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Piloting an anarcha-feminist approach to researching horizontality and consensus within Occupy London and Global Square
Kate Burrell
Comments, thoughts and feedback very welcome. Email: katyburrell@gmail.com

Constructing an anarcha-feminist methodology and participatory action research design, I consider ways that power relations of mainstream capitalist society, with its multiple oppressions, of race, class, gender and socio-economic status can be recreated within activist communities. With a focus on ‘how’ we organise, rather than ‘why’, I use militant and auto- ethnography to explore dilemmas of consensus and horizontality within the newest wave of social movements – concerning participation, inclusivity, diversity. Using case studies of Occupy London and Global Square initiative (individuals from Occupies Wall St, London and Netherlands, 15M, Via 22 and Tunisian activists) at the World Social Forum in March 2013, as well as my own experiences of activism since 1994, I reflect on how our social movements can overcome ‘historical amnesia’ and improve collective learning. By combining lessons from previous movements – women’s, global justice, and current movements – the Occupy sites around the world – with hyper-reflexivity in everyday practice, I suggest ways to overcome differential positioning and experiences that can create inequalities of voice within activist participation. Furthermore, I argue that horizontal principles and practice are fundamental to movement integrity, to ‘being’ the change we desire, to future possibilities of radical social transformation – in Holloway’s words, to ‘chang(ing) the world without taking power’.

One has to reflect on every action: Why are we doing this? What do we want in the future? Who is on our side? Where do we want to go and how do we want to get there? Is there anyone else in history who wanted the same or something similar?
(Stronzake 2012, p118).

Horizontality and consensus-decision-making are becoming more fundamental principles and practices of social movements. Present within Global Justice Movement (GJM) as a way of organising without leaders, assemblies have become crucial to the newest wave of social movements (since 2011) – the ways they present themselves and their possible futures, with Occupies using a particular model of consensus decision-making. On the one hand horizontality allows for radical prefiguration of direct democracy, a living alternative to representative democracy which often fails to fulfil the will of people, around issues like war and neo-liberal austerity. On the other, horizontality involves many unresolved issues, like ‘invisible’ hierarchy, recreation of inclusions and exclusions of mainstream society according to social disparity and multiple overlapping oppressions like race, class and gender. The Occupy movement has been accused of suffering ‘historical amnesia’ that is failing to learn lessons of past movements that have organised in similar ways, the women’s movement, GJM andWorld Social Forums (WSFs)(Smith and Glidden 2012). In this paper, I will be exploring these issues with regard to horizontality within Occupy London (March-May 2012, Jan-March 2013), and the experiences of Global Square, a collective who came together from the newest movements (Occupy London, Wall St and Netherlands, Via 22 from Canada, 15M Spain, Tunisian horizontalists) at the WSF in Tunis (March 2013). I am comparing experiences of Occupy London, with experiences of past movements alongside other current Occupies to make some suggestions toimprove practice. The ways horizontality, are lived out in the everyday, I argue is crucial to the internal integrity and future success of social movements and our possibility and probability of bringing about real and lasting change – effective non-hierarchy being fundamental to ‘chang(ing) the world without taking power’ (Holloway 2002).

I am piloting Participatory Action Research (PAR) design and constructing an anarcha-feminist methodology for my PhD, in order to create a radical way of engaging with movements which reflects the movements themselves. My work is open, participative, horizontal and collective. By incorporating anarchist anthropology (by Juris 2007, 2008, Graeber 2004, 2009) with feminist reflexivity, I am creating a methodology which is sensitive to social processes, decision-making practices and internal diversity, whilst being reflexive in personal and collective practice. Through bringing together women’s liberation and anarchist theories and practice, anarcha-feminism is concerned with how we organise rather than why (AK Press 2012), working ‘not just for women’s equality but for absolute equality’ (RAGDublin 2012), its sensitivity to intersectionality of gender with race, class and ability and its project to end all forms of domination and oppression.

In this literature review, firstly, I introduce contested concepts of horizontality, consensus and their limits. Secondly, I outline particular issues experienced by previous movements and other Occupies around the world and strategies to overcome them. Thirdly, I introduce the case of Occupy London.

