I have been involved in my local Occupy Santa Fe movement since our first day of action, outside Bank of America, on October 1st. I was struck then by the hope and inspiration that lit up the 60 or so faces of the people around me, and the almost constant sound of honking horns as passing drivers enthusiastically signaled their support. Since then we have held further rallies, organized marches, mic checks, workshops, teach-ins, and begun political campaigns. We have gathered for General Assembly three times a week, we have launched countless Working Groups, and we maintained a physical occupation almost consistently for three months.
However, the Occupy movement is not without its struggles. The energetic honeymoon period of those first few weeks, when revolution and transformation was on everyone’s lips and appeared eminently possible, even inevitable, is over, and we are now dealing with the stark reality of all that we must confront and all that we must transform.
We have attempted to bridge the gap between the highest aspirations and values of the movement and the reality of the culture in which we live. We have not always succeeded.
The harmony of the early actions and meetings has given way to division and arguments over tactics, strategy, process, and identity. General Assemblies have at times become fractious, and on one occasion even violent, and have led some of the founders of the local movement to walk away in despair at ever creating a better world. The structure and process of General Assembly and Working Groups have attracted criticism, complaint, obstruction and sabotage. Activists have turned on one another, and it sometimes seems as though we spend more energy fending off personal attacks and responding to spurious gossip than we do working for change.
Santa Fe had one of the longest-running camps in the U.S.A., which inspired community support and opprobrium in roughly equal measure. Though the camp attempted to model itself on that of Liberty Plaza, with zero tolerance of drugs, alcohol and inebriation, the reality was a series of disturbing alcohol-fueled episodes, occasional outbreaks of violence, theft, and discord. Camp was the source of much disagreement in General Assembly, with those wishing to withdraw support pointing to the dysfunction of the camp, while others focused on historical oppression of those marginalized by our society – the homeless and the victims of alcoholism and addiction – and their right to our support. In the end, just as the City of Santa Fe started to make noises about closing down the camp, the General Assembly of Santa Fe took action and withdrew funding and logistical support. An incredibly difficult and painful decision for many to take, it was ultimately supported by consensus, including some of those who had been campers.
What is happening? Why has this movement, that began with the vibrant fall colors reflecting the depth of our belief and hope, so quickly lost its luster? What has happened to the promise of Occupy?
I believe that the transformation we are trying to bring about is huge and that the problems we are facing are an inevitable result of the size and nature of the task.
Occupy is trying to bring our community together, to reconcile, to welcome all voices, and to work together toward common values. But participatory, consensus-based, grassroots democracy is not easy, and we are not practiced in it. Rather we are conditioned to give away our power to others or to scapegoat.
We live in a culture that has forced us all to turn away and suppress our natural inclinations toward compassion, relationship, and respect. It is a culture so violent and oppressive that we have grown to believe it is natural to make war on those we disagree with. It is a culture so greedy that we don’t hesitate to exploit the riches and beauty of the earth for our own comfort and pleasure. It is a culture so individualistic and selfish that we barely blink at the vast inequalities in material wealth that surround every one of us. It is a culture so riven by fear and dominated by power that true social justice for all is a dream that seems all but impossible to achieve. And, most importantly, it is a culture that has become enslaved to the impersonal systemic forces of economics that, at some level, exploit us all.
To transform such a culture requires that we transform ourselves and our political and social processes. And transformation is, at best, disorienting, and at times destructive in its process of upheaval and change. Having grown up in this culture, so far from what our hearts know is possible and continue to long for, we all carry within us internalized anger, fear and distrust. In relation to the dominant culture and the established power elites, those emotions are not misplaced. On the contrary, they are both understandable and rightly placed.
We come to Occupy carrying all of this cultural baggage with us. No wonder then that the growth of this movement is challenging and fractious. No wonder that common ground is hard to find when the dominant culture has so divided us.
But Occupy’s struggles are necessary and beneficial. The disagreements and challenges we face are the “grist for the mill,” the vehicles by which we learn, the opportunities to take another step in our growth as a movement and society.
In order to support that transformation, we must come to see these moments for what they are – opportunities to grow and learn. And we must find a place of equanimity and gratitude within ourselves in the face of each learning experience, both towards the situation itself and to the people who are challenging us. We only start to go astray when we perceive what is happening as the problem, and we start casting about for the people who are to blame, the forms and procedures that are wrong. Instead, we must all examine ourselves and our own capacities to rise out of the dominant culture of violence and oppression.
