Democracy Action Working Group (DAWG): Minutes 6.3.14
NOTE: There was a DAWG meeting on Thu 13 March – minutes to follow soon. The next DAWG meeting will be on Thu 20th March 6pm-8pm, Friends House, Euston Rd. See Events for agenda & details.
Occupy London Democracy Action Working Group:
First formal but Second Meeting
6th March 2014
(An informal Inaugural Meeting was held after GA on Sat 1st March – notes on OL Web)
Present: Chris, Maria, George B, George M, Clive, Mike, Obi, Sam and Steve B, who arrived late
Minute Taker: Sam (at times I’ve paraphrased, at others verbatim). Some editing and additions from Chris.
The 1st Formal meeting of the Democracy Action Working Group (DAWG) followed published agenda, to further discuss its aims/objectives.
1) Minutes of 1st meeting accepted with exception of caveat about ‘Bottom up Democracy’. Chris thought this had been addressed as an issue secondary to GA agreed remit of group.
2) Chris Facilitating but with clear instruction to Mike to take over if poor process demanded.
3) It began with a go-around of present members introducing themselves and why they decided to come, ranging from curiosity (Clive) to the perception that this would be a group aimed more towards practice than ‘arcane’ theoretical stuff covered by other working groups in a similar area (Mike).
5/6) Chris began with a reiteration of the ideas underlying the request to GA for its blessing in setting up the group. He envisioned democracy as having always been the key and defining value that Occupy stands for, as it is essentially through this channel that all the other issues that Occupy provides support for can be united and tackled. In the hope of achieving this, something momentous is needed in order to attract the media attention required for public awakening to the idea of democratic deficit and debate leading to the pressure for subsequent change. A big action was suggested as an event which could provide such attention. (Further suggested details to flesh out the Action and long term Campaigning relevance of the group are restated later in this record and reflect input into the Inaugural meeting).
Went on to put particular emphasis on the production of an Initial Statement as fundamental to the largely ignored but very necessary discipline of OLSX/L in ensuring sound and transparent organisational structure with the great benefit of allowing relative autonomy and efficiency of working groups so long as a full minutes are published regularly.
All present were then asked to comment individually upon the objectives of the group, the ‘bones’ of the suggested big agenda and the matter of an initial statement.
Maria expressed the desire for an all-encompassing value which could provide the unity and energy necessary for the success of a large campaign. Wants to see action.
George B said that he saw a lot of this desire for a kind of existential definition for Occupy in discussions he’d had with the Future of Occupy group (very much better known as the Strategy group). He was concerned that the risk of having a sole, large event that mobilisation would cease or fizzle out once the event was over. He emphasised the need to connect with people, particularly the young. He said we needed to devise a way to get people engaged and interested in what we were doing, via the use of music etc.
Maria echoed this sentiment, suggesting that monthly weekend actions might be a good way to build up momentum to a large event in October, and particularly raised the possibility of actions in relation to the May elections.
Obi expressed his frustration that most existing campaigns seem to be mostly reactionary – all the attention focused on opposing and stopping things rather than proposing alternatives.
Clive said he that he fundamentally thought that representative democracy was beyond salvation: people are corruptible, so it will never change. He felt that any democracy campaign with a focus on parliament was basically a waste of time, as it is a puppet of corporations and a pacifier to any popular uprising. With this backdrop, a single day campaign won’t change anything, what is required is a radical change in the way democracy is carried out, needing to be participatory in nature. Necessary conditions for this to work are things like an impartial media and economic factors such as the means for everyone to live without having to work a 40-hour week. Before these kinds of deep structural problems are addressed, other discussions are pointless. Includes concerns that would make no difference to the behaviour/contribution of a captive media.
Mike strongly endorses need for an Initial Statement. Great Brand name but total balls up for two years since eviction. Needs a good website, and links with other groups fundamental. Along with others, responded to Clive by saying that he agreed with him on the size and nature of the hurdles faced, but that we should ask how to change it. Change only happens when rulers are forced to enact it. This is often when the people are hungry: the increasing prevalence of food banks could therefore be seen as evidence that circumstances may be becoming more conducive to change.
Therefore, Occupy needs to be in a position to act when the people demand it – NB after the last great war. Poor expected to pay for economic failure.
Sam said that what had attracted him to Occupy was the idea of demonstrating real democracy in practice to people who had never seen or experienced it before. Getting people involved in this kind of process will therefore speak for itself in terms of showing people how weakly democratic the current system in fact is. He agreed with George B’s argument that there is a need to get people involved via novel methods, and combining this with democratic process in an interesting way.
George M – need for a simple, inspiring message to recruit new people. Building on Mike’s mention of food banks, he suggested that these might be opportune places to mobilise people– the people who go there are the one’s being screwed by the system most, so talking to them about alternatives might be productive.
There was enthusiasm for this suggestion, and Mike suggested that for the next meeting George M and Sam, as new members with a different perspective, go away and draft an initial statement. They both agreed.
On the topic of food banks, Obi mentioned the example of the SE London People’s Assembly, which runs and recruits from food banks. Might be worth exploring but he did express doubts over ther more hierarchical command structure.
Chris said that the movement should try to use parliament as an in-road for initial change. He feared proposing horizontal democracy would be too difficult to sell. He argued that the people who should be focused on are the ‘middle’ apathetic of society. He said that the simple slogan of ‘A Vote that Counts’ appeals to this constituency and is easy to understand. Felt that breakdown of media thrall not as impossible as implied by Clive, that enthusiasm for OL chat shops might, on basis of experience be inappropriate, and that hands on enthusiasm for doing things/actions had proved from experience to be somewhat fickle.
