Thoughts & Deeds 5: Organization!?

This is part five of a six part interview. It deals mainly with the IOPS experience. As to the other parts, they will be linked, below, as they are published…


Thoughts & Deeds 1: Revolution

Thoughts & Deeds 2: Perspectives

Thoughts & Deeds 3: Participatory Economics

Thoughts & Deeds 4: Winning

Thoughts & Deeds 5: Organization!?

Thought & Deeds 6: Venezuela, Media, Music…


IOPS, or the International Organization for a Participatory Society, has been around for about 2 years, since 2012 I believe. Despite it being around for a while, I am afraid that except for one opinion piece by Danny Schechter on Al Jazeera in May 2012 (“The ideas and vision behind Occupy Activism”) , there hasn’t been a lot of public discussion. Given the fact that I joined IOPS due to its exciting premise of creating a fundamentally different organization than before, I believe we should give it some much-needed attention. First , how did it start?

Danny did that piece in response to a notice we were underway – others I tried to get to cover IOPS weren’t so forthcoming. At any rate, as to how IOPS started, there was a poll on ZNet asking if an organization were to form with the following attributes – and the attributes were listed for people to assess – what would be your reaction? Would you join it, participate in it, try to built it, wait and see, run in the opposite direction, and so on? Basically, we wanted to see attitudes about such an undertaking, and so I worked on the questions with a considerable number of other folks adding to them, making alterations, etc.

The poll replies were surprising. I don’t remember the precise results, but more than 95% of the respondents said they would either join immediately or they would see if it gained any traction and, if it did, join then. And other questions had answers comparably positive. It was ballpark 3,000 people who took the poll,  and maybe closer to 4,000, I think, though I don’t remember exactly.

So I and others saw the results and thought, well, okay, what next? If most of the folks who answered the poll did as they suggested they would, they would not only join, they would also work to enlarge and advance the new effort, and that would be a great beginning. From there it would likely grow dramatically, we thought and hoped, assuming the group who answered is probably quite typical of all people using ZNet, and perhaps most people on the left.

So, why not do it? Well, okay, there were plausible reasons not to. For example, it might fail and add to existing cynicism about accomplishing anything so ambitious. On the other hand, if we didn’t even try, who would try? And in any case, a different perception of failing, should that occur, was that lessons would be learned.

So, since we felt the ideas and desires behind this endeavor were worthy, and since the poll revealed potentially high and perhaps even huge levels of sympathy, why not try?


So what steps were concretely taken to start IOPS?

One part was relatively easy. Use the poll, which had already been written and edited with numerous inputs, and which had been highly positive with 3,000 plus takers, to generate a set of commitments that would define the project to create a new organization. So the commitments were copied over so that people joining would be agreeing to support the commitments and seek an organization consistent with them. How much work people would do on behalf of the endeavor would of course be up to them.


But what about decisions in the initial period? People started to join, but who made decisions? With what justification? And what was the initial priority in terms of people who had time to give? What might they be doing?

A serious international organization, even just on day one of being founded, would need many members, at least a considerable number of local chapters, and some national branches to be remotely credible. So, the first task was to do the work of building all that. That seemed obvious, actually.

We quickly got up to 2,500 members. One could, and quite a few did, argue for immediately having a program, campaigns, etc., but there were two problems with doing that so early. First, who would choose what The program should be, and by what means? And second, with such a small and fledgling project, with its participants literally in about 100 countries around the world, what practical difference would it make to have an international program?

It seemed that more local organization was needed for any national much less international program to be a serious thing. So, the idea was that local chapters could immediately begin developing their own local program. They could try to grow, but also to engage in various kinds of other activity, as they chose. But an international program – say an international campaign around war and peace, income distribution, immigration, global warming, or whatever, would be rather meaningless and inappropriate until there was a real international organization that was able to seriously adopt such a program and have means to actually carry through such a program.

