“Hundreds turned out onto the streets of Indianapolis to protest the banksters and perpetual war machine. The crowd was high spirited and politically sophisticated. Revolution was in the air!” So went the assessment of day 1 of Occupy Indianapolis by Bob Baldwin, an Indianapolis resident.
In an e-mail, Baldwin did a good job capturing the mood of the protest, which began at noon on Oct. 8, and the corporate media did a decent job of describing its content. But no news story except one in the Bloomington Herald-Times mentioned the most exciting aspect of the event, the “leaderless resistance,” as that story described it – that is, the process through which the protest took place.
In most ways the start of the gathering looked like the makings of a typical rally, with people chanting and brandishing protest signs. What made the demonstration different, and consistent with the original Occupy Wall Street protests, was the democratic decision-making process that underlay the protest.
The activities began with someone who identified himself as an organizer, not a leader, giving ground rules to the crowd of at least 1,000 at the Veterans Memorial Plaza on Meridian Street in downtown Indianapolis. The idea was to hold a “general assembly” of everyone present to decide what the protest would be. Anyone who wanted to speak could sign up and would have one minute allotted to speak.
An organizer gave a crash course in the consensus manner of group decision making. The participants could signal their assent to something a speaker said by holding up their hands and wiggling their fingers in the air. An 80 percent vote signified consent, and anyone could block consensus.
When it looked like everyone who wanted to had had a chance to speak, an organizer announced that the participants would break up into small working groups by activity – communications, slogans, legal issues, Transition Towns and so forth – and then decide on what kind of protest to hold.
"What made the demonstration different, and consistent with the original Occupy Wall Street protests, was the democratic decision-making process that underlay the protest."
The crowd milled around, looking to join working groups, when a small group broke away and started walking while chanting, “March to the [Monument] Circle!” Most of the large group of participants joined the march before most of the working groups had a chance to meet.
When the marchers returned to Veterans Memorial Plaza, an organizer announced that the crowd would vote by consensus on what action to take next – specifically, whether occupying (camping out at) the Statehouse was an option. The police, who maintained a discreet presence controlling traffic during the march, indicated that people could occupy the Statehouse grounds only if they remained vertical. No sleeping was permitted.
The participants, who by that time numbered in the hundreds and were mostly young people, voted to march to the Statehouse. There people sat on the low wall surrounding the property with their picket signs, while small groups walked back and forth, leading chants, including, “We are the 99 percent,” and “You are the 99 percent.”
At 7 p.m. it was unclear whether the participants were going to spend the night at the Statehouse. One suggestion was to “remain vertical” and take breaks to sleep in cars. Rumor had it that some type of occupation would occur. One thing was assured: the decision about occupation would be made not from the top down – there was no top – but by all the participants equally.
As Occupy Indianapolis demonstrated, participatory democracy can be messy and time-consuming. It lacks the efficiency and swiftness of hierarchy. However, it was clear in that people were sick of hierarchy and competition and hungry to cooperate in making the decisions that affect their lives. Despite rule by a corporate elite, participatory democracy lives among the American people.
Linda Greene can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.