Friday, October 21, 2011

Will Occupy Wall Street, as an experiment in consensus-building, FAIL?

An article on CNN suggests that, because Occupy Wall Street is using a pure consensus process, it will ultimately fail.  Perhaps a pure consensus process won't scale up to work for the country as a whole, but I wonder if that means OWS will fail to influence U.S. politics.  Whether a given experiment FAIL's or not does depend the the yardstick against which you measure success or failure.

Would success mean that consensus becomes the process for every political decision in the U.S.?  What changes as the outcome of the OWS experiment will mean success?  The tail end of the article holds up the Tea Party as an example of success, and how they went from protests in the street to taking dozens of political offices around the country.  In other words, the CNN article would judge a protest movement by its success in getting people elected to office so they can directly change policies and laws.

The Tea Party is an interesting example because they were the exact opposite of consensus.  You may remember the many times Tea Party activists attended political events with the express intent to disrupt, to shout, to scream, and other forms of basic belligerence.  OWS's consensus process seems like a breath of fresh air after all the shouting and belligerence from the Tea Party.

By way of example the CNN article gives this story:-

Earlier this month, Rep. John Lewis, D-Georgia, showed up at an Occupy Wall Street demonstration in Atlanta and asked if he could address the crowd. The distinguished civil rights leader wanted to speak to the people in his district, and at first, it looked like he had the support of the group.

But then, one man, while acknowledging Lewis' contributions to society, said the Occupy Wall Street movement is a Democratic process, "in which no singular human being is inherently more valuable than any other human being." That led to a 10-minute group discussion before it was decided by consensus that Lewis should not be allowed to speak.

In other words, a sitting U.S. Congressperson was not allowed to just assume they could speak before an OWS General Assembly.  Through a consensus process.  A couple paragraphs later the article makes this claim as the starting off point for discussing the Tea Party electoral success:

"I think that's the danger of this kind of process," Linsky said. "If we say we're going to operate by consensus, which is everybody has to agree, well, the only way you can get everybody to agree when people have different agendas is to agree on something that is so ethereal as to be meaningless."

Linsky warns that this addiction to a process in which everybody has a voice could spell the demise for Occupy Wall Street. His advice to people taking part in the demonstrations is to run for office, work for a campaign and learn from the tea party.

Again, how would you define success for OWS?

I wonder whether OWS were to spawn some OWS-inspired candidates to win offices next year, how long would it be before they were corrupted by the political process and become like any other hated politician?

I think the system is wrong and that electing a few people to office to change a few laws won't fix the system.  I also think many OWS people would agree.

Occupy Wall Street: An experiment in consensus-building