According to Mason, horizontality is a defining feature of the newest wave of social movements that are ‘kicking off everywhere’ and ‘power to’ rather than ‘power over’ is a new way of thinking and doing crucial to ‘chang(ing) the world without taking power’ (Sitrin 2012a). For Sitrin, who has experience of horizontality within both Argentinian popular uprising and within Occupy US,horizontalidadis a ‘dynamic social relationship’, ‘a flat plane’ of communication, ‘direct democracy and striving for consensus’, to ensure everyone is heard (2012, p8). It is rejection of hierarchy and political parties but also ‘a goal as well as a tool, a means and an end’ (Sitrin 2012a, p8).For Sitrin, experiences of history and collective memory are important to understanding new movements. She traces resistance history in Argentina, through the1990s, thechildren of those who disappeared during dictatorship, the 1960s-70s revolutionary armed struggle against capitalism and imperialism, 1950s-60s diverse experiences of Peronism, back to 19th-early 20th century radical labour movements. She praises, the feminist movement’s contribution to horizontality, which made space for subjectivity, the personal as political, and the civil rights movements commitment to transcending race as well as hierarchy of all kinds.

Cornell defines consensus as meaning that ‘all parties involved in discussing a topic or making a decision have reached a similar agreement’ (2012, p163). For Poletta, consensus concerns clarity about diversity of opinion, as much as it does arriving at a one. Occupiers ‘refusal of internal hierarchy’ and ‘to operate only by direct democracy, without leaders but by consensus’ follows anarchist principles, says David Graeber(2012b, p145), anarchist anthropologist involved with Occupy Wall Street. Anarchism, for him is the only to organise society that doesn’t involve majority versus minority interests nor coercion through threat of violence. From his US perspective, Americans are raised with the values of freedom and democracy, but are taught ‘in subtle, yet constant ways’ that genuine democracy and freedom can never truly exist’ (Graeber 2011, p23). He describes consensus-decision-making therefore as ‘”enacting the impossible”… The moment we realize the fallacy of this teaching, we start to ask: How many other “impossible” things we might be able to pull off?’ (p24). ‘When you experience things in this way it changes your entire perspective of what can be achieved’ (Graeber2011, p30).

Challenges to decision-making within horizontality
Marina Sitrin outlines issues within horizontality that she witnessed in Popular Assemblies in Argentina (2012a). Firstly, the difficulty in ‘shaking-off’ habits of capitalism, means that we are always striving for horizontality – it is a process not a perfect form. Secondly, the amount of time it takes to come to good decisionsprevents ‘regular’ people from participation, reduces time for other important work. Thirdly,power issues occur whenleadership cliques (or long-term respected people) are listened to more than newcomers (p79). Drawing on Jo Freeman’s famous piece from the Women’s Movement ‘The Tyranny of Structurelessness’ (1972)she points to movements being conscientious about informal leadership by resolving it head-on. Finally, issues with horizontal structure – that past affinity and relationships may allow individuals or groups to dominate.

Consensus within the Occupy Movement
Within the Occupy Movement, a particular model of consensus has developed involving General Assemblies (GAs), attended by everyone, for information sharing, discussion, decision-making and Working Groups with practical (welfare, media, outreach) or themed focus (‘real democracy’, ‘economic alternatives’, ‘energy, equity and the environment’ in London) for doing work, research or constructing proposals. Proposals are taken to General Assemblies, presented, discussed, and accepted if everyone agrees. If there is disagreement, people either stand aside to show moderate disagreement or block to show absolute disagreement. Proposals can be countered with alternatives, reworked or abandoned altogether. Facilitators ‘read’ the feeling of the assembly through participants’ hand signals (Occupy LSX 2011 and Appendix 2). A process meeting occurs prior to assembly for facilitators to resolve practical issues.
Cornell sees consensus as having both negative and positive impacts atWall Street (2012). ‘Fairly inclusive’, it brings ‘some order to the chaos of thousands of strangers suddenly trying to communicate their political desires’ together (p164). However, consensus as ‘a participatory, egalitarian, self-determining movement’ and ‘a society with the same characteristics’ is too simplistic (p164). What works for small groups to mobilise may be totally different from what is needed for broad, inclusive social transformation. Hethen outlines 70 years of social movements’ history (Quakers, Peacemakers, Civil Rights, radical feminist, Food not Bombs, anti-roads protest, GJM and Occupy) in which consensus has had diverse meanings and uses. He views Sitrin and Graeber’sprefigurative ‘means and an end’ perspective as turning consensus into a ‘mystical faith’ which needs ‘de-fetishizing…so that we can stop attributing powers and significance to it that have never been demonstrated’ (p172).Rather he argues for Occupiers and thinkers to ‘clarify their ideas about what amore deeply democratic society’ will look like and also build a ‘strategic, tactically and organisationally-flexible movement that can improve the lives of millions… in concrete terms not just in theory’ (p173).

