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Building Democracy

Consensus informs better decisions

Occupy Wall Street is a movement to equality. Worldwide, facets of Occupy make a variety of demands, but, fundamentally, the movement represents the classic human striving for equality.

Occupy’s founding grievance decries the corrupt relationship between citizens with money and citizens elected as politicians. It has always been true: Money talks. So, it is not surprising that our elected officials create laws that favor the ultra-rich. In our present system, money is necessary to fund campaigns and the mass media that make or break a candidate.

Although millions of Americans have lost their jobs, their homes, and their health in a first-world country, there has been limited response by our elected officials to protect the real risk-takers of our economy, the working lower and middle class.

In this country, groups who fought for equal rights for women and racial minorities were once smeared as radical and dangerous. Today, the Occupy movement is smeared as a volatile group of have-nots insisting on monetary handouts. However, equality need not mean that we all drive luxury cars and own three houses each. Equality is the impulse of every citizen to treat each other fairly and with dignity. We continue in the footsteps of our predecessors, as a country and as the human race, to realize democracy.

The Occupy movement has proved significant in America’s current system, while it has also quietly planted the seed of a different one. It is called consensus, and it is practiced by Occupy as a form of self-government. Made famous by the Quakers, consensus is designed to invigorate initiative and responsibility through the empowerment of the individual.

There are no leaders or elected representatives in the Occupy structure. Instead, decisions are made by motivated persons and committees, or, by the main governing body of the movement, the General Assembly (GA). The GA is run by a myriad of trained facilitators who act in service to the group, inclusive of anybody who wants to participate. There, anybody can make a proposal, which is an action suggested for the entire group. Proposals are decided on by everyone.

The GA is the body that finds solutions for issues that affect the movement. For approval of those solutions, consensus must be reached. According to the website of the Alpha Institute, a local training and mediation organization for consensus, “the essence of consensus decision-making is the recognition that all members of a group are equal in their ability to bring a piece of the truth to the decision process.” Therefore, majority does not rule. In reality, every individual present must agree with the proposal for it to pass.

Here in the Eugene area, consensus is used by Occupy as well as various intentional communities, such as Alpha Farm, the East Blair Housing Cooperative, Lost Valley, and the Community Village of the Oregon Country Fair. Only in a city as progressive as Eugene do you find so many people practicing the art. Here, folks act on a cultural norm to participate in the cultivation of not just their homes but their communities. Now take it further and imagine meeting with your neighbors to decide for yourselves if that new strip mall should be built or the coal trains be allowed to pass — instead of having to petition an official. 

Individual empowerment comes with great responsibility and some find that our society has not prepared us with the skill set necessary to fluidly enact self-government. Disputes can arise, proposals blocked for personal reasons, or the process drawn out too long. Still, the human race begs for  freedom. It must be forged. 

The path to self-actualization is a path of discovery. We are like dancers learning to collaborate in harmony to make a work of art unfathomable without the contribution of each dancer. We are like young knights in training, learning to wield the weight of a sword. We are idealists, envisioning a society in which power is not based on monetary wealth, but on the integrity you earn from your community.

The redistribution of power is often confused with the redistribution of money because money, in many ways, is power. Yet, most people in the Occupy movement are not asking for special entitlements. They are asking for democracy. If 99 percent of the country’s population had as much power in making decisions as the wealthy do, we would be living in a different country.