.

We set to work replacing the town structures, even a single factory with smoke curling out of its chimney drawn by the moderator when she tore off our community corner.  Soon, a bouncy guy with a sign reading $$$$$ Bernie Madoff $$$$$ on his chest came by and tore off another corner, so we were again squeezed as to what our community could contain.  Soon, the exercise was stopped, and we re-circled for feedback.  What had we felt when we had been subject to the greedy bankers (the word "bankers" never occurred during the 3 hours without the adjective "greedy" to introduce and modify it)?  The literal ripoffs were evidently what the greedy bankers and Wall-Streeters do to decent town planners and average townspeople.  How did we feel about being depredated?  This is what happens "all the time," in corporate America.

The crowd gave their touchy-feelie responses: It did not feel good!  We tried to fend them off!  We did not like them coming in and ruining our plans.  They gave the feedback that was subtly telegraphed by the moderator.  Most of the group had just been flummoxed by the exercise and stayed quiet until the moderator teased us out.

The second exercise got us into two parallel lines of seven or eight on a side.  One side was "activists" seeking "their money" from the other side, "greedy bankers."  Tellers, basically.  One side was supposed to escalate temper or choler or whatever against the other.  Guess which side was supposed to resist.  After a few partnered exchanges, we were told to switch professions/statuses, and now "escalate" the temperature or whatever.

Some of the queue members started to shout and demand, scream for their deposits.  Some of the bankers/tellers shrank back in the face of the onslaught.  As expected.

Feedback time.  Some of us fooled the goal of the exercise by being courteous (as actual tellers are trained to be) and by accommodating the demands of the crazed depositors.  The exercise got us off the chairs, off the floor (where the town planning had taken place).  The expected responses were elicited: We were angry!  We wanted our money!  Or We tried to be polite.  We tried to provide them what they wanted...

The last exercise was somewhat diffuse.  The 14-page (double-sided) handouts were utilized: The Tactic Star on page 7 gave us all thumbnail breakdowns of developing your tactic:

  • There were points for regrouping, goals & strategy, targeting your goal,
  • location (home of the CEO? Workplace? Train station? News media hangout?), message (what exactly do you want to communicate-this was in fact a sticking point-what did we want to communicate?,
  • timing (early day, rush hour? Midday? Weekend? Why for each...),
  • resources (can you pull it off effectively, what money does the group have? Scale it up, or scale it back? Why?),
  • tone (very important: Solemn? Angry? Calm? Does shouting get the job done? Does it turn people off? Engage passersby or just the targets? Most people grudgingly acknowledged that media is not attending any more, and most of the public is now turned off to scream-fests),
  • organization (how will the action affect public perception, recruiting, member retention?), and
  • relationships (Will key stakeholders move toward or away from the group dynamic and action? Whom to consult, whom to ally with, whom to collaborate with?).

None of the four color groupings could get their mojo going.  We did not know what to do, although we were given our strategic action, and we were supposed to create our "action design" as we moved around the tactic star.  The source for the planning is credited on the page: Jessica Bell and Joshua Russell, The ruckus society, adapted from J.Matt Smucker, Beyond the Choir.

When we came to wondering what company to "attack," the obvious names floating back and forth were GE, for the obvious tax exemptions they had famously helmed.  I caused our own ruckus by suggesting we attack and focus on...ACORN.  Moment of silence.  Ah, er,... they are not really a corporation, so... said a few.  I rejoindered -- but they are corrupt, they extend over many states, they fail to observe the law in every state they are in, they are nefarious and flout the laws.  And so on.  Silence.

They decide to go with GE, but confusion ensues, as no one really knows what to do next.  Like Celebrity Apprentice without The Donald to preside over the avuncular wreckage.

Two days after the training, a robocall reminds us to sign up for training on Thursday or Saturday at the AFL/CIO HQ on W 38th Street, three hours, to "take back America from the 1% with nonviolent action."  Envy and begrudging resentment.  Ms. Kushner -- Ms. Robocallette -- announces that there will be 100,000 people across the nation who will be participating in these actions to take back the country from the 1%.  She sounds normal.  All the people at the training sound normal.  One on one, aside from their envy fetish, they are nice people, it seems.  Until you hear what they are not remembering: actual, lived reality.

Did it equip us for "nonviolent protest"?  Your guess.  Seemed more like a high-school sensitivity training gym meet than anything anyone could put into practice with 99,999 others in their massive action against the 1%.