Report on the Tel Aviv social protest – 27th November

The Rothschild 117 Project – Dreaming in the Boulevard
The Tel Aviv Protest
Joseph Triest


When Facebook gave a face to the “faceless mother” – Turquet’s awe-inspiring metaphor for the large group – streets and boulevards started claiming their voices back. This is happening in many languages and in different places all over the globe – in Tahrir Square, Egypt; Yemen, Libya, in the streets of London and in Rothschild Boulevard, Tel Aviv. Exploring the nature of this social “tsunami” is producing fascinating results. This is an account of creating a social dreaming matrix in Rothschild Boulevard in the heart of “Tentville” erected by the local protest movement in the most posh and prestigious parts of downtown Tel Aviv.

This local protest movement is an uncommon phenomenon, highly intriguing in the Israeli social landscape. Even though it is not clear yet whether it can sustain its energy and momentum, it definitely has had a remarkable influence. So far it has brought hundreds of thousands of people out of their homes and onto the streets, most of them middle-class, all protesting under the aegis of the slogan: “The people demand to have social justice” (or, as one amusing, flamboyant and quite cheerful group of teenagers repeatedly shouted in a recent demonstration: “the people demand to have all kinds of things!” while a short-legged teenager chimed in with her megaphone, in the same rhythm and in the same breath: “and other things as well”).

As a social phenomenon, this profound non-violent protest movement has succeeded in generating an unexplained wave of sympathy with the general public, even from those parts of the public which it criticized. The press, for example, has been so supportive of the movement, that it attacked the few journalists who dared to express any hint of criticism of the protest movement or ask any inconvenient questions. Politicians vie for the new movement’s favors and high-ranking professionals put themselves at the service of its leaders – despite the fact that the protesters’ demands were and are still rather vague, and regardless of the fact that the government’s attempts to come up with practical solutions to the issues raised by the protesters are rejected with disdain. (The immediate rejection of a special ad-hoc commission formed by the Prime Minister is one example). As I write, it seems that the purpose of the newly created movement’s eminently feminine leadership is about protesting and expressing an emotional state of mind, rather than showing clear and palpable material achievements.

The movement’s clearest and most visible achievement so far is giving rise, in the face of a turbid wave of hatred, to a desperate vicious cycle of war and existential anxieties and an interminable sectoral struggle in which narrow interests are bluntly and shamelessly put before the public interest. By way of contrast, there is a different kind of wave, one of unity and affection, a social embrace, a sweeping – and inevitably illusory – feeling of “togetherness”, which gives back to the so-far muted middle class, not only its voice, but also its freedom of speech and a hope of being heard.

This is the background to a spontaneous initiative I found myself taking, to set up a meeting space in a small playground in the heart of the Boulevard. The project is named “The 117 Rothschild Boulevard Project”, after the address in front of which the meeting space is located. A sign is posted, reading: “Meeting in Rothschild – listening to dreams”.

I recruited social dreaming consultants – whether experienced or not, and they joined in enthusiastically and voluntarily. Some were members of OFEK and others were members of other organizations. We met daily in the heart of the Boulevard, in a playground surrounded by a low fence, under a huge sign hastily written with felt pens. This ad hoc group has been working for three weeks, providing a daily one-hour ‘listening post’ in which dreams are presented and discussed. When it turned out that it was impossible to physically hear the dreamers’ speak their words because of several noisy rock bands and local Hyde Park-type political speakers from neighboring groups, a sound system was purchased which the OFEK Management – even though not formally identified with the activity – generously agreed to finance. A first-ever OFEK Facebook page was created, which brought the organization into the age of the Internet and expanded the distribution of daily reports that were spontaneously and voluntarily written. Very quickly a daily group of changing participants formed, half of them professionals and the other half, passers-by, who narrated their dreams on the PA system. Dreams were presented for 45 minutes and the final 15 minutes of each session were spent reviewing the dreams and the experience of participating in the group. Dream narrations were inevitably combined with political and social statements, calls for self-assertion, wishes for a better future, hopes that such a better future would come true, heartbreaking stories of homeless people who were regular tenants of the Boulevards, who joined in and were excited by the opportunity of having a microphone in their hands, and children, some of them very young (4 to 6 years old), who not only narrated their dreams, but also offered interpretations!

Sessions were led by teams of three consultants – who alternated via a weekly roster. Most of them were inexperienced social dreaming matrix facilitators. One experienced consultant was assigned with two less experienced consultants to maintain continuity from the previous day. Every weekend a 45-minute session was held, immediately after the dream session, dedicated to reviewing the previous week for the purpose of tracking themes in the dreams, and reviewing the experiences of consultants who moderated and participated in the sessions. Most of these weekly review sessions were led by the author and were held in public, in the same tiny playground, with the participation of that day’s public.

The following are thoughts about the unconscious dynamics of the social processes we were part of – the nature of the “word of the matrix” as it was expressed in dreams. There were questions like: has our unconscious perception of leadership changed, taking into account the fact that revolutions in the world are more often named after the place where they started than after the leader who inspired them? Did this indicate a new type of leadership, or a new type of relationship between leader and the groups they lead, one that is relatively un-idealized insofar as it centers not on “giving directions and goals”, but more on dialogue between people, between those who lead and those who are led.

The work that I and the volunteer dream facilitators were doing made us wonder whether the unconscious forces represented by the protest movement are changing the culture of leadership and developing a new, more feminine kind of leadership – or were we simply observing a shift in perception – viz. turning the gestalt of the leader-group inter-relationships upside down and hearing the voices of the crowd more loudly and clearly than the voice of the leadership that is leading the crowd.

Another possibility is that crowds are not crowds any more since they acquired a face through Facebook. The fact is that I have never organized or initiated a project in the way I did here. But somebody had to start and lead it – even if the initiative comes from ‘below’ and not from ‘above’. So a colleague called and somehow ‘lit the fire’ and brought me to do something I would never have thought I would do. I am sure that if it would not have been me, someone else would have taken it up. A good friend – inspired by the Rothschild project – tried to involve his organization in the project and failed – perhaps because he tried to formalize the involvement via the management of this organization and it refused.

What has emerged for us is that the work of the social dreaming turned into the container, and time and place served as boundaries, allowing participants and consultants to change without disrupting the process.

The “open code” idea could serve as a metaphor for the way this project was born and led, viz. it is like an open network where people can join in voluntarily and take initiative. That was made possible by abandoning the formalization of the initiative by institutions and avoiding scientific jargon in favour of a more common language, thus enabling passers-by to join the activity and understand its process.

Joseph Triest
Tel Aviv
November 2011