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We are the 99 percent

David Graeber: Some Remarks on Consensus

Posted 10 years ago on Feb. 26, 2013, 3:37 p.m. EST by OccupyWallSt
Tags: consensus

the medium is the message

As part of our recent series on Occupy and consensus, we are posting this timely piece by David Graeber, originally published at OccupyWallStreet.net

There has been a flurry of discussion around process in OWS of late. This can only be a good thing. Atrophy and complacency are the death of movements. Any viable experiment in freedom is pretty much going to have to constantly re-examine itself, see what's working and what isn't—partly because situations keep changing, partly because we're trying to invent a culture of democracy in a society where almost no one really has any experience in democratic decision-making, and most have been told for most of their lives that it would be impossible, and partly just because it's all an experiment, and it's in the nature of experiments that sometimes they don't work.

A lot of this debate has centered around the role of consensus. This is healthy too, because there seem to be a lot of misconceptions floating around about what consensus is and is supposed to be about. Some of these misconceptions are so basic, though, I must admit I find them a bit startling.

Just one telling example. Justine Tunney recently wrote a piece called "Occupiers: Stop Using Consensus!" that begins by describing it as "the idea that a group must strictly adhere to a protocol where all decisions are unanimous"—and then goes on to claim that OWS used such a process, with disastrous results. This is bizarre. OWS never used absolute consensus. On the very first meeting on August 2, 2011 we established we'd use a form of modified consensus with a fallback to a two-thirds vote. Anyway, the description is wrong even if we had been using absolute consensus (an approach nowadays rarely used in groups of over 20 or 30 people), since consensus is not a system of unanimous voting, it's a system where any participant has the right to veto a proposal which they consider either to violate some fundamental principle, or which they object to so fundamentally that proceeding would cause them to quit the group. If we can have people who have been involved with OWS from the very beginning who still don't know that much, but think consensus is some kind of "strict" unanimous voting system, we've got a major problem. How could anyone have worked with OWS that long and still remained apparently completely unaware of the basic principles under which we were supposed to be operating?

Granted, this seems to be an extreme case. But it reflects a more general confusion. And it exists on both sides of the argument: both some of the consensus' greatest supporters, and its greatest detractors, seem to think "consensus" is a formal set of rules, analogous to Roberts' Rules of Order, which must be strictly observed, or thrown away. This certainly was not what people who first developed formal process thought that they were doing! They saw consensus as a set of principles, a commitment to making decisions in a spirit of problem-solving, mutual respect, and above all, a refusal of coercion. It was an attempt to create processes that could work in a truly free society. None of them, even the most legalistic, were so presumptuous to claim those were the only procedures that could ever work in a free society. That would have been ridiculous.

Let me return to this point in a moment. First,


The first thing to be said about this statement is that this idea is a very American thing. Anyone I mention it to who is not from the United States tends to react to the statement with complete confusion. Even in the US, it is a relatively recent idea, and the product of a very particular set of historical circumstances.

The confusion overseas is due to the fact that almost everywhere except the US, the exact opposite is true. In the Americas, Africa, Asia, Oceania, one finds longstanding traditions of making decisions by consensus, and then, histories of white colonialists coming and imposing Roberts Rules of Order, majority voting, elected representatives, and the whole associated package—by force. South Asian panchayat councils did not operate by majority voting and still don't unless there has been a direct colonial influence, or by political parties that learned their idea of democracy in colonial schools and government bodies the colonialists set up. The same is true of communal assemblies in Africa. (In China, village assemblies also operated by consensus until the '50s when the Communist Party imposed majority voting, since Mao felt voting was more "Western" and therefore "modern.") Almost everywhere in the Americas, indigenous communities use consensus and the white or mestizo descendants of colonialists use majority voting (insofar as they made decisions on an equal basis at all, which mostly they didn't), and when you find an indigenous community using majority voting, it is again under the explicit influence of European ideas—almost always, along with elected officials, and formal rules of procedure obviously learned in colonial schools or borrowed from colonial regimes. Insofar as anyone is teaching anyone else to use consensus, it's the other way around: as in the case of the Maya-speaking Zapatista communities who insisted the EZLN adopt consensus over the strong initial objections of Spanish-speaking mestizos like Marcos, or for that matter the white Australian activists I know who told me that student groups in the '80s and '90s had to turn to veterans of the Maoist New People's Army to train them in consensus process—not because Maoists were supposed to believe in consensus, since Mao himself didn't like the idea, but because NPA guerillas were mostly from rural communities in the Philippines that had always used consensus to make decisions and therefore guerilla units had adopted the same techniques spontaneously.

So where does the idea that consensus is a "white thing" actually come from? Indigenous communities in America all used consensus decision-making instead of voting. Africans brought to the Americas had been kidnapped from communities where consensus was the normal mode of making collective decisions, and violently thrust into a society where "democracy" meant voting (even though they themselves were not allowed to vote.) Meanwhile, the only significant group of white settlers who employed consensus were the Quakers—and even they had developed much of their process under the influence of Native Americans like the Haudenosaunee.

