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A Guide General Assembly
Be Reasonable Demand The Impossible
The intent of this guide is to provide the reader with information about how the General Assembly operates and how decisions are made to organize itself, make declarations, and endorse actions it wishes to put on. This Guide aims to facilitate and dynamize the development of the distinct Popular Assemblies generated since the birth of the Occupy Movement. This Guide will be reprinted and revised periodically. In no case does this offer a closed model that cannot be adapted by consensus to each respective concrete Assembly. All persons are invited to attend the Occupy Yerevan General Assembly and participate in meetings, work plans, and internal Assemblies- open to all who would like to attend and actively participate in its maintenance, perfection, and development.
At the writers home, someone asked Zabel Yessayan how she could suffer the inconveniences of Yerevan after the comforts of Paris. The expression on her face darkened as she delivered the following reply: “These inconveniences are meaningless in my eyes because I take an active part in building the future of our country.”
We’re feeling, observing, thinking, listening, talking, proposing, discussing, cooperating, learning, networking, communicating, attempting to understand one another, working, building... We’re struggling... to change an unfair system, we’re questioning its laws, its methods for participation and economic systems and we’re proposing specific and feasible alternatives. Our aim is to improve life on this planet for all its inhabitants. We’re creating... human and digital networks that give rise to new forms of collective knowledge, honing our increasingly effective analytical skills and furthering our joint decision-making mechanisms. We’re the world’s collective intelligence, in the process of organization. We’re developing... new ways to organize, interact and live. We’re combating the stasis induced by the system and pursuing ongoing development and improvement, active participation, reflection and analysis, decision and action.
! The Occupy Movement is an international one, inspired by the antidictatorial actions of Arab Spring and the anti-austerity occupations of Greece and Spain. Taking root in the United States, the heart of corporatism and corruption, the Occupy Movement now has the momentum of an International Movement. Of course, we here in the Republic of Armenia are in a unique place to confront corporatism and corruption, since we live in a landlocked country, by the greed and want of authoritative elites, oligarchs, and corrupt politicians mountains are being moved and individual liberties subverted in the name of ‘progress’ and ‘development’. There is a mass injustice taking place but we are not alone. The crisis we face is a global one and the solutions will come from the 99% of the world.
AN INTERNATIONAL MOVEMENT
Tahrir Square, Cairo, Egypt
! January 25, 2011 was a federal holiday in Egypt to commemorate the police, but thousands of people called for a “Day of Rage” instead and marched on the ruling party’s office in Cairo. Thus began the encampment of Tahrir Square, an occupation of public space that demanded the departure of President Mubarak and one that captured the attention of the entire world. The demonstrators took a new position, somewhere between pacifism and revolutionary violence: they were peaceful by and large, never taking up arms, but they defended themselves with force from police and pro-government aggression. On February 11th, buckling to unrelenting pressure across the whole of the country and much of the world, Mubarak resigned. It was bloody: at least 846 dead and 6,400 injured. But it provided a new model of revolution for the 21st century, one that used Twitter, Facebook, and other communication tools to create a horizontal structure of resistance.
Sol Square, Madrid, Spain
! On the fifteenth of May, 2011, the occupation movement came to Spain. Tagged on twitter as the #SpanishRevolution, what began with hundreds quickly became 25,000 and still worked on consensus models of decision making. The Madrid electoral committee banned demonstrations so close to the elections, but the demonstrators ignored the prohibition. On May 20th, the occupation spread to other cities in Spain. The day of the elections, the movement’s slogan became “they don’t represent us.” A week later, the police tried to break up the Barcelona occupation by force. The occupation, much like that in Egypt, chose to defend itself rather than be bullied out of public space. After that, the movement spread out to the neighborhoods: there were general assemblies at 41 neighborhoods in Madrid and 80 municipalities in the region. In June, protestors blocked politicians from entering the Catalan parliament. The Spanish camps were not cleared entirely until August.
