No leaders? No politics? A perspective on the struggle for control of Occupy Melbourne.

As a participant in Occupy Melbourne over the last few days I have reflected much on what has transpired. I wrote an account of my experiences of Saturday and Sunday’s GA to try and make sense of what was happening. What follows is my attempt at a “story” or version of events that makes sense to me as a participant.

‘No Leaders – No politics”
Occupy Melbourne is obviously made up of a number of loose and organised factions as well as many non-aligned individuals. One of these groupings is an informal network or affinity group of key organisers who are spread across a number of Working Groups. This group who have worked hard and closely together since the start of OM and are united in this commitment to the protest. They are also united in their opposition to “politics” within OM which is code for their opposition to the organised socialist groupings within OM. Despite OM not having “leaders” officially I beliveve tis group has played a key role in shaping and leading OM so far.

I believe this group worked hard and closely together during the six days of the City Square Occupation. I believe that they were deeply traumatized by the police ilence of the eviction. I believe that in the week between the eviction and the start of the re-occupation on the 29th of October, this group put their heads together to try and find a plant that would enable OM to continue without being broken up by police again. I believe they decided some time after the eviction and before the 29th that the location of Edinborough Gardens in North Fitzroy was the location that would allow this to happen. A meeting was held between the Logistics Working Group and the Yarra Council and the site was scoped out by the kitchen Working Group too.

The first most of us learnt of this was at the Treasury Gardens on the 29th when Jeff from the Logistics Working Group gave a report back to the crows what marched there with the intention of re-occupying. It was noteworthy that the only possible site that was reported back on was the Ed Gardens. It was noteworthy that no gear was brought into the Treasury Gardens by either the Logistics or Kitchen Working groups. It was noteworthy that the option of staying the in Treasury Gardens wit no structures to avoid conflict with the police was not canvassed. I believe these facts all reflect a prior plan had been made for us to move on Saturday to the Ed Gardens. I believe this was motivated by a desire to avoid conflict with the police and with best intentions.

However this plan went pear shaped when Steve Jolly from the Socialist Party gave a convincing speech rejecting the Ed Gardens in faour of moving to Bowens lane at RMIT on the grounds of its centrality and the apparent support that might follow from the CFMEU. I believe this core group of “leaders” paniced. They had no plan for Bowen’s Lane and felt they ad lost control of the process. In addition the fact that this sudden change of plans was urged by Socialists fed into their underlying fear that the movement was vunerable to a “take over” by the “isms”, in particular Socialists.

When we got to Bowens Lane and were quickly told we were not welcome, this group again tried to get us all to move to the “safety” of the Ed Gardens away from police attention and to where they had a plan to camp. However to their growing frustration and anger the crowd again did not embrace the Ed Gardens, largely because it is out of the CBD. Eventually some within this group cracked it, even before the end of the GA and announced they were going to the Ed Gardens. We were told the Kitched was already set up there again revealing the assumption of the group of how the day would unfold. This group simply could not accept that the majority wanted to stay in the CBD even if ti meant conflict with the police. When the group eventually decided to the State Library many in the group went to the Ed Gardens for the night.

I believe this group blamed the failure of the two Saturday GA’s to embrace the Ed Gardens on manipulation by Socialists who had thwarted “the plan”. I personally don’t believe that there was any manipulation by Socialists at all and the GA’s were simply examples of direct democracy where people tried to make difficult decisions under the stress of possible police violence. However with the benefit of hindsight the decision to go to Bowen’s Lane was a poor one.

During Saturday night and Sunday during the day, the State Library occupation received little support from some of these key organisers in the Working Groups (although others in the Workings groups did their best to help). I thinks they saw the State Library occupationi as both impractical and illegitimate as it arose out of GA’s they believed were manipulated and had arisen out of a “break down in process”.

I think the type of thinking of this group mirrors that of our “leaders” in general. Democracy is only said to be working when it delivers results the leaders want. If it doesn’t it is said to have failed. This is what the Facilitation Working Group to decide the process of the GA’s was broken. This is why they reported back to the GA on Sunday that a meeting on Tuesday would be held of the Faciliation Working Group to “fix” the process and until after this meeting no GA’s were to occur and the next GA’s would be on Wednesday. This is also why they attempted to hollow out the Sunday GA of meaningful discussion by not putting what the camp was doing that night on the agenda.

When this attempt to effectively shut down the decision making processes of OM was resisted by many of those at the Sunday GA panic once again set in amongst the “leaders”. The Facilitation Working Group announced they were not prepared to facilitate a discussion on what was happening next so would be stepping down from running the GA. Once they declared any process they felt they were not in control of as illegitimate. This also explains the angry report back from the Kitchen Working Group representative who basically railed against the GA about stupid people were for wanting the Kitchen to be set up in the CDB. It is clear this individual saw the GA’s as an illegitimate forum. However the Sunday’s GA continued on without the being run by the Facilitation Working Group. Two new moderators/chairs were elected, myself and Nick Carson. Crucially it was decided to have another GA on Monday at 6PM with or without involvement of the Facilitation Working Group. The people had decided that the process of the GA was bigger than the Facilitation Working Group and the process was not in fact “broken”.

