Toward occupying Albany, via consensus

occupy albany general assembly crowd expressing approval

The crowd expressing approval during the general assembly.

Update: Here are some the people were at the first day of Occupy Albany -- and why they were there.

Occupy Albany, the local incarnation of the Occupy movement, has decided to start its occupation this Friday (October 21) at noon in Lafayette/Academy Park (the park across Washington Ave from the Capitol).

The decision came via the group's "general assembly" Sunday night at the Grand Street Community Arts. Curious about the movement, and interested to hear about how it might be manifesting locally, we stopped by the meeting. It was at times remarkable -- and frustrating.

Here are a few observations and thoughts...


+ There were a lot of people at the meeting. We did a rough count and it's probably fair to say the crowd was about 250 people. There were a lot of the characters you might expect -- young people, middle-aged people who looked like this wouldn't be their first protest -- but there were also people you might not necessarily expect. One of the speakers identified himself as a Tea Party member. The guy standing next to us looked like a dad who had come to pick up his kid from a dance.

The meeting's two facilitators.

+ The organization (if that's the word) has a strong emphasis on being inclusive and consensus-minded. The people leading the meeting were "facilitators." Working groups weren't approved so much as "recognized." And the representatives of working groups emphasized that they weren't necessarily making decisions so much as organizing options. (Some have argued this structure is mirroring non-hierachical structures online.)


+ In an attempt to run the meeting through consensus, there were a series of hand signals people could use to to express support, disagreement, call a point of order, add information, or signal extreme opposition.

+ This approach made the meeting very participatory -- but also slow, and at times, tedious. The conversation often got stuck not on what to do, but rather how to talk about or vote about what to do. It may partly explain why, more than a month after the beginning of Occupy Wall Street, and after multiple local meetings, there has yet to be an occupation in Albany. The process moves slowly.

A sign of support.

+ But consensus did emerge. A straw poll about where to hold the occupation showed strong support for Lafayette Park (with West Capitol Park as a second option). And when the question of which day to start came up, few days this week got much support in a straw poll -- until Friday was proposed and hands all over the crowd shot up.

+ If you're uncertain about what exactly the Occupy movement stands for -- it seemed that so too were many people at the meeting. When a person from the PR working group proposed that the group approve speaking in Occupy Wall Street's voice and supporting its statements, a person in the crowd asked a question that was basically: "What is Occupy Wall Street's message?"

+ And that highlights one of the side effects of the inclusive, consensus-minded approach: if you're trying to get as many people as possible on board, it's going to be hard to narrow the focus. At the beginning of the meeting, one of the facilitators stated that the goal of the discussion was to take action, and turn the group into a movement. With leaders that don't want to be leaders, and an emphasis on letting everyone be heard, it seems unlikely the path toward that goal will be a straight one -- or short. And at some point you can't be everything to everyone.


+ That said, you can see the appeal of this approach to people involved. If you've become disaffected because you feel that unaccountable economic actors have changed the rules of the game -- and government leaders are unresponsive to your concerns -- a group that emphasizes the influence of each individual is going to be very attractive.

+ There's been a lot of talk about the Occupy movement finding focus, pointing to clear goals, and making demands. There's probably something to that -- rarely in life do we get things that we don't ask for. But seeing the general assembly in action made us think that the best way to read this situation is not necessarily by looking at specifics -- but rather zooming out and taking the group as a whole. And in this case, that means recognizing that a whole bunch of people are unsatisfied enough with the current situation to sit on the floor for three hours on a Sunday night for a meeting that was at times tedious and frustrating. There's the signal in all this.

That alone won't change anything. But it could get things started.

A few more photos from the meeting:








I've been covering the Occupy demonstrations here in Santa Cruz and have similar observations about the efficacy of general assembly process. I understand the benefits of a fair-minded, non-hierarchical structure but it also seems to leave something to be desired in actuality. One downfall is that you wind up with a lot of talking about talking, which seems to alienate some and frustrate others. Still, it's definitely interesting to watch and I'm neither condoning or condemning the movements.

The Occupy movement is gaining so much speed, I would hate to see it done in direct democracy. If they can just find a series of points, hopefully points shared by all Occupy movements, maybe with ancillary points for local concerns, that everyone can get behind, it could be huge. But if anyone has watched videos of general assemblies, and especially the "human microphone" meetings, you'll see that it gets nowhere fast, and a single person can sometimes block a vote that everyone else supports.

It's great to get everyone involved and try to come up with the most amenable solutions, but at some point, you have to do as the one man said, "Forget waiting. We need to do it right now."

What do the American Nazi Party, the American Communist Party, and President Obama have in common?

Vocalized support for the "Occupy" movement!

