12 October 2011

#OccupyDameStreet - Breakfast of Champions

Breakfast of Champions
#OccupyDameStreet, Dublin, Wednesday 12th October
Morning on Day Five on Occupied Dame Street saw a strange unfamiliar yellow orb pass slowly overhead, bringing a feeling that some would describe as the opposite of cold, and when coupled with the discovery that for many of the Overnighters the sounds of constant traffic and the heaving retches of late-night passers-by have become an urban lullaby resulting in an unprecedented good night's sleep, no longer is there a sense of bitter resentment that we have been cursed by fate to be involved in #OccupyDameStreet and not #OccupySeychelles or #OccupyMaldives.

As we arrived down to the Camp a bountiful breakfast was being served by the Food Workgroup (and while anyone can volunteer to help source and serve food, there are two or three folks who seem to always be there and are just amazing) with hard-boiled eggs, sardines and fig-rolls the power foods du jour. Especially Fig-Rolls. Camp life seems to start to get going between 8 and 9am, when the majority of folks are up and active, most after only four to five hours sleep, though since the introduction of a midnight noise curfew the morning faces seem less bleary-eyes and groggy, which is just as well give the early morning arrivals of journalists. In fact so frequent have been the morning media visits these last few days that certain signs around the Camp decrying the media black-out have had to be subtly altered.

Less of a blackout, more of a brownout
#OccupyDameStreet, Dublin, Wednesday 12th October
This afternoon's General Assembly returned once again to the theme of outreach to or acceptance of members of other political groups and organisations. As I mentioned yesterday the stated position of #OccupyDameStreet is that while it welcomes the valuable experience and contributions members of existing political groups could bring with them to Dame Street, as the movement is only beginning to find its voice its asks that party affiliations be left at the door (a metaphorical door, this being basically a hundred-foot wide concrete wind tunnel). Proselytizing and recruitment, whether verbally or by leaflet, newsletter, fundraising jars etc by external groups are all banned from the Camp, but individuals from external groups are more than welcome to approach the General Assembly and ask to run a workshop on a particular topic as an individual rather than on behalf of a party.

There is no single issue more contentious at General Assemblies than this topic, as at every GA there are a fair few members of parties or groups that really want to support #OccupyDameStreet, and support it in strength by arriving down en masse with banners and placards. However there are normally far, far more people who disagree passionately to such an approach, that the main reason they are at Occupied Dame Street is because of the absence of these very political banners, placards and affiliations.

We are all individuals at the afternoon General Assembly
#OccupyDameStreet, Dublin, Wednesday 12th October

My own feeling is somewhere in the middle, I am there because of the unaffiliated nature of the movement, however I feel that if someone wanted to speak at a Workshop on behalf of their Party they should be given the chance, which would also give the chance for everyone else to question them. However I am adamantly opposed to any banners, placards, leaflets, chanting or recruitment being carried out by any external groups on site. The danger of #OccupyDameStreet being hijacked at this early stage by an external group with their own agenda is on many people's minds and the ideal of Left Unity trumpeted loudly is sadly all too often followed by the mental reservation "under our leadership".

It was clear that there was no consensus at the General Assembly to alter the "leave at the door" position. There was an interesting moment when someone called for a count of votes for and against altering the policy and were quickly reminded that #OccupyDameStreet operates under a pure Consensus system, its all or nothing, not majority rule. After forty minutes of debate the status quo stood, though any General Assembly in the future is free to change the policy once full Consensus is reached. Even for seasoned political activists operating under this system can take no small amount of getting used to, but it is amazing to see what happens when consensus is reached. I don't know how they ever take major decisions, but maybe this is why Quakers seem so happy all the time.

Gavin Titley hosts a workshop
#OccupyDameStreet, Dublin, Wednesday 12th October
The afternoon finished off with a fantastic Workshop hosted by author and academic Gavin Titley, from NUI Maynooth, on the topic of 'Racism and Neo-Liberalism' that started with David Cameron's smokescreen national conversations in the UK on immigration and ended up with the thesis that neo-liberalism relies on the stratification of individuals in a society according to usefulness, with the most desired citizens being those most autonomous, responsible and passive, that racism is intrinsically linked to utility and migrants with skills are welcomed as long as they integrate silently. Dog-whistle phrases and smokescreen debates are all part of the Politics of Spectacle, and with the 2004 Citizenship Referendum Ireland (and Michael McDowell) was well ahead of the Neo-Liberal curve.

