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Quick Guide for the Dynamization of Popular Assemblies

Translated from here

Text from the Committee on Assembly Dynamization of Camp Sol (Madrid) composed of various letters and summaries of the Internal Assembly of that committee (which will be available on the official sites of the May 15th Movement) and experiences in the General Assemblies held in the camp until the date of May 31, 2011. This Quick Guide is intended to facilitate and stimulate the development of the various popular assemblies generated after the start of the May 15th Movement. This Quick Guide will be updated and revised periodically. In no case is it a closed model that cannot be adapted by consensus to each specific Assembly. From the Committee on Assembly Dynamization of the Plaza del Sol, we invite all colleagues to attend and participate in meetings, work plans and internal assemblies of the Committee, open to any person wishing to attend to them to participate actively in their maintenance, improvement and development.

Open reflection on Collective Thought:
We’ll share some of our impressions, but we encourage you to continue to think about and debate them. We believe it’s necessary to devote thought to a very important aspect of the movement: collective thinking. Collective thinking is the complete opposite of the current system, governed by individualistic thinking. It is therefore difficult to learn and to begin to use it. We need time, it’s a long process. Normally before a decision, two people with opposing views tend to face off and fiercely defend their own ideas, aiming to convince, win or at most to reach a midpoint. Our goal is to build collective thinking. Meaning two people with different ideas put their energies into building something new. Then it was neither my idea nor your idea. The two ideas together are what create a new product that neither you nor I knew beforehand. Therefore, active listening is extremely necessary, during which we are not only preparing our response, but listening to the other person. Collective thinking comes when we understand that all opinions, our own and different ones, are necessary to generate consensus. An idea that transforms us throught its own construction.
Cheer up, we’re learning, we can get it, we just need time.

>>Basic Concepts:

What is a Popular Assembly? It is an organ of participatory decision-making that seeks consensus. In an assembly, one looks for better arguments to make the decision most in line with the different opinions, not opposing positions, such as when voting. The development of consensus should be peaceful, respecting all views. You have to leave prejudices and ideologies at home. A meeting should not focus on an ideological discourse, but on practical matters “what do we need? How do we do it? “. The assembly is based on free association, if you do not agree with what has been decided, you are not required to do it. Everyone is free to do whatever he or she wants, the meeting aims to generate collective intelligence, common lines of thought and action, to encourages dialogue, to get to know each other.

What types of assembly have we used to date? Working Group Meetings, Committee Assemblies, District Assemblies (each district, town and villages), General Assemblies of acampadasol and General Assemblies of Madrid (acampadasol + districts, towns and villages). They (General Assemblies) make the final, from which adopts the final consensus to articulate the various strands of Joint Action of the 15-M Movement of each city.

What is a Consensus? It’s how the Assembly takes its final decision on each concrete proposal that is shared. Proposals may be submitted from a committee, from a working group or from an individual. Consensus is reached when there is NO position firmly against the proposal. Any proposal should follow this formula: 1 .- What is proposed? / 2. What is it proposed for? / 3. How would the proposal be carried out if consensus is reached?. In short: What / For what / how.
What is a Direct Consensus? When there are NO views against. Directly: Consensus -> Proposal.
What is an Indirect Consensus? Consensus is reached after discussing different positions on the same proposal that has not reached a dingirect consensus. / Steps to follow to reach an indirect consensus: 1 .- What / For what / How. 2 .- After the moderator’s question of “Are there any opinions strongly against the proposal?” And if they exist, OPEN TURNS TO SPEAK on the matter. TURNS TO SPEAK and Coordination OPEN THE FIRST ROUND OF DEBATE: There should be three arguments in FAVOR and three others AGAINST the proposal. After the interventions, the question returns to the Assembly to show their views with the Common Language of Signs. If no consensus is reached upon ask for a dissenting opinion, the moderator designates 3-5 minutes for the Assembly to dialogue (from their seats in small groups). After this short break, a second round of interventions opens for consensus proposals. The debate is TERMINATED IF CONSENSUS IS NOT REACHED IN TWO ROUNDS: a) If the proposal comes from a committee or group, it will move back to it for reformulation. b) If the proposal comes from a particular person, it will have to move it to a committee or working group responsible for that topic, where consensus must be reachd about its usefulness and then the REFORMULATED proposal should be presented in the next Assembly, using the same procedure. This is how to reach a real consensus.

