Consensus Is Rad(ical)! Occupy Ann Arbor GA Recap

This has been an inspiring few days for the Occupy movement in Michigan. Between Wednesday’s Funeral for Democracy in Lansing, Friday’s Tribal Summit in Flint, and today’s General Assembly in Ann Arbor, it’s been great to see the organization of Occupy in Michigan come together. After over a month of occupying, people in various Michigan occupations are growing together in mutual trust, admiration, and friendship. Everything is really starting to congeal. Occupy is starting to take over our lives and we’re all the happier for it!

One of the central goals of the Occupy movement is to develop and promote direct-democratic processes. At today’s GA in Liberty Plaza, Occupy Ann Arbor engaged in a thought-provoking discussion on how to enact this radical democratic change of building community on the basis consensus and mutual cooperation.

Operating on consensus represents a radical change from the political status quo. For Americans, building consensus is likely to be a new, unfamiliar process. We tend to think of politics as a competitive, adversarial arena where opposing parties duke it out for supremacy. Politics in America is less about cooperatation and constructive dialogue and more promoting individual agendas and getting one’s own way.  One side always wins and one side always loses.

Consensus, on the other hand, is about cooperation, not competition. Make no mistake: enacting the shift from competitive politics to consensus-based politics is a huge task. Change will not happen over night. But Occupy Ann Arbor boldly took it upon itself today to build this change.

The GA began with smaller groups breaking out to discuss questions about the nature of consensus. With about 30 people in attendance, we were all asked to answer the following questions: “What kinds of action need consensus, particularly by the General Assembly?” and “Where is the line between consensus and autonomous action?”

The Occupy movement is attempting the balancing act of building consensus while encouraging autonomous action. If someone wants to start a working group, they are empowered start one autonomously without the prior consent of the GA. If someone sees a task that needs to be done, they are encouraged to form a group around the task. But the question is, when do these autonomous groups need to get consensus from the GA to carry out tasks? Occupy can only grow and thrive in an environment where self-motivated action is encouraged. But things get tricky when people acting autonomously do things that that the larger community might not necessarily approve of.

While it is impossible to answer these questions in the space of a single GA, these questions are important. In order to sort out these issues, those in attendance at today’s GA decided to form two new working groups: one devoted to drafting an Occupy Ann Arbor Principles and Goals document and the other devoted to resolving issues related to GA quorum  (quorum is the minimal number of people required at a GA for consensus to be reached on proposals).

In addition to discussing the consensus process, a number of working groups reported back on recent successes and future projects.

The education working group reported on the all-day Day of Activism conference that it is planning for December 11. Potential workshops and panels include ones on the history of revolutions, alternatives to capitalism, civil disobedience, and homelessness.

The community working group reported on Friday’s successful benefit for their Warming Shelters Project where they $685 raised for the warming shelter.

The direct action group reported on the special Black Friday action it is organizing. The action promises to be a rousing good time. While the group is keeping the details on the down-low, direct action is organizing a flash-mob style protest in a major big box store. The next planning meeting will be Tuesday 6pm at Cafe Ambrosia. For those who wish to be involved in the action, people will be meeting Friday at Veteran’s park  for rideshares (parking lot on Maple, across from Plum Market) in Ann Arbor, and leave to the action site promptly at 10:15am. The Action will bring awareness to shopping local verses supporting major corporations that have not only harmed the economy, but also have poor treatment of their workers.

Occupy U of M made its presence known at the GA. Their first GA will be on November 30. They will be organizing a practice GA to help develop process. The cool thing about Occupy UM is that anyone may get involved, whether or not affiliated with UM. Stay tuned for more details!

Big thanks to the fantastic facilitation team for all their hard work in fostering an open, cooperative space for conversation.