leadership and the Occupy Process

10 Nov

I’ve been in email conversation with my primary process arts mentor/teacher  Birgitt Williams and others about the Occupy Process.  Birgitt has written two blog posts that might be of interest to those who wish to think more deeply about the relationship between personal leadership grounded in wise, compassionate action and the Occupy Process.

To get a sense of the perspective she is operating from, I recommend reading a few pages from her e-book, Genuine Contact Way that tell you about her journey:

see pp. 23-27 of this book– for the excerpt.

The two blog posts (excerpt below):

Sustainable Change in Division Situations

In thinking about this current Occupy movement and the pockets of social unrest, I think back to a time when I was still living in Canada, a country that I love very much. The history of the country is that it was first colonized by the French and by the English, a war between France and England had a profound negative effect on the colonies, and there are still strong feelings of upset. Although Canada claims to be a bilingual country, French and English, this doesn’t hold true. Yes, products must be labeled in both official languages, schoolchildren in the dominant English speaking Canada attend classes in French, and yet historically the French-speaking province of Quebec has had to take some strong measures to preserve the French language and culture in their Province and in parts of the Country. I have looked up my notes from that time and share a summary with you of what happened in early 1996. I wish that someone would organize something similar now. I feel it would be more sustainable than this Occupy movement. We cannot create a line between what we did to assist in a divisive situation to the results that the country did not break up. However, to this day, I believe that the work we did then was what resulted in a country remaining whole…still with problems, but with the opportunity as a country to solve them instead of having divided.

The Occupy Movement: Using Our skills for real empowerment

…This takes me to the most important point of my note. The most dangerous point comes when the protests are done if there is nothing sufficient in place to create the new world that is desired. The most important thing that I can think of doing at this time aside from spending more and more of my day in compassion and unconditional love, is to teach others how to lead participatory meetings that use circles such as Open Space Technology, Whole Person Process Facilitation, and Circle Work…


OWS being co-opted?

25 Oct
Several links of interest today.
The first two come from Richard Moore, author of Escaping the Matrix: How We the People Can Change the World. I’ve read Richard’s posts with great interest on the Dynamic Facilitation/Wisdom Council email lists.
The Elite Plan for a New World Social Order(yes, the title to me is off-putting, but much interesting context-setting/history there).
Email thread on the Cyberjournal list
…suggesting that OWS is being co-opted
What I am sure of, is that none of the grass-roots initiatives or movements currently on the scene have any hope of changing anything. In fact, activist energy is increasingly being channeled and managed by the very system we are hoping to change. As with Obama, who managed to fool all of the people some the time, and even now is fooling some of the people all of the time. ‘Hope you can believe in’, if you’re dreaming.
But someone like Obama can only channel those who see hope in the political system. More and more people are realizing there is no hope in the political system. So we are getting things like The Zeitgeist Movement and Anonymous, that cater to those who have given up on politics, and give them something to ‘join’ or ‘follow’ so they can pretend they’re ‘doing something’…
The latest of these vehicles of co-option is the Occupy Wall Street movement. This one’s really a humdinger. It has all the right slogans, and an appealing internal process. Its success is not surprising, because it is the latest version of a formula that has been thoroughly tested and refined ‘on the ground’. We might call it the ‘twitter formula’, and we’ve seen it in the ‘colored revolutions’ that were used to bring about various desired regime changes, and more recently in the ‘Arab Spring’ movements, that soaked up lots of energy and prevented unwanted regime changes.
Four years ago progressives found hope in Obama. This time around they’re finding hope in the Occupy Wall Street movement. In both cases, this ‘hope’ became available all too easily, was accompanied by all the right mainstream publicity, and offered easy ways to join in and become not only a follower, but an active participant. This is what co-option looks like.
And by Michel Chossudovsky:
My own personal experience working for a local nonprofit and an international one in Russia would seem to bear out at least some of what is in these articles.
During a short stint as a volunteer for the Soldiers Mothers of St. Petersburg (many of the Soldiers Mothers organizations were disabled with KGB and later FSB infiltration, SMSP is one place where it probably didn’t happen), about ten years ago I helped write a grant to the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). I recall thinking to myself then that that was a strange place to seek funding as I knew of NED as an outfit set up in the Reagan years to use American democratic values to foment dissent around the world, i.e. an engine for manufacturing dissent.
My experience with a well-known international humanitarian nonprofit organization in Ingushetia (assisting Chechen refugees) was also really eye-opening. The presence of the relief organizations in Ingushetia’s largest city, Nazran, had the feeling of a military occupation. The meta-message was something along the lines of: “We’ll help you refugees out but on our terms.” One of the seasoned people on the ground with much experience working in international relief confided in me that the real motivation on the part of Western governments for funding humanitarian assistance in Chechnya was simply to discredit the Russian government.

from disappointment to departure

25 Oct

Thursday last week I decided to go on an extended hiatus from involvement with Occupy San Diego.

