What are general assemblies?
The General Assembly is a gathering of people committed to making decisions by working towards a collective agreement or “consensus.” It aims to facilitate discussion and getting to know one another, in order to establish common ground and encourage compromise through mutual recognition of difference.
How does it work?
A Working Group or individual participant shares what is being proposed, why it is being proposed, and how it can be carried out if approved. If there is consensus for the proposal – meaning no outright opposition – then it is accepted and direct action begins.
If there is no consensus, there will be participant deliberation, followed by the suggestion of modified proposals, or the responsible group or individual may revise the proposal and submit it again at the following General Assembly. If the proposal is not changed or withdrawn, the General Assembly may move to accept a 90%, or minimum 66%, majority approval.
Participants must engage peacefully and respectfully. Active listening is key to making collective decisions that take everyone’s opinions into account.
What is consensus building?
Within the vast majority of political and economic institutions, the normal method of decision-making between two people with different opinions is confrontational. This means that both people defend their position with the aim of convincing their opponent until they have won or a compromise has been reached. It often involves one or both people exerting power to block their opponent from defending their opinions and interests.
In contrast, consensus building is a constructive process through which two people with differing ideas can work together to build something new that neither had envisaged before. This requires that we actively listen, rather than focus on preparing our oppositional response. Consensus building is based on the principle that an inclusive process of decision-making has the power to transform the initial opinions of all involved.
What is a “people’s microphone”?
A people’s microphone is a way for one person’s voice to be communicated to a large group of people without the need for an amplified PA system. A “mic check” will be called by a facilitator or speaker to which a response will be echo’ed by the crowd, the speaker can then speak to the assembly sentence by sentence, their voice being repeated and thus carried by the crowd.
This engages and unites those in attendance, speaks at a more human volume/tone and requires the speaker to consolidate their words so only what is fundamentally relevant is communicated. Longer, more detailed discussion should be reserved for the discussion groups and forums.
Where do General Assemblies come from?
The idea of consensus-driven people’s assemblies have been around for a long time, but modern versions were developed during the last few years in movements born out of the Global Financial Crisis in Europe, particularly in Spain and Greece. They were used during the Arab Spring and since October 2011 are being established in cities across the developed world with the spread of the Occupy Together movement.