Occupy Atlanta, the leaderless group of protesters who set up camp at downtown's Woodruff Park this weekend to rail against corporate greed, is apologizing to people the crowd offended for not allowing Congressman John Lewis to speak during its Friday planning meeting.
The group's press committee today released a long statement explaining why the congressman was asked to wait to address the crowd. (For what it's worth, Lewis told reporters that he undersood, wasn't disappointed he couldn't address the crowd, and supports the movement.) According to the press committee, the protesters voted this morning to invite the civil rights icon to address the group.
Occupy groups are governed by procedural rules that allow them to function in chaotic circumstances and to exercise participatory democracy in a large group. These rules are based on the principle of absolute equality and each voice being heard.
Anyone may come and speak to or participate in a General Assembly. There is a set order which includes a point where the floor is opened for comments. Anyone present may put their name on the "stack" as it is called and speak. It might seem a simple thing to break the order, but in a large crowd where everyone is supposed to get a chance to be heard, deviating from it quickly causes chaos. Each deviation encourages the next until no conversation can be maintained.
All of the speakers who have attended a General Assembly in New York have followed this process. Occupy Atlanta is unaware of any exceptions. Congressman Lewis, who attended Occupy Atlanta's 5th General Assembly on October 7, is familiar with consensus from his days as a civil rights leader but was unable to stay long enough to allow the process to unfold due to prior commitments. [...]
We hope that explaining our process will go a long way towards preventing any future problems or misunderstandings so that we do not inadvertently give offense to those whose voices and knowledge we would very much like to hear. We are dismayed that anything we have done would seem to show disrespect for a man whom many of us revere, and apologize to everyone who was hurt or angered by our actions.
Lewis' office tells CL that he's not yet received an official invitation from the group. His spokeswoman passed along the following statement this morning:
"As a veteran of the Civil Rights Movement, Congressman Lewis is very familiar with the dynamics of protest, and he respects the right of protesters to choose to follow their own pre-organized agenda. He is not concerned or offended in any way by what happened Friday. In fact, the group's process reminded him very much of SNCC, so he was not disturbed at all by what happened."