I went to my first Occupy Melbourne general assembly this evening (the 16th they've had). It wasn't deliberate, I was walking on Swanston St, eating my chips & tomato sauce, and there they were. I stayed for a couple of hours. My impressions follow.
I'm not very good with numbers, maybe there were 100 people. They used the (predominate) megaphone and the human microphone. Decisions were run on a consensus basis.
It was very much a left ghetto event. However, it was as though the factions had set their differences aside for participation in Occupy Melbourne.
The first hour was reports from various workgroups (legal, direct action, media, etc.) on what they’d been doing since the last GA. The legal team were going to court over whether Occupy Melbourne could have structures and political posters at Treasury Gardens. They wanted people to await the outcome of legal proceedings before Occupy Melbourne decided to do anything more.
I was disinterested by the first hour. If I were a part of Occupy Melbourne, maybe I’d have been more interested (but probably not).
After the reports there were some more substantial suggestions. The first motion was that Occupy Melbourne has a minute silence for the dead of WWI. I was shocked. I had thought that nothing so conservative would ever dare to be tabled. A show of hands for, then against. There was massive dissent. It was quickly reformulated as "all that have died in all wars". There was massive dissent. Others spoke against war per se. They didn’t want to honour victims, they wanted to attack the perpetrators of war, the 1%. I was encouraged by this, but by then, 10-20min of my life had already disappeared before the motion was thrown out. (I definitely would have walked away forever if it had been accepted in any of its forms.)
After, there was a proposal that we build structures on Saturday, regardless of the legal outcome. There was general (60-70%) support for this. One dissenter made an absurd analogy to guerrilla tactics saying "now is not the time to attack but harry the enemy." This received quite a bit of support. One commenter riposte with "This isn't the Vietnam war." Another dissenter talked of not wanting to jeopardise legal proceedings (the interim outcome, everyone already knew, would be known before Saturday). This rhetorical nonsense (clearly suffering for causal misdirection), received even more support than the guerrilla fighter. However, speakers for or against were unable to sway the numbers significantly. (I voted for occupation with structures, too horrified by the nonsense of the dissenters to abstain any longer.) It was decided to revisit the issue on Saturday. After that, I left.
I was generally quite impressed. For all my critical thoughts, it seemed like a movement with promise. Are the "Occupys" around the world the beginnings of a 21st century soviet? I don't know. I don't think anyone could know that. They probably aren't though. They'll probably fizzle and burn out. To avoid that fait, they need to inspire people to take control of their lives. I have no idea how they're going to do that. Hundreds of years of failure gnaws at the edges of the general assembly.