Historical amnesia and learning from other movements
The Occupy Movement has been accused of suffering from ‘historical amnesia’,that is failure to learn lessons of previous similar movements, like the Women’s Movement, GJM and WSF (Smith and Glidden 2012). Jo Freeman’s ‘Tyranny of Structurelessness’ (1972) stimulated a mass of responses, from women at the time, over theyears and was influential to GJM principles and practice. Freeman described the perils of horizontal organising – that friendship and trust relationships can be hard to penetrate allowing individuals and cliques to dominate, excluding new women especially those showing initiative. Also how class structures were replicated within the Women’s Movement – due to differences in confidence to speak and do, and differing availability of time outside income generation. What’s more, in a ‘structureless’ form, it can be difficult to challenge hierarchy.
At Occupy Pittsburgh, Smith and Glidden (2012) describe problems withOccupy’sConsensus, which created similar invisible hierarchies through differing availability and ability to participate, as outlined above. Camp-based GAsexcludedthose with work or childcare responsibilities who left earlier, missing the final decisions (p290). They also describe ‘fetishization of consensus’- the frequency and length of GAs, as taking activists away from organising actions, outreach and camp practicalities. Furthermore, assemblies were exclusive because ‘cultural, educational and social disparities…meant those‘less familiar with the dominant practices or less confident or articulate were discouraged’ fromlarge and open meetings (p291). Finally, they criticise Occupy Pittsburgh refusal to make pro-active efforts to link with oppressed groups that have leaders, as taking the feminist movements critique of leadershiptoo far.
Useful lessons from the GJM, include recognising that ‘global capitalism affects different people according to class, race, gender, nationality and social position’ and the ‘systemic violence that excludes particular communities from full participation in political and economic life’ making consensus exclusionary to the most oppressed (Smith and Glidden, 2012, p292). They view WSFasa ‘lab for activists to develop techniques of maximising participation and inclusion across a huge diversity of global movements’ and suggest OWS could learn from‘extensive self-reflection, analysis and dialogue’ to improve their participatory democracy,crucial to the future success of Occupy (p292). At WSF, deliberate effort is given to engaging Southern movements, through solidarity funds and forms of ‘active-listening’ and through focus on collective autonomy of indigenous groups rather than individualised autonomy of Western Occupiers.

Experiences from other Occupies in challenging blocks to horizontality

For horizontality to occur, participation must be maximised and voices made equal.Juris et al, similarlyargue for‘deeper engagement with internal differences and power relations’ within the 99% and a ‘self-reflexive, adaptable approach toward negotiating and bridging’ them (2012, p435). In Boston, successful strategies included anti-oppression workshops, creating working groups for ‘People of Colour’, ‘Women’, and ‘Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Queer and Transgender’and targeting outreach to working class people of colour, from black and Latino communities. They reduced frequency and length of assemblies, gave more time for break-out groups and introduced ‘progressive stack’ to prioritise those speaking less often.The El Paso camp, where initially, Occupiers and the homeless were in conflict over access to the public square became a ‘positive example of solidarity across classes’, as Occupy identity embraced the homeless as part of the 99%, homeless people became empowered through becoming Occupiers (Smith et al 2012, p364).

Occupy London – the highs, the lows of consensus and General Assemblies
‘Never before have I seen so many people so excited by the ideas of having a meeting. Then again, never before have I seen a meeting quite like this… Every suggestion is tested for consensus. Anyone can have their say. (Gee 2013, p10).
On 15 October 2011, ‘the world witnessed one of the biggest ever simultaneous acts of protest as people in 900 places across the globe adopted the name and tactic ‘Occupy’ (Gee 2013 p7). Outside the London Stock Exchange, 2000 people took part in the first London assemblies resulting in a statement 48 hours later, passed by full consensus of 1000 people. Point 10 was ‘This is what democracy looks like: Come and join us’ (see Appendix 1). According to the Occupy London Toolkit, ‘finding consensus is not easy, but once its found it creates a strong bond amongst all those who participated in a very real way’ (2011 p10).
Initially ‘we had REAL conversations – about the state of the world, about the future we’d like to live in…that was electrifying…revolutionary…we had so much hope, everything seemed possible’ (Anonymous 2012, p442 describing an unidentified UK Occupy camp). However, many Occupiers burnt out fast after a bitterwinter with scarce resources, poor sanitation and central urban location, bringing a ‘constant supply of drunk revellers’, those with addiction and complex emotional needs. Camp processes were unable to deal with gender issues and assault, there was increasing paranoia and different identities among Occupiers widened to huge gulfs. Anonymous compares this breakdown to be like the end of a love affair. These first hand accounts of the highs and lows of consensus and horizontality within a five month period epitomisethe dilemmas we have in turning principle into practice, dreams into reality and resolving multiple issues of living social change.

