Notes from Empowerment Training


My notes from the Occupy MN meeting today.

They started the meeting off with a pancake breakfast.  I missed out on most of the breakfast but got one pancake and a bit of fruit for breakfast.  Then they had a slideshow of photos from the Occupy MN and other movements.  After that Starhawk started things off with talking about different methods for asking for silence from a group.  "Clap once if you can hear me.  Clap twice if you can hear me." Put the fingers together and make quiet fox, everyone sees and copies quiet fox.  There were a couple of others, mike check was one I think.  Then we all mingled in a big group and one would yellow 'hey, let's all do/br ______' and then we'd all repeat it and then do it.

After that we all put the tables back in place and sat down again.  Starhawk asked us what we loved about consensus:


  • When it works it's wonderful
  • More streamlined over any other process


  • Slow
  • Some decisions can't be made
  • Strongly opinionated individual can break it
  • Some people use it for everything
  • When people oppose with no regard for the consequences for the whole
  • Always a conservative or moderate result
  • Marginalizes whole groups = thin consensus

Consensus is a tool, not a group structure.  You can't use it for all decisions, this is simply impossible.  It's not very empowering to decide this way, you need some autonomy.  It's not always best for discussion, there are times when you may not need a decision.  Use consensus for the important stuff.  The example she used was deciding the color of a poster.  That is a personal decision.  A consensus decision would be input on something like "All posters must be printed on recycled paper."

You need discussions in different forms besides consensus.

A good meeting requires:

  • The Right People
  • The Right Container (length, location, etc)
  • The Right Process
  • The Right Facilitation
  • The Right Agenda

Consensus Is:

  1. Everyone's voice is heard, not everyone gets what they want.
  2. A creative synthesis process
  3. When it works well it creates a sense of community, all are invested

She then used lunch as something we could try and come to consensus on.  I really forget the specifics of what people decided, we were making stuff up.  I think it was organic pizzas with gluten free and vegan options and donated free range chicken from someone's farmer friend.  It sounded delicious.

In the consensus process, there's a workflow:

  • Present the issue - look at the issue then synthesis proposal rather than presenting it as choice a and choice b
  • Discuss the issue - be aware of enthusiasm, concerns, look for a range of ideas and identify where strong feeling lies
  • Synthesise Proposal

If there is no enthusiasm even if there is consensus you should table the proposals.

Another way of looking at the work flow:

  • Decide what the issue is
    1. Discuss Proposal - look for support and enthusiasm, concerns, amendments
    2. Call for consensus - restate the proposal, ask for new concerns, reservations.  Look for blocks and stand asides
    3. Consensus

You go from 1 to 2 then back to 1 then finally get to three.  She had it laid out a bit different with arrows on a white board.

Basically the whole idea is to restate / record / implement

Recorder is a key position.  You really need to write stuff down.

A Stand Aside is when you allow something to go forward but say it's not for you.  Try to have very few of these in good consensus.

A Block is if you think this goes against the group's core values.  People often use this improperly.  You shouldn't have these at the end of the process if you've really gone through the process correctly, people should have already voiced their concerns.

You should go through what consensus is at the beginning of meetings.  Trainings are also good for people.

Most people don't have experience getting what they want from the people in control of things so it is often very foreign.  We typically get shut down by the powers that be so trusting the group is difficult.  It's often hard for people to talk.  Try to leave space for people that can't / don't talk.

Roles used in consensus:

  1. Facilitator - runs the meeting, keeps things moving forward.  Calls on people.  Often there are co-facilitators, next to each other is better than on different points of the group.
  2. Time keeper
  3. Note Taker - put the notes online somewhere?  Often good to have a team, sometimes write on a board so all can see.
  4. Dragons - keep the boundaries of the meeting.  Peacekeepers.  Take drunk out of circle, deal w/ police, etc, Really good for big GAs (Group Assemblies)
  5. Vibes Watcher - watches the energy and the mood.  Interjects when you need a break or a moment of silence.
  6. Conveners - people who set up the meeting beforehand.
  7. Greeters - talk to new / late people

Facilitator Tools

Talking Tools:

  • Rounds - each person talks, active listening
  • Popcorn - each person can talk once, nobody talks twice until done
  • Stacks - numbered until speaks.  One girl pointed out this was actually a queue, with a stack it's first in last out in programming.  I guess she'd dated a lot of programmers back in college.
  • Talking Tool - stick or something else to designate who can speak
  • Pairs*
  • Small Groups*

* These are good to use to put arguers together so that they don't disturb the whole group too much

Energy Tools:

  • Breaks
  • Humor
  • Games
  • Songs
  • Poems
  • Yoga
  • Meditation

Have a grievances circle - people can talk there before the GA and get issues resolved beforehand.

Soapbox is also a way for people to get stuff out - give speeches / poems / whatever before / after the GA.  Create a space for interruptions.

