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BY ALINE REYNOLDS | As Occupy Wall Street enters its eighth week, members of the movement who continue to camp out in Zuccotti Park are testing out a new way to come together and make decisions. The O.W.S.’s new, consensus-based model, dubbed “Operational Spokes Council,” is meant to address the logistical needs of the park’s inhabitants that members say are being neglected by the nightly General Assembly meetings.
The Spokes Council, intended to be “non-hierarchical” and “directly democratic,” is supposed to facilitate discussions solely among “operational” working groups, or groups directly involved with the encampment at Zuccotti Park, according to a written proposal of the model posted on O.W.S.’s website.
A talking point of several recent O.W.S. meetings, the model was initially proposed in mid-October, after the nightly G.A. became too large and diffuse to meet day-to-day operational demands of the park.
On Friday, Oct. 28, the Spokes Council was voted into implementation by the G.A.
Gregory Schwedock, a member of O.W.S.’s alternate banking working group, compared the Zuccotti Park encampment to “a town that seems to be overflowing.”
“The General Assembly is a great body, but it’s not conducive to getting logistics handled at the speed that they need to,” said Schwedock.
The Spokes Council is poised to solve that problem by becoming “an extremely effective body to get work done,” according to Nicole Carty, a member of the structure and facilitation working groups.
Carty stressed that the council is not a forum of discussion for the movement’s overall vision or ideals, which are handled by O.W.S.’s “movement” groups.
“It only has to do with , ‘Who’s going to clean the park,? Who’s going to make the tents…? Things like that,” she said Carty.
According to the proposal, the Spokes Council.C. will also address issues brought up by caucus groups, or groups of O.W.S. members that feel mutually marginalized with respect to race, gender, sexuality, age or ability.
Democratic movements dating back to the1936 Spanish Revolution have benefited from the S.C. model to streamline the process insurgencies, as have more modern groups including the Anti-Nuclear movement of the 1970s and ‘80s, and the Global Justice movement of the ‘90s and 2000s, according to the proposal.
“The reason why we did this, is so we’re not micromanaging operational groups,” said Ryan Hoffman, who wrote O.W.S.’s initial declaration that spread to dozens of countries worldwide.
The food working group, for example, shouldn’t have to report to the G.A. every time members seek to raise their budget; while the medical working group shouldn’t require G.A. approval to solicit additional funds, according to Hoffman..
“This ‘100 percent consensus, everybody in a giant room’ approach, especially when you can’t use any microphones or P.A. systems or bullhorns, is becoming just patently absurd,” echoed Lucius Ringwald, a member of O.W.S.’s mental health and safety working groups.
“We need to actually have some level of delegation, some level of people being identified as a point person, with the consent of those they’re representing.”
Approximately 150 O.W.S. members convened for an Spokes Council orientation meeting last Friday, Nov. 4 in the public atrium of 60 Wall St. to brainstorm ideas for discussion topics for future councilS.C. meetings. Carty and a couple other lead working group members led the meeting.
Demonstrators spouted out ideas that they believe warrant ongoing dialogue, such as the use of park space, Internet access, safety, supplies and food.
Next came the “mock proposals” session, when participants jokingly proposed to abandon Zuccotti Park for an indoor space, and spoke sardonically about Mayor Michael Bloomberg supplying sleeping bags tagged with the message, “Corporations are People” to the occupiers.
Spokes Councils are organizationally structured like the spokes of a wheel, in that each operational working group is supposed to select a “spoke,” or an individual that represents the groups’ wishes, according to the proposal. While the “spokes” are the only individuals that are supposed to speak during the cCouncil meetings, they rotate, can be recalled by their group at any time, and do not make decisions or voice opinions without a consensus ofin their respective groups.
Typically, “spokes” will bring forth proposals to the council only if 90 percent of members within the respective working groupcaucus support it. Working groups and caucuses may block or table proposals introduced at the council meetings if the groupsa consensus is not reached among the groups — unlike in the G.A., where individuals can block proposals.
“It’s called ‘modified consensus’ — we aim for consensus first, which is 100 percent,” said Carty.
While all decisions made by the Spokes Council will be discussed during the G.A. meetings, they don’t require G.A. ratification, noted Carty.
Occupy Wall Street held its first official Spokes Council meeting Monday, Nov. 7 in the school cafeteria of Murry Bergtraum High School at (411 Pearl St.), where an estimated 60 working groups requested to become a part of the council.
Of the 60, about a dozen working groups were chosen. However, Carty and other representatives were only able to get through less than one-third of the proposals.
“We literally had pieces of paper for each group to register, and we spent most of the time putting these groups in different stacks,” said Carty.
“The ‘no discussion’ stack were groups that were pretty clearly operational groups [that would automatically accepted into the council],” explained Carty. “Movement groups warranted more discussion if they had operational needs.”
Carty reported a handful of disruptive moments during the meeting, such as when the Direct Democracy working group sought to disband the Spokes Council altogether. Members of this working group weren’t immediately available to comment.
Hoffman attributed the contention that arose at Monday’s meeting to “growing pains.” “Everyone is nervous of [the Spokes Council.C. being] something resembling a power structure,” said Hoffman.
“It’s just a sorting-out of the egos. Next time, it’ll be a lot easier.”
Depending on the model’s success, the Spokes CCouncil might multiply into several cCouncils.
“It’s a tool for developing conversation,” said Carty. “Any group that feels like they’ve grown too big to have an easily-facilitated meeting can have a Spokes Council.”
Hoffman, however, cautioned that multiple S.C.scouncils could create the same inefficiency problems the G.A. has been grappling with.
“It would create sectarianism and overlap — and that’s exactly what the Spokes [Council] was created to prevent,” said Hoffman.
Meanwhile, Carty and fellow structure and facilitation working group representatives are already planning the S.C.’s Wed., Nov. 9next Spokes Council meeting in hopes that it will run smoothly.
“We’re going to give five minutes for each group,” said Carty. “If we can’t come to a consensus at the end of five minutes, we’ll drop them down to the next round.”
At some point, Carty said, “We have to draw a line as to when we’re going to just start doing work.”