Occupy Phoenix: General Assembly Is Everything
As The Local Movement Nears Wrap Of Second Week, Participation, Understanding Wanes
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The Occupy Phoenix Logo.
View Occupy Phoenix Event Locations in a larger map
By John Guzzon
Modern Times Magazine
Oct. 25, 2011 — What a week or so it has been for Occupy Phoenix. The opening weekend saw hundreds march in downtown Phoenix, thousands come to the first day at Cesar Chavez plaza, and then nearly 50 arrests at Margaret T. Hance park when the occupiers refused to leave.
Nearly two weeks later, some people in the Valley still have no idea what is going on. Others have no idea that it ever happened or that it is still going on. Or that, although they have never been to Cesar Chavez plaza, they know what the movement is all about. In short, there is a lot of confusion on all sides.
Firstly, for all those who don’t know, the occupation of Cesar Chavez plaza IS active. Although thrown out of Margaret T. Hance park Saturday night, protests continued in Cesar Chavez plaza beginning Sunday. At night, protesters had to do their work along the sidewalk on Washington Ave. By Wednesday, police and the city’s legal team had decided to let them stay in Cesar Chavez plaza through the night, provided they did not set up tents or sleep since they would be in violation of city ordinance 23-30 which bans “urban camping.” Since that day, at least 2o people have been there all day and all night. Sometimes the numbers of people active in the plaza might stretch as high as 500, but usually it is about 100 or less.
But the movement is not all about ‘boots on the ground’ at Chavez plaza. There are hundreds who follow the movement via the live-feed and accompanying chat. View the live feed here. That group has gone so far as to form a Facebook community, called the Cyber 99 — or Cyber99 — that does most of the Internet heavy lifting for the group. Their Facebook page is located here.
But the spirit of Occupy Phoenix and the other occupy movements across the nation is not the act of occupying. Nor can the spirit of the movement be found in any one person, point of view or agenda.
While the occupy movements were spurred by corporate greed and the diminishing political and economic power of the middle class, what has kept it alive is that the ‘leaderless movement’ has found a way to make that work: the general assembly.
The general assembly, or GA, is where the real spirit can be found.
Beginning at Occupy Wall Street, the general assembly is a set of ‘rules’ that makes a discussion by a large — several thousand at maximum, though — group of people possible. The general assembly is open to everyone and everyone gets a chance to speak. An elaborate system of hand signals and repeating what each speaker says has been established and added to a standard agenda that can be found at any governmental meeting.
These general assemblies are responsible for everything from forming the cleanup, media, first-aid and any other committee that must work to make the occupation work. It is also the forum to create “demands or a “manifesto” or a “statement of principles” from each movement. But since the occupy movements are truly a direct democracy, finding consensus on what they all will “demand” has been hard.
Occupy Phoenix holds two general assembly meeting a day at Cesar Chavez plaza, one at 10 a.m. and one at 7 p.m. A first draft of demands has not even been written. Occupy Wall Street has not been able to find consensus yet and they have been at it the longest.
While the spirit of the occupy movement may rest in the general assembly, what makes it live there is the open and direct democracy in action. The core who take part in it realize that they are having their voice heard and if they can get others to believe in them, it is simple to get something said or done.
Take for example, one proposal made at the Saturday morning general assembly at Cesar Chavez plaza. One woman said the local movement should show their good will by walking around the city and picking up trash. It was passed by the masses, signups were held and they went out and picked up trash.
Must be very empowering.
The reason the general assembly also might be so popular is because people are used to having their vote really heard in this modern world. Anyone can vote on American Idol, why not on the city or state’s budget?
Occupy Phoenix gives them a bit of that power back. Whereas out political system sits firmly in the republican system, these people are longing to get involved and help decide society's future. This form of direct democracy is what appeals to them and what just might be the big impact on what eventually comes out of this movement.
The founding fathers went the representative route because they were worried that tyranny can come from the majority. But what has happened after more than 200 years is two parties that have simply begun to act in the same way. When the democrats hold majority they pass things by themselves. And the republicans return the favor.
The promotion of a more direct democratic system might also garner support from other groups, as well such as the tea party and other conservatives who might come to realize that working together directly is a lot better than feeding politicians for influence.
All the same, though, direct democracy is hard work. The Occupy Phoenix general assembly meetings, while small, are still progressing to where they can operate smoothly. And that is 40 to 100 people these days.
Can the answer come from technology?
Direct democracy is not a new idea and was part of the national discussion less than 20 years ago when Ross Perot made his bid for president in 1992. The modern equivalent of the Athens “town hall” system is electronic direct democracy — a.k.a. open source governance, collaborative governance or E-democracy — ideas on how to utilize telecommunications to facilitate public participation.
That brings us right back to the Cyber 99 of Occupy Phoenix. As the group solidified during the first week, they started making proposals to how they could be equally represented at the general assembly while watching the live stream. As of yet, it hasn’t been truly worked out so that those at home and those in the plaza are with each other.
But if anyone, anywhere can figure that out — and with the limited technology resources that available in parks across the country — the occupy movements might make more of a mark than past movements.
Anyone want to vote on it?
For more information, visit the #OccupyPhoenix Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/#!/occupyphoenix and the group’s Twitter page at http://twitter.com/#!/occupyphoenix.