Upon our arrival in New York on November 1, our friend Nancy Fritsche Eagan, a circle and Art of Hosting colleague, took us over to visit Occupy Wall Street. It was a stunning experience, particularly from a group process perspective.
Zucotti Park, now dubbed Liberty Park, was doing its best to operate as a self-organizing “village.” It was a tent city, one block long, 100 feet wide, with council-based governance, a multi-faith chapel (Sikhs were chanting there when we walked past), their own security team, library with hundreds of books organized in plastic tubs that could be closed up in rain, a cook-tent for serving the community free food (which had just gotten an A-rating from the NY Health Department), and wired for the world of the Internet. The local “newspaper” was cell phone tweets. At that time police presence had pulled back to a presence that seemed nearly normal for a big city neighborhood.
This statement, from their website states their sense of identity: “Occupy Wall Street is leaderless resistance movement with people of many colors, genders and political persuasions. The one thing we all have in common is that We Are The 99% that will no longer tolerate the greed and corruption of the 1%. We are using the revolutionary Arab Spring tactic to achieve our ends and encourage the use of nonviolence to maximize the safety of all participants.”
There was a general assembly starting. The person hosting a topic stands on the steps that rise up at the end of the park, anyone attending gathers either behind the speaker (think very eclectic and randomly organized choir) and others gather in the clearing—the commons space—in front of the speaker. No amplification is allowed so the speaker says a line, “We need to talk about (whatever real topic is being brought forward)…” The chorus, known as the “Human Microphone” repeats the sentence and, if needed, another line of speakers about 50 feet deep into the crowd passes it back down the block.
Hand signals were employed to show approval/question/disapproval—and voices of dissent invited to speak first, along with women and minorities—white males, even these disenfranchised versions of often scruffy and dread-locked young men—spoke last. There were signals for question, and point of clarity. Someone was making a “stack”—taking names and order for speaking… We were watching the next generation of group process come into being. And this level of radical democratization has been common in the Occupy Movement in all the major cities I’ve been hearing about.
With Nancy, we walked over to an indoor courtyard, during the day the kind of place that, ringed with deli stalls, provides affordable lunch options for office workers. This evening, about a dozen small circles of quiet and intent conversations were occurring. Working groups seated on the floor or around planters, were engaged in developing structures to keep the movement evolving and the “village” organized.
In our PeerSpirit work, Ann and I often find ourselves proclaiming that circle is the basic unit of democracy. It is a great treat to actually witness this so clearly. Circles. Self-organizing. Civility in public group process. Earnest young and mixed ages, mixed races—doing the hard work of discovering what to be “for,” not just what to be “against.” We were standing in the midst of evolution. In the midst of something happening—the determination to OCCUPY our lives in radical ways. I’m for that!
Is it clear? No, but becoming more so.
Is there a plan? Only for the next step, then sitting down and understanding the implications and complications and deciding what the next step is, and then the next.
At 1:00 AM on the morning of November 15, the neighborhood cops turned back into storm troopers and cleared Liberty Park, 2 days before a large protest march commemorating the two months anniversary of the movement was planned. The reports are varied as to what will happen next. In terms of the physical requirements, the “villages” in New York, Portland, Oakland, Seattle, and other major cities is not yet sustainable—deliberately so, with authorities refusing to install sanitation sites, and other basic necessities of human habitation. Winter is coming—and living in tents without heat is nearly impossible. Police have said that protestors may gather in the area, but not live in the park. It’s complicated… and it’s too late to stop it. OCCUPY has gone global, gone viral, and become a marker in time, in action, that we will look back on and say, “finally—we the people got going again…”
I heard a young man speaking from within the Seattle group on the radio. He was preparing to meet about their reaction to potential eviction from Seattle Central Community College and said, “Well, we’re a leaderless group… so we’ll have a meeting, listen to each other, take a vote, and decide what’s next. That’s how we are—“ I’d only change one thing—it’s not a leaderless movement, it’s an ALL LEADER movement, with every participant taking responsibility for their own interactions.
If you’re not tracking—get online and start reading. Go to http://occupywallst.org. Google around the mainstream media. Look at the BBC. Read the progressive articles on http://www.commondreams.org and watch the Livestream videos.
Does it make sense? Sometimes—and perhaps that is how a new world begins.
Now, collectively, it’s our work to believe that OCCUPY is an emergent action whose time has come. Now, collectively, it’s our work to figure out our ways to engage and support and challenge and shape the conversation.
The circle invites us to sit down, share the stories, clarify the patterns that emerge, and rise to take up wise action. Let’s go.