Is consensus process the key to freedom? I have been pretty convinced that this is the case working my heart out at Occupy Wall st. for the last two months, but my confidence is faltering and it is important to ask why that is.
On the first night when Marina, Marisa and Amin lead a gangbusters GA screaming into the night in the middle of a thousand people we were all hooked. I did not even speak that night, and I love to talk, but I still felt empowered in the community. There was a sense of unity that we would come to miss.
This first GA is something to marvel at. We now struggle with the reality that there are so many “new” people. People just come off the street and into our GA. But on that first night we were all new. There were different subgroups of activists who had known one another from before, but in fact many of us had not laid eyes on one another much less participated in a horizontal consensus making process. We set of down the path of a leaderless movement with the facilitators leading us ahead. Who were these people? A big Palestinian, a well spoken powerful blond, a tiny brunette on fire. Why the fuck did we let them lead at that moment, as in every word they explained to us that this was not about them?
I realize now that the beginning of a horizontal revolution is the eye of the hurricane. It is calm of solidarity in the middle of a storm of disunity. The bigger the revolution the bigger the eye, and the longer that calm of solidarity lasts. We lived in that eye for almost a month as we marveled at the success of holding a park in one of the most militarized locations in America. We had break-out discussions on issues ranging from oppression, transparency and visions. There we found our true genius; the rejection of demands.
Some of the smartest minds from the beginning, put their heart and soul into creating demands. Yotam and Amin some of the movements founders labored under extreme pressure each night trying desperately to draft a list of concrete demands. They edited and re-edited over and over. I was facilitating a lot those days, and would shake my head in pity as they stormed up to the front of the GA after a mammoth session of editing coming down to the wire and now presenting to everyone. They read these manifestos with complete conviction and were beaten back by anarchy in diversity every time. Their manifesto was incredible, sprawling in its inclusionary potential. No marginalized voice or cause seemed uncovered. I would have twinkled my fingers yes, but thank God so many people did not.
NYC you saved us with your un-breakable diversity. Now the movement could grow forever. The efforts of such brilliant individuals were useless, because they were just that individuals. We had grow big enough in two weeks to be representative, and that undefinable collective vision was far more powerful than our best visionaries. Amin and Yotam shook their heads in exaushten after a 3 hour GA. I would ring the sweat out of my shirt from facilitating what amounted to a yelling match. As these marathons ended we couldn't have possibly known that this chaos would be our greatest strength. Not having demands always reminders me how important we are. In the face of a million ideologies we have none. In the face of so much dogma, we have none. In the face of the terrible individualist ego that has destroyed our planet, we fight to be a collective understanding to heal the world. We demand social and economic justice and we will never claim to know what that looks like. Occupy Wall st.’s only claim is we will continue the dialogue towards justice till we achieve it.
The chaos that actually gave us our biggest insight now threatens to destroy the movement. The eye of the hurricane has passed and we now fight against the storm of unleashed individualism and misunderstood, or maybe its real, anarchism. On our two month anniversary the world sees a growing movement, when on the inside it can feel like a movement torn apart. The mad diversity that led us to stumble on our most inclusive decision now seems to threaten the movement’s process as a whole.
A new consensus process has been introduced to OWS. The spokes council is a new decision making body made up of a rotating representative from each of OWS’s working groups. This representative speaks for their collective working group and does not express their own individual opinion. By cutting the number of speaking voices the idea is that the decision making process will be streamlined. The hope was to remove most financial decisions from the GA. This would mean that your average tourist visiting OWS would not have to sit through a proposal presented by the archives working group requesting $2000 dollars for an off sight storage space. The structural minutiae was ruining the civic space that the GA was supposed to represent. The GA is for political discourse not arguments over dollars and cents.
The spokes council was supposed ot fix this, and instead it has descended into the chaotic hurricane of diversity. Working groups vie for a position in the spokes council by claiming that they are a operations group or a caucus. A operations groups represents a structural working group such as “food” “medical” or “finance.” A casus represents a traditionally marginalized group like the “people of color caucus” or the “queer caucus”
The spokes council never got off the ground. Groups fight with one another to fit the criteria. The diversity of egos seems to be on display every night. The chaotic eye of the storm that kept us together in the early ecstasy has passed and now our anarchic diversity rips at our morality every night. I women named Nan screams out in the middle of the meeting and our sensitivities shudder. A women, an African American, the oppression that she has felt in her life now protects her in the all inclusiveness of our movement and she knows it. We can’t kick her out even as she destroys each nights meetings. We don’t have demands, everyone is welcome, and if we challenge this diverse reflection of our world by kicking Nan out we will undermine our inclusive strength. Day and night we work tirelessly to rebuild the reflection of our broken world.
If you think the system is rotten to the core then success means creating new parrell systems. Is the direct democratic process this system? My answer is that we live in a broken world. We have been broken by that system and our collective pain does not seem to bring us together. We fight for the same old crumbs on the same old table. This time we are moving towards a reality of our own making, but we cannot escape the feeling that we must fight one another to the finish. Direct democracy will not be democratic until be make the interpersonal changes to make it sustainable and until then we will continue practicing dirty consensus in a broken world.