I think the last straw for me was really being affected by behavior at Civic Center Plaza that was simply loopy. That day, there was one woman in orange-red body paint whipping the air with a garland. Later, she tried to set fire to some of the protest signs and was arrested. There was more that I saw that day that I’m not even ready to mention in this blog post.

Sheer wackiness has been a feature of Occupy San Diego from the very beginning. There is nothing wrong with this quality per se but when it becomes one of the primary aspects of the climate at the occupation, I think we have a problem.

On top of that, we never had a very good container for collaboration, a clear frame about how to work together. Add to that the crazymaking generated by the police infiltrator presence, it is a wonder that things have been as peaceful as they have been. Asking around, I have learned why certain core functions never were satisfied completely: in all likelihood this could be attributed to sabotage coming from people working for law enforcement.

Others have been very upset by sexism, homophobia, sexual harassment- none of which I was witness to but I have heard about multiple times; one woman told me she feared physical violence (after having experienced psychological violence) from one of the other active people at the occupation.

Perhaps things have improved, but for the longest time there was no agreement, nor a shared understanding about what forms of behavior were acceptable. Is public drunkenness ok? Is drinking alcohol on site ok? Is pot smoking fine? Is it ok to be high on site? Is it ok to light a cigarette without checking if those around you are non-smokers? Is it ok to make noise well into the night? Over time there was significant movement on these questions as people realized that if these questions are not addressed it’ll be hard to attract a more diverse group of people in solidarity with the occupation.

But perhaps the main issue for me is that Occupy San Diego has felt more like an encampment for homeless people since week two. There is nothing wrong per se with a homeless encampment. I think it’s wonderful that some homeless people- as I’ve heard firsthand- feel safer camping out at Civic Center than before. I have made some good connections with some of the homeless people there, and among the homeless folks there are a number who are making a great contribution to the Occupy Process. At the same time, there are a number who have significant psychiatric disabilities or other personal issues, and we never had a conversation about how do we do the work of the occupation, make the occupation attractive to people, and decide how to integrate (if we think we can) these people on the margins.

And, by extension, since the occupation has largely a flavor of a homeless encampment- a “be-in” of sorts- I’m not confident of it ever achieving much. Indeed, this HuffPost piece by someone who from the looks of it sympathizes with OWS challenges OWS supporters in a way that might make some of us squirm. It makes us ask ourselves what indeed has the Occupy Process achieved?

I certainly don’t feel drawn to being in Civic Center Plaza. Nor can I encourage others to come down there.

I write this with some awareness of my own privilege as a white male  who comes from an upper middle class family (even if I have never earned much) and as someone who has dealt with some psychiatric issues in my own life. Also, I have worked a fair amount in the disability community and in the nonprofit sector.

There is some fear in bringing up these questions. Perhaps this’ll be read that I’m anti-homeless or don’t want people with psychiatric disabilities at the site. Rather, if I’m going to put my time in something, I want to have some confidence that it’ll go somewhere.

Personally, I believe it is possible for the occupation to be inclusive for all kinds of people- people on the margins and people who are not (yet) on the margins- to successfully live together. It does, however, require a conversation (or conversations) and some planning. And, speaking truthfully, I wasn’t and am not prepared to spearhead that conversation.

My initial motivation for getting involved and for camping at the Plaza was that just being in that physical space was an act of bearing witness. I found no need- nor did I really feel connection to any of the chants, much of which reinforced a sense of separation between “us” and “them.” I think all the wisdom traditions teach us that we are all in this together. For me bearing witness means/meant that just being at the Plaza, I was saying that the current economic system is not meeting needs and it needs to be changed drastically. And that would be a beginning of a conversation.

I envisioned at a later point convening conversations with people from all over San Diego on what a more equitable economic system look like and how we could get there. I also envisioned teaching others how to convene such conversations.  That work may have to wait for a later point.

For all my many criticisms of what I’ve experienced in the San Diego occupation, I continue to be moved by the dedication of those involved. It has touched me deeply to experience (again!) the power of the circle- of the equalizing, wisdom-generating, compassion-creating, community-building effects of gathering in many circles, both scheduled and spontaneous, throughout the occupation. It has heartened me to see how people have really heard each other out in those circles. How little in the way of put downs or interruptions I saw in those circles.

