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.