Archive for ‘How To’

February 6, 2012

Participatory Democracy and the Occupy Movement

By Katie Meta

1. Intro and motivation

The Occupy movement began in New York City’s Zucotti Park in September 2011, as a protest against economic inequality and specifically against the banks of Wall Street. Occupy quickly spread, and around the world camps were set up in public spaces, protesting against economic inequality, and organising themselves non-hierarchically, with decisions made in leaderless General Assemblies. The occupations are notable for their lack of a platform or list of demands, as shown in this statement from Occupy Oakland:

To the Politicians and the 1%: This occupation is its own demand. Since we don’t need permission to claim what is already ours, we do not have a list of demands to give you. There is no specific thing you can do in order to make us “go away”. And the last thing we want is for you to preserve your power, to reinforce your role as the ruling classes in our society.

What does it mean to say that “This occupation is its own demand”? I would argue that this expresses a desire for Participatory Democracy; a political system characterised by a lack of hierarchy, in which people participate directly in making decisions that affect them. This is in contrast to Representative Democracy, in which people vote for their rulers once every four or five years but apart from that have few opportunities to participate in decision-making. At least for some participants, the purpose of Occupy is not to influence government, but to replace it.

However the form of participatory democracy practised within the Occupy movement is far from perfect, and despite the best of intentions what happens in General Assemblies falls short of full and equal democratic participation for all. Many people are drawn into this movement by the promise of openness and equal participation, and so when these promises are not realised, people drift away.

In this article I’m going to look at how participatory democracy is practised within Occupy and related movements, show some of the problems that often come up, and suggest some improvements. I’m also going to talk more generally about how Participatory Democracy can be used in other types of organisations. Finally I’ll argue that Participatory Democracy isn’t just something that just happens in meetings, and that is requires a cultural shift in the way we think and related to each-other. This shift requires hard work, but in my opinion it’s definitely achievable.

I’m not involved in the Occupy movement. However I was involved for several years in the UK Camp for Climate Action, which had a similar organisational structure. I’m going to start by describing this organisational structure in a somewhat simplified and idealised way – every group is different so this won’t perfectly match any particular group.

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January 31, 2012

Survivor Support and Accountability Processes: Interview with Support New York

By Martyna Starosta

My participation in various OWS working groups taught me that safer spaces don’t simply exist. It actually takes a lot of critical analysis, effort, and patience to create those.

My comrades and I had a lot of heated discussions about the surprisingly persistent figure of the “male anarchist hero” and the often outraging paradox of patriarchal behavior in anti-oppression working groups.

I recently interviewed the Brooklyn-based collective Support New York about this question. In this conversation, the volunteers Kat and Milo analyzed harmful patterns of behavior in radical communities and talked about their methods to transform these patterns.

Support New York is dedicated to heal the effects of sexual assault and abuse within the radical community.The collective focuses on meeting the needs of the survivor, and holding accountable those who have perpetrated harm. The volunteers also strive for a larger dialog within the community about consent, mutual aid, and challenging the society’s narrow definition of abuse.
Even though Support New York operates within a narrow local radius, it can serve as an inspiring case study of community empowerment and transformative justice.
More Projects by Martyna Starosta alias The Film Detective: thefilmdetective.org
January 23, 2012

Defending the People’s Mic

By Pham Binh

The People’s Mic.  Created by occupiers in Liberty Park after the New York Police Department (NYPD) prevented us from using bullhorns, used on Republican Governor Scott Walker and Democratic President Barack Obama, it’s one of the most effective means we’ve devised to give voice to the 99%.

We don’t own media empires or have expensive sound systems, but we will be heard!

However, the powerful people’s mic is not invincible, especially at smaller rallies, protests, flashmobs, and speakouts.

On January 3, the New York City Metropolitan Transit Authority’s police force (yes, they have one of their own) arrested two people leading the people’s mic.

Lauren DiGioia (seen above), the hard-working member of the sanitation group and one of the womensexually assaulted at the Liberty encampment, was mobbed by cops, dragged away, and issued a summons as she spoke out against the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that allows the government to detain accused terrorists indefinitely without trial. Obama signed NDAA into law, giving Bush’s attacks on civil liberties after 9/11 the “change we can believe in” seal of approval.

This type of action by the cops is going to become common as we continue to make our voices heard. They are adapting their tactics in response to us adapting our tactics. It’s a continual battle between us and them and now it’s our move.

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