Citizen Action Monitor

Occupy Wall Street participant goes public with concerns about risk to OWS’ “inclusive spirit”

No 327 Posted by fw, November 6, 2011

Fritz Tucker, a researcher of people’s movements and active observer and participant in Occupy Wall Street, seems discouraged by the recent NYC-GA decision to create a Spokes Council. He went public with an article, A Chill Descends on Occupy Wall Street, published by on Nov 4, 2011. Click on the linked title to read Fritz’s original critical analysis of recent developments.

Below, (with apologies to Fritz if necessary) is a somewhat more succinct recasting of his original article.

Tucker perceives new Spokes Council as “exclusive, undemocratic” and a risk to NYC’s General Assembly (GA)

On October 23rd, Mr. Tucker attended a “teach-in” presided over by six leaders of the OWS Structure Working Group, to workshop and promote the Spokes Council. His comments originate from that experience as well as attendance at two mock Spokes Councils.

Mr. Tucker identifies “the fundamental problem in our hierarchical, bureaucratic society” as “the lack of a truly democratic, dialogic way of relating to one another.” He believes that “OWS’ main goal should be to develop dialogic, democratic methods in the occupied areas, and to extend this way of life into every home, workplace and school, and in local, regional, national and international bodies.”  He characterizes the Spokes Council as: a ““new, exclusive, undemocratic, representational organization”, which will result in the NYC-GA becoming increasingly ineffective and symbolic.

It started over money

The rationale for creating the Spokes Council, as presented at the teach-in, was to improve the management of the $500,000 which OWS had received in donations. The GA process was described as inefficient and dominated by society’s vocal minorities, particularly middle-class white men.  Anybody who wanted to receive more than $100 had to go through the often arduous modified consensus process (90% majority) of the NYC-GA, which resulted in the passage of only the most conservative measures. In addition, five people in the Finance Working Group had access to the money, but the membership of the group kept fluctuating.

After four defeats, proposal to create Spokes Council approved but not without raising procedural concerns

The main obstacle to the creation of the Spokes Council was that the NYC-GA had already voted against it four times. In order to sidestep the perception of usurping power from the NYC-GA, the Structure WG amended their original proposal and gave the NYC-GA power to continue to make financial decisions, as well as to dissolve the Spokes Council. Mr. Tucker characterizes these amendments as irrelevant, as “A small group of people aiming to delegitimize the NYC-GA could easily attend each session merely to block every proposal.”

On October 29, 2011, the proposal to create a Spokes Council finally received a 90% majority vote in the NYC-GA. (To see the text of the proposal go here and scroll down).

Perceived flaws of the Spokes Council

The newly formed Spokes Council claims to adhere to the “statement of principles” adopted by the NYC-GA, including “direct-democracy, non-hierarchy, participation and inclusion”. Mr. Tucker states that the Spokes Council differs from the NYC-GA in three main respects:

  • The Spokes Council has the power to exclude new groups that don’t receive a 90% majority vote for admission
  • In the NYC-GA everybody technically has the right to speak, whereas in the Spokes Council each Working Group has a spokesperson
  • The NYC-GA allows one vote per person, whereas the Spokes Council grants each Working Group one vote.

At one of the two mock Spokes Councils he attended, Mr. Tucker notes that the unelected facilitators set the agenda and terms of debate. In addition, the “spokesperson” controlled the flow of information. Mr. Tucker seems disappointed that an idea he put forward, which generated a lot of support, was not repeated by the “spokesperson” when the groups reconvened.

Other criticisms Tucker makes include the following —
  • In the Spokes Council, proposals can be blocked by 11% of the members of 11% of the Working Groups, meaning that a minority of 1.2% can stymie the will of 98.8% majority.
  • The Spokes Council practises tokenism and misrepresents the demographics of OWS, by choosing among the same few people of colour and women involved in OWS to be its spokespeople and facilitators.
  • The Spokes Council doesn’t have enough regard for working people, students and people with dependents to hold one of their three weekly meetings on a weekend afternoon.
Tucker hopes the inclusive spirit driving the Occupy movement is not “frozen out”

Mr. Tucker experiences a further disappointment, when he tries to present a short summary of his objections at the NYC-GA. “Before I could finish, the facilitators and other members of the OWS inner circle started shouting over me. Amidst the confusion, the human mic stopped projecting what I or anybody was saying. Because silence was what they were after, the leaders won. Eventually, one of the facilitators regained control of the crowd and explained that I was speaking ‘opinions, not facts’, which is why I would not be allowed to continue.”  When the proposal to create a Spokes Council was put to a vote, “The facilitators assisted the process by denying two vocal critics of the Spokes Council their allotted time to speak against it.”

And Mr. Tucker’s reaction? “The ineffective and increasingly symbolic NYC-GA will most likely continue to hang around as long as the people who congregate in Zuccotti Park hold out hope for a more participatory, democratic society. Let’s hope the inclusive spirit driving the Occupy movement is not frozen out.”

PERSONAL COMMENT – A challenge facing any loosely-structured all-volunteer organization like Occupy Wall Street is resolving internal conflicts, especially power struggles, in order to strengthen and maintain group cohesiveness, which tends to be fragile in part because of the group’s diversity.

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This entry was posted on November 6, 2011 by in information counterpower, political action, social movements and tagged .
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