Some written procedures


(note: i don't know how similar this Occupy Boston procedure was/is to other Occupy procedures, nor do i know how long it was in effect or even if this document was ever in effect, or if it was only a draft proposal)

Seems to me to be much like Robert's Rules except:

My opinion (take this with a grain of salt as i have never actually attended an Occupy assembly):

Three observations from a guy i met

I was talking to a guy (i don't know if he wants to be publically credited but i'm happy to do so if he does) the other night who had three very interesting observations on the Occupy parliamentary procedure.

Consensus decision-making leads to simpler low-tech voting technology

If you have majority or supermajority voting, you have to count the votes and you have to worry about quorums (lest a thousand opposition forces suddenly show up for the vote and temporarily claim to be members, and force the assembly to pass something that it normally would not pass) and memberships (because to have a quorum you must have a sense of who is not there who could/should be).

This is hard to do outside in a noisy area with no communications technology and an assembly composed of untrained members.

(note: a procedure such as the Occupy Boston one that uses 75% and 90% doesn't meet this criteria; we are here talking about true 100% consensus proposals)

Occupy is practically almost always consensus even if technically it is supermajority

Although the procedure is technically not consensus because it allows a supermajority vote of 90%, the first four (or was it 3?) times that a motion is blocked it is tabled until the next General Assembly. Only after 4 successive tablings can the supermajority vote be taken. He claimed that, in large part due to this, in fact none of the U.S. Occupy General Assemblies to date have ever passed a motion by supermajority vote, to date (as of this writing this appears to be no longer true:

Consensus decision-making protects against hotheads and rewards the patient

Beliefs that the movement should take aggressive or violent action tend to correlate with impatience. Consensus decision-making slows things down. The hotheads often give up and leave.

The need for representatives to the media

It is well understood that not having representatives means that the Occupy movement has difficulty negotiating demands with external power centers. But it also makes dealing with the media difficult.

When a minority of Black Bloc'ers do something that the vast majority of the movement does not support, it's hard to get that across in the media.

" is a critical weak point. Not the lack of denunciation per se (I did actually see people interviewed at the Occupy sites who strongly disavowed the violent jerks) but the fact that there is no media contact for the movement.

To be part of the "99 Percent" all you have to do is show up. The problem with this is, some people are going to show up who do not hew to the utopian rules of behavior. Even if the ratio of jerks to protesters-with-hearts-of-gold is extremely low -- let's just say for the sake of argument one percent versus 99 percent -- they can spoil the whole show for everyone. What the protesters need to consider is: why let the one percent of the jerks define your movement in the media, while the wishes of the 99 percent are not heard? Isn't this kind of the point of the movement in the first place?

Occupy Wall Street (and all its sister Occupy sites) is famously against "leaders." It's communitarian. Well, that's all fine and good, but what this means in a practical sense is that the media -- looking for a soundbite -- will just show up and randomly interview people. Since conflict makes good television, they will run the clip of the one jerk who says (or does) something monumentally stupid, and the other 99 interviews will wind up on the cutting room floor.

This is crucial, and this week proved why. The Oakland violence happened very late at night. Imagine how it could have been handled if there had been a Media Contact Person available to appear on all the morning television news shows -- in the same news cycle as the violence. One person strongly stating: "We disavow violent tactics, that is not what we stand for, and we call on Occupy Oakland to stand with us and strongly denounce the hooligans who hijacked their peaceful general strike, their peaceful daylong march, and their peaceful shutdown of the port of Oakland. Thousands of people from all walks of life participated peacefully, and then late at night a few dozen idiots tried to make the Occupy movement something it is not. We strongly denounce these violent tactics, and any who practice them."

...Would it have been better to have one go-to person available to speak for the movement, or is it better to spend a few days discussing it and watching random television interviews with protesters who cannot say they speak "for the movement"?"

the lack of representatives leads to situations like this:

" As Comrades Bulwa, Berton and myself mentioned in Friday’s Chronicle/SFGate, Occupy Oakland and the 99 percenters have ANOTHER 1 percent problem: The 1 percent of its fringe who are responsible for the vandalism and violence that occurs after their demonstrations. Given their insatiable desire for images of fire and tear gas and mayhem, that’s what the TV coverage has focused on, and thus has shaped recent coverage of Occupy.

(Our 1 percent math: Oakland Police say 7,000 people participated in Wednesday’s general strike in Oakland and a little more than 70 were arrested in connection with the mayhem afterwards.)

Who’s going to take responsibility? Who is going to tell the self-styled anarchists to mellow out? Don’t look to Occupy Oakland.

Since Occupiers only officially act after reaching a consensus among their peeps, their representatives refused to disavow to the media anything that the anarchist fringe has done — because the Occupy Oakland group has not “consensed” to condemn it.

So really — much to the frustration of all parties involved — the Occupy representatives are not representative, since they say they don’t really represent the whole group, even when they’re leading press conferences to represent what the group’s message is. " -- there is a video there with a good example of what they are saying -- the poor media rep (who probably has not slept much in the last few weeks, incidentally, highlighting a disadvantage of the tactic of protest by camping), not being permitted to "represent" the movement, is unable to make any sort of statement condemning the vandalism.

