This small essay raises the discussion of a different organizing model, where instead of having a large group of 20 or more get together and reach consensus on every issue, groups start from a model where smaller groups within the larger group have more power and autonomy and can still coordinate together in a larger "general assembly."
Groups can diminish for many reasons - infighting, lack of consistency, etc. However, I think there is another reason that often gets overlooked.
This is a dynamic I have seen so many times as an organizer. Groups sometimes produce great energy. Then, they have these spectacular meetings, sometimes with large numbers. As the process is consensus or near consensus (I was in a group once that used 80 percent supermajorities), this allows everyone a voice (as it should be.) However, when you have 1 or 2 hours, so many voices, and often many new people unfamiliar with the often complicated meeting process (sometimes coupled with poor facilitation), people get quickly frustrated and disenchanted. They either feel they haven't been heard, or they get frustrated because some people are heard all too much. Consensus in any group can be messy; as numbers grow, the process becomes much more unwieldy. Rather than producing something where everyone is empowered, it actually can produce the opposite. Quieter voices lose out. Less experienced voices lose out. Even more experienced voices can lose out. The decisions made often leave out a frustrated segment that simply grows silent. They don't show up again.
I once learned in a college sociology class that the maximum number of people that can form a cohesive social group before it inevitably divides is 15 (and often smaller than that.) I don't know if that number is right, but it seems borne out by experience. When the group grows much larger, it becomes disenchanted, or people find different means besides meetings for their empowerment.
I have never seen a meeting of 30 or more people that was sustainable over time. Individual meetings have worked, but it always seems to come down to a natural social group number.
This is a huge problem for a movement that wants to empower every voice, needs it to be a mass movement of the 99 percent. It's a huge problem for anyone who believes in consensus.
The Occupy Movement has often given the most power to its local General Assemblies. That might be a mistaken model because of the reasons I mentioned. When General Assemblies participation grows to more than 15, I'd suggest that it immediately must divide into 2 or more working groups that have their own functional autonomy. When General Assemblies get together then, they should have some kind of spokescouncil function, where each working group empowers someone to speak for the group. Members of the group would still participate and can still block or request a caucus, but it reduces the number of speakers and puts the work at the natural numbers where consensus functions best. It leaves the General Assembly to bascially serve as a coordinating meeting between autonomous groups and for giving its blessing to new groups that might form. It would solve disputes that arise over actions of a working group. It should do nothing more; the real power should be in the consensus of the working groups.
If we ever find ourselves fortunate to build our meetings up, I'd suggest we ask newcomers to join one of several working groups - of which they'd be free to join or leave. It might be even the job of the internal communications working group to help new people feel at home and help them find a working group. Then, the last part of the meeting - the general assembly - would essentially be a spokescouncil, where the people who can speak for the working group would be empowered to speak (and be reigned in by members of their group.) It would leave time for caucusing that might need to arise.
This model gives each person a much richer say over consensus and decentralizes the structure so that each voice matters. It also allows for the potential for growth. Each group would be its own functioning collective of sorts that would do its own thing and can use each person's energy to reach out.
Hopefully, it would make for much happier newcomers so that meetings could be much, much larger and still be okay. If a working group is suddenly more than 15, it should as quickly as possible figure out how to divide into two groups. If groups get too small (no group should be smaller than three), then they should stop working, and people should join the active groups. If necessary movement needs - like outreach - aren't being met, then the existing groups need to pick up the slack.
I want to put it out there for discussion. I've just seen this too many times over the years, where groups struggle with this, missing the obvious that groups that grow too large alienate people. It's a principle of physics, really. You can't have voice if your voice is too divided over too many people and limited time.
I'll leave it out there for discussion.
Anyhow ... a lot to think about ... my only real insight is to say that we need to think hard about how we deal with larger groups of people (and I suspect this has been a problem everywhere to greater and lesser degrees ... some of the methods I suggest arise out of experience in larger cities - where groups sometimes still dwindled to below 15 and would fracture - often bitterly (despite there being a much larger pool of interested people).