#Occupy Listening and Process: Mic Check!

Some people have asked why I am focusing on the Occupy movement. There are so many aspects of transformationally relevant co-intelligencebeing explored in and evoked by this movement, whether or not we are politically involved in or motivated by it. This post is a prime example. It is all about LISTENING and its exploration in and around the Occupy movement. 

One of the most remarkable things about the Occupy movement is that it pays at least as much attention to listening as to speaking out or pushing a particular point of view. True listening – including letting people know they are truly heard – is a rare phenomenon in mainstream society. However, it is fundamental to the kind of transformation the world urgently needs.


In this mailing you will find detailed reflections on processes used by the Occupy movement, including thoughts from some of my favorite process colleagues like consensus practitioner Tree Bressen, Dynamic Facilitation practitioner Rosa Zubizarreta, and Nonviolent Communication practitioner Miki Kashtan. These reflections are but the tip of the iceberg: I see thoughtful discussions about group process spread widely throughout the movement – signs of tremendous grassroots creativity, learning, and evolution in a domain usually confined to process professionals and corporate managers and consultants.


You will also find in this post some fascinating reflections on listening – notably the impact of “the people’s microphone” process in which the group repeats what the speaker says, originally so that others further away can hear without amplification systems (which are prohibited in some parks). Some observers have interpreted this process as a negative, hypnotic, cultish group-think activity. I think you will find a very different perspective in the comments shared here, including thoughts by Zen teacher angel Kyodo williams and a remarkable poem by Samuel J. Rutledge at the end of this mailing (which I witnessed live at the Nov 17 OccupyEugene event. Do please listen to it at the YouTube link. It has much more impact there than in the transcription I’ve done for your convenience.)


I also include an invitation to you and to Occupy activists to explore Listening Projects as a gently powerful form of transformational direct action.


Blessings on the Journey we are all occupying together.




PS: I have selected excerpts from the references given below, to help you decide which you wish to pursue further.




Occupy the Conversation
by Carla Kimball
(the above link includes an inspiring video about OWS process, which is referred to in comments from Tree Bressen, below)




  • It’s an incredible example of self-organization. There are no identified leaders. Anyone who wants to speak is given a chance. This is confusing and messy for the media wanting sound-bites because it becomes so hard to pin down. And yet, look at the ripple effect spreading from country to country. Something very elemental is being tapped into through this process.
  • Since microphones are often not permitted in the Occupy settings, the style of speaking is very structured – Each speaker must take their time as each sentence is repeated and echoed through the crowd. This means that the speaker must be very concise, but can (and must) also pause between sentences to formulate what they want to say next.
  • There is such an air of respect for every speaker which gets conveyed through the repetition of each sentence.
  • This quality of respect is amplified by the use of hand-signals rather than sound to show approval or disagreement. No one is shouting over the speaker. Applause isn’t cutting off what’s being said. So every word get’s conveyed. Every word is heard.
  • The quality of attention and listening in the large crowd is truly impeccable so as to be able to repeat accurately what the speaker is saying. I don’t see any side conversations or milling about in the videos I’ve watched.
  • When the audience echoes back what the speaker has just said, exactly as it was said, the speaker can then consider if this is what they really meant. And, because there is a pause while the echoing happens if they hear back something that they didn’t really mean, they can chose to re-frame say it again in a different way.
  • The ability to block something is held very preciously, not to be used lightly. And, while scary, every person has the right to stand up and object if something doesn’t feel right at its core. When someone does block a decision, then the group needs to listen carefully, honoring the courage that it takes, and again listening to find what’s good for the whole.
  • This kind of conversation isn’t looking for the quick fix and can’t be expedited. It takes time, is often messy, and can occasionally become really confusing.
  • So then the group takes a break. People step away to tend to other activities, reflect in silence, or join together to sing, dance and make music, trusting that clarity will eventually emerge if they hold the process and each other gently, joyfully, respectfully.

