Bringing together the ‘occupy’ movements: part I

Bringing together the ‘occupy’ movements: part I

Date: 4 November 2011

Yesterday I went to the first international gathering of the occupy movements and ‘Indignados’ at the G20 alternative summit. ‘Towards convergence of the movements from the Mediterranean region’ was a space for people from different groups and countries to share their experiences and think about working towards a coordinated international movement.

There were people who had been involved in popular uprisings and occupy movements in Tunisia, Egypt, Spain, Senegal, the US, Israel, Portugal, Greece and Canada and others… But that’s a blog post in itself (watch out for ‘Bringing together the occupy movements: part II’- coming soon). It was a really inspiring meeting and an exciting thing to have been part of, and one of the things that stuck with me was the participatory and inclusive way in which it was organised.   

When I go along to meetings I sometimes worry that they’re going to be a traditional ‘meeting’, in which a few people are designated speakers and everyone else has to listen with little participation or real engagement. I’m a bit of a workshop facilitation geek and really keen on techniques which encourage group discussion and facilitate everyone’s involvement in a meeting.

But I needn’t have worried, as nothing about the occupy movement is traditional. Even though there were people from several different groups and cultures in the room, the values of the occupy movement – of inclusion, autonomy and of learning together towards creating a better society – were present throughout. These values were reflected in the practical ways the meeting was organised.

When I walked in to the gym hall where the meeting was taking place, everyone was sitting on the floor in a circle, which immediately reassured me that it wasn’t going to be a ‘sit back and listen’ session.

People sit in a circle with a microphone at the occupy movements' meeting

The first thing the initial ‘facilitator’ said was “This is not a conference, a panel discussion or a seminar. We are going to run this session like the assemblies that have been used in Wall Street, London and Madrid.”

“So the first thing we need to do is to collectively agree on the way we’re going to run it, whether we’re going to have a facilitator (and if so, who will facilitate) and what the agenda is going to be.”

With trained interpreters simultaneously translating into four languages and people equipped with headsets tuned in to their language’s channel, it was amazing that with little debate we agreed on using a facilitator, a set of hand signals (after clarifying some confusion over the Spanish and French hand signal for disagreement) and an agenda:

1. Where are we now?
2. What unites us?
3. Where do we go from here?

Having used consensus decision-making techniques and hand signals as part of activist groups in the UK, where it can often feel like a strange and alien thing to do for many people, it was reassuring to be using them to communicate in a room with people from several different countries and backgrounds.

Although we all spoke different languages, we were united by our values and struggle for a better system which prioritises the needs of people above corporations, and campaigns against governments’  support for a financial system which benefits the banks and puts economic growth above welfare and social provision.

The occupy movement is not only exciting because of what it has already achieved and the people it has inspired, but also the way in which it is being organised. The open assemblies give everyone a chance to participate and be heard, but also try to tackle ingrained hierarchies in society and build an alternative. This is something everyone can learn from, and hopefully put into practice some of its practical tools and techniques.