Voices From The Occupation – 4th November 2011

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Voices From The Occupation
Occupy London Finsbury Square
The Trouble With Consensus
I used to think we lived in a democracy. However, experiencing the the challenge of forming consensus and general assembly, I realise I may have been labouring under a misapprehension. People are used to having no say, used to general apathy, resigned to it being that way. This has real repercussions. The pay off of having no say, is also having no responsibility – “It’s wrong, it’s someone else’s fault and there is NOTHING I can do about it”.
In the last three UK general elections, almost as many members of our electorate abstained, as voted. The one’s who vote the same as the majority, see their nominee elected. Democracy in the Occupy Movement is not the same.
You share a physical space. There is an agenda. Everyone has an equal voice. Anyone can raise a proposal, put it to the whole assembled camp. However, it is not a majoritarian vote. Anyone can respond to your proposal by raising their hand to make a direct point, their crossed arms to disagree, or block the proposal with a veto.
What this means is – a) if you have an idea or an issue, you have a forum to voice it, together with your plan to manage it, and b) Your peers WILL have an opinion and the equal opportunity to make it known.
You need to be able to discuss, debate and form real consensus to move forward. This takes time. It also takes a kind of direct conversation that most of us just are not used to.
Faced with this new system, some of us are having a meltdown. I have seen proposers walk out the moment their proposal is disagreed with, unable to tolerate debate of their idea. One guy who did this muttered under his breath as he left ‘this aint animal farm!’.
We need to remember, or learn, debate is healthy. A vigorous interrogation of an idea, inside the context of collaboration, is an awesome thing. It is how we put aside unworkable ideas and strengthen workable ones, with a kind of collective intellectual effort.
So, it is time for us to be responsible for our camp, our opinions and our reaction to challenge. To be generous and remember why we came here.
Others of us, yet to overcome the habits of abstention and complaint, wave through proposals only to disappear after the assembly to indulge in a bit of good old fashioned British gossip. ‘Oh they don’t care about OUR opinions do they?!’
Thing is, no one can raise our ideas, issues and opinions except us. We are each our own representatives. At OccupyLFS, where I am camping, even the facilitator of the General Assembly changes each night, and is voluntary.
So here’s the kicker -if we feel our voice isn’t being heard, the buck stops with each of us individually. In short, we each need to be responsible for having our voice heard. There is no higher power on camp, than me and you and everyone else.
There are some amazing things happening at OccupyLFS, LSX and across the global Occupy Community to address all of the above. Education. Tent City Universities everywhere are running workshops on consensus, facilitation and negotiation. Story telling groups are held to raise our experience and confidence speaking in groups. Each General Assembly starts with an explanation of process, so people are enfranchised to have a voice in the assembly.
The answer, as so often, is patience and generosity with ourselves and each other, as we educate ourselves in this new way of being. Be kind. We’ll get there. We’ll get there precisely by managing these hurdles effectively, as a group, however discomforting that is to us bunch of individuals.
This is what democracy looks like.

7 thoughts on “Voices From The Occupation – 4th November 2011

  1. Well expressed and clearly echoes my own experience at Occupy LSX :) What surprises me too is that although I may make a proposal and some will block – I remain interested in their views and look forward to the additional input. Sometimes it enriches, other times it makes no impact on my opinion but each time – it causes no ill-feeling between blocker & proposer. The power of 'Occupy' is in the participants/supporters' awareness of the problems and insistance on confronting them – it is in our diversity though that we are discovering true democracy.Tina Louise

  2. So many people are angry, however there are those that would hi jack the movement to put their own agenda to the fore. This is about the system we live in, and the exploitation we are under and will be oppressed by in the near future, not peoples race or religous belief, beware of anyone who wants to change the agenda…

  3. That is exactly what I'm talking about. Those Vanderbiltians felt heard. Listened to. Appreciated for their contribution. Under other circumstances, this could got nasty. Occupy members were amazing.

  4. Frustration with democtratic debate usually arises when different people make the same point over and over and tautological conversation becomes the only way people feel they can get heard. Responding to that challenge repeatedly makes the proponent think "Screw this, I've answered that question already, WERE THEY NOT LISTENING??" When people feel they have a voice AND IT'S LISTENED TO and it has a direct impact on proceedings it makes them more responsible for their speech. Ergo, they begin to make clear and articulate challenge that betters the original proposal, rather than bleating and getting overruled. It is the speaking and the listening that are equally important in democracy and at Occupy, it looks like there is an education in both.It will take time for people to transform their thinking. But time is what it is going to take.

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