Occupy Wall Street premiered their new governing apparatus last night in a sweaty high school cafeteria in Lower Manhattan. The Spokes Council, which passed with a large majority at a General Assembly in late October, met for the first time last night with the purpose of setting up what the SC will look like in future and who will be a part of it.
In contrast with the General Assembly, the Spokes Council uses actual microphones, meets indoors and operates on a “spokes” system: working groups that take part sit together and groups are arranged in a circle, like spokes on a wheel. Each working group is represented by an individual, or “spoke,” who rotates every meeting.
The inaugural Spokes Council proceeded apace except for a key disruption, the distracting heat and side conversations, and a tense moment with the assembled press.
About 200 people were crowded into the cafeteria of Murray Bergtraum High School. Dozens of working groups were represented and marked by handmade cardboard signs (“Sanitation,” “Archives,” etc).
The idea last night was to identify which groups counted as “organizational” working groups; the Spokes Council’s purpose is to hammer out day-to-day logistical decisions involving the occupation. “We’re looking at what groups make sense in the conversations that are just about logistics and operations of Occupy Wall Street in Zuccotti Park,” one of the facilitators said. There will also be a Direct Action Spokes Council and a Neighborhood Spokes Council, facilitators said, though those haven’t yet been formed.
The process: facilitators read off the names of the working groups and each spoke had to either raise their hand (meaning they had questions or voted against) or do OWS jazz hands (a yes vote).
At first, the meeting went smoothly. The lack of a people’s mic meant that statements didn’t take twice as long, and since it wasn’t a GA, not everyone could jump in with a point of process or point of information. But after a while, the crowd proved too difficult to keep in hand; facilitators kept having to ask for quiet as people milled around the room and talked amongst themselves.
And a big disruption came in the form of Greek artist Georgia Sagri, who led the splinter group that occupied a gallery in SoHo a couple weeks ago. Representing the Direct Democracy working group, Sagri stood and took the mic.
“I think through the spokes council process, working groups become organizations and they become parties,” she said. “What’s the reason for us to marginalize ourselves?”
The group reacted with general derision, even some jeering; Sagri was breaking process. Activist Ashley Love (who elicited boos at a community board meeting a few weeks ago) yelled “Shame on you all!”
Sagri, who is one of the original people that attended General Assemblies over the summer, told the Voice that the Spokes Council “shows a misunderstanding of what exactly we’re doing here.”
“Occupy Wall Street is never, and will never be an organization,” she said.
Another disruption came when someone told the facilitators that there were press in the room. A “temperature check” was taken on whether or not press should be allowed, and the crowd didn’t vote in favor. Reporters were asked to identify themselves and which publications they were with. A reporter from the New York Times was met with booing, while the Village Voice was greeted with ambivalent silence and a few fluttering hands. One of the facilitators, Nicole, announced that “we’re going to say no to all press.” (OWS spokesman Patrick Bruner told us later that press would be allowed into the meetings after all.)
The Spokes Council will be held on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and GAs (still the main assembling body of the movement) will be held on intervening days in Zuccotti Park. The next Spokes Council is intended to be the first “real” one, involving the groups that have now been deemed organizational.