Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The May 15th Movement--An Experiment in Collective Thought

I've never liked to give myself deadlines, because I think it puts a limit on the number of ideas I can put into words.  That's why I've been hesitant to come out with a regular update of what I've been observing and participating in during the nascent M15-M (Movimiento 15-M, May 15th Movement) that has now sent a wave of protest against the imposition of austerity measures--to end the current crisis of capital--on those who have little to with causing this crisis: namely, those who work and produce but don't really control much capital.

So instead of giving a day-to-day on the events that have transpired (don't worry, I'll post up a several links at the end of this diatribe--mostly in Spanish, but a couple in English) I'd rather start by quickly touching upon the most recent successes of the movement, and then providing a primary source document on the dynamization of the Assemblies which I translated, and feel provides a wonderful model for organizing people towards a common goal.

Since my last post, the movement has packed up most of its campsites around the country and diffused the popular assembly method to the neighborhood level where concrete ideas and actions are growing against the status quo.  Meanwhile, protests in Greece have intensified as the IMF, EU, the Central European Bank, and the center-left government attempt to impose a new round of shock-doctrine style privatizations and cuts.  In Spain, the movement continues to gain support in public opinion polling  and concrete actions of civil disobedience have spread, including interrupting the inauguration of city councils and blocking the entry of deputies to regional parliaments attempting to vote in favor of cut-bucks.  There has also been drama surrounding the alleged infiltration of police agent-provocateurs who attempted to start violence with police, and then when they were singled out by the crowd, the police escorted them away after they appeared to call for back-up (video in link). Additionally a platform against foreclosure evictions has opened up, with people preventing evictions through nonviolence.  (In Spain, when a house is foreclosed on, the inhabitant not only has to leave, but has to continue paying his debt, even if that house is "under-water" (owed more than it's worth).  Finally, on June 19th, a massive protest was put on against the Euro-Plus Pact, with hundreds of thousands of people all over Spain participating.

How and who is organizing this?  Well, anyone who wants to.  How does it work?  Well, read it for yourself, moreover, use it in your own local movement, if you'd like.  Here's my translation of a Quick Guide to Assemblies put together by Acampada Sol's Commission on Dynamization of Assemblies.  These aren't concrete laws, only suggestions, and this one is a bit older--so things have changed slightly.

I hope you enjoy, please feel free to write me with any corrections to the translation, I'm not a professional translator.

Here goes:

Quick Guide to the Dynamization1 of Popular Assemblies.
A text by the Commission for Dynamization of Assemblies of the Sol Camp (Madrid) coming from various letters and summaries agreed to in the internal assemblies of the Commission (which will be placed in the official websites of the 15th of May Movement) and from experiences obtained in the General Assemblies completed by the Camp through the 31st of May, 2011. This guide aims to facilitate and dynamize the development of the distinct Popular Assemblies generated since the 15th of May Movement. This Quick Guide will be reprinted and revised periodically. In no case does this offer a closed model that cannot be adapted by consensus to each respective concrete Assembly. The Commission for Dynamization of Assemblies of the Puerta del Sol invites every person to attend and participate in its meetings, work plans, and internal Assemblies—open to all who would like to attend and actively participate in its maintenance, perfection, and development.

