By Matt Noyes; the cuento vivo technique on which this is based comes from Alforja, Tomo I.
One of the problems with Robert's Rules is that most union members have little or no experience with using them. Using a "Cuento Vivo" (live story) technique, this activity has people act out a scene from a union meeting. The scripted parts help people practice the language and shows how the rules can be used.
The story, on a handout that is given to everyone. (NOTE: whenever an handout is involved, you need to consider possible literacy or vision issues. If you are concerned that participants may not be able to read materials, get volunteers to read them aloud.)
To get people using the language of Robert's Rules and to have them get a feel for the tempo of union meetings run by Robert's Rules. (Assumes that the Rules are correctly applied -- something that rarely happens in union meetings -- in order to teach the rules.)
- Explain and motivate.
- Assign the roles to different participants. They will read their parts out loud, like actors reading a play in rehearsal. Encourage them to ham it up wherever possible, but keep to the story.
- You will want to repeat it at least once.
- You can follow the cuento with discussion, with a quiz, with a role play (see below).
Chair: Alright, next on our agenda we have new business. The floor is open
for discussion. The chair recognizes Sister Parham...
Parham: Thank you Brother Smith. I wanted to say that I think, um, well, our
union should train our stewards so that they can do a better job. We should
send them to school or something.
Chair: Is that a motion?
Parham: I guess so. I move that the union set up training for our stewards.
Wilson: I second the motion.
Chair: Sister Barton, do you have the wording of the motion?
Barton (the recording secretary): Yes.
Chair: Alright is there any discussion on the motion? Brother Jones.
Jones: I have no idea what Sister Parham is talking about. When we were in office we did a fine job of training the stewards. They don't need training. I'll tell you what we do need. We need a contract campaign committee the next time we get ready for negotiations. I feel like I always say this and no one ever listens, so I'm going to say it again and keep on saying it....[goes on speaking]
Chair: Excuse me Brother Jones, but we are discussing Sister Parham's motion
and your comments on the contract are out of order.
Jones: Out of order? You are calling me out of order?
Chair: Yes, if you like you can appeal from the decision of the chair. You'll need a second. We'll have one speaker for and one against, and then we'll vote.
Jones: Forget it!
Barton: Call the question!
Chair: The question has been called, so let's move directly to a vote on whether to end the discussion and vote on the original motion.
All in favor of moving directly to a vote? Raise your hands. Alright.
All opposed? Abstentions?
The motion fails. The floor is still open for discussion on the motion. Brother Wilson...
Wilson: Yes, I would like to amend the motion to state that stewards who attend the training will be paid for their lost time.
Chair: Sister Ramirez...
Ramirez: I think that's a mistake. We need people who care enough to do it for free. They are getting free education. We shouldn't pay them for learning to do their job. I move that we offer the training for free and that any steward who doesn't do it should be suspended.
Jones: Point of information!
Chair: Brother Jones...
Jones: What do you mean "suspended?"
Chair: Sister Ramirez...
Ramirez: I mean they shouldn't be steward any more.
Chair: Okay, so we have the original motion, Brother Wilson's amendment, and Sister Ramirez's amendment. I suggest that we take discussion on the amendments and then move to a vote, first on the amendments and then on the original motion. Are there any objections to this procedure? Brother Wilson...
Wilson: I move to refer the motion and the amendments to the education committee so that they can put together a proposal.
Chair: Is there a second?
Chair: Brother Galeano..
Galeano: I would like to amend that motion to say that Sister Parham is invited to help the education committee put together a proposal.
Chair: Is that amendment friendly?
Chair: Alright, is there any objection to moving to a vote?
Ramirez: Call the question!
Chair: Okay. Seeing no objection, let's move to the vote. All in favor of referring the motion and amendments to the education committee and inviting Sister Parham to help?
The story should be simple, but interesting so that it will keep people's attention. Use real issues that people are dealing with.
Be careful with this technique. It is useful when the objective is to help people learn how to use a particular tool, rules of order for union meetings or the procedure for filing a union election protest. They see the flow of events and can practice the specialized language involved. The fact that it is scripted is what makes it useful for this purpose.
BUT, if your objective is to get people to think about strategy or goals, the scripting can feel as though it is putting words in people's mouths, as if it is intended to get people to say what you the facilitator (or the sponsors or organizers of the events) want them to say.
Have the actors rehearse in another room first. Use a "stop action" technique, calling on the actors to freeze, then asking the audience what they think will happen next, or what term the actor should use.
I used this in a workshop with postal workers who had recently won office and now had to prepare to run large and raucous meetings (the incumbents they defeated were still around to challenge them). It helped them get used to using the language and to the flow of discussion and decision-making.
The activity also led to an interesting discussion about how members could help the chair facilitate by intervening from the floor. Members could raise points of order to help keep the discussion on track or to help the chair figure out what to do next.
There is an interesting point here: popular education and democracy in general are sometimes rejected by unionists as unrealistic: "those people can't run a meeting, see, you need experts like us." As if the only people entitled to run a union were the existing leadership or those plotting the palace coup. The point is that democratic skills do take learning; it's not enough to say, "you won, now run the meeting." But these are skills that can be quickly learned and put into practice. Moreover, union officers and activists should be spreading these skills.
The key to running union meetings is actually political: are you committed to a democratic discussion where there is room for debate?
In the next activity these issues become clearer.