Tag Archives: Occupy

the inner Wall Street and Right Action

15 Dec

Zen teacher Elizabeth Hamilton in the December issue of the Zen Center of San Diego Newsletter:

“It’s probably easier to see corporate greed than our own “Inner Wall Street” of entitlements, particularly when our grasping is socially condoned. Our Inner Wall Street includes our strategies for seeking comfort and avoiding discomfort: addictive approach to substances, attitudes, and emotion-based thoughts. Then there’s our baseline addiction, the attempt to maintain a carefully crafted identity for public consumption. Even if this identity is well received, it can’t heal the fear in the belly, or the deep-seated belief that we don’t measure up.”

Consultant and Speaker Peter Block just came out with an article, “Changing Our Thinking About Action,” that I think is especially relevant in the Occupy context.

Here are some of the gems:

“Authentic change in the quality of our experience, of our culture, change which shifts rather than reinforces the ground we stand on, is of a different nature than what grows from decisive decision making and pointed problem solving. If we want to not only fix the symptom, but also revise our part in creating the conditions that trouble us, then problem solving and quick action change nothing. 

We might make a distinction in our conception of what we call action. Something shifts when we differentiate between decisive action and what we might call profound action. Profound action is about our way of thinking, our way of being with those immediately around us, and the nature of the conversations we engage in. Profound action exists in contrast to decisive action, where we choose to spend or save money, build or eliminate a structure, pick or refuse a destination…

In a culture that values decisive action, relationships are viewed as a means to an end. Every time we meet it is for a purpose other than simply meeting. We want to “decide” something. It is almost illegal to end a meeting without summarizing what we have decided to do. Real change, though, comes when authentic commitment, passion, and whole heartedness are released. These are social phenomenon and are created from the nature of how we come together. They are an outgrowth of the quality of our relationship with each other.”

Block’s Community: the Structure of Belonging is one of the most significant books I’ve read in the past few years.


message from Starhawk

2 Dec

Starhawk’s new book is out. I think it might be of interest to all those who are looking to get work done within #Occupy. I recall seeing a printout of the “bonus chapter” at the info table at Occupy San Diego in the beginning. I’ve been impressed that she’s been in the thick of it, offering her help on the ground at a number of occupations around the country.

Below is her message:

My new book, The Empowerment Manual: A Guide for Collaborative Groups is out in the bookstores now, as well as online, and I’m very excited to be able to share it with you all! Click on the link http://www.starhawk.org/writings/empowerment_manual.html to get a peek inside and to download the free supplementary chapter: The Five-Fold Path of Productive Meetings. I’m off on a whirlwind tour, doing workshops and trainings on the book and support for various Occupy movements–to see the whole schedule, scroll down below.

When I began writing The Empowerment Manual: A Guide for Collaborative Groups, I wanted to offer some of the benefit of my experience, including my many mistakes, to groups who were organizing without a top-down, hierarchical structure. I’ve been living and working in such groups for more than forty years, and I felt like the many dreadful meetings I’ve endured, the in-fights and the painful conflicts, as well as the glorious moments of collective creativity and spiritual ecstasy, should all count for something. I saw so many groups struggling with the same issues, whether they were spiritual circles, working groups, communities struggling to organize or activists planning a protest. And I had a few insights that I felt might be helpful.

I didn’t know that half the world would decide, right when the book is coming out, to go sit in the public square and organize leaderless Occupations governed by consensus-based General Assemblies. The Occupy movement springs from many of the same sources that inspired the book—the horizontally organized global justice movement of the last decades and its antecedents, the anti-nuclear and anti-intervention movements of the ‘seventies and ‘eighties. But now more people than ever before are suddenly immersed in the joys and challenges of organizing non-hierarchically.

Groups without formal hierarchy are potentially empowering on a mass scale. Unfortunately, we come into them from a lifetime of exposure to hierarchy, with its patterns internalized. We have few models and fewer guidebooks to help us learn how to do it a different way. There are thousands of books on how to be a manager or a CEO of a corporation, virtually none about how to walk the delicate line of stepping up to a leadership role in a leaderless group.

 Collaborative groups are a different species from hierarchical groups, and understanding those differences can help us make them work more effectively. As kids, when we get in a fight Mom or Dad can step in and say, “You two, break it up!” In a top-down group, the boss or leader steps in for Dad. But when we remove that authority, there’s no one to say, “Okay, time out. Now apologize to each other, kiss and make up.” Conflicts can be harder to resolve, unless we realize that the group itself must find clear agreements on how to handle conflict and how to support one another in directly and creatively solving our disputes.

Communication is more complex in a collaborative group. In a hierarchy, there’s a chain of command. You know whom to report to, and who reports to you. But in a collective, ten of us might make a decision—forgetting that member number eleven is home sick with stomach flu. Maybe we also forget to inform Number Eleven of our decision—and then forget that we’ve forgotten. Number Eleven discovers we’ve set a key policy without her, and feels hurt and slighted. It’s clear to her that we’ve deliberately left her out of the loop, as we always do! Painful meetings and hours of mediation could all be avoided if we’d simply thought to ask, at the end of our meeting, “Who else needs to be informed of this and who is going to tell them?”

The Occupy movement faces some of the greatest challenges I’ve ever encountered around group dynamics and group process—it’s so huge,grew up so fast and so spontaneously and found itself smack in the middle of some of society’s worst unsolved problems. Former student body presidents are encamped in the midst of raving drunks, trying to come to consensus in large groups. It’s fascinating, often exasperating, and that’s why I’m spending as much time as I can offering trainings.