Open Reflexion on Collective Thought

We want to give some of our impressions but we encourage that they continue to be reflected upon and debated. We believe it necessary to dedicate ourselves to thinking about an important point of the movement: Collective thought.
Collective thought is totally opposite the current system, which is governed by individual thought. For now, it is difficult to assimilate and apply. We need time, it's a long process. Normally before a decision two people with opposing ideas will have to fiercely confront and defend each others' ideas, with the objective being to convince, win-over, or arrive at a middle point.
The objective of collective thought is to construct. That is to say, two people with different ideas put their energies into constructing something. It doesn't seek, therefor, towards the either/or—your idea or mine. It is both ideas together which will give us a new product which a priori we did not know—neither you or I. For this reason active listening--where we are not only preparing the reply which we will give--is so necessary.
A collective thought is born when we understand that each opinion—ours and different ones—all of them, are necessary to generate the idea of consensus. An idea which through its construction transforms us in an indirect way.
So lets move forward, we're learning, we're able to achieve this, the only thing we need is time.
What is a Popular Assembly? It is a participatory decision-making body which seeks consensus. It seeks the best arguments to make a decision that is most in agreement with different opinions, not pitting them against one another like what happens when there is a vote. Its development should be peaceful, respecting every one's opinions. We must leave prejudices and ideologies at home. An assembly should not center itself on ideological discourse but on practical questions: “What do we need? How do we get what we need?”The assembly is based on free association, if you're not in agreement with what has been decided, you're not obligated to do it. Everyone is free to do as they wish, the assembly seeks to generate collective intelligence, common lines of thinking, and action. It foments dialogue and we get to learn about each other.
What kind of assemblies have we employed until now? Work-group assemblies, commission assemblies, Neighborhood Assemblies (each neighborhood, town, and municipality) General Assemblies in Acampada Sol and General Assemblies of Madrid (acampadasol+neighborhoods). These General Assemblies are the ultimate deliberative instance, after which final consensus is adopted to articulate distinct lines of Joint Action for the 15th of May Movement in each city.
What is a Consensus? It is the form of final decision of the Assemblies on each concrete proposal that is shared. Proposals can be presented by a Commission, a Work Group, or an individual person. A consensus is reached when, in the assembly, there is NO single position roundly against that which is presented. All proposals should be presented according to this formula: 1. What is being proposed? 2. Why is it being proposed? 3. If consensus is reached, how would the said proposal be developed? Summary: What/Why/How.
What is a Direct Consensus? Consensus reached WITHOUT contrary opinions, in a direct form: Proposal-Consensus.
What is indirect Consensus? Consensus which is reached after debating different positions surrounding a proposal which HAS NOT reached Direct Consensus. Steps to reach Indirect Consensus: 1.-What/Why/How. 2. After the moderator asks, “Is there any opinion roundly against the proposal?” and there is, SPEAKING TURNS ARE THEN OPENED on the question. The Coordination and Speakers' Turn [teams] OPEN A FIRST ROUND OF DEBATE: THREE arguments IN FAVOR and another three AGAINST are made available. After this, the Assembly is asked to show its opinion with the Common Hand Signals. If consensus is still not reached after asking about contrary opinions, the moderator will make available 3-5 minutes so that the Assembly can dialogue (from their seats, in small circles). After this short recess, a second round of presentations of PROPOSALS OF CONSENSUS is opened. IF AFTER TWO ROUNDS CONSENSUS IS NOT REACHED: a) If the Proposal comes from a Commission or Group, it will be returned for REFORMULATION. b) If the Proposal comes from an individual person in particular, it will have to be given to an appropriate Commission or Work Group to debate and agree over its utility and be REFORMULATED then presented in the next Assembly, where it will be resubmitted for consensus with the same procedure. This way, until a Real Consensus is reached.
It's important to maintain calm body language so as not to transmit to the assembly any feelings or personal opinions; we remind at all times the value of a smile in moments of tension or blockage. Fatigue and hurry are the enemies of consensus.
LOGISTICS TEAM: Upwards of three people in charge of facilitating and/or employing the tools necessary for the development of the Assembly (Drawing a seating map on the floor to organize spaces, passages to permit movement among those seated, control of the microphone, offer chairs or seats to people with diminished mobility or energy, give out water or umbrellas in the case of heat and sun, etc.)
ASSEMBLED PERSONS: Every person attending the Assembly, including the Dynamization teams and members of the Commissions or Groups. They are the reason for being of the Assembly. Its beginning is its ultimate end. We are all responsible for the dynamism and construction within the assembly. Its function: Hear distinct speakers; participate in questions which require debate through Speaking Turns, and create individual proposals or subjective valorizations in the “various” turns (made available normally towards the end of each assembly) by signing up with the comrades from the Speaking Turn Team.
TEAM-SPEAKING TURNS: From two to four people (according to the number of people assembled) situated amongst the Assembled Persons near the aisle-ways. It is recommended that they carry something distinctive so that they can be located quickly. Often carrying a sign saying “Speaking Turns” lifted high for visibility, especially after each commentary. They are in charge of writing down all requests for a Speaking Turn by all those who ask for one.To prevent disorder and to make the process more agile, the ask requesting comrades:
1. Is this related to what we are speaking about? (Reminding the specific theme of the converstation) 2.Are you repeating directly something that has already been said? 3. In favor or against? With this information, the comrade will indicate if this can be passed into the Coordination of Speaking Turns or (if it is not directly related to the subject up for debate) they will take their name down to call them for the “Various” turn (there is no rebuttal phase) and will inform about other spaces of debate and reflection (speaker-corners, work groups...). They maintain a conciliatory, positive, neutral, and patient profile. They also collect the requests for relief of the person moderating that turn. As is possible, give priority of speaking turns to people who have not yet spoken. A habitual slip is not announcing the close of each Speaking Turn within each subject of debate. It is convenient to limit this according to general feeling so as not to elongate each question.
