Without making the media the story here since the media has this recursive, repetitive pattern when it can't make sense of a story... a few words about leadership and Occupy.
Google "leadership occupy Wall Street" and you'll find thousands (6814 as of this moment) of articles like this pretty good one in the Washington Post, attempting to describe a phenomenon where something elusive is wrongly explained by its opposite.
If it's not in the article's headline, it's in its lede--and if not there, it's certainly not more than a few grafs down: The Occupy movement is leaderless ((e.g., the Post story, "What is Occupy Wall Street? The history of leaderless movements").
Many articles have grabbed this quote: "We are all leaders." And from there goes the faulty logic that if everyone's a leader, then no one is. Or, its converse by implication: Without a designated, authoritative single leader, then it's just a messy group with... and here we go: no clear purpose, no mission, confusing demands, etc and so on.
Is the Occupy movement leaderless?
Many leaders, not none.
Many leaders, not one.
Years ago, University of Minnesota anthropologists Luther Gerlach and Virginia Hine (see People, Power, Change: Movements of Social Transformation) studied the social movements of the Sixties, which many writers in the past month have used as the explanatory vehicle for the leadership structure of this current global phenomenon. Most have gotten the interpretation of the Sixties wrong too, rehashing the old saw that there was no leadership in the anti-Vietnam War, women's, civil rights, gay liberation, and suchnot movements in which my generation grew up.
What Gerlach and Hine discovered (and supported with extensive research) is that social movements are networks. And networks have polycephalous--many headed--leadership structures.
Given our prevailing structures where one leader sits atop a stack holding yes/no power, we have a really hard time comprehending organizations where many people are making decisions. In Gautney's Post piece, she describes a completely different way of arriving at action:
Occupy Wall Street’s organizational presence is the New York General Assembly or “GA,” which convenes numbers in the high hundreds at its squat-site in Zuccotti Park. Daily GA meetings are led by facilitators who rotate on a regular basis, and facilitation training is open to all. Specific issues, such as food, medical, legal, outreach, security and others are handled by working groups—also open and inclusive—that periodically report back to the GA. Instead of issuing top-down directives, Occupy groups use a consensus process in which anyone can join in the decision-making and propose an idea. Proposers must field questions, justify the hows and whys of their ideas, and engage a large-scale group discussion. Votes are then cast via an innovative system of hand signals, and proposals are revised until a nine-tenths majority approves.
How did this unelected, unhired, uncredentialed revolving band of disaffiliated thousands arrive at such a structure?
By dozens, if not hundreds, of articulate people stepping forward at different moments with good ideas about how to engage the commitment and intelligence of their peers. There is only one word for such people: LEADERS.
In the early 1990s, Andy Campbell, then an employee of the CIA who was working on the Clinton Administration's Reinventing Government program, said something to me that I've used in virtually every presentation since:
"We can't solve 21st-century problems with 19th-century organizations."
Having studied and written about new organizational structures for the past 30 years with Jeff Stamps, I've attached a corollary to this:
"Nor can we guide 21st-century organizations with 20th-century leaders."
"Solving" the "Wall Street problem" will not happen through traditional bureaucracy or hierarchy. As many a pundit has already said, the bureaucracies charged with curbing the abuses of greed are so tied up in their own knots (and such the beneficiaries either directly or indirectly of that greed) that they cannot disentangle themselves enough to even see solutions, never mind execute them.
We need to grow up. We need to recognize that networks--flexible, constantly-morphing, ever-linking organizations--are the structures we need to solve the phenomenal dilemmas in front of us.
Networks have many leaders. Some networks encase more formal organizations, like the ones we're all familiar with where people have recognizeable titles and clearly understood power structures, i.e. some organized groups are also showing up to "occupy."
Just a few ideas tend to link networks. As is the case with Occupy, a few simple phrases bubble up, even without the help of branding specialists: 99% for example.
Underneath it all is the thing that money can't buy (hello, Wall Street): commitment. Shared commitment was the energy field that Gerlach and Hine wrote about lo those many years ago. It's the gossamer thread that links all the Occupy sites, heaved from one to another by many many many many...