Occupy Wall Street and Consensus Decision Making: Historicizing the Preoccupation With Process

Cornell, Andrew

"Occupy Wall Street (OWS) has given the consensus decision-making process a new lease on life by introducing the procedure to a new generation of organizers as well as thousands of older activists. Unfortunately, OWS also seems to have revived a variety of confusions and debates about the power and the significance of consensus that have tripped up earlier progressive and radical social justice efforts. Although the constellation of Occupy encampments established in the fall of 2011 were largely dismantled by the New Year, Occupy remains a diffuse and evolving political effort that, at the time of this writing, has begun to reclaim public attention through self-organized disaster relief efforts in response to Hurricane Sandy, and a campaign to buy and then discharge housing, educational, and health care-related debt ('Rolling Jubilee').
While acknowledging that these latest iterations of the Occupy movement are adapting the use of consensus in productive ways, I focus here on the impact consensus decision making had on shaping the national Occupy movement during its first year. I examine the historical development and the symbolic significance of consensus to suggest that process is a tension point that reveals significant differences in vision and strategy among sectors of the US Left. I argue that to create movements that can win real changes in the world, thoughtful organizers need to carefully delineate what consensus can and cannot do, and distinguish between its positive and negative aspects."


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Periscope: Is This What Democracy Looks Like?

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Academic Units
Center for Digital Research and Scholarship
The Social Text Collective
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October 8, 2013