"The first step to being a facilitator," explained Alexia, "is to ask the assembly if they approve of the facilitation team in front of them. For instance, if the team is composed of all young, straight, white men, the assembly might go like this," she said, wiggling her fingers downward in the semaphore that indicates this doesn't feel good.
"Does that ever happen?" we asked.
Alexia looked over at Austin, who has been going back and forth between Marlboro and Wall Street since early October. "Oh yeah," he said and Alexia picked up the story.
"There was a facilitation team that was losing the support of the assembly and rather than do a vibes check, they just talked amongst themselves. It didn't go well."
"That's the whole reason you have a vibes checker," explained Austin. "It's a way of staying in touch with the crowd."
"Vibes checker!" I said. "That sounds like Wicca wisdom. These people aren't just using anarchist techniques, they're relying on pagan practices."
Alexia, who is from Tennessee, paused.
"Anarchists and pagans. And me a Southern Protestant in the midst of it all." We all laughed. I wondered what other forms of magic were afoot in Zuccotti Park. Alexia and Austin described the members of the facilitation team. Along with the vibes checker, there were two facilitators (with back-ups, in case a facilitator was moved to become a participator), and a keeper of the stack. The latter manages the list of people who have indicated they wish to speak. Besides approving the cast of the facilitation team, the assembly also decides on the rules of stacking. In a Progressive Stack, marginalized voices move to the top of the list.
"How do you know if someone is part of a marginalized group?" we asked.
"If they are a person of color, a woman, or younger than 18 or older than 35, they are part of a marginalized group," said Alexia."I don't know how I feel about progressive stack," she added, the fingers of one hand wiggling quietly in front of her.
"Let's do hand signals in Town Meeting," said one of the students.
"I want to try progressive stacking in Faculty Meeting!" I said. "Just think of the time we could save if we knew what everyone was feeling about a proposal." We fluttered our fingers upward in happy unison.
Besides the fluttering of fingers there was one other important semaphore. "Blocking is a big commitment at Occupy Wall Street," explained Austin, crossing his arms at the wrist in front of his chest. The facilitator will suggest that the working committee that brought the proposal work with the blocker to address her concerns. To block a proposal is to be brought deeper into the political process. "You can't just block and walk away," said Austin.
"What about the drumming circle?" we wondered. "Did they block the rules for quiet time."
Alexia and Austin exchanged glances. Word was out that trouble was brewing in paradise. The anarchist drummers, it was reported, were cursing the General Assembly's regulations.
"Usually if you talk to them and explain why we have quiet hours, they get it," said Austin.
"Or not," added Alexia.
"Those whippersnappers should be listening to their pagan grandmothers," I thought to myself, but didn't say anything. "They don't know what they're messing with."
Magic, wrote Starhawk, "is the art of changing consciousness at will." If you find yourself staring down a line of Oakland police in full riot gear, fill your heart with love. Imagine the police as children. See their weapons as toys. Understand that they are following some strange script that wants everyone to feel afraid. Refuse to feel that fear. Starhawk put these pagan truths into practice in the anti-globalization protests of the late ‘90s and early ‘00s. In Seattle and Vienna and Quebec City and Prague, she and other witches trained labor activists and young punks in the methods of raising the right kind of energy. Beware increasing the energy of hate and fear, for that will destroy you instantly. Build on the energy of love and connection, for that can sustain you even through death. Unfortunately, in Oakland, the force of the police was met with the vandalism of a few angry, young, white men, a group that should have been stacked low. No magic in those moments, no changing consciousness at will. Hate and fear came into the protest and kept the upper hand.
So far, in New York City, I wanted to say, the Wicca presence is holding strong. Through vibe checking, the multitude in Liberty Plaza is learning first-hand just how magic works. By bringing blockers into the decision-making process, the occupiers are seeing how strong feelings can bring about better decisions. Tapping into the energy of the group means that emotional energy is now receiving conscious attention, which means that that it is now capable of being changed.
The difference between Wicca politics and populist politics, I wanted to tell them, is that the former is highly conscious of the consequences of negative emotions. Rather than promote anger and fear, the pagan grandmothers teach us how to ground those destructive tendencies into the drum skin, into the ground, and then let the joy of a living breathing planet rise up in its place. Anarchist rage, I wanted to say, can be transformed without losing its mettle.
I didn't say all this because I thought they might think me crazy; just another grey-haired lesbian who used to sing with her sisters under a full moon. But then I thought that maybe under progressive stacking I could have my say.
"Can we risk using love to transform hate?" I would ask.
How many fingers, I wonder, would flutter up?
Meg Mott teaches political theory at Marlboro College.