Empowerment Training Day for OccupyMPLS

Tuesday, Dec 6th, OccupyMpls sponsored Empowerment Training Day at Walker Church in S. Mpls. It was a day to focus on skill sharing. training, and discussion around the core issues facing OccupyMpls. It was designed to build a respectful and empowering culture within the movement.

Afternoon round table discussions

I participated for a few hours in both the morning and the afternoon. The event had a full schedule from 8am – 5pm.  I arrived about 10am to a room of about 60 people. Starhawk was going over the principals of meeting facilitation and consensus process.  Many present had some experience with these subjects before, and so the depth of the discussion during the presentation was directed at the particular problems facilitating a ‘general assembly’ presented to occupy organizers.

About 10.25 am the meeting was interrupted by an announcement the Plaza security had ‘raided’ the camp earlier that morning as about 8.30am and had taken all unattended items from the Plaza. Several county commissioners phone numbers, who were reported to be meeting Tuesday, distributed and calls were made in rotation as the workshop training continued.

The importance of incorporating core values into the consensus, and general assembly processes was emphasized, as well as the need to select the best decision-making process for each issue the group faced. Consensus Process is not needed for many movement decisions, just the major ones where core values are being defined.

I returned after lunch when open group meetings, now about fifty with many new people, were in progress. Five topics were under discussion at smaller round tables :

  1. Direct Action Strategy
  2. Visioning
  3. General Assemblies
  4. Guideline for “New Norms”
  5. Diversity within the Movement

Each group kept notes on its discussion with the aim of discovering insights, and gleaning items for later general assembly proposal and consideration. Every fifteen minutes or so, the groups paused and people rotated among them as they felt called. I participated in the visioning, direct action, and diversity groups. At the end of the session, spokespersons from each group summarized the discussion and outlined items that deserved further work to integrate the ideas within OccupyMPLS.  A contact person and email  was established for each work group and a sign-up for messaging within each group was posted.

The knowledge I came away with from my participation was the visioning and diversity issues within the movement would be helped by regular discussions in diverse locations, from churches, to community centers,  with care to include many MPLS. communities. The importance of ongoing discussions of values, vision, and diversity issues in keeping the movement in touch with the 99% and on track was emphasized.

I spent the most time at the Direct Action table, where there was a lively discussion. While questions of legal vs illegal action appeared, the depth of the discussion centered around actions that were well thought out and faced core issues rather than grabbed headlines and stroked egos with dramatic arrests.  Right to speech and occupy issues are inherent in OccupyMpls, but the importance of finding actions that engaged the 99% and inspired them to participate was stated. Several members who have been on the streets since the movement began stressed the importance of keeping a broad range of people actively involved.  Mentioned was support of occupying foreclosure homes, and presenting severe need health care issues.  One also stated that many of the remaining occupy force have a less than positive perspective of the security and police that they have had to deal with long-term on the plaza. Discussion included how action might also cross that barrier and engage those who are paid to enforce MPLS laws and policy and win them over to the movement.

The day had a fairly large  Reclaiming and Pagan participation.  The  understanding of  ‘earth centered’ values, a respect for open dialog and consensus, and ability to work within non-hierarchical structures is something Pagans can contribute. There were many ‘elders’ present from many traditions and groups. The difficulty in transferring the wisdom of years of  social action experience to those on the streets, when they are not able to be on the streets each day, was evident in the discussions. Whatever your ‘politics’,  the economic crisis is real for many. The pain and suffering of those lacking basic health care, food, and housing is becoming more evident within the 99% each day, and you will likely hear more of it from the empowerment training experienced this day at OccupyMPLS.

Event Organizer Malia Burkhart and Starhawk

The empowerment event was organized by Malia Burkhart. She is a fan of  Starhawk’s work and contacted her to work out this brief stop within Starhawk’s travel schedule. Malia has been involved in OccupyMpls since its start and has worked as a facilitator. The entire event was funded by donations.

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