As far as I can make out the ideas comes out of political arguments that surrounded the rise of Black Nationalism in the 1960s. The very first mass movement in the United States that operated by consensus was the SNCC, or Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, a primarily African-American group created in 1960 as a horizontal alternative to Martin Luther King's (very vertical) SCLC. SNCC operated in a decentralized fashion and used consensus decision-making. It was SNCC for instance that organized the famous "freedom rides" and most of the direct action campaigns of the early '60s. By 1964, an emerging Black Power faction was looking for an issue with which to isolate and ultimately expel the white members of the group. They seized on consensus as a kind of wedge issue—this made sense, politically, because many of those white allies were Quakers, and it was advantageous, at first, to frame the argument as one of efficiency, rather than being about more fundamental moral and political issues like non-violence. It's important to emphasize though that the objections to consensus as inefficient and culturally alien that were put forward at the time were not put forward in the name of moving to some other form of direct democracy (i.e., majority voting), but ultimately, part of a rejection of the whole package of horizontality, consensus, and non-violence with the ultimate aim of creating top-down organizational structures that could support much greater militancy. It also corresponded to an overt attack on the place of women in the organization—an organization that had in fact been founded by the famous African-American activist Ella Baker on the principle "strong people don't need strong leaders." Stokely Carmichael, the most famous early Black Power advocate in SNCC, notoriously responded to a paper circulated by feminists noting that women seemed to be systematically excluded from positions in the emerging leadership structure by saying as far as he was concerned, "the only position for women in SNCC is prone."

Within a few years SNCC began to splinter; white allies were expelled in 1965; after a brief merger with the Panthers it split again, and dissolved in the '70s.

These tensions—challenges to horizontalism and consensus, macho leadership styles, the marginalization of women—were by no means peculiar to SNCC. Similar battles were going on in predominantly white groups: notably SDS, which ultimately ditched consensus too, and ended up splitting between Maoists and Weathermen. This is one reason the feminist movement of the early '70s, which within the New Left began partly as a reaction to just this kind of macho posturing, embraced consensus as an antidote. (Anarchists only later adopted it from them.) But one point bears emphasizing. It's important. None of those who challenged consensus did so in the name of a different form of direct democracy. In fact, I'm not aware of any example of an activist group that abandoned consensus and then went on to settle on some different, but equally horizontal approach to decision-making. The end result is invariably abandoning direct democracy entirely Sometimes that's because, as here, that is explicitly what those challenging consensus want. But even when it's not, the same thing happens, because moving from consensus sets off a dynamic that inevitably leads in a vertical direction. When consensus is abandoned, some are likely to quit in protest. These are likely to be the most dedicated to horizontal principles. Factions form. Minority factions that consistently lose key votes, and don't have their concerns incorporated in resulting proposals, will often split off. Since they too are likely to consist of more horizontally oriented participants, the group becomes ever more vertical. Before long, those who never liked direct democracy to begin with start saying it's what's really to blame for all these problems, it's inefficient, things would run far more smoothly with clearly defined leadership roles—and it only takes a vote of 51% of the remaining, much more vertical group, to ditch direct democracy entirely.

Obviously, the widespread perception of consensus process as white isn't just be a hold-over from events that took place forty years ago. A lot of the problem is that, since the '70s, consensus process has largely been developed among direct-action oriented groups, and, while there are certainly African-American-based groups operating in what might be called the Ella Baker tradition, most of those groups have been largely white. The reasons are pretty obvious. Those lacking white privilege face much higher levels of state repression, and (unlike, in say, Mexico, or India, where those who face the most repression are generally speaking already organized in semi-autonomous communities that operate at least partly by consensus), in the US, this limits the degree to which it's possible to engage in creating experimental spaces outside the system. Communities face immediate such practical concerns so pressing many feel working outside the system would be irresponsible. Those who don't often feel they have no choice but to adopt either strict, rigorous, MLK-style non-violence, or adopt revolutionary militarism like the panthers—both of which tend to lead to top down forms of organization. As a result, the culture of consensus, the style in which it's conducted, the sensibilities surrounding it, inevitably comes to reflect the white middle-class background of so many of those who have created and shaped it, and the result is that those who do not share these sensibilities feel alienated and excluded. Obviously this is something that urgently needs to be addressed. But the problem here is not with the principles underlying consensus (that all voices have equal weight, that no one be compelled to act against their will), but with the way it's being done—and the fact that the way it's being done have the effect of undermining those very principles.


I think the real problem here is a misunderstanding about what we're basically arguing about. A lot of people on both sides of the debate seem to think "consensus" is a set of rules. If you follow the rules, you're doing consensus. If you break the rules, or even do them in the wrong order it's somehow not. I've seen people show up to meetings armed with elaborate diagrams or flow-charts for some kind of formal process downloaded from some web page and insist that only this is the really real thing. So it's hardly surprising that other people put off by all this, or who see that particular form of process hit some kind of loggerhead, say "well consensus doesn't work. Let's try something else."

As far as I'm concerned both sides completely miss the point.

I'll say it again. Consensus is not a set of rules. It's a set of principles. Actually I'd even go so far to say that if you really boil it down, it ultimately comes down to just two principles: everyone should have equal say (call this "equality"), and nobody should be compelled to do anything they really don't want to do (call this, "freedom.")

Basically, that's it. The rules are just a way to try to come to decisions in the spirit of those principles. "Formal consensus process," in is various manifestations, is just one technique people have made up, over the years, to try to come to group decisions that solve practical problems in a way that ensures no one's perspective is ignored, and no one is forced to do anything or comply with rules they find truly obnoxious. That's it. It's a way to find consensus. It's not itself "consensus." Formal process as it exists today has been proved to work pretty well for some kinds of people, under some circumstances. It is obviously completely inappropriate in others. To take an obvious example: most small groups of friends don't need formal process at all. Other groups might, over time, develop a completely different approach that suits their own dynamics, relations, situation, culture, sensibilities. And there's absolutely no reason any group can't improvise an entirely new one if that's what they want to do. As long as they are trying to create a process that embodies those basic principles, one that gives everyone equal say and doesn't force anyone to go along with a decision they find fundamentally objectionable, then what they come up with is a form of consensus process—no matter how it operates. After all, it a group of people all decide they want to be bound by a majority decision, well, who exactly is going to stop them? But if they all decide to be bound by a majority decision, then they have reached a consensus (in fact, an absolute consensus) that they want to operate that way. The same would be true if they all decided they wanted to be bound by the decisions of a Ouija Board, or appointed one member of the group Il Duce. Who's going to stop them? However, for the exact same reason, the moment the majority (or Ouija board, or Il Duce) comes up with a decision to do something that some people think is absolutely outrageous and refuse to do, how exactly is anyone going to force them to go along? Threaten to shoot them? Basically, it could only happen if the majority is somehow in control of some key resource—money, space, connections, a name—and others aren't. That is, if there is some means of coercion, subtle or otherwise. In the absence of a way to compel people to do things they do not wish to do, you're ultimately stuck with some kind of consensus whether you like it or not.

