Proposal for Blocks Protocol at General Assembly

Posted by & filed under Assemblies, Past Proposals.

This is a general proposal for a serious problem weʼve encountered, and thatʼs the abuse of blocks. Throughout the entire GA, Facilitation is able to tell a person “Oh, that is not a clarifying question, that belongs in concerns” and similar, yet for the most contentious part of the GA, blocks, neither Facilitation nor the body as a whole is able to say whether a block is valid or not. And many of the blocks made are not valid at all, some people have been using them well in the double digits, when they are envisioned to be a serious issue over which one would consider leaving the Movement rather than a chance to issue an earmark or block for anything less than a moral, ethical, or safety concern on the part of the Movement as a whole.

This is a solution proposed by C.T. Butler, the co-author of On Conflict and Consensus. What he says is that the democratic body of the GA should be able to give a temperature check as to whether a block is VALID or not. This does not mean the GA agrees with the block necessarily, but at least validates that the reason stated is an applicable moral, ethical, or safety concern, rather than a personal concern or issued out of some other motive.

This would give the General Assembly, the group as a whole whose combined efforts represent the movement as a whole, the ability to also say whether a block is valid or not. This, in conjunction with the democratic bodyʼs temperature check, will foster an environment that will function the way it was intended to.

Proposal:

1. Add the following step to the acknowledgement of each block after it has been spoken to by the blocker: “Does this sound like a moral, ethical, or safety concern?”, addressed to the meeting body.

2. Do a temperature check to get feedback from the meeting body; strongly positive or strongly negative results in either the upholding or negation of the standing block.  In the result of a mixed result, a sub-stack of participating members should be opened, 1-3 each in defense of the block’s validity and in opposition of the block’s validity, and upon closing this stack re-take the temperature check.

3.  As a balance to this potential check of blocking power, add the following step to the consensus process to give a proposal more time: “Do we consider this proposal to be ready for consensus, if we give it more time on the agenda tonight?”.  Take a temperature check on whether the GA feels the proposal is ready to push forward to consensus before taking a temperature check on whether we give it more time, as a negative answer to that question is something that can be addressed by having the proposer and the detractors step aside into a breakout group to discuss the proposal more directly and reduce the need for blocks by letting the purpose they are presently filling still be expressed.

17 Responses to “Proposal for Blocks Protocol at General Assembly”

  1. yuri

    disruption, blocks and ethics. This seems to be what you want to address. As such, here are some ideas for empowering facilitation and how to avoid using temperature checks/etc.

    Blocks are supposed to be ethical
    when you block it means you are willing to leave the movement / group if the proposal passes
    Therefore, one might conclude if you block and the proposal passes and you stay, you are behaving unethically.
    People who behave unethically at GA’s should not be empowered to block again (Perhaps for some duration) because it is clear their block is inherently unethical or not directly applicable from their past behavior (the choice to remain in a movement they are ethically opposed to).

    The GA is a decision making body for the OWS movement and must seek to continue moving foward. As such, here are some ideas for proposals for enhancing functionality at the GA:

    a) A person who blocks will have their position recorded in minutes so that: 1. there is a record of how frequently they block, 2. the block which is supposed to be ethical frames the ethical dilemma for the those in the movement to understand clearly, and 3. the frequency of blocks from individuals clarifies the possibility of disruptive behavior from individuals.
    b) Facilitators and stack takers note who speaks on stack repeatedly for each proposal, for each concern, for each block. If someone is dominating or repeatedly on stack for everything, they are ‘progressively’ not placed on stack. As in, involvement/participation at a GA should be distributed. If someone is constantly talking they are behaving in a dominating fashion. Facilitators and stack takers should be empowered to place time limitations which when placed must be placed evenly on all participants. For example, if an individual is always talking and on stack, a limit of 5 minutes per person for talking at a GA can be placed. Individuals may give their 5 minutes to a speaker to empower others to speak on their behalf using their time. However, once the 5 minutes (or added time) are used, then that speaker will not be re-added to stack. Voting/blocking will continue but without their input/responses as they will have been heard to their share of the GA’s time. The 5 minute allotment should be decided by facilitation based upon size of GA and time left at the GA (so if there are 100 people and 100 minutes left, each person could speak for 1 minute… etc. Of course if only 1/2 of the participants ever speak, then 2 minutes, and so on.)
    c) If facilitators recognize that an individual is always voting against ALL proposals and attempting to stop the GA from moving forward in this fashion, then these votes against and the individuals voting against should be posted in the minutes so that if this is a regular occurrence at GAs these people will be recognized as not part of the movement itself and not given a voice at the GA. Votes against proposals are important, but if there is a distinction between just opposing everything and opposing things you are really against. Some process has to be moving forward.
    d) If someone blocks and the proposal passes in modified consensus, and this process re-occurs more then once. This movement is about ethical behavior and this is clearly not ethical behavior. So that person blocking repeatedly will no longer be welcome at GA’s since it is clear they are there to disrupt and that they do not fundamentally agree with the movement itself. Blocks are important, but should be their use has been clearly abused by some attending the GAs.
    e) If someone seeks to overwhelm the GA with number of proposals, this too can be a form of disruption. Individuals will be allowed to make 1 proposal per GA unless there is an emergency proposal. Individuals making proposals more frequently will be noted as dominating the direction of the GA and held to some agreed upon limit (1 proposal a week, or something along those lines).

    This isn’t about exclusivity or removing or silencing individuals, but rather it is about function. Making sure that the GA continues to function even when people seek to disrupt it. These proposals should also help ensure that more voices are heard and those which seek to dominate are kept in check.

    • Daniel

      “when you block it means you are willing to leave the movement / group if the proposal passes”

      This was a nice shorthand some facilitator’s started using for stressing the severity of a block, but the more I think about it, the more I don’t like the literal implications. Presumably, we’re all out here freezing our asses off and risking arrest out of some sense of desperation. Telling someone because you have an ethical problem with Kitchen using non cage-free farm eggs you need to leave this economic justice revolution doesn’t sound very understanding or beneficial to our inclusive, movement-building aims.

      b) I really don’t care for any process modification that physically stops someone from speaking in process. I say this as someone who rarely speaks in GA. While you seem to be going after certain personalities (never a good place to start making rules from), this will easily start disempowering very constructive voices (and non-frivolous blockers) during questions and concerns. (Think people from Accounting or Legal, who have a lot of valuable things to say about a lot of valuable proposals.)

      c) We. Don’t. Vote. We consent or table. Failure to understand the difference is actually what is leading to many frivolous blocks and misuse of process.

  2. Rodney T Hytonen

    Where do we find the “proposak” for blocking @Timcast from Ustream?

    Disallowing the ONLY transparency of #OWS for the entire rest of the USA would deifinitely be an ethical block for me. Nothing would kill the movement faster.

    I would hazard a guess you have already lost the trust, & therefore support, of millions over this. Visualize the hordes here at home BLOCKING with crossed arms & turning our backs. ONLY @Timcasts’s streams have been both technically functional for so many hours, and so faithfully enduring. Because he BOTHERS.

    Has OWS really collapsed into a few RL sociopathic “BigFish in a Small Pond?” (Like elitists: “I was here in the beginning -& you weren’t?”)

    How sad – but I’ve seen it in almost every single “organized” social group – especially in my 25yrs as a Manhattanite.

    • NYCGA Council

      Rodney!

      They are the 99% and they live-streamed… they are blocking, laughing and cheering when the crap hits the fan.
      One questions the lost of trust…

  3. Bill Livsey

    Blocks are not strident no’s! If you are constantly blocking and NOT leaving teh movement—LEAVE

  4. Siobhan Ogilvie

    I am at the point where please – let’s just please do something and if we feel there is problems, then we can ratify it! Nothing is ever in stone with OWS. I stopped going to meetings because of the dysfunction and lack of accomplishment. I would leave discouraged and disheartened so decided in order for me to remain with OWS, I would need to do it from the outside. That is problematic and I am far from the only one who is doing this. We must make OWS look like we can function again, Our NY participation is suffering, ouR contributions are suffering and our spirit is suffering. I saw Michael’s Moore’s pep talk last night at spokes on video and he is 100% right, We are being looked to for inspiration and guidance and we are failing immensely. (he didn’t say we were failing, but I am). I went to J3 GA to support due to public space issue and these meetings not only need to be streamlined, but need to be structured. I couldn’t hear anything (I followed GA tweets to know what was going on), it was freezing and it was a lot of talk, a lot of confusion and little accomplishment. I lasted only until 9:30 and got nothing but near hypothermia from that GA.

