The Tragicomic History of the OWS Animal Issues Working Group


Lately, I’ve become interested in the possibilities of animal-rights activists forming sub-groups within broader left-wing organizations and movements. Today, I will recount the story of brave souls attempting to do just this and failing in spectacularly-hilarious fashion. Without further ado, I present the tragicomic history of the Occupy Wall Street Animal Issues working group.

The group met only nine times, according to the New York City General Assembly. One would be stretching the definition of the word to describe some of these attempted gatherings, for which the minutes were faithfully documented, as “meetings.”

The group first met on February 1, 2012, well after Occupy Wall Street was evicted from Zuccotti  Park and the movement was on its way to irrelevance. Eight people attended this inaugural meeting, which started half an hour late. A heated debate quickly broke out regarding the costs and benefits of a horizontal-organizational model, as the group argued whether to make everyone an administrator of what one must assume is their mailing list.

“Johanna responds that she wants to feel free to e-mail information and that how the group is choking with bureaucracy and she doesn’t experience this with any other group and things are more flowing and freer,” the minutes state. “Ruth disagrees and expresses concern about changing this policy so that everyone could be an administrator. ”

But the dispute doesn’t end there. “Dan agrees with Johanna and expresses that the spirit of OWS is not to have hierarchies, and that everyone should be an administrator,” the minutes state. “Adam replies that is not a question of hierarchies but of making sure things are organized and safely reliable.”

This leads one member to threaten to quit. As the minutes say, “Johanna replies that if she is not going to have the freedom to get things done, then she is going to have (to) leave the group.” After being interrupted by a passerby asking for potato chips, the meeting was closed.

The group’s third gathering, on February 15, did not go well either. The only one in attendance, Adam was listed as the meeting’s facilitator and note taker. “Adam walked around 60 Wall Street looking for people looking for the meeting. He found no one,” the minutes state. “Adam left.”

Turnout for future gatherings was better, but not by much. The fifth meeting, for instance, boasted only three attendees. If the minutes available are complete, months passed between the fifth meeting and the sixth. Listed in attendance at the sixth gathering was a “LOUD coffee grinder,” which one guesses made talking difficult. There was no facilitator for the meeting, as presumably the tiny group had given up the pretensions it was necessary.

While the results were sadly humorous, those in the OWS Animal Issues should be applauded for attempting to inject anti-speciesist politics into broader leftist movements. Let’s hope that future attempts will be more fruitful. There is evidence that formations of the anthropocentric left can be pushed in progressive directions by what are assumably minority, pro-animal voices within them. Socialist Party USA, for instance, calls for the ban of the fur trade and animal testing for product development. Though these are obviously piece-meal proposals, if put into practice they would benefit millions of animals every year.

Jon Hochschartner is a freelance writer from upstate New York. Visit his website at JonHochschartner.com.

Jon Hochschartner is a freelance writer. 

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