Occupy Wall Street  
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Are We Bonobos or Chimpanzees? What Evolution Tells Us About Occupy Wall Street

In bonobo society, where food is abundant and easy to gather, females spend most of their time with each other, offering protection against other forms of violence.

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In the past weeks I’ve experienced numerous bonobo-style communities emerge from the radical, beautiful, and sometimes challenging, act of listening at OWS. Last week after a Safer Spaces sleep-out, as we drank our coffee and rolled up our sleeping bags, the person I slept next to suggested everyone play a game. I was about to skip it when, realizing I hadn’t even learned my fellow safe-spacer’s name, I checked myself and decided to stick around. After five minutes of the silly exercise – depicting our hairstyle evolution on pieces of cardboard – it was clear that we would no longer need a pink flag to demarcate the safe space we had created among one another. Just the day before the sleepout, two people I had never met separately, mysteriously, showed up to lend support as I was facilitating a meeting that threatened to be disrupted. I later learned they were friends of someone with whom I had locked tear-filled eyes during a particularly moving moment of the story-sharing session I help coordinate. After the session we had bonded over the experience, and when I briefly mentioned the meeting, she silently enlisted everyone she knew to attend. Like bonobos, they showed up to protect the group’s ideas against violence and possible “infanticide.”

Which brings me back to evolution. In the early days of Occupy Wall Street, before Divine Feminine and WOW were formed, I found my home in the Speak-Easy Caucus. Like WOW, Speak-Easy originated as a safe space for voices and ideas that were being pushed out of the larger conversation of the General Assembly. Originally open to anyone who did not identify as 100% male, Speak-Easy later evolved to include a spectrum of individuals, from female-bodied people identifying as women to male-bodied people who did not identify as traditionally masculine. Although it made sense for Speak-Easy to include a diversity of people, including men, who had difficulty having their voices heard, many women felt it was also important to maintain a safe space exclusively for women and non-males – and thus, WOW was born. Speak-Easy itself would later disband as many of its members became active in the Queer Caucus.

This week the entire structure of the General Assembly and Occupy Wall Street will evolve to adopt the spokes council model passed by the General Assembly on Friday. The spokes council model is meant to improve coordination, accessibility and transparency at Occupy Wall Street and to better empower marginalized voices in groups such as WOW, the Queer Caucus and the People of Color Working Group to communicate their needs and be involved in decision-making. The model is not without its critics – it has undergone countless revisions, been the subject of daily teach-ins, and was presented to the General Assembly on four occasions before finally achieving approval by a 9/10 consensus on Friday. The adopted proposal is itself a living document, and was accepted with the understanding that it would continue to evolve in response to the many concerns raised by members of the OWS community.

It’s no surprise that Occupy Wall Street is far from perfect. But what I have witnessed in the evolution of Occupy Wall Street, what differentiates us from dominant society and makes this movement worth fighting for, is a genuine willingness to confront our problems and create a community where all voices can be truly equal. We have a lot working against us, not the least of which is centuries of practice doing things the other way – building hierarchies based on race, class and gender, protecting systems of privilege and rewarding the loudest and most dominant voices. But slowly, together, we are learning how to listen.

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