The question then is what kind of decision making process is most likely to lead to decisions that no one will object to so fundamentally that they will march off in frustration or simply refuse to cooperate? Sometimes that will be some sort of formal consensus process. In other circumstances that's the last thing one should try. Still, there's a reason that 51/49% majority voting is so rarely employed in such circumstances: usually, it is the method least likely to come up with such decisions.

Think of it this way.

Imagine the city is about to destroy some cherished landmark and someone puts up posters calling for people to meet in a nearby square to organize against it. Fifty people show up. Someone says, okay, "I propose we all lay down in front of the bulldozers. Let's hold a vote." So 30 people raised their hands yes, and 20 people raise their hands no. Well, what possible reason is there that the 20 people who said no would somehow feel obliged to now go and lay in front of the bulldozers? These were just 50 strangers gathered in a square. Why should the opinions of a majority of a group of strangers oblige the minority to do anything—let alone something which will expose them to personal danger?

The example might seem absurd—who would hold such a vote?—but I experienced something almost exactly like it a few years ago, at an "all-anarchist" meeting called in London before a mass mobilization against the G8. About 200 people showed up at the RampArts Social Center. The facilitator, a syndicalist who disliked consensus, explained that another group had proposed a march, followed by some kind of direct action, and immediately proceeded to hold a vote on whether we, as a group, wanted to join as. Oddly, it did not seem to occur to him that, since we were not in fact a group, but just a bunch of people who had showed up at a meeting, there was no reason to think that those who did not want to join such an action would be swayed by the result. In fact he wasn't taking a vote at all. He was taking a poll: "how many people are thinking of joining the march?" Now, there's nothing wrong with polls; arguably, the most helpful thing he could have done under the circumstance was to ask for a show of hands so everyone could see what other people were thinking. The results might even have changed some people's minds—"well, it looks like a lot of people are going to that march, maybe I will too" (though in this case, in fact, it didn't.) But the facilitator thought he was actually conducting a vote on what to do, as if they were somehow bound by the decision.

How could he have been so oblivious? Well, he was a syndicalist; unions use majority vote; that's why he preferred it. But of course, unions are membership-based groups. If you join a union, you are, by the very act of doing so, agreeing to abide by its rules, which includes, accepting majority vote decisions. Those who do not follow the group's rules can be sanctioned, or even expelled. It simply didn't occur to him that most unions' voting system depended on the prior existence of membership rolls, dues, charters, and usually, legal standing—which in effect meant that either everyone who had voluntarily joined the unions was in effect consenting to the rules, or else, if membership was obligatory in a certain shop or industry owing to some prior government-enforced agreement, was ultimately enforced by the power of the state. To act the same way when people had not consented to be bound by such a decision, and then expect them to follow the dictates of the majority anyway, is just going to annoy people and make them less, not more, likely to do so.

So let's go back to Justine's first example,

the first time I saw a block used at Occupy was at one of the first general assemblies in August 2011. There were about a hundred people that day and in the middle of the meeting a proposal was made to join Verizon workers on the picket line as a gesture of solidarity in the hope that they might also support us in return. People loved the idea and there was quite a bit of positive energy until one woman in the crowd, busy tweeting on her phone, casually raised her hand and said, "I block that". The moderator, quite flabbergasted asked why she blocked and she explained that showing solidarity with workers would alienate the phantasm of our right-wing supporters. Discussion then abruptly ended and the meeting went on. The truth was irrelevant, popular opinion didn't matter, and solidarity—the most important of all leftist values—was thrown to the wind based on the whims of just one individual. Occupy had to find a new way to do outreach.

Now, I was at this meeting, and I remember the event quite vividly because at the time I was one of the participants who was more than a little bit annoyed by the block. But I also know that this is simply not what happened.

First of all, as I remarked, OWS from the beginning did not have a system where just one person could block a proposal; in the event of a block, we had the option to fall back on a 2/3 majority vote. So if everyone had really loved the proposal, the block could have been simply brushed aside. While many felt the woman in question was being ridiculous (most of us suspected the "national movement" she claimed to represent didn't really exist), the facilitator, when she asked if anyone felt the same way, was surprised to discover a significant contingent–some, but not all, insurrectionist anarchists–did in fact object to holding the next meeting at a picket line, since they didn't want to immediately identify the movement with the institutional left. Once it became clear it was not just one crazy person, but a significant chunk of the meeting—probably not quite a third, but close (there weren't really a hundred people there, incidentally; more like sixty)—she asked if anyone felt strongly that we should move to a vote, and no one insisted. Was this a terrible failure of process? I must admit at the time I found it exasperating. But in retrospect I realize that had we forced a vote, the results might well have been catastrophic. Because at that point we, too were just a bunch of people who'd all showed up in a park. We weren't a "group" at all. Nobody had committed to anything; certainly, no one had committed to going along with a majority decision.

