In the Occupy Wall Street movement all decisions are being made through a General Assembly (GA) based on consensus. This is a unique way of decision-making for a group that is leaderless. There are General Assemblies in other cities that are being formed. The question that I am pondering is: Can GAs replace the local democratic process in cities? Another question is : Can Direct Democracy be used effectively to make major decisions at a local level? The use of GAs promises more participation in government, while Direct Democracy can allow citizens to vote via the Internet on key items in a city’s budget. These have to be explored further.
While reading the posts on the webpage of Occupy WallStreet (http://occupywallst.org/), I came across an interesting postfrom Cairo Egypt expressing solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street movement and the other Occupy ______ (i.e., Boston, Oakland, Chicago, Corpus Christi etc. ) movements (http://occupywallst.org/article/solidarity-statement-cairo/ . )The Occupy WallStreet movement has been centered in the renamed Liberty Square (formerlyknown as Zuccotti Park) in Manhattan, New York. There were some very insightful comments about the importance of public squares in protest movements. The following is an excerpt of this blog post directly discussing the importance of public spaces for a foci of public protest:
In our own occupations of Tahrir, we encountered people entering the Square every day in tears because it was the first time they had walked through those streets and spaces without being harassed by police; it is not just the ideas that are important, these spaces are fundamental to the possibility of a new world. These are public spaces. Spaces forgathering, leisure, meeting, and interacting – these spaces should be the reason we live in cities. Where the state and the interests of owners have made them inaccessible, exclusive or dangerous, it is up to us to make sure that they are safe, inclusive and just. We have and must continue to open them to anyone that wants to build a better world, particularly for the marginalized, excluded and for those groups who have suffered the worst .
What you do in these spaces is neither as grandiose and abstract nor as quotidian as “real democracy”; the nascent forms of praxis and social engagement being made in the occupations avoid the empty ideals and stale parliamentarianism that the term democracy has come to represent. And so the occupations must continue, because there is no one left to ask for reform. They must continue because we are creating what we can no longer wait for.
But the ideologies of property and propriety will manifest themselves again. Whether through the overt opposition of property owners or municipalities to your encampments or the more subtle attempts to control space through traffic regulations, anti-camping laws or health and safety rules. There is a direct conflict between what we seek to make of our cities and our spaces and what the law and the systems of policing standing behind it would have us do.