Monday, July 09, 2012

Consensus organizing and a Big Tent

Consensus organizing is really a way of acting and thinking that you can use no matter what career path you choose.
 --Mary Ohmer and Karen DeMasi (Ohmer & DeMasi, 2009, p. 68).
Seeking consensus is logically reserved for important decisions, since consensus takes much more time, usually, than does either majority rule or certainly than command and control. But consensus organizing is a way of organizing, not solely a decisionmaking process. If we are attempting to form a larger, more democratic body of decisionmakers we are attempting consensus organizing, whether locally, regionally, nationally or transnationally--whether in public policy, private sector, or associationally (e,g., religious, nonprofits, unions).

Consensus organizing is how nonviolence becomes strategic rather than just the ideological, religious, or philosophical mandate that can often seem exclusive. Consensus organizing is almost completely inclusive, with the exceptions of violence and exploitation as behaviors but not exclusionary of the people who mistakenly use either behavior, though those people can and do often exclude themselves.

An example of this might be what we have seen in Egypt in the struggle first to depose the regime of violence and exploitation while at the same time including those from across the entire spectrum of society, from Coptic Christians to Muslim Brotherhood, from trained nonviolent activists to the military. Was it perfect consensus organizing or perfect nonviolence? No, the ideal is just as impossible to achieve as is war without collateral damage. But it was remarkable. Even our talking heads seemed duly impressed.
Egypt continues to try, with the latest election and now Mohamed Morsi's attempt to reinstate Parliament, so we'll see if the inclusivity expands or contracts. The movement is expansive, using a uniquely Egyptian consensus organizing approach, with countervailing trends from those who prefer violence or exploitation.

Ohmer, Mary L. & DeMasi, Karen (2009). Consensus organizing: A community development workbook. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

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