OL General Assembly 28.2.14

 

Introduction:

A General Assembly was called (Common House, 7pm for 7.30) at relatively short notice (6 days) to discuss one specific proposal which had been the subject of much discussion at Strategy meetings and online.

This proposal had previously been brought to and blocked at a Strategy/’Future of Occupy’ meeting.

The proposal did not reach consensus.

The proposal was:

 The (monthly) Strategy  meeting will have the decision making powers of an Assembly.  
The Internal  Business Meeting  will have the decision making power of an Assembly. 
Both these, and Outreach Assemblies,  will be able to discuss , debate and decide matters relevant to their purpose : 
1 – Internal business meeting – to discuss and decide on finance and other strictly internal matters 
2 – Strategy / organising meetings – to discuss & decide political goals, campaigns, questions of strategy and to engage with  internal education / training / theory 
3 – Outreach events – designed to make direct contact with the public. These events may take the form of public assemblies, teach outs, protests, public talks etc. 
All 3 types of meetings should be open with particular promotional attention paid to Outreach assemblies .
The Strategy meetings will continue to be held monthly, with the last two hours becoming an ‘Internal Business meeting ‘ . 
 The exact regularity of the Outreach  assemblies is still to be agreed upon.

Present: Julie, Mark W, George, Maria, Inka, Becky, Tim, Andria, Ben, Steve, Em

Due to late arrival of Tim, GA started at c. 8.15pm (Julie strongly wanted to wait for Tim before starting) While waiting we discussed whether there was a minimum number of people required for a General Assembly decision to be valid. A couple of people suggested 10 might be a good number, some thought that was too few, although there have been very small assemblies sometimes in the past. It was acknowledged/realised that no number has ever been agreed on, though the subject has arisen and been discussed before. Some people thought it would be a good idea to set a minimum, one person thought it best not to. There was a suggestion that a GA could happen with any number, but that decision making shouldn’t occur in very small groups.

  • A second proposal and discussion topic had been added to the agenda a few days before the GA, but an understanding was reached that it would be best to focus on proposal 1 (see above).
  • A decision was made to stop the assembly at 10pm.
  • Becky offered to facilitate. Andria offered to take minutes. Julie offered to note any decisions.
  • Becky reminded everyone that safer spaces policy must be adhered to. 

Andria took minutes, Em also took notes. Both are included below. Livestream was attempted but tech failed.

Andria’s minutes:

We didn’t really kick off til around 8pm, as peeps wanted to wait for Tim F who was coming from the EWG, (normally finished around 7pm..)

The proposal was read out again by Julie, and we began to talk about it. The proposal was that there would be a part of the strategy meetings, (we have had monthly for almost six months now) that would have the decision-making power of a General Assembly. In other words, if projects were brought forth to Strategy Meetings (SMs), there could be a two hour period in which we passed various projects we want to take forward. This would mean that there IS a GA monthly and decisions of import could be made, as people became concerned about the fact that there had not been a GA for several months.
Ben & Em blocked the proposal for various reasons, only some of which i understood:
Ben felt we were asking for a fundamental change in the way OL is structured…
That the proposal was not clear and that it might not include enough people [later comment by Andria: contrast with the following day where there were about 100 people at the GA, whereas there has never been more than 33 at the SMs in Punderson Gardens, and yes, I have counted!]
Mind you George B and others did explain that ANY ONE was welcome to come along to the SMs and we have often had newbies or even old friends, who we had not seen since the Occupation at St Pauls/Finsbury Square..This was an attempt to reassure Ben and Em that these meetings did attempt to engage with the public, which is a key feature of GAs of OCCUPY.
Somebody explained that in fact the proposal was put forward originally by Mike Gold (Radical Soapbox) [factual correction: Mike Gold says that isn’t so] & then Inka reiterated again that ANY ONE was welcome to these meetings hence they called be like GAs
Ben said that in general , he felt that they way we were communicating was not adhering to the Safer Space Policy of OL..
Mark W tried to explain that all this proposal was really about was simply trying to be practical/moving projects forward. Julie said that GAs had somehow become idealised in our minds so that nothing could really move forward unless the GA has ordained it (my word..) That it had become a hierarchical mechanism**
Tim & Julie clarified the proposals as Ben had said he did not think they were clear, the way they had been written, that is…
Inka mentioned that many people know when and where these meetings are being held: nobody is excluded therefore why could there not be a part of these meetings that are GA
Em said that the working groups of OL and the SM appear to be two different kinds of meetings [factual correction: Em suggested that the Strategy group is a working group; at least one person disagreed]. Em said, if we want decision-making powers, why don’t we just organise more GAs?!
Inka suggested that we go directly to Proposal 2 (about ‘permissiveness’, as that could circumvent the need to ever have to agree proposal one..This was not agreed so back to proposal 1..
George, Tim, Julie and Mark then spent a lot of time trying hard to reassure Ben and Em that these proposals were not about an internal coup, but more a practical way of moving important decisions forward (in the absence of GAs). However, Ben and Em were adamant that the meetings at Punderson Gardens were not as open as GAs on the St Pauls steps..at this point, the meeting started to get a bit hostile and quite tense…#
George explained that the proposals would enable us to have more GAs without so much of a huge deal organising them each time.
Inka said that we were here on the front-line of OL but she felt that Em and BC were online activists; theorists even… that basically, so much work was being done by people in London and she felt that it was not fair that people who were rarely in meetings in London had the power to veto some of the work of the SMs.
Ben said he is not merely a theorist and eventually Em (upset) asked Inka to stop referring to her as ONLY an online activist.
At some point, Andria said that she was finding this meeting unbearably painful  (due to the ongoing polarisation).
**Em explained that the GA is not a hierarchical mechanism, that the GA is the heart of Occupy London and the working groups all circle around that. That as she understood it, some people had stopped coming to the SMs as they didn’t like or agree with the direction these meetings had gone in; that we began as 40 in Sept and are now down to 15…. it was explained that this is not true by Tim and others [factual correction: minutes and memories confirm the 30-40 starting figure and c.14 at the last meeting].
Ben didn’t think there were enough people in the room to decide such a radical change in any case….and so it went on and on and on and on.
I stopped taking minutes at 22.20 as we had decided together to stop the meeting at 22.15 the latest. Besides, we were all getting tired including me and I was losing the plot
I left the meeting screaming at everyone at 22.32. Becca who had been facilitated the meeting came out to me and suggested I spend time calming down. I tried..
*******************************************************************************

