Monday, June 13, 2011

Lessons on participative democracy from the M-15 movement

Barcelona camp
The article by Soraya González Guerrero at Diagonal today[es] is a thoughtful review of the experiences accumulated at the M-15 camps and local assemblies through the geography under the state of Spain. It is titled Can massive assemblies be intelligent? And oddly enough the answer is not negative, though it is not either an unqualified yes.

The interest is therefore in the qualification. González' first reflection is that the movement has taught a lot but also that grassroots decision-making is slow and difficult.

For a lot of people these have been their first experiences in horizontal and consensual decision-making, even for those with roots in the assambleary social movements lessons are there to be learned.

One of such lessons is that participative democracy needs at least some organization. It is the lack of organization what reinstates the primitive forms of power (such as in favor of whoever yells the most). Some assemblies have created areal commissions, other form of organization is that of moderation and speaker, even if these roles are rotatory.

Limiting vices

González finds three key limitations that have hindered the full development of such massive assambleary experiments:

One is that a lot of people lack of a collective point of view, who is not so much worried for the advancement of the assembly as about feeding their own egos. This is surely a cultural handicap of our individualist society that is not going to be solved overnight.

Also many people seem not to understand what the debate is about and take their turn to talk of something else. This is a terrible vice that makes very difficult to reach agreements.

But finally the most difficult barrier is that of consensus. Consensus, as you may know, is not obtained by full agreement but by the lack of fundamental, radical, disagreement even by the minority position. She tells of a case in which two individuals blocked a proposal in favor of a secular public education because they had fundamental disagreements. How can such a tiny minority block decision-making? By taking the wrong decisions about how to make decisions (by expecting way too much from the common sense and good will of the people).

González mentions that, in order to prevent such a sabotage of the system of direct democracy by consensus, in Barcelona it was agreed that at least 40 people would have to hold such radical differences so they could block a proposal. This is understood more widely as voting but within consensus-building dynamics (not voting in a way in which the majority oppresses the minority).

A variety of lessons for the immediate future and for the long term self-organization of the People, the only way in which we can overcome the many limitations of this predatory and exploiting system.

Update: a cool homage video I found at

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