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The Metamovement: Moving beyond marches and people in the street

[The "Metamovement" is Umair Haque's collective name for the various global pro-democracy, anti-corporatist movements that have sprung up all over the world this year: the "Occupy" movements in over 400 cities, mostly in the Americas, the parallel European "Indignant" movements that began with the 15M protests in Madrid, Spain attended by over 100,000 people last May, and the "Arab Spring" movements in the Middle East nations.]

METAMOVEMENT ORGANIZATION AND OPERATION

Monday evening I attended the General Assembly of Occupy Portland. The group there now consists of about 600 people, with perhaps 200 camping in the “occupied” park, 150 (including both campers and non-campers) showing up for the daily General Assemblies (decision-making and information meetings), smaller numbers attending a host of educational, planning and protest events, and the full number attending less frequent marches and other high-visibility events.

Last evening (Tuesday) I attended the General Assembly of Occupy Eugene (Oregon). The group is about half the size of Portland’s, though attendance at their General Assembly was almost as high. The Eugene group is in close communication with the Portland group and have adopted a number of the same operating protocols.

It’s amazing to see the self-organization and self-management of the Occupy groups. Rotating groups of skilled facilitators have come together and voluntarily convene and facilitate the General Assemblies. They are using established facilitation processes (consensus decision-making and rules of procedure that are vastly more inclusive than the rules used in meetings convened by the 1%), but they have had to tweak and evolve the processes on the fly to suit large groups of people who don’t know each other and which change day-to-day. They have also had to educate the large number of attendees at General Assemblies on how the process works — a huge challenge — and also make clear to both participants and media that they are neutral facilitators, not leaders or spokespeople for the groups (in fact the groups have no ‘leaders’ or ‘spokespeople’, much to the exasperation of media, police and authorities). Occupy Portland, like other Occupy cities, has posted their evolving General Assembly consensus process on their website, so that other Occupy groups can adapt and learn from them.

The self-organization and self-management extends far beyond meeting and decision processes. Each Occupy group has evolved committees that look after food (that must conform to local health regulations, so that there is no excuse for police or other authorities to shut them down), cleanup, water and sanitation, first aid, mental health, education (some Occupy groups offer child care facilities), police liaison, safety and security, recreation, arts and entertainment, engineering, maintenance (there is a plan and a fund for repairing any damage done to the occupied premises in Portland), information collection and dissemination, outreach, event planning and all the other essential functions of a small possibly-permanent human establishment.

It is amazing to watch the groups use the so-called ‘human megaphone/microphone’ to get the attention of a large and dispersed Occupy group quickly. If there’s an urgent announcement, the announcer will shout out “Mike Check!” and everyone in the vicinity will immediately stop talking and repeat, 5 words at a time, what the announcer is saying, so that everyone in the area can hear it. The privilege is not abused. I have seen it used effectively to alert the group that there is an angry dispute occurring (“Mike Check Peacemaker!” tells the members of the Peacemaker committee where the altercation is and that their presence is needed), and I have also seen it used to alert the group that there is a police presence in the area (“Mike Check Legal!” tells the members of the Legal and Safety committee that they need to get there immediately to witness and mediate any interaction between the group and police).

Equally impressive is the education that is occurring, with daily training in subjects like conflict resolution (especially dealing with people with mental disturbances or under the influence of alcohol or drugs), facilitation, first aid and legal rights, the degree to which low-tech workarounds are emerging to deal with situations as they arise (e.g. hand signals to convey a sense of a large group’s response to what is being said), and some of the technologies (like livestreaming) being used to broadcast, track and record events as they occur.

THE CHALLENGE OF BALANCING GROUP AUTHORITY AND INDIVIDUAL AUTONOMY

From what I have seen, the major challenge the Occupy groups are dealing with is about who is authorized to do what on behalf of, or binding upon, participants, without infringing on individual participants’ autonomy. For example, if someone wants to organize a march, does it need to be put forward as a proposal and agreed to by consensus of the whole? Since it only needs to be agreed to by consensus if it is put forward as a proposal at a General Assembly, does this encourage people to circumvent the collective decision-making process by just saying “I’m going to do this — who’s with me?” instead of putting forward a proposal to the group?

And what about committees?: Since anyone can form a committee, what authority does a committee have, if any, and if it has no authority (except as granted at a General Assembly through the proposal process) what is the point of its existence (it would seem in that case to have accepted responsibility without commensurate authority, which can quickly become untenable)?

The general sense seems to be that matters that affect the entire group should be subject to discussion and agreement by proposal at a General Assembly. But what exactly does “affects the entire group” mean?

There have been cases in the Occupy movement of marches and other actions that have been approved by consensus at a General Assembly, others that have failed to achieve consensus (in large Occupy groups, there is a fallback to 90% approval if consensus cannot be achieved, but that means if only 85% of a group agrees to an action, it is not approved), and still others where a march or other action was just announced at a General Assembly or elsewhere, without being ‘proposed’ for consensus discussion at all. And some of these ‘unproposed’ marches were ‘endorsed’ by a committee of a General Assembly. If the march or other action turns into a debacle, does it really matter whether it was ‘proposed’ (and agreed to) or not?

