Generating ideas, connections, and action

Leadership and the Occupy Movement

On a recent Saturday afternoon, I spent four hours with people from many walks of life at the Occupy Boston Summit in the heart of Chinatown about 15 minutes from Dewey Square, the site of Occupy Boston.  Over three hundred people were in a school cafeteria, an overflow room, and on livestreaming to have a conversation for four hours about where the “occupy” movement in Boston goes from here.  


Two months after the Occupy Boston movement began there are
dozens of working groups that have formed, and many different causes and concerns that are motivating people to step into their leadership.  As the movement grows and enters this next phase, there are tensions emerging around gender, race, class, political perspective, generation, and leadership tactics; many of which are deep-seated and difficult to navigate.  This next phase offers enormous opportunities and presents complex challenges for growing a robust and healthy movement.

The Summit was designed to create a safe container for community conversation about where the movement is headed.  Facilitated by volunteers from the
Interaction Institute for Social Change, we had four rounds of conversation with each other  followed by a harvest of our values, needs, and direction.  We had differences of opinion and differences over tactics, but the method of World Cafe provided a structure for engaging those differences in productive conversation through powerful questions like:  

  • What is the story of this movement?
  • What are the values that we want to live by?
  • What do we need now?
  • How do we take this to the next level?

We sat at cafe tables (seating four) with flowers, paper, markers, and pipe cleaners to share and connect our stories and our ideas.

People came to the Summit with different connections to the movement:  some are occupying Dewey Square; others are allies of the occupation who provide for the physical, emotional, cultural, and intellectual nurturing of those who are in the square; others are working to create a leadership and network infrastructure that can support and sustain the movement as it grows; others are working to develop a political agenda to reinvigorate democracy, and still others are showing up for the first time.

As I watch the movement develop, I am aware of all the investments that have been made in cultivating the capacity for communities to engage their differences and join together for the common good. I wonder what difference this may be making for the “occupy” movement. I see leaders everywhere with the capacity to connect and work across race, generations, and political differences, who are passionate about learning and building networks, and that believe a whole community approach is what is needed to create deep and lasting cultural, social and environmental change.  People are stepping forward to lead the process of movement-building.

How are you seeing people step into their leadership at this moment?  What leadership strategies are emerging to support this movement?  What leadership challenges will we have to be prepared to navigate?  What gives you hope or gives you pause?