Hooray for us! We're Number One! We're Number One!

Workshops are fast becoming my favorite part of Camp life, the opportunity to learn, interact and debate with folks far, far more knowledgeable than myself on a wide range of subjects (not hard, I am an academic dabbler, always going for the Fish Fingers of Knowledge and ignoring the tastier Salmon). The Workshops are also a fantastic way for the Camp to directly engage with members of the general public, a public more used to political slogans, banners and manifestos of dislikes.

The workshops are approved by General Assembly, anyone can offer to host one and the full list of the day's events can be found on the newly launched official #OccupyDameStreet website, the conveniently named occupydamestreet.org where you will also find this new leaflet, put together in record time overnight by the Media Workgroup:

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At 6:43 pm, Anonymous lilsis said...

Yet another fun read of the happenings of camp. You make is sound so calm. lol Thanks a mil for doing it each day. x

At 7:33 pm, Anonymous Mark P said...

I'm always entertained by the unspoken limits put on "consensus".

As you say yourself, there isn't a "consensus" that members of political organisations should be barred from identifying themselves as such, or that political organisations be barred from handing out leaflets or bringing banners. There may be a majority in favour of that rule, but there are certainly people who oppose it.

Yet barred they are, and many of the same people who genuinely believe in consensus decision making also believe firmly that anti-democratic and anti-free speech rules should be imposed on people who are members of political organisations. I believe the appropriate term is cognitive dissonance.

Even aside from this obvious hypocrisy, trying to force people to hide their affiliations is stupid and counterproductive because it doesn't in any way remove or alter those affiliations. It just means that it's harder for unaffiliated participants to know where other people are coming from and who they are connected with.

At 10:03 pm, Blogger Unkie Dave said...

@lilsis - thanks, i think its not neccesarily calm, but its not stressful either, positively energising while also very tiring once you stoo. If it seems cslm in my posts perhaps its because I get to go home and sleep in my nice warm bed each night!

@Mark P - Elections are won by those who turn up, and there's an element if that at General Assemblies. The founders of the camp and the first participants in GAs were passionate about the 'leave at the door' policy, even those who were members if other groups. Consensus was reached pretty quickly in this. As the movement grew and it looked like it would last, many more people were inspired to join in, some of whom wanted more involvement from other groups, but the majority still seem to want to stay with the current policy. I can't see consensus being reached any time soon to change this, and in a way this is the strength of the process, major decisions shouldn't be rushed, proper discussion, proper debate are invaluable. The Quakers are still going strong, buy has anyone seen a Ranter or a Shaker lately?

At 12:24 am, Anonymous Mark P said...

Unkie Dave:

To be blunt, I'm even more entertained by the implications of that response. The same people who will quite genuinely believe in the importance and value of consensus decision making will normally also tell you that they believe in the importance of a movement being "leaderless". In fact they'll often tell you that a movement actually is leaderless and "horizontal" and a whole bunch of other related but similarly self-satisfied buzzwords.

I used to think that these people were being dishonest, back in the late unlamented days of things like the Irish Social Forum. But over time it gradually sunk in that they aren't necessarily dishonest, they are just completely lacking in self awareness.

Here we have a situation where the core initiators of this allegedly "leaderless" movement took a decision, which it is now impossible to overturn unless those non-leadership leaders agree to it being overturned. No matter how many people get involved, no matter what they think or argue, no consensus to undo the previous "consensus" of a few people involved from early on can be reached without the agreement of that few.

This actually gives these people much more power to set the rules of engagement than would be possessed by any set of leaders, formal or informal, in a system of democratic voting. They have awarded themselves a permanent veto on any democratic decision to change any of their earlier decisions. Even if they come to be outnumbered 99 to 1. And yet these same people will tell you, in all seriousness and without the slightest hint of self-doubt, that this is a leaderless movement and that their "consensus" method of operation is more democratic and empowering than democratic votes. In one sense they are right: It is much more empowering for a select few. Much less empowering for everyone else, mind you, and not only the people whose democratic rights that select few have set out to undermine and limit.

I am glad to see the Quaker reference in your response though. Most fans of "consensus" decision making are unaware that it's something imported into left wing movements from religious movements and that, for instance, the anarchists of the Spanish Revolution would have laughed in your face if you'd told them of the alleged superiority of consensus decision making over democratic voting.


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