Saturday, October 8, 2011

On Our Structure

Occupy Wall Street, and by extension OccupySTL, has been derisively called a group lacking principles. We see popular media pundits criticizing us for our lack of focus, and many of them seem to look a bit flustered when they cannot pin the movement down to a specific point on the political spectrum. Some argue that this is precisely our strength. The bottom 99% has been brought together by its collective anger and rebellion against the top 1%; a few supporters say that this unity is enough in itself. In a heavily mediated world which has made every issue into a partisan one, this instance of the left and right coming together to find common ground and a unified voice is an exceedingly rare and noteworthy act, even if their opinions occasionally diverge from one another. Though there is some grain of truth to both approaches in looking at the movement, neither of them touch on a crucially important part of the protest: its structure of organization. Dismissed as anarchic by our detractors, and occasionally appearing senseless even to our supporters, the principles embodied in how we conduct ourselves from day to day are perhaps the most telling and uplifting aspects of the movement.

OccupySTL calls itself a leaderless group, but this tells only half of it. We are all leaders. Those just arriving at Kiener Plaza have as much say in our decision-making as those who have been there the entire week. Anyone is free to volunteer for a committee, and many of our successes lie in our protesters' taking initiative and doing so. These committees have a system of accountable and recallable representatives, who communicate with members and representatives of other groups. We on the outreach committee frequently meet with the members of the broader media teams, and together arrive at solutions to problems which have occasionally cropped up. In this way, all participate with as much leverage as everyone else. Tenure and status should not divide us, just as our differing political views have not prevented us from coming together.

Though we have facilitators at our general assemblies guiding discussion, they are not ideologues whose role it is to steer the group into one political direction or another with lofty rhetoric. Instead, they participate on equal footing with those who have come to the meeting. They too must raise their hand to give an opinion, and only have as much "power" as the assembled group has given them. They too are volunteers, not bosses, and are members of an open committee. All of us have learned that a promise made by a politician does not always translate into action; anyone will say nearly anything to get elected to some position of status. Facilitators are held accountable for their role in assemblies, and are not exempt from the rules governing the rest of us. If you take issue with something one of them has said, approach them afterward and politely speak to them about it. Feel free to correct them. They make mistakes like anyone else, and are interested in getting better at their job.

More than anything, OccupySTL is not a place where a power-hungry 1% dominate the rest of the movement. We are instead the model of the more egalitarian society we are striving for. It is our role to show the media, and show the world, that this kind of coexistence is possible without a small fraction coming to rule the remaining group. That kind of behavior is what landed us here in the first place, and it is that from which we must constantly guard ourselves. If we are able to succeed, and I honestly think we will, we will have been the start of a much brighter future. Many of you will have heard Gandhi's maxim on being the "change you wish to see in the world." It is the role of OccupySTL to do just that.


  1. Great explanation of our structure! Nice job, Greg :)

  2. Wonderful. Read your statement and was so glad to see that things are decided on consensus. A difficult method, but the only truly fair one.
    Keep up the good work!