Working groups, just as General Assemblies and other organs of Occupy’s direct democracy know their faire share of blocking, the making consensus fall short by one person stopping it. The moment of blocking is frequently dramatic, with all attention on the blocker. It’s like a moment when a train is just about to leave the station, people in the wagon get ready to relax into white noise of the clicking wheels, and… somebody suddenly pulls the emergency brake.
We don’t know what’s the issue of the blocker; whether the danger that our attention is directed to is real or exists only in the blocker’s imagination. How mindful the community is in that moment has consequences. We cultivate the community art of direct democracy through self-reflective practice, one meeting at a time. This blog is dedicated to all Occupiers, who want to become wiser about “blocking” and how to relate to it.
What is “blocking”
Ben Cavanna, an activist with occupy London wrote:
As I understand it a block used correctly means this:
“This proposal that we are discussing is fundamentally against what the movement stands for. If this proposal goes ahead in its present form, then it will lead me to consider having to leave the movement.”
Before someone ever blocks a proposal, they would raise their objections to the proposal at GA and would be invited to come forward and make that objection known. Then there would be a period of discussion in the GA to ascertain whether or not the proposal could be modified to satisfy the objection. If this cannot be achieved, then the person is asked if they are prepared to stand aside. Again this means something specific. Standing aside means “I do not feel strongly enough to block, but I do not support the proposal and have no obligation to help put it through and also will not bear any consequences of the proposal being put into action.”
They either stand aside or if they feel strongly enough they block. Then they are asked to attend the next working group of the proposal to see if the objection can be overcome, or a solution found.
So the block is very specific and should be undertaken only in serious cases where one believes that the proposed course of action would be detrimental to the movement.
This is not always clearly understood (big understatement), but is how it should work.
I have seen working groups bring things to GA for consensus, find quite a number of objections from GA, then go back and work on the proposal further taking into account the objections, and this may happen on more than one go-round. Almost always the working group reports back that the proposal that gets consensus finally is much stronger than it was at the start. This is consensus in the model we use and is how it should work.
Just a clarification as best I understand it. I am sure the collective intelligence will correct where I am in error.
In a short time, a fellow Occupier wrote to Ben:
This is completely correct.
The Corporations Working Group’s first statement was blocked and we went off with the blocker, classic “reformist versus revolutionary” dialogue.
After two meetings, one 8 hours and one 5, we came back with something 100% way better. I now feel deep love and respect for my blocker
Then somebody reminded us on the distribution list of Starhawk’s thoughts about the same issue:
In classic consensus, any one individual can block the group from moving for-
ward — but only for very specific reasons. A block is not a disagreement or an
objection. It’s not a way to express general dislike. A block is only accepted when
it is a moral objection, that is, a block says: “This decision would violate the
shared values upon which this group is founded.” When someone does block a
consensus, they must be able to state their principled objection.
The values must be ones core to the group and to which the group subscribes.
If RootBound ecovillage has not formed around animal rights, the most ardent
vegan member can’t block the farmers from raising chickens. The vegans are free,
however, to register their opinions, concerns, to advocate for their position, to
educate their friends and to say that they personally will not come to dinner if any
meat is served. In classic consensus, a block is something you might do once or
twice in a lifetime. Another way to look at a block is to say, “Is this so serious that
I would have to disassociate myself and leave the group if they go ahead with it?”
The only other reason for blocking would be that the discussion and decision-
making process have been so unfair or so badly done that the decision is not a true
one. A process block does not kill the issue, but sends it back for more discussion
and a more fair presentation.
Groups may decide to limit blocking. Some groups decide, for example, that
a lone individual cannot block, but only a representative of some subgroup that
has itself reached consensus to block. For example, in a mobilization for a direct
action the group might decide that any blocks must come from an affinity group
or a working group, not just a single person, to protect the organization from
potential disrupters who might parachute in and stop the work from going for-
ward. Other groups might limit blocking to people who have been members for
a determined period of time, or who fulfill other requirements. Some groups
require anyone who blocks a proposal to offer an alternative.
When the discussion of an issue is carried out openly and thoroughly, block-
ing rarely if ever arises. Deep feelings and strong, moral objections are dealt with
as the proposal is being formulated, and projects that might violate the group’s core values are amended or dropped long before they reach the stage at which a
block is put forward.
The clip about "blocking" starts at 2:42.
Starhawk wrote, “A block is only accepted when it is a moral objection, that is, a block says: ‘This decision would violate the shared values upon which this group is founded.’ When someone does block a consensus, they must be able to state their principled objection.” But what if the group doesn’t have explicit values and principles, not even a concrete enough set of objectives to assess their violation? Then that’s a field day for all those who just just need some attention and enjoy blocking for blocking sake. Ideally, in a movement that wants to be the change it shouldn’t happen, but it does because people join Occupy with very different personal needs and levels of consciousness.
When it does, then what? Well, hopefully, there’s a facilitator, who is protecting the spirit of the accepted process and a strong enough community to stand with it. That question stresses the need and importance of training in the Occupations for respect and consensus. Let me leave you with the best source I know for such training. It is the “Five-Fold Path of Productive Meetings”, from which the Starhawk quote above is borrowed. It is a chapter of her recent book on The Empowerment Manual: A Guide for Collaborative Groups, which you can download here: http://thefutureofoccupy.org/movement-documents/downloads/