And no matter how things turn out for (what I prefer to call) the Occupy Process, it has given us a picture of  a new and different way of mobilizing, engaging large numbers of people peacefully for the greater good. I believe that with giving care to creating a strong foundation using highly participatory tools that draw on a community building paradigm that reaches beyond consensus-based decision-making (as referenced in the books mentioned in the Occupy Wall Street library blog post), I think it is possible to create something that looks a lot like the Occupy Process but with a better chance of moving forward.

Nevertheless having had a visceral experience of Occupy San Diego is a great gift. I will continue to follow the occupations with interest.

disheartenment, deferred delight, and perseverance?

20 Oct

I’m still recovering from a cold that I caught while staying in a tent at the Plaza, so I’m reticent about camping out right now in what’s allowed: a sleeping bag. I was down at Civic Center for about five hours today.

Overall impressions- first I need to qualify that I can be overly critical and get disheartened easily- I worry that Occupy San Diego is shrinking. There were only about 50 camped out there today. The food table was bare bones. And some of the key people really seemed stressed or getting to breaking point. I had been wondering for a while why one aspect of one key function handled by a committee wasn’t happening. And based on what I heard I pieced together that it was a combination of egos clashing, miscommunication, and police infiltrators. In another situation having to do with another core operating function one person has had a very difficult working relationship with another person and the former is really concerned about that conflict further escalating. I offered to help this person sort things out; we got sidetracked, but in the meantime a friend of mine from the San Diego Nonviolent Communication community stopped by and gave her a backrub…which seemed to help!

What was and is encouraging is that informal, adhoc working groups continue to form in circles. People listen rather patiently to people talking one at a time, facilitating taking place on the fly. It so warms the heart to see good listening; I don’t think I have seen any sarcasm or put-downs or irony yet in any of these circles.

In today’s circles I saw some significant movement on two issue areas: streamlining/clarifying process and procedure for the General Assembly and dealing with the use of alcohol, marijuana, and late night noise. With the latter, it seems like all of those who had been inclined to block disallowing these “vices” (or pleasures, as one person offered to reframe them a while back) now realize the importance of exercising personal and collective discipline. Now it’s a matter of this eventually getting to the GA. With the cumbersome committee structure and there being in at least one committee a person who obstructs significant agenda items from reaching the GA for consideration, I worry that this may take some time. We’ll see.

A number of Tea Party members came by today and one gave a talk. There had been some thinking that maybe the Tea Party and the Occupy folks could join forces. From my friend who heard the speech I understand that people listened largely respectfully. That said, it sounded like there were significant ways in which the Tea Party people differ. I don’t have more information than that right now.

On a related note, someone pointed me to a fascinating short piece, a cautionary open letter by a Tea Party member who sympathizes with the Occupy Movement (I’m reticent to call this a movement; puts this process in a box when I believe it’s a different animal from a movement). The author points to the multiple dangers of co-optation.

I spent a good chunk of time today trying for the first time to organize over Twitter. I’m new to Twitter…had been hoping to get the word to Occupy LA to perhaps send more people down to San Diego…

Tomorrow is apparently a big day what with Occupy solidarity actions planned for local college campuses…

No matter how things turn out here in San Diego or with the Occupy Process overall, I think this experience is something that we can build on for the future. This model of a “leaderless,” self-organizing, consensus-based/process-centric, decentralized community/organization/network can and will be built and improved upon. That’s what’s important.

Moment of Zen

a glimpse of one of the police officers on duty riding down the 3rd Ave. sidewalk on a skateboard. Our circle hooted in delight!

the occupy wall street library?

19 Oct
When i read this new yorker piece about what’s in the Occupy Wall Street library, i wish all occupations, including my local Occupy San Diego occupation included other books:
by Harrison Owen:
From the author’s website: “This is Harrison Owen’s first book which charted some new directions in what has become known as Organization Transformation. At the time of publication it was viewed somewhat askance, a viewpoint strengthened by an early review in the Utne Reader, which termed the book a “cult classic.” Today, with the growing interest in Spirit and Consciousness in organizations, it will seem closer to the mainstream, but still pushing at the edges. There is nothing about Open Space Technology in the book, but more than a passing mention of the Open Space in our lives.”
Practice of Peace. Harrison Owen.
Genuine Contact Way.  Birgitt Williams. (a printout of this e-book???). Excerpt here (see pp. 23-27)
Community: the Structure of Belonging. Peter Block. (freely downloadable booklet with book’s main ideas here.)

and of course, Robert Masters’s provocative short article on Authentic Community!

What books would you want to see in the library? How do we make this happen???

on consensus

19 Oct

I won’t be coming tonight at a friend’s urging. He’s suggesting I give myself one more day to recover from a bad cold (which I got while camping out at the Plaza). I plan on being at the Plaza tomorrow morning and then will stay the night (first night camping out without a tent!)

