Malcolm Harris and the Occupy Swindle
About a month before the launch of last September’s Occupy protests, I started getting email “tips” promising a big protest campaign against Wall Street power, to be launched on September 17, 2011.
The tips linked to a slick Adbusters website—from what little I knew about Adbusters, they were rich Canadian grad students who hated people who shop. Or hated shops. Or something like that. I'm pretty sure they were the assholes who came up with “culture jamming” as a form of "revolutionary protest" too. Lotta dumb ideas incubated there. The whole thing sounded like "problems of the idle upper-middle class" stuff to me; I didn't want to have anything to do with it.
I largely ignored and deleted these emailed “tips” until a few days before the Occupy protest started. But these tipsters kept insisting I’d find the upcoming Adbusters Occupy campaign cool, so I posted a nasty little note on our eXiled site, telling them that America won’t be saved by some fucking “culture jammers” living in the 1990’s.
But within a week after the Occupy protest launched in Zuccotti Park, I was forced to reassess. A producer from the Dylan Ratigan Show on MSNBC brought me down to meet the people who, in those early weeks, were guiding or trying to guide the protests: Mostly frustrated local intellectuals, young economists from Columbia and NYU, frustrated Wall Street brainiacs, all of whom had ideas on how to fix the problem of Wall Street plutocratic power, and were excited by the possibility of having a physical space where they could try to work these problems out with others— a kind of “Church of Dissent” as a friend of mine labeled it, or “Assembly” as they called it themselves.
That experience humbled me, and I’ve been if anything too defensive about the Occupy protests ever since, willing to excuse or rationalize or forgive just about anything—the annoying Adbusters roots, and their even more annoying counterparts: the “anarchists” who made sure their kind were in control of the Occupy Wall Street from beginning till it degenerated enough to where no one decent wanted to own it anymore.
My gut reaction to hearing that anarchists were involved in Occupy was of the puking variety. I had no idea that anarchists were still around, or that that anyone called themselves an “anarchist” with a straight face in this country, except maybe some feckless hippie backwash, or those West European youth hostel trekkers who sign the guest books with an A with the circle around it, along with their comments on the price of the local beer...“Peace and Fucking: Believe!” in the words of that great 21st century “anarchist” Nathan Barley.
I’ve done everything to keep that knee-jerk hatred bottled up—Occupy more than justified itself by the enemies it made, and by the violent reaction it sparked. The old Russian General Lebed, their giant 6’7” Afghanistan war hero who delivered peace in the first Chechnya War, once said “A man’s worth can be judged by the enemies he makes” and, to my mind, that applied to Occupy.
But yesterday marked Occupy’s one year anniversary, and there’s nothing to show for that brief, and briefly-glorious cultural eruption but a memorable slogan stuck in our heads, like a jingle from a toilet paper ad. There’s nothing to hang on to, hardly even a memory to wrap yourself around. All that remain are what Occupy began with: A clever jingle or two, and the launching of a handful of anarchist “brands.”
One of these vile anarcho-marketing brands is a twenty-something hipster named Malcolm Harris. To me, the Occupy Movement will always be conflated with Malcolm Harris and the brand of marketing-concocted “anarchism” that he represents. And that’s bad, because one look at Malcolm Harris—his anarcho-hipster sneer, his marketing-guy hipster glasses—and you’ll be reaching for the nearest can of pepper spray.
The son of a Silicon Valley corporate lawyer turned State Department diplomat, Malcolm Harris brands himself as the “vanguard” of the Occupy Protests, and I’m starting to agree with him, the more I’ve come to accept that Occupy really was of, by and for the anarcho-marketing crowd. He was one of the very first to capitalize on the marketing possibilities of Occupy, and how he might exploit the marketing and messaging to quickly build his own brand.
Harris first distinguished himself among that inner-group of marketing parasites by pulling a prank on Radiohead fans. The Occupy protest in Zuccotti Park was still young, and still sparse—Harris sent out fake info that Radiohead was going to make an unannounced appearance, and that brought out the first throngs of groupies. Harris milked that JerkyBoys prank he played on everyone as proof of his radical anarchist genius—and it worked. From a marketing point of view, anyway.
By late October, just over a month after the launch of the Occupy movement, Harris had already signed a deal with the Lavin Agency, as Occupy Redlands discovered when they asked Malcolm to come speak to their fledgling occupy encampment. They discovered that if they wanted to hear Malcolm Harris talk about anarchism and the 99%, they’d have to pay him a $5,000 speaking fee. Not including travel and hotel expenses. They also must have been surprised to learn that Malcolm Harris has “earned the reputation of being the Naomi Klein of the 21st Century”.
