Who’s Occupying the Occupy Movement?

Ironically, rigid adherence to an “open” communication process undermined communication.

Occupy Seattle General Assembly (by Jaxon Brooks via Wikipedia)
Occupy Seattle General Assembly (by Jaxon Brooks via Wikipedia)

Here in Seattle the local offshoot of the Occupy Wall Street movement, appropriately named Occupy Seattle, recently occupied itself–or so it was reported by Dominic Holden in the weekly arts, entertainment, and politics publication The Stranger: Occupy Seattle Disrupts Pro-Occupy Wall Street Forum, Drives Away Supporters.

To summarize: while certain Occupy Seattle “representatives” were participating in a pro-Occupy public panel discussion including prominent local sympathizers, other “representatives” effectively prevented the panel members from speaking.

I spent some time reading the comments to the Stranger post, trying to understand what had happened, and gleaned two insights:

  1. Some attendees apparently thought this was, or should be, an Occupy event, and thus felt strongly that it must be run using Occupy’s “General Assembly” (GA) process. As a consequence “votes” about whether to use the GA process took up most of the time allotted for the event.
  2. Some seemed to take the position that the GA is an end unto itself, which I gathered from those who
    • opined the event was useful anyway simply because it trained people in the GA-style hand signals,
    • continued to “disrupt” the event using GA style hand signals, etc., even after a majority apparently voted not to use the GA process, and/or
    • seemed to attribute the event’s outcome to organizers’ failure to use the GA process—as contrasted with the “great conversation” they said they attended downstairs after the event, which presumably used the GA process.

While I applaud the idea of providing public forums in which everyone has an opportunity to speak, and admire those who seek to develop improved processes for public expression, I’m disappointed by those people who seemed to think that a particular communication process is an end unto itself. There is no panacea for communication problems, in my humble opinion, wish as I might there was.

I conclude that if Occupy is wedded to deploying a one-size-doesn’t-fit-all communication process in every situation it is fundamentally flawed. But I’m still listening to people who identify with Occupy because everyone can learn to communicate better. Ideally this winds up serving as an experiment. Let’s hope that many of the folks involved learn from it, their personal communication ability improves, and they provide leadership in their communities accordingly.

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