Occupy is a movement based in dissent, both outwardly directed at the economic and political status quo, and inwardly invited via processes like the General Assembly. "Authentic dissent" serves the well-being of the whole, and comes out of a sense of ownership and acceptance of one's own part in creating the current state of things.  Other forms of dissent, such as blame, complaint, resignation and denial can be destructive to our efforts to bring forth something new.  

Rebellion is another kind of dissent--and a flash point within the movement.  Some feel that it is our only option.  Others suggest that it is not the way to invite the 99% to come together to co-create "a future distinct from the past."  [See the post below for more on this question.]

Similarly, our response to dissent is crucial.  When it is authentic, are we willing to hear it without trying immediately to "fix" things?  Can we resist the urge to argue, give advice or "take care of" the dissenter?  

With the Occupy movement at a crossroads of possibility, we sense that doubts, concerns and reservations are also in the air.  Before we are ready to fully commit ourselves to something, we also need the opportunity to say "no."

Join us for this Monday's Vital Conversation when we consider what it means to open the space for Authentic Dissent, based on the model developed by Peter Block in Community: The Structure of Belonging.  Eric and Elaine Hansen, who have worked extensively with Block, will co-host a discussion in which your authentic dissent about all things Occupy will be welcomed with deep listening and curiosity. 

And as always, we invite you to use this forum space as well, to expand the conversation.  Please post your thoughts in advance of (or following) our Cafe Call.  You might consider one or more of these questions:

  • What doubts and reservations do you have?
  • What is the yes you no longer mean?
  • What is the no you are withholding?

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Rebellion, as noted above, is a special class of dissent that has a particular charge in the context of the Occupy movement.  In Community: The Structure of Belonging, Peter Block has this to say about it:

Rebellion is more complex. It lives in reaction to the world. On the
surface, rebellion claims to be against monarchy, dominion, or oppression.
Too often it turns out to be a vote for monarchy, dominion, or patriarchy.
Rebellion is most often not a call for transformation or a new context, but
simply a complaint that others control the monarchy and not us. This is
why most revolutions fail—because nothing changes, only the name of
the monarch.

The community form of rebellion is protest. It is noble in tradition but
still often keeps us in perpetual reaction to the stances of others. There is
safety in building an identity on what we do not want. The extremists on
both sides of any issue are more wedded to their positions than to creating a
new possibility. That is why they make unfulfillable demands. The AM radio
band is populated with this non-conversation. Any time we act in reaction,
even to evil, we are giving power to what we are in reaction to.

I have heard John McKnight say that advisory groups speak quietly to
power, protestors scream at power, and neither chooses to reclaim or produce
power. The real problem with rebellion is that it is such fun. It avoids
taking responsibility, operates on the high ground, is fueled by righteousness,
gives legitimacy to blame, and is a delightful escape from the unbearable
burden of being accountable. It has much to recommend it.  p.134

Many in Occupy talk about "revolution."  How is that distinct from "rebellion?"  Are we "building an identity on what we do not want?"  "Giving power to what we are in reaction to?"  What aspects of the movement support accountability and positive action, and which of our efforts "give legitimacy to blame?"  

That last line in the Peter Block quote above just kills me every time I read it!

Noam Chomsky wrote a May Day blog at Huffington Post where he suggests that there is a place for both "reformers" and "revolutionaries."

If you're a serious revolutionary, then you are not looking for an autocratic revolution, but a popular one which will move towards freedom and democracy. That can take place only if a mass of the population is implementing it, carrying it out, and solving problems. They're not going to undertake that commitment, understandably, unless they have discovered for themselves that there are limits to reform.

A sensible revolutionary will try to push reform to the limits, for two good reasons. First, because the reforms can be valuable in themselves. People should have an eight-hour day rather than a twelve-hour day. And in general, we should want to act in accord with decent ethical values.

Secondly, on strategic grounds, you have to show that there are limits to reform. Perhaps sometimes the system will accommodate to needed reforms. If so, well and good. But if it won't, then new questions arise. Perhaps that is a moment when resistance is necessary, steps to overcome the barriers to justified changes. Perhaps the time has come to resort to coercive measures in defense of rights and justice, a form of self-defense. Unless the general population recognizes such measures to be a form of self-defense, they're not going to take part in them, at least they shouldn't.

