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Forum Post: OWS Organization Appears to be Evolving

Posted 12 years ago on Jan. 9, 2012, 11:42 a.m. EST by Rico (3027)
This content is user submitted and not an official statement

I stayed up way too late last night reading through a bunch of the material at the NYC General Assembly (the NYGCA button up at the top of the forum).

It says there are two decision making bodies: The General Assembly and the Spokes Council. The Spokes Council intro at http://www.nycga.net/events/event/spokes-council-2012-01-09/ says, "The Spokes Council is one of two major decision-making bodies of the movement, the other being the General Assembly. The four types of decisions that the Spokes Council attend to are:

  • Decisions related to the logistical operation of Occupy Wall Street
  • Approval of Occupy Wall Street budgets and expenditures
  • The addition or subtraction of Operations Groups and Caucuses to the Spokes Council
  • All Working Groups and Caucuses will be admitted to the Spokes Council that adhere to the above definitions of an Operations Group or Caucus and that agree to abide by the Principles of Solidarity adopted (as a working draft) by the GA
  • The only reason a group may be asked to leave the Spokes Council is for either repeatedly disrupting the Spokes Council’s process or for behaving in a way that seriously violates the GA’s Principles of Solidarity
  • Amendments to the functioning of the Spokes Council that do not alter the power of the GA

The intro to the General Assembly at http://www.nycga.net/events/event/general-assembly-2012-01-10/ has no definitions such as those at the Spokes Council.

The Spokes Council appears to actually run the OWS organization. It oversees the day-to-day operations and controls the money. Its statement of purpose essentially says "these powers not claimed by the Spokes Counsel are reserved for the people."

The Spokes Council is comprised of working groups which the Spokes Council can approve or disapprove for membership, though it says it's intention is to accept any group that abides by the rules. A group can be kicked out of the Spokes Council "for either repeatedly disrupting the Spokes Council's process or for behaving in a way that seriously violates the GA’s Principles of Solidarity."

There are currently 137 Working Groups, some as small as 3 people, some as large as 770 people. The Spokes Council statement specifically mentions "operations" groups and "caucus" groups. There are 3 Caucus Groups and 18 Operations Groups.

The Caucus Groups appear substantially the same as caucuses in Congress such as the The Congressional Black Caucus; The 3 caucuses are: Women Occupying Wall-Street, People of Color Working Group, and the LGBTIQA2Z Caucus.

The Operational Working Groups appear similar to the different functions of a federal government. There is are groups called, finance, legal, tech, media, food, sanitation, etc. It is not clear to me whether each group operates by consensus or majority, or whether they are free to choose. Clearly, however, the members of each group cannot and do not participate in every Spokes Council meeting, so each group must elect a representative or two by vote, rotation, or some other means.

The minutes for the most recent Spokes Council meeting are available at http://www.nycga.net/2012/01/04/nyc-operational-spokes-council-142012-summary/#more-7570 and those of the most recent General Assembly meeting are at http://www.nycga.net/2012/01/03/nyc-general-assembly-minutes-132012/ .

There are also minutes from a coordinators meeting which appears to operate above the Spokes Council, at least until the Council is fully operable. Of particular interest are the minutes from 1/4/12 at http://www.nycga.net/2012/01/04/coordinators-meeting-minutes-142012/ , which contain three interesting statements under the heading "Spokes":

  • Recently developed procedure to exclude people. [read previous minutes for background] We did that without group consensus. We’d like buy-in from groups. Banning people for a week from Spokes is what we can do right away (see outline/handout)" from the Spokes Council.
  • Spokes is empowered to make decisions about operational concerns. if all we do is talk about talking nothing will happen. the only way Spokes will move forward is if we deal with real things. if we don’t kick people out first it won’t work
  • Spokes or GA? Facilitation’s understanding is that if it is OWS-related it goes to Spokes. Is it outside of ourselves? something like Outreach would go to the GA. big things go to the GA. On 12/20/11 GA, Info, ComHub proposal re what a WG is. There is a 30-day grace period, you have until 1/20/12 to meet the criteria of being a WG, after that time you will no longer receive Occupy resources (SIS, Comfort, Accounting etc.)

Reading the minutes of the General Assembly, it's pretty clear a very formal set of rules are in place defining rules of order and so forth. There are also some pretty formal documentation requirements emerging per the in-work proposal of the Accountability and Transparency Group called the "OWS Transparency and Accountability Act" at http://www.nycga.net/2012/01/05/15-ows-transparency-and-accountability-act/ .

