I’ve spent the last couple of days in an occupation at Edinburgh University, fighting against the cuts to education proposed by the coalition government in the UK. On Wednesday a group of students took over a lecture theatre in Appleton Tower, and the group has been there since then. What do we want? We have a pledge which we want the university to sign, and that’s it. I don’t think there’s anything controversial about it, and indeed I think the university largely agrees with it. The anarchists and socialists at the uni tend to take a leading role in these kinds of things at our university, and one of the benefits of that is that decisions are made using the consensus decisionmaking process of which I’m quite fond, and which was also used in the occupation for Gaza. I’ll expand on what that is towards the end of that post but first an update on what’s happening now and what will be happening in the near future.
Security were at first very reasonable. Matriculated students could access the building at night, and even non-students could access it during the day. The University Secretary did not come to speak to us until today because they’ve been tangled in graduations. Today she came down and said they’ll give a response to the demand on Monday. Then the head of security told us that we wouldn’t have access to the building over the weekend, except for informatics students who normally have access anyway. Unfortunately I had to leave this evening for a screening of the Blair/Hitchens debate (on now) and so it’s unlikely I’ll be able to get back in until Monday morning. Until then, we have meetings in Teviot at 1pm tomorrow and Sunday for the outsiders to help plan for 2 more events happening this week.
Firstly there’s a Scotland-wide rally starting at Bristo Square, Edinburgh, on Tuesday 30th at 11.30am. We’re hoping to get a walkout from several of the local schools, and a good turnout from universities across Scotland. Tuesday night is also the EUSA AGM where there are 2 relevant motions. On Sunday, we’ll have another rally for the benefit of those who work and who are stuck in school.
I’m running out of battery so I’ll describe the consensus decisionmaking process later.
Edit: Ok, managed to get myself smuggled back inside now, I’ll be here til I go to work tomorrow afternoon. The consensus decisionmaking process is a way in which a group can make decisions and get things done without having any kind of a leader (which is why it’s so popular with the anarchists). Basically in any meeting, someone takes the role of a facilitator. Typically the group will sit in a circle but that’s not necessary. At the start of the meeting, people raise their hands to put things on the agenda, and someone taking the minutes writes it down. Then going through the agenda, people raise one hand to make a point, both hands to make a direct response to something that’s just been said, they make a P shape to suggest a proposal, and a T shape to make a technical point (something outside the discussion such as “we’re running out of time” or “the building’s on fire”). On top of that, if you agree with something someone’s said, you wave your hands, palms facing forwards. If you disagree, you move them side to side, palms facing down. That way noone gets shouted down and there’s no applause so everyone can be heard. The role of the facilitator is to make sure people aren’t ignored, and that points get prioritised properly (technical points obviously come first, direct responses come before normal points, and proposals are prioritised over general points, particularly when we seem to be exhausting a discussion).
So typically a discussion will involve various points being made on various aspects of the discussion topic, then after a while someone makes a proposal (an action to be taken, a decision to be made, or – particularly in something like an occupation where there are lots of meetings over a few days – a decision to postpone discussion until another time). The facilitator then takes what’s called a ‘temperature check’, where everyone that agrees with the proposal waves their hands, then the facilitator asks if anyone disagrees. This is the important part – the discussion does not move forwards until the disagreement is resolved in some way. So if there is disagreement, some make points for, others against, and there’s another temperature check. This can come to one of three outcomes. Either everyone ends up agreeing on one of the two options or a compromise, or the group decides not to make a decision either way given that there’s no agreement, or if only a small number of people disagree, the facilitator asks if their disagreement is a ‘block’ or a ‘stand aside’. As the name suggests, a block is used only if the group’s passing a proposal would mean they want to leave the group, whereas a stand aside is if it’s not a massive issue. If some people decide to block, the rest of the group votes on whether it’s acceptable to overrule or not. Obviously people don’t like doing this, so I’ve only seen a block overruled when there was just one person disagreeing.
I think the advantages of this system are pretty obvious. The group isn’t led by any kind of clique or leader, and it is not just a majority rule, the whole group comes to an agreement about what to do and everyone is relatively happy about what is decided. The disadvantages are that it breaks down when there is serious disagreement with a significant number of people, that it can take a long time, and that the individuals in the group will not necessarily be the same the next time, so a decision made by one group can be binding on another group of individuals. But so far it’s worked.