When I first attended a General Assembly on Day 3 of the Occupation, I didn't have a clue what was going on. Didn't get the hand gestures, didn't understand the order, didn't know what a proposal was, didn't know the difference between a committee and an affinity group, certainly didn't understand how a magic steam engine was gonna change the world with zero impact when we live in a goddamn desert. And "direct democracy"? Democracy, that same bullshit which has resulted in a two-party dominant system which represents corporations and big business? Oh great.
So I went to a Facilitation meeting on Day 8, I went to as many GA's as possible, I watched online videos from New York on the Facilitation process, and I sat my arse down, and I listened.
The first thing I noticed was the tendency of people to waltz into a Facilitation meeting, and sound off about how the process sucked, then propose ways they would change it. Usually, these were people who hadn't been to many meetings, nor GA's and didn't really get the process, but were determined to change it anyway. They were convinced that their not understanding the process we use in a General Assembly, was evidence it was "broken". When I say 'process', I mean the general, loose order established in New York which helps us stop assemblies from descending into a screaming match between the loudest, most confident and most domineering members of society. This process includes sticking to a timetable, of sorts - what we call an "order of the day". Announcements are heard first, and then they're followed by proposals. Proposals are read out, and then individuals can "go on stack", or wait in line, to ask questions of clarity, voice concerns, or offer up friendly amendments. Progressive stack should be practised - meaning if the same, loud, confident, educated dude turns up for the fifth time, he should "step down" so that a minority voice - a new person, a woman, a person of color, a person who may not represent themselves very often - can "step up".
Public speaking is scary for a lot of people. The mic is intimidating. The Occupy crowd can be loud and lairy and - well, they can be mean. A process is a way of allowing order to shape naturally organic discussion, making sure that all voices are heard and taken into account when making a collective decision. It's a way of making sure the loudest don't dominate, the biggest and meanest don't bully the small and the weak. The process is also organic and fluid - sometimes we break into small groups in the middle of a GA in order to discuss a contentious issue. Sometimes we take three opinions for a proposal, and three against. Sometimes questions of clarity and concerns are all that is needed for a proposal to be fine-tuned, or amended, so that everyone agrees it can pass. It changes, depending on what the assembly communicates to the moderator with their hand signs and questions.
I've seen a lot of mistakes being made in GA's. New, nervous Moderators are often scared by the assembly and try and rush through proposals, because discussion can be heated, loud, and sometimes hard to handle. However, discussion is necessary. This is not a quick, easy process. It's lengthy - especially when we reach decisions via indirect consensus, where a proposal is modified on the floor of the assembly through the comments and suggestions of those on stack. Often new facilitators are so set on following an exact mathematical formula - OK, now I ask for questions, then I take a temperature check, then I do three for and three against - that they forget that this process is organic, and dictated by the assembly in front of them. And the assembly will let you know what's up. If they're bored, they'll tell you. If they want to move on, they'll tell you. If they want to stay and discuss a proposal for longer than the allotted thirty minutes - they'll tell you.
It's not perfect, but every Occupation movement, and every GA out there, is facing the same concerns and questions we are having. And we're doing so well. New York practised GA's for weeks before September 17th. We in LA rocked up with a few porta-potties and some tents, and then went "Oh fuck, we'd better learn how to hold that GA thing they're doing over in Zuccotti Park". Our growing pains, combined with the problems of Los Angeles society landing right on our doorstep - homelessness, mental-health issues, theft, poverty, drug and alcohol abuse - has meant that we never had time to perfect this process. But it works. Collective decision making is lengthy and can be annoying as all hell. It can be boring if you're not into that shit, and that's something Facilitation needs to take into account when deciding on the structure and making modifications and improvements in the future. But consensus and participatory democracy offers us a beautiful, viable alternative to a corrupt, fucked-up system where money buys votes, power, influence and representation - and the lack of it means you become a part of society that is shunned.
This is why I believe in a GA, and this is why I believe in a PA - a People's Assembly, which the Keepin' It Real peeps have been holding just prior to the GA every night. A PA is an open-forum discussion group which takes a different format to GA and doesn't have a decision-making function - yet. But there's certainly a need for that kind of meeting, and I wish they'd hold it daily, at 1pm, and start addressing issues directly affecting Tent City and formulating solutions, rather than being verbally abusive assholes to the poor fuckers who get roped in to Facilitate every evening. You know why the same faces keep facilitating GA's? Because certain people hurl a shitload of abuse at those people, and only a few brave souls can cope with it on a regular basis without turning into a gibbering wreck. As one kind soul phrased it, "You guys in Facilitation have a target on your back".
Right now, in City Hall, a lot of people that society has tried to hide away - people that are suffering - are crawling out of the woodwork towards our movement. They can be difficult, demanding, problematic, violent, abusive, and scary. These people are part of us, the 99%, and deserve our love and support, particularly because the same system which failed us, has failed them - and I think we can all agree they seem to be hurting quite a bit. I think the movement has a responsibility to find ways to get these people help, when the current system has failed them. That's certainly something I'm going to be thinking a lot about in the next few weeks.
Tonight, when one mentally ill individual with substance abuse issues broke up the GA, the people came together to calm him down, and the police's help was declined. The dude in question was 51/50'd. I hope he finds some meds, some support, and some strength to get through all that he's suffering. From panic and chaos, a group emerged from the assembly that surrounded Mr 51/50 and hugged him into submission. That was a beautiful moment. It was even more beautiful because I didn't have to hug Mr 51/50. I'm not into hugging strangers, but I'm glad a bunch of you are, as you saved all our asses tonight - including Mr 51/50. We learned tonight that we didn't have a contingency plan. We didn't know what to do when Peacekeepers weren't around. We didn't have enough people acquainted with the concept of Shanti-Sena or Non-violent communication. So tomorrow, we take our shortcomings, and we address them, and we improve upon them collectively.
What pisses me off most in Occupy LA is the amount of violent, masculine energy around - raging men, mentally ill or not, men who don't know how to communicate without resorting to yelling, bullying, and intimidating. What hurts me most is the number of people who hurt, and desperately need to be heard, and still have no voice, and are drowned out by other people's rage. What encourages me most is that as a movement, we continually step up and address these issues, even when it would be easier to turn away and watch the Fucking Kardashians wibble around Beverly Hills spending vast amounts of money on shit over-priced shoes, stuffing our faces with ice cream in front of the goddam TV. This is a movement which listens to the people, and LA is saying loud and clear, WE NEED HELP, WE ARE HURTING.
This is not an "Occupy" problem, a "GA" problem, a "Tent City" problem. It is a nationwide problem. It is our problem: the 100%.
Now let's get back to the Fucking Revolution, can we?