‘New’ Leadership in Action at Occupy Toronto

Yesterday I wandered down to Occupy Toronto in St. James Park, to experience firsthand how leadership principles might be in play there. While everyone I spoke with politely but firmly denied there are any leaders, they are (knowingly or not) applying the principles of new ‘revolving’ leadership, which involves individuals stepping up at the appropriate time to exercise their strengths and skills on behalf of the greatest number.
So what does this mean? Well firstly, Occupy Toronto organizers ( from what I could gather, a handful of people who were inspired by the Occupy Wall Street OWS movement) used social media to inspire and organize the rally at St. James Park. They were obviously the point people to get it going, and set the meeting times and places, yet they choose to remain anonymous. I was told that the group is in daily contact with OWS through Facebook and texting; ‘going to school’ on their successes and errors. From OWS, Occupy Toronto has adopted the daily General Assembly, working groups for Internet, Legal, Sanitation and Order (they watch for and manage any violent protesters before the police need to get involved). So necessary order and structure is being provided by this behind-the-scenes leadership
Secondly, I witnessed a smaller ‘group circle’, where a group appointed facilitator assigned speaking times to anyone interested, and moderated the discussion. There are many such breakout groups attempting to crystallize the main messages of the movement, which will be later presented at the General Assembly for adoption vote. In the circle I watched, the articulate and knowledgeable people tended to lead the way for the others, who strongly felt the same, yet found it harder to express. These leaders emerged to clarify the main issues, suggest direction, and propose action, then faded back into the crowd. This is an attempt to craft the movement’s inspired vision right from the grassroots.
I was actually moved as a homeless man was given his rightful turn to speak, and was actually listened to, and asked to clarify some of his points, by others in the group. The respect they showed him was touching and encouraging.
Thirdly, I observed individual leadership: a 29 year old man stood silently in the center of the park, with a bristol board placard that expressed his views. His view was that we fight corporate corruption and unethical business practices not by protesting, but by boycotting their products and services; that we must not be mindless consumers, but rather take our responsibility for corporate misdeeds by voting with our wallets.
He fully recognized the good value that banks and governments can add to our capitalist society, and was only protesting, he said, because a government, through irresponsible deregulation, permitted unethical banks to place outrageously risky bets with taxpayer money, resulting in global oppression and economic destruction. Turns out this guy in the Tibetan earflap hat and hole-in-the ear rings owned a sustainable junk recycling business, was incredibly grounded, positive and articulate, and wanted non-violent change that ensured a safer, more stable society. I suggested he try to get the Occupy movement to adopt his message, as it would resonate beautifully with the public and the media, and help build broader support. I walked away much more hopeful for our world, with young people like him quietly but actively leading the way.
There’s a Chinese proverb that says something like “out of crisis, opportunity”. The global “Occupy” movements could be one of the opportunities yielded by the current global economic meltdown, in that it is becoming an experiment in non-violent, participation leadership, with a view to the greatest good for the greatest number. What started as the Arab Spring has gone viral in different forms, but with the same underlying theme: that we all must live in our societies, and there is a general consensus (the 99%) that current systemic imbalances must be remedied.
I’m hoping that Occupy Toronto succeeds in its effort to clarify and express their main messages of discontent, and was encouraged to witness a new kind of leadership in action; one where common vision and goals supersede individual egos (at least for now). Systemic change is, in my view, desperately needed, and this is as good an opportunity that we’ve had in a long time to get it started. Go down and see, hear, feel it for yourself. You may be pleasantly surprised, as I was.
For some further related good ideas on the Occupy movement, Ray Brescia of the Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ray-brescia/the-peoples-bailout-how-o_b_1013857.html

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