By: Guerrilla Mama
I came across an article from The Economist (big fan overall) earlier today. It talked about the original planning that went into Occupy Wall Street and how it was influenced by an ethnographer named David Graeber. The New York City General Assemblies are “an open, participatory and horizontally organized process through which we are building the capacity to constitute ourselves in public as autonomous collective forces within and against the constant crises of our times. ” This direction came as a result of Mr. Graeber, who has been involved in many other major protests, and, as an ethnographer, is highly interested in the human story.
The reason I gravitated toward this article so much, despite the fact that in the end it has a lot of critical comments on the movement, is that it points out my personal motivation for joining Occupy Fort Myers, my local OWS group — public participation. I have made civic participation a mainstay of my academic and professional careers. I care deeply about people’s ability to express themselves in the governance system and ensuring that there are mechanisms for them to do so. I guess I was just glad to hear that someone else noticed this theme of the movement.
It is easy for the media, participants and hecklers to drone on about the precision of the message in Occupy, but this Economist article nailed it on the head — participatory democracy. The reason there are so many issues that come under the Occupy umbrella is that the people speaking them have scant chance to be heard otherwise. The original New York City Declaration had 20 some-odd statements ranging from banks to animals to health care to the environment. However, once you recognize that the voice of the people who care about these issues has been marginalized in our system of governance then you begin to understand why this movement is important.
It’s true that we will probably not institute a system where people gather in town squares and waggle their fingers to demonstrate support (although this is nearly the voting procedure in many parts of Switzerland, so there are modern examples of this in the developed world). But hopefully, the major outcome of this movement is the recognition that people matter and participation in all its forms, institutionalized and informal, is important in the entire governance process.
It is simply not enough for a government to make a plan, tell people this is what they are going to do — often kaotaoing to vocal minority oppositions (often financially motivated), then do whatever is easiest or makes the most fiscal sense. Businesses make money; that is their purpose. Governments are designed to serve people — protecting them through establishing and protecting public goods. Since the public is their primary concern there should be a way for them to be involved and that way is participatory democracy, or its practical cousins participatory planning and participatory evaluation.