In the cemetery behind Trinity Church, about 40 people were sitting and standing in a loose circle. Their meeting wasn’t some Halloween rite. It's one of the quieter spots protesters can meet to propose and discuss next moves. On this day, members of the direct action working group were assembled to plan everything from rallies and marches to future occupations.
One of the most noticeable features of the Occupy Wall Street protest is the decentralized structure and the lack of leaders within the movement itself. Many of the decisions for the group take place behind the scenes — away from Zuccotti Park.
Brooklyn's Sandra Nurse, a member of the Direct Action group said one idea discussed — to honor police — didn't catch on at the meeting.
"I think someone proposed a support the NYPD march, and that's something that people weren't on board with, so I’m pretty sure that’s going to die out," she said.
Occupy Wall Street protesters may come across as a rag tag group of activists but they have a fairly elaborate system that helps them try to reach consensus. One example is the 'block' process. A block happens when someone has an ethical, safety or moral concern about an issue. Once the person explains his or her reasoning for it, the group votes. There needs to be a nine out of 10 majority for it to pass or it's thrown out.
Occupy Wall Street has more than 30 working groups that practice 'horizontilism' — employing a leaderless structure and using other terms that sound unfamiliar to those who aren't steeped in the culture of organizing.
The more familiar public forum of the Occupy movement is the nightly General Assembly in Zuccotti Park. The assembly facilitator communicates with the crowd to gauge support for proposals that might affect the community as a whole. But countless day-to-day decisions are made via committees, including food, sanitation, security and press, which are constantly meeting.
Members of press group gathered at a cafe about two blocks away from Zuccotti Park. About 25 people crowded around tables crammed together along the wall. Most were busy typing on their laptops.
The ongoing issue of community relations came up — how tense it's been with some of the Zuccotti’s downtown neighbors. One press group member pulled out a huge sign listing about five different suggestions for a code of conduct in Zuccotti Park — including zero tolerance for violence, drug abuse or damaging public property.
Most members supported the sign, but Kanene Holder was among those who opposed some of the sign’s language.
"Zero tolerance sounds very combative and the drumming is also a people of color issue to a certain degree," she argued.
(Photo: Kanene Holder, Patrick Bruner and Kira Moyer-Sims collaborate at the press meeting./Kathleen Horan for WNYC)
She said since many of the drummers aren't white asking them to stop playing their music in the evening was another from of silencing. Members agreed to hang the sign up that night, but to continue to work on the phrasing.
Patrick Bruner, a press group member who often addresses the media, said communication in these committee meetings is as important as results.
"The way we look at it is two people with different opinions, the focus isn’t which one is right or even on a compromise — it’s the third idea that can be organically produced by those two ideas merely existing," he said.
Not all protestors who've joined Occupy Wall Street are familiar with these methods of communicating, but they're getting advice from some seasoned experts. Marina Sitrin is a postdoctoral fellow at the Committee on Globalization and Social Change at the CUNY Graduate Center. In addition to being a part of the movement, she teaches fellow occupiers facilitation and consensus training. She said the way these groups operate is based on how people naturally relate each other.
"We don’t naturally elect a leadership, look to a party, look to someone to do it for us," she said, "but then to have that go as smoothly as possible, its best have different kind of tools so we do these consensus trainings so we can learn different options and different possibilities."
Whether protesters are planning a march or a future occupation, the decisions about making decisions are constantly evolving. And if they can't reach consensus, there's always the mediation or security groups to help them work it out.