    This block discussion in one form or another has been going on nearly a month. Precious time wasted talking and not acting,

    For the sake of the people and the movement, please put policy in place and enforce it so meetings can accomplish things. Leave names out of it, just label unacceptable behavior and campaign to get it passed. Even if you want to put in a clause that this is a one month trial to be revisited then to see if it helped. There are so many more of us who want a functioning movement and not one stuck in bureaucracy. A block should be because you think the proposal is morally, ethically, or safety concern to the future of the movement as a whole. Not morally, ethically, or safety concern to your small corner of the world. If the movement succeeds, so will that small corner of the world anyway.

    • reginahny

      Well said and I agree — let’s put something in place if even on a trial basis. I also am sometimes discouraged and know a lot of other movement people who are as well. It’s getting harder for me to explain to even to sympathetic, like-minded friends my belief in and support of OWS. Many of them say: “I’m going to continue working with the groups I’ve worked with throughout my activist career because I don’t have time to waste.” If I have a friend, for example, who works to support Planned Parenthood — how do I encourage her to go downtown almost every night of the week and stand outside and listen to people argue as meaningful activism?

  5. Lopi

    I am favor of this proposal, however, I do feel it could be worded better, incorporating some of Yuri’s excellent ideas. Would it be possible to rework it slightly before bringing it before the body? Or can we add some of this in the FA segment of the freezing cold GA?
    I think it would be very wise to include some limit to the amount of times a person can block a proposal before they are either asked to leave or put on pause. It does seem to go hand in hand in how many times a person can bring a proposal to the GA as well. These two points ought to be added into the proposal, imo.

    • reginahny

      I agree that the blocking and the “one-sentence” proposing do seem to go hand in hand and both dilute the power and possibility of the GA. And, I also like Yuri’s contributions. Could this proposal be fine-tuned within an appropriate WG before going to GA? Would that be Facilitation? Structure? ComHub? I’m not sure, but it feels like having a WG edit / submit would bring clarity and support. I’m happy to help, but not in any Structural WGs.

      • Sean McKeown

        This is coming from more than one working group at this point, including Facilitation (I’m told, by Yoni). However, there is a very very deep can of worms beneath that effort to create limitations on an individual’s otherwise-equal access to empowerment in the Movement, one that is being worked on more slowly and steadily by a varied assortment of Working Groups and which presently has three to four “moving pieces” that are not yet interconnected.

        I like several of Yuri’s ideas, and in fact had been thinking about one of them exactly (a system of “stack” that becomes desensitized to repeating voices) without yet figuring out how to make sure it is ethical and fair. But applicable though they may be, they’re separate proposals, this is a first step in that direction but we can’t stride too far too fast and expect it to work. A good rule of thumb is, make changes one at a time, so you can observe how they unfold and know which one, specifically, needs to be addressed further. I’m already worried this might be too complex, by adding a balance to the proposal’s power to check blocks that are used inappropriately, and would sooner see this in place as a first step than try to add additional steps behind it right now.

        • Daniel

          Yoni proposed as an individual, his proposal was run past facilitation but not consented on to be representative of the group. Some supported, others didn’t (I personally like value-based consensus if done right), but it was agreed he should present it before the GA himself. You can see my back and forth with Yoni here at the bottom of his proposal page:

          http://www.nycga.net/2012/01/04/proposal-for-blocks-protocol-at-general-assembly/

          To summarize some of my issues there along with some of my issues here:
          1. Really don’t like using temp checks to shoot down a block, we’re essentially silencing someone’s voice and I’d like that to be done in a way more scientific than a vibes check. You’ll notice different facilitators have a different notion of what looks “mostly positive,” which is fine when we’re doing something like extending time on a conversation or moving toward consensus. Friendly amendment: to check a block use a substack or straw poll and come up with a specific percentage of people it takes to overturn a block. (Occupy Boston uses 70%, though we might want to stick with our 90%. Your call.)

