Tag Archives: OWS

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.






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.
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