This is not to bring a Pollyanna perspective. When we disagree with someone, we must tell them; when we see the flaw in a strategy or tactic, we must say so; when a step in consensus decision-making has been missed, we must name that; and when personal agendas trample over process and consensus, we must not stand by silently in progressive, liberal apathy.
This is a call to invest in the integrity of our actions and the moral focus of the movement. Gandhi’s teaching is now so oft-repeated that it has become a cliché, but right now the necessity to “be the change we want to see in the world,” is paramount. That is true for each individual activist and for the Occupy movement as a whole. We are not there yet, I am not there yet, but this aspiration must be our guiding star, for under that light we will occupy the moral high-ground and catalyze a societal transformation that will be so much more than cosmetic change.
Occupy is about evolution and transformation, not revolution. We will not replace existing leaders with new leaders or attempt to fix what is broken in the existing power structures; instead we must bring forth a new story. The root of this new story is love — love for ourselves, love for each other, love for our planet, and a deep and profound love and longing for justice.
That love is backed by a fierce commitment to seeing this through. I know that because I feel it in my own heart and I see it in the eyes of all the beautiful, brave souls alongside whom I am so proud to work. And it is that quality of love that I believe must guide our interactions with each other as we find our way through the storms of challenge and the disorienting dilemmas of these early days of our transformation. In that love and commitment rests the hope that Occupy will become truly worthy of the 99%.
– Thomas Jaggers]]>
Consensus is a process. I laid it out as best I could – tried to make it bite-sized and accessible.
At the heart of consensus is discussion.
Communally we develop the proposal. Ask questions to make sure we understand it, but also to make sure the proposer hasn’t missed any opportunities or details – not to question the motives of the proposer, but to help the proposal be better.
We express our concerns so as to take any opportunities for oppression and place them out in the open for everyone to see and address. To move forward together.
Our greatest asset – as a movement, as a community – is the individual experiences, feelings, and knowledge that each person brings to the collective.
The ability of a group to reach consensus on anything is dependent on the group having some level of shared goals, visions, and principles that bring it together. It doesn’t have to be explicitly stated or documented, but at least on an individual level, we have to acknowledge what brought us here, and assume that some part of that brought everyone else here too.
… in a nutshell …
In its broadest sense, Occupy Wall Street seeks social and economic justice – an end to the systems of oppression that consolidate wealth in the hands of the extreme few at the expense of everyone else. Obviously there is so much more. But if you want my sound byte of what OWS stands for, there you go.
Occupy Wall Street wants to liberate space – both physical and ideological. Without public space in the hands of the people, the community, can a public sphere truly exist? And ideological space, taken up for generations by the moneyed few, utilizing violence and systematized pillars of oppression to hold power over women, people of color, and gender queer (to name a few), is being opened up for those voices to be raised – by taking their rightful place in this discussion,we shape a more inclusive and just society.
… morality …
To be perfectly honest, yes, our system of consensus can be abused. The way it is currently set up, we can only accept a block at face value, as the blocker explains it. Regardless of how well that block is explained, whether it is along explicit moral, ethical or safety lines, or someone only having a few words to say why they can’t let the proposal pass, the block stands.
As a community, we can take their explanation, try to understand it, and try to empathize with their position, their feelings, their experience and offer an amendment that might be found agreeable to both the blocker and the proposer so that as a community we can move forward toward consensus.
What we cannot do – what we must not do – is question the block itself.
And this brings me to my first block.
I’ve regularly been attending General Assemblies since October 17th. When not on a Facilitation team, I have rarely spoken to the Assembly. I tend to think that if I give it enough time, someone else will say what I’m thinking. Often I’m right, sometimes not.
This is what we call, “Step Up, Step Back.” If those of us with male, white-skin privilege step back, opening up the space for those who have traditionally not been encouraged to take it, someone will have the opportunity to step up and say pretty much exactly what we would have said.
There have been proposals I haven’t agreed with, or don’t particularly like, so I down-twinkle them in the temperature check. If I really don’t like it, and it moves to modified consensus, I’ll vote no.
