Monday, September 26, 2011

Occupy Wall Street, the General Assembly

The General Assembly

From my account of Sunday in the Park with OccupyWallSt

Let me begin with the Human Mic--the sound that had reminded me of children reciting the pledge of allegiance. It’s not call and response, it’s call & repetition. At some point, fairly early on, not sure when, bullhorns and loudspeakers were banned. The Human Mic was the solution. And what emerged was an action and process with wholly unanticipated consequences, something that deserves our most considered attention.

In a meeting, when someone wants to address the assembly, they begin by introducing themselves.


Everyone in hearing range repeats. Word for word. In something less than a full shout. When a hundred or more voice join, you don’t have to shout that loud to be heard in the back lines.


This appears simple enough. But if you pay attention, you see how much has gone into this, how much it has evolved, and how profound its consequences.

Vets here know exactly how to break up phrases into units short enough to easily, automatically recalled and repeated, and long enough to keep the flow moving. Too short is equally bad—if you can’t anticipate the meaning in units, phrases--not just successive words, it’s more difficult to follow and repeat, not easier—the mind refuses to go along. A single word—okay for emphasis. One after another—LIKE TYPING ALL CAPS ON FACEBOOK…. no, worse.





... lose all sense of what's coming, or been said

Easy to tell someone new. I got a kick out of Michael Moore! He so clearly hadn’t quite caught on. It’s not easy, If you want to use complex ideas—it takes practice to know how to break up the units. And it takes a peculiar kind of relaxed attention to be in the audience—to repeat the phrase without thinking about it too much, automatically—so you’re free at the same to think about what is being said. I can’t think of anything quite like it. You are both sides of the conversation at once—you are the speaker, and the one listening and formulating your thoughts and possible reply. You feel it with your whole body—not at all the disembodied inside the head voices of normal conversation. You have to think about the meaning of the words in a deeper more purely physical level. Like Brenda Iijima said, who was standing beside me… it’s cellular.

This is fucking worlds away from someone standing in front of a crowd talking more for his own benefit than the people he’s addressing, lecturing, giving orders. You can’t bully people into thinking your way like this—you just can’t! If there’s manipulation, it has to happen on a whole different level, and nobody’s gonna be fooled!

A set of conventions have evolved to accompany & supplement the Human Mic. Most notably—the hand signals. When you see the group holding both hands in the air, fingers spread, waving them over their heads—they’re not praising the Lord. It means, ‘We agree! We like this!’
Crossing arms in front of the chest: ‘No! There seems to be consensus, but I BLOLK this--it would violate our basic procedure or principles!’
Waving the hands, palms inward and down, arms about a foot apart, means: “I won’t block, but I think this is wrong and disagree.”

There are others. And requests were made at the Assembly I attended for suggestions for others. None were made. There is a committee that works on this.

Decisions are made by consensus. No votes. The nearest equivalent I’ve experienced would be a Quaker Meeting for Business, where the ‘cleark’ of the meeting guides the discussion, at points articulating what he or she feels to be the ‘sense of the meeting. In the Assembly, there were several facilitators who alternated in soliciting suggestions and calling on those who slated to say something. They would as the discussion evolved, suggest a ‘synthesis’ of the discussion at a point where they thought a decision was ripe for consensus. Members of the group held up hand when they had wanted to reply. A facilitator would point out who was to speak next. If it was quiet, the speaker would begin by introducing himself—with the group repeating in chorus. If there was confusion and people talking, he or the facilitator or both—or even someone from the group if they couldn’t hear—would shout out MIKE CHECK! This would immediately be repeated and respectful quiet restored.

What did they discuss? Several forms of outreach: a guided tour of local business to introduce themselves and foster good relationships with the community, a meeting with union leaders from CUNY about a joint action protesting loss of benefits for low wage adjunct faculty (this was to have been today at Baruch College). There was a proposal on policing cigarette butts, appeals for funds, a report on some people from wall street who supported OWS and wanted to contribute money (many hands waving in air on that one). There was a long discussion with much back and forth on future actions and ‘demands’ … with objections made to calling them ‘demands’—they weren’t there to force people or make demands. The marches are another form of outreach—extending their presence into the city. Where and when might the next one be. Cautionary advice was given on avoiding dehydration and remembering to eat enough to keep up energy and not get sick. Volunteers were requested to serve on several committees (which report back to the General Assembly).

This is a very busy group!

It’s an emerging society of consensus, discovering the principles they want to live by—an extraordinary level of creativity on everything—from the daily business of living to formulating their purpose and goals, both immediate and long term. There are many levels of education in evidence—I overheard an involved discussion on commodification and the shift from an economy of production to one of finance, drawing on Marx’s distinctions of ‘use value’ and ‘exchange value.’ Let me wrap this up by saying—that if you think you have an understanding of our economic and political crisis that is missing in this movement—it’s only missing because YOU are! If you can’t go to Liberty Square—go to one of the Occupy events listed above—or start one where you live!

The American Revolution isn’t over—it’s only just begun!

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