          2. If we move to this method then the body is empowered to uphold legitimate moral/ethical/safety concerns. In which case why are we still doing modified consensus? Modified consensus was our way of dealing with frivolous blocks or provocateurs gumming up the works. Value-based consensus takes care of that. Friendly amendment: Get rid of modified consensus.

          3. We as a movement have done an insufficient job of defining our values. Even CT Butler agrees successful consensus process first requires a written statement of purpose. This makes defining block validity fairly subjective. Friendly amendment: re-frame the proposal in a way that the body doesn’t determine if a block is a moral/ethical/safety concern (if they affirmed that then wouldn’t they have blocked themselves?), but rather determine if the blocker as articulated their block in the context of a moral/ethical/safety concern. What I’m looking for is something along the lines of: “Valid blocks will henceforth articulate a moral/ethical/safety concern, i.e., it must be explicitly stated how the proposal in question does harm to individuals within the movement or the movement as a whole. Otherwise the block may be challenged through the following process…”

          Thanks Sean.

          -Daniel Wolff

  6. liza

    ok, am looking at the proposal:

    1. Add the following step to the acknowledgement of each block after it has been spoken to by the blocker: “Does this sound like a moral, ethical, or safety concern?”, addressed to the meeting body.

    +1

    it’s already a practice among many in facilitation but it would be wise to remind people of why they can block. it also should help in creating a space for not only consideration of the block but accountability for the blocker.

    2. Do a temperature check to get feedback from the meeting body; strongly positive or strongly negative results in either the upholding or negation of the standing block.

    +1

    i think the issue with blocks right now is that they have empowered personalities to the detriment of the whole community. this should set a bit of balance.

    In the result of a mixed result, a sub-stack of participating members should be opened, 1-3 each in defense of the block’s validity and in opposition of the block’s validity, and upon closing this stack re-take the temperature check.

    so, what you’re saying is:
    * call blocks
    * ask for the reason
    * ask for temp check
    – if mixed set substack
    – call 1-3 people in defense/opposition
    as part of substack
    * once substack is completed then go to #3
    * if block(s) not dropped, then 9/10 vote

    is this correct?

    3. As a balance to this potential check of blocking power, add the following step to the consensus process to give a proposal more time: “Do we consider this proposal to be ready for consensus, if we give it more time on the agenda tonight?”. Take a temperature check on whether the GA feels the proposal is ready to push forward to consensus before taking a temperature check on whether we give it more time, as a negative answer to that question is something that can be addressed by having the proposer and the detractors step aside into a breakout group to discuss the proposal more directly and reduce the need for blocks by letting the purpose they are presently filling still be expressed.

    this needs rewording :\

    so what you’re saying is after the pros/cons for each block are heard:

    * ask if there’s consensus the proposal is ready for consensus
    * then ask if proposal should be given more time right then and there

    * if no, have proposer and detractors step aside (as opposed to stand aside?) to discuss proposal & reduce block

    what if group says yes to the proposal but there are still blocks? am assuming it just goes into 9/10 vote, correct?

    • Sean McKeown

      You have it exactly right, including the part where 3) is unnecessarily verbose and needs streamlining.

  7. John McG

    I have been involved with OES since August and I think the problem began when modified consensus was changed to 90% and the blocker was “leaving.” Originally a block meant you thought it was a really bad idea, and a 2/3 vote over-ruled it. No need to leave the movement, just accept the wisdom of the group and move on.
    The 9/10ths rule makes it far too easy for disruptive people to block everything, and the serious ethical/safety thing makes it too hard to stand up and say “this is a really bad idea.”
    Just my opinion, John.