Syntagma Square, Athens, Greece
! The International Monetary Fund was demanding severe cuts from all sectors of Greek spending, driving the country into economic ruin and people into misery. In response and directly inspired by the #SpanishRevolution, occupations sprang up across the country. The demonstrations in Syntagma Square in Athens began with over 30,000 participants. The largely peaceful occupations and demonstrations lasted two months, peaking at 200,000 participants. At the occupation, anyone expressing an affiliation with a political party was largely excluded from the conversation: the people of Greece had tried electoral politics, electing a leftist party into power, but had been betrayed. Instead, people directly resisted the cuts of public services, refusing to accommodate the austerity measures, and this directly affected Greek policy despite overwhelming pressure from international powers.
Liberty Square, New York City, USA
! Facing increasing cuts of public services in the United States, and frustrated with a society run in the name of corporate interests, an occupation of Wall Street began on September 17th, 2011. #OccupyWallStreet was directly inspired by the Spanish model of consensus, horizontal decisionmaking, and the use of popular media like Twitter and Facebook. Live video of the occupation has been streaming over the web since the beginning. The occupation has inspired hundreds of occupations in the United States, in major cities and universities, leading to notable actions in Oakland and Los Angeles. On the night of November 15th, 2011 police in riot gear raided the Wall Street encampment and evicted all occupiers. Constitutional rights, civil liberties were violated, nearly 200 were arrested. During the raid the Occupy Wall Street Media Team issued an official statement under the following heading, “You can’t evict an idea whose time has come.” At the time of this writing, many other encampments have been raided and cleared. The movement has spread to neighborhoods across the country: it is there that the people take an active part in real change. General Assemblies are still taking place. This is not over, It is a process, It will take time.
Republic Square, Yerevan, Armenia
PRINCIPLES OF SOLIDARITY
All life is one. Our oneness calls us to want, and to work for, the perpetuity of love. We are directed by great feelings of love for humanity. One must have a large dose of humanity, a large dose of a sense of justice and truth in order to avoid dogmatic extremes, cold scholasticism, or an isolation from the masses. We must strive every day so that this love of living humanity is transformed into actual deeds, into acts that serve as examples, as a moving force. ! All of humanity is entitled to the same rights and freedoms, without distinction of any kind, such as race, color, sex, sexual orientation, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty. Four distinct freedoms shall be maintained: Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Worship, Freedom from Want, Freedom from Fear.
PRINCIPLES OF NON-VIOLENCE
1) Nonviolence is a way of life for courageous people. • • • It is active nonviolent resistance to evil. It is assertive spiritually, mentally, and emotionally. It is always persuading the opponent of the justice of your cause.
2) Nonviolence seeks to win friendship and understanding. • • The end result of nonviolence is redemption and reconciliation. The purpose of nonviolence is the creation of the Civil Society.
3) Nonviolence seeks to defeat injustice, not people. • Nonviolence holds that wrongdoers are also victims.
4) Nonviolence holds that voluntary suffering can educate and transform. • • • • • Nonviolence willingly accepts the consequences of its acts. Nonviolence accepts suffering without retaliation. Nonviolence accepts violence if necessary, but will never inflict it. Unearned suffering is redemptive and has tremendous educational and transforming possibilities. Suffering can have the power to convert the enemy when reason fails.
5) Nonviolence chooses love instead of hate. • • • • • • • Nonviolence resists violence of the spirit as well as of the body. Nonviolent love gives willingly, knowing that the return might be hostility. Nonviolent love is active, not passive. Nonviolent love does not sink to the level of the hater. Love for the enemy is how we demonstrate love for ourselves. Love restores community and resists injustice. Nonviolence recognizes the fact that all life is interrelated.
6) Nonviolence believes that the universe is on the side of justice. • The nonviolent resister has deep faith that justice will eventually win.
! Collective thought is that which is the result of a synthesis of individual intelligences and ideas, not an eclectic sum, but a synthesis. Individual intelligences put to the service of the common good, a creation from difference, understanding difference as an element which provides enrichment of common understanding: Feel part of a whole, Stop letting feelings of “otherness” permeate. Collective thought is totally opposite the current system, which is governed by individual thought. Normally before a decision is made two people with opposing ideas will have to fiercely confront and defend each other’s ideas, with the objective being to convince, win-over, or arrive at a middle point. The Objective of collective thought is to construct. That is to say, two people with different ideas put their energies into constructing something. It doesn’t seek, therefor, towards the either/or-your idea or mine. It is both ideas together, in communion, which will give us a new product which a priori we did not know- neither you nor I. For this reason active listening--where we are not only preparing the reply which we will give--is so necessary.