Additional notes provided by Em and Ben, who blocked the proposal:

NOTES: these are not full minutes

GA: Common House: 28.2.14

Arrivals were requested at 7pm for 7.30pm start

Due to late arrival of Tim, GA started at c. 8.15pm (Julie strongly wanted to wait for Tim before starting)

While waiting we discussed whether there was a minimum number of people required for a GA to be valid. A couple of people suggested 10 might be a good number, but it was acknowledged/realised that no number has ever been agreed on, though the subject has arisen and been discussed before.. Julie said quorum could only be for membership organisations.

Present:

Julie, Mark W, George, Maria, Inka, Becky, Tim, Andria, Ben, Steve, Em

PROPOSAL

(See above)

Decision to focus on proposal 1.

Decision to stop the meeting at 10pm.

Becky offered to facilitate. Andria offered to take minutes. Julie offered to note any decisions.

Becky reminded everyone that safer spaces policy must be adhered to.

Ben: this proposal is unclear.

Julie, Inka: no, it’s clear.

Multiple explanations of what the proposal means. Inka, George, Mark, Tim all gave explanations. On some points there was divergence in their explanations. They disagreed with each other on some points.

Ben said again that the proposal is unclear in its language and that it is not purely strategy, because the proposal specifically states the the group can set political objectives for the movement.

Ben also said that he hasn’t liked some of the language and behaviour that he’s seen on livestream from the Strategy meetings where the proposal has been discussed; that he has seen people treated with disrespect, particularly Chris FD, who can be hard to understand at times, but little effort was made to genuinely listen to him and record his contribution in the minutes – Ben said he could understand most of what Chris said when watching on livestream.

George and others explained that there is a history to this proposal, it has been worked on for many hours in Strategy meetings (also known as Future of Occupy meetings).

Inka said that this is where the remaining activists of OL are putting their energy, it isn’t right that people who aren’t in London as much or don’t come to Strategy meetings should be able to stop this proposal.

Someone says the Strategy meeting is where the energy is, so let’s bring the decision making power to that energy, to the new centre of what OL is.

Becky (taking off facilitator hat) said she thinks people are fearful of this proposal and that’s why there are objections. She’d like to see those fears addressed…

Inka interjects – “Yeah, what’re you scared of?” – aggressively.

Em says “that’s out of order – it wasn’t your turn to speak and it was aggressive.”

Ben: our ssp policy says we shouldn’t make assumptions; you’re making assumptions that I’m afraid; I’m not afraid.

More discussion in this vein.

Em says that the Strategy meeting is just one working group, it’s not where all the activists in OL are putting their energy, and it’s not a growing group…. numbers at the beginning of Strategy meetings were 30-40, at this last one numbers were down to 14. Some people have stopped going because they weren’t inspired, or because they didn’t like the direction the meetings/group were going in.

Inka said Strategy meetings are meetings and the people going to them are the remaining activists in OL; it is NOT a working group (because it has different people at different meetings, though with a core remaining he same); and there’s only one remaining wg in OL – economics.

General discussion and counting of existing workings groups: EWG (economics), EEE (environment), RDWG (real democracy)… Em said website group is dysfunctional but it does exist; Inka said it doesn’t exist….

[Press and International wgs weren’t mentioned…]

Inka referred repeatedly to ‘onliners’ and it being wrong for ‘onliners’ to have a full say in OL.

Em asked Inka to stop referring to ‘onliners’ as the people who’ve been against this proposal have been very active in OL, and are still active in working groups… some have ill health and some are based outside London, but that has never disqualified people from having an equal voice in the past.

Ben pointed out that some of the people being referred to as ‘onliners’ are in the room, in person.

This was conceded.

Andria pointed out that Em has been active at Barton Moss so it’s not right to say she’s not an activist.

