October 13, 2011
Mic Check: There Is No Voting in Consensus
One of the things that fascinates me most about Occupy Together is the use of consensus decision making. As a national and international board member of Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), I experienced this decision-making process for eight years. And I'm sad to see that the essence of consensus does not seem to have been brought to General Assemblies.
Consensus is about discussing an issue completely, from all sides, and allowing all people involved in the consensus process a chance to speak. It's about building group beliefs from the ground up - through shared knowledge and empowering the members of your community, you can build towards and reach consensus. There are ways to use a mixed model of decision-making. For example, WILPF makes almost all decisions by consensus, but chooses to vote to elect people to leadership positions. Choosing a human representative is to me the only reason to modify the consensus process. Perpetual blocks show that the group moved too fast from community building to reaching consensus. Of course, in the General Assembly model it could also mean that people new to the public square haven't been fully integrated into the community before being given a voice in the General Assembly.
I'm writing this because tonight I attended my first Occupy LA General Assembly. I'm not sure how many more I'll be able to attend in the near future, as I'm getting married next weekend, so I'm a bit wary of giving public suggestions to the group. But I can say clearly and definitively - if you're facilitating a meeting and call for a vote and then use the symbols of consensus, you have not created consensus. You have created a modified voting system that adds up sparkles to majority rule.
What does consensus look like? It starts by having a clear, realistic agenda. It starts by putting only one or two items on the table for a discussion by a decision-making body during a 1-3 hour period. The process of taking a stack means empowering facilitators to decide when under-represented voices are moved to the top of the stack, rather than allowing five white guys to suck up all the time available for a particular point of discussion. And it means leaving the discussion open until everyone has been able to speak, rather than rushing through "temperature checks" and "voting."
Real democracy doesn't just take place in General Assemblies. Using committees to hash out particular issues can be truly empowering, particularly for people of all genders and ethnicities who feel uncomfortable stepping up to speak in front of a large group. Accepting that participatory, consensus-based democracy is extremely slow and more gratifying the pseudo-consensus could be the first step to a real paradigm shift. And if you're worried that going through this process wont produce "demands" to declare to the media, stop answering the questions posed by the media and instead focus on the message you can fully speak. Tell them why you yourself got involved in the Occupy Together movement. That's something you can speak about without participating in a single General Assembly.
October 12, 2011
LA City Council in Solidarity with OccupyLA and OccupyTogether...
Today, the second largest city in the country went on record in support of the OccupyTogether movement. The city council didn't just vote in support of OccupyLA, they also called into question corporate personhood and the banking industry. They connected to people's movement with their own inability to act on city-wide banking regulation. This caused the banksters to rise in opposition to the resolution. Ironically, no one mentioned corporate personhood - neither the people opposing the resolution nor those who spoke in support. Item 33 was their 3-page resolution in support of OccupyLA and Occupy Together. (pdf) They made minor modifications on the banking "whereas" clauses and passed the resolution with 11 ayes. Below is the text of my two minute speech.
My name is C.J. Minster. I am a native Angeleno and a peace activist with CODEPINK: Women for Peace. While I applaud the City Council of Los Angeles for writing a resolution in solidarity with Occupy LA and the Occupy Together movement, I am here to remind you that responsible banking is only one part of the way to fund change. In July of this year, the City went on record calling on Congress to Redirect Military Spending to Domestic Priorities (pdf) by withdrawing all troops and contractors from Iraq and Afghanistan and cutting the Pentagon budget. You must act on the resolutions you've already passed and direct the DC legislative office of the City of Los Angeles to connect the needs of our city to the wasteful spending on war and the Pentagon.
As well crafted as your resolution in support of the Occupy LA movement is, we the 99% will not be silenced by pretty words. We care as much about your actions as your votes. And we are deeply troubled by recent reporting that the staff of Mayor Villaraigosa and Councilmember Perry helped secure a $1 million community redevelopment block grant to lure architecture firm Gensler from Santa Monica to downtown LA. Our regional economy doesn't benefit from shell games across city lines, nor do we need tax payer money wasted lining the pockets of rich corporations. To pay for the needs of the 99%, the U.S. must tax the rich and corporations, not give them handouts. And the U.S. must immediately withdraw from Iraq and Afghanistan and implement the more than $1 trillion in Pentagon budget cuts outlined by the Sustainable Defense Task Force.
