Occupy Wall Street: The Next Generation

by Eban Goodstein, cross-posted from the Bard Center for Environmental Policy

In Early September, I was sitting hand-cuffed in the back of a police paddy-wagon with two-dozen other guys. Everybody was in a good mood. We had all just been arrested in front of the White House, as part of a large-scale, peaceful civil disobedience action in which, over the course of two-weeks, more than 1200 people were sent to the DC city jail. Our intent was to convince President Obama to veto the construction of a pipeline that would bring oil from the tar sand deposits in Alberta, Canada to refineries in Houston, with much of the oil destined for export to China.

I was there out of concern that construction of this pipeline would lock in intensive development of these intensely polluting oil deposits, feed global fossil fuel dependency, and make our critical intergenerational work to stop global warming much harder. The protest was effective. The pipeline went from being a non-issue to the focus of serious national discussion, and the President has been forced to take notice.

There was a wide range of ages in the paddy-wagon, and a couple of the younger men were saying: “Come up to Wall Street next month—it is going the be huge”.  I gave them a knowing smile. “Sure it will,” I thought.  In 1980, some friends of mine tried literally to help shut the NY Stock Exchange down as part of an anti-nuclear protest—protesters encircled the doors, the cops busted it up, and nothing much happened.

I am, today, happily eating crow. It is a wonderful feeling when cynicism of the middle-aged is undercut by the accomplishments of the young. While small groups of determined people don’t always change the future, they are, as Margaret Meade famously noted, the only force that ever has.

So what’s next for Occupy Wall Street?

This takes us right to power. How can we really build a just and sustainable future? I teach a leadership class to my second year Masters students at the Bard Center for Environmental Policy. I ask them: “Do you want power?”

“Do you want to inspire lots of people to go where they otherwise wouldn’t? Do you want to run an organization, to set policy, to allocate money, to hire, to take your vision (or a shared vision) to scale? Do you want to be a powerful person, whose actions, words, decisions affect thousands or millions?”

“Or do you want a quiet life?”

Not an easy question for the students, or for any of us, to answer. Their first response tends to be: “I want to empower others”. A worthy goal, but ducking the question. When confronting power, the students fear the responsibility, and they know that power tends to corrupt. And of course, in their lives most of them will pursue some path in the middle. But, nevertheless, one of our central educational goals at CEP is to compel them to leadership, and to power.

Here we are following the age-old tradition of liberal arts education, established over 2400 years ago by Plato. Education takes students out of “the cave” of ignorance, he argued, but then, enforces an obligation on those fortunate enough to have been educated:

“It is our task… to compel the best natures… to make the ascent and see the good. But when they have made it, and looked sufficiently… we will compel them to guard and care for the city… and it will be governed, not like the majority of cities nowadays, by people who fight over shadows and struggle against one another in order to rule– as if that were a great good– but by people who are awake rather than dreaming”

The need for leadership rings true now more than ever. Over the lifetime of our students, if we continue carbon pollution at a business as usual pace, the world is going to heat up around 10 degrees F. To put that number in perspective, during the last ice age, when my office in New York’s Hudson Valley was covered by hundreds of feet of ice, the world was only 9 degrees colder than it is now. The current generation must rise to become the greatest generation, forestalling a swing in global temperatures of ice-age magnitude, only in the opposite direction.

To that end, Bard CEP is creating C2C Fellows: a new national network, an honor society for undergraduates and recent graduates aspiring to sustainability leadership in politics and business. C2C will build power behind a network of compelling messengers: young people who deeply embrace a clean energy vision, and who can create a post-partisan frame to advance concrete policy and private sector steps towards a secure, prosperous and ecologically sound future.

C2C Fellows is based on two ideas. First, as we all know, we don’t have much time. And second, today’s young people can change the world by the time they are 30.

The U.S. Constitution empowers citizens to become members of Congress at age 25. The founding fathers clearly believed in the wisdom of the young, a lesson we are ignoring at our peril. Today’s federal legislators are as gray as they have ever been, with senators averaging close to 60, and House members 55. Young people, if elected in numbers, could bring a game-changing dynamic to Washington. Yet few young people even imagine pursuing this opportunity.

Beyond politics, many students are inspired by the pioneering work of social entrepreneurs, but they face a very sterile ground in conventional business education. As undergraduates, they are thus failing to develop the leadership skills needed to become change agents in the workplace, either launching their own green businesses or transforming conventional workplaces.

