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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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Entries in philosophy (3)

Friday
Jan062012

America occupies a fork in the road

By Evan Harmon

The truism today is that we all agree that something is very wrong in our country. We know the status quo isn’t right so we support change on some level. The problem is that we have yet to agree on what exactly the problem is. Our country speeds toward a fateful fork in the road, but if we can’t come together as a country and agree on how to handle these historic challenges, we’ll just end up going straight.

Illustration by Grégoire Vion

The choice we face is not Left or Right, Democrat or Republican, or Obama or Romney. It is more fundamental than that. Down one road is our choice to disengage from civic involvement for the sake of prioritizing the people close to us. That is the path I have taken for most of my life. With such challenges and threats to our loved ones’ well-being, it is natural to disengage from our duties to our community and our country in order to ensure that those we care for the most are safe and cared for. What else can we do when things have reached such dysfunctional levels?

There is absolutely nothing wrong with taking that road when our loved ones’ welfare is at stake. In fact, it is praiseworthy because there are far too many who disregard personal responsibilities altogether. But I believe there is an even more praiseworthy road to take. That road is the choice to not only take personal responsibility for ourselves and those we care about, but also to take a vested interest in the functioning of our government and society on both local and national levels. Today, personal responsibility is sorely needed, but civic responsibility is a dinosaur. The United States has not had a voter turnout for a presidential election above 60% since the 1960’s. (Local elections are often worse.) And this says nothing about our civic and social duties beyond voting.

Occupy KC supporter at Death of the Social Safety Net Funeral March on December 30th, 2011. Photograph by Mike Nickells

As a country, we seem to have substituted our historic tradition of civic responsibility for merely articulating our political beliefs to the glare of our TV screen or on our Facebook Wall. Perhaps we vote if we can remember the date. I have been as guilty of this as anyone. But I have grown tired of screaming along with my choice of TV pundits. They almost never hear me anyway.

Down this latter road is the choice to take ownership of both our personal responsibilities as well as our wider civic responsibilities. It is to take the stance that we get the communities and government we deserve, and we deserve better. That the people we voted for to look after our needs have failed us for far too long. That the indictment of our leaders needs no justification beyond the crumbling of our roads, the incompetence of our schools, the absurdity of our courts, and the injustice of our economy. That it is time to do more for our country than just vote for others to fix it for us. That it is unacceptable that our government and economy leave so many Americans figuratively and literally out in the cold. That it is time to create new forms of civic and community engagement to reassert a government of, for, and by the people. This is the proverbial road less traveled, the high road, and no significant challenge our country has ever faced has been solved until a large enough number of patriotic Americans has cared enough about their country to take it upon themselves to do something about it.

We have a ways to go. But I think the Occupy Movement just might be the way to go.

Occupy KC We Are One Rally. Residents of the Historic Northeast Neighborhood spontaneously joined the march. Photograph by RadiomanKC

If you have remained neutral up to this point, it is probably because you are lucky enough to have that luxury. You are probably one of a decreasing number of people that has a financial blanket big enough to keep you warm during this economic downturn. However, if our economy and government are not fixed soon, fewer and fewer of us can remain comfortable through our country’s hardships. Unemployment, underemployment, debt, dwindling career prospects, razor thin profit margins, cutbacks, a devalued dollar, a stagnant economy, foreclosures, and layoffs claim more victims every day. The only ones truly safe from the downward spiral of our economy are not the 1%, but the 1% of the 1%.

I am lucky to still enjoy a decent standard of living. I have a job and my son and I can live fairly comfortably. I have some debt, but I am far more indebted to the support and stability my family and friends have provided me than I am to any debtor. But I am well aware that this comfort may not continue much longer.

An Occupy KC supporter at Occupy the Bridge event on November 17th, 2011. Photograph by Beka Noble

I am part of the Occupy Movement because my usual political cynicism has been transformed into wide-eyed optimism by what I have experienced and what I have seen accomplished in the Movement so far. I used to be completely baffled as to what might return this country to sanity, but I believe the Occupy Movement is our best hope yet.

However, my hopes for what this Movement can do to get America back on track is not possible unless more people join us. We need your help. We need the 99%.

The Occupy Movement is no revolution. Rather, it is more of a last ditch effort to avoid the potential of revolution if the unemployment, poverty, and suffering reach the epidemic levels they are headed toward. Personally, I’d like to do whatever I can to try to avoid such a tragic situation, if not as an act of compassion for my fellow man and country, then as a completely selfish one.

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.