You'd think people would have a bit of warm regard for Capitalism, the system which has raised more people from poverty around the world than any other...but I guess there will always be winners and losers, and its a lot of what have you done for me lately.

When even The New Republic is blasting you as left-wing extremists you know you've probably gone about one stop two far on the Looney Train.

And now, an income tax analogy:

"Ten guys go to eat at a restaurant every week for lunch. Five of them eat free. One of them picks up the tab for forty percent, and four of them pay the other sixty. Then one day the five guys decide to beat up the one rich guy, because they have heard that he was not willing to pay his "fair share." ~Douglas Wilson

This entire movement reeks of envy and class warfare. Stop blaming other people for your choices.

I wish everyone involved in these pointless mobs would dedicate their time to helping their neighbors in Rotterdam Junction and Schoharie County rebuild after Irene.

"This entire movement reeks of envy and class warfare. Stop blaming other people for your choices. I wish everyone involved in these pointless mobs would dedicate their time to helping their neighbors in Rotterdam Junction and Schoharie County rebuild after Irene."

So much to work with here...

"Envy" and "class warfare." These are terms usually employed to discredit those who are either a) hurting your unjust--and I stress the word unjust--interests or b) saying and doing exactly what you ought to be saying and doing but are reluctant to do so out of fear or some sort of status anxiety (e.g. "my friends at the watercooler would never go for this and I'd hate to lose my place in the fantasy football league..."). Another possibility is c) that the person(s) who employ these terms do so as a way to assuage their psyche and sense of internalized powerlessness. Rather than join (or not criticize) a movement that at the very least seeks to ask about how things have gotten to be the way they are (record bonuses for executives after a taxpayer-financed bailout sound like the product of hard work to you? Me neither), persons such as these find relief through criticism(s) poorly considered and easily refutable, as most cliches often have been.

"Stop blaming other people for your choices..." Yes, because I chose to give 40% of the nation's wealth to the wealthiest 1%. Yes, because I chose to engage in imperialism abroad and impoverishment at home. Etc., etc., etc...

Finally, the concerned call to help thy neighbor is an attempt to further undermine the legitimate questioning of arbitrary authority. This strategy is the online disease known as "trolling," and in this case the strain known as the "concern troll." Instead of trying to throw up smoke and mirrors Jon, perhaps you should ask why your government (which all of us pay for) cannot seem to come to a timely agreement about financing and orchestrating the recovery for those most effected by Irene.

No, instead, you ring the bell at the old church steeple and cry fire so that all of us come running out with our buckets and try to put the fire out. It doesn't work that way in 2011, especially when the devastation is on a mass scale--like after a hurricane. So please, take your Horatio Alger-inspired "concern" and sing its praises to people who might still listen (there are fewer and fewer of you now you know...). The public is in the process of waking up from its decades-long slumber and has grown weary of mythology the likes of which you are espousing.

2 Days Ago:

Hundreds of thousands of protesters took to the streets Saturday in the October 15 Global Day of Rage inspired by the Occupy Wall Street encampment. Protests took place in 1,500 cities worldwide, including 100 cities in the United States. The day’s largest protest took place in Italy, where more than 200,000 took to the streets of Rome.

"This entire movement reeks of envy and class warfare. Stop blaming other people for your choices."

Sorry Jon but thirty years of bad economic policy in America wasn't my choice, and letting the titans of Wall St. wreck the world economy wasn't my choice either.

Have you noticed that we all sit at home sipping tea and commenting on a blogsite instead of going out and raising hell about the state of our nation?

While all this posturing makes for an interesting news piece, it's completely pointless. The 1% in control of this whole game are genuinely "in control". They are allowing the great unwashed masses to flex their muscles a bit, knowing that they will never extend their wings and leave the nest; no matter how poor and insecure the nest is.

Society as it stands today has been a work in progress for over 100 years. Wars, famines, etc have all been part of the 1% gameplan since the beginning.

Read your history. The founding fathers were concerned over the direction this fledgling country was headed almost as soon as it was created.

You want a revolution? Then you need to start one. A real one. With unpleasantness. Like they did in 1776. Ok, before that, but you get the idea...

@ Cincinnatus

I’m not sure why you’re adding your own meaning to the terms “envy” and “class warfare,” so allow me to clarify. Most of the people taking to the streets for the Occupy movement are angry that rich people have money, and they don’t. They’re angry that the people in elected and earned offices and power, and they don’t. These wealthy working Americans have something (money, power) that the street-rabble want. The term “class warfare” means that many members of the rabble dislike the rich simply because they are rich – a higher perceived social class. This is how I use the terms: by their common understanding, and not by your feeble psychoanalysis.