My research design and methodology are constructed to reflect the movement – open, participative, horizontal, and engaged(Burrell 2013). Using a Participatory Action Research (PAR) design, with extended case study, and anarcha-feminist methodology, my aim is to further radical social change, by offering tools for collective critical reflection on important issues within the activist community. In this pilot, using Occupy London (Occupy London 2013) and Global Square (Global Square 2013) as my cases, I am experimenting with combining anarcho-anthropological methods like Juris’s ‘militant ethnography’ (2007, 2008) with feminist methodologies, like auto-ethnography, to gain relevant, nuanced and holistic understanding of horizontality and consensus, from an anarcha-feminist perspective. By triangulating ethnographic data from current meetings, workshops and actions, my own experiences of protest with movement coverage in radical literature, I am situating present issues within a longer and broader resistance context. My intent is to aid collective learning, by drawing together lessons from today with lessons from the past, to inform future struggle.

I have used PAR design tocollectivelyselect topics of relevance to the movement and in collective critical reflection of our principles and practices with Occupiers and other activists. However, following Motta, I am moving beyond critical realist ontologies and epistemologies (usually associated with PAR) to better engage with ‘pre-figurative post-representational politics…which is intellectual, affective, subjective and collective’ (2011, p179). Motta critiques concepts of structure and agency, rooted in intellectual conceptualisations of the nature of knowledge, allowing false dichotomies between social movements as producers of practical knowledge and academics as producers of theoretical knowledge, reinforcing division of labourand capitalist alienation. Through co-construction of knowledge within movements, theoretical practice expandsto become ‘collective reflection of communities in struggle’ giving space for horizontal relationships of mutual collective learning, where‘epistemology becomes a prefigurative practice of everyday life…opening up the possibilities of creating the worlds we desire’ (p196).

Similarly, Chatterdon, Fuller and Routledge (2007), recommend puttingthe ‘Action’ back into Participatory Action Research of social movements through delivering transformative social change. They recommend activist-academics helping to organise transformation, through collectively identifying needs, sharing skills and co-producing work, by challenging power relations within the movement, through prefigurative action – being the change we want to see, and creating participatory spaces for ‘transformative dialogue, mutual learning as well as conflict’ (p222).

An anarcha-feminist approach to research
From the literature, through speaking to Occupiers, longer term activists and drawing on my own experiences, it is clear that direct democracy processes can be hugely empowering or disempowering. An anarcha-feminist perspective involves considering how multiple oppressions mentioned above map onto experiences of horizontality and consensus in the past, present and possible futures. Feminist reflexivity, through drawing on past lessons, is a useful tool for overcoming Occupy’s ‘historical amnesia’ (Smith and Glidden 2012). In addition, following Juris, I argue that an anarcho-anthropological perspective to analysing social movement struggle,is sensitive to horizontality and consensus as social processes, as decision-making practices and as affecting internal diversity, through ethnographic analysis and collective reflection (2007, 2008).
Militant ethnographyis an anarcho-anthropological method, which involves attending protests, organising actions and being fully submerged in activist life, culture and lived emotion (Juris 2007). In this pilot, I have participated in Occupy London – action organising, visiting Finsbury Square camp, meetings (March-May 2012) and workshops, a women’s occupation, visitedFriern Barnet library, a General Assembly (January-March 2012). Most recently, I travelled to Tunis as part of ‘Global Square’ collective skillsharing and networking around horizontalitywithin theWSF(March 2013).

Autoethnography is a feminist method which can involve a diversity of forms telling one’s own story, in a way that can be contextualised into a socio-political, historico-cultural landscape. It is deeply reflexive and personal and can be highly evocative. In this pilot, I am using autoethnographyto reflect on my Occupy experiences, using my previous resistance experiencesince 1994 (anti-roads, Global Justice Movement, No Borders,protest samba, anti-war, running squats and social centres)to shed light on current,ongoing dilemmas of horizontality.

Ethical Issues
Responsibility to multiple publics, in my case the activist community, the research community, and (eventually) the general public, (alongside my University and funding body) necessitates ‘reflexive research ethics’, where ethical issues are not ‘static and detached’, but rather ‘responsive, relational and often contextual’ (Cordner et al 2012, p171). The values and principles organising my work must be acceptable or at least justifiable, to numerous diverse, interested and supportive parties and my work must be accountable to anarchists and academics alike. I consider various ethical aspects to this pilot.

Participation and consent: When describing my research and asking for consent in conversations with individuals, groups and in meetings, I invite activists to be as involved or as uninvolved as they want to be in the research process(with the right to withdraw any comments at any time). This is to ensure that there is not a feeling that I am distracting activists from activism, but also that this work and my forthcoming PhD are collaborative in terms of identification of crucial issues, opportunities for individuals to express their opinions and have these taken seriously in my work, as co-researchers, whose ideas and opinions are as valid as mine and anyone else’s. I present my research as an opportunity for informal collective critical reflection about issues that are important to us.

