Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Occupy Las Cruces: Practicing what we wish to see

On Sunday evening, the Burning House attended a General Assembly meeting for the newly-forming Occupy Las Cruces community. It had begun with some teach-ins on the NMSU campus and local parks and a demonstration outside of a Bank of America last weekend, and it was evident that interest is growing quickly. Thirty people gathered at the Milagro coffee shop near NMSU, and most of us were new.

What follows are a few observations and reflections, disorganized.

Part of the story here is the process itself. The meeting had two de facto moderators, individuals who had been instrumental in LC from the beginning and set a provisional agenda for the evening, but no one was "in charge." The group has adopted a vocabulary of hand signals that facilitate group communication while people are speaking, and allow for frequent measures of consensus. It was one of the most democratic organizational meetings I've witnessed.

When there is no chairman wielding a gavel, it is very easy for meetings to get bogged down, sidetracked, or filibustered. Keeping things on track and making decisions as a group required vigilance and patience by everyone present. These are skills that require practice and even some instruction. At times, I observed frustration and impatience arise among people at the meeting, and it was inspiring to see people rest those hostilities in mind of a wider purpose.

The process, again, is an important part of the story. The process is equally as important as anybody's eloquent ideas about history or politics. It seems clear that a critical mass of people is waking up to the fact that our political system is not representative of the people, and is in effect a plutocracy (rule by the wealthy). There are certainly conflicting opinions about electoral politics, the two major parties, and capitalism itself, but there is common ground with respect to representation: a sense that we are governed by remote institutions, indifferent to our welfare.

It follows that if people want to talk seriously about a more representative politics, or even a more participatory politics, citizens need to train themselves in the skills and processes of functional democracy. In other words, to practice what we desire to see in the world.

In New York City, the occupation of Wall Street is now in its second month. Its durability and its impressive discipline (considering its size, the violence of the NYPD, and the pressures of camping out and cooperating in this democratic style, etc.) are remarkable and owe much to its dedication to a different process.

We don't need to wait for another MLK or a Gandhi to lead us. We might not even want a leader like that. We may be ready for a different process of transformation.

[Photo: A sign posted at the Milagro coffee shop, where our meeting took place. You can click on it for a larger view and easier reading.]

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