" The way the GAs were run was absurd. The GA built assured failure into the whole thing. Achieving a 90% consensus on almost any issue with a group of disparate, and in some cases completely insane people just isn't possible. Read some of the transcripts of the NYCGA posted online. What a shitshow. There is a reason why Roberts Rules of Order is used by virtually every civic organization in their meetings. It works, if your goal is to actually accomplish things. Hierarchies exist so that people can be held responsible for their actions, and lack thereof. Also, when a group is leaderless, the outside world is going to pick out the people who stand out the most as representative of the whole thing. And who stood out the most in Occupy? The crazies, junkies, drummers, and masked black bloc. " --

This fits within my concept of hierarchy as simplification.

Quinn Norton's opinion

Journalist Quinn Norton, who visited a number of Occupy encampments for a long time, has some severe criticism of the parliamentary procedure:

"Because the GA had no way to reject force, over time it fell to force. Proposals won by intimidation; bullies carried the day. What began as a way to let people reform and remake themselves had no mechanism for dealing with them when they didn t. It had no way to deal with parasites and predators. It became a diseased process, pushing out the weak and quiet it had meant to enfranchise until it finally collapsed when nothing was left but predators trying to rip out each other's throats. ...

 I saw women trying to talk, trying to question where the money was going,  an occupier in San Francisco named Morgan told me,  and the meth fiends running finance would get directly in their faces (and) give them the meth glare from just inches away. People would try to pull them back, and within a minute they d be doing it again. No one got into Occupy to get into physical conflicts with speedfreaks. ... Fuck the GA. Bury it at a crossroads, staked through the heart, and pray it never rises again.


There was no critique in Occupy, no accountability. At first it didn t matter, but as life grew messy and complicated, its absence became terrible. There wasn t even a way to conceive of critique, as if the language had no words to describe the movement s faults to itself. There was at times explicit gagging of Occupy s media teams by the camp GA, to prevent anything that could be used to damage the movement from reaching the wider media. Self-censorship plagued those who weren t gagged, because everyone was afraid of retaliation. No one talked about the systemic and growing abuses in the camps, or the increasingly poisonous GAs.

Journalist Adam Rothstein showed up on the day of the first march in Portland and was there every day until their eviction, two days before Zuccotti s. He started off with sanitation and doing the dishes, moved to media, and eventually started their paper, the Portland Occupier, independent from the GA.

 One of the main reasons I wanted to have the PO separate from the GA, is I wanted, from the very beginning, a means within the process for booting people out. The GA had no such process,  he said." -- By Quinn Norton 12.12.12

to summarize, she seems to be saying that:


"The core piece of this structure, which was both strategic and part of the drama, was the consensus model. It was, in fact, the core element that made Occupy an example of the "theatre of the oppressed" because it allowed everyone, not just primary organizers, to shape the movement in fundamental ways. Many of the participants whom I interviewed were unhappy with the consensus model either from the beginning or after encountering problems with it. Martha Stevens, a retired University of Cincinnati professor and longtime activist, remarked that "some of us older ones saw right away that it would never work." Justin Jeffre, who had supported consensus decision-making in the beginning, found that the 90% consensus model the Cincinnati group had been using made decisions "pretty much impossible.". Experienced activists Jim Luken and Dan La Botz believed it ultimately led to the movement's downfall, generating long, indecisive General Assemblies that could be hijacked by one person with an opposing opinion.

However, they perceived that for others, these features helped define the movement, and many could not envision an offshoot without consensus. As a result, using 90% consensus at first and later 75% consensus, the Cincinnati movement held daily General Assemblies ... Participants wanted their version of Occupy to look and feel like the original. Despite the seasoned activists' misgivings, the adopted these tactics largely because they wanted to support and include the large number of activist newcomers ... It is difficult to determine whether these impressive numbers made up for the problems that consensus decision-making caused. However, the consensus model remained a key element in shaping Occupy Wall Street into a theatre of the oppressed. " -- in The Occupy Movement and the “Poetics of the Oppressed” by Ursula McTaggart, in volume What Comes After Occupy?: The Regional Politics of Resistance.

--- by Graeber claims that Occupy didn't really have a 90% or 75% threshold, it had an initially high threshold with a fallback to a 2/3 threshold. If so, it seems to me based on other sources (eg ) that the fallback option got forgotten about or removed, at least at other Occupys, if not Occupy Wall Street.


just putting these here for future reference, i already skimmed them: [1]

[2] (note: if you reread this, also see for an alternate take on a little bit of the history that he mentions, although that's really a minor point that doesn't bear on most of what he's saying)


potential toreads:

Occupying Political Science: The Occupy Wall Street Movement from New York ... edited by E. Welty, M. Bolton, M. Nayak, C. Malone: "This is a Facilitator Guide on how to manage an OccupyBoston? General Assembly and to conduct the consensus process"