Consensus Among Occupy: Project Update | MIT Center for Civic Media

Consensus Among Occupy: Project Update

[The following is the beginning of my introduction and a proposed, annotated outline for my project to date]

On September 30th, I went down to Dewey Square to observe the first meeting of Occupy Boston in what would, at that time, become their new home. I spoke with a university professor, Leanne, and asked her why she was doing among the 100 or so other individuals in the square that evening. She spoke of starting a conversation—one that would lead to possible constitutional amendments on campaign finance or congressional limits. As she told me this, however, she always made a point to emphasize that the opinions she was expressing were her own. When I asked her what she had seen in the group that stood out to her, she immediately noted that she was “amazed about is how well organized it is. And you think that consensus is going to be really disjointed, and everyone is going to be screaming at each other. And it hasn’t been like that at all. It’s just been discussion and consensus and debate and no yelling and no name calling.”

Immediately, I was struck by the dichotomy between Leanne’s emphasis that what she told me was her opinion and the noted ease with which the group seemed to come to agreement on a consensus opinion. I understood that the group was only in its infancy (it had met a few times in the preceding week) and wondered what would happen as growth and publicity forced some more decisions to be made [I’d like more information here about what types of decisions had been made to this point].

A few weeks later, upon returning to Dewey—by this point, it had been packed to the limit by tents, wooden walk-ways, posters, and signs—I began to hear a bit of frustration related to the aforementioned dichotomy. Members of the media team expressed concern over the importance of a unified message, one that would “resonate with everyone.” They spoke of the “special kind of person” who would put his life on hold and sleep in a tent at the location. Reaching out to those who couldn’t live there, they said, was of utmost importance. And yet, getting those who were present to agree on what to send out as a unified message was also becoming extremely difficult. “We’ve had a hard time getting anything in terms of declaration statements out there within our system because of the diversity of everyone here.” It was clear that the teams would have to learn how to facilitate consensus as they grew.

But what is this notion of consensus? And why is it so important to the Occupy movement? This paper will seek to answer those questions and others through philosophical context, historical context, interviews with Occupy Boston participants, interviews with observers of Occupy movements in other cities, and selections from the contemporary media’s observation of Occupy Boston, Occupy Wall Street, and various other Occupy protest sites.

The following is a proposed outline for the paper, notated with questions, sources, and proposed further research:

I. Introduction
A. My observations of Occupy Boston through interviews with participants
B. A list of questions raised by these interviews and my other research
II. Philosophical context
A. An overview of some philosophical concepts related to consensus building [The following order is not necessarily how it will present itself in the final paper]
1. Truth by consensus - [Need more sources for this]
2. Public justification - Rawls, Habermas
3. Universal pragmatics - Habermas
B. Examples of these concepts at work within the Occupy movement.
III. Historical context
A. An overview of the polarizing nature of horizontal organization/consensus process within the Feminist movement
1. Points from The Tyranny of Structurelessness [Freeman]
2. Counterpoints from The Tyranny of Tyranny [Levine]
IV. Tel Aviv: Case Study
A. Overview of the timeline of events at the Tel Aviv “occupation”
B. Noted differences between the organization of Tel Aviv and Boston occupations
1. Tel Aviv was not as “leaderless” as the American versions
2. Dialog between government and certain leaders of the Tel Aviv movement occurred
C. Observations from two residents of Tel Aviv
1. Frustrations regarding the consensus process and why these frustrations occurred
2. Beliefs of what the occupation will change in Israeli life/politics
V. Back to Boston
A. Observations from my interviews as a summation of the movement to this point
B. Contrasting and comparing my observations with those of the press
1. National media
2. Local media
VI. Conclusion