On Sunday night and Monday during the day, the State Library Occupation limjped on only due to the persistence and tenacity of those present in the face of ongoing harassment and threats made by the management of the State Library and without the presence of structures.

I was not present at the GA on Monday but I read on Facebook that the GA was well facilitated by some new facilitators. It apparently decided to reconvene for a GA in the City Square on Wednedsay and then immediately re-occupy the Treasury Gardesn. It was obviously decided there was not the energy or support to continue to occupy the State Library for the intervening night. Without being present I sincerely hope this GA was a continuance by those present to keep the power where it belongs, in the GA’s and not within smaller working groups dominated by unofficial leaders and factions. There seems to bea recommitment to a CBD based occupation rather than a retreat to North Fitzroy. I hope the whole Occupy Melbourne movement can once again unite behind this attempt to continue to Occupy Melbourne.

I offer this perspective in the spirit of constructive dialogue. It is inevitable that groups of people, even if they are hard working and well intentioned, will attempt to control this movement. Our General Assemblies are our best defence against this occurring. Lets continue to stand and work together to build a democratic movement that advances the cause of equality, peace, sustainability and justice in the face of corporate greed. To quote my favourite chant “Whats your favourite kind of pie – Occupy!”.

Davey Heller



You realise that OM is nothing more than a bunch of tents and some people right? People who have don't want their tents or kitchen stolen just won't have them stolen. Simple. Don't worry quite so much about secret evil groupings doing this and that. The only thing that matters is that people and tents are still part of the movement and that is getting riskier the more this bullshit continues.

Please stop this now.

It's not just about control, there's also a degree to which the whole movement will have to let some people go off and do their own thing. We ought to be comfortable with some degree of that as long as we can all still come together for GAs and to defend if the state attacks again. There's too many rumours being spread about hidden agendas, better we take each other on face value and try to rebuild that unity.

I think this is by and large accurate, and I strongly commend Davey for his efforts towards keeping OM alive and democratic during it's most difficult time. I'd add a couple of things.

1. In response to Anonymous above, I think it's more complex than that because we're not just talking about people's personal property, we're talking about communal property of OM. I think it's a grey area as to how much power the kitchen working group should have over what is done with this communal property. For example, they couldn't decide to take it all to Ballarat without GA permission, but by the same token they can surely decide a fair bit unilaterally, a mundane example being what to cook for dinner. All in all I'd agree it's best to move on and start fresh Wednesday.

2. I am not sure how many organisers were clearly set on Edinburgh Gardens, as opposed to Treasury with no structures. The main thing I think the organisers had collectively decided throughout the week (if only by planning for some things and not others) was that they did not want any more civil disobedience or conflict with police. I think that was a mistake. Another mistake was, like Davey says, not to clearly outline all the options at the start of Saturday's GA. Jeff from logistics did tell the GA that Treasury had been scoped out and was seen as a viable campsite. Unfortunately, not enough time was given to discussing the possibilities of setting up there without structures. The floor was thrown open, Steve Jolley spoke well for Bowen Place, and three quite uninformed people spoke poorly and made no real arguments for treasury gardens and Edinburgh gardens. The GA had to make a decision without being well informed about all the options. A lot of the organisers were upset at the decision, but those same organisers had not made their arguments to the GA. The irony is that the organisers who had been putting in a lot of work and thought and had some pretty clear and good ideas about what should happen forgot that the way things work is that you have to convince the GA of those ideas! And I'm sure Steve Jolley's speech caught them all by surprise. Damn him and his silver tongue! :)

3. The facilitation working group was disfunctional on Sunday evening. Sorry guys but you were. Facilitators are there to control the GA's process, not it's outcomes. To show up, start an hour late, refuse discussion about what the majority of the GA wanted to discuss, and promise a list of 'soap box' speakers that they would get 5 minutes to speak about whatever they wanted after you had stepped down three hours after the stated start time was farcical. It also delegitimized the decisions reached afterwards and the occupation that occurred that night in the eyes of some, like the kid who ran away yelling 'you're not the proper crew' after you had finally stepped down at 7PM. It is very promising that facilitation has continued during the facilitation working group's break, and by all accounts has preserved the process and the unit of the GA as being the central pillar of OM. I'd invite anyone who is interested to come to the facilitation working group meeting tonight at 5PM at Gopals Restaurant 139 Swanston St.

You fail to mention one important thing, Davey. The facilitators are not 'leaders'. They are people, like us, who have done the TRAINING to FACILITATE the GAs in the Occupy movement. They have put time and effort into understanding how the GA's work and run. You, Davey, have put in how much time into this? I was there where you took the mic. I left immediately, because I felt that all you wanted to do was shout loudly into it and make your point heard by as many people as possible. To me, a completely random individual, that GA was void the moment that happened, Davey.

To add to my comment above, I feel like the point your trying to make is that as soon as someone puts time and effort into something, they can be seen to be hijacking it to their own means. Maybe you should understand that there is actually a very limited amount of people who are willing to make the running of OM their full time jobs. Which is why, again, I ask you to actually contribute a bit of YOUR time to Occupy before making all these assumptions you feel you have the right to make.

