By Colin Davis
America, as a culture is very goal oriented. We have a hard time getting a lot from process itself and we want to see results. It’s a cultural thing. Keeping that in mind, I think, will help Occupy related groups to keep the energy going.
I find it healthy that Occupy groups are oriented in a way which lets any and all opinions be heard and lets a group be steered by the members collectively rather than by a leader or core membership’s rule. But I have to say that I think that there is a time and a place for slower, process heavy groups and more structured, goal oriented groups. Its up to any one group where they want to be, but always shooting for goals is a good way to keep energy levels high.
I’m attending a number of working groups and Occupy affiliated groups, and I see that each of them is struggling to establish where it should go, or they have marked their goals very broadly in order to be as inclusive as possible. Again, this is great for process oriented groups which want to strengthen personal bonds, but it can be a turn off for goal oriented people who want to see more rapid results.
We all have a certain amount of time and energy, and we want to use it for the greater good, but we sometimes find ourselves going group to group looking for a place to settle, and never doing so because each group we find is unsure about what its place is, and many are not effective at reaching goals. So, here are a few ideas which may help in this regard.
Reach out to experienced members
Many of our working groups are dealing with issues that are the specialties of career professionals, academics and individuals who focused their time on particular subjects. One problem with inviting these folks is not what they know, but how they are accustomed to using that information, and their ability to modify their work to fit into new models that Occupy is experimenting with. But I would suggest that anyone who is willing to join an Occupy group should be welcomed readily, because the very fact that they are willing to join means they may very well be capable of fitting into a new model. And if they request modification of an Occupy working group’s structure to increase effectiveness, their input could be just what is needed to tighten up a group which is in need of discipline. Keep in mind that there are a great number of non-mainstream pros and their colleagues and followers who have been developing alternative models for a long time who can be called upon.
I think its ok for working groups to issue criteria and request qualifications from participants. One way to include everyone, but to also insure qualified participators is to allow new membership without any specific experience criteria but additionally seek to recruit those who have certain qualifications.
Example: Finance Working Group forming. Open to public. Group is additionally seeking 2-3 individuals with academic or career backgrounds in banking, finance, economics.
Group around single issues
When it’s appropriate, groups can form around a single issue. Working groups can be single issue oriented or they can form sub groups to handle their specific subjects. Many members would be relieved to know that they can join a group and see their energy manifest more directly.
Use modified consensus
As we have experienced, 100 percent consensus can be both difficult but also very satisfying and powerful when it’s reached. The main block to efficient voting in a full consensus group is when participants, as a whole, are not linked enough by common values and goals. The more diverse group membership is, the more difficult it will be to reach consensus. Don’t be afraid to use 80 or 90 percent consensus when necessary. Holding out for 100 percent consensus can lead groups to lose key members which will damage a group’s effectiveness more than anything. When a group moves too slowly, moral falls, and groups can be rendered ineffective and go dormant. I’ve seen it happen, and it happens fast. Efforts can and should be made for participants to understand the dissenting views held by those in a voting minority.
Working groups which have a minority of highly qualified members and a majority of newcomers to a subject matter could still work well with modified consensus. Most members will defer to the experts opinions, but will also be free to contribute openly and reject expert’s opinions when needed because they have a large majority voting block.
Because Occupy is a national and international movement, it’s capable of taking on national and international issues. It has successfully organized actions which were participated in by large numbers of local Occupy’s. This is positive and will continue, but focusing nationally and internationally is more effective with demonstrations than it is for implementing actual solutions to the problems we focus on.
Just as we have found that it is difficult to get members of a single general assembly or working group to agree on propositions, it may be too difficult to implement national and international remedies at this stage in the movement’s evolution. The future may bring modifications to the movement’s functions that could change this, but for now, mostly smaller scale solutions can be put in place – but this is actually a huge positive.
One of the great tragedies of modern American culture has been the slow dissolution of the democratic process and the rise of a consumer and ego driven culture, which has effectively damaged the self-esteem of citizens badly. Material wealth has proven to be a completely inadequate replacement for self work, family work, community and civic participation.
