The notes below are from Occupy the Conversation, by Carla Kimball.
Emphasis in bold and our comments in italics are added.
• It’s an incredible example of self-organization. There are no identified leaders. Anyone who wants to speak is given a chance. This is confusing and messy for the media wanting sound-bites because it becomes so hard to pin down. And yet, look at the ripple effect spreading from country to country. Something very elemental is being tapped into through this process.
Occupy’s impact on society will grow proportionately with its discovery and delivery of ever more effective and fun practices of communication and coordination. Those processes can spark the creativity of people discovering the joy of working together in authentic relationships with others.
• Since microphones are often not permitted in the Occupy settings, the style of speaking is very structured. Each speaker must take their time as each sentence is repeated and echoed through the crowd. This means that the speaker must be very concise, but can (and must) also pause between sentences to formulate what they want to say next.
That pause gives also a better chance for a more thoughtful articulation of the next phrase, thanks to the extra time preceding it. (For an enhanced version of inserting pause in the context of small group communication via Skype, read the Chaordic Chat Practice blogpost.)
• There is such an air of respect for every speaker which gets conveyed through the repetition of each sentence. This quality of respect is amplified by the use of hand-signals rather than sound to show approval or disagreement. No one is shouting over the speaker. Applause isn’t cutting off what’s being said. So every word get’s conveyed. Every word is heard.
Respect is the foundation of healthy human relations. It is what the money ignores, the machine degrades, the power-based relations annihilate. It is what we want to build the new society on.
• The quality of attention and listening in the large crowd is truly impeccable so as to be able to repeat accurately what the speaker is saying. I don’t see any side conversations or milling about in the videos I’ve watched.
When we know and feel that our speaking and listening count and we can make a difference, we tend to become curious of what others in the Assembly have to say because we’re hungry to learn how to make more relevant contributions. Being in Assembly with an open mind and heart is also inspiring to pay deeper attention to what is happening within and around us.
• This kind of conversation isn’t looking for the quick fix and can’t be expedited. It takes time, is often messy, and can occasionally become really confusing… So then the group takes a break. People step away to tend to other activities, reflect in silence, or join together to sing, dance and make music, trusting that clarity will eventually emerge if they hold the process and each other gently, joyfully, respectfully.
Once we were part of a process like that, then control-and-command structures lose their legitimacy for us. Having experienced the warmth and richness of truly human communication in large groups, anything less than that doesn’t hold sway – not that it is without any problem. For example, using an approach of 100% consensus, one person’s block can prevent effective and timely collective action. Recognizing the drawbacks of that, Occupy Wall Street introduced the 90% rule, letting a proposal pass if 90% of people present support it.
Another method worth considering that corrects the shortcomings of classic consensual decisions, is what’s called “Integrative Decision Making.” However, there’s no magic formula. It’s all about laying the road as we walk on it, observing what works and what doesn’t, naming it, and inventing better ways.
[Note: For a detailed description of Occupy processes developed earlier in Europe, see "Quick guide on group dynamics in people's assemblies."]