A block is not a "no" vote. It's a veto. Or maybe a better way to put it is that giving everyone the power to block is like giving the power to take on the role of the Supreme Court, and stop a piece of legislation that they feel to be unconstitutional, to anyone who has the courage to stand up in front of the entire group and use it. When you block you are saying a proposal violates one of the group's agreed-on common principles. Of course, in this case we didn't have any agreed-on common principles. In cases like that, the usual rule of thumb is that you should only block if you feel so strongly about an issue that you'd actually leave the group. In this sense I suspect the initial blocker was indeed being irresponsible (she wouldn't have really left; and many wouldn't have mourned her if she had.) However, others felt strongly. Had we held a vote and decided to hold our next meeting at a picket line over their objections, many of them would likely not have shown up. The anti-authoritarian contingent would have been weakened. Had that happened, there was a real chance later decisions, much more important ones, might have gone the other way. I am thinking here in particular of the crucial decision, made some weeks later, not to appoint official marshals and police liaisons for September 17. Judging by the experience of other camps, had that happened, everything might have gone differently and the entire occupation failed. In retrospect, the loss of one early opportunity to create ties with striking unionists now seems a small price to pay for heading off on a road that might have led to that. Especially since we had no trouble establishing strong ties with unions later—precisely because we had succeeded in creating a real occupation in the park.

There are a lot of other issues that one could discuss. Above all, we desperately need to have a conversation about decentralization. Another point of confusion about consensus is the idea that it's crucial to get approval from everyone about everything, which is again stifling and absurd. Consensus only works if working groups or collectives don't feel they need to seek constant approval from the larger group, if initiative arises from below, and people only check upwards if there's a genuinely compelling reason not to go ahead with some initiative without clearing it with everyone else. In a weird way, the very unwieldiness of consensus meetings is helpful here, since it can discourage people from taking trivial issues to a larger group, and thus potentially waste hours of everyone's time.

But all this will no doubt will be hashed out in the discussions that are going on (another good rule of thumb for consensus meetings: you don't need to say everything you can think to say if you're pretty sure someone else will make a lot of the same points anyway). Mainly what I want to say is this:

Our power is in our principles. The power of Occupy has always been that it is an experiment in human freedom. That's what inspired so many to join us. That's what terrified the banks and politicians, who scrambled to do everything in their power—infiltration, disruption, propaganda, terror, violence—to be able to tell the word we'd failed, that they had proved a genuinely free society is impossible, that it would necessarily collapse into chaos, squalor, antagonism, violence, and dysfunction. We cannot allow them such a victory. The only way to fight back is to renew our absolute commitment to those principles. We will never compromise on equality and freedom. We will always base our relations to each other on those principles. We will not fall back on top-down structures and forms of decision making premised on the power of coercion. But as long as we do that, and if we really believe in those principles, that necessarily means being as open and flexible as we can about pretty much everything else.



Read the Rules
[-] 3 points by madamebovary (3) 10 years ago

Why don't you end this bickering about process and protest the sequester? This movement really seems to have deevolved.

[-] 3 points by GypsyKing (8708) 10 years ago

The Occupy movement has re-framed the political narrative in the United States, and in doing so it has paved the way for the eventual success of it's own agenda. That, given perserverence, looks like victory to me. I say this to set the record straight for those who are saying the movement has failed. I wish the failures of the American left-wing in the past had looked this good.

Consensus or no, Occupy is a success.

[-] 3 points by Toynbee (656) from Savannah, GA 10 years ago
  • Consensus without action is just a cycle-jerk.

  • We are witnessing the Republicans shut down Federal government, cutting meals-on-wheels to house-bound elderly, just so that they can preserve tax cuts for the wealthy.

  • Where is the justice? Where is the equity? Where is the democracy in our democracy?

  • A lot of people profited mightily from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

  • But now those same people and corporations do not want to pay for those wars -- which could total more than $3 trillion to cover the costs of the wars, the costs of replenishing and restocking military units, and caring long-term for wounded soldiers.

  • That is shocking! These Republican pukes got a tax cut from George W. Bush during a time of war, for the first time ever. And now they want to either push the costs onto their grandkids or pay for the war costs by cutting education, cutting military preparedness, cutting meals-on-wheels and much much much more.

  • Republicans are a fraud.

[-] 3 points by HCabret (-327) 10 years ago

Both parties are equally as bad.

[-] 3 points by HCabret (-327) 10 years ago

David Graeber is a subject of history for this article.......

You are COMPLETELY MAD David and I wish more people were like you!!!!!!

[-] 2 points by tree (4) 10 years ago

Greetings, and thank you David Graeber for this post. I agree with the fundamental thrust of what you've expressed here, that the spirit of consensus matters far more than the procedures.

There are intentional communities supposedly operating by consensus who have proceduralized it to death, and there are bank boards of directors supposedly operating by Robert's Rules of majority vote who consistently refrain from taking any votes until unity has been reached.

I am writing mainly out of concerned response to one thing you said. I'm a long-time teacher of consensus with many years of experience using it effectively in real groups. Until Occupy came along, i had never heard anyone assert that "because i'd have to leave the group if this passed" was an appropriate reason to block a proposal. I think adding that to the consensus package renders it unworkable as a decision method.

