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By Evan Harmon

KCPD warns Occupy KC to immediately take down all structures

Police officers from the Kansas City Police Department showed up at the Occupy KC camp in Penn Valley Park to inform the Occupiers that all structures, including tents, will no longer be tolerated. Read on…

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Tuesday
Nov292011

WE ARE THE 99%! WE ARE THE 99%! WE ARE THE 99%! WE ARE THE 99%! WE ARE NOT THE 99%!

By Jeff Johnson

Are we the 99%? Not really. It’s a catchy slogan, and it’s fun to chant, but it’s not accurate. Occupy has been getting a lot of support lately, but on our best day, it’s nothing near 99% support.

Nor do we represent the 99%, as much as we would like to think so. Many of the 99% (for example “the 53 percenters”) are offended when we claim to speak for them.

An Occupy KC sign

Ok, so we are working for the economic betterment of the 99%, right? No, that doesn’t fly either because, assuming that the 1% represents a minimum income of $300,000, then that would mean that the Occupation Movement is working for a person’s benefit if they make $290k, but not if they earn $310k. Arbitrary, isn’t it?

Besides, its not the 1% that have the real power. It’s more like one half of 1%, and arguably it’s even far fewer people than that. Really, it’s the one-tenth of 1%. These percentages don’t roll off the tongue, though.

Accuracy in political branding does matter. A Movement shouldn’t be discredited by its own label. So how about something that refers to us as citizens, and that we are united on the single issue of getting money out of politics. “We are Citizens United!” Oh, darn. That one’s already taken.

Tuesday
Nov292011

Early American Patriots and Occupiers share common ground

By Evan Harmon

“We are one.” “Join us!” “We are the 99%.” The rhetoric of Occupier signs bears a fascinating resemblance to the rhetoric of the American Revolution. Whereas the rallying cries during the Revolution focused on a government out of touch with the people it governed, economic policies that irked its citizens, and unequal representation, the Occupy Movement is focused on … well … pretty much the same thing.

Internet meme Lieutenant John Pike defends the Crown against American Patriots. Source: http://boingboing.net /2011/11/22/breaking-occupy-lulzpepper-s.html

“United we stand, divided we fall.” “E pluribus unum.” These slogans of the American Revolution would fit just as well on a sign at an Occupy rally or on a Facebook Wall as they did on political pamphlets and newspapers during the Revolution. In fact, calls for “separation of corporation and state” today are a deliberate reference to the historical doctrine of “separation of church and state.”

But the parallels do not end with the similarity in the words themselves. Both movements were made possible by the arrival of a new medium that gave a person’s words much greater power. Whereas the American Revolution was enabled by a recently unchained, independent ecosystem of local printing presses creating newspapers and pamphlets that allowed people to exchange information with like-minded people, the Occupy Movement accomplished the same thing to an unprecedented degree via the Internet, Twitter, and Facebook.

Ben Franklin created and published the first American political cartoon in 1754.

In 1754, New England had only four newspapers. By 1775, seventy-eight different newspapers had been published in the British American continental colonies. This meteoric increase in the access to information disrupted the equilibrium of power between citizens and their government. The printed distribution of newspapers and pamphlets, as well as justifications for independence like Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, created a fabric upon which common sentiment, lively debates, new ideas, and methods of organizing could cohere to form a powerful threat to the British government.

Occupy supporters carrying signs, mostly saying, “Hooray for our side.”

Today, the power relationship between citizens and their government has been similarly disrupted by the Internet and social media. In Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia, the sharing of common ideas under the noses of oppressive regimes has resulted in revolutionary change. With the Occupy Movement, governments continue to struggle with the growing power of increasingly-connected, internet-savvy occupiers.

The first flag ever carried into battle by the United States Marine Corps during the American Revolution.

Perhaps the most important similarity between the American Revolution and the Occupy Movement is economic. Governments face only a limited number of consequences by ignoring the voice of the people. But when a certain number of people are confronted with the cold, hard reality of being unable to put food on their family’s table, the powers that be have to contend with not only a disgruntled citizenry, but the desperation of people that have no other recourse than to occupy the streets. This is the political reality that all governments face, whether the right to revolution is enshrined in a country’s constitution or not.

An OccupyKC sign pays homage to the USMC’s American Revolution flag.

And while the similarities between the movements are many, one clear difference is that because of the success of the American Revolution, the Constitution now provides a bloodless way to adapt the government to the will of the people via amendments. However, American history has shown time and again that the most worthwhile changes have occurred because the American people were willing to do more for the advancement of a cause than just vote. The Occupy Movement continues this American tradition of political change by occupying the middle-ground between taking to the polls and taking up arms.