! An Assembly is a meeting space of equality between persons who have a common end. It could be: Information: participants give information of common interest. There is no debate. Reflection: Try to think together about a subject, a situation, or a problem. Information is needed but there does not need to a be a decision at the moment. Decision: Implies that the group should reach some common conclusion or resolution about the worked upon subject. To reach that it is necessary to take the two anterior steps (have information and think about it) to reach the construction of a consensus. A Popular Assembly is a participatory decision-making body which seeks consensus. It seeks the best arguments to make a decision that is most in agreement with different opinions, not pitting them against one another like what happens when there is a vote. Its development should be peaceful, respecting every one’s opinions. We must leave prejudices and ideologies at home. An assembly should not center itself on ideological discourse but on practical questions: “What do we need? How do we get what we need?” The assembly is based on free association, if you’re not in agreement with what has been divided, you’re not obligated to do it. Everyone is free to do as they wish, the assembly seeks to generate collective intelligence, common lines of thinking, and action. It foments dialogue and we get to learn about each other. Many different kinds of assemblies have been employed until now; Work-Group assemblies, Committee assemblies, Neighborhood and Municipal Assemblies and General Assemblies in occupations and regions throughout the world. These General Assemblies are the ultimate deliberative instance, after which final consensus is adopted to articulate distinct lines of Joint Action for the particular autonomous groups involved in the movement.
! Consensus is an inclusive and non-hierarchical process for group devision making. It is a method by which the input and ideas of all participants are gathered and synthesized in order to arrive at a final decision acceptable to all. Through consensus, we are not only working to achieve better solutions, but paving the way for an egalitarian model of community decision making. Consensus means that the group has come to a devision in which everyone feels their position on the matter was considered carefully and addressed as much as possible. It doesn’t mean that every single person agrees that the decision made is the only way to do things. Consensus is the collective development of a solution or a decision about a common subject. It is not the development of a proposal which includes all individual necessities but a synthesis of all the individual opinions for the construction of the best option for the common object of the collective. It implies: Having clear a common objective of the collective. Have a conscience that the collective is built beginning with the contributions and knowledge of each individual, of which is necessary the communication, attention , and respect of the opinions of each individual. Know that this is not a competition, but a construction. Know that it requires a process, and give it time to take the steps necessary for it. The steps are: Create a group climate of relaxation, attention, respect, and complicity within the group. Have a clarity about the task which is to be worked on. Offer the information to each individual or subgroup, so that it serves as elements of analysis for reflection. Make a reflection. Start building the proposal beginning with the points which are clearly held in common. Advance, step by step in the development of the proposal through collective thought. Celebrate the achievement of that collective thought. Direct Consensus: is reached WITHOUT contrary opinions, in a direct form: Proposal Consensus Indirect Consensus: Consensus which is reached after debating different positions surrounding a proposal which HAS NOT reached Direct Consensus.
! Consensus is the form of final decision of the Assemblies on each concrete proposal that is shared. Proposals can be presented by a Committee, a Work Group, or an individual person- at the Yerevan General Assembly, all proposals need to be submitted through the proposal process. A consensus is reached (for now) when, in the assembly, there is NO singles position roundly against that which is presented. All Proposals should be presented according to this formula: What: What is being proposed Why: Why is it being proposed How: If consensus is reached, how would the said proposal be developed. Steps to reach Indirect Consensus: Proposal--> Open/Close Stack for Questions--> Temp-Check (any hard blocks?) No Consensus?--> Open/Close stacks for Concerns/Affirmations/Friendly Amendments) Restate/Reform--> Temp-Check--> Consensus? No?--> Break-Out Restate/Reform--> Temp-Check--> Consensus? No--> Open/Close Stack(C/A/FA) Restate?--> Temp-Check?--> Consensus? No--> Send back for development.
! Temp-Check: Assembled Persons are asked to represent their feelings with the common hand-gestures Stack: Ordered commentary around a proposal Concerns: Reasons for not supporting or feeling positive about this proposal Affirmation: Reasons for supporting this proposal Friendly-Amendments: Changes to proposal that would help in its application and/or help build consensus Restate/Reformulation: Restate and/or reformulate the proposal based upon what was heard in discussions Break-out: Assembled Persons dialogue in seats for 3-5 minutes.