This strikes me as a very useful distinction.  And yet, I am concerned about whether or not we have any realistic shot at something billed as a "revolution," or whether that framing, even in the face of demonstrated limits to reform, is bound to be still-born.  

Here's another Chomsky article about Occupy to chew on. http://www.commondreams.org/view/2012/05/08-1

Despite the title "A Rebellious World or a New Dark Age?" it's not exactly about dissent and rebellion, but it should still provide context for the conversation.

I'd say it's a pretty solid expression of the core dissent being voiced by Occupy.  Thanks, Eric.  Looking forward to the call on Monday!

Music does have a way of taking us directly into an authentic, heart-centered space.  Thanks for sharing this, Phil, you Rebel you!

I'm a dissident. But I've found that it doesn't usually mean what people seem to think it means. Rather than expressing dissent, I'm usually censored or banned for pointing out that a website itself doesn't support the principles it claims to have.

An example of this was when a website banned me for opposing sexism, racism, child molestation, and other things they claimed to oppose, and insisted that it wasn't due to my position but due to my writing style which was "over the top" and offended people, although I was their most popular writer. In other words, they claimed to oppose things but remained silent about them and silenced anyone who spoke out.

Every liberal, progressive, and reformist website I know of, claims to oppose the drone-bombing of innocent little kids in foreign lands. But they all encourage, or at least will not oppose, voting to delegate war powers to a military superpower which, no matter who is in office, will continue drone bombing innocent little kids. It isn't a matter of principle, it's just business. The defense contracts for drones and for bombs have been signed, funds were budgeted for them, and therefore no matter who is in office, the drone bombing will continue. No matter who people vote for, voting delegates war powers to a military superpower that couldn't survive without ever-increasing defense contracts. To say that one opposes drone bombing, but to vote to delegate the decision of whether or not to drone bomb to a government that will continue to drone bomb, is hypocrisy. Saying so, is dissent and dissidents are silenced or punished.

It isn't even about whether to go into the streets or not, but about whether to keep silent about government war crimes or not. If we go into the streets to demand more jobs, the government can easily hire more defense workers to build more drones and more bombs. That is creating jobs, but the wrong kind of jobs. Going into the streets to demand worker rights, student rights, gay rights, women's rights, disabled rights, immigrant rights, etc., is saying that we don't care if the government continues to commit war crimes like drone bombing innocent kids, we would just like to benefit from those war crimes.

It isn't about what we sincerely feel, but about whether we continue to delegate our power and responsibilities to people who don't feel the same way.

People who want to belong are the perfect bureaucrats, willing to throw principles out the window in order to fit it, not rock the boat, and go along to get along, even if they claim it is against their principles.

Wanting the killing to stop, and saying so openly, makes me a dissident, someone who can't fit in with any community that would prefer to remain silent about war crimes and atrocities. It is true that you can claim the greatest numbers if you avoid controversial topics, but to what end? 

Demanding that controversial topics be addressed is not escapism, blame, or avoiding responsibility. Refusing to address controversial topics so as not to cast blame or have to think about taking responsibility can't bring about change, it only perpetuates the status quo.

The French revolution didn't bring in a new king with a new name, it empowered the French people in a way that had not been possible before. 

Despite US government lies and propaganda, the Cuban, Venezuelan, Bolivian, Uruguayan, Libyan and other revolutions did not just bring in new kings, they went a long way toward eliminating illiteracy, providing education, housing, food, health care, and other basic necessities for all, and creating governments that operate on behalf of the 99% instead of on behalf of the 1%. That's why the US is so determined to destroy them. 

Given that the US government operates on behalf of the 1% instead of on behalf of the 99%, it is impossible to change it if we're not even allowed to mention it. Reaction, in and of itself, is not evil. If you see that you're about to get run over by a car, shouldn't you react by trying to get out of the way? How does that empower the car to run you over? It is ignoring the car about to run you over that empowers it.

All this talk about style and personal attitudes is to avoid facing the real problems we have and to avoid doing anything about them. What we do doesn't have to be violent, but unless we can freely discuss the problems, we cannot coordinate unified strategies for change. No rights were ever gained without rebellion. Read about the mine wars in Virginia. The mine owners and the government cracked down hard on the miners and their families striking to demand humane living and working conditions, killing many. But some gains were made that couldn't have been accomplished otherwise. True, miners here still have fewer rights than in most developed countries, but they did gain some.

