How do youth do direct democracy and consensus in large groups?

How do assemblies work with large groups of participants? Alejandra Machin Álvarez, a young economist, was involved with Spain’s 15-M from the beginning.[i] She describes her neighborhood assembly in Madrid as taking a lot of time and sometimes frustrating when a proposal you’ve worked hard to create is rejected. They remind themselves of the Zapatista slogan, “We go slowly, but we go far.” The assemblies emphasize mutual support networks and environmentalism, as when she shared Internet with her neighbors and gave them possessions she wasn’t using. They plan fun activities like concerts, group painting, and poetry recitals, as well as lobby for issues like anti-privatization of the water system in Madrid. About 350 people in her neighborhood first met on May 28, 2011. They decided on unanimous consensus, made workable by an organizing committee. It’s responsible for finding facilitators for meetings and “keeping things respectful.” A Communication Commission provides coordination and information between working groups whose topics include public services, housing, political and economic groups. The groups meet weekly, then take their proposals to the general assembly for approval. Her assembly insists on including direct action in proposals, such as protests, street performances or plans to stop evictions. Sometimes all the city assemblies join together, as on June 19 when all the Madrid assemblies marched through the streets to meet at the building for the Congress of Deputies to protest the Euro Pact. Other cities do the same kind of actions. The Madrid assemblies coordinate through a webpage—look at the list of commissions and working groups to see their interests.[ii]


[i] Alejandra Machin Álvarez, Neighborhood and Town Assemblies,” in Schiffrin and Kircher-Allen, pp. 126-132.

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