Leaderless Occupy Wall Street groups showing their staying power

Here and Now

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As the Occupy Wall Street protests go on this week — more than a month after starting — it’s becoming clear that this unique, leaderless organization is going to endure longer than anyone thought.

Heather Gautney, a Fordham University sociology professor who has studied the group and other leaderless organizations says these kinds of groups are remarkably stable not despite having no leaders but because they have no leaders.

“The concern that many people involved in this effort have is to not create the authoritarian structures that are like the ones they’ve identified as part of the problem,” she said.

But being leaderless doesn’t mean they’re organization-less. Quite the contrary, in fact. In the New York camp, there a pamphlet that has been released with the groups procedures for consensus-based decision making. The pamphlet is so detailed it even describes the hand motions — fingers waving up or down, for example — one might use to get quiet in the crowd, rather than relying on yelling.

The different camps also use an open style for facilitating discussion that Gautney likens to a wheels and it’s spokes. No one person or group can wind up on top, and everyone is welcome to spend time as the facilitator. They even receive training to help them do it well.

Gautney says that while critics dismiss the group for not managing to get anything changed thus far, organizers know that real change takes time.

“We live in a large country with a complex political system. Of course it can’t be reduced to one issue. Health care, education, environmental issues, energy; all of these issues are being raised,” Gautney said. “Within the organizational apparatus and the people who are following this for a while, people don’t believe these changes will happen overnight.”


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