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General Assembly -- Let's Get This Thing Working

The General Assembly. An institution doomed to fail?

I ran across two posts recently, one about the Los Angeles General Assembly and one from Z-mag, after Michael Albert toured Europe.

And, from word of mouth, I hear that Occupy Seattle has developed a working GA. Hopefully, this form of so-called democratic participation can be analyzed and restructured in a way that will become more productive.

Day 26 @ #OccupyLA -- The Occupy Los Angeles General Assembly split into dueling factions Wednesday evening as a large number of occupiers who felt alienated by the highly structured, long and boring, but largely irrelevant GA , came in and took over the mike, overthrew the process, and made it an open mike session. The GA had been led by a facilitation committee that was far more concerned with process than content. This is a facilitation committee lead by a new core group. The original core group of facilitators that used the process to create Occupy Los Angeles have moved on to other areas... Url:  http://wlcentral.org/node/2314


From: Michael Albert "Occupy to Self Manage" October 25, 2011 (zmag.org)

After a time, many asked, why should I stay and listen to boring talks? Why should I be hugely uncomfortable and cut off from family and work, if I have nothing to do that is constructive, nothing that is empowering, nothing that furthers worthy aims? And so people started to attend less, and then to leave.

Another factor that was initially exciting but later became tedious, was seeking consensus. At first it was novel. It implied trust, which felt good. It implied shared intentions, which felt inspiring. But after awhile, seeking consensus became tortured, a time waster, and its reason for being the only decision making approach became steadily less compelling.

Why can't we arrive at decisions which some people do not like and don't even want to participate in? Why can't we arrive at decisions, and have a strong minority that dissents, and then respect that minority, and even have it pursue other possibilities to see their worth? Why do we allow some small group to cause discussions to continue without end, turning off many from relating when the small group has no legitimate claim to greater influence than anyone else - save that our mode of decision making gives them a veto?

Folks recounted all these dynamics very graphically and movingly. No one said that people stopped participating in assemblies because of fear or the cops or depression over the newspapers. No one said people left because they had developed doubts about protest or resistance, much less about the condition of society. Instead, everyone I spoke with, and it was a lot of very committed people, told me participants left due to lacking good reasons to stay. The bottom line was that the assemblies got tedious and, ironically, even dis-empowering. Folks wondered, why must I be here every day and every night? The thought nagged. It led to legions moving on.

What is the solution, I asked, in each new city, and we discussed possible answers.

Occupy but better yet, self manage, I was told. The former option is basically passive - the latter is active and yields tasks and opportunities to contribute. Grow in numbers and awareness, but those who become well learned must stay in touch with new people, and always remember that new people's involvement matters most. Otherwise old timers are getting more knowledgeable but also more aloof, and new people will not stay.

... Indeed, even with the incredible speed and ingenuity of current outbreaks of activism, there are undeniably pessimistic scenarios in which occupations wind down and then demos happen for a time but manage to win only minor if any gains until movement morbidity sets in. This is what the Greeks and Spaniards are trying to avoid. It is why they are beginning new kinds of occupations aimed at media, housing, universities, and at the transformation of budgets, and soon, perhaps at hiring and firing. Projects that are designed to enhance and widen participation in ways leading to massive involvement of masses of people - all knowing what they want and how they can contribute to attaining it.


Repeating what I've heard, my watered down restatement (apologies): Seattle does have mics, but has chosen not to use them, instead they use the human-mic which forces people to be more concise. They also have an agenda marked out set a time limit for the discussions.

From what I hear, the most motivational structure within the camp can be found in the kitchen. That Food Not Bombs has over many years of practice, developed working guidelines that address many of the difficulties the GA is facing. An understanding of the oppressed and the oppressive behaviors that we all accidentally participate in.


As far as I've been able to deduce, the Two Camp in one is the norm. Where one group diligently attends hours of meetings, debating the various amendments to their new government [a formal change to the text of the written constitution of a nation or state], where thoughts go here there and everywhere, and important matters in between. The other folk, either too busy to attend, or just feeling excluded, purposeless and bored, etc. do not attend, nor respect anything to do with the GA. Respect. Nice word.

Hopefully a way forward can be developed. The only group I have worked with where I enjoyed their method was: make a vote, the majority wins, all participants support the vote -- even if they disagreed with the vote -- and participate to the best of their abilities, and that quickly enough, whether that choice was good/bad/sort-of would be obvious, and at that point a re-evaluation could be made whether to continue/modify/dissolve the decision.

I plead ignorance. The GA has become an institution of a sort, more immediately spreading from Spain. I do know that "good" movements fail regularly because the architecture/structure is flawed.

General assemblies work just fine 28.Oct.2011 16:57


3,000 people in Oakland decided in few hours 96% in favor of the first general strike in the United States since 1946. How more quickly and democratically could a decision like that be made than by a general assembly?

food 28.Oct.2011 17:23

for thought

"I do know that "good" movements fail regularly because the architecture/structure is flawed."

I know that is the common idea... but I suspect that it is people that are flawed and that no system can correct that. I believe we spend too much time looking for the perfect system and not on elevating ourselves.