C2C Fellows is launching with intensive leadership skills training workshops at Bard College in December, the University of Georgia in February, and at Oberlin College in Ohio in April.  Our team at Bard CEP will involve 200-300 students each year in this training, providing them with follow-up opportunities to help them take seriously their commitment to changing the future.

C2C stands for Campus to Congress, to Capitol, to City Hall, and also for Campus to Corporation. C2C stands for young people gaining control of their future. By 2016, C2C Fellows will be influencing politics and business at the community, state, and national levels. Our Fellows will help Occupy Wall Street, Washington, Main Street, and State Capitols from the inside, and we will do our best to help them avoid corruption on the path to power.

The first step to changing the future is protest. But the second, third and fourth requires protestors, on behalf of their deeply held values, to seek and exercise power, with wisdom, with courage and with grace.

Eban Goodstein is the director of the Bard Center for Environmental Policy. This piece was originally published on the Bard website.

13 Responses to Occupy Wall Street: The Next Generation

  1. anna wharton says:

    Thanks for standing up for the most important environmental disaster waiting to happen in our generation. I hate what our country is planning and what short sighted action corporations are being allowed to take. No amount of lobbying by concerned Canadians is making much of dent in the push for this catastrophe. Thank you for taking part against it. I’m sorry you had to get arrested.

  2. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Phrases such as “to compel them to leadership, and to power” and ‘power corrupts’ makes it perfectly clear that Goodstein has only one idea of organizations and political systems; those based on the first genotypical design principle (DP1)which underlies top down hierarchical orgs and representative democracy.

    Our widespread adoption of this design principle since the beginning of the industrial revolution has created the mess we are in today – yes, power does corrupt in this system because it is inherent in the way the structure works. Just because some politicians resist this temptation does not disprove this easily demonstrated fact.

    There are also other disadvantages in this system such as pushing people into competition with associated maladaptive dynamics such as fight/flight and dependency and maladaptive behaviours such as pursuing self interest.

    I know that many Americans believe this is the only possible form of organization, but it isn’t. There are two genotypical design principles and organizations and political or governance systems based on the second (DP2). This second form induces the opposite behaviours to the first; cooperation, mutual support and respect and care for the common good amongst others.

    As we have allowed DP1 to dominate our organizational lives, we have also allowed it to become the basis of our relationship with the planet. Educating our young in how to become ‘leaders’ in this totally maladaptive system is only going to exacerbate the problem. What we need are crash courses in the design principles and their effects so that the survivors of the coming catastrophe, if there are any, will stand a chance of building an adaptive future, ME

  3. adelady says:

    “…cooperation, mutual support and respect and care for the common good amongst others..” And in the organisations that I and my husband have been involved in at various times, the focused and power-hungry have relentlessly taken over from the benign expectations of the cooperative well-intentioned folks.

    It’s far, far better to train people to deal with all kinds of organisation. And not to talk blandly or vaguely about doing your duty or maintaining good intentions, but to explicitly teach people how to recognise tendencies to corruption (of all kinds) not just in others but in themselves – and in their very best friends.

    It’s much more useful to do a few role plays on how to raise such uncomfortable matters in private or in meetings than to expect everyone to maintain or modify their behaviour in the right way. A couple of introspective essays (not for public consumption) about one’s own doubts, fears and weaknesses can also help people get their heads straight about high standards and how to maintain them despite personal preferences or ‘peer’ pressure from colleagues or family.

    Cooperation is only possible if the others involved are cooperating. Mutual support only works when it’s mutual. Respect is like ‘right of way’ on the roads. If the other driver doesn’t grant it, you don’t have it.

  4. Leif says:

    In the mean time, humanity needs to rest control of the capitalistic system that is beholden to the corporate system which is in turn beholden to the governmental system which is all justified by the Judicial system, which in turn carries water for the Capitalists. Not once is Earth’s life support systems even considered. The very fabric of a sustainable future plundered so Wall Street and Fossil Barons can get their jollies!

    IMO all could be changed if all capitalism were charged to consider and FUND environmental sustainability in all transactions first and foremost. Capitalism must work for humanity. Humanity has worked for capitalism for over 200 years and look what it has got us.

  5. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Adelady, obviously I was my normal unclear self so let me put it another way. Cooperative, competitive, power hungry, self interested etc behaviours are not simply a human choice to be made. They are also, and primarily, the consequences of how those people are organized. They can be organized as equals or unequals.

