The Significance and Meaning behind a Local Autonomous Councils Charter
Local groups that share similar visions about freedom, liberty, justice and democracy should organize into coalitions for a variety of reasons.
First, and primarily, we need to establish solidarity. Besides the fact that we share similar goals – we all want a fair, just and humane society that puts people’s needs over profits – it is ethically sound to consider the welfare of others.
Second, strategically we can and should find power in numbers.
Are there any historical lessons we have learned on how power should be organized and distributed? Hierarchically or horizontally? From below or above? By participants and those affected or by those who monopolize the skills and technology to implement plans? Should we have structure and order or not?
As for the latter some might say, "Not." Though I think it’s fair to say they are responding to the abuses of top-down structure and order, and not structure and order from below and by those affected.
And we do have a rich history of co-optation of popular movements and the abuses and let-downs of top-down structure. Everything from labor movements to political movements have seen elitists at the helm become disconnected from those at the bottom. And when those elitist thirst for power it was worse. Nearly three thousand years ago Greek philosophers like Plato were writing about this very thing
[T]he truth is that the State in which the rulers are most reluctant to govern is always the best and most quietly governed, and the State in which they are most eager, the worst.
In the effort to learn from the past and borrowing heavily from the constitution of the London Project for a Participatory Society (Ontario, Canada) – and with their permission – I created a draft charter for a local coalition and will explain its purpose.
Article I Name and Identity
This coalition is to be known as the [insert title]. It identifies itself as a coalition of leftist, progressive and radical groups and/or persons seeking to build stronger, more united movements in the [insert local area].
The coalition needs to introduce itself and explain what it is in order to provide the foundation of vision – who are we?
Article II Mission Statement
The mission of the [insert title] is given by the following statement:
"The [insert title] was created to develop and promote solidarity. We aim to help each other work effectively for radical social change by coordinating our efforts.
"We also seek to promote grassroots popular mobilization in order to advance our goal of a society founded upon political and economic democracy and social and environmental justice."
Article II goes a little further in explaining what we want. We want to coordinate our efforts in pursuit of diverse goals that share an ultimate end: democracy and justice.
Article III Structure and Decision-making
1. Governance.The [insert title] is governed by its members, in a spirit of participatory democracy, using facilitated discussion in the context of designated decision-making meetings (Annual General Meetings, Regular General Meetings, and meetings of the Coordinating Committee, as these are described below). Only members of the [insert title] may participate directly in making decisions about coordinated activities.
1.1. In decisions where a member chooses not to participate in a proposal or is not affected by the proposal then that member does not have a vote. E.g. if a member chooses not to participate in a proposed event and is not affected by the occurrence of the event then that member cannot vote on the proposal.
1.2. In decisions where a member chooses not to participate but is affected by the proposal then that member retains the right to vote. E.g. if a member will not be participating in a proposed event and is affected by the occurrence of the event then that member can vote on the proposal.
In this coalition, like anywhere else, decisions will be made and we need a clear procedure to keep from wasting our time and to protect ourselves from repeating the mistakes of the past. Rather than having a steering committee or group of elites formulates proposals, we want participatory democracy and self-management. Each group would send a delegate that they choose and trust to represent them in discussions. In scheduled meetings we would come together to discuss our activities, learn about each other, find common ground and ways we can help each other, and then formulate proposals. Then the delegates can return to their groups with a report and decide where they want to go from there.
Suppose some groups are not interested in participating in certain events. Maybe they got something else going on at the same time or maybe they are just not interested in a particular event. A delegate can abstain from proposals if they choose. That is up to them. This coalition is not only voluntary but the participants retain autonomy (i.e. self-management).
Suppose those who do want to participate have disagreements on times, places, tactics, etc. The purpose of facilitating discussions is to hear each other out. Maybe one delegate’s opinion can be persuaded to change upon hearing another’s, maybe not. Maybe a compromise can be struck, maybe not. The point is not that this is a blueprint to guaranteed results, but that the structure is more participatory and democratic, allowing for social bonds to be built. We can provide the soil for seeds to be planted, but there’s no guarantee that they will germinate.
2. Decision-Making Procedures. All decisions, at all levels of [insert title] activity, should be taken by consensus (if possible), after a facilitated discussion. If (in the judgment of most members present at a meeting) a consensus cannot be reached in the time available for the decision, a decision may be taken by vote, in which case a proposal shall be adopted if it is supported by a majority vote of not less than 2/3 of the members (in good standing) present when the vote takes place.