The initial concept and agenda was not ideal, but in the conditions, with the pressures, it was not bad. The idea was to have a participatory organization, where the members would control the policies and choices of the organization, including each member having a say proportionate to effects on them. The organization would have chapters in cities around the world, national branches that were federations of all chapters in a country, and then an international organization that would be a federation of all the national branches. The tricky part was how you get going in a way that has some momentum but that won’t later subvert future prospects?

Think of it this way. In the earliest days, let’s say at the time when there were 100 people on board, and before anything was public, should those 100 people, or earlier even just 10 people, decide on an international program? Should they decide the structure for the whole organization?

It would not be illegitimate per se to do so. They would just be saying, we want to build this, and if you are with us, come on board. But we thought while it was a possible way to proceed, it would be a bad choice. We thought that such decisions should  be made by people from all over such an organization and in turn all over the world – and thus not made until many more people were involved.

We also thought that while using the internet was fine to become visible and even to get a lot of initial members, there would need to be a face to face gathering to legitimately establish a working organization and face to face local chapters within it, as well. A convention could settle on program and structure, and then those choices could inform activity and process thereafter. A convention could enable people to meet and get to know others from other countries, as well.


Okay, but then what did IOPS do about short term choices, while the fledgling effort was growing?

Our answer, which some didn’t like but most did, and which was done in light of that accounting, was (1) let’s keep international decisions to a minimum (though local chapters could do as they might choose), and (2) let’s only enact international choices which are essential and also overwhelmingly non controversial.

People were busy. It was just getting going. How could we proceed without wasting endless time on discussions that when all is said and done would be conducted by relatively few people willing to hassle endlessly online, even though in the large population of members, sentiments might be overwhelming? If we had everyone in chapters, where they could meet to deliberate, and via which there could be decisions, there would have been obvious possibilities for how to proceed. But we didn’t have that yet.

So the answer was to establish what we called an Interim Consultative Committee. We enlisted notable, highly regarded, trusted people, from diverse parts of the world, plus a lot of the people who had helped with the poll and were otherwise already engaged with the idea of IOPS.

In other words, we asked a bunch of very obvious folks with considerable credibility who were in many cases already involved, to participate in this, and about half said yes. We also said to those who signed on, if you want anyone else on board, and you think they support the plan and would contribute, let’s try to add them too.


But what were these people becoming part of?

It was made clear to all involved right from the start, that the ICC was a body to hear possible ideas for policies but only regarding things that really needed to be addressed, where the ICC members would simply have to say yes or no – because unless it was virtually unanimous, nothing would be done. Because these people were/are highly regarded, and from many parts of the world, and between them had lots of experience of diverse kinds, the idea was if they were virtually unanimous, the odds were really high that so would be not just the body of current members, but most future membership as well. Such choices, therefore, especially if kept to a minimum, and if reversible later should that prove desirable, would not violate by encroaching on what future members ought to decide. More, all the decisions – if there even were any with lasting implications, would be revisited by a convention. And, of course, having the convention would be accompanied by disbanding the ICC.


Thus the ICC would be temporary?

Yes, maybe a year or so. And maybe it would involve five or perhaps as many as ten uncontroversial votes on simple issues during that time.  So that is what people signed on to help with.

There was also a hope, and I certainly had it, that people who did sign on that way, would be among those most active in pushing the ideas of IOPS publicly and urging attention and support. And since the list of ICC members had and still has many people with very substantial audiences, the hope was that their actions, even if relatively modest, would go a long way to ensuring outreach plus a climate of possibility for the more grassroots efforts of actually talking to folks, having meetings, etc.


What is your perception of the initial weeks and months of the organization? How did it go from what you could perceive?

Very quickly we had roughly 2,500 member. Of course they were signing up online, but they were urged to examine the defining commitments and to join only if they strongly supported them. Likewise, very early we had a very good web site, that could support not only the large organization, but chapters, branches, etc.


Do you believe that most people seriously examined the defining commitments with the necessary attention to understand their implications?