    When they are organized as equals, i.e. when they hold and share reponsibility for coordination and control, they cooperate with all the flow-ons of cooperation because that is what the structure produces. When they are organized as unequals, i.e. responsibility for coordination and control is located at least one level above where the work, learning or planning is being done, people compete, with all the flow-ons of competition, because that is what the structure produces.

    When the design principle in an org is legally changed and people start working that way, their behaviour changes virtually instantaneously. Nobody believes it until they see it.

    I am sure the experiences you and your husband have had occurred in orgs that were hierarchically organized. It is a tragedy that so many voluntary, and particularly green orgs, are structured as dominant hierarchies and it is just not necessary, ME

  6. adelady says:

    “I am sure the experiences you and your husband have had occurred in orgs that were hierarchically organized”

    Sorry, Merrelyn, not so. It’s certainly true of most of the various bodies we’ve engaged with at various times, but not the ones I’m talking about. The women’s movement of the 70s spawned many non-hierarchical organisations (for want of a better word) and so did several earlier political movements which eschewed the obvious failings of the traditional political parties and other bodies.

    All of those I have in mind are gone. And they disappeared within a very few years of starting. Why? Because certain bodies and some individuals took advantage of the open membership, no-one leads us(!), free discussion, all-in-together modes of cooperative activity. They used to it to advance personal political ambitions, to change the organisation to align with their own aims or just swallowed it whole.

    The only time I’ve seen the kind of organisation you’re talking about succeed is, funnily enough, in industry. The examples are few and far between, but full involvement of all staff in control of the enterprise seems to work wonders.

  7. The U.S. Constitution empowers citizens to become members of Congress at age 25. The founding fathers clearly believed in the wisdom of the young, a lesson we are ignoring at our peril.

    This is … a truly crazy idea. And I like it. :)

    — frank

  8. Chris Winter says:


    First of all, I applaud your dedication to sustainability and human rights, and thank you for protesting in support of these necessary conditions.

    Second, I recognize that entrenched power is not convinced to change its policies by rational arguments for the greater good, no matter how well-constructed they may be. A successful argument must include an appeal to the self-interest of those in power, most often involving a threat of counter-power (e.g. we will not vote for you if you approve Keystone XL). It goes without saying that such threats must be credible.

    This is the legacy of our ape-descended “pecking order” (for want of a better term). Robert Heinlein understood, and his dictum remains valid: “Lead, follow, or get out of the way.”[1]

    However, I know from personal experience that this is not the only possible way to operate. Human families don’t operate this way — at least the ones that function well don’t. Nor do all organizations, as Merrelyn Emery testifies. It comes down to whether or not you’re dealing with the Authoritarian Personality, which IIRC occurs in some 30 percent of people. The fact that most organizations are dominated by Authoritarians is a truism, and is just human nature

    But, contrary to popular belief, human nature is not a constant, unchangeable forever and ever, amen. The term in common parlance generally refers to behavior, and behavior changes in response to external reality — although it is true that external reality must at times become extremely unpleasant to bring about change in someone’s behavior.

    Indeed, history shows us a continuum of changes in human nature. I believe that process of change will continue, and that it must if we are to survive with anything like our current level of achievement. I believe this will involve increasing levels of distributed power, in contrast to the present tendency toward “empire building.” Corporations will not automatically subscribe to the doctrine that unlimited growth is their primary purpose. Instead, as many local businesses already do, they will grow to the size that lets them efficiently provide a product or service. If that means they operate only in a single state, that is where they will operate. Economies of scale are a valid consideration, but not the only one.

    Finally, in regards to your following the model of education propounded by Plato, it chances that just yesterday I happened upon a copy of Karl Popper’s The Spell of Plato. This is volume I of his classic The Open Society and its Enemies. In my brief look at it (all I had time for) I found that he viewed Plato’s philosophy as inevitably leading to totalitarianism. I know that is not your aim, but the discovery gives me pause.

    Wikipedia says:[2]

    Although Popper was an advocate of toleration, he opined that intolerance should not be tolerated.

    For, if tolerance allowed intolerance to succeed completely, tolerance itself would be threatened. In The Open Society and Its Enemies: The Spell of Plato, he argued that:

    Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them.

    The utterance of intolerant philosophies should not always be suppressed, “as long as we can counter them by rational argument and keep them in check by public opinion.” However,

    we should claim the right to suppress them if necessary even by force; for it may easily turn out that they are not prepared to meet us on the level of rational argument, but begin by denouncing all argument; they may forbid their followers to listen to rational argument, because it is deceptive, and teach them to answer arguments by the use of their fists or pistols.

