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AN OPEN LETTER FROM TREE BRESSEN TO OCCUPY WALL STREET

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AN OPEN LETTER FROM TREE BRESSEN TO OCCUPY WALL STREET

Postby admin » Sun Sep 23, 2012 8:54 am

from Tree Bressen
2 Pages; 39 KB

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9/18/2012

While I fully respect where Randy [Schutt] is coming from in his comments on the basic pull of consensus vs. diversity of tactics, I think the picture is more complex than that. I see the tension between the individual and the collective as inherent to every group undertaking. Most groups wrestle with this archetypal tension over and over throughout their life together. Thus to me the question is less either/or and more which/when and how. For example, when is it best for a group to split because visions differ, and when is maintaining unity better? How can diversity of tactics function strategically, instead of distracting everyone with a bunch of infighting? How can activists who are dedicated to nonviolence (including toward stuff as well as people) make sufficient alliance with those of different viewpoint to at least stay out of each other's way, recognizing they often hold goals in common? And so on. I'm not saying I agree with the people you are frustrated with, I'm saying that their existence cannot be ignored and therefore needs to be thoughtfully engaged with. (Keeping in mind all the challenges of infiltration, mental illness, past trauma, and so on.)

Shortly before Tim [Hartnett]'s book was published, he & I had some respectful yet intense discussions about his approach, which mainly advocates for using a bunch of consensus techniques to refine a proposal, and then most likely voting at the actual decision point. As a longtime consensus teacher, I was concerned about the publication by New Society of a book with Consensus in the title that comes across as depressed about the prospects of full consensus and overall warns people away from it. When the Occupy movement arose, I noted with great interest that independent of each other, almost every Occupy site across the US adopted some version of what Tim had been advocating for. Clearly he was speaking to a widespread need that went beyond both my own ideological commitments and my own lived experiences with successful consensus decision-making (which had been mostly in the more cohesives types of groups Randy points to).

Not having been personally present at the Seattle WTO protests nor other earlier large-scale activist applications of consensus (Clamshell Alliance, Diablo, etc.), I have never seen a full-on spokescouncil or consensus for 10,000 in action, so I don't know how those applications are the same as or differ from Occupy. Certainly the WTO events were a lot shorter--it's one thing to make decisions for one protest of a few days, and something else entirely to do it week after week while living out in the streets, or not. But it's worth asking the question, if full consensus worked in Seattle--not perfectly surely, but well enough--then what's changed, or what was different about Occupy? Was it mainly that the Seattle events were planned months in advance with huge coalition-building happening leading up to it, while Occupy arose as a surprise even to its own initial organizers? I know that here in Eugene, there was suddenly a desperate need for consensus training once Occupy started, a gap that went largely unfilled by me and others.

Anyway, just some thoughts for the moment, and I'll look forward to more discussion later. One thing is for sure, if we want our movements to succeed we are going to have to work out how to do good decision-making within them.

Cheers,

--Tree



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