If someone feels so strongly against a proposal that they'd feel moved to leave the group if it passed, that's important information and should be shared with the group--in a respectful way, NOT in a manner that attempts to hold the group hostage or emotionally pressure them into conceding! If the group is not swayed, that's why the Stand Aside option exists. The option to Stand Aside is hugely important, and for consensus to function well, that option needs to be taken very seriously, because otherwise there's nowhere for someone with significant dissent to go short of blocking. Standing Aside means one has a major objection, and will not lend one's energy to a decision (while not obstructing it either). It's very different from Abstain, which means one is choosing not to take a position. Blocking is reserved for proposals that would violate a core principle of the group.

For more information, see this article http://treegroup.info/topics/A9-blocking.html and others on my website.

Regarding the historical and cultural trajectory you outlined, not only has consensus been the dominant decision-making model among indigenous peoples as you described, it was also a primary decision-making model for European parliaments until around the seventeenth century. The centuries following the Middle Ages were a changeover period, and the last European country to give up consensus at the parliamentary level was Poland, in 1763, after well-financed interests of the time bribed delegates to block a decision. The vestiges of those European systems remain enshrined in our present-day jury system, perhaps the only institution in American society where the decision-making method used hews much closer to consensus than majority rule. See sources such as the book "Parliament in Context, 1235-1707" by Keith M. Brown for more research.


--Tree Bressen

[-] 2 points by MattLHolck (16833) from San Diego, CA 10 years ago

we all consent to accept the numbers that dictate who has the money

write shorter sentences

i would not accept such language on a congress bill

Twisted Sister - We're Not Gonna Take It (Official Video)

[-] 2 points by cleverhans (2) from New York, NY 10 years ago

In case anyone is interested, there is a new website, AnarchistTool.org, which attempts to use web technology to implement horizontal group decision making processes. It's currently in beta, but usable. It treats consensus as process through which "everyone's concerns are raised and addressed" and allows final decisions to be made by formal consensus (blocking, stand-asides, etc.) or by voting.

[-] 1 points by Renneye (3874) 10 years ago

Thanks. I'll check it out.

[-] 2 points by bettydonnelly (115) 10 years ago

In the sixties we had one issue and one mantra " Stop the War" You folks have lost your focus. You need to go back to Square one " Stop the Greed" Wall St is the cause of almost all that's wrong with this country. All the millions of people out of work because of the Banksters and lost homes to foreclosure done Illegally. I could write forever about this one subject. Wake up kids I love you all.

[-] 3 points by insertnamehere (5) 10 years ago

The problem isn't greed. It is a system that heavily incentivizes people to be greedy. Simply shouting "Stop the War" did little to actually end the war in Vietnam (the Vietcong took care of that well themselves) nor has it done anything to stop the continuous expansion of Americas imperial development. What was exciting, and potentially dangerous, about Occupy was precisely that it was not just "one issue," but that it brought the subject of capitalism itself into question. We of the left need to move beyond reactionary posturing towards each new systemic excess, and take the initiative, striking back at the structures and relationships that generate these ills.

[-] 1 points by bettydonnelly (115) 10 years ago

You are totally wrong. If it had not been for the Millions of anti war protesters. We would still be fighting in Vietnam. It's precisely because Occupy is so fragmented that it has really accomplished so little. The only thing I see that has been accomplished is coining the phrase 99% and !%. And I am sad because I had high hopes for the movement.

[-] 2 points by frovikleka (2563) from Island Heights, NJ 10 years ago

The fact that you seem to think that this movement is over is erroneous, and amusing to me.

I love the many bright mostly young people that I know in NYC, but the rise and fall of Occupy does not hinge on them or any mistakes that they might have made, and they are learning form them

This is a communal effort, and as such you are as much responsible for the success of this movement as any of us are

Do what most of us have done, find out where you fit in best, or leave

Finally your pessimistic attitude may speak more about your lack of spine than the problems that Occupy has had


[-] 2 points by TheBeatIsOn (3) 10 years ago

Thanks for the more complete explanation. I read last week's post and thought you meant that with consensus there was an individual veto, which would be foolish as well as ineffective. Thanks.

[-] 1 points by OccNoVi (415) 10 years ago

Block rejections happened again and again at GA.

Thankfully irrelevant to what was happening..........

[-] 1 points by HCabret (-327) 10 years ago

Consensus can mean liberum veto, but it doesnt have to and I dont think it should.

[-] 2 points by GirlFriday (17435) 10 years ago

None of those who challenged consensus did so in the name of a different form of direct democracy. In fact, I'm not aware of any example of an activist group that abandoned consensus and then went on to settle on some different, but equally horizontal approach to decision-making. The end result is invariably abandoning direct democracy entirely Sometimes that's because, as here, that is explicitly what those challenging consensus want. But even when it's not, the same thing happens, because moving from consensus sets off a dynamic that inevitably leads in a vertical direction.

That's interesting.

This helps me understand it a lot better.

I hope you guys keep kicking this out.

[-] 2 points by Sammyseed (12) 10 years ago

A short instructive video will do the trick.

OK it's David Graeber, so I'll naturally agree with everything, but one thing "We will never compromise on equality and freedom." fundamentalism always hurts more than helps. We also have to live within the context of reality, strict equality and freedom maybe too much to expect at the present.

[-] 1 points by nazihunter (215) 10 years ago

Whoa! lots and lots of writing. Hand me the brief. We're doing great as a country aren't we? Just the fact that we don't even know what consensus is should help one realize how far removed from democracy we are. Whatever it is, "I","me","my" and "mine" need be removed for "we." You see, what's good for "you" may not be good for "us." However, everything need undergo a strong LOGIC test. For instance, if 4 out of 5 vote to poison the atmosphere, we need 'soundness' discussion-one removed from an emotional=(monetary) stake. ie-IMPARTIALITY. The problem is this-how does one who spent a lifetime thinking about "oneself" think for others? The answer: NOT GOOD. Maybe we should watch another episode of 'Revenge' where poor, altruists try to get back at the stone-faced rich? Whoever the writers are for that show are don't know much about their whole premise for the show. It doesn't give one a lot of hope. I would only accept consensus by people I know from the start of their lives haven't been tempered by being selfish little bitches and bastards wrought with their meaningless little emotions. How cold! Not really.