Today just want to share some links of interest

This TED Talk, “Learning from a Barefoot Movement,” hints at what kind of world the Occupy Movement might want to create. thanks to a dharma sister for this!

Occupy Boston’s Consensus Process— thanks to Education Committee!

An Alternative to Demands: Notes from Occupy Oakland. The perspective of Miki Kashtan, a well-regarded  Nonviolent Communication certified trainer. Thanks to Dave at Communicating with Heart.


18 Oct

I’m just back from a (very timely and much needed) three day meditation retreat and at the earliest opportunity today went down to get the update on what has taken place at the Occupation since I’ve been gone. In a sense I was never gone as the Occupation was on my mind and heart all this time. And it even made its way into the dharma talk by one of the teachers during the retreat!

Since the last post this is what has happened (as best as I can put together):

A small group of demonstrators broke away from Occupy San Diego to form their own sub-group, apparently because of differences over how to relate to the police (some prefer adopting a more aggressive tone). They camped out at Balboa Park. One of them was jumped by either a homeless person or a gang member. Fortunately, that person’s injuries were minor. Very upsetting and jarring nonetheless.

The police said on Thursday that there could not be any tents on the plaza as there was going to be a children’s dance performance. They demanded the removal of all tents by 11:59pm Thursday. A significant group of demonstrators refused to take down their tents, barricaded themselves around the tents, and at 7am Friday (yes, it was a long night– I stayed up the whole night!) they removed them. One person was arrested, several were maced. I still don’t understand why people were maced, the police – as best as I could see- had been pussy cats all along.

Another breakaway group formed to start an encampment near the Midway Aircraft Carrier at Tuna Park. And a march was scheduled to run through all the sites. And as a sign of the fractiousness in Occupy San Diego,  someone changed the passwords to the website and locked everyone out; the website was down. Also, the food and other supplies were taken and not divided equitably with other breakaway groups. In the midst of all this fractiousness, people spontaneously stepped forward, acting as liaisons between the other groups.

As of today, people are still camping out at the Civic Center Plaza. No tents are allowed (one tent in a symbolic gesture has been allowed!). Nor are any food stations allowed (only a single table). In spite of what I think is significant police infiltration (I’ve identified at least two such infiltrators), there are significant efforts being made to streamline and make more efficient group process. There is a back-up location for the storage of food and supplies at the World Beat Center at Balboa Park.

By Thursday-Friday, I found a “groove” for myself offering guerilla facilitation. I have found that just hearing people out, drawing out and articulating dissident voices, putting a motion to disallow one person who I suspected of being a police infiltrator (I notice myself expending significant emotional energy worrying about their presence) from facilitating (again!) makes a difference.

It has been very helpful to view the whole Occupation here  through the Open Space lens. Indeed, what I’ve seen is that when there isn’t anything meaningful happening in GA (which at least until Thursday has been the case), spontaneous circles emerge. I join those circles, listen, and take part. It’s amazing and delightful to see how the presence of just some of the critical elements of the Interactive Organization (or Conscious Open Space Organization, now known as the Genuine Contact Organization)- explicit welcoming of all leadership, manifold use of the circle, presence of passion- make for such resilience in face of tremendous adversity.

Tonight, I facilitated in a formal sense for the first time at the GA Process Committee (I was invited to do so; as a matter of personal policy I’m not volunteering myself to facilitate). It stretched me a bit to practice this traditional facilitation as opposed to something holistic like Whole Person Process Facilitation. That said, those who’d been on the Process Committee for a while were very grateful as the way we worked really seemed to flow a lot more than before. I presented on Open Space Technology to two people afterwards and there was interest in considering a proposal on this.

At Birgitt‘s encouragement, I will sometime soon begin offering some facilitation training. I’d like to offer formal training in WPPF, however, I still need to think about how to do that. I think it takes three full days of proper training to get it. For now, I’d like to offer very quick training in Dynamic Facilitation and Open Space Technology.

Also, I’m thinking about how it might be possible to organize community conversations on addressing economic injustice and wonder how to go about doing this in a way in which the conversation might have some weight (be supported officially by the GA). What holds me back is seeing just how unwieldy our own collective decision-making process is…

I heard today- and haven’t had a chance to confirm- that at least one person from Occupy Wall Street visited us to see if we were indeed with the OWS “program,” otherwise OWS would break its relationship with us…and a motion had been passed in General Assembly confirming our support for OWS.

Starting tomorrow evening, I’ll be camping out there again– this time without a tent, seeing as tents are no longer allowed…

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