! It is important to maintain calm body language so as not to transmit to the assembly any feelings or personal opinions; we remind at all times the value of a smile in moments of tension or blockage. Fatigue and hurry are the enemies of consensus. Logistics Team: Upwards of three people in charge of facilitating and/or employing the tools necessary for the development of the Assembly(drawing a seating map on the floor to organize spaces, passages to permit movement among those seated, control of the microphone, offer chairs or seats to people with diminished mobility or energy, give out water or umbrellas in the case of heat and sun, etc.) Assembled Persons: Every person attending the Assembly, including the Facilitation Teams and members of the Committees or Groups. They are the reason for being of the Assembly. Its beginning is its ultimate end. We are all responsible for the dynamics and construction within the assembly. Its function: Hear distinct speakers; participate in questions which require debate through Stacks, and create individual proposal or subjective valorizations in the “Open-Mic” time (made available normally towards the end of each assembly) by signing up with the comrades keeping stack. Stackers: From two to four people (according to the number of people assembled) situated amongst the Assembled Persons near the aisle-ways. It is recommended that they carry something distinctive so that they can be located quickly. Often carrying a sign saying “STACK” lifted high for visibility, especially after each commentary. They are in charge of writing down all requests for a Speaking Turn by all those who ask for one. To prevent disorder and to make the process more agile, they ask requesting comrades: Is this related to what we are speaking about? Are you repeating directly something that has already been said? In favor or against? With this information, the comrade will indicate if this can be passed into the the Shadow-Stackers or (if it is not directly related to the subject up for debate) they will take their name down to call them for the “Open Mic” turn(there is no rebuttal phase). They maintain a conciliatory, positive, neutral, and patient profile. They also collect the requests for relief of the person moderating that turn. As is possibly, give priority of speaking turns to people who have not yet spoken. A habitual slip is not announcing the close of each Speaking Turn within each subject of debate. It is convenient to limit this according to general feeling so as not to elongate each question.
Shadow Stackers: One or two people in close and constant communication with the “STACKERS” in charge of collecting the distinct petitions for Speaking Turns that arrive in order to sort them and pass them along to the moderators. In the case of being in the middle of an open debate, above all if it is heated, they inform and coordinate the distinct Speaking Turns in waiting so as to avoid repetitions of the same messages or mediate between similar positions so that they are presented as a single message which unifies the common contents. The coordinators only serve as a formal filter, in no case will they asses the value of the contents of each intervention. In order to insure that speakers stay on point, they should first remind them of the topic of debate, in the case of not being related they should inform speakers of other spaces for debate and reflection (speaker-corners, work-groups). Once speakers are coordinated, the team will indicate to facilitators the agreed upon order so that the moderator knows who goes first. Team-Shadow Moderators: Two or three people who support the moderator. They are the checks and balances of the moderator. The only ones who directly influence the moderator to favor his/her concentration and impartiality. They are located around the moderator’s space. They are in charge of helping the person moderating to synthesize and reformulate proposals in an objective and impartial way, facilitate the flow of information that comes from “Coordination” to the moderator so that he/she can allow people to speak in an approriate order; try to prevent that any assembled person distracts the concentration of the moderator, and they should help those people who have a hard time speaking in public; slipping them vocabulary, making them aware of possibly errors in synthesis of each speech, informing them of some sudden notice, reminding them of the Order of the Day in the case of difficulties, etc. An important support function to insure the positive development of the assembly can be to incorporate various persons who concentrate on intervening dirtly in the case of stoppages, overheated discussions, or significant deviations from the subject. Its function would be to remind the assembly of the value of Collective Thought, the importance of Active Listening, and the meaning of Consensus.