[-] 1 points by Marlow (1141) 10 years ago

I simply want to interject this topic on the forum, in corroborative response.. .. http://occupywallst.org/forum/occupy-has-set-precident-we-have-now-become-a-part/

[-] 1 points by OccNoVi (415) 10 years ago

Did anybody read that through ???

Or did you go along for a while, then experience a disconnect somewhere around the salute to the Maoist New People's Army or the Quaker-Haudenosaunee argument. Then skip down to the bottom to see what was going to happen for a conclusion ?????

Dr. Graeber is a smart guy, but he's arguing to reach his conclusion. This is not a balanced investigation. I think what he want us to believe is this:

-- "The power of Occupy has always been that it is an experiment in human freedom."

Really ??? That's what Dr. Graeber wanted from when he got involved. But what bothered Wall Street was the initial simplicity of the Zuccotti occupation and how it popped immediately in Boston:

-- We are our own leaders.

-- We oppose corporate corruption.

-- We want jobs!

The corporate corruption part of it went to $7.3-trillion between the mortgage scams, AAA-by-bribery bonds, and the unregulated pension-scam derivatives.

Like the DUI vehicular manslaughter over on Water Street (January 24, 2008) where a Wall Street CEO killed a female office worker, these Masters of the Universe walked away with little to no penalty.

(Google [ george anderson florence cioffi ] for details on the killing. He did 16 days in Rikers and paid a $350 fine.)

Dr. Elizabeth Warren has returned recently to the fundamental issue. What does it take to see Wall Street prosecuted?

Occupy Wall Street got lucky on September 17th ending up at Zuccotti. Finding a private-public park with unique rules was not planned. It was luck. And it was simple, clear focus that gave OWS its worldwide appeal.

Dr. Graeber's obsession with "consensus" had nothing to do with it. The action teams never, ever went to the GA talkers for leadership. Not once. Leadership was the 4chan process, the original 16, and the union guys. Security and Medical were the critical inside-Zuccotti operations.

The one thing that "consensus" produced was the effort to extend the Zuccotti occupation into the winter. Even after the first cold morning with 20 hypothermia cases, the GA/consensus model failed to respond to medical realities. No community, ever, had tried to live at 40+ degrees north without the use of fire. But that would have happened, at least till some poor soul woke up dead.

Dr. Graeber's Folly ??? Well, the idea that his "consensus" is the way to do Occupy protests might not always be practical.

Funerals sxxx.

[-] 1 points by DKAtoday (33802) from Coon Rapids, MN 10 years ago

One thing - I have only started through this post - but - find fault with the idea of an automatic veto that can be enacted by any individual in any group - that is an unreasonable amount of power to disrupt any progress. It is also cohersion as the veto says that they will leave the group rather then discuss and find consensus ( not unanimity - but majority ) this veto in itself is allowing the process to be hijacked/halted.

[-] 1 points by Brandon1980 (2) 10 years ago

I think this post gets a critical point wrong. It concludes that "The power of Occupy has always been that it is an experiment in human freedom. That's what inspired so many to join us." That's wrong, and kinda loony if u think about it. The explosion in support for Occupy was obviously bc of the broad disgust at Wall St. (the whole ruin the economy, drown everyone in debt, get off scott free, thing). No one joined bc of the consensus model. However, bc Occupy ran by consensus (and was quite fun, at least at the beginning), those who were inspired by the fight back began to associate that spirit of dissent and defiance against Wall St. with consensus. Then the consensus model decayed into farce (as it sadly did in the anti WTO/IMF/WB movement and many smaller movements in between). This isn’t bc consensus-minded or anarchist-minded activists aren’t the best, most committed, most creative activists in the world (they are!). It’s because consensus doesn’t work for large groups. Let’s be honest, a better organizing model would have led to a stronger, more sustained, Occupy movement. You cannot give everyone in a movement a veto. That’s just nuts. There are much much better ways of instilling and cultivating the principles that consensus strives to promote (freedom, equality, self-leadership), without mandating the cancerous “spokes” form of movement building on to each sequential spasm of dissent.

[-] 1 points by OccNoVi (415) 10 years ago


"No one joined bc of the consensus model."

And the big money went through one pair of hands. With next to no oversight.

And btw: "spoke" offshoots open doors for shills to draw off resources from central efforts. There's never a shortage of shills/provocateurs when you get near an Occupy site. IDing the shills/provocateurs is arguably your # 1 problem for long term effectiveness.





[-] 0 points by peacehurricane (293) 10 years ago

Excellent explanations thank you. I am compelled to describe what this ideal became, from my perspective in PDX during origin of Occupy. "Due Process"is what they called it and just thinking about has brought (yet again) tears to me eyes. I was tending the KBOO radio station as we aired live during the encampment. Made my way to the General Assembly to take notes for following day and was shocked by the experience this first time because I have been to Rainbow and taken part in noon passing feather decision process and this was so far from that I had to go. Asking questions about the "Process" I felt better to go and be part of making some decision because this camp has room for improvement. The feelings of hope and all the ideals that I have dedicated my life to see accomplished could be felt by all that came so it would follow that this process be part of this excitement. Mike check was leading the GA everyday, that is through loud speaker is said idea that a represent from a group (if you can find someone running this meeting to become part of one) is delivered and repeated back by all in attendance. It was so much not of the feeling I knew to be alive I am not sure if it was that second time or the next that I left in tears having no part of the sabotage going on. The mike check due process continued with each day larger equipment. In a few days time they went from bull horn to huge speakers as tall as me and a large movie screen for what I am not sure. I did on that occasion again attempt to find those running this show as to sign in for my turn at speaking to no avail. I had heard that if you had not yet had turn you got to front of line for your say. During those days I told time and again many in short of how far from feather passing this so-called process was removed and then the eviction came. On that famous night with an Oregon State flag for which I worked uncountable hours to get I was given honor to wave that flag through the huge crowd. Suck-ass due process is too part of the world unfolding perfectly as it should I am reminded time and again for now I know it already is done across time and space for ever more Amen All One in Solidarity Worldwide FREEDOM...