Obviously consensus would be best but in incidences where it’s not possible the participants should be given the opportunity to put various proposals up to vote. The point here is we don’t want to constrict our options. If we can get consensus, great and if not, then maybe we can agree by majority vote.
3. Annual General Meetings (AGMs). Each calendar year, the [insert title] convenes an AGM to review and plan its activities, and to consider amendments to this Charter. AGMs are open to all members.
4. Regular General Meetings (RGMs).Periodically, between AGMs, the [insert title] meets specifically to make decisions. These RGMs are open to all members, and to anyone else, unless the members collectively decide to limit admission. Ordinarily, these meetings are called by the Coordinating Committee, but when an unusual situation warrants it, an RGM can also be formally called with no less then 7 days notice by any 3 members of the [insert title].
I think these are self explanatory and don’t need much elaboration. Am I wrong?
5. Coordinating Committee (CC). A Coordinating Committee (CC) shall be chosen at each AGM, and at any subsequent RGM if the need arises. The CC is responsible for carrying out decisions taken at AGMs and RGMs.
Depending how we construct this committee can make all the difference. If we carefully define the roles of the committee we can ensure a number of things which get discussed below…
6. Tasks of the Coordinating Committee. The CC shall consist of the following tasks to be balanced out amongst all members, if possible, and on the basis of what the member (a) desires to do; (b) is qualified to do; and (c) what is available to do.
(a) No one member can be chosen to do more than one task, unless circumstances require it on a temporary basis and if approved at an AGM or RGM.
(b) No one member can be consecutively chosen for the same task unless circumstances require it on a temporary basis and if approved at an AGM or RGM.
(c) All members selected to do a task are required to conduct workshops with other members for knowledge and skill training to ensure knowledge of tasks are not monopolized and that all members have equitable access to performing tasks.
In any organization there will be things that need to be done. Some tasks involve knowledge and skills, and if they are monopolized then those individuals can wield a de facto control over decision-making. This has happened in the past with what has been dubbed "the coordinator class." What we can do to avoid this is limit how many tasks an individual can do, how long they can do it and put requirements on them to share that knowledge and those skills to ensure they don’t monopolize it and that others who are interested in learning them can do so. We also don’t want to force people to do what they don’t want to do so these tasks should be left to those that want to do it, can do it and so long as they are available to be done. We should also leave open the possibility that circumstances may require these rules to be broken so long as it is on a temporary basis and approved by the participants.
These tasks include:
6.1. Minute Taking. This task involves taking minutes at all DFWCAC decision-making meetings, accurately recording any decisions reached.
6.2. Minute Distributing. This task is responsible for distributing minutes and bringing a record of past minutes to each AGM, RGM and meeting of the CC.
6.3. Event Facilitation. This task ensures that meetings take place, that they are appropriately announced, that rooms are booked, that an agenda is proposed, as needed.
6.4. Financial Facilitation. The financial coordinator keeps track of all DFWCAC income and expenditures, and periodically reports to the organization on the finances of the [insert title] (including the distribution of a formal Annual Report at every AGM).
6.5. Web Facilitation. The Web Facilitation task ensures that the web site is kept up to date.
6.6. Email Facilitation. This task ensures that outgoing email correspondence is sent and incoming email is answered.
6.7. Publicity Facilitation. This task ensures that posters and other publicity materials are produced and distributed as needed.
6.8. Membership Facilitation. The membership coordinator maintains an up-to-date list of members, encourages participation among these members, and pursues outreach to members and potential members.
Are there any tasks missing?
7. Participatory Administration. Any member (in good standing) may attend any CC meeting, and have full rights to join in the discussions and participate in decision-making on an equal basis to the degree that they are affected. Such participation in CC decision-making should normally be accompanied by a willingness to take on some of the work of the CC members arising from the meeting.
If others want to help even though they are not chosen to perform a task we shouldn’t prevent others from doing so. If Jane is not serving on the CC but still wants to be a part of discussing, planning and conducting their activities then she should be allowed to do so.
8. Recall of Facilitators. At any RGM, any or all members of the CC may be recalled (removed from the CC) by a decision of the membership.