>> ROLES (FUNCTIONS) TO DEVELOP A MULTITUDINOUS ASSEMBLY:
It is important to maintain calm gestures in order to avoid passing personal feelings or affections to the assembly, always remember the value of a smile at moments of tension or blockage. Haste and fatigue are the enemies of consensus.
LOGISTICS-TEAM: Three to X people responsible for facilitating and/or using physical tools necessary for the successful development of the Assembly (drawing the Map* on the ground to organize the spaces, making pathways to allow for movement between people the seated on the ground, controlling the sound system, making seats available for people with mobility difficulties or depleted energy, providing water or umbrellas in case of high temperatures or prolonged sun exposure, etc.).

PEOPLE OF THE ASSEMBLY: All people attending the Assembly as well as the dynamization teams and members of Committees and Working Groups. They are the raison d’être of the Assembly. Its beginning and its ultimate end. We are all responsible for making the assemblies dynamic and constructive. Function of the People of the Assembly: listen to different speakers, participate in issues that require debate through Speaking Turns and (optionally) make individual proposals or share subjective assessments during “Miscellaneous” time (normally in the final stages of each assembly) upon making a request to the comrades in charge of of Speaking Turns.

SPEAKING TURNS TEAM: Two to four people (depending on the number of people in the assembly) located amongst the people and along the pathways. It is recommended that you carry a badge to be located quickly. It is usual to hold up a sign with “SPEAKING TURN” written on it to make it visible, especially at the end of each intervention. They are responsible for noting down the requests for speaking turns from all those that want them. To avoid disturbances and speed up the process, ask the person:

(+ Speaking Turn) 1. Is it related to what we are talking about? (remember the particular subject being discussed) 2. Is it a direct reply to what was said? 3. For or against? With this information, indicate whether the compañero/a passes to the Coordination of Speaking Turns or (if not directly related to the subject being discussed) take note of his/her name to call on them during the time for discussion of “Miscellaneous” (another taking of turns is not opened at this point) and inform them of other areas of debate and reflection (speaker-corners, working groups …). This function requires a conciliatory, positive, neutral, and patient character. They will Also collect the application of the person relay manager on duty. To the extent possible, give priority in the speaking time to those who have not yet intervened. A common mistake is not to announce the closing time for taking speaking turns for each subject being discussed. It is worth limiting the taking of turns using common sense to not indefinitely extend the debate over every issue.

COORDINATION OF SPEAKING-TURNS TEAM: One or two people in close communication with the “Speaking-Turns Team” charged with collecting and ordering the various requests for speaking time as they arrive before letting them go over to the moderation space. In case you are in the middle of an open debate, especially if it is heated, inform and coordinate the various outstanding speaking turns to avoid repeating the same messages or to mediate between similar positions, to submit to the space of moderation a single message that brings together the common elements. The coordinator/ s only serve as a formal filter, in no case should they judge the content of an intervention. To ensure that the speakers stay on topic, one must first remind them of the particular subject being discussed. If the intervention is not related, inform them of the other areas of debate and reflection (speaker-corners, working groups …) Once an intervention is coordinated, the coordinator will inform the Facilitators of the agreed upon order so that they can inform the facilitator or moderator, who will pass the microphone to each speaker as indicated.