TEAM-SPEAKING TURN COORDINATION: One or two people in close and constant communication with the “Speaking-turn team” in charge of collecting the distinct petitions for Speaking Turns that arrive in order to sort them and pass them along to the moderators. In the case of being in the middle of an open debate, above all if it is heated, they inform and coordinate the distinct Speaking Turns in waiting so as to avoid repetitions of the same messages or mediate between similar positions so that they are presented as a single message which unifies the common contents. The coordinators only serve as a formal filter, in no case will they asses the value of the contents of each intervention. In order to insure that speakers stay on point, they should first remind them of the topic of debate, in the case of not being related they should inform speakers of other spaces for debate and reflection (speaker-corners, work-groups). Once speakers are coordinated, the team will indicate to facilitators the agreed upon order so that the moderator knows who goes first.
TEAM-FACILITATORS: Two or three people who support the moderator. They are the “Jiminy Cricket” of the moderator. The only ones who directly influence the moderator to favor his/her concentration and impartiality. They are located around the moderator's space. They are in charge of helping the person moderating to synthesize and reformulate proposals in an objective and impartial way, facilitate the flow of information that comes from “Coordination” to the moderator so that he/she can lets people speak in an appropriate order; try to prevent that any assembled person distracts the concentration of the moderator, and they should help those people who have a hard time speaking in public; slipping them vocabulary, making them aware of possible errors in synthesis of each speech, informing them of some sudden notice, reminding them of the Order of the Day in the case of difficulties, etc. In the case of large Assemblies they can distinguish themselves as a “Direct Facilitator” to precisely order guidelines to the moderator.
An important support function to insure the positive development of the assembly can be to incorporate various persons who concentrate on intervening directly in the case of stoppages, overheated discussions, or significant deviations from the subject. Its function would be to remind the assembly of the value of Collective Thought, the importance of Active Listening, and the meaning of Consensus.
TEAM-ROTATIVE MODERATOR TEAM: One ore more persons who can rotate in the case of a high number of attendees or accumulated tension in the assembly. It will always been the moderation team as a whole which decides when and how a rotation is completed, always with the goal of the correct development of the Assembly. The moderator could ask voluntarily for a rotation. The moderator should help the assembly flow, uniting the feelings of the assembly more than respecting a protocol, the ideal would be that this figure is dispensable (all should respect all). They are in charge of welcoming attending people; informing about the nature and basic function of the Assembly, presenting the Dynamization teams and their functions; Moderate, in a positive and conciliatory way, divergences without positioning themselves with any position presented. Inform about the evolution of each round of positions in favor or against during the process of Indirect Consensus. Briefly recap each comment during those rounds of debate and after those comments which require it. And repeat consensuses as they have been taken in the Minutes. They will also explain the symbols that attendees use in case the speaker does not know them (it is recommended that the public be advised not to express these motions—as much as possible—until each comment is finished, so as not to condition the speaker). Just the same, this person is in charge of favoring a fluid and positive climate for exchanging of ideas in the most objective tone possible. In case of it being necessary to alleviate certain tensions generated, remind of the positive value that all debate gives to the 15th of May Movement and motivate those in attendance to favor their participation and good energy. In the case of being considered necessary, the moderator could be substituted by the consented petition of the assembly. The moderation team should inform the assembly of all conversations they have away from the microphone to foment transparency.
TEAM-INTERPRETERS: One or two people in charge of translating into sign-language all oral commentary from the Assembly and to translate to the Assembly the possible comments of people with auditory or verbal disabilities; they should have one support person in front of them. To facilitate their work it is important not to stand in front of them or talk too fast In the case of being exposed to direct sunlight, the Logistics Team will situate two people behind the interpreters with umbrellas to give them shade.
TEAM-MINUTES: Two people in charge of taking note of all commentary, while not having to take down an exact transcript. In the case of consensus resolutions they can solicit the textual repetition of the agreed upon points to be ratified by the assembly and so that they can be written correctly. Normally, one takes notes by hand and another by computer, in order to check each other if the need arises. In case of direct sunlight, the logistics team can situate people behind the Minutes team to give them shade. They should read all points of consensus to the assembly at the end of each session so that all agreements are clear.
LOGISTICS: Its objective is to organize the Assembly Space before its celebration, so that it works and is efficient. They would be in charge of limiting the space according to the agreement of the other teams. // The moderating space has a rectangular perimeter marked off with chalk (or colored tape) on the floor in front of the Assembled Persons. Amongst these (Assembled Persons) SPEAKING-TURN collectors will be available, dispersed and visible as possible. In the moderation space will be: the MODERATOR and TURN ORDERER in the middle, flanked by the INTERPRETERS. // Around them (trying always to avoid blocking them from view) are found the FACILITATORS, normally squatting or sitting on the floor while not acting, and always at the reach of t he ROTATIVE MODERATION TEAM and SPEAKING-TURN COORDINATION. // On one side of the moderation space are seated the Spokespersons for the Commissions and/or Work-groups who will speak in different parts of the “Order of the Day,” on another side a perimeter will be made available for the COORDINATION OF SPEAKING-TURNS, in reach of the facilitators and away from the MINUTES team (which is always near the moderation space to be able to solicit a repetition, synthesis, or presented text) so as not to distract its concentration with the conversations that are generated before each commentary, thus helping their work.


