Leadership at Open Source Protests

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By John Robb, on the occasion of the #occupywallstreet movement:

"Occupy Atlanta blocked a local Congressman from speaking at their general assembly. Essentially, the general assembly's rules require consensus to pass any resolution or to allow anybody to speak. Nothing else will do. So, when the Congressman (a veteran of civil rights marches and used to taking a leadership role) asked to speak, one member of the assembly crossed his arms in strenuous opposition. He didn't like the idea of people attempting to lead the movement. It worked. The Congressman was denied an opportunity to speak, and the assembly rolled on, leaderless.

Fluid, constrained leadership is an important part of open source protest. Fluid in that there are no fixed positions. Contrained in that it is limited to managing a single function. There isn't any overarching leadership.

So far, we've seen fluid, constrained leadership with the Occupy movement. The folks that successfully accomplished the movement's plausible promise have faded into the woodwork, as they were supposed to do. However, the movement isn't out of the woods yet: there isn't any shortage of people on the sidelines anxious to take control of the movement.

Fortunately, the Occupy movement is organized in a way that makes taking control difficult.

Here are some of them:

  • Consensus decision making (blocks leadership as per the above).
  • Geographic Decentralization. Not many people in any one location.
  • No hierarchy or bureaucracy. A coup de tat requires a bureaucratic hierarchy. To sieze control, all you need to do get the bureaucracy to accept your orders. If it does, you are now in control. Occupy doesn't have a bureaucracy to sieze control of.
  • No behind the scenes space. Everything is out in the open/transparent. How do you cut a deal in a smoke filled room when there isn't one?
  • Lots more here... any more and I'd have to write a pamphlet e-book on it. ;->

Real Open Source Leadership

It's important to understand that open source movements do have leaders. But these leaders operate differently than the leaders we are used to seeing. To understand this better, here's something that I wrote up about the Egyptian open source protest back in January. It applies to the Occupy movement as well:

Open source protests are composed of people with very different views of the world brought together by a single achievable idea. In Egypt's case, that's the removal of Mubarak. Unfortunately, as a result of this diversity of views, open source protests are messy. Nobody is formally in charge.

However, this DOESN'T mean they aren't any leaders in the protest. In fact, there are lots. The extent that anyone is a leader in a open protest like Egypt's is based on:

Does the leader provide ways to move the protest forward, towards completing its goal?

Do they provide good innovations and great examples of what to do?

How closely does the leader's stay to the protest's goal? If that is what they focus on, they gain stature. IF their goals begin to grow and become more detailed (ideological), they lose support.

Do leaders coach or command? If they coach, they gain support. If they command, they lose it. If they attempt to seize control, the protest will turn on them.

What this means is that leaders can emerge in Egypt's protest. They offer the chance to break the stalemate brought on by Mubarak's survival strategy.

So. when does an open source protest reject a leader?

When a leader attempts to fork the protest, by trying to lead it towards an agenda or policy or politics only they care about, they should be ignored/rejected/blocked." (http://globalguerrillas.typepad.com/globalguerrillas/2011/10/leadership-open-source-protest-ows.html)