FACILITATORS-TEAM: Two or three people who support the moderator. They are the moderator’s “Jiminy Crickets”. They are the only ones that will interact directly with the moderator to encourage concentration and impartiality. They locate themselves around the moderation space. They are in charge of helping the person moderating to synthesize and reformulate the proposals in an objective and impartial manner, to facilitate the flow of information coming from the Coordination Team to the moderator in order to give way to the various interventions in an order appropriate, to prevent anyone from distracting the moderator’s concentration, and should be able help people who have difficulty speaking in public; to whisper to them little bits of vocabulary, point out possible errors in the synthesis of each intervention, inform them of a sudden last-minute notice, re-order the agenda in case of difficulties, etc. In case of very large assembly the figure of “Direct Facilitator” can recognized in to order to provide even more precise guidelines to the moderator.

An important support to ensure the positive development of the assembly may be to incorporate one or more people, in charge of intervening directly in the case of stoppages, a discussion that becomes too heated or significant deviations from the subject. Their role would be to remind the assembly of the value of collective thought, the importance of active listening and meaning of the Consensus.

ROTATING MODERATION TEAM: One or more persons (who will rotate if necessary based on the number of attendees or the tension that accumulates in the assembly). The Moderation Team will decide how and when to rotate moderators, always with regards to the progress of the assembly. The moderator may request a voluntary rotation. The Moderator should help the flow of the assembly, following the feeling in the meeting rather than complying strictly with a protocol. Ideally, this figure would be dispensable, (all of us should be showing respect for each other). They are are responsible for: welcoming the attendees; announcing the nature and basic operation of the Assembly; introducing the Dynamization Team and its functions; moderating positively and reconciling any differences without taking a position, reporting the outcomes of each round of presenting positions for and against during the process of Indirect Consensus, briefly repeating each intervention during the rounds of discussion that may require it, and repeating the consensuses as they have been taken on record. They will also voice the symbols of the audience if the speaker perhaps was unaware of them (we recommend advising the public not expressed in this sense, as far as possible “to complete each intervention, to avoid condition intervention). Also, they are responsible for promoting a climate of the fluid and positive exchange of ideas in the most objective tone possible, and, when necessary, easing certain tensions, recalling the positive value that any discussion brings to the 15-M movement and motivating attendees to encourage their participation and good cheer. If it is deemed necessary, the moderator may be replaced at the request of assembly consensus. Please inform the assembly of everything that the moderation team talks about off the microphone in order to promote transparency.

INTERPRETING TEAM: One or two people responsible for translating all the speeches of the Assembly into sign language and to translate potential interventions of people with hearing or speech disabilities to the Assembly. They should have a support person who sits in front of them. To facilitate their work is important to not walk in front of them and not talk too fast. In case they are exposed to direct sun, the Logistics Team should place two people behind the interpreters with umbrellas to provide continuous shade.

RECORD-KEEPING TEAM: Two people responsible for taking notes on all the interventions without a written script. In consensus decisions, they may request for the points to be agreed upon to be repeated for the Assembly to ratify them and in order to record them correctly. Usually one person takes by hand and the other uses a computer to compare the notes if necessary. In case of exposure to direct sun, the Logistics Team should place two people with umbrellas behind them to provide continuous shade. The notes on the points of consensus should be read at the end of the assembly to make them clear.

>> PROPOSAL – LOCATION MAP FOR THE DYNAMICS TEAMS OF EACH ASSEMBLY
LOGISTICS TEAM: Its purpose is to organize the Assembly Area prior to the assembly to make it functional and efficient. They will be responsible for deciding upon and delimiting the different spaces (according to their means) in agreement with the other teams. / / The space of moderation is a rectangle-area delimited with chalk (or colored tape stuck to the ground) in front of the People of the Assembly, as a “stage”. Members of the SPEAKING TURNS TEAM will be located amongst the audience, and should be as spread out and as visible as possible. Thus, located in the moderation space will be: the MODERATOR + CURRENT SPEAKER at the center, flanked by the INTERPRETORS / / The facilitators will be all around (trying not to get in the way of others’ movements), usually squatting or sitting on the floor when not acting. The ROTATING TEAM OF MODERATORS AND the COORDINATION OF SPEAKING TURNS TEAM must always be available. / / The Spokespeople for committees and/or working groups that will participate in the various parts of the “Agenda” will be located on one side of the moderation space. One the other side, a perimeter will be enabled for the COORDINATION OF SPEAKING TURNS, always at the reach of the FACILITATION TEAM and as far away as possible from the RECORD-KEEPING TEAM (always near the moderation area in order to request a repetition, a summary or a text file) to NOT distract their concentration with the discussions that are generated before each intervention, thus facilitating their work.