Similarly, there are committees that have received recognition by General Assemblies (in that they are announced there, and make regular committee reports there), but there is no clarity on where the authority of these committees begins and ends. Communications committees have been approached by media for comments on various matters, for example, and have (inappropriately, in my opinion) sometimes proffered comments that they believe consistent with the principles of the group. The correct answer to “Is Occupy (name of city) opposed to the use of violence?”, for example, is “Occupy (name of city) has not expressed a consensus opinion on that subject”.

It will be interesting to see how the Metamovement evolves processes and positions on matters of authority, responsibility, representation and power. These are issues, after all, that are at the heart of the Metamovement’s dissatisfaction with the de facto rule by the corporatist 1%.

FRAMING THE MOVEMENT

George Lakoff has suggested a ‘frame’ for the Metamovement, which he argues is necessary to prevent the media and others framing it for us. His frame: “We love America. We’re here to fix it.”, with the subordinate message “The Public is not opposed to the Private. The Public makes the Private possible.” The main message is to deflect accusations that the Metamovement is selfish, negative, unpatriotic and destructive. The subordinate message to is deflect accusations that the Metamovement wants something for nothing, that government is not inherently part of the problem, and needs to be part of the solution. This is the message that Elizabeth Warren has been pounding home in her Senate seat campaign.

BROADENING ENGAGEMENT

It is encouraging to see thousands of people in hundreds of people cities around the world marching in the streets in solidarity for the 99% of the population disempowered and disenfranchised by despots and corporatist elites, pulling the strings of government and making all the key political, economic and social decisions in our world.

But in order to convince the despots and elites that we really are the 99%, we need to engage those who are unable, because of fear, or lack of access or opportunity, to join us in the streets. More than that, we need to engage the large number who have given up on reforming the system, or been so beaten down by illnesses, or by the dysfunctional education system, the propagandizing media, and endemic political oppression in their countries and communities, that they are not even aware of our message.

How do you think we can do this? I’d welcome your thoughts and will share them with the Metamovement groups.

Here are a couple of ideas I came up with:

  • Create Michael Wesch-style videos of the stories, feelings and ideas of the 99%: Create a list of Metamovement questions such as “How has the disempowerment of most citizens by the political and corporate elite affected you?”; “What actions of governments and big corporations have made you most angry?”; “What do you think governments should do to re-empower and improve the welfare of the 99%?”; “What do you think we, the 99%, need to do ourselves, things we cannot expect the government to do for us?” Then ask people to download a blank “99%” poster, write their answer to one of these questions on it, add their first name and city, and then send a photo or short video clip of themselves holding the poster to the answer compiler, who would craft them into a series of videos.
  • Create “virtual marches”: Use some kind of social/meeting software tool that can track and log the number of people signed in. Use meetup or some similar online scheduling tool to schedule a virtual march. At the scheduled time, people would sign in on the designated site, text in their expressions of solidarity, and perhaps watch Metamovement-related videos or livecasts together. If done on a community-by-community basis, those physically marching and occupying could then legitimately say they represented a group ten or a hundred or a thousand times greater.

THE METAMOVEMENT’S NEXT STEPS: THREE TYPES OF ACTIONS BEYOND MARCHES

It seems to me that actions proposed by the Metamovement will fall into three categories:

A. Demands of Government: Actions that need to be taken by governments and regulators,

B. Street Actions: Actions that the people in the Metamovement can do physically during the occupations, both to draw attention to our message and demands, and to demonstrate our collective will, and

C. Ongoing Local Initiatives: Actions that the communities of the Metamovement need to take responsibility for ourselves, on an ongoing basis, to begin to create a new economy and society and show the way to a new, community-based way of living, in which most power and responsibility will be vested. These initiatives would be local, but coordinated with those of other Metamovement communities.

It occurred to me that it might make sense to look at the various platforms of the Metamovement to see what types of actions might emerge in each of these three categories. Looking at the various manifestos and other statements of the Metamovement’s groups, the main objectives would seem to be:

  1. Re-empowerment of the people and communities (a real shift of decision-making power from the 1% to the 99% including more transparency in lobbying and less money in government decision-making, greater autonomy, and increased community self-management)
  2. Reining in of corporatist rights and privileges (end to: subsidies, bailouts, tax breaks, monopolies and oligopolies, deregulation and lack of enforcement of regulations, corporate personhood, corporate concentration of media ownership)
  3. Debt forgiveness (end to foreclosures, elimination of struggling nations’ debts, student loan debts, mortgages in excess of property value, usury etc.)
  4. Banking and money system reform
  5. Wealth and income redistribution and equalization (tax reform, break-up of excessive concentration, nationalization of industries in areas essential to public well-being)
  6. Free and universal access to health
  7. Free and universal access to education
  8. Right to decent livelihood (employment, support for self-employment and cooperatives etc.)
  9. Right to social security
  10. Economic system reforms to make the economy environmentally sustainable
  11. Peace and social justice (end to imperialist wars, greater equality of rights, security from unreasonable detention, surveillance and harassment)
  12. End to resource waste and destruction of the planet
  13. Shift in criteria used for political and economic decisions and laws from wealth and growth to happiness, justice and equality
  14. Food security

If we were to use this scheme, we could start to identify actions of each of the three types (Demands of Government; Street Actions; Ongoing Local Initiatives) to advance each of the 14 objectives. These might help bring direction and focus (and sustainability) to the Metamovement.

