[UPDATE: Given that it's come to light that our incompetent city attorney, Carmen Trutanich, wants to sue protesters for exaggerated cost of occupation, my priorities have shifted. Can we talk about things like exposing these asshole politicians for what they are? Can we not waste the GAs on fucking semantics?]
I left the general assembly in anger and exasperation this evening.
As I departed, Occupy Los Angeles had just seen one person do as his unheeded hard block had promised, and withdrew his support of the movement. Two more made it clear that they were on the edge of doing this themselves.
The Occupier had been called out on process repeatedly for the reasoning behind his hard block. Though it was confusingly phrased, I think I got it. I couldn't say anything in support by then because, of course, stacks were closed.
It had to do with a proposed rephrasing of the statement of nonviolence. He said the new wording was too open ended since it didn't condemn violence outright, and would leave OLA without a concrete basis to reject a violent act. The controversy started when he was coerced to further justify his reasoning (hostility and impatience had already been in the air, and they gathered momentum). He went on to cite an example of OLA resources being used to bail people out—he was interrupted at this point, and shouted down. I can only guess at what he was going to say, but here goes. Hypothetically, if OLA bailed people out who actually were guilty of violent or destructive acts, then has that autonomous individual (as referred to in the statement) not enjoyed the support of the movement? (I don't know whether it's occurred or not, but it's my interpretation of the scenario) Would that constitute a retroactive endorsement of the act? And, at that point, would we have a convincing means to distance ourselves from the violence?
I could be wrong and he was going somewhere else entirely, but I guess I'll never know.
Oh yeah. Later on it turned out that the person calling people out on process all night didn't in fact understand what point of process meant. Wonderful.
What kept me from leaving the movement entirely was my belief in the importance of a worldwide popular uprising, and the conviction that squandering this (last) opportunity for change is not something I could easily live with. I understand that the movement's significance is broader in depth and breadth than any individual disagreement or the issues of a committee. No one can own this movement. Realizing this gave me the perspective cool off.
What did not keep me from leaving was faith in the process.
In conversations with fellow occupiers during the early weeks of the occupation, I had objected to accusations leveled at committees, that they were these closed, secretive cabals, with decisions being made without accountability or disclosure. People complained that they were not being represented—I countered that they could be if they'd participate. Criticism often targeted the facilitators directly, who took the most shit at the GA for being the faces of all the bureaucracy. I defended them.
Now, in this still admittedly immature movement, I'm finding the basis of my advocacy less convincing.
One person at tonight's GA had said facilitation had been hijacked. The term implies a deliberate takeover. I don't see malice in what's occurred, and though I deplore it, what has happened most likely did so organically. I will not make this personal; I don't dislike the facilitators; I don't believe they're doing so intentionally, but I do feel they've escalated more than a few arguments, and brought them further away from resolution through inconsistency in moderation.
In my opinion, objectivity has dissolved. It's not that any particular part of the process is being used wrongly. It's that it is being applied selectively. I cannot emphasize this point enough. There have been so many unchecked tangents, so many bizarre divergences—like people breaking into song, or reading poetry, or ranting about conspiracies, or telling an anecdote, or just pontificating—and so much monopolization of the conversation by a handful of people—in contradiction of the much ballyhooed progressive stacking supposedly being implemented—and an oblivious bias in interpreting the rules.
Regarding the round table discussions... There were arguments that it was staged by provocateurs, and that may well be the case. But in spite of my distaste for the fiasco they created (and the ineffectualness of their solutions), the tribally-run peoples' assembly revealed the brewing sense of disenfranchisement among a significant proportion of Occupiers. It could be, and has been, said that they should have just participated in committees, etc. But it was clear from the (still horrible but in a different way) loose structure of their own meetings that a fair number of people are simply unable to relate to the suffocating artifices of our sentimentally beloved process. They will not be heard or represented.
