I got a lot of input from many directions honing this
commentary. I hope it can contribute to a process of diverse movement components
agreeing on ways to work together most productively. I would very much like to
discuss the points raised in the forums…
Social struggle will never be perfectly choreographed but we can at least
have broad norms regarding movement process that benefit all involved
One desirable norm is that people influence decisions in proportion as the
events being decided affect them. A minority should not impose itself by
trumping other’s choices. A majority should not dictate all ways to protest.
A second desirable norm is diversity. Movements should welcome many different
approaches as people’s right. They should recognize that what one doesn’t agree
with at the moment could in the long run prove superior, and that an exciting
mix almost always improves on boring homogeneity.
Solidarity is a third desirable norm. Movement members should be civil to one
another, but also care about every participant’s well-being, conditions, views,
and mutual interrelations.
So how do we mutually, democratically conduct large-scale movements including
diverse and constituencies of different sizes and viewpoints?
In the immediate future, suppose that the progressive and left communities
decide to have major demonstrations this spring around the Biotechnology
industry and IMF and World Bank or in the summer at the presidential
conventions. The anti-WTO movement, the anti-IMF/World Bank and anti-corporate
movements, Greens, the Mumia, Peltier and prison movements, consumer movements,
disability rights, anti-sweat shop movements, anti-racist movements, the women’s
movement, the queer movements, and so on, are all involved. The question arises,
how can we all go to Washington, Philadelphia, or LA, and come out the other
side stronger in every way?
One scenario says groups with the most money and outreach should decide
tactics, who is welcome, and even what slogans are permitted. This doesn’t
elevate democracy, diversity, and solidarity.
A second scenario says we create a broad umbrella coalition around a laundry
list of mutually agreed demands and actions that all participants accept. But
what if two coalitions, or two coalitions and also two or three other important
and differing organizations or networks come to town?
A third "self-managing" scenario favors protests becoming the sum
total of their many components many priorities rather than embodying only a
single organization’s priorities or only the agenda of a single leading
coalition. With this priority, the major organizations, coalitions, and
constituencies involved in a major protest negotiate the final schedule which is
neither what a few require nor only what everyone has in common – but is a
mutually agreed amalgamation of everyone’s agendas.
A rally highlights a speaker that some constituencies don’t like. One stream
of a march has banners with demands another stream doesn’t celebrate. A street
intersection is blocked by civil disobedience that some constituencies don’t
like. A building fields more militant tactics that only a small minority favors.
But everyone understands that even as separate organizations and different
constituencies and coalitions protest with different priorities, they all need
to make room for and even welcome one another in ways that maximize mutual
impact, that respect individual differences, and that diminish conflicts and
With this perspective, the process encourages the different organizations and
coalitions working on massive future protests not only "to do their
thing" to bring people and their own events to town, but also, to negotiate
to incorporate as much diversity in shared venues as possible and, when that
isn’t possible, to incorporate controversial activities in separated venues,
without curtailing each other’s agendas.
The marchers march, those sitting in sit in, the direct action advocates do
direct actions. Different participating organizations and coalitions bring their
own demands, speakers, and methods. Each does not impose on the rest. The
process of talking through the tactics and focuses that different
constituencies, organizations, and coalitions bring to the overall project
hopefully brings at least mutual understanding and mutual attention to not
usurping one another’s agendas. When constituencies need their own separate
space, it is provided. When efforts can occur in a shared space, excellent.
Decisions come about via open discussion of the involved organizing groups,
coalitions, networks, and constituencies. The people who are the demonstration,
who are the protest, who come from far and wide, know what is going on and why.
Doesn’t it make sense, then, that on top of whatever other approaches
participants bring to major movement projects, there always be appended an
over-arching commitment to negotiations and planning among the different
components to seek as much solidarity and mutual respect as can be attained?
Yes – I know – there is still the problem of ruling out police provocation
and the like. But I think that open negotiation in a climate advocating
solidarity and diversity plus self management, will so isolate out-of-touch
elements as to make their exclusion obvious to all, even while incorporating the
widest array, most exciting assemblage, and most powerful combination of forces
Real participatory democracy isn’t easy, particularly when we are operating
in a grotesquely authoritarian and regimented society. But even with all its
dangers and difficulties real participatory democracy is by far the best chance
we have to effectively utilize our talents, commitments, and energies on behalf
of winning valuable immediate gains while building movements that can go even