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In the initial phase of Occupy Wall Street, we blindsided the cynical world with our optimism, our nonviolence and our determination to forge a new way forward without leaders. Anyone who walked into Zuccotti Park or any of our 1,000 encampments in cities around the world was immediately captivated by our movement’s commitment to direct-democracy in which each person’s voice is heard. Without leaders, our general assemblies transformed spectators into politically engaged participants. With nothing more than a commitment to consensus-based transparency, twinkling fingers that signaled assent, mic checks that amplified our voices, and an ethos of mutual respect and hope for the future, Occupy sparked a global democracy moment. Now, as the movement enters the spring after a tough existential winter, many of the core principles are being debated anew. In the following discussion excerpted from a public email debate, three of the founding Zuccottis respond to a call for Occupy to adopt a leadership model.

The strength of the Occupy movement lies in its horizontality. It is through consensus that people are heard individually and collectively. This is not a “myth,” as you so elegantly put it, but a reality.

In our daily lives we are never heard. Whether in school or at work or in electoral politics, our voices are silenced. The Occupy movement gave people a voice.

For you to suggest we elect leaders and adopt a hierarchy is to strip away the very essence of the movement.

In consensus one blocks if they feel that a decision would be of serious moral or ethical concern and challenge the very foundation of the group. A person blocking walks away from the group if such a move is made.

Leaders in a leaderless movement would cause me to block.

Marisa Holmes is a 25-year-old filmmaker. Prior to Occupy she documented the Tahrir Uprising in Cairo. Marisa is one of the most well-respected founding members of the Zuccotti Park encampment that launched Occupy Wall Street. A member of the facilitation working group, Marisa was also one of the chief architects of the move toward a spokescouncil of working groups model that works in tandem with the general assembly.

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