[Note: For a detailed description of Occupy processes developed earlier in Europe, see http://takethesquare.net/2011/07/31/quick-guide-on-group-dynamics-in-peoples-assemblies
“Quick guide on group dynamics in people’s assemblies”.]




Three Lessons from Occupy
by angel Kyodo williams




The first lesson I took away , is that if we are to have a world changed in a way that is going to be equitable, and accessible and viable for all of us, each of us deserves to be heard…


The second lesson I got out of being at OWS is this: it takes time. That if we want change, real change, to come about, it takes time.


[The third lesson is that through the practice of the “human microphone”] you have the possibility of a 60-year old white male holding a Ron Paul sign tucked under his suit echoing back the words of a 24-year old black transgendered person. Holding the vibration of the words in his body. Not just hearing, but holding the vibration of someone that is coming from a profoundly different place in his body. You can’t help but find the sameness when you do that. Because when you hold someone else’s word in your own body, you naturally find the resonance. You don’t necessarily find agreement, but you do find resonance.

When we can find resonance,

  • when we have the space in which voices can be heard, and
  • we have the discipline to stay and take the time necessary to hear, and
  • we create the resonance of community,
  • we can allow for possibilities that were just not there before.

We can feel things that are unknowable to our minds.


(Note from Tom Atlee: Although I disagree with this author’s assertion that “the protests aren’t about the intellect; they are about emotion,” I think he has written a great article. To clarify what I think on this, I would suggest that OWS is about BOTH intellect AND emotion – and a whole lot more – and therein lies much of its power. The Occupy movement welcomes and engages our whole selves – intellect and emotion and all the rest – because our whole selves are wh

at will enable us to work our way together to something better.)



One Thing I’ve Learned From The Wall Street Protests
by Peter Bregman




How tempting it is to point a finger, to blame, to tear something down. Certainly some lean in that direction. But as a movement, the protests have asked questions more than they have pointed fingers. What is fair? What do we value in our country? What is a right? Whose voice is heard? What is the impact of the work we do? Whom do we affect in the choices we make? What do we stand for? What is important? Do we value ourselves and each other based on what we earn? What we buy? Who we are? Maybe the greatest impact of the protest is the conversations that they are sparking.


People who would never otherwise think much about it are pondering and discussing the question “What do we stand for as a country?”….


Speaking only requires that we have an opinion. But listening requires that we hold our fears at bay long enough to feel the suffering of others. Listening means not getting defensive — even if we disagree with what someone is saying, even if they are attacking us. Listening is not the same as agreeing. It’s acknowledging and respecting the validity of someone else’s feeling.
Speaking is the language of the intellect. If we are in an intellectual conversation and someone isn’t making clear sense, we can correct them, we can share facts, we can prove our point.


But these protests aren’t about the intellect; they are about emotion. And listening is the language of emotion. The right response to anger and frustration and sadness and loss of hope isn’t to require its justification. It’s not to disprove the emotions or resolve them. The right response is to hear the emotions. And make it clear that they’re heard.




The dynamic tension between consensus and voting
by Tree Bressen, consensus trainer and facilitator, in a private communication
(she granted me permission to share this)
(This also provides an example of the kind of sophisticated discussion going on in OWS Facilitation Working Groups.)


1. The minutes from GA#3 http://occupyeugenemedia.org/forums/topic/minutes-ga-3-10811/ have a section on the decision-making system for Occupy Eugene. Reading that gave me more insight into the origin of some of our troubles. Part of the problem is that we are operating with a confusing mesh of consensus and voting.


In consensus, there are 4 options:

  • agree, which means you actively support the decision;
  • stand aside, which means you disagree with the decision, but are stepping aside to allow the group to proceed;
  • block, which means you think it is fundamentally against the group’s principles or interests; and
  • abstain, which means you are not participating in the decision, for example because you’ve been away and are just returning and don’t feel you have enough information to participate.

In voting, there are 3 options: yes, no, and abstain.


