Tom Atlee: Quinn Norton at WIRED – Eulogy for #Occupy

Cultural Intelligence
Tom Atlee
Tom Atlee

Dear friends,

Over the last 15 months I posted many reflections on the Occupy movement. That movement is clearly not over, morphing into new shapes even as its most potent meme – “We are the 99%” – continues to reverberate.

Yet there was something about the original Occupy encampments – those intense micro-communities, living vibrant and threatened in our midst – that still haunts many of us. They were so mixed and extreme, strangely embodying the best and worst of who we are. Diverse people found them inspiring and disgusting, potent and pointless, overflowing with grit, authenticity, passion, pain and whimsy.

I want to share an article that captures a lot of that – the full spectrum of those intense contradictions – and courageously attempts to fathom the meaning of it all – for us, for the Occupiers, for our whole society.
“A Eulogy for #Occupy” by Quinn Norton, a Wired magazine reporter who embedded with Occupy Wall Street activists around the U.S. for a year and reported back on what she witnessed. In this article she reflects on what she saw, felt, heard and thinks about it all.

I found “A Eulogy for #Occupy” profoundly insightful and sensitive, exhibiting a rare integration of journalistic integrity, unflinching critique, and deeply personal vulnerability and compassion.

Phi Beta Iota:  This is a gifted report from the heart of America as a combat zone.  Extracts below the line for a quick read.

Quinn Norton
Quinn Norton

It is a long read, so I won’t include it here. But it is also a rich, poetic read, quite in addition to the information and wisdom it imparts. I found it a more fruitful use of my time than at least 80% of the other things I do.

I came away from it grateful and pensive. Our challenges are so immense. Our human spirit is so remarkable. We know so much and so little and have so much to learn about how to do this right, this world-changing task we have inherited. The future asks so much of us and we have so much to give.

I am sending you this to honor the courage of those who do messy hopeful experiments on behalf of the rest of us and the rest of life. We need more experiments like that, and more appreciative critiques to help us learn what to try next…


A Eulogy for #Occupy


  • By Quinn Norton
  • 12.12.12


We were trapped in endless war and financial crisis, in debt and downward spiral that our leaders bickered about, but did nothing to stop. It wore away at people with the implacability of geological erosion. The American empire we never wanted in the first place was crumbling slowly, and nothing we did in our lives seemed to matter.

. . . . . . . .

Americans themselves lived quiet lives of untold loneliness, socially isolated. But, as we’d come to learn, we’re always watched by our infrastructure’s silent machines. Lonely, but never alone. It had become an authoritarian failing state, but without the authority, or even the sense of change that comes with total failure. We were dying by bits and pieces, going numb and fading away.

. . . . . . . .

Like the America that contained it, Occupy was never merely its institutions. Which is good, because for the most part, Occupy’s institutions failed its multitudes of amazing people.

. . . . . . . .

It’s the job of a media to tell the truth to its society, but Occupy’s homegrown media refused to tell itself the truth about what was going wrong in the camps. That let the arbiters of truth become a few young men who figured out how to stream video from their cellphones. The livestreamers got drunk off their modicum of fame, behaving as tiny entitled prophets to the movement. Their ethics were incoherent, what they filmed was arbitrary, but they mistook randomness for truth. They had just discovered documenting events, and thousands of people flocked to see them do it. But without any traditions of narrative, they didn’t see their own commentary enter the story, how every shot and angle and word overlaid was editorial.

There was no critique in Occupy, no accountability. At first it didn’t matter, but as life grew messy and complicated, its absence became terrible. There wasn’t even a way to conceive of critique, as if the language had no words to describe the movement’s faults to itself. There was at times explicit gagging of Occupy’s media teams by the camp GA, to prevent anything that could be used to damage the movement from reaching the wider media. Self-censorship plagued those who weren’t gagged, because everyone was afraid of retaliation. No one talked about the systemic and growing abuses in the camps, or the increasingly poisonous GAs.

. . . . . . .

After the coordinated evictions and the rising ferality of the remaining camps, people with means were hemorrhaging out of the parks. The rest, even me, were feeling abandoned. Occupy was becoming the second most fucked-up group of people in the parks.

The first was still definitely the police.

The police were the most scared and most sadistic people at every scene. There was often mortal fear in their eyes, and they, full of disdain and constant readiness, stood their line against the protestors.

. . . . . . .

In real life, they often felt frustrated and angry. Many, though never all, had forgotten the role of mercy within power.

. . . . . . .

From the beginning there were two main parts to Occupy. There was the cause of economic justice — the idea that resources shouldn’t be distributed so unevenly. This idea, in its myriad forms, drove marches and injected the rhetoric of the “99 percent” into the political dialogue. This was what the press often thought Occupy was all about.

Less understood was the other part of Occupy — the part that was about the need for community. Occupiers came to the camps to care for others as much as they came to be cared for. People had to find a way to matter to each other in ways that weren’t mediated by the social services, the justice system, the institutions we stick each other into.

. . . . . . .

On the night of Nov. 15, they hadn’t merely shot the messenger. They’d done that too, but they’d beat the people that had come back from the future with lifeboats. Like Anonymous and Piratbyrån before them, OWS was a messenger from the future, not so much fighting the system as explaining to the old way of doing things that it had already lost. That future, still nebulous, soaked into the nondescript stones of Zuccotti. But the old world around us had rejected the message from the new world, never understanding that theirs was a mission of mercy to the lost.

The future was still coming and Bloomberg’s army had only guns to fight time.

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