The Power of Community @ Occupy Wall Street

Initially Occupy Wall Street was portrayed as complaining out of work young people, the hippies who have nothing else to do than camp out in Zuccotti Park (which is really just a small block of sidewalk). While there are some hippies in the park, I quickly learned it is so much more.

I was a witness to the extraordinary movement last Thursday, when my friend Rachel, a Berkeley, CA girl at heart, was visiting. I was also intrigued to see for myself what it was really about, rather than take the media’s portrayal of it as fact.

I saw the most amazing example of Group Process, witnessing how they navigating the decision-making as a group unified and organized for a particular purpose – to shift how this country operates. While this purpose can be seen too general, it is one that needs to be big enough to contain all the specific agendas of the group members. As I saw it, this larger purpose is to shift the minds of many to wake up and become participators again, to become engaged in how they live in community.

The sense of community was beautifully demonstrated in a way where everyone had a voice that was honored and heard while attending the General Assembly. We didn’t know it to be a General Assembly but after about an hour, we were both clear we were in the presence of something powerful.

Their method of communicating to large groups is through a “People’s Mic.” Since an actual mic can’t be used due to noise regulations, they have one person speak into the crowd and the crowd who is able to hear repeat the phrase. Not only is it powerful to use community to spread the word, but there is also something powerful in repeating the speaker’s words, as if they are the words of the community. One person’s words become the words of many. They also have structures to navigate when people can’t hear, when the group is too large to hear the echo, so they ask for a double echo. All of it exemplifies the beauty and power of community.

The other inspiring example of their commitment to community is their proposal to create a Spokes Council. The organizers have noticed that the size of the group is getting too large for the current structure of decision making with the general assembly. The proposal and details are available on their website.

When the proposal was brought to the General Assembly, they ensured all participants had a say in how this council would function. Breaking the General Assembly into smaller groups to discuss, allowing a spokesperson of the group share what the group liked and had concerns about (even their language is empowering for all) and they would allow all voices to be heard and considered. They were living what they preached – committed to transparency, horizontal leadership, and direct democracy.

In the small group, I shared that I was in awe of how inspiring this process was and acknowledged those who were participating regularly ensuring this occupation worked. I also shared that a spokes council was essential to ensuring that all voices continued to be heard, not just the loudest ones, which can happen as the group gets larger with no evolution in structure. While some may not have agreed, all were respectful of others’ opinions.

When each small group shared out, there were brilliant questions and concerns that were not mentioned in my group but important to consider. As our spokesperson shared my input to the large group, my voice was heard by the community. I was moved to be included in such a powerful community, such a powerful movement.

I was honored and inspired by my participation at Occupy Wall Street. While I may not participate again (although unlikely), I am forever changed by what is possible in community. Wherever you may live, I invite you to find a local Occupy Movement and witness the power of community for yourself.

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