I also offer the book as a resource. I recommend it because it contains insights and a framework that can help groups function, whether they are unwieldy Occupations or tight circles of friends engaged in a project. I know this because it has helped me—although presumably I already knew what’s in it. But reading, researching and pulling the lessons together into a coherent form has helped me become a better group member and a more effective mediator.

If you’re working in any sort of collaborative group, you’ll find valuable insights in The Empowerment Manual. I say this not just to get you to buy the book—although of course I want you to buy it, that will help a very wonderful small, political publisher stay in business and will buy me some time to write a sequel to The Fifth Sacred Thing, my next project. But far more than that, I’m hoping you’ll read the book, work with it, use it, improve on it, and find your own groups working more effectively, and our common work to build a better world will thrive.

“To choose a positive future, we need the imagination, the commitment and passion that can never be commanded but can only be unleashed in groups of equals. Those groups need to work and function well. That’s why I’ve written this book.”

The book is out in bookstores now, and available online through my website, New Society, and of course, on Amazon and elsewhere. Check out the New Society blog about it here.

Some of my older books have also become newly relevant with the rise of the Occupy movement, especially for anyone interested in its antecedents. In particular, Dreaming the Dark: Magic, Sex and Politics and Truth or Dare: Encounters with Power, Authority and Mystery look at the internal wounds we carry from millennia of war, hierarchy and patriarchy, and reflect some of the horizontal organizing in the antinuclear and anti-itntervention movements of the ‘seventies and ‘eighties. Webs of Power: Notes from the Global Uprising tracks the global justice movement from the Seattle blockade of the WTO in 1999 through September 11, and contains nuanced discussions of nonviolence, diversity, and spirit. Find them all here!

I doubt I’ll have time to blog in the next few weeks, but I’m sure I’ll have lots to ponder from my travels. Hope to see some of you on the road!

OWS, Process, Inclusion, and Power

2 Dec

I’ve been spending a fair amount of times with the folks at Occupy Cafe (OC). OC’s aim is to be a place to support, sustain, and deepen conversations on #Occupy. It does this through the text-based forum conversations online, through weekly-twice weekly well-facilitated small and large group teleconference conversations, and by supporting on-the-ground dialogue initiatives, like last week’s in Portland.

Offline there have been a number of interesting conversations on process.

Below is some thinking by Kenoli Oleari, one of the US’s leading facilitators of large groups.

His words carry a lot of weight for me as his background comes from many years of community organizing stretching back to the 60’s. This experience includes eight (!) years of trying (unsuccessfully) to work in GA’s.

It is my belief that we need to avoid creating hierarchical structures ourselves, structures based on representation. There is excellent evidence that a core reason we are in the pickle we are in within his country is because our representative structure of governance has fallen to the weakness built into it. When the power and right to participate is taken away from the population at large and given to a small group of representatives, the system falls prey to those who have the power to influence and control those representatives. “Radical” democracy needs to find a way to include ALL voices, continually and repeatedly. (The situation we are in, incidentally, was predicted by visionaries among the founders, including Jefferson and Franklin, both citing the representative system as the weak point in the constitution.)

We have new large group technologies that make full participation possible. It is both difficult and not difficult. It is difficult as we have internalized the fear of large groups which drives us to try to control voices that scare us and because we have internalized “representation” as the only way to deal with large groups. This means we have to get past lots of our own issues to imagine possibilities where every voice is included. It is not difficult if we use known principles of large group engagement with which we have a growing pool of experience. Unfortunately, one of the things that also makes this difficult is that even among those working on the cutting edge of process, people have tended to gravitate to one process or another and see that process as offering THE solution. This has served us in some ways, as that focus has helped deepen the understanding of various “defined” processes and allowed us to start to see principles and practices that merge between these approaches. Within all of this, however, there is a deeper understanding of group engagement we need to embrace that allows for a huge diversity of process approaches, of all sizes and in all contexts that we can miss by thinking that this process or that is the solution. It is my experience that the skill for working from these deeper principles is very nascent and not that widespread.

In this, too, I think technology, including the internet is a double edged sword. In some dimensions, it has the capacity to include more voices, in others it excludes some and it greatly limits the possibilities of interaction inherent in face-to-face engagement.

The big trap, always, is our hope for a “magic bullet” that will solve all of our problems.

I’m not sure what all these thoughts mean practically. Among some of us who have lots of experience working with and designing process for large diverse groups, it is easy to want to be able to apply what we know to things we care about like Occupy. On the other hand things have a way of rolling out historically with a life of their own. One thing we can do is to hold to as many deeper values and principles as we can and the one I am suggesting is key here is to avoid falling into the trap of representation and hierarchy. At each juncture think about how we can best include the broadest number of voices at every step and at every stage.

Most of our organizing experience is around issue politics that focus on an issue or wrong we want to address or interest politics that represent the voice of one constituency or another. It is my belief that radical democracy needs to move away from these perspectives and toward a focus on inclusion, on including all voices and trusting in the wisdom that can arise from that rich pool of human experience. Working with large diverse groups takes the hard work of good planning, good planning done by a broad range of voices from among those that will be brought together utilizing real experience with and a people who have a real understanding of the principles and practice of large group engagement. There is no shortcut.

It is my sense is that if movement matures, its process will mature with it, as long as we keep our focus and values in the right place. Just now, I think a critical principle to cling to is inclusion as opposed to exclusion.





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