Tag Archives: process

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.





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!

updates. ahh/ugh!, process!

12 Oct

First, I’ll start off with the banal– the wonders of earplugs! I’d never before used them. I’m amazed and shocked that I  had another night of sound sleep what with all the action around me, the atmosphere, after all, reminds me of Barrington Hall.

General Assembly. Occupy San Diego

Some of the updates from last night’s GA:

300-500 people have been fed each day. And the City Health Inspector gave said the outdoor kitchen was ok from a sanitation perspective.

There is a plan currently to have a day of “Occupy Everywhere,” a day of solidarity marches on all the local college campuses October 20th.

Other news

People continue to report having positive interactions with police- thus far- and that some even have heard the police say they support this initiative.

I was witness to a fight almost taking place between people who happened to be at the Plaza but from what I can see are not really part of the occupation. It was really upsetting as one of the parties was claiming to have  machete on his person…


Quote of the day

Overheard: One temporarily homeless man exclaimed: “Why are they called socialists if they’re so f***ing anti-social?!” He explained that he had a hard time with the socialists really being pushy with their opinions and  not embracing a message of unity. As a homeless person he explained that the occupation made it safer for homeless people to sleep now in the Plaza. Before, he said, the police would whisk one away for sleeping in the Plaza.

Safety and Security

I finally was able to speak to one of the people on the Safety Committee (which previously was the Security Committee) to see how my concerns about public drunkenness, smoking pot, and noise might be addressed. I am not on site all the time– just spending the  night there- so I am not privy to everything that is happening here. It turns out a few nights ago when these questions were brought up in the General Assembly a small but vocal group made it impossible to even address these issues- they would simply shout down, boo, and toss papers. This same group, I was told, is also actively engaging the police and is pointing to different people at Occupy San Diego and saying that so-and-so might be belligerent. In other words, they are creating the conditions for confrontation. So, there is no deliberative body, no entity right now to attend to the safety and security of the occupiers. And, the General Assembly currently cannot attend to a basic human need- personal safety and security.This has me wondering how effective- if at all- is/can the GA be right now as a collective decison-making body.

This situation leaves me very pessimistic. Whatever community there is at OSD is very fragile.

I’m going on a meditation retreat on Friday and will be back Monday. I plan on convening a number of dynamically facilitated conversations next week to engage the different voices on security. How can we speak as one voice on anything if we can’t attend to our own safety?


I was able to track down the convenors  of the Demands and Objectives Committee, tasked with putting together a shared list of demands. After talking with them for a few minutes about the problem with the idea of demands, they agreed to rename it the Vision and Goals Committee.

Process Committee

The Process Committee meets twice a day. It spent a total of six hours yesterday on process matters and I was able to attend for about an hour yesterday and a little over an hour today. They are receptive to new ideas, but with the fluidity and transient quality of the whole community, the multiple roles that many activists are juggling, unfamiliarity with facilitation in general and consensus decision-making in particular, occasional unwillingness to listen- and there are other challenges, too!- it hasn’t been a very encouraging scene thus far. We spent over an hour just setting the agenda. I had to leave in the middle of this process. K can barely follow the discussion, perhaps I’ll be able to in time! Tomorrow I’m going to propose a modified form of Open Space Technology just for our Process Committee. People do acknowledge the value in working concurrently on multiple topics. We’ll see what comes from this.

Apparently people on the committee were happy with yesterday’s GA meeting. I wonder, however, if what we saw yesterday was an elaborate rearrangement of the chairs on the Titanic. If the space has been closed by a minority to discuss a central matter- attending to personal safety and security- how effective can GA be?

Don’t get me wrong- folks are really trying hard!

And if anyone wants to help me think through how I might be able to support the work of the Process Committee right now, give me a holler! The whole space is a vortex of energy. I continue to try to be mindful of how it uses my energy and not get burnt out. I’m amazed at those people who have been there the whole time.

a sad day

11 Oct

Yesterday, as I was driving to the Occupy San Diego site, I heard the tragic news that a 42 year old man had died apparently from falling from an 11-story parking structure in the Civic Center Plaza. It was  unclear if this man was connected with the occupation. That evening, during GA a decision was taken to have a vigil to remember him. Activists brought together several boxes with candles and cups to remember him. We took some 15 minutes to determine when to have this vigil- whether to take a break and have the vigil (to accommodate the media who were already onsite) or to have the vigil after GA. After passionate expression of different perspectives (“We shouldn’t be a reality show for the media” and “Someone died today, we need to honor him.”), a near unanimous decision was taken to hold the vigil after GA. This was the first collective consensus decision in GA  that had been made in 48 hours (many are still uncomfortable with consensus and are pushing for majority rule). This man’s death saddened many. I can’t help but think that could be me. He was just one year older than me. Apparently no one knew him. There was a call to attend to each other’s well-being.

I continue to be amazed at the dedication of the activists, keeping all these stations going. I am just trying to do what I can, however little.

The Fire Marshall visited yesterday and declared a number of things to be unacceptable– car batteries, generators, tents blocking the way. The Marshall also said we were at capacity and no more new tents should be allowed. Fortunately, there has been ongoing communication with the police and they have been in the words of one veteran activist “almost uncharacteristically cooperative.” They may at any time, however, decide that tents cannot be allowed….

During GA, a few more requests for assistance were put out:

* cash contributions to cover trash runs– it costs $70 each day to drop the trash off from the site. Any and all contributions towards covering this would be welcomed! They are trying to figure out how this cost may be covered.

* food– any and all food contributions welcome!

* books– to the Education Station at the site

* other donations -can be made made to Occupy San Diego, 2801 B St. #61, San Diego, CA 92102

For those who wish to give of their time, but don’t wish to stay on site, there are many committees on which one can serve. The information table can tell you about all of the committees.

I have been trying to make the GA Process Committee meeting but have not seen it yet meet. Yesterday, the newly formed Demands and Objectives committee announced that they were inviting people to talk to each other and learn what demands they have. I hope to talk to the committee convenors to see if they’re willing to revisit the whole idea of demands. I just don’t think much of consequence can happen from making demands. Perhaps it’s about framing an invitation, a vision.

But how do we talk about a “We are the 100%’ paradigm in a way that’ll resonate with both those who are very angry and experienced tremendous injustice (perhaps like the young woman next to me in GA who teared as she shared with me about her parents losing their house) and for those who wish to edit our earnestness down to an eight-second soundbite? Any ideas???

Also, it is still rather draining to be in this crucible as there are so many different energies. For some, this is an opportunity to party non-stop. The drinking and smoking – just to name a few things- are really hard to be around. Some report not feeling very safe here…

M. woke up in the middle of the night (and heard this later this morning) shouts of “F*** the rich!…”. M. also reported having a very positive conversation with the police. Last night a homeless person camped next to us, a few feet away, in his sleeping bag. It really helps me realize that this could be me.

P., M., and I in meditation circle

M. and I, together with P. from the Zen Center offered  sitting meditation again. M. offered both Tai Chi and meditation earlier that morning.

Before going to sleep last night, I was resigned again to not getting enough- if any- sleep. M. kindly offered to visit the Comfort Station with the hope that he’d find some ear plugs. And sure enough, there was one pair left. And, in the midst of all this I slept pretty soundly.

Thanks for all your support, folks!

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