Activism, academia and non-hierarchy:This is a non-hierarchical engagement with a non-hierarchical community – any other way of attempting to communicate would be ridiculous and ridiculed – as it would not fit into the basic premise of autonomous struggle that whilst we may all be very different people, we are all equal and all our voices must be given time and space to be heard.I tread carefully between the roles of academic and activist, as the horizontal organisation of the movement doesn’t necessarily sit easily alongside the University, which comes under scrutiny because of its vertical structure, increasingly neo-liberal agenda and for reproducing and reinforcing capitalism and class society (Chatterdon 2009).

Access: In terms of access, many longer-term activists remember me from mass demos, actions, meetings and protests over the years, and other newer activists may not know my face, but recognise my language, topics of conversation, have heard or read about protests I talk about, and so in an environment where trust is not always easy to gain, due to intense police surveillance and infiltration, usually I can establish common ground. Gatekeepers are those I know already who introduce me to their friends and other members of the community. Most Occupy meetings are open.

Risk and responsibility One ‘complex ethical consideration’ in social movements research is the ‘positions of particular vulnerability’ of individuals and collectives with whom we work, according to Gillian and Pickerill (2012, p133). ‘They may be relatively powerless in terms of their social situation, their activities may be covert or illegal, and they may face a high risk of repression’. Therefore, we as activist-academics must choose carefully ‘what we report, in what terms we report it and what we leave unsaid, judging the risks faced by research respondents’ (p133).

In this section, I will outline my own experiences and reflections of Occupy London and Global Square and triangulate thesewith experiences of past social movements and recent Occupy experiences within the literature.

Occupy London
In March 2012, Finsbury Square occupation (the Occupy London camp after St Pauls was evicted) was ongoing and well-populated, but increasingly detached from the General Assemblies, which were deliberately located away from the site to avoid ‘disruption’ from camping Occupiers. General Assemblies (GAs) on the steps of St Paul’s had by this stage 15-40 participants. Run by Occupy consensus model, orderly, a bit chilly and quite hard to hear, these were open assemblies. Proposals were written and submitted 24 hours before and a facilitation group had a ‘process’ meeting to ensure the agenda was clear and to discuss possible outcomes and directions. Attendees were from working groups (media, facilitation, Economic, Real Democracy and from Environment Energy and Equity) – articulate, dynamic, sensitive, thinking and creative people. Most had degrees, most were white, most were middle class or from established movements, the Left, the church or women’s.A newly introduced ‘safer spaces’ policy ensured people did not drink no alcohol, in an attempt to tackle the issues outlined by Anonymous (2012). So alcoholics, even the polite ones, were somewhat excluded from the process.

Few people from the camp attended the GAs. There was a feeling, expressed by some campers, that the outcome of meeting was to an extent‘fixed’ and participation had little to offer. There were ongoing disputes between the GA, Working Group Occupiers and Occupiers, over access to funds, accounting, movement priorities and tactics. When Finsbury Square was facing eviction, camp requested £500 to pay materials for ‘lock-ons’, the request was refused because of lack of receipts fromlast week’s toilet delivery, and because the GA didn’t agree with defending the occupation. The land belonged to the Islington not the Corporation of London, therefore ‘did not deserve’high eviction costs. Finsbury Square Occupiers were annoyed and bemused byperceived lack of support from the Assembly which they saw as failing to support Occupation.

The next day I attended a meeting at Finsbury Square camp. A muddy but lively occupation, with an info-point, library, large communal kitchen tent and maybe 80-100 small dwellings from tents to wooden pallet shacks. Chaotic, vibrant, but people were obviously fatigued by St Pauls eviction, and hurriedly preparing for another. The meeting was around a large rectangular table – a kind of open air anarcho-boardroom – overlooked by offices all around. Firstly, no facilitator, then arguments about who would facilitate, three people stormed out, being heard meant shouting loudest. Eventually everyone who had something to say had spoken and Occupiers continuedfortifying their home, with no funds, out of what they could find. These Occupiers were very diverse but predominantly young, predominantly male, and at least asethnically rich as London itself. Many people have the appearance of homelessness, addiction, mental health issues, others of free party, traveller, urban squatting and rural tree-protester culture – and together they were actively creating a thriving welcoming, if chaotic,resistance community.

In the last year, since these two contrasting meetings,Occupy London, like other Occupies has been reflexive in its practice, recognising and addressing issues to some extent. Assemblies are now occassional, themed and well attended (80 people), around say debt, focusing on building ideas, networks and action to counter ‘blame and shame’ psychology of borrowing.Local work includes Friern Barnet library, closed through cuts, given back to the people to self-manage, solidarity with social tenants against rent rises, and engaging with international networks, like Global Square. Conflicts of diverse groups living, organising, making revolution together have dissipated as Occupiers have returned to their former homes, or taken new squats – smaller, gated, less diverse squats. This is obviously not a long term solution for dealing with differences, but for now London Occupiers can come together again to take organise, educate,take collective action in positive ways.