Unfortunately, in the Oct. 8 decision, there is no stand aside option, it gets mushed together with abstention. So the disagreement that is couched in stand aside language gets treated as an abstention instead, and according to an interpretation that is completely understandable if you read the original, stand asides do not get counted either way if a vote is taken.


I personally think that is crazy–it’s obvious that stand asides, because they are a major disagreement with a proposal, should get counted as no’s, not removed, when a 90% fallback is used [i.e., 90% can approve a proposal if consensus cannot be reached after good effort]. (One of the main justifications for the 90% fallback is to deal with agents provocateur, and clearly they are never going to constitute 10% of our group.) Nonetheless, this is the language in the existing decision and we need to be aware of that. If we want to propose a better system or a different interpretation of the existing system, we should bring that up at a GA.


2. In the case of the most recent GA i facilitated, we never went to the 90% (though we did consider doing so), because we were able to work with the stand asides in an attempt to resolve their concerns. Sam has said that we have an existing agreement that when there are major unresolved concerns, we will “really listen from the heart” to those concerns and try to work with them, and i followed that. (If that agreement is recorded anywhere, i would love to read it–unfortunately there have been some big gaps in minutes.) Anyway, the Oct. 8 decision says we will try for full consensus, with a 90% fallback “if this is not possible”–who says whether or not it is possible? How long do we try for full consensus before invoking the 90%? A minute, an hour, 6 hours, 3 meetings, a month, a year? There is no procedural guideline here, so it’s up to the group (or faciltator’s) discretion at any time, and that is a likely place of tension.


3. We need a decision-making process that is as clear as possible and has widespread support. I have worked with plenty of groups that used consensus with a voting fallback (typically more like 75%), but in those groups they have a strong culture of consensus and go for years without ever turning to the fallback, it’s only there in case of unusual trouble. Occupy is obviously quite a different situation, and i’m not sure what the best answer is here. We are clearly seeing tension between a movement toward consensus (take the time to really hear and work with minority concerns, in order to preserve unity and find the wisest decisions) and a movement toward the efficiency of voting (which has the advantage of moving through the decision point more quickly, which may be very important when the situation is changing fast on the ground). I think there are advantages and disadvantages both ways. Voting, at 90% or otherwise, can create polarization, but trying to do consensus among a group where it’s not working well also creates polarization. The systems are different enough that trying to switch between them on a frequent basis is probably hard to do well.


So we may end up with something akin to our current method, but with more clarity (e.g., try at 3 meetings for full consensus, and if you don’t reach it, then at the 4th meeting it’s ok to vote, and in that case have the vote be a real yes/no vote; with an exception to the 3 meetings rule in cases of urgent need like if the police are about to raid). Or we may end up with a simple voting system with a high threshold, using 85-90% instead of the typical 51%. Or we may end up with something else. Personally i am open to seeing what evolves, but i’d like us to be clear on whatever system we use in order to minimize fighting regarding its implementation!


4. There is lots of talk circulating about the possibility of organizational restructuring. It seems like interest is high in going toward some form of structure where there are smaller groups where a lot of the action happens and consensus is built, with more emphasis there and less need for full-group decision-making among hundreds of random people on any given night. Rob Miller brought it up at our team meeting Oct. 26, Sparrow calls it communities, experienced activists know it as a spokescouncil with affinity groups, Warren Weisman has been spreading it under the moniker “folkmote” (archaic English for a gathering of ordinary people). Other Occupy sites are also exploring this direction (first Occupy to figure out a system that really works wins the revolution!
;-). This is a much broader topic than facilitation, but it does affect facilitation a lot so it makes sense for us to be thinking about it. Regardless of the form of any such system, there will still be some decisions re

quiring participation from more than just one or two of these smaller groups, so those larger decisions might be similar to our current GAs, or they might be more like a spokescouncil meeting (often held fishbowl-style, so that only the designated rep from each group speaks, but others can also be present, and “spokes” can pause to consult with their group if needed), or they might be something else. Again i personally am open and imagine many possibilities might work, as long as whatever system is chosen is clear.


