Problems and Purpose
Occupy Vancouver was part of the global 'Occupy' protest movement opposing capitalism and social inequity. Like other occupations, the group occupying a portion of public land in downtown Vancouver needed to design and implement a democratic decision-making process in order for the encampment to function in a fair and inclusive manner. Two methods were employed to this end: the General Assembly and consensus-based decision-making. Occupy Vancouver also made use of the Spokes Council methodology to organize ongoing operations and protests.
Background History and Context
Consensus-based decision making is not a new concept in the social justice, environmental and other activist movments worldwide. Participatory democracy is clearly an option being looked at by various groups as an alternative way to govern a society.
Occupy Wall Street set a standard for General Assembly process that was adopted or used as a model to develop or adapt by many other occupations accross the US and Canada. Occupy Vancouver was no exeption.
Originating Entities and Funding
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Participant Recruitment and Selection
Anyone present at the Vancouver Art Gallery who wished to participate was included in the General Assembly process. Quorum was set at a minimum of 50 participants, this was decided upon by consensus of a group of approximately 300 participants during the time of the occupation.
Methods and Tools Used
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What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
At first, discussion revolved around the process itself, which some observers found to be frustrating. 100% consensus requirement evolved into a 90% / 10% model, with a rather complex system of dealing with blocks or disagreements. On the positive side, the process that developed was indended to ensure that all voices could be heard and that anyone present could meaningfully participate should they so choose.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
Decisions made by consensus at the General Assemblies held at the Vancouver Art Gallery were mainly related to the functioning of the occupation itself. Issues like safety and security, food distribution, co-operating (or not co-operating) with Vancouver city workers and authorities, re-structuring the encampment and things like that were discussed often.
Proposals became key. Committees, working groups and individuals that were part of the larger 'spokes council' organizational structure, were empowered to develop proposed suggestions to present to the General Assembly. Proposals often included endorsement of direct actions, marches or protests going on during the time of the occupation, or being organized by committees or working groups of Occupy Vancouver. Proposals also included new processes to be implemented in the General Assembly itself regarding the way that the group could come to consensus.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
Blocking became a regular source of contention in the group. According to the General Assembly process, blocks were voiced and dealt with in a certain way. Opinions circulated that ego was coming into play and that individuals were abusing the block process in some cases.
Occupy Vancouver's Use of the Spokes Council
 All observations in this case were written from the personal experience of the occupation of the Vancouver Art Gallery by Occupy Vancouver in 2011. The original author was an active participant in the General Assembly process and a member of various committees both during the occupation and currently in the second phase of Occupy Vancouver.
Lead image: "Hundreds attend the Occupy Vancouver first general assembly meetingon the weekend to discuss the Oct. 15 protest," Les Bazso - PNG / The Province, https://goo.gl/b6Z2M8