There was a proposal a few days ago requesting the GA to ask two members of the Housing Working Group step down from leadership and coordination roles. I have serious concerns with recent decisions and actions of the individuals in question and supported the concept of this request, but the individuals were not present during this proposal or the discussion surrounding it. I think it’s extremely problematic to essentially put people on trial in absentia.
I stood aside. I had serious concerns with the proposal, but defaulted to the community to make the ultimate decision.
… the proposal …
A proposal that has been bounced around and discussed amongst individuals for a while now, possibly in part instigated by people’s reading of CT Butler’s “On Conflict & Consensus,” is that the community should be able to evaluate the validity of a block and decide if it meets certain criteria. For the record, I have never read CT Butler. I’ve heard him speak some, but have not read his book. Also for the record, I don’t really care what he has to say on this topic. OWS is like nothing anyone has ever seen before, and previously held notions or ideas have to adapt to OWS, not the other way around.
The blocking proposal has gone through various forms, and has come before the GA at least twice. I happened to be on the Facilitation Team both times and therefore couldn’t participate in the conversation. This past Sunday, it came up again, and I was finally able to add my voice to the conversation.
In its current form, the proposal wanted to empower the community to call a point of process on a block if any member of the General Assembly felt that the block was not meeting the criteria of an ethical, moral, or safety concern. The Facilitator would then take a straw poll to see if the community considered the block to meet those criteria. If 75% of the Assembly were in agreement that the block is valid, then it would stand. If not, it would be collectively removed.
… concerns …
I have many concerns with this proposal and the direct and implied effects it would have on the movement as a whole and the individuals that make it up.
I expressed my concerns during that point of the process and being that the proposer or the subsequent friendly amendments did not alleviate them, I chose to block the proposal. I tried to articulate my concerns as best I could, both during that stack and again when I explained my block.
I’ve thought about it extensively in the days since and had conversations with people who were not in attendance, in preparation for when this proposal eventually comes up for consideration at a future General Assembly.
… blocked …
I blocked this proposal because it so antithetical to everything this movement stands for, in my eyes.
Occupy Wall Street, as a movement, is about addressing root causes. We seek to create social and economic justice.
This is not a charity and this is not about bandaging symptoms. If we can address symptoms, and alleviate suffering along the way – as a byproduct of our work – that is great, but our focus has to be deeper – our path must be laid out and must be long-term.
Taking a temperature check on the validity of blocks is not a means to build more meaningful consensus.
This proposal is designed to deal with individuals who make our process more difficult than some feel it needs to be. It is in effect putting a bandage on people’s discomfort and frustration. It is not dealing with, acknowledging, or seeking to remedy the root causes that might result in someone feeling the need to obstruct our process in the only definitive and powerful way we have – the block.
Consensus is about discussion, debate, dissent, concessions, questioning, all with the intent of resolving conflict.
This proposal is a cop-out.
This proposal adds process in place of building community. We need to put in the time and hard work to get to know each other, as people, in order to build this community. It will, and should be, hard, slow work.
But, it will be worth it.
… prefigurative …
As a movement, we must be prefigurative. It is our obligation to embody the ideals and values of the world we seek to create. The ends do not justify the means. We cannot build a new world on the groundwork of an ugly movement.
We can only hope to drown out the negative voices with the even louder voices of positivity. Attempting to silence the voices we find disagreeable is re-creating the systems of oppression we are trying to topple.
Because this is a movement of incredibly diverse people with different backgrounds, upbringings and experiences, we need to acknowledge that different people have different communication styles and unconventional articulation abilities, or prior access to education. But that doesn’t mean their input is less valid.
I think we’ve seen quite often that – while I love this community passionately – it’s not always a safe space. I would like to have faith that in some cases, when someone blocks, they do have a moral or ethical concern, but perhaps they don’t feel safe expressing those concerns, for fear of being a dissenting voice, or facing hostility from the other members of the Assembly.
At some point, we need to trust that people come here to act in good faith.
Obviously not everyone does, and I’m not talking about provocateurs or infiltrators, but people who traditionally haven’t been given the space to have their voice heard and perhaps are acting out now that that space has been provided.
But that doesn’t seem like a good reason to me to add in additional punitive process.
In the absence of community agreement and shared values, which I am conflicted about documenting this early in the life of this movement –this occupation – this proposal feels exclusionary to me.