>> SYMBOLIC LANGUAGE AGREED UPON FOR ALL ASSEMBLIES:
To expedite the process of collective expression in the Assembly, we have agreed on the following body language and gestures to express the following factors:
1 .- APPLAUSE/AGREEMENT: Raise your hands and shake your wrists.
2 .- DISSATISFACTION: cross forearms in the shape of an X over your head.
3 .- “THAT HAS ALREADY BEEN SAID” / “YOU’RE GOING OFF TOPIC: Move your arms by making your hands circle around each other, in the manner of a request for “change” used in sports.
4 .- “YOU’RE TAKING TOO LONG”: With your arms outstretched in a cross, make your palms slowly come together like clock needles on top of your head.
5 .- “CANNOT HEAR”: point to your ears and move your hands up and down to indicate that the volume needs to be raised.
*** It is recommended to inform participants of this language at the beginning of each Assembly. It is also recommended to inform them of the convenience of not expressing approval or signs of discomfort until the speaker has finished their intervention, so that this does not become customary.

COMMON VERBAL EXPRESSION GUIDELINES RECOMMENDED FOR MODERATOR AND SPEAKERS:
 We will use “positive language” avoiding negative statements that close the possibility of further constructive debate. This is a less aggressive and more conciliatory form of communication. It is appropriate to begin the discussion from the common ground uniting before focusing the intervention on the differences. Examples: 1 .- “Do not touch this dog or it will bite you” can be expressed as “Pay attention to this dog because it could bite you, and neither of us want that.” 2 .- “If we do not reach a consensus on this point, everything will go to hell” can be expressed as “It’s important that we reach consensus on this point or we could lose strength as a group and nobody wants that.”
 We will use an “inclusive language” that does not make gender differences. It’s clear that custom can make this difficult but we should all help each other to remember this point.



>> KEYS TO THE DEVELOPMENT OF A DYNAMIC “AGENDA”
What is the “agenda” of an Assembly? What is it for? The agenda is a summary of the topics that the Assembly will address. An agenda serves fo make sure no important issue gets left out of the meeting, to maintain the order of the interventions and to calculate roughly how long each block can last. The Dynamization Team writes and organizes the agenda and it should be made clear to the moderator on duty as it will guide the basic content of the meeting. The dynamization committee never decide on or judge the contents of the agenda, only their order, in agreement with representatives of each committee and working group that will attend a preparatory meeting. It is the script with the main lines of discussion in the Assembly and the topics that will be debated. It should be read outloud at the beginning of each Assembly, to keep attendees informed and encouraging their participation. With experience each assembly will improve the design of this agenda in response to the issues considered more or less important. We recommend establishing a time limit on the duration of the assembly according to the topics and the number of participants, if it drags on too long, attendees might lose concentration and not be productive.