You have illustrated my point about “blaming others for your choices” wonderfully. If you didn’t give wealth to the wealthy, then who did? You clearly have a computer, who did you pay for it? Do you have a car? Who ended up getting the thousands of dollars you paid? You see, the rich are rich because WE THE PEOPLE buy the things they create. They are the innovators and builders of this nation. You actually DID give wealth to the wealthy; we all did, because they make things we like and need.

Finally, I’d like to believe that the people in the rabble ultimately want to help society. No matter how long they sit in a park and poop in a bag, they will not affect our nation. Sure, conversations like this may start and talking heads will debate (as they always have), but the only true ways to make a change is to vote for politicians and policies that will make a difference, and to change our spending habits. My call for people to help their neighbors was an appeal to the philanthropic side of these protesters. They will help our community more by rebuilding people’s destroyed lives than by holding signs and waiting for news cameras to show up.

@ Konge T

That’s quite an oversimplification. I’m curious how you think the “titans of Wall St.” wrecked the world economy. It seems to me that the mortgage debt collapse from 2007 got this whole thing started, and it certainly wasn’t Wall Street’s idea to give loans to people who could never pay them back (hint: it was Congress’s idea.) On top of that, it was American citizens who defaulted on these loans and cost the taxpayers billions of dollars to repair a mess created by our elected officials. I wouldn’t be surprised if many of the people on the ground at these Occupy sideshows are the very same people who helped create this mess – people living outside their means and blaming Wall Street for their own lack of fiscal intelligence.

@ Chris C.

OK... Your call for a “real” revolution “with unpleasantness” makes me uncomfortable. There is absolutely no reason for any action stronger than what can be done at the ballot box in 13 months. It’s people like you that destroy any possible credibility the Occupy movement might muster. While I find most of crazies amusing, you make me uneasy.

I would find it inspiring if there was a Henry Robert movement- where every meeting was held according to robert's rules of order. All participants could carry the newest edition in their breast pocket, and read the rules for inspiration. They could bear banners with RONR emblazoned on them, subtitled: "How can a group change its mind?" All involved could see what bureaucracies have to deal with in the communities confined to parliamentary procedure instead of ad-hoc organization.

@Jon: I'm glad that you are uneasy. It would be naive to think that your vote,or anyone else's for that matter, has any value.

The presidency is a commodity to be bought and sold. The puppet is chosen, does his little dance, and is then rewarded with lucrative speaking engagements for his troubles.

I do find it interesting that I am now lumped in with the "crazies". The problem is that everyone is whining about this country needing change, but no one is willing to get their hands dirty to bring it about...

Your right, we don't need my feeble psychoanalysis when we have mounds of evidence to persuade people of my point. (The first evidence of your lack of terra firma is to be discovered in your employment of terms like "street-rabble." Very original. You must have come up with that while you were surveying the protests in person, right?)

First, "envy" is likely an unfortunate part of being human. To specifically levy it at all of the protesters is disingenuous at best. In reality, while envy lurks everywhere as well as in this movement, it is a sense of justice shared by most people that has been violated and is motivating people to join; most people don't care if rich people exist, but they do care when inequality exists to such a degree that people who have played by the rules are being hindered or prevented from a decent standard of living.

Secondly, the so-called innovators that you heap praise upon often received massive public support to conduct the research necessary for their innovations. Your "entrepreneurs" are anything but; they are most often not self-made individuals in the sense of how "self-made" is conventionally understood. Furthermore, they relied upon other public goods (e.g. infrastructure, public education, etc.) to provide the conditions under which they might innovate. Finally, they depended upon a workforce and division of labor that, if we are to be just, severely dilutes a sense of complete private ownership of that which is produced.

But leave all of that aside and lets work with the convenient fictions about innovation: at what point does compensation become so great that it precludes others from having fair compensation of their own? You do not really think that our friends in the financial sector are such spectacular innovators that they deserve all of what they make, do you?

Last but not least, you fail to see the degree of overlap and continuity that exists between Corporate America and especially the financial sector (the "titans of Wall St.") and the Congress, Executive branch (including regulatory agencies), as well as the military. That is why the ballot box, as it stands right now, is useless. It would become more meaningful if we could both have term limits and take money out of politics through the public-financing of campaigns. There is a practical question of whether or not this movement ought to push for candidates who can and will push for those sorts of reforms, or if it should remain outside of formal politics. My guess is that it will do both.

The ghost of Reagan is beginning to be exorcised; it will be unsightly and many people will be made to feel uncomfortable. But with this purification process we can hopefully return to a notion of a shared destiny and the Public Good as determined by the Public.

Don't feed the trolls.

I will be there wearing my bright green "Milton Friedman" T-shirt, passing out copies of this

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