A Critique of Ourselves

23 Dec

Over the past few weeks  ROU has been using this blog to post commentary and analysis reflecting on the occupation of the Micheal Sadler building here at the University of Leeds, below is the most recent in that series.  Received anonymously via email.

From the early moments of the occupation when the Michael Sadler building was filled from the basement to the roof with anger, energy and creativity and the music was shut off in favour of a meeting, I have been wondering about the purpose of what became the occupations general meetings. I don’t question the need to get people together to organise but I do question the form in which that happens.

For me general meetings were characterised by the slow exodus of the bored and frustrated, the absence of those who out of choice or necessity were elsewhere and the disproportionate input from those with the most confidence to speak and the most confidence in their own ideas.

Whichever ideology won out, whether everything was run by consensus or voting, whether we had a chair, a facilitator, direct points or something else, my problem lies in the promotion of the general meeting to the focal point, where decisions are made, arguments won and long hours spent.

By the end of my time at the occupation, I felt that general meetings had become a bit farcical, hours long, with lengthy arguments over small things, a lot of repetition with ever smaller numbers attending, yet somehow they were still the focal point where ‘rules’ were made and decisions taken.

Why should it be that those with the most time to stay through the meetings, with the loudest voice, the least resistance to lactic acid build up in their raised arm have a disproportionate influence over proceedings? If you don’t want to go to a meeting why should you have less of a say? Why is it that other people in the meetings feel uncomfortable in announcing what they really feel and thus have their opinion excluded?

Unless people are immediately equal (and therefore have an equal say in decisions) from the moment they enter the occupation until the moment they depart, then we have started to put forward a set of qualifications/criteria to meet in order that you can have a say. If one of the criteria for your voice to have a say is that you must be present and confident enough to express your opinions in a general meeting often with quite a charged atmosphere, then this is a failure in inclusivity.

To me this is reproducing a system of oppression. Its like parliament, where you have to be inside it for your voice to count, and if you’re not inside, well you’re voice isn’t heard. But why should I have to be at every general meeting in order to have my say? What about when I have to work, look after children, guard the door, sleep, or when I cannot take a 3 hour meeting? And what if I feel uncomfortable surrounded by all these people who seem to know what they are talking about and don’t want to raise my point incase they shout me down? Does that make my opinion less valid?

Whatever your ideology, everyone recognises the need for the occupation to be accessible and inclusive and whatever your ideology you may have spent many long hours sitting through meetings. But for me, the two do not fit together. General meetings are not inclusive and therefore how can we truly accept their decisions. We need to rethink the way we organise to be more inclusive, more accepting of the fact that not everyone has the same amount of time and energy to put into the struggle, not everyone has the same confidence in themselves however we are all equal and the opinions of those with their hand up constantly is no more valid that those who do not speak.

One Response to “A Critique of Ourselves”

  1. ytheory December 23, 2010 at 4:05 pm #

    It seems that as a number of occupations achieve a certain longevity, and related campaigns gather momentum, a degree of critical reflection on questions of organisation and structure, such as this contribution, are emerging. This can only be a good thing, but at the same time is something that many groups, movements and organisations have had to address many times before in the past. There’s consequently a wealth of material out there addressing such questions and recording past experience, particularly from outside of the vanguardist left, from perspectives such as feminism, autonomism and anarchism, which are worth looking at and revisiting. The first one that comes to mind is actually a piece from a feminist group in the 70s that was then widely circulated within anarchist circles. It’s called The Tyranny of Structurelessness, and you can find it here: http://flag.blackened.net/revolt/pdfs/tyranny.pdf

    Anarchists don’t have all the answers, of course, and I’m not trying to direct anyone in this direction for sectarian purposes (and in later life I’ve become far too inspired by Marxian thought to subscribe to any orthodox anarchism in any case) . It’s good to see these issues being addressed though and I’m just trying to contribute in some small way.

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