    Furthermore, in support of human rights legislation in the second half of the 20th century, he stated:

    We should therefore claim, in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate the intolerant. We should claim that any movement preaching intolerance places itself outside the law, and we should consider incitement to intolerance and persecution as criminal, in the same way as we should consider incitement to murder, or to kidnapping, or to the revival of the slave trade, as criminal.

    Quite a balancing act, isn’t it?

    [1] Heinlein also wrote a memorable response to “This I believe” which points out that hierarchies are not the whole story.


  9. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Oh Adelady, you are so right about the womens movement of the 1970s and indeed many of the orgs that were set up in the 60s and 70s. They were terrible and I finally left all that I joined after some big fights.

    But they weren’t built on DP2: they were laissez-faire (LF) which is the absence of a design principle, the organizational form discovered for the first time by Lewin et al in 1939. In LF, there are no structural relationships between the people so it is every person for themself and the results both in human terms and productivity are worse than DP1.

    When people do not know about the design principles, they assume that all you have to do to achieve democracy is remove the presence of DP1 but all this achieves is LF with the results we have experienced. That was the major reason the great wave of the 60-70s cultural revolution failed.

    Unfortunately, many people today still equate participative democracy (DP2) with LF which really doesn’t help. If we want a movement like the multipurpose OWS or climate activism to succeed in the long term, we are going to have to ensure that it is properly structured, first to work constructively and second, to sustain, ME

  10. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Nice piece in general Chris but the science has moved on a bit since the Authoritarian Personality. The anthropology says that the vast majority of our ancient cultures were not based on any legacy of ‘pecking order’ but rather on the opposite, equality and cooperation both within the people and with the land. After all, how else could they have kept the place in such good condition for 60,000 years?

    In our own work with changing the design principle, we have met plenty of people who on first meeting appear to be Authoritarian Personalities. They say things like “Over my dead body” and threaten to sabotage the show but who after going through the Participative Design Workshop and experiencing genuine participative democracy, come round and work together just like everybody else.

    Mind you a few don’t. I have personally met a handful of these in over 40 years and it is clear that it is because their total life experiences in DP1 structures have been so damaging that they are incapable of change. As you rightly say, people change their behaviour as the external realities change and it is very rare to see a loss of adaptibility.

    Rather than see people coming as fixed personality types, research shows that people are open purposeful systems, complex indeed and capable of a huge range of adaptive and maladaptive behaviours depending on circumstances, ME

  11. Merrelyn Emery:

    As you yourself readily admit, a DP2-style participative democracy must be deliberately designed. To get DP2 running, one needs to have enough clout to enforce a DP2 structure, and one also needs enough brain power to make the structure durable, because the slightest weakness in a structure can, and will, be exploited by power-hungry/money-hungry types for their own ends.

    You talk as if one just needs to “realize” the power of participative democracy in order for it to work, but the problem is, implementing DP2 is not trivial at all!

    And while you’re busy trying to think up the utopian power structure and to remove any weaknesses in it, the Earth continues to warm. As Goodstein states, “we don’t have much time”. We need to restore true democracy, the rule of law, and respect for the environment, and we need to do that Real Soon Now. We can’t just keep thinking of the “long term”; we also need to quickly come up with something that works reasonably, in the short term.

    — frank

  12. Chris Winter says:

    Thanks, Merrelyn. Evidently I need to brush up on anthropology.

  13. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Frank, I don’t have to dream up any utopian power structure – all the hard, long years of slog was done yonks ago and you can find it all in the literature. Re implementation, we need to distinguish discrete orgs from the state or national political structures. I have given up any hope that we may be able to change those latter in time.

    For individual orgs, large or small, commercial or otherwise, the process is pretty simple, quick and easy. I’ll briefly describe the industrial case.

    To start you need at least an in-principle agreement between mgt and unions that the design principle will be changed. 2. you brief the troops. 3. depending on size, you run one or more Participative Design Workshops in which the people who work in the org, or a section of it, redesign the structure and design in all the practical matters that are required to ensure it will work safely, efficiently and equitably – (a new pay structure is required); a PDW usually takes 1-2 days. When the design work is done, a date is set for changeover which will depend on any essential training etc that needs to be done, usually not more than a month or so. 4. The enterprise bargaining agreement is signed and away you go.

    Non-industrial orgs are even simpler and quicker. There is also a form of PDW for greenfields.

    A colleague of mine is currently working with one of our peak orgs for a series of workshops in which member orgs will participatively plan for mitigation and adaptation, all based on DP2, ME