On 17 September 2011, a protest began in Zuccotti Park, in New York’s Wall Street financial district. Over a thousand people came to occupy the space, armed with tents and a collective anger against global social and economic inequality – inspired by, among other things, the Arab Spring, worldwide anti-austerity protests and a call to action from Canadian anti-consumerist collective Adbusters.
The protesters were forced out of the park two months later, but Occupy Wall Street – and its slogan “We are the 99%” – received global attention. A movement was born.
The Occupy movement is still active, with its primary goal to campaign for new forms of democracy to usher in social and economic justice. One of these new democratic forms has emerged in the shape of Loomio, a worker co-operative that has created an online space for groups to make decisions together in a non-hierarchical way.
Based in Wellington, New Zealand, Loomio is one of the “golden children” of the Occupy movement, providing an online decision-making space to “make democracy easier”, says co-founder Rich Bartlett.
The idea developed after Rich, Jon Lemmon and Ben Knight – who were participating in Occupy Wellington in October 2011 – began talking about the idea of general assemblies online. A month later they met with Enspiral, a network of social enterprise ventures and social entrepreneurs, to discuss potential collaboration.
“As activists, our experience of non-hierarchical decision-making had been both inspirational and frustrating,” says Rich.
“We met with a shared language and a shared problem – how to work with no boss, and how to do that without spending your life in meetings. So we thought, ‘we’ll occupy that niche and create a way to help any group wanting to make decisions democratically’.”
Enspiral gave the group an office, connections and entrepreneurial skill. Then, after a year of being “hopeful volunteers” funded by “enthusiasm and optimism”, Loomio formalised into a legal structure.
It set up crowdfunding campaigns and last year issued redeemable investment shares (with no governance associated); it is now on track with a sustainable revenue stream.
“It was obvious that the co-operative model was the one that resonated with us and what we wanted to do,” says Rich. “Loomio is a worker co-operative at the moment, but in the future we want to be a multi-stakeholder co-op with user representation on the board.”
On a practical level, Loomio is an open-source web application that enables people to set up a digital space where people can gather together, share information and discuss ideas.
These discussions can lead onto a proposal built through a shared understanding of a topic, which can be voted on. The end result is a clear outcome and course of action, decided democratically. . .
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