R’evolution is shorthand for the jump time of evolution, when social relations that have been frozen for a long time start thawing and the obsolescence of the dominant social order becomes obvious to the multitudes. It’s a time of unfreeze, a fascinating moment, when what the future can become is up to us, to our collective consciousness and connective intelligence.
Collective consciousness is the intimate knowing of our collective self, who we are as a movement, as a social force capable to change the future. Connective intelligence is much more than a wordplay on collective intelligence. It is the act of connection that gives rise to new life forms, thought forms, and forms of organizing.
Working Groups are organs of the awakening social body of the 99%. Currently, they carry out functions essential to the well-being of the Occupations. I see them also as seeds for the new institutions that we’ll need for stewarding the well-being of the emerging, post-capitalist society.
They can be roughly broken into three categories: operational, sectorial, and strategy-focused. The first deals with everything needed to assure the viability of a given Occupation, including its finances, outreach, press relations, process, etc. The work of WGs in the second category is focused on such sectors of social life as education, health, economics, etc. In the strategy-focused WGs, members address issues of the emerging Occupy vision, strategic planning and navigation, and how the 99% can win.
At the end of the first part of this series, I referred to WGs as a form of real, participatory democracy, which is liberating vast reservoirs of human and social creativity. How does it do it? Well, an answer to this is that Occupy is an emergent platform, where free agents combine their talents to create something together that they value, and couldn’t create separately. When free from the binding structures of wage slavery, people can collaborate on their own choice, and it is in these conditions that the floodgates of creativity open.
I took this picture at the “Beyond Capitalism?” conference that was one of the last ones in Occupy London’s Bank of Ideas, currently re-taken by UBS. Notice the mischievous child in the left corner of the mural, who has just painted O-C-C-U-P-Y on the shields of the police. (She or he reminded me of Gavroche from Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables.)
The morphing of a sympathizer into an Occupier frequently happens when she or he finds the right WG to contribute to, or decides to start her or his own. It can occur in such a natural and easy step, as joining the kitchen crew and showing up regularly, or participating in the collaborative development of the critique of representative democracy. As long as the fruits of the work belong to all, one person’s work is not more important than another’s.
As more of us in the Occupations find the best fit between our talents and the movement’s needs, the richer the variety of the WGs becomes. The increasing variety of needs and opportunities that the movement can respond to is proportionate with the number of us, who choose to participate in one of the Working Groups. (That number also depends on the adequateness of the welcoming structures and the process that the General Assembly has for helping the orientation of newcomers.)
With the increasing variety comes increasing flux. WGs appear and disappear following the ebb and flow of personal attention and energy that a particular focus holds over time among the Occupiers. In other words, WGs can just as easily die as they are born. Yet some of them enjoy more solid continuity than others, and thus they have a better chance to learn from their own experience.
But what is it that we, as a movement, are learning from the experience of WGs? While Occupy is re-inventing itself for Phase 2, something is also happening to the longer and bigger learning journey, the evolution of human society and consciousness. What is that? Let’s observe the answer to both questions through the lens of some evolutionary drivers that are at play, namely, the one that affects emergence at all scales: the triad of “differentiation-integration-transformation”.
Life is carrying itself forward through the workings of the “d-i-t” triad. Permanent differentiation without integration is decay, which in the social domain means a loss of cohesion and capacity to evolve into higher-order social forms. This is also known as balkanization. When a social movement balkanizes, its potential for bringing more justice, dignity and joy into the life of people is lost.
That fragmentation is not to be confounded with the initial conditions of a multi-centric mass movement, such as Occupy, where the globalized existence of capital evokes similar phenomena of resistance in various part of the world. While balkanization is a post-unity state of affairs, the unnecessary duplication of effort in Occupy is a pre-unity symptom. How can we address that? Here is an example:
We need the work of the various Economics/Corporations/Economy WGs around the world to evolve to the point where they can see and become attracted to the benefits of organizing themselves into a rich ecosystem of people, joint research and prototyping projects, and the shared knowledge resources, of an “economy commons”. Only then will they have the chance to tackle the complexity of the planetary economic and environmental crises created by capitalist globalization, and only then can we work out the fine points of issues like how to assure a basic income for everyone.