I don’t know. You would think that to join any organization, much less one seeking a new society of a new type, one would pay close attention to its commitments before signing up. I certainly would. So, I more or less assumed other folks would too.

Maybe that was a mistake, I don’t know. I guess some people may have joined just to be able to say they were part of it, despite paying no attention to the substance – but, really?


How did that happen, the people joining, and the site being built?

The joining was spurred by ZNet. I wrote many articles and did lots of interviews and so on. I also used our email to prod large numbers of people, often, no doubt to the point of aggravating many. We even replaced the top page of the site with entreaties to visit IOPS. On the one hand, it was very effective. On the other hand, considering the poll, I was already wondering, why aren’t more people getting on board?

Regarding building the site, a proposal went to the ICC I believe, if I remember right, and with its unanimous support, Z raised some money for the project and an ICC member, on board from the beginning, did the main design and lined up and worked with programmers.

Indeed, giving the go ahead to do it was an example of the kind of decision – there were really very few – the ICC took. Actually it was probably the main one. It had to be decided, it was not at all controversial, so it was done.


What are IOPS main characteristics?

They can be found on the site, of course, and they include a lot of the things we have talked about in other parts of this interview. A multi issue focus. A vision and strategy emphasis. Structural commitments to classlessness and self management both in society and in the organization. A highly self conscious and structural commitment to participation and internal dissent. I urge people to take a look!


Can you please explain in detail what the ICC is, as well as its goals? What do you think is the full scale of their purview? There seems to be quite different perceptions of this at the moment.

The ICC is a committee of about fifty people whose mandate is spelled out in a statement online, and whose members are all listed, some very well known, others less so, but involved in the earliest stages.

At the outset, and we assumed until there would be a lot of members, many chapters, and a founding convention that could establish lasting and better methods, there wouldn’t be any very good means for effective decision making internationally. In that situation, the feeling was that we should largely avoid the problem by deciding nothing international, even as local chapters would decide for themselves whatever they wished. But you can’t have literally no decisions because at times, albeit very infrequently, you need to do things, for example, creating a web site.

So at the outset, we figured how about we have a committee, for the interim up to a convention, mandated to decide truly necessary things, but only when there was non controversial and nearly unanimous agreement. The thinking, again, was that if this diverse committee, with new folks and very experienced folks, from around the world, found something both important and uncontroversial, acting on it would not be ideal, not real self management, but it would do no harm.


What were your expectations as to where IOPS would be in 2 years? 10 years? And so on?

I hoped IOPS would grow to five and then ten thousand members pretty rapidly, and that that momentum would inspire creation of many chapters, local work, skills and consciousness development, creation of facilities for internal sharing of lessons and insights and for mutual aid, discussion of structure and program, enlarging experience and trust, and then a convention.

I hoped it could happen in a year or a year and a half.


A year and a half is a very optimistic assessment! What were your reasons to believe it could go so quickly?

Well, I thought with a few thousand people joining right off, talking it up even just with their friends, families, school mates, and co workers, and with a considerable number of well known activists and writers on board – assuming that the latter were making a loud public presence in turn leading to lots of discussion in alternative media – plus IOPS having commitments that would appeal widely, why shouldn’t we have that kind of success, or better?

Again, in just a couple of months I think we had roughly, 2,500 members from about a hundred countries. And that was just via the articles and other pushing by Z, plus having the site where people could sign up. What would have been the result had others with large audiences, or even just lots of others with modest or small audiences, taken up the same effort?


Now that some time has passed, I believe we can say we didn’t get where you hoped to be. Do you have any thoughts as to why there is such a big gap between your hopes and the current reality of where IOPS stands?

On the one hand, we know that among those who tried, members had a hard time convincing additional people to join. I think some members had some success, but clearly a great many brought no one on board beyond themselves…


Why the difficulty?

Probably many reasons. Among those who did sign up, I would guess that many didn’t have very much experience with trying to recruit others to an organization, and might have been hesitant to even try to do so for that reason.