Nothing is permanent and if the coalition is not happy with the work of chosen facilitators then they may be recalled and replaced. Power is in the hands of those are affected. Remember, if we want a just and democratic society then we must practice this internally before we can expect it of others.
Article IV Membership
1. Terms of membership. Membership is open to any person or group of persons in the [insert area] who:
(a) Accept Mission Statement and Charter;
(b) Commit to treating other members of the [insert title] with respect.
This coalition is voluntary. We pay no dues, though we may raise funds for activities and in which case if we give money it is not out of a requirement but because we choose to do so freely. And we can come and go as we choose, but if we want to enjoy the fruits of our collective labor then we must accept our agreed upon goals and follow The Golden Rule.
2. For each membership consisting of more than one person a delegate will be chosen at their discretion to represent them in all meetings, discussions and decisions in the form of a council.
(a) Persons belonging to more than one participating group can only be chosen as a delegate for one council.
The purpose of this section is to ensure that a group doesn’t dominate by numbers and that a person in more than one participating group doesn’t gain too much influence within the coalition. We are equals and empowered only to the degree we are affected.
3. Annual Membership. Members join for the current calendar year, usually by signing a membership statement. To maintain membership, they must renew their membership each calendar year (by signing a new statement). Annual memberships expire 31 days after the end of the calendar year (that is, on February 1). Membership takes effect as of 14 days after a new membership statement is signed.
I feel this is pretty straightforward. What do you think?
4. Member Participation. As a voluntary organization, the [insert title] leaves it to individuals to decide on the manner and the extent of their active participation, but all members are encouraged to participate in some way. Among the ways to participate, though not all are the following:
4.1. Attending monthly regular general meetings (RGM) and the annual general meeting (AGM);
4.2. Attending coordinating committee (CC) meetings;
4.3. Attending [insert title] coordinated events
4.4. Participating in the work of a [insert title] committee
4.5. Raising funds for the [insert title]
4.6. Applying for a CC task
Same for this one. If anyone has something to add please do so.
5. Renouncing, Preventing, Revoking or Suspending Membership.Membership may be renounced at any time by a member, for any reason. Under exceptional and unusual circumstances, and when other attempts to address serious problems have been unsuccessful or are not workable, an individual’s membership can be prevented, revoked or suspended by a vote of a 2/3 majority of members in attendance at a meeting.
6. Emergency Suspension of Membership.In cases where the Coordinating Committee decides that a suspension of someone’s membership is urgently necessary, so that the decision cannot wait until the next AGM or RGM, the CC may suspend someone’s membership temporarily, until the next AGM or RGM, at which time the general membership can decide whether to formally suspend, or revoke, that person’s membership.
7. Appeals. Decisions to suspend or revoke membership can be appealed at one subsequent meeting (which must be either an AGM or an RGM).
If you don’t like a particular group or delegate then you are entitled to share that opinion. If a particular member is abusing their privileges and disrespecting others in an unacceptable way then we may take collective action to put a stop to it. Sometimes, shit happens. If you feel like you were revoked unfairly then you can appeal.
Article V Amending this Charter
1. Amending Procedure. Charter amendments (including changes of any kind to the Charter) may be considered during AGMs, according to the following procedure:
1.1. They are to be proposed in writing.
1.2. They are to be circulated not less then 7 days in advance of the AGM (although this requirement may be waived by a decision of the AGM).
1.3. Notwithstanding the usual requirement of a 2/3 majority vote (in the absence of consensus), Charter amendments can only be passed by a consensus or by a majority vote of not less than 4/5 of the members (in good standing) present for the vote.
2. Emergency Charter Amendments. Under exceptional circumstances, when an amendment to this Charter is deemed to be necessary prior to the next AGM, a Special Charter Meeting can be called by a decision taken at an RGM, with no less than 7 days notice. Otherwise, the amending procedure specified above is unchanged.
None of this is set in stone. The one thing that remains the same is that nothing remains the same. The charter should be fluid and allowed to be altered as times change, but that power should rest in the hands of those affected, and not some power-hungry authoritarians.
This is a pretty thorough charter and I feel it goes a long way to illustrating how participatory self-management and participatory democracy can be implemented today, and not consigned to some idealistic Utopia.
Society can liberate itself today. The above was an attempt to show how theory can be put to practice. Now is the time to discuss it and implement it. And as always, if not now, when?