Tuesday, October 25, 2011

This is What a Leaderless Movement Looks Like

In April, 2000, Time Magazine ran an article about the organizational structure of the groups who planned the demonstrations in Seattle during the meetings of the World Trade Organization in late 1999, and of those who were planning similar protests during the upcoming meetings of the IMF and World Bank. I had participated in the demonstrations in Seattle, and at the time that the article came out Guari and I were helping out at the Convergence Center in Washington, DC, where the IMF/World Bank protests were being planned. We led nonviolence trainings and participated in the “spokes council” meetings, where we made decisions through a consensus process for nonviolent direct action.

The writer of the article compared what the media called the “anti-globalization” movement to a school of fish, with individual fish moving together in a particular direction, intentionally and organically, without an identified leader. There are important differences between those earlier demonstrations and what is going on at Occupy Wall Street, but it seems to me that the school of fish metaphor still holds. This is a “horizontal” movement, without the commonly assumed hierarchies of race, class, gender, gender identity, name recognition, or connections. Decisions are made through consensus. I'll write more about this later. But essentially, no one is in charge. There is no head.

On of the strengths of this form of organizing is that without a leader, there is no one to target or discredit in order to destroy the movement. If there is no “head,” the movement can't be beheaded. If there are no “followers,” there is no one to be led astray. There are simply individuals who treat each other with respect, talking, listening, and working together for the common good.

Individuals are encouraged to educate themselves, listen to their consciences, claim their space, and find their voice. Those who are used to leading and who think they know how things should be done are encouraged to make space for others and to open themselves to perspectives that they may not have considered before.

Facilitators encourage this dynamic by explaining the concept “Step up, step back.” If you have been traditionally marginalized, if you have not been encouraged to speak, or if it has been hard for you to express yourself, step up! Claim your right to speak, to say your piece. On the other hand, if you have been privileged, and if you are used to speaking out and making your voice heard, step back. Make space for someone else. Don't dominate the conversation. The principle “Step up, step back” is not imposed. Rather, it's a principle that people are asked to consider and observe. It's a consciousness-raising practice

Okay, tomorrow I promise I will give you stories and pictures, not ideas and concepts. Reinette arrived this evening and we went back down to the park and met Jason there. Tomorrow you will get specifics. And now, good-night. 

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for these inspiring posts. Swim on, even sharks need love...