Capitalism means government based on what's best for the 1%. Imperialism means government based on war. If we can't even talk about our capitalist imperialist government, we can't change it. I have never recommended rebellion. I recommend only that people stop actively supporting what they claim to oppose. If you oppose drone bombing, don't vote for drone bombers. Without the consent of the governed, government is exposed as tyranny rather than democracy. Voting is the consent of the governed. Not voting is legal, nonviolent, and effortless. It needs to be addressed.

While I agree with Mark that not voting would be a way to express dissent it is still in reaction to the powers that be. As Peter Block says:

Any time we act in reaction, even to evil, we are giving power to what we are in reaction to.

Which also describes the articles by Chomsky, which as Ben says is a pretty solid expression of the core dissent being voiced by Occupy.

The big question is - How can we reclaim our power? As long as we are 'in reaction' we sacrifice our power. Anger and resentment are among the main motivators of our actions and sap our energy, energy which is vitally needed to build the alternative. Many in Occupy are becoming disillusioned with this negative stance. I cannot put it better than you did in the intro "Authentic dissent" serves the well-being of the whole, and comes out of a sense of ownership and acceptance of one's own part in creating the current state of things.

This is a movement which is still in the stage of raging against the inequalities of our society, and hoping if they get angry enough someone will listen. While the camps combined protest with building a new society, what we are left with now is just protest. Protest may win a few reforms for those who still think we have time for 'the long dark period ahead' that Chomsky predicts. But for others the urgency is to get on and build now. And not the high speed railway the lack of which he rants about.

The persistence in protesting to the government and begging it to change its values feels uninspiring and a dead end. It galvanises anger and resentment, and places us as impotent victims. All of these feelings are undeniably real, but they do not serve us in any fruitful way. They also leave us completely in the hands of the big corporations, on whom we depend for our daily needs. If and when the crash comes and it could be any time, we will be totally unprepared for managing from our own resources.

Transition Towns and Permaculture do not get involved in challenging the government. What they achieve at the local level is huge see eg http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vs7BG4lH3m4

In Bath UK Occupy has organised events called "Visions for Change" inviting many local active groups (eg Greenpeace, Transition, residents associations ) to network together.

That doesn't mean that we aren't angry, or deny the corruption and injustice being perpetrated by those with power. But it is important to use that anger constructively, not just with non-violence, but but with a view to providing a real alternative for those who might wish to withdraw their support for this system.

Unfortunately I won't be able to be on the call

Best wishes Anna


Thank you Anna, for giving power to my comment by reacting to it.

Any time we make broad generalizations, we are being dishonest. 

Does the police officer who sees and shoots a criminal who is raping a child, give power to the rapist by reacting to the crime? Would the more appropriate behavior be to just ignore the rape and not react to it for fear of empowering the rapist?

Do you really believe that, or do you just like to parrot what others say without first thinking about it?

Banning all effective forms of dissent as being "inauthentic" is not a productive judgment or one that authorities should be allowed to make. 

The only way to reclaim our power is to stop giving it away. Stop delegating it to representatives over whom we have no control. Stop voting. As long as we continue to vote to delegate our responsibilities to representatives, we are giving away rather than reclaiming our power.

Here in the US, there is no real distinction to be made between big government and big corporations. This is a fascist country and the merger of business and government is total. Business controls government and government operates on behalf of business. 

Transition Towns and Permaculture are great ideas. But to the extent that they enable people to ignore the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, and now Syria, they allow people to turn their backs on the global struggle for justice and focus on their own narrow self-interests. If you ignore the fact that your government is killing innocent people abroad, and continue to nonviolently tend your garden, some day the children and grandchildren of those you allowed (or even authorized, if you're a voter) to be killed, will have every right to destroy your peaceful gardens and lives as you destroyed theirs.

I agree that it is important to provide attractive alternatives for those who cannot abandon a genocidal system out of principle, and are unwilling to accept any consequences for having supported genocide. I wouldn't want to live and work with unprincipled, apathetic people like that, no less cater to their selfish needs. 

The US military loses and is totally unable to account for in any way, trillions of dollars in an average year. Ignoring the trillions it spends killing innocent poor people, just the money it misplaces would be enough to eliminate poverty, hunger, and most other problems on this planet.

