Dealing with Internal Conflict

Is it necessarily a bad thing when difficulties and tensions start to arise amongst occupyers who initially joined together in the same desire for positive change? With many activists and onlookers commenting that the movement is now in its second phase a lot depends on how these difficulties are approached.

Awareness: the key to Occupy’s evolution?

Whilst taking part in recent discussions with Occupiers from London and around the globe I was struck by the emergence of a general theme of the occupations entering a stage of rising internal tensions. What is interesting in this is that occupiers and activists are becoming aware of how the structure of the camps and assemblies are starting to replicate the very system of domination they seek to replace. Whilst the assemblies are intended to be forums of equality where every voice is honoured and allowed to speak, nevertheless an unintentional hierarchy of privilege emerges in which class, sex, race and education still dominate the proceedings. The interesting point here is this happens in spite of everyone’s best intentions. Those who are eloquent and confident speakers or organisers due to their privileges in life often end up running things in the camps and dominating GAs whilst those who are marginalised in society often have less confidence to express themselves or take up initiatives despite the general egalitarian intent.

I’ve heard activists talking about this situation with a depressed outlook as if we are hopelessly bound to recreating the same faults of the system. It can be an understandable perspective given the internal challenges faced by occupations everywhere. However there is another perspective: namely the simple fact that at least we are now becoming conscious. In other words Occupy is not only a space in which we can be creative, but it is also a space in which we become aware of how the system lives within us as individuals and groups, of how we replicate these relationships of dominators and dominated. We may all share the goal of a better world but when we unite to make that world a reality we can feel dismayed at how the whole process at times feels like it has descended into a confusing mess of conflicts.

Whilst this can be painful perhaps we are maturing into a necessary new phase. Perhaps internal conflicts that arise in the movement are not to be avoided but, rather the opposite, to be held in collective awareness through dialogue and group reflection. The difficulties which are held in society as unconsciously perpetuated mechanisms can therefore be transcended when they are seen and understood for what they are in the light of the collective processes used by Occupy.

The author and activist Michael Stone deals with some of these issues in this video. He expresses his view that “the next stage of the movement is going to be about how we deal with conflict. Internal conflict and the repression when the (status quo) gets uptight.”

At the end of the video he concludes “Today Occupy is in 1980 cities. I’ve been to many ‘Occupy’s and every one is different. And they all have trouble. And they’re all winning because they have trouble. They’re working it out which is really hard work, but that’s the work worth doing.”

The movement begins with oneself

Whether you see the enemy as the 1% or the guy in a working group that you can’t stand, if the Occupy movement is to succeed, it requires that we all take a long hard look at how we react faced with adversity and how we carry strengths and weaknesses within ourselves.

A number of the methods included in this previous article – Occupy as a new societal model and ways to improve it – are potent ways to increase awareness within individuals and groups. Other methods such as shadow work and deep democracy can reveal how the things we can’t stand in society or in others are also carried within ourselves. Such revelations can be vitally important for the harmony of Occupy’s assemblies, camps and actions.

The following video by Mark Walsh, a trainer in both business and activism, explains a number of techniques and means through which people involved in Occupy can remain resilient to the challenges that lie ahead. He highlights another source of stress and tension within the movement which is a lack of care and attention concerning our own personal wellbeing whilst engaging in activism: “The shadow of a lot of the social change movement is that the focus is external, on changing other people out there and as a result we forget about ourselves and burn out.”

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Categories: Activism, Inner Work


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4 Comments on “Dealing with Internal Conflict”

  1. December 30, 2011 at 5:16 am #

    Just wanted to say I recently stumbled across your blog and I really like it. I will do what little I can to spread links from time to time.

    Thank you


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