Dealing with Diversity and Inclusion at Occupy

Malcolm Lee interviews local activist Jose Romero about Occupy San Jose, and the issues around diversity that arose during the October 30th Peoples General Assembly meeting he was asked to facilitate.

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Jose volunteer as a facilitator for the general assembly. As a facilitator you are responsible for moving the meeting along and keeping it on topic.

Jose brought up a valid topic but as a facilitator you don't have the lattitude to bring up your personal 1/2hr agenda at the general assembly.

It would have been more appropriate to have Jose and company present their opionions and education after the general assembly.

His message is considered a "Teach In" session which are currently hosted by many people weekly throughtout the week and on Sundays as an addition to the general assembly.

Jose, nothing against you but please don't feel you have been disrespected, your message is a valid one which many people would have liked to hear in a "Teach In" session, not inserted into the general assembly meeting time slot.

Imagine if we had several good folk insert several 1/2hr unplanned Teach in during the GA meetings. You can imaging we would GRID lock.

Just follow the rules and everyone will be heard

Disclaimers: 1) Though I still sympathize with the movement, I am no longer an active member of OSJ. 2) I was present for the GA in question, but there were also 100+ people there. Jose offered one perspective, I am simply offering another. We all know that the truth lies somewhere in the middle. 3) This absolutely does NOT represent the views of the entire Occupy group. But given the one-sided report of the interviewee, I felt compelled to contribute.

Several key points were missing from Jose's account of what happened. Please keep in mind I'm writing this now because the interview paints a much different picture without that information, so please don't judge the group based on what I write, or what Jose said - if you really want to make an informed decision, spend some time down there. Also keep in mind that despite what the mainstream media is reporting, the Occupiers are not all homeless dope fiends – most have homes, & jobs to support those homes, & very few are capable of committing every moment of every day at the Occupation site. So if you can't find someone with the answers you're looking for, don't jump to conclusions. Spend some time down there & you will soon see who's on bs & who's putting in work.

From the beginning, Jose took it upon himself to institute changes that he was most certainly not authorized to make. The facilitator in a GA shouldn't promote or showcase his personal agenda - he should be an objective & succinct instrument to progress through the meeting smoothly - otherwise we end up spending a ridiculous amount of time hearing out the views & rebuttals of each individual - the main responsibility of the facilitator is to keep the meeting moving. It's not that Jose or any of the people who came with him weren't welcome - they were more than welcome at any time, they were welcome to have a drum circle going all day long, but to only come at the time they did, & to commandeer the meeting in the manner which they did - that was a little more than he was asked to do when encouraged to help bring some culture to the Occupation.

After leading with the drum circle, Jose announced that he was changing the voting process, from needing a consensus to a simple majority - & this on a day when he came with many friends. He also announced that the expected format of the GA would be rearranged, with people from ethnic groups giving presentations first, & postponing the day's agenda & voting points to the end of the meeting. None of this was voted on, much of it was opposed. He repeatedly assured the group that there would be "plenty of time for that after," despite the fact that several people expressed time constraints, & couldn't afford to wait until the end of the assembly. Jose & others who came with him reacted defensively, perhaps taking the group's display of resistance to these changes as a personal attack based on race. From the confusion & frustration bred tension, which only continued to build.

While Jose had the bullhorn, they had enlisted an intimidator - a barrel-chested tattooed black-beret'd guy, who stood right up front next to Jose, arms folded, scowling. This man was appointed by Jose to give a presentation about the native people of California, followed by a number of other speeches by different people, all given time to speak by Jose. Many of these people were militant about their beliefs, & looked the part. I don't want to illustrate that with any overtones or judgement; only to note that while in the interview, he stressed that they never announced themselves being from any group - but they very obviously were. And truthfully - the fact that I had no clue who they were was more disconcerting than if I had.

Race is a very powerful divider. Though the miscommunication between the group & Jose as facilitator had nothing to do with race, it very quickly became about race. People from the assembly insisted we get to business at hand, & people from the ethnic groups took that insistence as being dismissive & disrespectful of their culture. The tension continued to build until another member of the assembly joined with Jose to joint-facilitate the meeting, as Jose did not seem to be as well informed about the agenda of the day. The agenda was then addressed, which included the establishment of working groups & a few votes for authorization for said groups, but many of the people who came with him had become disenfranchised, refused to participate, & left.

There were many people just plain furious at Jose (mistakenly) for attempting to 'co-opt the Occupation,' or 'pressing his agenda,' & there were also many of Jose's friends who (understandably) felt slighted & unwelcome - rejected even. That being the case, within 24 hours, meetings were scheduled for the following Tuesday & Thursday for healing & reconciliation. We rehashed the events of the day & tried to sort through the miscommunication & come to mutual understanding. A special outside facilitator with experience in group communication was brought in to help. Jose & others from both sides attended. I thought it had been productive. I'm really bothered by the fact that this wasn't mentioned.

Personally, I believe that community action is not only admirable, but necessary, so I applaud the efforts of Jose & the groups of people who came with him. But it was a lack of foresight & communication that was the catalyst for the tension on that day - not racism in the ranks of the protesters or anywhere within the Occupy movement. Despite what may have been the views of some, to continue to press the race issue this long after the fact is counterproductive, & quite honestly, makes me rethink ever having given Jose the benefit of the doubt.

One of the protesters I met at City Hall had told me, "We judge others by their actions, but we judge ourselves by our intentions." Perhaps in regards to the incident that day, this was a mistake made by both sides.

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