Last Fall, on the one-year anniversary of the Occupy movement, C.T. Butler spoke with our local Occupiers about the importance of egalitarian decision-making structures, among other things. I have long been a fan of the consensus process, on which he wrote the book, and I'm in complete agreement with him on the importance of collaborative communication processes. There was one thing that I disagreed with him about though: the idea that in order to be an effective movement, we have to define who is in the movement and who is not. He said this would be demarcated by goals or values, that it doesn't make sense to try to collaborate with people who have different goals.
While I see his point in terms of efficiency, order, and perhaps even safety for the members of a cause, I think any kind of exclusion defeats the purpose of the Occupy movement, and in general the kind of movement I would like to see happen--one where as an entire society, we come together with our neighbors and community members to re-evaluate how we are going about business as usual, and see how we could do it better--for all of us. I don't think consensus alone is going to work for this endeavor, because it automatically excludes people who are more familiar and trusting of "power-over" decision-making methods such as majority rules (democracy) or executive orders (dictatorships).
Unfortunately I don't think there is an easy, painless way to go about including everyone, but I think the tools of Nonviolent Communication (NVC) can help, because unlike consensus, NVC does not require buy-in from all parties to facilitate egalitarian conflict resolution and decision-making. Certainly these things would be easier if all parties were using NVC, but not downright impossible as in the case of the consensus-based GA's, where those not skilled in the process with a lot to say could disrupt an agenda so much the best solution we could think of locally (and in many other places, that I've heard) was to ask them to leave.
What I love about Nonviolent Communication is that it offers tools to work collaboratively with whoever shows up, even if they are initially unfamiliar or uncomfortable with egalitarian models of decision-making. Because how can we truly have a successful society if we don't include everyone? Then those people who aren't included will just organize into a warring faction...legally, verbally, or physically.
For example take someone who is against the environmental movement. It might be easy to think that those of us who value the integrity of our ecosystems cannot work with someone who does not. However, NVC would teach us to identify the universal human needs that both parties share. These may be: hope for the future, security & safety, freedom/choice/autonomy, respect, and consideration (of self or others, including other species). Many of these would needs would apply on both sides of the debate, so that at this point it stops being an either/or dilemma where one side is asked to sacrifice for the other (either jobs and the economy or wildlife and habitat) but a process of integrating the concerns of all affected beings.
Obviously this is actually quite similar to consensus in principle and in ideal outcomes; the process is simply different and more inclusive because even one highly skilled person using NVC could direct a group towards this kind of conversation, without all of them agreeing to participate in any particular structured process. NVC has a bit more flexibility in terms of negotiating specific situations.
Of course I still value consensus a lot and think it's a crucial tool for sustaining an egalitarian culture, which is why I'm including it in the upcoming distance-learning class I'm facilitating for the University of Earth, in which I will mainly be sharing Nonviolent Communication and how to apply it for social change. This has been my passion for many years, ever since I learned of Marshall Rosenberg (founder of NVC) and his work doing mediation in war-torn areas such as the Middle East and Rwanda. With NVC, I have sincere hope for the possibility of a better future.
If this you would like to learn more about NVC, I invite you to join me for this combination online/teleclass called "Sharing Power & Advocating Effectively: Essential Tools for Sustaining an Egalitarian Society," which will go from March 27th to May 30th. For more info contact me (Meagan, 530-205-3569) or to register contact Rich at University of Earth (rich@UofEarth.org / 530 368-6325).