I’m not quite sure we’re ready to say definitively what our community values are, or our shared ideals, or goals. The Safer Spaces Community Agreement for Spokes Council is a good start for our code of conduct, but I don’t think that’s exactly the same as defining what our values are.
Occupy Wall Street has only been around for four months and our scope is huge. There has to be room for dissent and disagreement and discussion within our movement. We need to be inclusive, not codify punitive measures of exclusion.
There are individuals in this movement who have been labeled disruptors or agitators. People who recently have taken the position of blocking just about any proposal asking for funds that do not address the basic needs of the homeless Occupier population – food, housing, and Metrocards, for example. There is an argument that can be made that these blocks are made along ethical lines – that this occupation has people dependent on it, and we have an obligation to care for them; with funds depleting we must focus on their needs.
You don’t have to agree with this line of thinking, but agreement is not the issue.
… misdirection …
This proposal is clearly a way to target individuals and not the issues at hand. Already we see adverse reactions to certain individuals, regardless of the content. Either their presentations, or they themselves, are enough to make people tune out before they even begin speaking.
Taking a temperature check to evaluate a block feels punitive, and I’m not sure we have a right as community to address the concerns of specific individuals as it pertains to a block.
We should not debate the validity of anyone’s individual concerns. Rather, we can decide communally, having heard the blockers’ concerns and the stand asides’ concerns, that we still want this proposal to move forward. We can do that. We have a process for it – modified consensus.
But what we should not have is a system in place to validate or nullify someone’s moral, ethical, or safety concerns, however effectively they are communicated.
I’d rather have modified consensus at the expense of consensus than consensus at the expense of an individual.
… unfriendly …
A friendly amendment was suggested – and accepted by the proposer – to put in place a one-week trial period to see how this whole process would play out. When I restated my concerns to explain my block the proposer reminded me of the amendment to see if I would be willing to delay my block a week. To allow this trial period to happen so as a community we can evaluate it based on practice.
My response was, “I do not feel comfortable putting a trial period on what I feel is immoral.” I stand by that.
This proposal is ugly. I don’t blame the people who wrote it or the people who support it. I understand why they want this failsafe in place. It would be convenient. It would make things easy. But the more embedded I get with OWS, the more I learn about the history of radical and revolutionary movements and organizations, the more I truly believe this should not be easy.
If it were easy, it would have been done already.
If it were easy, we’d be living in a more just world.
If it were easy we would have toppled the pillars of oppression that uphold the empire.
We have to be willing to put in the hard work – to live better now – to create a better world as we go.
I’m willing to put in the work. I’m willing to struggle. I’m willing to be frustrated and angry and exhausted.
I’m willing because I am looking forward to the eventual victories of our collective struggle.
This – this very difficult struggle – is why I occupy.
– Brett Goldberg (@PoweredByCats on Twitter)]]>
I wandered in and stood around for just a minute before a young guy sitting pretty far away, all bundled and hooded for the cold snap, spoke up with “Happy New Year’s Eve,” flashing a huge grin. He was hanging out with a guy playing guitar and a bunch of people listening, typing, blowing on their hands. I walked over and when the song ended, started talking to the guy still smiling. Maybe you know him? A super sweet kid named Frankie. He’s just 21 and joined the occupy movement when he was sitting at home watching the march over the Brooklyn Bridge on the news. He said he nudged his little brother, said “Watch this,” then ran out of the house to join.
Frankie and I talked for a while in the atrium. I ended up giving him the food I brought and he took it over to where people were gathering. We hung out for a few hours, first looking up numbers for shelters (and WIC and other assistance) for the woman outside, then we went for a walk so he could show me other OWS sites. We went to SIS–Shipping, Inventory, and Storage. I was a little self-conscious about blundering through OWS admin work or whatever, but it being Christmas Eve and Frankie being so warm and winning, it felt like a minor worry. We met some other people just walking around and then made it to SIS where he introduced me to Nick and Nick. I ended up hanging out with them a little, hearing their stories of getting to New York. One of the Nicks was a Marine vet who’d been passing through on his bicycle and decided to stay. Really nice guys. There was a lot of talk about family and Christmas and a little talk about the frustrations they had with the OWS protocols — mostly telling stories about big personalities that broke rules / caused problems.
