Saturday, April 24, 2004

24-Hour Consensus
After months of trying, the call came. "I can have a construction crew outside your door at 9:00am Monday morning. All I need is the go-ahead and $1800 cash. Is it a go?"

A go? A go?! I think. My God, it's got to be a go. I've spent months, months!, trying to find a contractor, real or fake, it didn't matter. And now, a good one. One I trust. Ready to go. It's got to be a go. But is it?

All that stands between this go and me is 24 hours and a consensus. The consensus of 24 households. Consensus cannot be rushed. Consensus cannot be urged. Consensus must be *found* (the italics feature on this web service looks awful, sorry).

You see, I live in cohousing. Southside Park Cohousing at the corner of 5th and T in downtown Sacramento. An intentional community of 24 households, well 25 really, but one doesn't count.

The community operates by consensus. Yes. Don't play coy with me. You know what that means. You tried it once in your women's co-op, your recycling club or your group house. It's everyone agrees. No majority rule. Every person has veto power. It sucks. Big time.

"Yes!" I say, brightly. "It's a go. Of course, it's a go. We'll see you Monday."

In a flash I'm off that line and onto another one. How will I pull this off? I've just got to. I've been trying for over a year to develop a consensus around paving my neighbor's pathway behind her house.

She's disabled and rides a hand-operated bike or walks with crutches. It's really tricky for her to negotiate the uneven dirt path. I can't watch her go through this another week if we could do it now.

So it's off to the races. I call two key households right away. The ones that everyone calls to see what they think if there's a problem (well, I'm one of those too, but I'm in). They're in.

Next I work the perennial naysayers. I've got to get every single one of them neutralized or it's curtains. It's going well. I cross off household after household on my list. After living with these people for years, you know things. For example, you can't always let one member of the household speak for the other. You can get the husband, assuming he brings the wife along. And bob's your uncle, there's the wife showing up at the meeting threatening to blow the whole thing up.

Oops, I realize! Even though we have the serendipity of a community meeting the next day where the decision can be legally made and even though I've gotten it onto the agenda in the last minute, there might not be a quorum!

I could get everyone ready. Everyone on board. And the thing fails for lack of a quorum. Every lawyer's worst nightmare--win on the merits, fail on procedure. A rooky mistake.

So, I call them back. If they're not going to be there, I need a written proxy stating they're for the expenditure *and* (this is key) they're for consensus without a quorum.

Now technically it's dicey; if you don't have a quorum, you can't have consensus. And if you don't have consensus, how to you consent to waive the quorum?

No matter. I proceed at high speed. I corner them at the Earth Day festival, when they're relaxing on the lawn. I corner them on their way to catch a plane to Europe. I consider visiting one household member in the hospital, to get her to sign a proxy--something akin to wheeling in Strom Thurmond to break a filibuster.

"You should be a lobbyist," one of the neighbors quips. "No. She should teach a *class* on lobbying," another counters. The two of them fall over with laughter at my expense.

Okay, I think. Let them have their laugh. Sure, I'm a trained lawyer and lobbyist. I've broken real filibusters in the U.S. Senate. But I have nothing now. I raise my kids. I teach my little lobbying class. Developing this consensus is likely to be my biggest personal political triumph of the year.

I. Must. Prevail.

But will I? Tune in tomorrow night...

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