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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Observations: The Infrastructure, Superstructure and the General Assembly

I have come to regard the system of an occupation as consisting of two major subsystems. The first is an infrastructure, consisting of tangible community resources (a kitchen, supply of housing, medical supplies) and also a shared community nomenclature (community guidelines, their declaration of occupation and motions passed through their general assembly). The second part of the occupation, the superstructure, is the social system based on top of the shared infrastructure. The infrastructure and superstructure interact with each other at a number of points where their system boundaries intersect, but the point most relevant to the evolving complexity of the infrastructure is the occupation’s general assembly.

The general assembly is the point at which the social system, contained in the superstructure, assembles to determine precise patterns of information to be transmitted across its system boundary to join the (not necessarily tangible) assembly of logs and records of previously passed motions, contained in the infrastructure. This process varies from occupation to occupation and city to city, but they all utilize some form of defined consensus process to determine the relevancy of the message to be transmitted to the infrastructure (the motion being proposed to the GA) against the overall system of the occupation.

The infrastructure is the long-term memory process of a democratically organized social system. The superstructure is the short-term memory process. This model of a democratic system fits into the same guidelines as Norbert Weiner’s models of the short-term/long-term memory processes of the animal and the machine, and can be measured with similar methods.

The General Assembly

A facilitator stands at the front of the Occupy DC general assembly in November, 2011.

The general assembly is the point at which information relevant to the occupations infrastructure is compiled and transmitted from the community superstructure to the community infrastructure via a customized consensus process. The Occupy DC general assembly consensus process follows these basic guidelines:

1) A proposal is read to the assembly.

2) The facilitator gauges the community’s opinion of the proposal (the “public opinion”) by asking for consensus among the group (gauged by hand signals).

3) If consensus is not immediately apparent, a stack is opened and a discussion begins. First, the facilitator would ask participants to raise their hands if they have any clarifying questions in regards to the proposal, selects a few of them and assigns each a number between 1 and n (the “stack”). Each person on stack waits their turn to ask their question and have it be answered. If there are more questions, another stack can be filled, or the facilitator can decide to move on to the next step.

4) A stack is opened to address major concerns about the proposal.

5) A stack is opened to address any friendly amendments the assembly has.

6) A stack is opened to address things people really like about the proposal.

7) The facilitator once again gauges consensus. If consensus is found, the motion passes and the proposal becomes part of the infrastructure.

The decision the GA makes is that of a simple yes/no; a binary decision. Through the social guidelines for communication and control of the predefined GA process, patterns of information are gauged for their relevancy against the system of the community infrastructure. Through this process the community infrastructure of the occupation is built up bit by binary bit. The voting processes utilized by the US Senate and other democratic assemblies are very much akin to this process, and build upon their national infrastructures in very much the same way.

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