The way to stop being impotent victims and reclaim our power is to stop voting to give our power away. It's really that simple. If we can't stop giving our power away, we cannot reclaim it.


Hi Mark,

I agree with you we should not vote for this undemocratic system. Unfortunately every time we buy something, or take a bus, or send our children to school, we are supporting this system. It is a trap we can only get out of by creating an alternative system. And even then it will only be a compromise.

Because we create an alternative system, that does not mean we do not raise objections to the wars perpetrated by our governments. That is an accusation many have made to Transition Towns and Permaculture. However, many Occupiers are also Transitioners or permaculturalists. We need to fight this system on all fronts.

No need to attack me, we are on the same side.

Much love Anna

Well, Anna, it felt to me that when you said that not voting was "in reaction to the powers that be," and added the Peter Block quote, "Any time we act in reaction, even to evil, we are giving power to what we are in reaction to," you were attacking me because you believed that I was giving power to evil by not voting for evil.

Perhaps we're on the same side and you didn't mean to attack me or accuse me of giving power to evil by refusing to vote for evil.

I don't know who Peter Block is, but if he thinks that by reacting to a strong earthquake by moving away from windows, he'd be empowering the earthquake, that by reacting to an air raid siren by heading to a bomb shelter, he'd be empowering the air attack, or that by reacting to a recall of food contaminated by e coli by not eating that food, he'd be empowering the bacteria, he isn't going to be with us very long.

Such broad sweeping generalizations are usually a sign of ignorance, arrogance, attitude, and/or agenda. I don't think he and his friends would be the best people to decide if other people's dissent is authentic (and therefore permissible) or not. It is desire to belong and fear of being rejected by the community that causes most people to deny the truth and refuse to act when doing so might antagonize the religious sect, political party, classroom or other authoritarian structured system of which they are a part. 

Suppose you were imprisoned unjustly and you wanted to escape. You knew that many people had made successful escapes from that prison and that their detailed instructions of how to do it were available to you. But you had been told that the voice of anyone who had escaped was "inauthentic," and should therefore be ignored. 

Radical politics will always be smeared as inauthentic, ineffective, unacceptable, and every other way they can think of, by liberals, progressives, and Democratic Party political operatives whose goal is to limit people to politics as usual to ensure that nothing changes. But it is the radicals who don't attack people. The traditional political party operatives always do.

I didn't attack you, Anna. I asked you some very simple questions in an attempt to determine if your attack on me was knowing and intentional, or merely thoughtless. You didn't answer. I'm not sure you can. If you were to admit that Block's generalization about reactions is false, you'd be in confrontation with the accepted wisdom here, and therefore open to being smeared as inauthentic yourself. If you admit that you quoted it without first thinking about it, you'd expose yourself as being deficient in critical thinking skills and therefore vulnerable to being tempted to use even false concepts to attack others. Generally, people who are on the same side that I'm on, don't attack me. However, if you agree with me that we should not vote for this undemocratic system, regardless of extenuating circumstances, public opinion, lack of alternatives, or any other rationalizations, then we're on the same side.

Much love,


HI Mark,

Thanks for your response. The many examples you give of reacting to a dangerous situation are undeniable, and you are right to point out that the statement is not applicable across the board.

 What I am trying to emphasise with that phrase 'in reaction to', and possibly what Peter is pointing to, is that a voting system is their game not mine. If I say I'm not going to vote, I'm saying I'm not going to play your game. But they are still setting the terms, it's their game not mine. By making refusing to vote my main action, I'm making it appear as though their game is the most/only important thing that is happening. But there are many other games going on, games that I can help create and set the agenda for, and so begin to feel that what I contribute is valuable, begin to feel some dignity and solidarity with others, towards building a community.

That community feeling that we create, you and I, by arguing and sorting out our differences, is important in building a movement that can resist the powers that be. Not that we all need to think alike. In fact it is more important that we can think independantly like you say, not swayed by needing to belong or be approved of by certain groups.

I prefer the term Dissensus rather than Dissent. Dissent is disagreeing with, but dissensus is allowing that there can be many different paths, all of which have some validity. Consensus can be quite dictatorial in having everyone agree, and demands a strong centralised structure. It seems that some groups are using a more anarchic structure, where GAs are for info sharing rather than to get approval for decision making, which leaves people freer to pursue a multitude of paths.

With love, Anna


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