Much has been said about the Occupy movement’s lack of demands and vision. Some say it will have no impact unless it makes demands and organizes to make sure those demands are met. Others respond that the People should just take charge of their democracy rather than petitioning official powers-that-be to do this and that. Still others say that any list of demands – any effort to focus OWS more narrowly and explicitly – could weaken the movement because Occupy Together is a broadly inclusive initiative that’s about (a) changing whole systems and/or (b) creating microcosms of a better society in the occupation zones and/or (c) stimulating transformational conversations out in society at large and/or (d) passionately building and forcefully demonstrating the Power of the People to resist illegitimate, corrupt authority. Others note that the disturbing lack of demands spreads OWS’ surprising impact through a “blank slate effect” – OWS becomes a mystery or a mirror into which diverse individuals and groups project their various desires, hopes, frustrations, and agendas. Furthermore, that mystery helps by enhancing the movement’s uncommon anarchic power that makes it so hard for authorities and others to figure out how to control, undermine or use it. Others insist that a shared vision – articulating what the 99% actually want – would be much more powerful than focusing on a laundry list of demands that many 99%ers might well disagree with. Simultaneously, many Occupiers are chronically frustrated with all this talk and want Action!! Their more thoughtful colleagues reply that pulling so many diverse people together in consensus requires taking the time to hear each other and generate collective wisdom.From my perspective this conversation is exactly the conversation that needs to happen – and I want to share a new spark: I pursued an intriguing thread the other night with my friend and colleague John Abbe. He has been actively involved with the visioning and facilitation groups at Occupy Eugene. We stumbled around an idea that weaves together all the possibilities in that first paragraph, above. The seed of this idea had been mentioned by a woman in the Occupy Eugene encampment. John and I brainstormed variations on her theme until it suddenly wove itself into a compelling possibility. I call this emerging idea the “Spark of the Week strategy.” Here’s how we thought it might work: Every week the local Occupation “vision working group” – or whatever the local equivalent is – decides on one or more
- proposed vision, mission, value or goal for people to think about and discuss
- protest or demand for people to promote, lobby, or act on
- provocative/evocative question* or fact for people to explore, individually and together
- personal action that any person or group can do to make a difference or
- other some other statement or challenge for people to explore or act on.
I decided to call what they’d come up with “the Weekly Spark” because a spark pops out of a fire and can itself start another fire. A spark is also a single point of light among many, which fits the idea that Weekly Sparks would be created locally by many widespread Occupy sites. A fun discovery is that the Weekly Spark’s WS acronym can hitch a ride on #OWS, such that OWS comes to mean both “Occupy Wall Street” and “Occupy the Weekly Spark” – meaning get into it, get into the question, get into the vision, get into the action, get into the transformational fire with everyone else. “OWS” becomes a burning invitation to all of us to participate, to contribute our heat to the spreading conflagration.
So let’s continue our story: The vision working group takes their proposed Weekly Spark to their General Assembly for discussion and approval. Once approved, the Occupation announces it to everyone involved with their site, to their networks, to other Occupy encampments, and to the general public. It could be as simple as that: Once a week some significant, coherent message would come from each site, inviting their supporters (and others) to engage in specific conversations, reflections and/or actions. Some occupiers may want to take it further, creating online or face-to-face forums to help people act and interact on the Spark of the Week – or doing demonstrations, street theater pieces, and/or direct actions that promote it. Some occupiers might even want to organize a Spark of the Week Network, where people participate in weekly groups to talk or act on their local Occupation Sparks.The Weekly Spark approach combines both action and conversation, immediate impact and long-term learning, shared enterprise and a rich diversity of individual activity. Every one of the perspectives in the first paragraph above can find expression and fulfillment through this strategy. It is totally possible – even likely – that coherent collective visions and demands will arise out of all this collective engagement, providing a place for all the occupiers to stand together. But it won’t likely stop there. The ongoing creativity, stimulation and reflection generated by this approach will keep any idea from getting nailed down too tightly. No one strategy or ideology will be able to survive intact in this lively environment; evolution happens. What will survive is the fire, fed continually by the sparks it generates. Its fuel is the world we live in. The fires of thought, emotion and action set by each Weekly Spark would move the movement from one pile of tinder to another, generating new fire and new sparks as it moves. Collectively, Occupy Together would thereby become an even greater teacher, coach, counsellor, provocateur and catalyst for the entire civilization than it already is – waking, educating and mobilizing society for the critical transformations that will help us all survive, flourish, and be justly proud of the new world we bring forth together. * For information about creating powerful questions, see
(Aside: Just this morning I noticed that the Spark of the Week approach manifests one of the patterns in the Group Works pattern language card deck: “Right Size Bite: Break tasks, processes, and content to be absorbed into chunks that are an appropriate match for the time and people you have. Tackle complex topics and larger goals piece by piece.” See the whole remarkable Group Works deck at http://grouppatternlanguage.org/wagn/Pattern_hearts_and_pics_by_name.)