We’re on our second day of visiting my hometown Occupy, Louisville! We’ll combine it with visits to the Occupy in Lexington, the city of my birth. But our mornings of back office work are rural, at my family’s farm near Bloomfield, Kentucky. As I work away on emails and follow up phone calls, trying to finalize workshop times and set up fundraiser house parties, I’m stuck in the front parlor of this old farmhouse. I wouldn’t choose any other activity in this moment, but those rolling hills do call through the window screen.
Our dog Tuatha is bored silly, with my nephew in school and no one interested in frequent ball games. My sister-in-law tried to take him for a walk on the farm, but he’s back in the house, so it didn’t take. Not without Mama!
C.T. is also busy following up with potential funders and a publisher who is considering distributing C.T.’s consensus books to a national base. We have sold more books in the last month and a half than in the last three years.
If you pick up on the main stream media’s message that Occupy is history, think again. Demand for our work says otherwise.
In fact, the bias of corporate-owned media continues with today’s coverage of the Occupy shut down of ports, depicting the action as harming the port workers, who are part of the 99%. No real attempt to counterweigh that with Occupy’s motivations was made in the CNN article I read.
Our work continues. We ran out of Consensus for Cities, C.T.’s book on how to do consensus in groups of 100,000 or more. So we had more printed and shipped to us on the road. Now we’re restocked and debuted the new copies on the square in Louisville last night.
Louisville’s General Assembly was quite civil, compared to many where we’ve seen novice facilitators struggle with how to manage disruptors shouting. This group seems to have moved unruly people out of their encampment. Even so, they’ve had to deal with theft, drugs and other issues that happen when you arrive in a public space and set up free food, blankets and tents! Occupy groups are learning to clarify their concepts of membership. The experiment continues!
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Now well into our second month of our official tour, C.T. and I are starting to revisit some Occupy sites and deepen our relationships with protesters as they try new meeting skills.
One of the paradigm shifts we are teaching is to avoid being outcome oriented. Consensus really blossoms when we’re not attached to a particular solution, but instead curious what ideas the discussion will bring.
So I have to laugh at myself when I look at our teaching in terms of outcomes—Are we making a difference? Are facilitators and other activists learning real tools they can and do use? Are these tools helping all voices to be heard?
In short, yes. We can see differences in working group meetings, GA’s, and even online discussions. Folks in Chico were able to structure their GA better and handle disruptors. They went from one person planning the agenda five minutes in advance to a team having a real agenda planning meeting. Some Occupy Chico members who hadn’t attended our Consensus: Body & Soul workshop accused us of being some kind of cult, but workshop participants were articulate about how consensus really is about all voices being heard.
Occupy folks who attend our talks or meet with us at length get these very intense looks on their faces as the gravity of the paradigm shifts lands on them. They take in the bombshells that C.T. volleys at them:
- A group is by definition not everybody. Inclusion is not about letting everybody in, no matter what drugs they’re on or how they behave. Rather inclusion is creating a safe container by enforcing expectations of behavior and making space for everyone willing to participate in making that safe container. No rulers, not no rules.
- It’s actually easier to change the behavior of the entire group toward a disruptor than change the behavior of the disruptor. Recircle your wagons! If a person won’t stop shouting, have everyone turn away. Even if the facilitators have to end the meeting, you’ve done a better job of creating safe space for the future than if you let someone disrupt.
- “If war is the violent resolution of conflict, then peace is not the absence of conflict, but rather the ability to resolve conflict without violence.” —C.T. Lawrence Butler, On Conflict and Consensus
- When you have competitive and cooperative people in the same group, the competitive people always win. There are two reasons: 1) The competitive people are trying to win, and 2) The cooperative people are trying to help them! Duh!
The list goes on, lesson after lesson, laid down at encampment after encampment. It’s not exactly a look of shock that repeats across the faces. It’s more the weight, the opening of the mind, the realization that the original OWS template created many of these problems. And turning it around seems impossible. But it’s not.
Recircle Your Wagons!
Organic change can happen in the Occupy movement without trying to sell a GA hijacked by angry disruptors on the idea of a better structured direct democracy.
If you’d like to see a movement with a clarified, mature understanding of inclusion, a movement based on true consensus (not voting in disguise), a movement that is making the paradigm shifts that go along with cooperation, then start with an affinity group.
Form an affinity group around these ideas. The membership is not open to whoever finds out about the meeting place and shows up, the membership is defined by common values and interests. Your group could be the food working group or a group just established to study consensus together. It doesn’t matter. You’re not working outside of the Occupy structure. You’re not splitting off. You’re an affinity group. You don’t need permission to exist. If this group succeeds in getting work done without the drama people see in GA’s, word will spread. Best practices will spread. Let it go viral.
Suddenly, consensus is on the world stage. The worldwide Occupy movement is committed to the process of consensus decisionmaking. The use of consensus at the regular General Assembly (GA) is widespread. While the degree of consistency varies from Occupy to Occupy, generally, there is a deep and lasting commitment to the democratic ideal that “all voices may be heard”.
Wren Tuatha and I have 45 years experience between us in consensus process. I’ve has written two books on the topic and taught over 100 workshops on a philosophy of consensus I developed. Wren has practiced consensus 24/7 living in an Intentional Community and she organized & facilitated an educational environment for children for 8 years operated by consensus.
Since the beginning of the Occupy movement, I have been inundated with calls from the press inquiring about consensus. At the same time, I was inundated by email requests from Occupys all over North America asking for assistance with their consensus process. In response to these requests, on October 30th, we hit the road, traveling to several Occupys on both the East & West coasts. The experience so far has been exhilarating.
We have a dream. We would like to acquire a bio-diesel bus that could take three to four trainers across the land stopping at each Occupy as we go. We would spend two to four days at each teaching consensus & facilitation and sharing best practices we learn from each Occupy we visit along the way. Our vision is long-distance. We would revisit each Occupy repeatedly, every couple of months, to support and deepen the consensus process over the next year.
This is what direct democracy looks like! It is not easy. It starts out messy. With training and practice, people can learn to use consensus in a way that significantly reduces the use of power to dominate, stops privileged behavior that tends to oppress others and truly allows for all voices to be heard in a safe, meaningful environment. It is worth struggling for in these early stages of development. We would like to have the opportunity to support this effort.
—C.T. Lawrence Butler
In Wren’s Words…
We’re home at Heathcote for a few days, doing back office work after another thrilling trip to Occupy Wall Street. OWS is struggling to find its legs with its new affinity group/spokescouncil model, alternating spokescouncils with GA’s. First thing to get about spokescouncils—You can set them up to be open to the public if you want, but ONLY THE SPOKES SPEAK!!! If you’re not a spokesperson, don’t get on stack or shout out!!!
Ah, direct democracy in its infancy is cute, but it shits a lot.
Thanks so much to our friends Jerry and Jenny who opened their Long Island home to us, and to Melanie, Shana, Nikki, Rabbi David and many other friends who helped us hold two heavily attended teach ins.
We will soon be announcing the dates and location of our three day Consensus: Body and Soul workshop for OWS. In the meantime, we have two Consensus: Body and Soul workshops coming up:
- York, Pennsylvania, January 6th through 8th,
- Baltimore, Maryland on January 13th through 15th.
Locations to be announced. These will be free to Occupy participants, so we need those donations to make it all possible!
How to Support Us in Teaching Consensus and Process Skills
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C.T. Lawrence Butler
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