The email from Malcolm Harris’ agent to the Occupy Redlands coordinator has to be read in its entirety to be believed:
From: Rxxxxxl Rxxxxx <[email protected]> Date: October 25, 2011 1:04:42 PM PDT To: [email protected] Subject: Malcolm Harris Kathleen, It was great chatting with you yesterday! Here's the write up on Malcolm Harris: Malcolm Harris is one of the most talked about young writers today. He has been on the vanguard of the #occupywallstreet movement well before day one of the Zuccotti part encampment began. His social media savvy and tactics flips the equation when it comes to the so-called influence of media on the youth. With Malcolm Harris at the helm, we are witnessing a new media movement where it's the youth that's influencing-- and manipulating-- the mainstream media to enact what has become a global uprising of youth demanding the change that was promised to them in 2008. As an editor at Sharable.net, Harris brought politically savvy coverage of the protest movements in Spain and Greece to the attention of the young digerati who would eventually work alongside Harris in New York City to facilitate the first planning meeting for #occupywallstreet. In the intervening months, Harris has earned the reputation he has today as the Naomi Klein of the 21st century, with his instant-classic article, "Bad Education," (http://nplusonemag.com/bad-education) which went viral in April of 2011 and remains the most cited article on the student debt crisis today (listen to Harris debate the issue on NPR here: http://www.wnyc.org/people/malcolm-harris/). Once the occupation was underway, Harris' article in the Jacobin Magazine, "Occupied Wall Street: Some Tactical Thoughts" (http://jacobinmag.com/blog/?p=1663 ) spelled out a strategy that has since helped to give the movement the force and coherence it needed to self-sustain, even without the benefit of mainstream media attention. The turning point, however, was when Harris and a group of his collaborators posed as Radiohead's manager, notified the media the band would play Zuccotti park, and caused tens of thousands of youths-- as well as news cameras and big media attention-- to turn out. Read Harris' reflections on the tactic here: http://gothamist.com/2011/10/02/alleged_radiohead_imposter_hoax_was.php Harris' forthcoming book, (title TBD) is about the student debt crisis, global uprising, new media and #occupywallstreet (title TBD) and he acted as editor of the book, Share or Die: Youth in Recession: http://shareable.net/share-or-die/contents He speaks for $5,000, not including travel and accommodations. Let me know if you have any futher questions. :) Regards, xxxx xxxxx The Lavin Agency Making the World a Smarter Place
Poor Naomi Klein.
Besides the obvious comedy here of an “anarchist” marketing himself as the “vanguard” and charging the 99% a whopping $5000 an hour just to hear him speak—what’s stunning to me is the speed with which Malcolm Harris managed to capitalize on Occupy, and the complete absence of any shame, or worry about being shamed. I’m more inclined now to believe him — that he really was there before Occupy was launched, that he was Occupy before Occupy went mainstream, or whatever it is these marketing imbeciles seem to value.
Today, Harris is back in the news as perhaps the only remnant of the Occupy protests: He’s the idiot who tweeted out a bunch of apparently self-incriminating messages during the protest on the Brooklyn Bridge last October, when hundreds were arrested. Harris deleted his tweets, and now he’s got the ACLU and others defending him because if the police succeed in obtaining his deleted tweets, the worry is that it will set a bad precedent in cases where protesters aren’t necessarily reckless self-promoting dickheads like Malcolm Harris.
In other words, we all might suffer again on behalf of this real-life Nathan Barley imbecile.
You’d think that might shut him up, but if you thought that, you’ve never met these marketing larvae. They’re actually worse before they take their PR jobs than they are after they have some executive success, I’ve found.
Case-in-point: As soon as the Chicago Teachers Union went on strike, abused by both Democrats and Republicans (for some reason teachers above all have become the official whipping boys of the Austerity Class), Malcolm Harris went on a rampage bashing teachers too. In keeping with his anarcho-marketing brand, Malcolm isn’t bashing teachers for the same reasons all the other austerity whores are, but rather, because according to this middle-class anarchist, schools are as bad as prisons; and therefore, school teachers are little more than prison guards.
I spent about two hours reading Malcolm Harris’ tweets earlier today, and by the time I dislodged myself from his evil little 140-character mind, I’d grown about 200,000 years dumber.
Here, then, is a sample of what the “vanguard of the Occupy Movement” was thinking lately:
“Who’s against the strike at all? I’m against education, not labor strikes...”
“I don’t think teachers by and large like or care very much about the kids in their classrooms. The unions, even less. Rahm, not at all.”
Look, no one actually likes kids or we wouldn’t put them in jailish schools and make them ask to pee and take tests and line up to eat, okay”
As you can see, he’s positioning himself on that radical edge of the anarchist spectrum, somewhere between a Pink Floyd classic rock song and Jeff Spicoli. But yeah, he’s the Naomi Klein of the 21st century.
Continuing on, now that he’s established his “Hey teacher leave those kids alone!” stance, this “vanguard of the Occupy Movement” goes in for the kill on your old fifth grade teacher:
“If prison guards went on strike, would we accept it if they said it was for the good of the prisoners? Why or why not?”
You got that? I hope you have some chin lotion, because if that doesn’t make you scratch your chin while deep in thought, then buddy, Malcolm Harris has a word for your kind: “Fascist!”
It goes on and on from there, more dumb pointless time-wasting pseudo-arguments about whether or not teachers are prison guards and schools are prisons. If Malcolm Harris debunks any lingering romanticism about the Occupy Movement, he also provides a good example of how Twitter is also rigged in his favor. There is no winning against the willfully stupid in a debate framed by 140 character slogans.
Which pretty much sums up the Occupy Movement that Malcolm Harris led: It was rigged from the beginning to benefit a few brands and a couple of sloganeers. Like all great marketing campaigns, the more people you rope in, the greater the marketing campaign success, the more you can distill that energy and those numbers into branding power. It was the marketing world’s equivalent of a giant pyramid scheme, and the “anarchist” marketing vampires like Malcolm Harris always knew it, and were always well positioned to feed off it.
The lesson in this case is clear: Never trust an anarchist.
If we're ever going to mount a serious challenge to the very real and serious power that the financial world holds over democracy right now, it's not going to come from marketing short-cuts and half-baked grad school anarchism. There are plenty of examples we can draw from in our own history: Labor, the Populists, the Civil Rights movement. All of them involved the long hard slog of organizing around immediate existential problems, education, and a long-term view. The anarcho-marketing whizzes who first launched Occupy with a slogan and a jingle never, by design, took a long view—otherwise they wouldn't have deified their outdoor parks, and the loss of those parks wouldn't have ended it all.
Mao had an answer to the People's Park imbeciles: "Save people, give up land—land can be retaken. Defend land, lose people—land and people lost." The difference of course is that Mao was serious.