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Eugene Weekly : Viewpoint : 10.27.11




Direct Democracy

A statement from Occupy Eugene 

As the Occupy Eugene movement enters its second week it continues to represent an honest experiment with direct democracy. Like related occupations around the country and around the world, OE participants have taken it upon themselves to stand up against corporate greed, the unequal distribution of economic opportunity, and the lack of social and economic justice throughout our society. The rage that is now materializing in the worldwide occupations is part of a growing sentiment felt by many in America (e.g., a recent Time poll showed 86 percent of respondents believed that “Wall Street and lobbyists have too much influence in Washington,” 79 percent believed that “the gap between the rich and the poor in the U.S. is too large,” that the economic system is not fair and the game is being manipulated by the very wealthy, the so-called 1 percent).  

As the OE movement has become more organized and has started settling into its new occupation area in Alton Baker Park, a few things are increasingly apparent: Democracy is messy and chaotic, yet beautiful and fulfilling. The process that OE, its committees and its subcommittees have operated under often forces procedure to take precedent over substance, especially as the movement has struggled to establish itself. The process has not been perfect and the organization has not been without incident, but as some of the OE members who also work in local government have noted, it is no less disorganized than the way local bureaucrats conduct themselves; but in our case, there is much less ego and partisanship. 

Much of this process is being directed by young people barely 20 years old who are learning as they go, trying to work within the borders of consensus gathering and a horizontal structure that makes individual accountability impossible. As the OE movement has increased in size, committees are growing and helping take on the increasing workload that occupation members are trying to accomplish, including camp logistics such as food, medical and security as well as legal, outreach, event organization, communications to local media outlets, social media and in recent days the beginnings of an established liaison system to connect with other occupations around the state. Movements exist in both Salem and Portland with a statewide rally planned for this Saturday, Oct. 29, in Salem. 

Some of the challenges faced by OE, and certainly by other occupations, are easily microcosms of what American society in general faces. One of these challenges is the general lack of experience with democratic institutions. Besides voting every couple of years, how often do most people participate in a democratic process on a regular basis? Most work places are hierarchical with direction and decision-making coming from the managers. Schools, too, mirror corporate systems of authority with students at the bottom possessing no power to make decisions. 

The occupations have been challenging and engaging exercises in democracy and have shown that when people come together in an attempt to reach consensus, instead of looking for reasons to divide one another, each person’s views can be expressed and the most good for the most people can be achieved. While many of us have work or school obligations that also require significant time commitments, we will hold steady doing the dirty business of democracy because we think this noble experiment deserves our attention and full devotion. If you are concerned with the issues facing this country, come down to the occupation and try out the role of citizen for a few hours. It is truly empowering.

This statement was drafted through consensus by the Occupy Eugene Communications Committee.