[-] 0 points by aaronparr (597) 10 years ago

Great post. Thank you for sharing your experiences.

I think it would benefit all if more of those active in Occupy discussed their experiences with decision making and shared these stories widely. It would be like sowing seeds for future movements.

[-] 0 points by ProblemSolver (79) 10 years ago

Amendment I

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Why do we need an election or consensus to petition government with our Grievances ?

The General Assembly needs only to take a survey of prominent grievences , draft up a petition and have those whom agree sign the document.

Whats all the fuss about .. election and Consensus.. nowhere is this necessary.

Simply Draft a well written document expressing the grievances of the people.

[-] 0 points by DSamms (-294) 10 years ago

I agree that a petition should work, but what compels Congress to take notice of such petition?

[-] 2 points by bettydonnelly (115) 10 years ago

A million people marching on Washington like we did to end the V War.

[-] 2 points by DSamms (-294) 10 years ago

A million people marching on DC did not end the war. I too would like to think it did, and it was a contributing factor certainly. But the war continued long after the marches... Tet (1968) and the Pentagon Papers split the elite over the war.

A million people marching on Washington certainly would not hurt our cause, but it can be written off with MSM assistance, if we do not also have a plan that allows everyone dissatisfied with the status quo to join us at the polls. The ballot box undeniably counts our numbers, and does not require sympathizers to risk the perils of open dissent, protest and police confrontation.

[-] 2 points by ProblemSolver (79) 10 years ago

Democracy is so ..Civilized.

[-] 1 points by bettydonnelly (115) 10 years ago

The Marches helped galvanize the movement, caused MLK to break with Pres Johnson and oppose the war. They spurred RFK to run in 68 and gave birth to Gene McCarthy's candidacy . And in 71 when some brave people in Congress threatened to Defund the war did we get out of Vietnam.

[-] 0 points by DSamms (-294) 10 years ago

I agree. But those brave people in Congress? Their courage was informed both by the movement, and factional elite support. There was a definite split, especially after Bobby and Martin too... The roots of a NWO lie buried here.

[-] 1 points by ProblemSolver (79) 10 years ago

At the end of the day they do represent the people.

[-] 2 points by jhecht410 (3) 10 years ago

PS> At the end of the day they do represent the people.

Unfortunately not. That's what they should do, but most of the time (not all) they represent special interest groups who have the money/power to buy or influence the decisions that Congress makes. That's simply reality, and we have to start from what-is, to move toward what-can-be.

[-] 1 points by ProblemSolver (79) 10 years ago

What exactly do the people want Congress to do ?

Show me a petition with 100 million signatures of the people .. explaining what they want from Congress ..

It's not that Congress does not represent the people .. it's that the people have not expressed what they want from Congress..

and Occupy refuses to collect signed petitions ..

[-] 0 points by DSamms (-294) 10 years ago

PS "What exactly do the people want Congress to do ?"

Good question isn't it... I wonder how many people on just this forum could agree on what they want from Congress?

[-] 0 points by DSamms (-294) 10 years ago

That's arguable at this point, don't you think?

[-] 1 points by ProblemSolver (79) 10 years ago

By whom ?

[-] 1 points by DSamms (-294) 10 years ago

Well, how about us, you and I, discussing it right now. But, perhaps we ought consider it from a different perspective.

What were the original occupy protests focused on? Wall Street (as a stand-in for TBTF banks) -- it's greed and dominance over our political and economic life? Is that a fair description? If so, could you not also describe it as a peaceful assembly intent on making its grievances known to (petitioning) our politicians? If so, what was the result?

No prosecutions of banksters. Eighty-five billion dollars per month being pumped into Wall Street to prop up the stock market (which constitutes a continuing bailout of TBTF banks) with a projected $1.4T to be sent in 2014 for this purpose. A mortgage "bailout" for the banks, while homeowners got essentially nothing and were thrown out on the street. Tax increases (for all of us making less than $400k per annum) coupled to a "blind" budget cut of $85B in services...

Perhaps a better question is whom does Congress represent? In the above instances, I'd say they're responding to "petitions" from the financial industry.

[-] 1 points by ProblemSolver (79) 10 years ago

I have yet to see a petition with 30 million signatures..

[-] 0 points by DSamms (-294) 10 years ago

Nor I, but I was hoping for about 100 million...

Moreover, even if 30 million signatures were on a petition, there is nothing in the Constitution which requires, compels, Congress to take notice. This is not to say they would not act, simply that they do not have to act.

[-] 0 points by ProblemSolver (79) 10 years ago

They would ACT.

[-] 0 points by DSamms (-294) 10 years ago

Do you trust Congress to do the "right thing" now?

[-] 0 points by ProblemSolver (79) 10 years ago

With a signed document .. of 30 - 100 million .. they had better consider their next step .. very carefully, wouldn't you agree ?