After they closed SIS, they took me for pbr at Charlie’s Place, I think it was called. It was a short walk, but very, very good to get out of the cold again. At 60 Wall St. earlier, Frankie and I had taken turns closing the doors on either side of the atrium because the cops kept propping them open. Fucking annoying. I was exhausted at the end of a few hours and can’t even imagine how people who are also staying in shelters, like Frankie, feel — but even with all of the short, antagonistic bickering I saw, one still peeled off to join for the beer; and one of the Nick’s offered food to another right after a confrontation. The coolest thing was hearing each of them talk, warmed up by beer, about still being deeply committed to the whole, no matter how stupid the problems. I really can’t wait to see these people again.
Washington, DC–The big question on everyone’s mind seems to be, “Did the SEIU try to co-opt the occupy movement?” We all knew the Democratic Machine would attempt this at some point, so was this the first attempt? I think they tried early in the week and got dealt a massive blowback by three hundred occupiers that defiantly marched out of the SEIU camp, held general assemblies to talk out strategy, and aired tons of grievances directly to the organizers.
Obviously I don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes. I assume something dastardly. But I know that the SEIU structure made a noticeable shift in power with our actions. They stopped enforcing wrist bands for food, allowing hungry but unaffiliated people to eat. They worked horizontally with some occupiers to open up two hours of us introducing the concept of a general assembly, consensus, the history of the movement, and all the spirit finger stuff.
We then posed a question to the audience of rank-and-file and participants. I recognized the three organizers in the audience that had been introduced from the meeting the previous day. So, everyone was in attendance, along with an estimated thirty occupiers in a crowd of about one hundred and fifty people. “What ways can the Occupy Movement and Labor further their similar goals?”
We lost a little bit of attendance and ended up taking the most interested parties (the three organizers were not among them) and moving to the international tent. We now had a split group of about fifteen occupiers and fifteen union members. I believe there was a writer for Truthout present and a Mother Jones writer who came in late. Either way, Gia shot video and recorded the discussion.
The conversation was really productive, in my opinion. These workers said the same types of things that people say on their first day visiting an occupation. Most of them were just as radical and excited about the “systemic change” needed. I said something about Occupy co-opting the unions and giving them their teeth back. I said I thought a great marriage would be using the direct and radical action that occupations have spearheaded and inspired with the numbers the unions can mobilize.
And Liz, who facilitated in OWS and helped us in our first days here in Occupy LA, made great points about questioning all of the privileges a capitalist society creates. Check that privilege! And stop policing our comrades that take the streets! I’m excited to see the media our people shot.
We exchanged contact info and agreed it would be helpful to continue organizing actions together in a transparent, local-level way. OccupyLA hopped into a ‘SEAL’ action [covert and risque] where we went to protest Speaker of the House John Boehner’s Christmas Party at the Chamber of Commerce. Great target, and it was a combination of clever renditions of Christmas caroling and angry boos when attendees arrived and had to walk around a “99% Carpet” with protesters prostrate underneath. It was a great photo-op, as union events tend to be.
I talked with a few occupiers about the week’s events, and no one could recall a protest against a Democrat. There was a “find your representative” action, but it was fairly neutral in messaging and more educational.
I spent the next hour at a sandwich shop with Occupies Boston, LA, Portland, and travelling occupiers. Strategy, shared meals, and a breakout spoken word session. Reminded me of just how protective we must be of this movement. Of course we will not be co-opted, even though they try. We are all too beautiful and brave to allow that. We all clearly march to the beat of our own autonomous drums, and poetry by fiery revolutionaries reassures me of that.
We walked on over to the Washington Monument for the second ‘national general assembly’ of occupiers and whomever else wanted to attend. There were 19 occupations and 5 organizations (unions, businesses, etc.) It worked more like a giant working group, where facilitation posed 2 questions:
We shared contact info, and just like how OccupyLA started, we took down emails for a google group. Funny how organic processes can repeat themselves. Nevertheless, just like the first general assembly, it was like a family reunion. We were more determined to talk strategy, and I think the notes show that.
Personally, I feel like the initial backlash to the situation at the National Mall was real, collective, and necessary. And with the events and awareness that happened throughout the rest of the week, I’ll submit that the Occupy Movement passed with flying colors. We were all transparent in our gripes with unions and yet were still open to talking issues and vision of whatever it was that brought each occupier to the streets.