Because of this trend, many people feel that they are incapable of actually effecting change, even on a local level. They have become disempowered to the point where they are more willing to look to clearly incapable, prevaricating Ken and Barbie dolls to lead them rather than become their own leaders. Of course we are told by the greater culture that law and economics are subjects for braniacs and politics should be left for another strange breed of human most don’t understand. In actuality, these subjects are appropriate for many more participants, even those with no college education.
One remedy for this disempowerment is local action intended to bring people back into touch with their community, their own values and personal powers, and for their local governments to become instruments of an informed citizenry. Eventually, the goal is to have a national government which represents its people as a whole, but when people do not remember what their own values are, and do not have local models, there is no way for a government to represent the people properly. Logically, change must occur at the local level before it can happen nationally or otherwise. And equally logically, change must happen on the personal level before it can be successfully implemented within a community. I don’t think anyone wants to follow the leadership of people who have not done the personal work necessary for them to become morally, emotionally and spiritually upright.
To my mind, the future of America is local strength, local diversity, and state government obedience to the values of the people which are expressed locally. National and international government is then designed to tie together the values of the sovereigns, not to act as its own entity, which is separate from the states and the people. The identity of our country is based on what we share in values, so those values must be expressed in actual, on the ground models that we live by every day. Local solutions have a chance at becoming national, but national solutions have no chance of satisfying local problems as a whole if they are not worked out at the lower levels first.
The solutions already exist
One reason why it may be difficult for groups to solidify around a single issue is that people are inexperienced or unaware of what solutions are out there. We all can make a list of the problems, but we are often at a loss to come up with substantive responses to them. I think that is simply because we have not spent the time looking at solutions and because we are distracted by the large number of problems which society faces.
Personally, I have spent a good number of years researching alternative solutions to many well known problems. I’ve found that there are many extremely talented and qualified people, all over the world who are proposing cutting edge solutions to just about every societal problem you can think of. This ranges from energy, to health, to monetary reform, to education, to psychology, to – you name it. From what I have seen, the solutions are out there, they really are. And for the problems where solutions do not yet exist, they will become available if energy is directed towards them.
If one wanted to develop a scientific response to a problem, the way its done is to first generate a hypothesis that explains the problem and a proposed solution. Then build an experiment to test the hypothesis. Then, if the results are not positive, go back and alter the experiment. Finally, when the experiment works, share the info with peers and see if they can replicate it. When they can, they share the experiment with the world in the form of pure information, or as a product or service.
So according to the scientific method, one starts small, then they perfect that experiment and then try to replicate it in a larger form.
So logically: Design and implement locally, then regionally, then state-wide, then nationally and internationally.
Building on the preceding, I might propose that groups which want to specifically effect change consider the following:
1. Create groups or sub-groups around a single issue.
2. Attempt to understand the problem and how it came about.
3. Look around the world for individuals who have already developed cutting edge solutions to these problems – some are already in your ranks.
4. Plug in one or more of their solutions to solve the problem on a local scale.
5. Use public pressure to have the solutions implemented in a municipality and to share those results with other localities. Teach by example.
For many implementations, there might be a pre-stage where these ideas simply need to be disseminated into the interested public so discussions can occur. Public forums where these thinkers are invited can be convened.
The next step might be to create a “manual” to help other groups meeting around the same issues to implement solutions. For example, in Petaluma California, we are designing a Foreclosure Prevention Zone and an FPZ manual to go with it. The next step is to share the manual in its locally modified form with residents and local officials. Individuals who want to run for local government positions could be empowered and create platforms based on the solution oriented work that had been done and the implementation of the manual into municipal laws and policy.
The Occupy strategy of using sit-ins and mass demonstrations promoted via the internet and social media has been extremely effective at gaining attention. Now Occupy is moving on into stage two, and I would suggest that this stage is one that implements solutions to the problems we have identified on local levels and then shares that information with other localities for them to modify and implement as well. We have occupied the problems; now let us occupy the solutions!