** Practical Example of an “agenda” in the form of an Outline**

1 – Positive Welcome and Introduction. The assembly is the true celebration of Popular Power.
2 – Summary of the consensus reached at the previous Assembly and issues pending from the previous meeting.
3 – Presentation of the Teams of Dynamization of the Assembly and the roles of each person.
4 – Explanation of the concept of “Assembly.” Consensus instead of voting.
5 – Explanation of “consensus” (direct and indirect). Explanation of the process to reach indirect consensus.
6 – Exemplifying channels Word-Shift-Facilitating Coordination in an Assembly. Give examples of how taking speaking-turns works and where the Speaking-Turns Team will be located.
7 – Reminder of the “Common Signs” for common expression, and the suggestions for verbal expression in line with the M15M style adopted by General Assembly.
8 – Informative reading of the “agenda”.
9 – Time for Committees and Working Groups without proposals requiring the Assembly’s consent, which are only presenting information that does not require consensus. It is desirable that a spokesperson for each committee or working group attends the preparatory meeting of the Assembly to better organize the order of the content.
10 – Time for Committees and Working Groups with proposals for the Assembly. (If direct consensus is not reached, then shift to rounds of debate. Remember: maximum two rounds of discussion (in groups of three) to defend each position and/or find a unifying proposal. Heated debates can create a space for communal reflection and if (after two rounds) consensus has not been reached, the proposal should be deferred to the following Assembly). SPEAKING-TURNS & DEBATE – RESOLUTIONS / POSTPONEMENT
11 – NOTICES. Citations, information of general interest, latest news of interest, etc.
12 – MISCELLANEOUS Time. During this time, do not open the floor for debate. It is information that can be ratified in the moment, or it is passed directly to the concerned committee or working group. (Remember! Announce the closing of this period, if it becomes necessary due to time or exhaustion, and inform those who are waiting to speak that they will be given priority in the next Assembly during the open floor for for “Miscellaneous.”
13 – Conclusions and summons to the next Assembly.
14 – Motivational message and reminder of what unites us. This section could include a single statement to leave attendees in a good mood at the end of the assembly: the reading of verses, some hopeful news story or column, an exciting event, a brief reading of an inspirational text, etc …
16 – Farewell and thanks.
(+ BRIEF MOTIVATIONAL MESSAGE. COMMON CONSCIOUSNESS. GOOD CHEER.)

OPEN DISCUSSION ON SOME OF THE THEORETICAL CONTENT
What is the horizontal organization?
It is a way of social organization which implies the equality of all participants of a group or society. There is no hierarchy, and is opposed to the vertical organization in which some people make decisions and other people follow them.
The method used in the case of horizontal organization of a society or group is the assembly-method.

What is an Assembly?
An Assembly is a meeting spaced based in equality between people with a common goal. An Assembly can be for:

  • Information: the participants present information of common interest. There is not debate.
  • Reflection: to think collecitvely about a subject, a situation, a problem. The Assembly needs to give information but does not need to reach a decision at this time.
  • Decision: implies that the group must come to some conclusion or joint resolution on the discussed subject. To achieve this, the two previous steps are necessary (giving information and thinking about it), to arrive at consensus building.

What do we mean by consensus?
Consensus is the collective elaboration of a solution or decision on a common theme.
It is not the development of a proposal to meet all individual needs, but the synthesis of all individual opinions to build the best option for the common goal of the collective.
Consensus requires:

  • Being very clear about the common objective of the group.
  • Being aware that the collective is built from the contributions and knowledge of each individual, so communication is necessary, it is essential to listen to and respect the opinions of each individual.
  • Knowing that this is not competition, it’s construction.
  • Knowing that it requires a process and giving it the time and steps necessary.

The necessary steps for consensus:

  • Create a group atmosphere of relaxation, listening, and respect among the group.
  • Make clear the task at hand.
  • Provide information for each individual or subgroup to serve as an analytical tool for reflection.
  • Make a reflection.
  • Begin to build the proposal based on the points that are clearly in common.
  • Development the proposal step by step through collective thought.
  • Celebrate its achievement.

What do we mean by collective thinking?
Something like the result of the synthesis of individual intelligences and ideas, not an eclectic sum, but the synthesis. Individual intelligences in the service of the common good, creation from difference, understanding difference as an element that provides for the enrichment of common idea.
Collective thinking requires:

  • Feel part of a whole
  • Do not think of the other as an opponent, but as a component of everything, on equal terms.
  • Respect differing opinions not by discipline but by desire
  • Have a positive attitude to see what unites, not what separates
  • Go in favor instead of going against
  • Begin by thinking that other people and ideas will enrich you
  • Do not react immediately, first allow for what the other person has said to settle.

This document was generated from the experience of the Committee on Assembly Dynamization of the Acampada Sol and is only a suggestion. We encourage you to complete, improve and disseminate it so we can all learn to participate in an Assembly.

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