With the upcoming launch of the Organisation for a Participatory Society, the next few months are an important time for those of us who are keen to be involved, especially those who are already members of organisations that may merge into IOPS, the largest being the Project for a Participatory Society in the UK and the Organisation for a Free Society in New York. On the other hand, it might seem that there is not much to do before the website is launched (soon in the new year hopefully) and the founding conference or conferences are held. This blog offers a few (pretty straightforward) suggestions for action in the next few months:
- Start thinking about and discussing how we would like IOPS to function, in preparation for face-to-face debate at the founding conference;
- Agree on tasks that can be completed in this period and make an effort straight away to spread the work in an even and supportive way;
- Come up with, discuss and promote suggestions for projects and medium-term goals.
Now is a good time to take stock of what we think has worked well for existing groups, and what needs to be developed further or changed completely. As the form IOPS takes will be decided at an founding conference, it makes sense for prospective members to start discussing organisational features they would like to see, or that they might object to, at the international level. This covers constitutional issues such as membership conditions, paying of dues, decision-making protocols and the relationship of regional groups. This is likely to be an issue particularly for the PPS-UK, for which any additional rules will likely be stronger than anything we have at present. Discussions will be possible on the new website, which should be up in the new year, but need not wait until then.
As well as these decisions, it would be a great help for us to plan some initial work to help get IOPS up and running in each location. Is text and other media needed for the website, such as articles or video explaining basic parts of our message? Should we be promoting IOPS to like-minded groups more in talks and so on? Are there other jobs to do in preparation for the stage after the founding conference, likely focusing on membership growth? We could always be doing more of all of these things. Doing as little as agreeing some practical goals and inviting contributions would encourage people to take initiative on these kinds of tasks, although this approach does have drawbacks as we have seen before.
In this connection it's worth mentioning the distribution of tasks. Even in a group that often talks about balancing tasks, handing out jobs of this sort on the fly or waiting for personal initiative has sometimes led to the most experienced, confident and active people becoming yet more experienced, confident and active — and closer to "burn-out". At the same time, the energies of other people that could have been spent on activism with a bit of encouragement (and cajoling!) go to waste. Being aware of the problem is not a fix in itself, but should lead us to fix our practices and structures. A few rules of thumb, such as explicitly bringing up the overall workload distribution when planning a project, and structures to help out less confident members, would go a long way here. As well as the concrete gains of more activity, hopefully we can generate a shared sense of achievement and forward momentum as well, which is healthy for attracting — and retaining — new members.
Another issue is presenting proposals for projects that the organisation could tackle. Mark Evans has already kicked this process off with a call for a campaign for objectivity and public accountability from the media, in particular the BBC (I'll add my own two pennies on this topic soon). Such suggestions help us plot a course, but, perhaps more importantly at this stage, they also give prospective members a reason to get involved. People who come to PPS events tend to want to see a plan of action, even if it is not yet confirmed or underway, so that they can see the good they will do by joining. So not only the planning itself but also giving these suggestions a prominent place on the website is a good idea.
There is not all that long to prepare. Hopefully the founding conference will be followed by new period of increased activism in which all energies will be poured into outreach and membership growth, using every means at our disposal, including dues payments. In London there we have already seen the potential interest in the knowledge, vision and strategy package that IOPS will champion, in long lists of e-mails generated from even relatively small events. The occupy movement has led many to question both the traditional Marxist-Leninist model of left organising and the unwieldy one-big-meeting approach, both in terms of vision and organising today. A lot of people are looking for answers at this point. If these interested folks are shown prospects for a new, well-defined and well-organised group with growing numbers and growing ambitions for activism, and if they can be shown that they can achieve something as members, there is every reason to think that this interest can be translated into a major new force on the left, if we can seize the opportunity with both hands.