Global Square
Assemblies in Global Square, assemblies in the squatted anarchist enclave, assemblies in the streets of Tunis… All we had to do was lay down a banner, have a conversation, and wherever we went, an assembly began!

Juxtaposed between mainstream World Social Forum and the Tunisian people and their revolution, it was not immediately clear where our allegiances as individuals, a collective and as movements lay. Who were we and what did we represent? Which lessons of resistance did we wish to impart and how could we do so in a manner that was useful to the people we met? How could we avoid replicating colonial forms of power, knowledge and language? Were we there to learn or to teach, network upwards or grow roots? Did we want to be part of thehierarchical, capitalist albeit global forum, that our anarchist brothers and sisters were strongly and openly critiquing? Were we in international space or Tunisian space, the birthplace of the Arab Spring? These are some of the questions none of us took lightly.

A small collective from Spanish 15M, Occupy London, Wall St, Netherlands and Tunisian movements, for many of us this was our first meeting and time working together. Seeds sown at Agora99 (Barcelona) and ESF, in Florence 2012, Global Square, an online platform for global movements is in early days. We had come together in Tunis, to share horizontal organising methods and tools with global activists, NGOs, local activists and Tunisian people. After sometimes heated discussion about various approaches within our diverse experiences of activism and social change, but committed to open participative action, we decided to reach out to anyone who was interested, both within the forum and on the streets, prioritising also future solidarity with Tunisian horizontalists. And that is exactly what we did. At assemblies, people spoke about disillusionment with mainstream movements, hierarchy within WSF, unfinished revolution and repression in Tunis, ways our governments set us against each other and the shape of ongoing work. We looked at the social forum and beyond, at the consensus model and beyond. We all took moments out of our busy lives to dream futures, remind ourselves that the future is in our hands, and that whilst we may differ in perspective, experience, and culture, new worlds can be materialised through meeting and committing to global and local collective action for radical social change.

Reflecting on these experiences, with regard to the literature, I can say that whereas GJM used ‘the smallest amount of organisation necessary’ (Leila and Sacha 2002, p25), by 2011, within Occupy, horizontality has become a principle and a practice, a means and an end, as described by Sitrin (2012a). For some, Occupy’sconsensus modelinvolves mass empowerment, emancipation, almost euphoria (Gee 2013, Graeber, 2012). Imperfect in use and application, but embued with deeper meaning and significance by many, a ‘mysticization’ (Cornell 2012), and fetishization (Smith and Gliddens 2012, Cornell 2012) has indeed occurred. Themodel has at times structured and dominated everyday life excluding those who do not excel, as described at Pittsburgh, and toward the end of camp-based phase in London, where it became a source of upset, trauma and distrust. And this has occurred because ofsome of the reasons outlined in this pilot – friendships causing individuals and cliques to dominate among other reasons(Freeman 1972, Smith and Glidden 2012). In London, the ‘facilitation’ meetingperhaps drifted away from practicalities to desired outcomes, resulting in frustration, disillusionment, disengagement with assemblies, consensus, sometimes, the movement as a whole.Other Occupiers have been unable to participate through lack of time, cultural familiarity, educational background or become disillusioned by its failure to address crucial issues like classism, racism or sexual assault echoing critiques from other Occupies (Boston – Juris et al, Pittsburgh – Glidden and Smith, El Paso – Smith et al). For these people, theGA has become another way in which power relations of capitalist society are recreated and reinforced within our own activist communities.It is therefore essential for those who excel within assemblies to be particularly aware of how oppressive it may be for brothers, sisters and cousins within the movement.
Consensus, therefore I believe, does have its limits… I agree with Cornell that using consensus does not in itself guarantee social change. It does not buffer us from the evils of society norfrom issues like class, race and gender oppression, nor from individualistic cultures of neo-liberalism and global capitalism. But it may be an extremely important process in the working out of new ways of being and doing, new ways of organising and relating…the discursive process, where every voice is welcomed, listened to and equal, a vehicle for travelling toward real equality,as Sitrin suggests. Open commitment to horizontality, at least should allow us to be accountable, so that if someone feels that it is not working as it should, this is taken seriously and addressed. Through discussing issues as a movement, they may be resolved, as Freeman and Sitrin suggest (1972, 2012).
History is important to how we organise because political strategies and tactics recur over time, often with shifting meaning or function. In the UK, for example, occupations have been used by 17th century Diggers suffering food shortages, 20th century returning soldiers needing homes, travellers seeking alternatives to urban life since the 1980s, to protectcountryside from road construction since the 90s, to provide urban political social centres since the 60s, but especially during the 2000s and recently by students fightingtuition fees. The Occupy Movement has used occupation of financial centres to challenge the banks, corruption, neo-liberal priorities and to reclaim the public sphere by providing a space for discussion about global issues, for lived alternatives of being, doing and thinking, at the heart of global capitalism. Horizontality and consensus can similarly be traced to indigenous communities on the one hand (like Graeber’s Madagascan community 2013), and seventeenth century Quakers on the other, through 70 years of social movements history, that Cornell refers to. It makes sense therefore to glean as much is useful and relevant from these experiences.