One thing that allowed me to defend the process for so long was that I had not yet found cause to participate in it. I was here as a writer—to take notes, and march without interjecting my own views. It was only when I participated that I understood the problem. After sitting mutely and observing a wearying number of meetings, I did what was beaten into all of us: I got on stack. And then I waited as my fellow Occupiers voiced their opinions... and meandered. They spoke so tangentially that by the time it was my turn I was told we're not on that topic anymore, and my opinion was effectively shut out. That's it. Shut up. Suck it up. Go away.
I wish I could say it was an isolated event, but it is endemic. If the facilitators had followed process, we would have remained on topic, and I would have gotten to speak. I can't say for certain this particular turn of events was detrimental to the meeting as a whole—perhaps the new topic was an improvement over the original—but the fact is this: one breech of process was passively tolerated (veering off topic mid-comment), while the other (my then "off topic" comment) was not.
I had never understood the anger and outbursts often displayed by those on stack. Now I do. If I'd kept score on who was waiting versus who eventually spoke, I'd probably have recognized the same indifferent snubs reserved for those ensnared in the arbitrary convolution of the process.
I'm not saying facilitation is an easy or fun role. But it is a necessary function, and one which must be performed dependably for a horizontal democracy to work. Either the rules are applied consistently, or the rules are in need of adjustment to become fair.
Perpetual hand raisers always seem to stack just in case. Those others who may take longer to process the proposals and comments will find the stack is closed, or the topic has veered irrevocably off course, once they've either formed an opinion, or mustered the courage to speak. Only those quick on the draw are heard—e.g. extroverts dominate—and that has lead to a superficiality and narrowness of opinion (IMO).
I can't count how many times I've wanted to hear someone simply conclude their thought, yet they were shouted down for speaking out of turn.
Oh, but the stack is closed. Oh, you're off topic. Oh, why don't you make sure to hold onto your idea until later on, when it'll be totally irrelevant.
Yet other times it's randomly allowed. Someone will sneak an opinion into a point of process, or an amendment into a question, or a proposal into a point of information. And whether it's a grave enough sin that this speaker should be shut down on the spot happens at the facilitators' discretion. Some opinions seem beyond the jurisdiction of facilitation, and it's often the most circuitous ones.
Facilitation has seen the same faces for a long while, and in my view impartiality has diminished. Favoritism is (unintentionally) in practice. Certain people get privilege to rant because they're familiar. Comfort with the role has granted facilitators permission to editorialize. Arbitrary choices in enforcing process are skewing the range of opinions. This is not a personal attack, or an accusation of conspiracy: it's an observation on an inevitable point we've reached due to intrinsic qualities of human nature. We will always do this.
Nietzsche wrote, in Beyond Good and Evil:
"A nation is a detour of nature to arrive at six or seven great men.—Yes, and then to get round them."
The facilitators have given to the movement and done a great job in spite of verbal abuse, and often absurd circumstances. But it's been long enough for personal views to insinuate themselves into moderating the forum.
What happened tonight was a red flag. Any time rational people are motivated to leave, some consideration needs to go into whether their complaints—even if once false—are now increasingly common, and yes, plausible. Last time it was personal safety that drove people away. Now that we only occupy ideologically, it's the process.
Notions of a horizontal democracy, and a "leaderful" movement are well and good, but we'd kid ourselves to say they're in practice. And though I see growing validity in complaints about the cliquishness and diminishing objectivity that may have crept into the process, it's still not anyone's job to step down. Rather it's up to those of us with grievances to step up, and I believe those currently filling these roles do care enough about the movement to practice what they preach about such rotation.
Honestly, I'm working through my thoughts in this blog post, and whether I've now committed myself to volunteering for one of the least appealing roles to me. I couldn't moderate, but any other roles would be fine. Maybe. I'd like it if other people would consider taking on some of those responsibilities as well.
If this upsets anyone, please do as I did and take a few moments to consider the contentions. Don't just bite my head off and confirm what harsher critics have said.