From reading the minutes and accountability proposal, two issues appear dominant. The first regards the movement away from consensus and inclusion being driven by some very vocal and not well liked people. The second relates to money, and a good summary of the frustration over this topic is captured below the Spending Freeze proposal at http://www.nycga.net/2012/01/05/spending-freeze/ .

It appears to me that a pretty formal and heirarchal form of goverment replete with functinal specialization into departments, the ability to silence dissent, and formal rules of order including documentation requirements is now emerging. I for one say it's about time, but I can see why many would be frustrated by it.

On a broader scale, I am very confused by the relation of OWS, the 99% Declaration, the movement to a National GA, and Occupy Philly. See my comment and the material to which it links at http://occupywallst.org/forum/99-declaration-and-ows-have-parted-ways/#comment-575333 .

Things, they are a changin'



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[-] 1 points by GypsyKing (8708) 12 years ago

Thanks for this fine post. A question I have wanted an answer to for some time is this - should OWS continue to grow in support, which I think it will, could the NGA at some point be labeled seditious by Congress. I think this is a questin we must have an answer to. It is the main reason I have felt we should also work through the established political process. It would be hard to label a political party with members seated in Congress as being sedituous.

[-] 1 points by Rico (3027) 12 years ago

I did some research at jart's suggestion after I made a similar remark. I found out the old sedition laws were defanged by the Brandenburg v. Ohio case ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brandenburg_v_ohio ). In any case, OWS doesn't advocate violence much less engage in it. I don't think there's any worry.

[-] 1 points by GypsyKing (8708) 12 years ago

That's very valuable information, thank you.

[-] 1 points by Listof40 (233) 12 years ago

Thanks for the concise summary and overview of the OWS structure... definitely interesting...

It can definitely be a challenge trying to organize, or trying to set agendas in a public movement, particularly if there are many different views, or if there are concerns regarding direction or focus, etc, but that is certainly understandable...

There are certainly a large number of issues in current society that alot of us are concerned about...   and so we can find much to agree on that we can look to resolve...

A social movement is a collection of individuals, so hopefully we can all somehow help come together to find a way forward, as the OWS movement is trying to do...


[-] 1 points by Rico (3027) 12 years ago

I worry more about the economy improving and taking the wind out of our sails more then I worry about the organizational chaos. Americans like to forget about their troubles and do so as fast as they can.

As an "oldster" (55) I always admired the kids for their innocence, but worried about their naiveity in thinking everyone would just get along and things would work out. There are some things that are constant about people: there's always a few jerks who blow the idea of letting everyone have an equal voice, and there's always a need for organization and some leadership just to keep people moving in the same direction long enough to finish even a simple task. It's fascinating. We're watching bright young kids "rediscover" government. One not quite as different as they imagined, but still uniquely theirs.

I think it's awesome. No matter what else comes of this (and I think much will), these kids are becoming leaders, and the country will benefit from their commitment to service for the next 60 years or more.

[-] 1 points by FreeDiscussion1 (109) 12 years ago

Should show a 501c3 "tax exempt." We owe no taxes.

[-] 1 points by Rico (3027) 12 years ago

Actually, if you read through the materials on the NYCGA site, you find they have both 501c3 and unrestricted funds. The 501c3 money is that flowing in from their 'sponsor' (which takes a 7% fee off the top, by the way). The other money is collected on the streets by members. They keep the money in separate accounts and appear fully aware of the different 'colors' and what each can be spent on.

The minutes also contain a lot of discussion, and no small amount of conflict, regarding an upcoming audit that has to pass IRS review.

[-] 1 points by FreeDiscussion1 (109) 12 years ago

You didnt need to reply. As required there would need to be an organizational chart being a 501c3 and paying no taxes.

[-] -1 points by blackbloc (-19) 12 years ago

ows is dead too many conformists(the system can not ever be fixed), too many pseudo-intellectual politically correct hacks to get anything of substance done(sure islam is of equal value to western culture sure it is are you fucking kidding me?). too many libertarians spewing objectivist bullshit(yeah we all want to live in stalinist soviet union). don't fret though a lot of the original organizations involved in ows the fringe and anarchist groups are reconstituting a new protest group they should be ready by spring. ows is dead and we killed it with our short sighted ignorant membership.