Some Initial Thoughts on Consensus and Diversity of Tactics

(In response to an email about meetings, consensus, and diversity of tactics/philosophy at Occupy UCLA, which I didn’t want to sidetrack the main email thread. Initial thoughts I hope to later expand on. Consider this a work in progress subject to revision.)

Basically speaking, consensus is meant to make decisions in a format very different from regular voting; it has a much more formal process than what people are using around the Occupies, and it has been truly bastardized by people who have no affinity for the original aims of consensus. Consensus is not meant to overrule people who disagree, nor is it a means for a single person to block proposals. It is designed so that people offer proposals for actions, and people who are negatively impacted or strongly disagree block the proposal. People who disagree but aren’t affected by or forced to participate in the action are encouraged to “stand aside” if able to do so–standing aside has been completely absent from Occupy in favor of a rough jazz hands/block dialectic. If someone is blocking, they need to seriously consider their relationship to the movement in doing so; i.e. are there still common goals and affinities? And the general rule of thumb is that you get 1-3 blocks in your lifetime, and you really shouldn’t be exhausting them in your first movement. I’ve blocked once in 8 years of organizing, and that was only over a serious issue in which people were publicly attacked and made to feel afraid for their safety and I felt that blocking a certain proposal was the only way to address that issue and not have the entire GA fall apart that night. But this demonstrates how consensus really should work: after a block, the person making the proposal should consult with the person blocking and try to come up with a compromise that addresses that person’s reasons for blocking, and the person blocking should try to figure out what they can live with such that they can get to a point of standing aside. If everyone respects the process, the movement, and each other, this can actually be done quite easily. When people abuse the process and block things like committee names which they’re not a part of, things will collapse quickly.

Diversity of tactics necessitates some communication and coordination between people doing different actions to the extent that its safe and necessary. Calling “autonomy” before doing a die-in to detract from another strategy does not have a legitimate claim to diversity of tactics; it is usually regarded as having a separation of time and/or (“and/or” is incredibly important, and battles have been fought over and vs. and/or) space with both clear respect for diversity of tactics and the other actions and strategic decisions. Diversity of tactics has traditionally been advocated by anarchists to protect liberal actions from disruptions by anarchists, i.e. window smashing or other things that may, for example, bring added repression to a permitted march; similarly to keep anarchist and direct actions from being snitched out by liberal peace police.

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