Micah Sifry writes that “Rapid growth is going to stress the #OWS [Occupy Wall Street] movement,” and he talks about similar stresses on the Students for a Democratic Society in the 60s. He notes that core bonds of trust weren’t sustained as the movement grew. He says “social media may save #OWS from that fate, or just produce other, equally challenging problems of growing a movement to scale while keeping its core ethos.”
Steven Johnson, writing about the Howard Dean campaign, writes about two aspects of emergent political movements, clustering and coping. Steve says
Some simpler emergent systems are good at forming crowds; other, more complex ones, are good at regulating the overall state of the system, adapting to new challenges, evolving in response to opportunities. Sometimes, I suspect, it’s helpful to blur the distinctions between clustering and coping for simplicity’s sake. But when you subject them to the intense scrutiny and pressure of a national political campaign, the fault lines inevitably appear. Right now, emergent politics is brilliant at clustering, but clustering is not enough to get a national candidate elected. In fact, without the right coping mechanisms in place, clustering can sometimes work against your interests. You need crowds to get elected to public office, but without more complex forms of self-regulation, crowds can quickly turn into riots. And riots don’t win elections.
Johnson’s analysis was about a national presidential campaign, but I think it’s applicable to a potential movement like #OccupyWallStreet (or #OccupyWherever). So far, Occupy is about clustering, but to be really effective it should evolve as an organized movement. Does it have, or will it have, the right coping mechanisms in place? Johnson talks about two essentials of coping: “a relatively complex semiotic code to communicate between agents” and “metainformation about the state of the collective.” Those two mechanisms sound very much like what you could achieve through the use of social media for coordination. The so-far sophisticated and effective use of social media by Occupy may be the right sauce.
Photo by Adrian Kinloch