With the goal of making the processes of collective expression more agile in the Assemblies, the following body motions have been agreed upon:
1.- APPLAUSE/COMFORMITY: Shake your hands openly above your head.
2.- DISCOMFORMITY: Cross your forearms in the shape of an X above your head.
3.- “IT'S ALREADY BEEN SAID”/“YOU'RE BEING REDUNDANT”: Arms are moved making the hands roll over one another like the “change” request used in sports.
4.- “YOU'RE SPEAKING FOR TOO LONG” Extended hands crossed, which slowly close together like the hands on a clock, closing palms at the top.
5.- “I CAN'T HEAR YOU WELL”: Show your ears or raise your hands up and down to indicate that the speaker should “turn up the volume” of their voice.
***It is recommended that the Assembly be informed of this sign-language at its commencement. It is also recommended that the Assembly be informed of the convenience of NOT expressing signals of approval or disagreement until the speaker has finished his comment, so as not to condition it. This should be done in an appropriate measure.


 We will use “Positive Language” avoiding negative statements which close the possibility of debating constructively. A form of communication that is less aggressive and more conciliatory. It is convenient to debate beginning with the things which unite us before supporting commentary on that which we differ on. Examples: 1.-”Don't touch this dog or he'll bite you!” could be expressed as “Pay attention to this dog, because he could bite you, and that is something neither of us want.” 2.- “If we don't reach consensus on this point, everything will go adrift” can be expressed as “It is important that we reach a consenus on this point or we could lose strength as a group, and that interests no one.
 We will use an “Inclusive Language” which does not differentiate gender. It is clear that the custom plays tricks on us, but it is convenient that ALL (persons) fit, we will help each other mutually to remember this aspect. [In Spanish, this refers to the use of the feminine in cases when arguing about actions or decisions to be made by the group—as in all PERSONS (personas)--or using both tones, so as not to continually use that of your's in particular.]