Obi emphasised the need to connect with other groups, to improve the numbers at any future actions. Eg. Dr. Marie Lewis, the chair of Save Lewisham NHS, is a friend of Occupy, and may be worth contacting
Possibilities of Future Event(s):
At the previous meeting ideas largely by Chris and John Sinha were floated of an event in October (for time to prepare) and/or June 15th the commemorate the anniversary of the Chartist’s similar campaign for democracy.
George B expressed worry at the idea of just one event not building enough momentum to change.
The idea of using the 2014 local and European elections as an opportunity for mobilising discussed. George M gave the idea of occupying near polling stations, providing a ‘real democratic choice’ for voters next door. Concern that it may be too small an opportunity, due to low turnout generally, and too soon to prepare effectively. In this latter vein of argument, Chris says that such organisation is the only way to mobilise other groups. Maria responds that people do want to be involved, as long as we have a good idea. Mike stresses the need to attract new people, rather than rely on the old guard.
Chris brought up the possibility of identifying Remembrance Day as a ‘Day of Shame’ in context of a serial attack of ‘War on Wellfare’ etc in the progressive dismantling of the outstanding legacy that came in the wake of the Second World War (NHS etc.). George B says Tony Robinson campaigns on similar issues. However, while people were sympathetic to ideal, consensus seemed to be that it was too controversial a topic, likely to backfire and alienate (Chris agrees, but will not readily discard generality of idea, as it is such an immense issue to sweep under the carpet).
Some more ideas from Chris – Pamphleteering/Book of Issues; A new 175th anniversary Charter (Clive has written one, so that’s cool) and some warmth expressed for latter.
Further from Chris – Large action involving occupation at, and walk to London from, Runnymede (where Magna Carta signed). Other issue groups could occupy other places, specific to their cause, (Eg. NHS campaigners occupy hospitals, those for banking reform the Stock Exchange, etc.) and then all simultaneously march to converge on parliament.
General enthusiasm for this idea. George B says it is best with regard to police response, that these occupations be 48 hours. He suggests we try contact sympathetic celebrities to cause, eg. Thom Yorke. Sam- Russell Brand
7) On agenda – We need to address: links with other groups, co-ordination, subgroups, logistics, communications, advertising, funding. Are other attendees willing to commit to these tasks now? Other attendees replied that they felt the aim and nature of the remit of DAWG needed more definition before these kind of roles were dealt with. Obi and Sam felt the focus should rather be on draw attention currently.
Clive: Neo-liberalism originated in Manchester, something there? Obi – Manc. People’s Assembly has links to Occupy.
A series of possible democratic reforms were then discussed as the basis for kick start to Debate upon the practicalities of ‘A Vote that Counts’, with real practical potential so that the Campaign would have a robust identity with realistic possibilities fro change. Chris – abolish itemised manifestoes and replace with multiple mini referrenda at election time. Clive says this is participatory democracy, which he had thought wasn’t the change sought by DAWG. George B replies that we agree on this as an aim, but merely see parliament as the method through which to reach this model – a party wins and then decentralises power to people – cf Bolivia and Venezuela
Obi- Remembrancer in parliament both symbol and instrument of City’s power in parliament, formal role. Should be abolished. Items of discussion for a Charter?
Further suggestions from Chris – no party whipping so that parliamentary votes can aspire to integrity. Vote for candidates on record and for party on attitudes rather than policies at time of General Election. Controls of funding and lobbying’
Lively discussion followed on Occupy’s own future and structural problems, seen as inherent to question of democracy. Chris hopes to put something to next GA and would be good if this group could take a constructive interest as should be seen as one part of its remit
George B – ‘conservative’ model of dem in Occupy problematic – one person can block change that all other agree on.
Chris saw the activities of the Occupy Strategy group to be a debacle, making decisions without transparency. Obi responds that a live stream is available for those not present.
George B proposes that the way to resolve this existential crisis to be a day long General Assembly, a ten minute slot at a two hour GA not sufficient time to address such questions fundamental to Occupy’s nature.
There is disagreement from Chris here. He says that it is unfair on those who cannot make the meeting to make lasting decisions there. George B, Obi, Maria and others respond that there will always be people missing some meetings. Sam says a day long one gives people more opportunity to be involved, even if not for the whole day.
Chris prefers to have regular shorter assemblies, then suggestions online, then revisions. George B argues this is what happens already, and Occupy has achieved little due to this model in the last two years. He continues that we need to build links with other organisations, and to do this change the model, which was given to Occupy rather than ever decided upon. Problems of internal power relations and suspicion, which need to be addressed by a principle of permissiveness, rather than constant blocking. The strategy meetings should simply have been called a GA, says Obi.
Chris emphasises in his attempt to ‘source’ commitment that the task for which this group has been commissioned is a massive undertaking which will demand a great deal of work. This will be highly dependant upon co-operative networking in order to gain the essential organisational momentum needed. Thus cannot afford the luxury of traditional chat shop Occucomfort and need to be powerfully aware of time pressures. Need to focus on a single large event, as people may be ineffectually diverted by small ones.
Sam and George M to draw up a draft Initial Statement, Chris to supplement additional one.
Consensus that next meeting seek to clarify aims and plans further.
Next meeting Friends House 6pm Thursday 13th March