November 11, 2011 § 3 Comments

A couple days ago I asked David Graeber a question about how far the difference between representative democracy and formal consensus process really goes in practice. In his answer he mentioned his (I think mild) regret that during the initial planning for Occupy Wall Street at Bowling Green, they never arrived at any founding principles. Consensus, he said, as a distinct process from democratic consensus (100% of a vote), works the way it’s supposed to when everyone has the same fundamental goals and principles. The answer surprised me a little bit coming from him, but I’m over it; the question of principles tends to get swallowed up by the controversy over demands, despite being different things, and everyone basically has to assume that they exist. Unfortunately, since there aren’t any, they sometimes conflict.

Even in more mundane activity, the “block” in formal consensus is supposed to mean principles are being violated. In their absence, blocks get overused, people get frustrated and leave, and this can easily overwhelm a GA’s ability to do much of anything beyond self-maintenance.

Given where the movement is now, it’s hard to imagine principles being any easier to agree on than unifying demands, except maybe for nonviolence. In this situation it seems to me the only way out is through: to address the problems with GA legitimacy/illegitimacy I’ve been discussing here, diversify as much as possible. Anything I can suggest is probably redundant or unnecessary for an occupation like Wall Street or Oakland, which are large and successful enough that their every action seems to force the state’s hand and initiates a self-sustaining dynamic (which includes productive internal criticism and adjustment). But for tiny occupations like mine that can stall out at the slightest disagreement and that are not constantly defending themselves from police, generate and maintain autonomously run working groups, workshops, discussion circles, actions. If there are enough people, start new GAs in different parts of the city. What we do will show us who we are.

Tagged: , , ,

§ 3 Responses to Principles

  • Chuckie K says:

    “the same fundamental goals and principles” This dual requirement sound incredibly demanding. Sahred goals requires compromise. You seem to suggest unity of principles becoming irrelevant at the larger Occupations,what you might call quantity becoming quality, Let me ask, did Oakland have a set of principles to start with? More braodly, does this mean drawing on pre-consitutede pri specific preconceived principles regimenting certain domains of organizing, or just principles in general.
    I hope you don’t mind ignorant sounding questions. But I don’t have the time to investigate these matters in any extensive way, so asking is the only way for me to learn.

  • Daniel Lang/Levitsky says:

    Hey there –

    This blog seems semi-abandoned; I’m trying to figure out how to reach you to ask for permission to reprint “The First Weekend of Occupy Austin” in a print collection coming out this summer.

    Would you drop me a line at, so I can send you the more formal request and details?

    Many thanks,

    Daniel Lang/Levitsky

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

What’s this?

You are currently reading Principles at Disaster Notes.


%d bloggers like this: