With OccupyVancouver friend Kerri-Ann, who gave me permission to share this photo.
When I arrived at Occupy Vancouver, well after 11:00 AM yesterday, it seemed the General Assembly had been struggling all morning to arrive at a consensus about process. As painful and clumsy as the consensual decision-making process itself seemed to be, what I witnessed moved me –a grassroots effort and commitment to have “government of the people, by the people, and for the people.” It was a large crowd, and many–unfamiliar with this entirely new way of thinking were growing impatient with the lengthy “process about process.” But as someone said in this video from OccupyNYC about the consensus process, “even though it is messy and complicated and slow…it is in the hashing out of things that we can actually change the system.”
Journalists and academics have recently raised the alarm about the decline in voter turnout. This morning while checking my twitter feed, I came across the following column at iPolitics.ca by Robert Asselin, Democracy at Risk, as Cynicism and Disengagement Grows. Here is my response:
The young citizens behind the Occupy protests are neither complacent nor have they stopped caring. They are outraged at a political and economic system which marginalizes them and leaves them with a sense of powerlessness to effect change. As you point out in your article, their representatives in Ottawa and provincial capitals have betrayed their trust by deciding “to go with the nasty rhetoric and low blows” instead of engaging in “substantive debates on climate change or economic policies.” However, instead of tuning out as you assert, they are in fact trying out the remedies within their means to fix our democratic malaise. Through embracing a consensual model of decision-making in their general assemblies and experimenting with direct democracy they are committed to honoring every voice—not only those who agree with the moderators’ proposals. They’re hope is that when decisions are made, those with dissenting points of view will nevertheless be able to live with the decisions being made because of the integrity of the process, something which they see sorely lacking in Ottawa.
The young people at the forefront of the Occupy protests not only love their country, they have a planetary consciousness and are pursuing ideals that point the way—however imperfectly—out of a system of “haves and have nots” to a world in which all are welcome at the table.
The young people that I met and spoke with at Occupy Vancouver, do spend thousands of hours on Facebook and Twitter. But they also understand that for democracy to work it will take more than showing up at a polling booth every four years to cast a vote. As Chris Hedges puts so eloquently,
They know that hope has a cost, that it is not easy or comfortable, that it requires self-sacrifice and discomfort and finally faith. They sleep on concrete every night. Their clothes are soiled. They have eaten more bagels and peanut butter than they ever thought possible. They have tasted fear, been beaten, gone to jail, been blinded by pepper spray, cried, hugged each other, laughed, sung, talked too long in general assemblies, seen their chants drift upward to the office towers above them, wondered if it is worth it, if anyone cares, if they will win. But as long as they remain steadfast they point the way out of the corporate labyrinth. This is what it means to be alive. They are the best among us. Read the full article, The Best Among Us at Truthdig.org