Occupy Movement: hand signals

My informant was an active participant in the Los Angeles branch of the Occupy Wall Street movement that came to life in Los Angeles in October of 2011. His participation spanned from its first day in Los Angeles, to the beginning of December.

An essential part of the Occupy Movement has been its General Assemblies (GAs). As Michael explained, the GAs are “a decision making forum where we got together every night to address the current issues at hand.” Each night’s GA has a set agenda and last for approximately 2 1/2 hours. Though there are Occupiers who help to orchestrate the GA for the sake of organization, no one person is in charge. Decisions are made only once everyone came to 100% consensus so as he stated, it is often be a very long process.

To help keep the GAs organized and minimize interruptions, hand signals are used by the audience so that they are able to non-verbally communicate with the current speaker. Each city generally has the same hand signals with some variations. The ones Michael described are specific to Los Angeles.

  • Agreement/support: To signify that one’s agreement and/or support of what the speaker is saying, one  raises one of both of their hands in the air and waves their hands and fingers. This takes place of clapping which can easily drown out the voices of speakers who do not always have access to a microphone.
  • Hard Block: A hard block signifies your vehement opposition to a proposal. Because decisions are made with a 100% consensus (Michael noted that it might be changed from 100% at this point in time, but that was the percentage needed when we was involved), if you were to hard block a proposal, it would keep it from passing. “It was supposed to be used only for when you were so against something that you would leave the movement if it passed, but [in Los Angeles] a lot of times people would use it just to show disapproval.” A hard block is displayed by raising both arms in the air and crossing them to make an X. Unlike New York and other cities, Michael told me that during his time at Occupy Los Angeles, no one really used the “disagree” gesture. The disagreement gesture is different from the hard block in that it is used to show that one is not happy with what is being proposed but it wouldn’t make you leave the movement. “I think that’s why people would use the hard block, even when it wasn’t something that would have caused them to leave the movement.” Disagreement is signified by pointing both hands down and waving one’s hands and fingers (the inversion of the agreement gesture).
  • Point of Process: “People would stray off of their topics a lot, so yeah, point of process was used to let speakers know that.” Because GAs are formally only supposed to last for 2 1/2 hours and there are always a lot of issues to be attended to, it is important for things to happen in a timely manner. If someone  strays off of their original topic, fellow Occupiers use the Point of Process gesture to let the speaker know. It is made by forming a diamond with one’s index fingers and thumbs.
  • You are repeating/wrap it up: To inform a speaker that they are repeating what they have already said or that the need to get to their point and have been dragging on for too long, one orbits their hands around each other.