What is the “Order of the Day” of an Assembly? What purpose does it serve? The Order of the Day is the Summary of the subjects that the Assembly will process. It serves to not leave any important subject undiscussed, to maintain an order in the nature of comments, and to calculate, more or less, the time-length that each block can run for. It is written and organized by the Dynamization Team and it should be made very clear to the moderator of that turn that he/she will be the guide of the basic contents. The commission on dynamization of assemblies in no case shall value or decide the contents of the order of the day, it only orders them by consensus with the representatives of each commission and work group which had attended in each preparatory meeting. It is the script with fundamental lines that will be treated in the Assembly as topics and it is convenient that it be read at the beginning of the Assembly to maintain the attendee-participants informed and make them participate. With each experience each assembly will improve the design of this list, responding to the aspects which it considers more or less important. To allow this to develop, we recommend a time limit of duration for the assembly, in concert with the terms to be treated and number of participants—if it carries on for too long we will lose concentration and will not be productive.
**Practical guiding example of a “Order of the Day” in the form of this scheme **
1 – Welcome and Positive Presentation. The Assembly is the effective celebration of Popular power.
2- Summary of consensuses reached in the previous Assembly and of the subjects that could have stayed pending.
3-Presentation of the Dynamization Team of the Assembly which will begin it. Functions of each person.
4-Explanation of the concept of “Assembly.” We do not “vote” we agree.
5-Explanation of the concept of “consensus” (direct and indirect). Explanation of the process of indirect consensus.
6- Exemplification of the channels of “Speaker Turn Coordination-facilitation” during an Assembly.
7- General. Reminder of the “Common Signals” for common expression and suggestions to express verbally in concordance to the style of M15M [May 15th Movement] approved in General Assembly.
8- Informative reading of the “Order of the Day.”
9-Commissions' and Work Groups' without proposals for consensus, only information which does not require consensus. It is desirable that a spokesperson for each Commission or Work Group attends the preparatory meeting for the Assembly. (Listed)
10- Turn for Commissions and Work Groups WITH proposals for the Assembly. In the case of not reaching direct consensus speaking turns-argumentation are opened. Remember: maximum of two lists to defend each posture and/or find a point of union. TURNOS DE PALABRA A DEBATE – RESOLUCIONES/ APLAZAMIENTOS. SPEAKING TURNS-RESOLUTIONS/DEFFERAL In heated debates, a space can be created for a communitarian reflection and if (after the two turns) consensus is not reached, it is tabled to the next Assembly.
11- IMPORTANT ANNOUNCMENTS. Citations, information of general interest, latest news of interest, etc.
12- VARIOUS Turn. During this turn, Speaker-Turns will not be opened for debate. It is information that is ratified at that moment, if not, it is passed directly to a pertinent Work Group or Commission. ATTENTION! Announce the closure of the “Various” turn—if it is necessary for questions of time or crowdedness—and before putting it into effect inform those who were not heard today will be written down and will have priority at the next Assembly for the “Various Turn.
13- Conclusions and the citing of the date for the next Assembly.
14-Message of motivation and reminder of what unites us. In this stage could be included a singular expression which leaves a good taste in the mouth of those assembled: the reading of certain verses, some hopeful story or news, an exciting quote, a short passage from an inspiring text, etc...
16- Despedida y agradecimientos. Goodbyes and Thank-Yous
What is horizontal organization?
It is a way of social organization which implies equality to all persons participating in a collective or society. Hierarchy does not exist, it is opposite vertical organization in which some people make decisions and others comply.
El método que se utiliza en los modos de organización horizontal de una sociedad o colectivo es el método asambleario. The method that is used in the modes of the horizontal organization of a society or collective is the assembly method.
What is an Assembly?
An Assembly is a meeting space of equality between persons who have a common end. It could be:
 Information: participants give information of common interest. There is no debate.
 Reflection: Try to think together about a subject, a situation, or a problem. Information is needed, but there does not need to be a decision at the moment.
 Decision: implies that the group should reach some common conclusion or resolution about the worked upon subject. To reach that it is necessary to take the two anterior steps (have information and think about it) to reach the construction of a consensus.
What do we understand by consensus?
Consensus is the collective development of a solution or a decision about a common subject. It is not the development of a proposal which includes all individual necessities but a synthesis of all the individual opinions for the construction of the best option for the common objective of the collective.
It Implies:
 Having clear a common objective of the collective.
 Have a conscience that the collective is built beginning with the contributions and knowledge of each individual, of which is necessary the communication, attention, and respect of the opinions of each individual
 Know that this is not a competition, but a construction.
 Know that it requires a process, and give it time to take the steps necessary for it.
The required steps are:
 Create a group climate of relaxation, attention, respect, and complicity within the group.
 Have a clarity about the task which is to be worked on.
 Offer the information that each individual or subgroup, so that it serves as elements of analysis for reflection.
 Make a reflection.
 Start building the proposal beginning with the points which are clearly held in common.
 Advance, step by step in the development of the proposal through collective thought.
 Celebrate the achievement of that collective thought.
What do we understand by collective thought?
That which is the the result of a synthesis of individual intelligences and ideas, not an eclectic sum, but a synthesis. Individual intelligences put to the service of the common good, a creation from difference, understanding difference as an element which provides enrichment of common understanding:
 Feel part of a whole
 Stop letting that of “otherness” permeate. [Dejarte permear con lo del otro]
 Don't feel that the other is adversarial, but a component of the whole in equality of conditions.
 Respect opinions not through discipline buy by desire.
 Have a positive attitude to be able to see what unites, not what separates.
 Leave in favor in place of leaving against.
 Think a priori that the other will enrich me.
 Don't react immediately, let what others say settle with you.
This document was generated from the experience of the Commission on Dynamization of the Assembly of AcampadaSol and is only a suggestion. We encourage that it be completed, improved upon, and dispersed so that all learn and participate in an Assembly.