[-] 0 points by DSamms (-294) 10 years ago


But let us not forget that they are well practiced in the art of deception.

[-] 0 points by ProblemSolver (79) 10 years ago

Stay focused DSamms.

[-] -1 points by DSamms (-294) 10 years ago

That's the trick, isn't it... Getting focused. Staying focused.

[-] -1 points by nandoatake (-18) 10 years ago

Making such a demand would make no sense in the context of Occupy has it would legitimize the power of the government we are trying to topple. The government will never do what the people want, and that is why we need anarchy; people governing themselves. We must end the republic, the constitution, congress, etc... to make anarchy possible.

[-] 1 points by ProblemSolver (79) 10 years ago

I've expeienced anarchy right here on this forum.. I don't like it.

[-] -1 points by nandoatake (-18) 10 years ago

This forum is not an example of anarchy. Anarchy does not mean chaos, disorganization, etc... If we were on this forum to make decisions and used a process such as direct democracy to achieve that then this would be anarchy. We don't need to make decisions since nothing that is discussed here makes it into practice. This forum is just people throwing ideas in the wind.

You're certainly entitled to your opinions and viewpoints, but, may I ask, why participate on a forum of an anarchic movement if you don't support anarchy? Why not participate on a forum that movement that espouses your ideas? It certainly would be strange to see a priest in a synagogues, or a democrat on a republican site. Isn't important for integrity to support movements that follow our ideas? Or do you simply support Occupy because it's the cool protest on the block?

In my opinion, the communist party would fit your ideals better. They don't want to destroy the republic, and they care about community efforts.

[-] 0 points by nandoatake (-18) 10 years ago

First, I want to say thank you for taking the time to actually provide an argument for your position. This is a very welcome breath of fresh air on this site.

As you certainly know, David Degraw formed New Yorkers Against Budget Cuts (NYABC) in july 2011, a few months before Occupy began. This group was promoting a "sleep in" Occupation in lower Manhattan and was planning protests against WallStreet that were to be aimed at making demands. NYABC began a few weeks after the call from AdBusters to start a protest on September 17th in Zucotti Park.

David Graeber attended one of the early NYABC general assemblies and was disappointed with the idea of making demands. You see, David Graeber is an anarchist and understood quite well that the problem wasn't certain policies, but the whole representative republic framework and capitalism in general. David Degraw didn't want to overthrow the republic, he only wanted to protest in order to make policy changes hence his idea of making demands. That day, most people decided to follow Graeber's way and this is what started the anarcho-communism protest today known as Occupy. The rest is history.

So, Occupy is anarchist protest and the main goal is to overthrow the government and replace it with anarchy. One of their early sayings was - "We want a general assembly on each street corner."

I like the idea of anarchy. I think it is the future. I'm also glade Occupy attracted many people even though most didn't understand what it was really about. We need a lot of people to create a revolution, so the more the merrier.

I'm just curious as to why so many people who don't really believe in overthrowing the republic are backing Occupy? Like I said, I don't mind this at all. We need anarchy. I just don't think I could support something which I don't believe in from the bottom of my hearth. I would be cheating myself, my own integrity.

The communist party seems to be what most people here are actually supporting. The idea of communism inside the framework of a representative republic. I really don't think most people on this site want to overthrow the government, they just want reduced wealth inequality, and an increase in communist ideologies like welfare for all, health care for all, etc... They actually want more government, not no government like Occupy desires.

This is fine, but I find it quite strange.




[-] 0 points by frovikleka (2563) from Island Heights, NJ 10 years ago

Yes i too have gotten to understand concensus better

Several days ago, i had a nice conversation with one of the young ladies who planned S17, the Occupation of the park

Although our conversation was not that long, she made this old dude understand the basics of concensus which i had thought were unanimity or near it at least which did not seem workable to me

First, no one is compelled to do anything that they do not want to do

I also think I remembered her saying that it took two thirds of the people who voted to do something, while the other third can do whatever they want. That sounded reasonable, and was close to what my gut feeling of 70-80% was on the first concensus thread

The important thing to me is that we are searching for better ways of doings things where freedom, equality, and respect are all part of the equation. These principles have been missing from our society for far too long

The most important thing to me though is building COMMUNITY along the way so whatever works best to retain and build on that, I'm cool with as

We have taken on a monumental task, and we must have UNITY to see it through

We should never put our own priciples aside to achieve this, but we should set our egos aside.

Now that we got that squared away, let's get back to the revolution...eh?....;-)

[-] 2 points by oldJanet (-14) 10 years ago

Community and unity will be built with the Bridge to the Ground.

[-] 1 points by frovikleka (2563) from Island Heights, NJ 10 years ago

The derrick and the dozers are ready. Ya just have to find a crew


[-] 1 points by oIdJanet (-94) 10 years ago

It's not that simple. Creating such a software needs a lot of heads! Before we even start assembling a crew we need to brainstorm a lot. This will help us understand what we need exactly. Then it will be easier to create the perfect crew for the job.

Did you read jart's piece on consensus. She talks about a very similar idea at the end.


"The only significant experimentation we should be doing with process at this time is trying to find ways to use modern technology to make democracy more democratic. For the first time in the history of civilization, we are able to scale up conversations to span the entire globe. A deliberative assembly no longer must be limited to the number of people capable of fitting in a single room. Why are we not taking advantage of this? Several attempts have been made to develop such systems, but most of the existing solutions are either shoddy, hard to use, or focus on anonymous voting rather than deliberation. These systems also do not make an effort to define the procedural conventions to govern the aspects of software use which cannot be digitized. Engineers, please start teaming up with process experts to accomplish this."