Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Again with the Hijack Meme

General Assembly in Washington Square October 8, 2011.

This is getting tiresome.

The notion that the Occupations are a unity is a delightful fiction, but it simply doesn't fit the facts.

To a very significant degree, the Occupations have spontaneously arisen and are at best only loosely affiliated. There is no central Occupation Office where the Occupation Board sets Occupation policy and where Occupation media releases are cleared. Given the organizational structure of loosely affiliated autonomous Occupations -- active in over 100 cities right now with more than 1000 others being planned -- it's all but impossible for a unified, hierarchical, controlled and controlling Occupation HQ, Inc., to emerge. The institutional organizational structure is antithetical to the Occupation spirit. So much so that if some institution -- say MoveOn -- were to try to amalgamate with Occupations (each of which is autonomous), the institution would likely implode.

The problem for institutional players like MoveOn or any hierarchical political party is that the Occupations eschew hierarchy (or at least they try to), they refuse institutional categorization, and their organizational and operational model is that of a participatory, direct democracy, with recommendations, considerations, and implementations through Working Groups -- which are essentially voluntary task focused associations. There are no employees, no managers, there are no designated leaders, there is no board of directors, there are no offices, no officers, either. The Working Groups are themselves operationally autonomous; the General Assembly, which is composed of the "committee of the whole" -- ie: everyone who is participating, whether as individuals or members of Working Groups or both -- is the deliberative and decicion-making body for the whole Occupation. The New York City General Assembly may influence actions and decisions taken by other General Assemblies in other Occupations -- simply because it has been in operation longer and has a body of experience that others don't. But NYCGA has no authority over other Occupations, any more than, say, the Spanish People's Assemblies, which are models for the New York GA, have authority over OccupyWallStreet. They not only have no authority over any other Occupation, they don't want it.

Let's say for the sake of argument, that MoveOn manages to subvert and take over the New York City GA and thus gains control of OccupyWallStreet. That's what would have to happen: the GA would have to be subverted and taken over before there could be any MoveOn control or authority over OccupyWallStreet. But even if that were to happen, every other Occupation would still be autonomous; MoveOn would have to subvert and take over every GA in every Occupation one by one, they could not do it in batches.

And how, exactly, do you subvert and take over a participatory democracy operated under such...difficult rules. Unless literally every participant in the GA is a subversive infiltrator from MoveOn, there's no way for a General Assembly to become a tool of the Institution. That's because of the way consensus works in General Assembly. Consensus is not found through a majority vote; consensus is only reached when no one blocks a proposal.

That means that a single individual can force the reconsideration of any proposal. Thus, unless literally everyone at the GA is an infiltrator from MoveOn, MoveOn can't "take over." No institution can.

This is one reason I have had so much interest in the operations of the General Assemblies, and it's why I urge the adoption of as much of the Quick Guide as possible. It is the primary means of preserving autonomy and genuinely reflecting the consensus will of the People.

Yet there can be so much anxiety over the presence of provocateurs. Infiltrators are assumed. Staying on track is difficult under any circumstances, but if there is trust in the Assembly, even the presence of those who want to "destroy the movement" won't be able to do it.

The problems come -- and become compounded -- when the principles of the General Assembly process aren't followed either because they are too complicated or unfamiliar, or because the process of hearing everyone "takes too long." That was one of the issues raised in Austin: the GAs were taking too long because too many people wanted to talk about too many extraneous matters, and important matters were neglected. The other problem I saw was that the moderators were trying too hard to exercise authority and control. Part of the process is to explain the rules and how the GA operates before the GA begins and to gain consensus on those rules and the proposed agenda. Then stick to the agenda. Reports are made by the Working Groups. Proposals that require consensus to implement are made. Questions and discussion about the proposal ensues. The Question is asked whether there is consensus to adopt a proposal. Proposals that don't gain consensus are tabled, referred to working groups for reworking and reconsideration, or they are dropped. There is no open forum at GA. The discussion must stay focused on reports, proposals, questions and discussion. Then consensus is called for. If there is consensus, the proposal is adopted. The entire body has thereby decided. If there is no consensus, then the matter is returned for further consideration by a working group or whoever made the proposal. The proposal may be resubmitted at a later GA or be dropped.

As a rule, matters that will affect the whole Occupation (such as marches, for example) or that will require the expenditure of more than a set amount of money (typically $100) will be submitted at GA. Other matters are handled in the Working Groups or informally. Forums are separate processes, generally involving a moderator and a floor assistant and anyone who wishes to speak on either specific topics or any topic, if it is an Open Forum.

While the outline is simple, actually doing it isn't so simple. It takes time and patience to learn and much practice to do well. But if the process is respected and practiced routinely, it becomes the central core of the Occupation.

Except under very unusual circumstance, hijacks cannot take place.


  1. I suggest you look into the history of Athens.

  2. Interesting. I'm actually working on a post now that uses the Athenian Assembly as the kick off point.

    Thucydides, as I recall, had some trenchant observations about what happened, what went wrong, and why.

    I think he was right: there were too many craven individuals who could be too easily bought off with favor or gold, and it was too easy for a demagogue to whip the Assembly into a froth.

    Think about why.

    And think about what's different in the People's Assembly model used (or at least attempted) by a wide range of Occupations.

    That's not to say the People's Assemblies are perfect.