Tuesday
Nov292011

The consensus process is indispensable to genuine self-governance.

 

By Amy Bowen

If you have ever stood in a cold rain for three hours, agonizing over a single proposal alongside fifty of your fellow Occupiers, you will understand why some people are less than enthusiastic about using the consensus process. However, the critical benefits that the process imparts to democracy, and the inherent meaning it provides to its citizen participants, makes enduring a bit of discomfort and tedium not just worthwhile, but necessary.

The Occupy movement is based on a leaderless consensus model. Decisions are made horizontally in order to replace the need for leaders, who by definition make egalitarian organization impossible. We have been falsely represented by our elected officials; what we want now is the ability to govern ourselves with equality. Our commitment to true, participatory, egalitarian self-governance is evident by the very nature of our occupation.

It is no coincidence that the most vocal critics of the consensus process tend to be, well, vocal. In their everyday lives, they tend to direct rather than be directed, and to interrupt rather than be interrupted. Those accustomed to dominating others, whether deliberately or not, may struggle to patiently engage in healthy, consensus decision-making, which aims to achieve equal participation and the consent, if not the agreement, of all.

With simple majority rule, the minority simply loses. We should reject this oppression of the minority, in favor of a living, evolving consensus, a transformational process which can accomplish things unattainable independently. This is synergy in its purest form.

It is important to note that the process does not mandate unanimous approval. It seems that this hodgepodge mix of fiercely independent Occupiers almost never agrees unanimously on anything, at first.

Rather, when a proposal sparks disagreement, the process aims to ensure that every unique dissenting voice is heard. Each dissenter is allotted a certain length of time to express the reasons why they do not fully support the proposal. The group then considers the reasons for dissent, reevaluates the proposal, and perhaps alters it in light of these new ideas. This may take a little longer than dictatorial decision-making, but it ensures cohesiveness, which is crucial to our success as a movement.

Any decision-making method is only valuable to the extent that it assists us in accomplishing our goals. Therefore, if at any time the process becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the occupiers to alter or to abolish it, and to institute a new form of self-governance. Indeed, if we didn’t believe that, we wouldn’t be here.

For those who have never been able to shout loudly enough to be heard, the General Assembly stands in radiant contrast to the unfeeling power of majority rule. And contrary to Mr. Johnson’s belief, the danger is not to be found in the process itself, but in its abandonment.

Recommended reading: Horizontalidad

Tuesday
Nov292011

The consensus process may defeat us, unless limits are adopted

By Jeff Johnson

Consensus is a grand ideal. Where practical, it should be attempted. Where it interferes with progress, it should be avoided.

The two attributes of the consensus process—to ensure that every citizen has the opportunity to be heard, and to help citizens feel involved in their own governance—can turn into serious liabilities when left unchecked. At times, the process has so stymied decision making and the forward progress of the Occupation, that I even have wondered whether it was introduced by the enemies of the Occupation.

But no, those enemies despise this leaderless, feel-good democracy too much to use it as a tactic. Not just because it slows things down and angers their God of Efficiency, but because nothing threatens those in power more than citizens participating in self-governance, realizing that they could at any time take the reins away from the powerful few.

The problem is that many times, participants enjoy the process too much. Discussions run on beyond usefullness. The decision at hand gets lost amid the insistence of every last speaker airing every last opinion. The value of endless debate and rebuttal pales as the sun sets, the wind turns cold, and the evening evaporates, with seemingly no end to the eager speakers, and indecision the likely final outcome.

Worse than this, if the speaking has finally run its course, and a vote is called, the vast majority might approve a proposal, but a lone dissenter may refuse to accept the decision.

Such dissent is supposed to be reserved for critical disagreement and is intended to prevent schism. Therefore, it should be rare. In practice, dissenters are too inclined to block, and the group is held hostage by dissent.

As the process has been used, it is too deferential to these dissenters. I was inspired to support the Occupation because I was convinced that the changes needed in this country could be accomplished through this Movement. I did not join for decision-less debate.

Without limits on dissent and on excessive opining, the process will fall under its own weight, and we will have missed our opportunity to change the world.

Another unfortunate fact of the process is that its biggest fans insist on extending the process into workgroup meetings. This adds an absurd level to an already over-committee’ed arrangement.

When I called to ask Ms. Bowen to write a column defending the consensus process, before she knew why I was calling, she asked if we should use “the process” during our phone convesation. I wasn’t completely sure she was joking.

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