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What OWS Can Learn From Gandhi

November 09, 2011

Mohandas_GandhiIn today's New York Times, Tom Friedman has some excellent advice for the Occupy Wall Street movement -- and, by extension, anyone working to bring about social change.

In the column, Friedman compares the emerging grassroots protest movements in the world's two biggest democracies, India and the U.S., and finds much to admire. But he's quick to point out that the movement here, OWS, "has no leader and no consensus demand," while the India Against Corruption movement that has coalesced around Anna Hazare not only has both, it has millions of followers. And one of the reasons, says Friedman, is that IAC is very clear about its objectives.

To help make the point, Friedman quotes Arvind Kejriwal, Hazare's top deputy:

Gandhi said that whenever you do any protests, your demands should be very clear, and it should be very clear who is the authority who can fulfill that demand, so your protests should be directed at that authority.

If your movement lacks leadership at first, that is not necessarily a problem, Kejriwal continues,

because often leaders evolve. But the demands have to be very clear.... [E]xactly what needs to be done, which law needs to be changed and who are they demanding that from? These things have to be answered quickly....

OWS has brilliantly captured the anxiety and frustration with the status quo felt by millions of Americans. But without effective leadership and clear demands, the movement is in danger of running aground on the shoals of indifference -- or, worse, as the poet and novelist Ishmael Reed suggests in a Times' op-ed of his own, of being hijacked by elements with far less constructive agendas.

Which, if you agree, leaves one important question unanswered: Where is OWS' Gandhi or Dr. King?

-- Mitch Nauffts


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If OWS is against crony capitalism, when does it dawn upon them to go after the cronys who actually caused the problem? You think any of them can identify Solyndra or Jon Corzine for example? At best they're very naive

The frustrations at OWS are obvious. I, too, share some of them. However, David, Yes, I think many of the OWS protestors across the country are, indeed, more aware of Corzine and Solyndra (which is a red herring in my book) than the general electorate.

Let me refocus on the post ---Gandhi and Hazare and the anticorruption movement in India. What isn't well known in the US is the Right to Information Act that Aruna Roy and her activist grop brought through Parliament after numerous drafts. This bill allows EVERY Indian the right to access to information on anything that's in the public sphere. This ius the arena where graft and corruption play the most. People are killed in broad daylight to stoop them from pursuing, for instance, questioning about mining contracts. Hazare's fasting and demands are absolutely on the right track but it's NOT an either or, dast or die scenario that Indians want. They want a law like RTI to be enforceable and not just another anti-corruption bureaucracy.

As for the OWS, David, if people think about why these people (and many are middle-class folks with kids) are protesting, there might be a difference at the polls in September and November of 2012.

Hi Amit-

Very thoughtful post. But it seems that between the Tea Party and OWS, you have two wildly different and competing visions for how the country should be fixed laid out on public display. Let's have the people think about both of them and see who wins.

David --

Thought you might be interested in this comparison of OWS and the Tea Party movements (h/t The Big Picture):




LOL, a fun graphic as far as it goes, but it severely understates the violence and crime associated with the inherent nature of OWS


Curious about the "violence and crime" stats associated with the "inherent nature of OWS."

Has this been borne out in the reality of thousands upon thousands across this country?
Also, what's "inherent" in a consensual decision-making organization?

I think Friedman has it wrong. Agree with the tactic or not, the leaderless nature of OWS is a feature, not a bug.

Curious about the "violence and crime" stats associated with the "inherent nature of OWS."

Has this been borne out in the reality of thousands upon thousands across this country?
Also, what's "inherent" in a consensual decision-making organization?

>>>> Well Amit, when you need to have a group tent designated as a "rape free" zone, I'd say there's something wrong going on. And that's for starters.

As for the consensual decision making nature of the organization, I wonder just how much the people who live in and work in the Zucotti Park neighborhood were consulted before any of these "decisions" were made. I'm sure the Oakland branch consulted with the dock workers before shutting the port down as well. Etc. etc.

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