In my last three posts, (Confidence Vampires, Grounding a Vampire, and Death by Inches,) I transformed the idea presented in a recent academic paper — that people become overconfident because social norms of politeness prevent others from giving negative social feedback — into the basis for a short story. Because the pressure of social norms acts on internal decisions, I needed a way to show it, and decided that the consensus-based process of an Occupy’s General Assembly was the way to go. So now it’s time to start laying out the story itself.
We’re at the GA of some Occupy to determine how to respond to the latest restriction imposed by the city, limiting the number of people who can do or say anything at once. The new rule was issued in response to an event that scared the powers-that-be in this burg: they were freaked by how effective a concerted action can be, because of something another Occupy pulled off, and they didn’t want it to happen in their city. The other Occupy was in a larger city, with a larger contingent of occupiers. That city had already imposed this rule, and this city is following suit through coordination of their mayors (and power-brokers). The city we’re in can be referred to by a nickname, and the larger city can be the (unnamed) state capitol, so readers will be able to identify with it more easily. The city did not announce the new rule publicly, thinking that it wouldn’t affect most people, without realizing that sporting events (for example) would be covered as well as protests. But politicians rarely think things through.
We don’t have to show the entire meeting process, but it’s useful to know what they are. The Moderator composes the Order of the Day, and makes sure that everyone gets a chance to speak. He or she is assisted by the Shadow Moderator. Both people are chosen by and from the Facilitation Committee. (Moderator changes off for each GA session.) Meetings start with a Welcome message, and the Principles of Solidarity, then the hand gestures are explained. [Hands up and open for applause or agreement; one hand up, then swung in front of mouth for disagree; two fingers for Point of Clarity or a question; triangle sign for Point of Process; crossed fists for Hard Block.] Next, Announcements from Committees, Affinity Groups and individuals. (An Affinity Group is a committee that has not been formalized by the GA.) Proposals are next, first from Committees, then Affinity Groups, and finally from individuals. During a discussion, a Stackperson (in some Occupies, wearing an orange vest) manages the order of the people who wish to speak.
If this issue were raised as a proposal, it would have to be concrete, and have a what, how, why and when already worked out. We’re not that far along yet, since the focus here is on the discussion of how to respond to the new restrictions. Unless… a proposal has been made, and we’re discussing whether to accept it.
So we could be at a number of stages in the process. The issue would first be raised as an Announcement. At this point, the person speaking describes the city’s new rule, and it starts a heated discussion. But because the rule is to take effect the next morning, there’s little time to go through the usual process. There’s a hard deadline looming: somehow, the GA must decide on what to do tonight.
Our focus character is the person who raises the issue. Either s/he was told about it by someone in the loop, or this is a city employee risking his/her job by coming down to the GA. If it’s a city employee, is it someone with a public reputation? That would give them psychological clout. If s/he was involved in the process of making such rules, s/he would likely have objected, and was overruled. That would be the impetus to go to the GA and warn the Occupy. (Fleshing out the players will be the next step in this process.)
The Conflict and Resolution:
So far, all we have is a civil conflict between those who would settle for finding a way to live with the new rule, and those who would rather make this a public fight and risk being arrested. The people arrayed on either side can be a random cross-section of the Occupy. Does anything aside from the discussion happen? If not, it’s going to be just talking heads. It’s going to need some action to make it visceral, which means that either the discussion gets out of hand, or something intrudes on the peaceful process of reaching consensus. I’ll have to revisit this once I know who the players are.
As to a resolution for the story, there are several paths we could take. They could agree to propose abiding by the new rule; they could agree to propose ignoring the new rule; they could reach an impasse and ask for the GA to vote on it; they could propose that those who wish to ignore the new rule can do so without the support of the Occupy. Should the story end with the call for a vote? That’s a provocative ending, but certainly not a satisfying one. On the other hand, it could entice some reader responses. Assume this ending for now. (The course that my stories take is frequently revealed in the writing, so I won’t worry about this for now.)
[Note: You can read the short story itself, “Crossing the Line“]