The Consensus Process: A Barrier to Effective Legislative Proposals from Occupy Wall Street?

September 17, 2012

One year ago today, Occupy Wall Street activists flooded the streets of New York City intent on bringing awareness to corporate debauchery and economic injustice in the United States. Occupy protests against capitalism and the Faustian bargain made by government and financial institutions spread throughout the world. At times, Occupy’s platform and message seemed abstract or disoriented, which is in part due to its revolutionary goals, not necessarily its intent to reform specific economic policies or practices. Now, a year later, officials and the public may be wondering what Occupy’s impact was on Wall Street and, specifically, if participants ever submitted drafts of legislative alternatives to Citizen’s United and other policies. Using my local Occupy movement as an example, these drafts never surfaced and, in most cases, were not drafted in the first place. While Occupy Tallahassee had difficulty drafting economic policy solutions or recommendations, they made a genuine effort to educate themselves and others on national and international economic policy. Occupy Tallahassee hosted various teach-ins on the inner workings of corporate lobbying, the history of neoliberalism, and evaluations of European austerity measures. These educational sessions served to expand participants’ knowledge of the economy and, subsequently, the inequities of income and wealth distribution. Individuals would further discuss these issues on their own, demonstrating the effectiveness of the education apparatus. Rarely, however, did these sessions result in the construction of alternate policy solutions. Participants certainly submitted grievances and demands regarding the economy, being that the essence of the Occupy Movement was in economic injustice; yet, the consensus-based mechanism of decision-making made translating these grievances and demands into legislative proposals nearly impossible. General assemblies varied in attendance and decisions brought to consensus required either full or nine-tenths consensus depending on the facilitator. Participants could not bring their own drafts of legislative documents to share at general assemblies without having attended the agenda-setting meeting the night before (sometimes after 8 or 9pm). Taken together, this process of getting onto the agenda, explaining the agenda point, facilitating questions/comments/dissent, and bringing the decision to consensus was exhausting and largely unsuccessful at achieving a tangible affront to Wall Street and, even, local economic policy. This frustration with the process was not unique to our local movement because the consensus apparatus was a pillar of democratic decision-making in the global Occupy Movement. There are, of course, various reasons why Occupy may not appear to have had a tangible impact on Wall Street, but we should consider the consensus process as a potential barrier to Occupy’s effectiveness at drafting and proposing economic legislation.

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3 Responses to “The Consensus Process: A Barrier to Effective Legislative Proposals from Occupy Wall Street?”

  1. danielbeunza Says:

    Fascinating post. One idea that comes to mind is that the movement was not at all about coming up with an turnkey alternative to financial capitalism, but rather to educate uninformed young activists about the technicalities of finance. See from that standpoint, could it be read as a resounding success?

    • jesseroseklein Says:

      Great point. As I said in my post, the teach-ins and discussions of Occupy served to educate participants on a range of economic issues and the operation of financial institutions. Arguably, yes, Occupy has been successful at educating its participants about the economy, and I would extend this type of success broadly to culture and discourse. Occupy has certainly been a cultural success. Now, “Occupy” is not simply about Wall Street, but about occupying your energy use, your schools, your life, etc. Occupy has become a philosophical brand of awareness and physical presence. More importantly, though, is Occupy’s impact on the shift in national discourse that is increasingly focused on the economy and accumulation of wealth and income in 1% of the population. Thus, in terms of education and cultural awareness, Occupy has made an impact.

  2. danielbeunza Says:

    Very interesting. And I agree that Occupy has shifted the discourse. I also understand what you mean by “occupying your energy” but these extensions of the agenda, if taken to the extreme, would always call a movement successful… like saying that the Tea Party is about drinking tea


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