Rotative Moderator(s): One ore more persons who can rotate in the case of a high number of attendees or accumulated tension in the assembly. It will always be the moderation team as a whole which decides when and how a rotation is completed, always with the goal of the correct development of the Assembly. The moderator could ask voluntarily for a rotation. The moderator should help the assembly flow, uniting the feelings of the assembly more than respecting a protocol, the ideal would be that this figure is dispensable (all should respect all). They are in charge of welcoming attending people; informing about the nature and basic function of the Assembly, presenting the facilitation teams and their functions; Moderate, in a positive and conciliatory way, divergences without positioning themselves with any position presented. Inform about the evolution of each round of positions in favor or against during the process of Indirect Consensus. Briefly recap each comment during those rounds of debate and after those comments which require it. And repeat consensuses as they have been taken in the Minutes. They will also explain the symbols that attendees use in case the speaker does not know them (it is recommended that the public be advised not to express these motions―as much as possible―until each comment is finished, so as not to condition the speaker). Just the same, this person is in charge of favoring a fluid and positive climate for exchanging of ideas in the most objective tone possible. In case of it being necessary to alleviate certain tensions generated, remind of the positive value that all debate gives the Movement and motivate those in attendance to favor their participation and good energy. In the case of being considered necessary, the moderator could be substituted by the consented petition of the assembly. The moderation team should inform the assembly of all conversations they have away from the microphone to foment transparency. Moderator: The moderator’s job is to help the group efficiently move through the agreed-upon agenda and to make room for people to have their opinions heard on the topics being discussed. Moderators should see that speaking turns are evenly distributed, that quiet people get a chance to speak and people who talk too much are given a change to listen. The facilitator should not use their position as a platform from which to offer solutions; solutions should arise from the group, and no one should facilitate if they find they have strong opinions on a given issue. A facilitator can always hand over her or his responsibilities temporarily if s/he feels it necessary to step down. The group should not rely upon the Moderator to solve process problem, but should be ready to help with suggestions on how to proceed.
INTERPRETERS: One or two people in charge of translating into sign-language all oral commentary from the Assembly and to translate to the Assembly the possible comments of people with auditory or verbal disabilities; they should have one support person in front of them. To facilitate their work it is important not to stand in front of them or talk too fast In the case of being exposed to direct sunlight, the Logistics Team will situate two people behind the interpreters with umbrellas to give them shade. Other language interpreters will also be called for to facilitate discussion for participants who may not be comfortable speaking and listening to Armenian Fluidly. Minutes: One or two people in charge of taking note of all commentary, while not having to take down an exact transcript. In the case of consensus resolutions they can solicit the textual repetition of the agreed upon points to be ratified by the assembly and so that they can be written correctly. Normally, one takes notes by hand and another by computer, in order to check each other if the need arises. In case of direct sunlight, the logistics team can situate people behind the Minutes team to give them shade. They should read all points of consensus to the assembly at the end of each session so that all agreements are clear.
Making a Decision in a Limited Amount of Time
It is the moderator’s responsibility to quickly and succinctly articulate the problem to be discussed and to eliminate those points on which agreement has already been reached. It is the responsibility of everyone in the group to keep the discussion to a minimum if quick action is called for. If a point has already been made by someone else, don’t restate it. A calm approach and a clear desire to come to an agreement quickly can help the process. Don’t let anxiety overwhelm your trust in each other or your purpose in the action. Strong Objections should be limited to matters of principle.
With the goal of making the processes of collective expression more agile in the Assemblies, the following body motions have been agreed upon:
Description: Hold your hands up, palm open, and fan your fingers back and forth. Meaning: You agree with the proposal or you like what your are hearing.
Description: Hold your hands downward and fan your fingers back and forth. Meaning: You disagree with the proposal or dislike what your are hearing.
Description: Hold your hands flat and fan your fingers up and down Meaning: You’re taking a neutral stance on the proposal
Description: Curl your hands and fingers into a letter-C shape. Meaning: You either have or need clarifying information
Description: Raise your index finger up. Meaning: You have information pertinent to the discussion (not your opinions).
Description: Make a triangle shape with your hand by joining your index fingers and thumbs. Meaning: Telling the group that the process by which discussions are held is not being followed.
Description: Cross your arms in front of your chest to form an X. Meaning: You have very strong moral or ethical reservations about the proposal and will consider leaving the group if it passes. Used to denote outright objection. The proposal or commentary threatens the solidarity of the movement. Consensus cannot be reached(currently) whilst these positions exist.
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