What Can Members Do?

I posted this essay in the IOPS blog system, but that it arguably has wider relevance – so I am reposting here on ZNet, as well…

A lot of folks in IOPS are wondering, what can we do? We have joined. Now what? In partial answer, here are some views that I have heard and some reactions to them, as well as some views that I myself favor and reasons why.

Some people say: 

  • "Let's plan national meetings, set a date and move toward them." 
  • "Let's plan an international convention, determine an agenda, set a date, and move on." 
  • "Let's figure out how to finance all this via dues or other lasting means we can settle on and now implement." 
  • "Let's decide on a program and begin to act on it."

Any of the above proposals could be elaborated further, of course, and all these type proposals would make a great deal of sense to refine and implement if IOPS had many more members. Indeed, the four proposals more or less presuppose IOPS has many more members, but don't seek to deliver to IOPS those many more members. 

My problem with the proposals, then, is that to undertake such steps without more members would entail a relatively small group of people overreaching their rightful prerogative. What is instead needed is that the people currently in IOPS work to create conditions of self management for a much larger future membership that could then together pursue the four proposals above and others as well. 

Feeling this way, I, and then I and the International Consultative Committee, and then I and Jason Chrysostomou (programming the web site) and the ICC, have been trying very hard to avoid even implicitly establishing policies and features that should rightfully be established only once large numbers of members can make the relevant decisions. 

Our aim has been to keep moving forward but also to keep overarching decisions to a minimum, particularly regarding anything controversial or complex. We had to have a name and a site. We had to settle on the opening statements for people to agree on if they were to join. But we are trying to avoid deciding anything much beyond that.

Establishing an international or national program would take an opposite approach, even if we could very effectively involve 1500 people in the decision, because it would by turn IOPS into an organization defined in full, including its program, by only early participants. My guess is that to do that would be a bad precedent concerning our commitment to attain self management, a commitment, history shows, that all too easily dissipates when people have little prior experience of participation. I also suspect that determining so much now would repel so many possible recruits, not wanting to join something they have no say in defining, that it would ensure a continued small scale for IOPS. We have seen this kind of centralizing and delimiting scenario a million times. Okay, not a million, but a good many. The result of such steps is typically something tightly defined, perhaps even brilliantly defined, but then having relatively few participating members and little at principled self management. 

A rebuttal would be to argue that by now moving toward national and international meetings, lasting financing, and shared program and actions, IOPS would be more clearly defined and for that reason easier to recruit for. More, since all the early choices could be altered later, what's the harm? It is plausible, but I still feel the risks as noted above outweigh the hoped for benefits and I also have to wonder, if we had program, the recruiting would be "easier" than what – the recruiting we are now doing? What makes anyone think that?

If we were all trying and failing to recruit, and if the people we were addressing as potential new members were sincerely saying that they weren't joining because we don't yet have clarity of program and convention timing, etc., that they like, then the case for deciding all that now would be more grounded. Such possible recruits would be saying, "we would rather join something defined and scheduled by a few with established program we find appealing, then to join 1,500 others in growing the numbers of members for a time, so that more of us could all decide such matters together." I have to wonder, is that a viewpoint we want to attract, now?

Okay, enough naysaying about the four proposals. Since I don't like them as current priorities – what do I have to offer as a positive current alternative? Or even addendum?


The Context of Deciding What Next

For those who want something meaty, something daring, something exciting, something physically dangerous or intellectually complicated to do – my apologies. What I propose is rather mundane, simplicity itself, intellectually and physically. In practice, however, history suggests it is simple to think, but hard to do.

  • A revolutionary organization such as the IOPS description promises, would, at some point, have flexible program seeking diverse social changes that would be partly shared internationally and have other parts specific to countries or even cities. 
  • Such an organization would also participate, no doubt, in all kinds of ongoing activism both collectively and also via the choices of its individual members whether made branch by branch, chapter by chapter, or even member by member.  
  • It would also have internal program, partly bearing on enhancing the knowledge, skills, and confidence of its members, and partly oriented to meet member needs, including beginning to internally implement structures that reflect our future desires, what we call seeds of the future in the present. 
  • Additionally, all this and more would develop in accord with shared values and aims, and by self managing processes. 

To me, it follows that steps to get IOPS from where it is now to being the revolutionary organization it aspires to be, might look roughly like this. 

  • Get members. 
  • Involve members with one another and with knowing the IOPS definition.
  • Improve members' confidence and abilities regarding applying the logic of IOPS's organizational aims and likely activities.