Well, I lost about a week of blogging, as well as sleeping, to the Occupy Indy initiative. I lost a couple more days to visiting grandma, but that’s another story. I’m really proud and excited for the Occupation, though. I admit I’m surprised it took off here – Indy’s not exactly known for this kind of thing. While my participation has been limited, I’m excited enough to want to take a moment to describe just why it is that I’m so keen on this movement-or-whatever-it-is-and-might-become.

The Occupy movements are really exciting because they are using  long-held activist methods, while developing a message that encompasses a range of ideologies. The methods of consensus based decision-making are really interesting here. Seasoned activists may be used to the tedium of consensus meetings like the General Assemblies and often are impatient with them. After all, a meeting where everyone has to agree will take a lot longer than a meeting where a few people can decide for everyone else. But this is what is really striking about the Occupy movement. The conversations here may still reflect the same arguments with which we are accustomed; on Saturday evening in Indianapolis there was a fair bit of discussion about voting, and a couple of people attributed the current state of affairs to lack of voter participation. That’s a fairly common conversation, and it depends on the assumption that it is possible for one person to appropriately represent another’s interests in government. That is representative government. Here’s the kicker, though: the people having this fairly mundane conversation were also participating in a different kind of democratic process – direct democracy through consensus based decision-making. Ok, so maybe I’m a dork who’s easily excited by tedious processes.

To understand why I get giddy about this, you might need to understand how I perceive governance and government. I understand governance as a collective process of making decisions, rules, and so forth that apply to the whole society. Government is the institution that applies those decisions (although a lot of government works to maintain the government). In the United States, decisions are made by the Congress and the Senate, by the president, upheld by the courts, and enforced by the police – a process generally repeated at more local levels of government. We elect people to represent us in government, and we are supposed to trust those people to make decisions that reflect our needs and desires.

The Occupy movements reflect the need for people to feel they have a voice in their own governance. “We are the 99%” implicitly refers to the abundance of influence that the 1% have on government, influence that is tied directly to the amount of money the 1% has at its disposal. In effect, the Occupy movement consists of people who are standing up to demand a voice, a role, in their own governance. Frustration with corporations is a part of this, in that corporate entities are more represented in government through their lobbying and business and personal connections to the representatives. OF COURSE the Occupy message is incoherent – there is a plethora of issues that tie in to lack of representation in government, from the state of public education, the wars waged, the bail out of banks in the midst of ongoing foreclosures, homelessness, joblessness, and on, and on. These are all issues that we deal with as the middle class, the lower class – the 99%. And here, in the midst of these seemingly incoherent occupations, here are people who perhaps for the first time are participating in their own governance through the consensus process. If they, with their myriad needs and perspectives, can come to agreement on what their message is  through this process – in a matter of weeks, even – then maybe we can begin to imagine how government would work if governance were also a consensus process, wherein we all participated in governance rather than asking and allowing others to do so on our behalf.

Ultimately, I’m excited because the Occupy movement stands to be more than a movement. I’ve heard mentions of a new political party, but I don’t think that will come – the people involved have such diverse perspectives and ideologies that I don’t see them combining to a shared platform. What the people do share is a need for government to recognize them and their needs. Maybe, just maybe, the people involved in these movements will be able to experience a way of participating in their own governance in a meaningful way, and in so doing, remind us all what democracy looks like.

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