Intro to Direct Democracy

Well, I wouldn’t say the party last night was kickin’. I might say it was “punchin'” though ha ha. There was a fair amount of people there but with LAX being so large, it certainly didn’t feel like it. It doesn’t matter how many people are at a party, if they’re not packed in tight, people aren’t going to have a good time! (That’s how that works, right?) Hopefully we helped Omar get on his feet though. It’s been a rough road for his business. What’s interesting about this whole situation is that if he were to open again while the Occupation is happening across the street, I can easily see our greatest ally becoming an adversary as we struggle to cope with the winter and lack of facilities. This is speculative of course, but I don’t see how letting us continue to use his building while he attempts to attend to his clientele would be productive from a business standpoint. But perhaps I’m underestimating the goodwill of Omar. One of the greatest surprises about joining the #Occupy movement for me has been the glimpses of humanity and goodwill in people that I had never encountered before in everyday life. If the #Occupy movement were to leave one thing behind as it’s legacy, I suppose that’s the best one.

I was surprised upon my arrival at Occupy Detroit that a number of people had never heard the term “horizontalism”. After all, it’s one of the guiding principles of the #Occupy movement; shouldn’t most if not all involved be familiar with it? Then again, I admit that I was quite surprised myself to find out that #OWS had it’s own guiding system of democracy upon my arrival to Liberty Plaza, so perhaps I shouldn’t be quite so judgmental.

There are so many facets to the #Occupy movements that it’s hard to choose where to begin when describing it. (As if that message hasn’t been clear from the national media’s jumbled and superficial coverage of the movements.) There is of course, the “protest” aspect to it; exercising our right to peaceful assembly, calling attention to the corruption of our political/economic systems; and then there is the oft-missed model-society aspect (among others). While the #Occupy movement itself stands for a message, the physical Occupations themselves are attempting to create a microcosm of what an ideal society could possibly be. This is based on a system of direct democracy, guided by the non-hierarchical principles of horizontalism; that no one individual has any more power or sway than any other. We’re all on the same plane. My sentiments on whether or not this is a scalable model for a nation or a world is that it’s debatable, but there is no doubt this is the best way to govern the individual Occupations.

The General Assembly (GA) is the centerpiece of this direct democratic system in the #Occupy movements. It is a gathering of everyone involved, carefully facilitated, so that each voice can be heard and each opinion weighed. Decisions are made at the GA by coming to a collective agreement, or “consensus”. GA agenda items range from announcements, report-backs from working groups such as the media or medical teams, to reaching consensus on direct actions (such as a march), approving financial expenses, and everything in between that affects the community as a whole. If consensus can’t be reached regarding a particular proposal or agenda item, then it is tabled, reworked, and presented again at the next GA until a consensus can be reached.

The GA uses a variety of hand-signals to express their opinions. These are used as a method of non-verbal communication to ensure that speakers are not interrupted, that each opinion is heard, and that everyone is respected. This is especially important in Liberty Plaza, where amplification has been banned by authorities. To overcome this, Occupiers have invented an innovative technique referred to as “The People’s Mic”, where speakers use short phrases which are repeated by the GA in “layers” (rounds) so that we amplify each other’s voices so that everyone can hear.

I could type even more to describe this process, but I already did that for this pamphlet which I’m waiting to get approved by #occupydetroit’s faciliation working group. If you’re interested, read on! By which I mean, click here!

(I’ll also admit, I lifted a great amount of text from NYCGA’s Facilitation Training guide, which can be found here.)

Day 1
The first day was a blur. Earlier I spoke of seeing a glimpse of humanity I hadn’t witnessed before inside the movement. Often times in our daily lives when we’re in public areas, we may pass random people on the sidewalk, make eye contact, and immediately look away as we continue past each other. Other people, and I myself am guilty of this on occasion, will stare into their phones or mp3 players as they pass, pretending that the other person doesn’t even exist in order to avoid any sort of social encounter. Have we become a society of insular assholes, or has it always been this way?

My first couple hours in Liberty Plaza was an exercise in the opposite. As I wandered around, I quickly discovered that making eye contact with someone was an invitation for a conversation. If they happened to be standing in a circle of people, it was an invitation into the collective discussion. Once you break through the perimeter of canvassers, sign-bearers, and performance artists (who were largely absent my first couple days there), you’ll find the park is full of small groups of people talking about big ideas, and anyone can wander freely from circle to circle to collect and express opinions. Perhaps the most amazing thing is that unlike everyday life when discussing politics, these circles contain purely civil discourse. There is a deep mutual respect that runs through the mindset of the Occupiers; where even if vast ideological differences are encountered, they are not treated as adversarial views, but rather as a different lens through which to view the world, and a gauge to weigh your own views against.

In the midst of this, I got a text from Nathanael. “Hey, if u wanna come to the call to action working group, it’s at the library now. I’m here.”. I had no idea what the Call to Action working group was, or even what a working group was at that time, but since I had lost track of Nathanael and this sounded like something important to attend, I made my way over to the Library. When I got there, I found a group of six people hunched over a couple copies of the Declaration of the Occupation; one of the few official documents released from #OWS regarding it’s purpose, and despite my not agreeing with all of it, it was one of the things that after reading it had brought me to Liberty Plaza. As I often repeated the first few days down there, “I may not be down with everything, but goddamn, I support the message.” Ryan, one of the co-authors (who would appear on Countdown with Keith Olberman regarding the Declaration with it’s other co-author, Lex, who I would meet the following week (that’s the video above this paragraph)) stated “this is a living document”, and led the discussion on making revisions to make it more accessible to the public. Wow. There I was, not 48 hours after reading this same document which helped inspire me to be where I was standing right then, and I was already helping revise it so that more people could be doing the same. It was a powerful moment for me early on in my experience at Liberty Plaza and the perfect intro to direct democracy at Liberty Plaza, though I would later attend a teach-in of the same name which I now lead at #occupydetroit.

*some names have been changed for privacy and shit 


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