Becky, facilitating, asked people to try not to let emotions get carried away – tensions are rising, let’s stick to ssp, not shout and try not to swear.

Various people explained that in the early Strategy meetings some problems with how OL works were identified, including that GAs have been few and sporadic, people have become perhaps fearful of GAs, some people think having to ask for GA permission stymies things from happening.

Inka said we need permissiveness.

Ben said he doesn’t have a problem with permissiveness.

Inka said then can we move onto proposal 2, perhaps we can get consensus on that.

Others, especially Julie, were against this.

Tim said we need to be able to attach the OL name to actions and we can’t because we can’t get it through a GA.

Julie said the GA is dead.

Em said the GA isn’t ‘dead’ there just hasn’t been an appetite for having one for a while, but now that’s changing and we’ve actually got one tomorrow. Anyone, could, at any point have chosen to propose and organise a GA, so it’s not true to say the Strategy group (or any group or action) was stymied by a lack of GA.

There was some discussion about when the last GA was, it was identified as being in the summer.

Past problems with GAs were revisited.

Ben pointed out that modifications were made gradually to address those problems and later GAS were far less vulnerable to ssp breaches and invalid blocks.

Julie said the GA is at the top of a hierarchy.

Em said the GA is not at the top of a hierarchy, the GA is the heart of OL, around which are positioned the working groups, and a little further out the allied groups that aren’t OL but have some of the same people and goals.

Inka said “I see you as theorists”.

Ben objected and said that much of the work he does was very practical like representing OL at the Reclaim the Power camp being on the ground.

George said ok, if the GA is the heart, all we want to do is bring life back to the heart by having regular monthly GAs again.

Em said monthly GAs is fine, great, but it seems that Strategy group want to appropriate or grab the GA and have it as part of the Strategy meeting, and that’s not necessary.

Tim said it would be really helpful to be able to make decisions as part of the Strategy meetings, because we have long days of meeting and learning and visioning which build towards decisions.

Em said how about a monthly GA that sometimes could happen at/on the same day as a Strategy meeting, but also could be outside at St Paul’s, or could happen just after and in the same place as another working group meeting…

Inka – you want us to organise these GAs – you want us to do the work for you!

Ben – no, I’ve always been happy to help organise GAs

Ben said, you’re having 6 hour meetings and that’s too long for some people to be able to engage with.

Julie (and others) said things including – but we have food, and it’s sociable as well, and we have teaching… and people wouldn’t have to come to the whole thing they could just come to the GA part…

Ben said “but it doesn’t sy in this proposal at which point the GA would happen, would it be at the end?..”

–There was some confusion about whether people should be there for the whole in order to take part in the decision making… if the whole thing is building to a decision that might be necessary–

Inka said maybe new people should be humble and come to an outreach style GA first before they try and get involved in Strategy GAs…

–others (who were in support of the proposal) disagreed with this interpretation–

Em said decisions are stronger when you let people outside the group in… of course the people who keep going to Strategy meetings are people who think and work in the same way, but you need checks and balances and that’s what you get by taking a proposal to a wider group.

Ben reminded us of the Corporatons Statement at OLSX, being blocked by one person then being worked on to fold in the objection and the Statement was passed and was much stronger for it, people who were involved in that process are very positive about it and how it strengthened the statement.

Julie: there’s no appetite for making statements now, that was a long time ago, that time has gone; although there might be some interest in making a new version of the initial statement…

—Becky points out we’re running out of time.

A request to go on til 10.30.

Ben says he’d rather not.

Em suggests compromise 10.15.

Agreed.

Proposal is read out, with amendment of putting (General Assembly) after each mention of a decision making meeting.

Test for consensus.

Andria stands aside.

Em and Ben object.

Ben objects because he thinks this is a fundamental change to how OL works and it shouldn’t be made by such a small group when people in the room and not currently in the room have very strong misgivings.

Em objects because of all the points she’s raised already – the key thing being that no one group should be in charge of the GA.

Em points out that we’ve run out of time.

Julie says she thinks these blocks are invalid.

–Discussion of what happens next–

Andria is upset, says we’re not behaving like people who want to change the world and she knows recovering addicts who make more sense than we do.

Andria stops taking minutes [the GA is now officially over as it’s 10.20pm and we agreed to stop at 10.15pm]. Andria leaves.

Ben explains the process now is that if 90% of the people think the blocks are invalid, the blocks will fall.

George says isn’t it 75%?

Em – no, it’s 90%, that’s what was agreed and used before.

Julie says she doesn’t think this is the process.

Ben says yes, this process was agreed and was used at least 3 times already.

A count reveals that because Em and Ben are not going to say their blocks are invalid and there are only 10 people in the room, there isn’t 90% agreement that the blocks are invalid.

Em points out that we’ve run out of time but people keep talking.

Someone says that the process now is Ben and Em have to work with the proposer(s) to come up with a solution.

Em and Ben are prepared to do this but no decision is made as to how or when.

Inka says not online.

Em says it might have to be online.

Ben says what about tomorrow (Sat 1st)?

Someone says no.

Someone says maybe skype?

Ends, c. 10.40pm

 
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