Isa Ray, the megaphone-wielding consensus-builder featured in the recent video of Occupy Atlanta's debate over a U.S. congressman's attempt to speak, talked with Reason this morning about the Occupy movement's consensus process and his own post-debate departure from the group's facilitation committee.
"I have, because of other time commitments, not been able to go to the facilitation committee meetings," Ray said. "The process committee is working to get more people trained in the process and to have a larger pool of people."
Ray said he was part of the four-person process committee chosen by the consensus process the Sunday before the event.
This same four-person group acted as the facilitation team – de facto leaders of the technically leaderless 500-person event – on Friday, when Rep. John Lewis (D-Georgia) was prevented from speaking.
A well-shot video of the episode has been drawing unwanted attention to Occupy Atlanta:
Another Occupy Atlanta representative told Reason that during a meeting after the Lewis episode, "someone chewed out the facilitation team for being the all white guy show and Isa stepped down in favor of someone else (not a white guy)."
Ray, who works for a health food and supplement company, did not dispute this characterization. "It's good to have a diversity of voices," he said. This is a movement that's a voice for all of the people. It's also a good idea to rotate the moderator to include more voices. And it's good for the moderator, because it's a very exhausting role."
The process procedure, Ray explained, is developed differently, by General Assembly consensus, for every Occupy event. In Atlanta, the "mic check" and "human microphone" tactics (during which the crowd re-intones every clause spoken by the designated speaker) were intended as a way to work around the city government's failure to give the assembly a permit for public address systems in a timely manner.
These procedures are generally based on the Take the Square Quick Guide, which was written by the Commission for Group Dynamics in Assemblies of the Puerta del Sol Protest Camp. This group put about 5,000 people into a public area of Madrid, Spain for sixteen days in May of this year. (Ray prefers to use Puerta del Sol as a point of comparison with the Occupy events, rather than Cairo's Tahrir Square.)
Ray noted that there are problems with the consensus process but said the group is perfecting it and claimed it has advantages over voting. "Consensus is based on the idea that each voice is valuable," he said. "Voting is just a way of choosing between two alternatives. It allows majority rule to dominate a minority. With consensus, the idea is that each voice may have something to add. The goal is to synthesize that into something the entire group can agree with."
Nevertheless, he acknowledged that viewers of the Lewis video might find the process off-putting. "I watch that video and I see: This is the process working, this is the process working. Then I see where the process got rushed – where we might have had two more rounds of discussion."