More Complex Tools

  • Brainstorm - should be short, 2 min, not 20 min.  Never follow a brainstorm with another brainstorm.  Distill the results somehow.
  • Straw Poll / Temp Reading (call for hands)
  • Spectrums - put one extreme on one side of the room and the other extreme on the other and ask people to arrange themselves along a line between the two.  Can do multi - axis.  Don't take a stance if you are facilitator.  Good for things that are very polarizing.
  • Fishbowl - put a group of people that aren't being heard in the center and hear from each of them.  Great to hear from a group that may have a different perspective.  Cuts down on cross-talk, outer group is silent.  Hard to do when it's a very small group, may feel like it's putting them on the spot to be in the spotlight.  Often the next step is pairs or small groups mingling the inner and the outer.
  • Role Plays

Good Facilitator Qualities Brain Storm

  • Summarizing / Restating
  • Keep grounded
  • Neutrality
  • Listening
  • Awareness of the power dynamic
  • Progressive Stack (?)
  • Clarity
  • Detachment
  • Brevity
  • Model Vulnerability
  • Sense of servitude to the group
  • Flexible / Nimble
  • Open Hearted / Light Hearted
  • Firmness
  • Limits
  • Service
  • Trust
  • De-marginalization
  • Inclusive
  • Positive

You cannot speak on issues as a facilitator.  You need to be neutral especially in larger groups.  Power dynamic is skewed and you influence.  Facilitator is a neutral service.

Starting out a good meeting

Put out the intention of the meeting and ask the group to join in a good meeting.  Try to start out with fun things that connect people, a song, poem, something like that.  Start with a statement of unity and purpose.

Supportive interrupting is another mark of a good facilitator.  "Can we save it for after the meeting?" Try not to make people feel wrong even when they are.  Tell them you are interested but not right now.

Especially important in Occupy not to push people down, many people are already beaten and broken by the system.

Most Occupy movements have a facilitator meeting group and rotate through facilitators.

Hand Signals In Consensus

  • Twinkling - thumbs together, wiggle fingers
  • Point of Process - A diamond of fingers and thumbs
  • Direct response - wagging fingers back and forth

Group Assembly Role Playing

The next thing they did was a role play of what a meeting gone wrong would look like.  We all brainstormed different behaviours that we saw in the meeting and what they meant.


After that they had lunch, soup and chicken and some bread and other stuff, some desserts too.  They served my chai hot in press pots and it was a big hit, everyone loved it.  I got several compliments and even a couple people who said it was the best they'd ever had.

Death Poem

A woman read a poem she had written, then she and another lady gave klind of an overview of how capitalism got us her.

What is Capitalism?

  • Accumulated wealth as a social weapon
  • Economics of private debt based economy with bank issued money (Free Enterprise is public issued money)
  • People are greedy
  • Profit cancer
  • Monetary exchange for basic needs
  • Corporations rule the world
  • Money celebrated over life itself
  • Private ownership of property / persons
  • Exploitation of resources to maximize profit
  • Need for constant growth
  • Profit is only money, not people or the environment
  • Basic underpinning of violence / force
  • Keeps people focused on the wrong thing.
  • Primacy of affluence (more) over abundance (enough)
  • Makes no sense, it's abstract
  • Places Homo Sapiens at the top of the hierarchy
  • Price on human life = money
  • A lie
  • Capitalism works best when it's invisible / in a blind spot

How is the system so connected to oppression?

The two ladies gave a brief history of the world in terms of greed and oppression.

What is our vision, the world we want?

  • Publicly issued money
  • Pay / Exchange in barter and money
  • Loves fear / money keeps us in fear
  • Only way we can connect / pay
  • Renchantment with nature
  • All in it together, no people that 'deserve' to be left out or poor
  • Reconnect economy to ecology
  • Universal Debt Forgiveness
  • Gift Economy
  • 1 hour of work is the same unit for all people
  • Blow up the idea of unfettered growth
  • Illusion of scarcity gone
  • Bioregion Based
  • All basic human rights covered - housing, food, medical care, etc.  That one was mine.
  • Get rid of the principal of house debt
  • Take over homes being foreclosed
  • Local and alternative currencies
  • Student loan forgiveness
  • Eradicate the GDP and implement well being index instead
  • Money out of politics (also mine)
  • National conversation on population growth
  • Ban advertising and marketing
  • Greenhouses
  • Beauty
  • Limits on energy utilization
  • Access local skills / teach each other
  • Know sources / distance of products / goods
  • What does wealth redistribution look like in Minneapolis
  • What toes economic dissidence look like
  • Global coordinated Rolling Strikes

Global Cafe

They then broke into 5 tables discussing topics.

  1. Direct Action - I volunteered to do the followup on this one
  2. Visioning
  3. Diversity
  4. General Assemblies
  5. Something else, I forget

That was about it, then we cleaned up and left.  People went to other actions but I came home and ate dinner and made more chai and wrote this up.