Bernie and Jane Sanders have proposed a new organization, “Our Revolution”, and invited folks to a web site to donate, but the site says nothing about “Our Revolution’s” attributes. Will it have vision? Will it have program? Will it foster participation?
Ideally “Our Revolution” would emerge from well organized neighborhoods and workplaces proposing wonderful structure and program, but, alas, we are not there yet. So Sanders will give the organization early definition. Will “Our Revolution” members suffer a limited agenda imposed from above? Or will “Our Revolution” members freely develop a bottom-up structure and determine their own program?
All progressive activists should want “Our Revolution” to start large and become huge. But what structure should progressives want “Our Revolution” to have? What debits should we hope “Our Revolution” will avoid? What virtues should we hope it will embody?
Any progressive activist can list many debits to avoid. Here are a few I bet we can all agree on.
- We don’t want an organization that believes it possesses the one right way to do things and that stifles internal dissent while becoming outwardly arrogant and even sectarian.
- We don’t want an organization that continually suffers a paralysis of excessive analysis especially when it is due to academically habituated egos each seeking their own validation, but nor do we want an organization that pursues action for action’s sake without assessing consequences for those directly involved and affected.
- We don’t want an organization that often turns inward to celebrate its current size instead of always turning outward to further enlarge its current size.
- We don’t want an organization which fails to address race, or gender, or sexuality, or class, or ecology, or war and peace in the name of pursuing one or more of the other focuses more vigorously.
- We don’t want an organization that adopts top down structure, thereby becoming both disinclined and ill equipped to seek a political revolution.
- In short, one might say we don’t want a mini or a maxi Democratic Party.
But having determined some debits to avoid, what are some virtues to attain?
- We want an organization that emphasizes grassroots connectedness and prioritizes policy that improves members’ lives and solidifies their involvement.
- We want an organization with a continually growing membership that becomes steadily more committed and astute.
- We want an organization that employs multi-issue, multi-tactic creativity and celebrates diversity whenever different options can be simultaneously pursued.
- We want an organization that fosters patient audacity and not apocalyptic passivity.
- We want an organization that seeks longevity of conception and execution.
- And we want an organization whose structure and practice continually plant seeds of the future in the present, including, as possible, moving toward participatory democratic decision making.
I hope we can agree on the few entries offered above. If so, might we also agree on some choices for structure that will further our hopes? Here are some possibilities that could emerge from discussion.
“Our Revolution” could allow at-large members but emphasize local chapters as face to face venues of discussion, debate, and program development. It could have local policy and campaigns be locally decided using procedures local chapters settle on. It could have national policy and campaigns be nationally decided by democratic vote after effective discussion and debate.
“Our Revolution” could welcome and facilitate internal dissent. Even when collectively pursuing a majority position, “Our Revolution” could foster exploration of minority options by members who are so inclined.
“Our Revolution” could support campaigns of other organizations and movements as well as seeking support for its own – always assuming that it has much to learn from what others believe.
“Our Revolution” could always prioritize improving itself and could reject reflexively defending its current commitments. It could respect those who disagree with “Our Revolution” and prioritize communicating with them.
“Our Revolution” could equally prioritize race, gender, class, ecology, and war and peace and allot organizational attention to each, including having internal caucuses for associated constituencies to take the lead in generating proposals for issues bearing most directly on them as well as to guard against residual oppressive dynamics perverting internal choices.
“Our Revolution” could emphasize membership empowerment by prioritizing mechanisms for members developing, sharing, and disseminating analysis, vision, skills, and confidence.
“Our Revolution” could actively pursue both local and national electoral and activist program and projects ratified by its membership.
A question arises. Will whoever is working on “Our Revolution” establish initially desirable and continually democratically updatable structure so the organization’s members can define their own program and continually refine their own rules of operation as they determine rather than passively accepting program and structure defined by others? I fervently hope so. And, if so, will all who have favored Sanders up to this point sign on to calmly, patiently, and flexibly, but also militantly and unrelentingly advance “Our Revolution’s” definition and promise? How could we not?
But what if, for whatever reason, whoever is working on “Our Revolution” instead establishes a structure that will, if we accept it without alteration, obstruct the virtues we desire? Will we then dismiss “Our Revolution” and ignore or even attack it? I hope not. Will we passively accept its initial definition without seeking corrections? I hope not. I hope, instead, we will respectfully argue for democracy, participation, and breadth of focus as we highlight the connection between those aspirations and needed structural improvements.
In our conflicted and tortured world, it may indeed turn out that the initial plan for “Our Revolution” is only to channel donations to candidates chosen by a structure that mirrors existing top down political relations. That is, after all, the kind of approach that flows very naturally from an electoral campaign. Such a proposal could certainly be well meaning, but it would nonetheless be seriously flawed. In that case, shouldn’t consistent Sanders supporters constructively pursue the political revolution Sanders has proposed all along? Shouldn’t we all, with solidarity, first revolutionize “Our Revolution.” And second, work together within “Our Revolution” to revolutionize the polity and society all around us? And shouldn’t Sanders welcome just that response?