I have to say, even with the rough spots we are sometimes tumbling through, i think all of us collectively–not just the facilitation team, but all of Occupy Eugene–are doing great work. Building a new society is not easy, and it doesn’t happen overnight, even when the movement is as active as it is now. I am fascinated by the tremendous learning that is taking place, by the transformations that are happening for people and in relationships for so many of us. Meeting facilitation is an important piece of the puzzle and we have had many successes. Let’s all hang in there with each other and create a future we can be proud of.






Beyond Consensus or Majority: Notes about Decision-Making in a Leaderless Movement
by Miki Kashtan on November 1st, 2011




My own experiences of dialogue have led me to a tentative … conclusion: that we shift positions, when we do, when the following happens, not necessarily in this order:

  • We are fully heard for what’s important to us, or what our vision or dream is, that have led us to adopt the position we have. This allows us to relax emotionally and be more open to hearing and more curious about others’ positions.
  • We come to a place of understanding of what’s important to someone else that is underneath their position, or what their dream is, or what human need is motivating them. Not just intellectual understanding; we actually open our hearts to where someone else is coming from, or are moved by their humanity or the vision they have.
  • We trust that on the deepest level what this other person most wants is not at odds with what we want.
  • We accept the premise of finding a solution that works for everyone.
  • We experience freedom to choose rather than any coercion to adopt a certain position or to shift in some direction towards others. We trust that we are cared about, and so is everyone else….

In practical terms, if I stand in line to speak at a decision-making meeting, and what’s truly important to me has been named already, even if in different words and through a different opinion, then I can sit down knowing that my need is already included, especially if I trust that some other context exists for me to be fully heard as a human being. A facilitator can invite people to only speak for issues that hadn’t yet been named. This, to me, is a key to efficient inclusion: we never need to hear the same thing twice, because it’s not about how many people have the same need. If we commit to shared ownership of all the needs, and working on a proposal that addresses all of them, we can let go of more and more voices.


The Role of Facilitation and Leadership


When I facilitate a process of decision making, I focus on a few key areas:

  • I put a tremendous amount of emphasis on creating shared holding of all the needs that are named – before, during, and after creating a proposal.
  • I engage people in stretching to be open to including others’ needs. Towards that end I hear everyone’s objections and identify needs in them; and I invite them to the commitment to create an outcome that works for everyone.
  • I work diligently to identify for everyone what the underlying needs might be. I write them on one sheet of paper, regardless of positions, so that everyone can see and join the commitment. I always name needs in terms of what someone wants to create, what’s important to them, or what is their dream, rather than in terms of positions, what “should” happen, or what is not working.
  • I support people in evaluating proposals relative to needs that have been named, with the aim of reaching a proposal that can address all the needs.
  • I guide the process of reaching an actual decision through a series of questions that check people’s willingness at different levels, until a decision is reached that everyone is willing to embrace, even if it’s not their preferred outcome.


Strengthening the Spirit of “We”: Finding Creative and Workable Responses To Shared Practical Challenges
By Rosa Zubizarreta (circulating document, not online)


Dedicated to the Occupy movement, in heartfelt appreciation for your success in creating “free spaces” where people are engaging in face-to-face conversations about things that matter… and also, for how your dedication and action has served to catalyze these kinds of conversations, throughout our larger society.


The following suggestions / reminders are primarily intended for the daily challenges facing smaller working groups and project teams. They come from my own experience facilitating group creativity and collaboration, in a variety of different contexts.


1) Helping one another learn. Whenever any of us humans feels heard and understood, as well as appreciated for our contribution, we are in turn better able to listen to others, as well as, to discover and take in parts of the larger picture that we’ve not been seeing yet.


