Tuesday, October 4, 2011

On consensus process and the goals of the "Occupy" movement

Author's note:  I wrote this for the Occupy Atlanta group, but it is not an "official" statement from that group. It is my own viewpoint.  When I say "we," I am speaking to, rather than for, other participants in the group/movement.  Which could be you, if you like.

"The master's tools will never dismantle the master's house." - Audre Lorde

We can't do things the same way and expect different results; that way proverbially lies madness. If you want to change anything for real you have to change culture, and culture change begins with people. Culture is people.

I've been around for a while; my first job was working for the Atlanta Greenpeace office, back when there was such a creature. I have been in a number of activist and religious groups over the years which were governed by consensus, and believe me I know the frustration that the slow messy operation of it can produce. And yet, I want everyone to understand that consensus is not just an awkward caltrop in the path to "real" action. In a very real sense, consensus process is the doing of the thing we wish to accomplish.

We aren't just pointing out the inequities of our society, or that corporate greed has brought us all to the brink of the abyss, or that the lobbyist system of government is corrupt. We might say all of those things, and a great deal more; we are a diverse bunch of people with a lot of opinions. And we're ok with that.

We aren't just here to speak a message; there are a million other organizations out there who have said what we are saying before. They are much more polished and orderly than any Occupy group probably ever will be. They are effective in various ways and to various degrees. Direct actions have also been tried before. They sometimes work, and sometimes don't. The elements of Occupy Wall Street are not really new, and yet they have captured people's imagination. Some of it is the historical moment. Some of it is another thing; the bracing shock of real freedom. We are so used to conversations that are carefully measured and weighed, calculated and manipulated, that the spectacle of a bunch of people speaking their minds about things they find important in raucous discord and occasional harmony is confusing. The news media certainly seem confused.

What we are doing is not just trying to prove a point, or challenging authority. We are demonstrating an alternative. Look around you. This is radical equality...never perfect in the moment, but in the next moment it can always be better. There is something magical about it even when it's tiresome and painful and awkward. This is what democracy looks like when you strip the motor down.

We are building the beloved community literally as we speak, and in our speaking. If you disrespect the process, or dismiss it, or look for too much focus in a polyphony of voices, you are missing a crucial aspect of the point.

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