We need the work of the many Education WGs to evolve to the point where they also become integrated into an ecosystem of education innovators and projects experimenting with, for example, new combinations of peer learning and expert panels. Only then will we have a better chance to move to a global society where the full development of each and every human is the goal of the whole.
The socio-economic system that dominates the planet at the moment achieves integration through mergers and acquisitions, where an ever-bigger part of our collective resources end up in the pockets of an ever-smaller number of owners. To achieve the large-scale resource co-ordination necessary to whole-system transformation, Occupy is using horizontal integration. It implies not a scaling up of all WGs working on a given domain into a global “super WG,” but a scaling through lateral relationships, connecting expertise, resources, driving questions, and smart solutions.
Mark Jagdev, who wrote the “Can Occupy occupy Strategy?” blog, quoted the following statement from Occupy Venice: “the purpose of the strategic planning working group is to come up with a mission statement first, goals second, objectives third and tactics *last*.” Imagine what the movement will be able to accomplish when the various Think Tanks, Vision, and Strategy WGs start interacting on a more regular basis, and integrate their perspectives in Occupy style – bottom up, rather then driven by a Central Committee or a Board of Directors.
Of course, integration doesn’t have to stop at the boundaries of WG’s. As Colin Davis (San Francisco), author of the essay “Occupy the solutions” , recommended, “Look around the world for individuals who have already developed cutting edge solutions to these problems – some are already in your ranks.” There are much more Occupy-supportive professionals with specialized knowledge outside than inside the WGs. Not connecting with them is a typical mistake of WGs with an insular, inside-looking practice. On the positive side, a good example of WGs working co-creatively with Occupy-supportive members of the professions is the healthcare WGs that Anna Betz blogged about here.
“Life’s natural tendency to create new connections and new relationships leads to new and surprising capacities.“ (A Simpler Way, by Margaret Wheatley and Myron Kellner-Rogers) If you’re a little bit like me, then you’re very curious of what the movement could become capable of when all of its Assemblies and WGs are richly connected in a web of federated, collaborative action, in which each part retains its autonomy, yet together achieve something that none of them could do alone.
What can Occupy learn from the evolutionary dynamics of differentiation-integration-transformation? What can that triad bring to answer the epic question, how can the 99% win?
In nature, as in society, qualitative transformation, the appearance of a new system is happening by emergence.
“Emergence is the way complex systems and patterns arise out of a multiplicity of relatively simple interactions… An integrative level, or level of organization, is a set of phenomena emerging on pre-existing phenomena of lower level. Typical examples include life emerging on non-living substances, and consciousness emerging on nervous systems.” (Wikipedia)
In Part 1 of this essay, I wrote about General Assemblies: the primordial soup of social life in the 3rd millenium, comparing the new dynamics that Occupy is creating with the emergence of life from the non-living. It is a metaphor hardly exaggerated if you consider that none of us can experience the joy, freedom, autonomy, creativity and solidarity of being alive, until all of us can. In that sense the emergence of life from the non-living is still ahead of us!
What is the role of strategy if emergence, by definition cannot be “designed?” Well, we can design conditions that foster the emergence to an integrative level. Here are two of them:
• Connecting the existing conversations in and around the movement among those who are looking at strategy from the greatest whole they can put their arms around.
• Hosting a strategy learning community, a commons of people passionate about growing individual and collective competences in strategic sensing, thinking, planning, and navigating.
If life and “r’evolution carries itself forward by the working groups of Occupy,” then “to lay claim to the future, we need to connect and amplify the activities of the working groups as stated by Tia Carr Williams in her article Working Groups: the self-organising revolution.
A bottom-up transformation of an unjust society that favors the few will, indeed, require the further differentiation of the working groups, and their integration within and across Occupations. This integration can catalyze transformation and allow us to start functioning as the competent institutions of our new, participatory democracy, at increasing scale.