Public Comment

New: Occupy Berkeley Report

By Steve Martinot
Sunday October 09, 2011 - 03:11:00 PM

The Berkeley occupation, joining some 900 other cities, has begun. Though the original call was for people to come to the B of A grounds at Center and Shattuck to plan an occupation, which would then begin on Saturday, Oct. 15, 100 people showed up, and the decision was made to begin right away. 

The process was inspiring, at least to me. The people, upon arriving at the assemblage, all had different thoughts about what was to transpire, about how to understand the corporate enemy, and with little common conception of what to do first, where to do it, or how. Slowly, over the course of a few hours, those issues were resolved. It was slow, but only those who think that time is money would be frustrated by the rate of speed of the process. What the assemblage sought for most was an understanding in common. 

The procedure was one of consensus, traditionally a difficult process for a large group. Consensus works best for small groups of a dozen or twenty. But for this assemblage, knowing that this had worked in OccupySF, and in OccupyWallSt, and other places, consensus was the means, and it worked. 

The decisions made were first, to start the occupation on that day, Saturday, October 8, which meant that a number of people came forward and said that they would camp out there starting tonight; second, to make it an occupation in the sense that all the others were; third, that the General Assembly for this occupation would meet every day at 6 pm, and be composed of those who were there, acting to support the encampment and the occupation; and finally, that the General Assembly would be the direction and guidance of the occupation, and that all committees and activities would be responsible to it as a decision making body. 

Each of these decisions emerged out of serious oppositions and choices. Whether to start right away raised the issue that it would only be a few people to start, and thus risked creating a great vulnerability. But various resources were offered that strengthened the feeling toward action. The issue whether this should be an "official" occupation, a true "sister" encampment to all the others raised the debate over whether it should be at the B of A or at MLK park, opposite City Hall. Those who volunteered to be the first campers chose the B of A. The issue of the General Assembly meeting each day at 6 was easily resolved. And people took a break to return at 6 that very day to compose the first GA. 

I was amazed and heartened at the ability of the assemblage to come together, even from moments when it was evenly divided pro and con on an issue, and arrive at a consensus. This happened a number of times. People took seriously the notion that process is important, and in fact, primary. 

The first GA (at 6 pm) was composed of about 30 people, almost all of whom had been at the noon assemblage. It addressed the issue of whether consensus worked or not, the question of facilitation, the question of respect for difference, the question of organizing committees to take care of tactical considerations, and proposals on process and organization. The meeting continued after I left at around 7 pm. 

One aspect of these assemblages is particularly noteworthy, and that is the use of the "people's mike" – in place of the electronic technology by which we have become used to speaking to groups. With the people's mike, those who can hear the speaker repeat what the speaker says, so the those who can't hear the speaker can hear the repetition, which is louder because spoken by many in unison. This puts the speaker in a position of speaking only short phrases, and pausing while the assemblage repeats his/her words for those more distant. It means that the speaker can be (and really has to be) more circumspect, more concise, more directly to the point. It is also edifying for the speaker to hear his/her own words in echo. And harangues become very difficult, if not impossible. Things become clearer when one has to slow down, which the "people's mike" requires. As each person is recognzed by the facilitator, s/he says "mike check" to get the attention of those nearby, who then repeat "mike check," and then function as the people's mike for what the person then has to say. 

It is truly wonderful how slowing things down this way really speeds them up. 

Late breaking item: about 6 people slept at the encampment last night (Saturday, oct. 8), divided between activist and some homeless who have been sleeping on that corner for certain lengths of time. Everyone slept well, and there is plenty food there for them. Everyone should get down there when and if they can.