Thank you for using your voice, as the representatives of the second largest city in the country to amplify the voices of the 99%. I urge you to pass this solidarity resolution and work to ensure it is used in tandem with your anti-war resolution to end wars, stop economic injustice, and fund jobs. Together, we can prioritize human needs over unfettered, militarized capitalism.
October 7, 2011
Meeting the Leader of the Tunisian Resistance @ Occupy DC
I went to DC three weeks before my wedding because there are two things that matter to me right now: marrying the love of my life and ending the Afghanistan War. In her memoir, A Woman Among Warlords, Parliamentarian Malalai Joya reminds us that on July 6, 2008 the U.S. military bombed a wedding party in Nangarhar Province killing forty-seven civilians including the bride. As my wedding approaches, it is more important for me to ensure that no more Afghan brides are murdered by the U.S. military than it is for me to write a dj set list.
Last weekend, I attended an organizing meeting of the New Priorities Network, which is working to build deep connections locally and nationally between labor, economic justice, racial justice, religious, and peace organizations. We know our work will last longer than any election cycle or war, and we are committed to breaking down the barriers between our movements for justice and peace. Right now, we're focused on four core priorities: end the wars / cut the military budget, tax the rich & corporations, create jobs, and save social services (education, housing, the Women, Infant, Child (WIC) program that provides vital maternal health and food subsidies to low-income families, social security, Medicare, Medicaid, the Environmental Protection Agency and a host of other domestic programs that are the social safety net here in the U.S.). These four priorities are not our only concerns, and we know they can only be sustained by building a new economy based on renewable energy.
Earlier this week, I observed the Rebuild the Dream Conference. In the past, CODEPINK has disrupted this annual event hosted by the Campaign for America's Future because of their refusal to acknowledge that ending the wars is a vital part of building a secure America. This year, the conference included ending the wars as part of their platform for change and provided space for Nelini Stamp, an organizer with the Working Families Party, who has participated in Occupy Wall Street since Sept 17, to address the plenary about the Occupy Together movement. Our Make Out Not War stickers were the most sought after and people were really receptive to receiving information about Occupy DC at Freedom Plaza, which began yesterday.
My week in DC culminated on the first day of Occupy DC. Preparing for the day, I met Ann Wright, one of the courageous foreign service officers who resigned when the U.S. declared war on Iraq. Ann's story is particularly inspiring to me, as I left college with the goal of becoming a career diplomat. I am so grateful I never got off the list of eligible hires, since my true calling is to be a citizen diplomat.
First I helped give away over one thousand CODEPINK stickers, including the highly sought after Make Out Not War stickers. Then, a thousand of us created a human 99% which was photographed from the top of a nearby hotel with the Washington Monument in the background. (I'm in the lower left corner of the nine near the percent sign.) We marched in the streets of DC, stopping at the Chamber of Commerce to hand in resumes from the jobless and under-employed among us, since they claim to be job creators.
Our day was capped off with a concert and a Skype call with our brothers and sisters in the Afghan Youth Peace Movement in Afghanistan. While I listened from the side of Freedom Plaza, a gentleman approached and asked if I spoke Arabic. Unfortunately, I do not. Thankfully he is multi-lingual and we were able to chat in English.
Jamel Bettaieb is one of the leaders of the Tunisian uprising and is the head of the largest trade union in Tunisian. He is in DC to share the story of his people with our leaders - from the White House to Freedom Plaza. Jamel reminded me that we Arabs and Jews are cousins. For centuries, we have lived peacefully side-by-side in the Middle East with our Christian cousins. It is the political class that creates conflict, not our ethnic or our religious differences. Regardless of country, there is something about the power of ruling that corrupts people. Some pundits say the American Autumn is nothing like the Arab Spring, since we have no dictator to overthrow. But when Jamel spoke about the high rate of unemployment among college-educated Tunisians, and the continuing lack of economic growth in his country, I knew I had made a friend fighting the same global system of injustice. Whether the 1% calls themselves democratic representatives, corporate overlords, or dictators the effect is the same on the 99%. Jamel is staying in DC for a two-month fellowship and he let me know that he's got a real hankering for a good Kosher meal. Did you know that the Muslim and Jewish dietary laws are basically identical? Unfortunately, I'm on my way home to celebrate Yom Kippur with my fiancé, but I'm sure my sister CODEPINKers will find him a Kosher meal real soon.