As, Smith and Glidden claim, ‘historical amnesia’ does exist within our movement and Occupy has at times been accused of ‘re-inventing the wheel’, claiming as new, resistance practices which are age-old, showing lack of connection with the past. Movements have rapid turnover of activists and participants because political activism is a high risk, high stress activity, does not fit that easily alongside paid employment, raising children, so is difficult to sustain throughout the life course. Recent rapid expansion, through ‘mass-self-communication’ (Castells 2012) via the internet, and mainstream press coverage has drawn in lots of new people who are just beginning to be aware of multiple oppressions of capitalist society, as Juris et al suggest (2012, p436). These factors make it particularly difficult for continuity and collective learning to occur.For me, drawing in new people, is one of the most important things a movement can do, without which we stagnate and fold, so findingbetter ways to incorporate past experiences is crucial to our success.I agree with Smith and Glidden that Occupy could learn valuable lessons from the women’s movement (to avoid the ‘tyranny of structurelessness’), the GJM(about how global capitalism’s multiple oppressions differentially impact individuals and communities) which could improve collective solutions.AsSitrincombines her experiences of Argentinian assemblies with Occupy assemblies, I am attempting to combine my previous movement experiences with what is going on now to comment on horizontality and contribute to collective learning.

Regarding WSF, I agree with Smith and Glidden that Occupy could learn a lot, about inclusion, diversity, Southern struggles and collective autonomy, and the Global Square facilitators and participants(including myself) benefitted hugely from exchanging ideas and practices of horizontality and consensus with respective movements. My fieldwork has however also shown that WSF’shas a lot to learn from Occupy, Global Square, the anarchist and refugee squatted camp (which critiqued verticality and capitalism within the forum).These lessons are about the advantages of horizontality, real democracy, avoiding replication of an exclusive ‘mini-capitalism’ which excludes Tunisians through cost, excludes refugees facing eviction (from UNHCR Choucha camp) through lack of documentation, divides Arab and Western World through lack of translation. About opening up spaces for everyone to speak and be heard,moving beyond stereotypes fed us by oil-hungry or traditional Islamic Governments, to talk about broken dreams of revolution, political leaders being assassinated, hopes and dreams for the future, how to move forward, from now, through local and global horizontal resistance.‘Within the resistance are born economies and decision-making systems more democratic than any government could ever be’ (Gee 2013, p18-20).
Smith and Glidden failed to mention institutionalisation within the WSF that anarchists, refugees and Global Square were attuned to. In Tunis, huge divisions between WSF and activist principles and processes were evident and loud, epitomised by the final meeting where the panel of speakers were drowned out by anarchists shouting ‘A- Anti- Anti-capitalista’. Half the meeting joined in, half left. Eventually one group of Western Saharans stormed the stagewhilst anothergroup had it (who word had it, were being funded by the US) and the speaker was punched.Global Square is currently having online meetings about whether and how to participate in the next forum. Despite WSF’s internal issues, Global Square was a success asmany were newly exposed or deepening their understanding of horizontality – a real contribution to collective learning.
Finally, in this section, to summarise the advantages of my methodology,I argue that PAR research design andanarcha-feminist methods have facilitated open, participative, horizontal, ethical, engaged research, thathas contributed to horizontal movements’ collective learning as follows:
• Open, participatory research – through inviting activists to be as involved as they wish, sharing ideas, thoughts and reflections on movement priorities and issues throughout the research.
• Action-focused research- through participating in transformative social change, constructively challenging power relations within the movement (following Chatterdon, Fuller and Routledge, 2007) but collectively-building ideas and strategies about how to tackle them.
• Focusing on how we organise rather than why. Juris’s militant ethnography uncovers multiple oppressions as they are re-produced within the movement. Auto-ethnography facilitates experiential self-reflection. When triangulated with previous and current movement-based radical literature, spaces open up for more nuanced understandings and possible solutions to the anarcha-feminist dilemma ofhow we organise, rather than why (AK Press 2012) to avoid reproducing inequalities of capitalist societywithin our movements.
• Forging new relationships between the academy and activism, theory and practice. As activist, returning to the academy, I have utilised academic ways of knowing to start to unpack and resolve issues within activist communities, been hyper-vigilant about horizontal engagement, being embedded within activism, returning to the academy for supervision. For me, it is not so much Motta’s ‘unlearning of academic privilege’ more re-appropriation of academic rigour and reflection to benefit social change through increasing integrity between movement principles and practice –that is who we are, what we want and howto arrive there, through horizontality.
• Stimulating collective reflection and critical analysis of horizontality and consensus among fellow activist, within conversations, assemblies, actions, networks regarding issues like multiple oppressions of class, race, gender and socio-economic status.By bringing issues into discussion, creating space for their resolution (as Freeman and Sitrin recommend).
• Stimulating collective learning through raising issues from the literature about previous movements (women’s, GJM), other Occupies and through sharing my own experiences of horizontality in anti-war, GJM, samba and social centres. Historical amnesia is tackled by incorporating lessons from the past into current ways of thinking, knowing and doing.
This pilot and thePhD (for which it is preparation) therefore are part of movement-based theorising and collective learning about our principles, practices and possible futures, offering some suggestions of how to improve horizontality,which is crucial to the future success of social movements and our possibility to bring about real and lasting change.


