The following was submitted by a Coop member who attended the April General Meeting at the Park Slope Food Coop. She offers some insights into how and why the meeting got out of control, and suggestions for how we can do better:
Fully appreciating that the committees referenced below made good faith efforts to exercise their complex responsibilities, it was nonetheless not surprising that the April GM at one point devolved into a chaotic shouting match. The many reasons follow, with constructive suggestions for assuring order in the future.
THE AGENDA COMMITTEE (AC) made an error of judgment by scheduling a discussion about boycotting SodaStream in the "Occupied Palestinian Territories" (aka "disputed territories"). It was well-known by all relevant parties that the factory in question was closing one week from the meeting, information relayed in writing by SodaStream upon request from Coop management and forwarded to the AC. Therefore the discussion clearly revolved around a moot point and offered little but a third opportunity (2011 discussion, 2012 boycott referendum proposal, soundly defeated) to make the familiar, highly controversial claims repeatedly published (and refuted) for six years in the Gazette.
SUGGESTION: In future the AC might consider the appropriateness and value of a discussion/proposal based on an obsoleted premise, in this instance that there would be a factory to boycott.
THE CHAIR COMMITTEE (CC), with the unenviable task of making split-second parliamentary decisions, unfortunately lost control of some of the proceedings, not their fault alone given that all factions contributed to the ensuing chaos.
During the Open Forum an attempt to query the AC about the legitimacy of the discussion was ruled out of order despite meeting the relevant guideline providing "the opportunity for members to briefly submit general and specific questions regarding the operation of the Coop"1 (which naturally includes the AC). SUGGESTION: Future meetings would benefit from a reading of the brief guideline by the Chair prior to the Open Forum.
A later parliamentary attempt was made to question the validity of the discussion (Objection to Consideration of a Question), similarly rejected by the Chair.
SUGGESTION: In future the Chair might inform members about how to exercise their parliamentary rights2, (among other ways, by making a motion) detailed on easily overlooked handouts, which to facilitate order might be projected above the stage2.
Although the discussion was submitted by only two individuals, the Chair allowed six presenters, providing them a disproportionate time-advantage in the discussion. Irrelevant and out-of-context images of Israeli military were displayed, suggesting, without unambiguously depicting, Israeli abuses. This predictably provoked – unfortunately but understandably – a call to remove the images. To his credit the Chair repeatedly but futilely directed the projectionist to desist, but finally gave up when she refused, resulting in a lengthy shouting match.
SUGGESTION: In future the Chair should suspend the discussion until compliance with an order is achieved or remind members of their right to make a motion and vote on removing the images. (Objections were also made, but ignored, about a presenter provocatively imaging audience reactions from the podium).
Following management's reading of the letter about the imminent closing of the relevant SodaStream factory, some in the audience continued to disrupt, with unfortunately no effective restraint by the Chair. SUGGESTIONS: The Chair should offer disrupters a choice to desist or leave, and, if necessary, either escort them out or, again, suspend the proceedings until compliance is secured. In future, discussions about this incendiary, divisive topic (best avoided altogether), might benefit (sadly) from security presence as at the 2012 meeting.
Following the six-person presentation, the Chair directed alternating one minute pro and con responses, thus providing no reasonable opportunity for serious debate of the highly contentious material presented. SUGGESTION: For debates on such complex and controversial topics, a more equitable alternate format should be developed, allowing an equivalent counter-presentation by informed opposition representatives prior to the alternating, inadequate one-minute, pro and con responses.
Unfortunately, it can be claimed that the proceedings exemplified the very tactics encouraged and used globally by BDS advocates, who routinely disrupt Israeli events and speakers (this naturally doesn't excuse comparable -- understandable but unacceptable -- disruption from the opposing faction). In a sense, the presenters experienced what it feels like to be on the receiving end of their movement's own tactics. SUGGESTION: But now, we collectively – members, management, committees, and the Board of Directors – all need to reconsider allowing enduring divisiveness so far outside the boundaries of inclusiveness, courtesy, sensitivity and respect for the dignitary rights of all groups within our community, assuring harmony and cohesion above disruptive partisan politics only tangentially relevant to the Coop.