Here’s a 3 x 14 table we might use to define and sort these various actions. I’ve filled in some of the cells with a few ideas I’ve had, or which others I have spoken with have employed or suggested.

A. Demands of Governments B. Street Actions C. Ongoing Local Initiatives
1. Re-empowerment of the people and communities Campaign finance reform; Reinstate anti-monopoly laws; STV voting; nationalize essential goods and services industries Occupy the mainstream media, megapolluters, and the offices of corporate oligopolies and dysfunctional regulators (e.g. telcos, the Fed, Monsanto, Exxon, the Big 6 banks, ADM, Cargill, Koch, Wal-Mart)
2. Reining in corporate rights and privileges End to corporate ‘personhood’; replacing ‘free’ trade with ‘fair’ trade Marches Ongoing boycotts of the most egregious corporations (see e.g. list above left)
3. Debt forgiveness Mark all ‘underwater’ mortgages down to current market value of property; Student loan amnesty; Extinguish third world and oppressive international debts Blockades to prevent forced evictions (done in Madrid); Mass refuse-to-pay actions and mortgage burnings Buy up foreclosed homes and return them to the people (Sam Rose suggestion);
4. Banking and money system reform Reinstate anti-usury laws; Reinstate Glass-Steagall; break up the banks; nationalize the Fed Bank Transfer Day: Move your money from banks to credit unions November 5; Marches Create and support local currencies
5. Wealth and income redistribution Guaranteed annual income; increase capital gains taxes, taxes on passive (non-employment) income, excessive wealth and inheritance taxes, and speculation taxes; Reinstate progressive taxes on the rich and on corporations; Maximum income (beyond which tax is 100%) Campouts and “March of Shame” actions at the homes of the 1%
6. Free universal health care (Varies greatly depending on Occupiers’ country) Community-based preventative, diagnostic and self-treatment health programs
7. Free universal education (Varies greatly depending on Occupiers’ country) Unschooling and community-based self-directed learning programs
8. Decent livelihoods Reform taxes, duties and regulations to encourage instead of discourage creation of local employment; Improve teaching of and support for new cooperative enterprise creation Disseminate and offer free programs to teach and support the creation of new cooperative sustainable local enterprises that meet real human needs
9. Social security Guaranteed “living wage” pensions for all over 65 and for those unable to work or unable to find work
10. Making the economy sustainable Create national and international programs to move from a ‘growth’ economy to a steady-state economy ‘Buy Nothing’ and ‘Buy Local’ day information protests (staged at malls and other major retail locations) Local programs to help wean citizens off pensions, jobs and debt burdens that are dependent on the ‘growth’ economy; Community-based car-share, tool-share, swaps and other consumption-reducing and cost-saving programs; Re-learning how to make locally and repair/reuse products instead of buying new, imported ones.
11. Peace and social justice End wars in Middle East and covert anti-democratic actions elsewhere; close Guantanamo and other torture prisons; stop harassment of minorities and immigrants; legalize gay marriage; increase access to abortion and birth control Peace and pro-diversity (e.g. pro-immigration) marches Mass war tax resistance/ refusal
12. Ending environmental destruction End factory farming; Shut down tar sands and other megapolluters; Ban GM foods/seeds/agricultural chemicals; Introduce carbon taxes; Ban bottled water Blockade and occupy megapolluters, factory farms and GM facilities
13. Measuring what matters Replace collecting, publishing and using GDP and other ‘growth’ statistics for decision-making, with measures of well-being, resource waste, pollution, social justice, and equality; Have deceptive government data on ‘unemployment’ and ‘inflation’ replaced by independently calculated and audited data on true unemployment, underemployment, equity of wealth/income dissemination and real changes to the cost of living of the average citizen Mass dissemination (posters, placards, press conferences) of true measures of well-being, wealth and income distribution, pollution, inflation and un/underemployment Collect and widely publish (including sending to the mainstream media until they report them) true well-being, pollution, inflation and un/underemployment data
14. Food security End subsidies to Big Agriculture and replace them with subsidies to local, organic, fair trade foods; Regulate the private ownership, use and waste of freshwater; Tax unhealthy foods and keep them out of schools Buy Local, Buy Organic “Buy-Ins” to support local producers of healthy food Teaching about healthy foods and how to prepare them, and the dangers of unhealthy foods; Community kitchens and cooperatives to make healthy eating easier and more affordable

What would you add? Are there objectives missing? What else should we be demanding, doing, and self-organizing for ongoing community-based work? How can we build on the Metamovement phenomenon to start to achieve the objectives that 99% of us believe in, that the current power structures are disinclined to pursue?

[Belated thanks to Bruce Campbell for pointing me to Umair Haque's article on the Metamovement.]

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

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