2) Honoring one another’s creativity. Each person’s “initial solution” deserves to be heard and appreciated. It is their best creative effort to date, given the limited information that they have had at their disposal. (We ALL have limited information, especially when we’ve not had the opportunity to fully “take in” one another’s perspectives yet!)


3) Helping one another listen. Once someone’s “initial solution” is heard and appreciated, they usually become much better able to listen to other perspectives. (See #1 above.) While this may appear time-consuming, it’s “going slow in order to go fast”.


4) Helping one another feel heard. Just because some has been able to speak without interruption, does NOT mean that they necessarily feel heard. Letting the person know what we have understood them to say (sometimes called “mirroring” or “reflecting”) is often much more effective. Of course, what is most important is the way that we do this… conveying our sincere desire to understand.


When there is no third person present to facilitate and help everyone feel heard, we can do mirroring ourselves. We can let another person hear what we have understood them to say, before offering our own point of view – especially if our perspective is very different from theirs. Or, if a sense of misunderstanding has already begun to grow, we can pause and agree to take turns mirroring each other’s perspectives.


5) Valuing everything as “compost”. Most of the time, the various “initial solutions” shared at the beginning of a conversation will turn out to be limited, partial, insufficient, or inadequate in some way. Yet each of them can serve to spark others’ thinking, to generate ways that we can build on or modify on that idea, or even to point out a misunderstanding or a piece of missing information. Like the Wright Brothers and their hundreds of initial failed attempts to build a flying machine, we can learn from everything.


We can respect each person’s contribution, by helping them feel heard, BEFORE someone else comes in with a “critique” or some missing information that shows up the limitations of that “initial solution.” When we do this, we create an environment where all of us, together, can continue to experiment and learn.


6) Welcoming divergent perspectives. When we are able to really hear and understand a different point of view, it often expands and enhances our own perspective. Often when people say something that we don’t understand or that feels unfamiliar, they are operating from a different set of data points. Once we are able to see “where they are coming from”, it makes it easier for them to see “where we are coming from”. And once we are ALL operating with a broader picture, we can come up with more creative and effective responses.


One way of summarizing this, is the basic generative principle of “maximizing creative tension, while minimizing interpersonal anxiety”. In other words, the more that each one of us feels respected and heard… while at the same time, the more that we stretch ourselves to understand different perspectives… the more we can find new and creative ways to be effective, together… for the benefit of the larger Whole… as the song goes: “it’s in every one of us, to be wise….”


Thank you, Occupy! Let’s all work together to keep it peaceful, joyful, juicy, and safe!

More information and resources available at




One way to make listening even more central as a strategic power of the Occupy movement
– a thought from Tom Atlee


LISTENING PROJECTS – http://co-intelligence.org/P-listeningpjts.html


I imagine Occupiers or their supporters asking transformational questions
http://co-intelligence.org/P-Questions.html to bystanders, passers-by, and those in their communities, workplaces, churches and temples, families… There is transformational power in simply asking powerful questions. Interestingly, such questions don’t need to be answered – although they often are. For example: When the proverbial child asked “Why is the Emperor not wearing any clothes?” the consciousness of the Emperor’s subjects was instantly transformed.

I can imagine, in the case of the Occupy movement, asking people questions like: “If those Occupy protesters really wanted to hear from you, what would you say to them?” “What would you like to see happen about what’s wrong with the country?” “If you had some people to work with, what can you imagine doing about that?”






by Samuel J. Rutledge


Mic check
Mic Check!


I would like
to echo
your thoughts
I want your voice
to flow
through me
like I
was you.
When I speak
I hope
you hear me
with your heart
but also
with your voice.


There is something
about what
we are trying
to do:
… TO DO:
to crystalize
our ideas
into repeatable
to speak
our common minds,
to listen
to ideas
different from our own
and to speak them
in reverence.


To love
is to listen.
To speak
is to listen.
I long
to listen
to you.
It takes trust
to let voice
give voice
to voice.
It takes trust
to build
a better world.


Mic check!
Mic check!
Mic check!
People’s mic
in full effect.






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