Whilst my anarcha-feminist methodology is useful and enlightening, every method has limitations. Fieldwork has allowed me to experience Occupy London, for brief moments, which do not reflect St Pauls occupation, similarly Global Square was for one week. My account is personal and subjective representing my opinion alone, although I have includedother voices as much as possible. Occupy London and Global Square are small parts a movement and generalisations cannot be made from these cases, rather they are an addition to a wealth of small and large works attempting to understand, describe and contribute to movements. With militant research, my role was sometimes hazy – assumptions from others were sometimes that I would study rather than participate as an activist, and I wonder whether ‘doing research’ created a hyper-vigilance aroundhorizontality issues, althoughskillsharing also makes people reflexive of their own practices. When initiating discussion about lessons from the past and other Occupies, it is obviously necessary to be sensitive to the importance Occupy has had in people’s lives – and aware of criticism that has flooded in from multiple directions. As Graeber says the fact that Occupy is criticised for failing to change the world in three months is ‘testimony to how much we really did accomplish’ (2012a, p425).

Further research around issues of horizontality and consensus could involve more prolonged and extensive fieldwork with Occupy London and Occupy International to continue collective learning from past and present. The work could also be extended to other groups / collectives / networks in the UK and internationally, for example how different groups are functioning, connecting and learning in the run up to G8 actions (London, June 2013). The PAR design and anarcha-feminist methodology could also be focused at finding collective solutions to other recurring issues within social movements – police repression, creating safer spaces, facilitating activist participation throughout the life course.

In this pilot, I have used PAR research design and constructed an anarcha-feminist methodology to enable open, participative, horizontal, ethical, engaged research, throughmilitant ethnography and auto-ethnography to contribute to the collective learning of horizontal social movements, so that lessons from previous movements and around the world become part of our own theorising about principles, practices and possible futures. Ihave contributed to academic ways of knowing, through experimenting with novel approaches to activist-research, methodology, to the UK case of Occupy, barely covered in the literature and reflections around Occupy International networking, Global Square.

To conclude, the issues aroundhorizontality and consensus serve as a reminderof the importance of personal and collective critical reflection. Gabriella asks ‘How can we start a revolution without doing internal work on ourselves… We feared extensive conversations about race, gender and class would stall us and everything would fall apart. Everything fell apart anyway’ (regarding Wall Street2012, p134). Freeman (1972) was absolutely clear that movements would suffer the tyranny of structurelessness, invisible hierarchies, unless issues are discussed and addressed head-on. For Sitrin, it is throughthat horizontality as process that we canachieve horizontality as goal and we will not free our organising processes from power dynamics ofthe global system of multiple oppressions until capitalism is history.I believe that each of us has the very challenging task to constantly question ourselves and our collectives, our principles, practices, attitudes, behaviours, motivations, actions, everything…We must delicately balance our own personal empowerment with the empowerment of others, which creates movement expansionand wider social change.

In this fieldwork pilot, I have drawn on positive and negative experiences of horizontality and consensus within previous movements, current movements and possible futures. I have described positive and negative examples of how Occupy London has and is engaging and learning about horizontality and consensus, in London, Tunis and drawn parallels with Occupies around the world. My aim has been to contribute to collective learning and stimulate thinking about how we can continue to ‘change the world without taking power’ (Holloway 2002), through addressing issues within the movement head-on and thereby living the change that we want to create.


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