And on another note, then way you kept interrupting the GA with your yells all throughout before you got your way was bloody annoying, too.

To Anonymous, why exactly was the GA void after the facilitation working group stepped down? Did any GA ever decide that decisions made by consensus after 7PM Sunday and before Wednesday would be void? No. The facilitation working group decided they would not facilitate GAs during that period, but at no time did they put forward the temporary dissolution of GA decision-making powers for a consensus vote. That is why any decision made by consensus at the GA after they left at 7PM Sunday, and last night, is completely valid and not 'void'. The default position, until CONSENSUS (not a working group by itself) last night agreed to reconvene GAs on Wednesday, was for there to be a GA every night, and for a 90% consensus to count as enough to pass decisions.

Davey put in a lot of effort btw. He slept out Saturday at the place agreed democratically, the State Library, and even took arrestable peaceful action when the police threatened to arrest him for sitting on the lawn and talking – But it's beside the point what individuals have done. To argue that you can't criticize or offer opinion based on whether you have or haven't done certain things is petty nonsense. Occupy is an open movement, and organisers, while amazing, and valuable, and worthy of enormous praise for their efforts, are nevertheless not beyond constructive criticism.

Very constructive, respectful and thoughtful article.
You wrote that: 'I sincerely hope this GA was a continuance by those present to keep the power where it belongs, in the GA’s and within smaller working groups dominated by unofficial leaders and factions.'
There does not need to be any 'leaders'. Individuals can take 'responsibility' to complete certain tasks but they do not need to 'lead' others. We can all 'lead' ourselves. Let's create a new language of direct democracy and let go of roles from the prevailing elitist forms of democracy.
When responding, how about focussing on the process and the facts rather than on individuals? Congrats to those that have done that.
The key aim is to occupy public space in the centre of Melbourne and make it available for democratic debate and action. This will inevitably attract state/corporate repression and thereby demonstrate that the rule of the 1% is illegitimate and requires dismantling. There was unprecedented support for OM from the majority of Melbournians in the wake of the brutal eviction last Friday. If we support each other and stick to the principles of direct democracy who knows what will happen next?
BTW Noam Chomsky is in Melbourne next Friday. I hope he can attend OM.

Paul -

In terms of contributing time, I also emphasised that Davey should contribute time to the running of the GAs, if that is what he has a problem with. The facilitators have stated time and time again, anyone is welcome to join. But being a facilitator is not about grabbing the mic and yelling because you feel like it. Which is why had he actually bothered to go through the process of becoming a facilitator, I would have had no objections to him coming out with all these accusations about who has what motives in this.

Occupy is a movement with a pre-established form. If anyone and everyone starts acting like this means nothing to them, then it will most definitely fall apart. I imagine another 10 people demanding the facilitators step down whenever it suits them and to me, that does not seem very workable.

I clarified it was void to me as an individual. Thats important. I did not say it was void to the people who stayed there, or anything else. The reason it was void to me is the reason stated above. There is a form that needs to be respected.

To add to my comment above,

Paul (Mr. High and mighty) -

If YOU want OM to grow larger and gain support by the many, i urge you to put more of YOU'RE wasted time into helping run the GA. I have put a lot of my energy into the movement, I'm sure a lot more than you have. Do I want my voice to be heard more? Of course I do, because my thoughts and actions will go a lot further than Mr. Davey's, or any other uninformed crowd member who wants to get up and serve there ego's by yelling at a crowd full of dreadlocked sheeple. I have an order in my goals, I have a clear outcome (something you may not have thought about yet) and if I could nominate myself as leader of OM we would be getting 1000% more done than the pathetic farce of Monday's GA. Not once have I put my hand up for credit (Unlike others) because I believe I will get my credit in due time, from MY DIRECT ACTIONS.

Do your criticisms of me add value to the movement? I'm sure if you scan your brain you will come up with the answer!. Stop wasting time, and for the sake of OM don't show up Wednesday..or if you have to, bring a large custard pie with the letters O. M on it which I will gladly throw at Davey's face, to make an accurate visual demonstration of how ludicrous and ugly this movement is becoming.

Pack of feral idiots - should nuke the lot of them!vH6


Davey did put time towards running GAs, he was moderator after the facilitation WG stepped down and let the Occupation of Sunday and Monday facilitate itself. He also never 'grabbed the mic' and yelled into it. That is a absurd statement. I saw Davey put up his hand to dissent to a proposal, then wait to speak, and then step up to offer his time as moderator depending on whether the GA accepted him as such. As for myself, I've done first aid volunteering (overnight shift twice) and been a participant in GAs and am now part of the facilitation working group. But i'll say it again, what individuals have or haven't done is completely irrelevant in relation to their right to voice valid criticisms of any part of OM.

You then urge me to put more of my time into running GAs (which I'm now doing) and then a few moments later write that you hope I don't come on Wednesday, which is just incoherent. Followed by a statement that you would like to assault and publicly humiliate Davey, somehow in protest against the movement becoming 'ludicrous and ugly'.

Jesus. Look in the mirror yeah?