Others might not have seen it as worthy activity, via a logic I never quite understood, and so not pursued it.

Others likely tried to recruit but met resistance or apathy from those they addressed.

But I think a prior problem contributing to all the above and probably to other factors as well, was the overarching context. It wasn’t that people weren’t ready, in large numbers, for having a new organization. I think they were, and still are. Nor was it, I think, that IOPS had an unappealing definition. I think the definition is worthy and desirable. It was that there was no feeling in the air that, whatever its virtues, whatever the need, this effort would get anyplace. Now why that is, is another question.


Yes, and what is your answer?

I think a large contributing factor to the prevalent and I believe quite debilitating skepticism was the absence of visible public discussion.

Imagine someone in some city somewhere, wants to recruit others to IOPS. This IOPS member talks with a friend or workmate or student, or whatever. The member may not have been real good at describing IOPS and motivating attention, and may have needed some help, but that help wasn’t there. Or the member may have been quite good at it, and had constructive discussions with people, but, after those discussions, the people spoken with would have gone off and probably wondered, how come no one else is talking publicly about this? How come the progressive and left media that I like has nothing about this? And even without a conscious calculation, a mood may have set in – I think it did set in – why bother, others aren’t?


Which brings us to the next question. Having such big names on board from the very beginning of the organization, how come these people, who have quite the audience, and a lot of leverage in leftist circles and sometimes even in the mainstream, did not use their access to write about it, or to elicit interest into what I believe is a worthwhile project? Were they not convinced of the organization’s merits?

I don’t know. It could be, as you say, that they doubted the merits. It could be a little like the silence around parecon that we discussed earlier. It could be just being busy and also they too being skeptical, or it could be something else, beyond my understanding.


So you have asked them this very question, and as with ParEcon, you haven’t gotten substantial replies from them? What media, what writers, do you think ought to have paid attention?

All. Why not?

I think if I had not been involved at the outset, and had only heard about it when most did, say by reading an article or getting an email or something, I would have immediately related with the same energy I gave it having been involved from the outset. Why wouldn’t others in positions more or less like myself do the same? I don’t know.

Put differently, if there is a very serious effort to build new organization that includes a great many folks who progressive media and writers know and respect, and if that effort quickly gets 2,500 people on board, and has rather unusual but compelling commitments, why wouldn’t progressive media and writers pay attention? I don’t know.

So in the U.S., Z obviously paid tons of attention – articles, interviews, raising money for it, lending help with the site, linking to it very prominently, urging people to join even with overlays replacing the Z top page – but why not others from Monthly Review, say, to the Nation, or from Democracy Now to the Progressive, and so on. I ask myself, is the answer that Z is nuts? That I am nuts?

To test this hypothesis, I would ask myself if one of those other projects had somehow initiated an effort like this, with the same people and content, and I had heard about it, would I then work to assist it? And honestly, I believe the answer is yes. So why wouldn’t people who are established writers with audiences, either members of IOPS or not, have written about it? It could have been supportive commentary. It could have been critical commentary. But it was instead silence, and the same thing was true in other countries than the U.S.


Can you be more specific?

Well, consider Red Pepper, in the UK. Why wouldn’t they have either published pieces that were submitted, and in this case I know that was an option, or why wouldn’t they have one or more of their own frequent writers weigh in? They have given lot of wonderful and insightful coverage to Syriza – obviously a much larger project, but one that is also a lot further from their politics and that was not offering an option that their UK readership could literally take up. I believe IOPS is extremely in tune with Red Pepper‘s beliefs and views – so to speak – so when working class organizers in London sought their coverage of it, or when I did, why not? I just don’t know.

Almost all coverage of IOPS was in one way or another precipitated by me giving an interview, writing an article, or prodding others to write something, and yet, in the latter capacity, the truth is that I actually accomplished very little. I failed at it. Hopefully I was doing something wrong, or poorly, that others can do better, in the future.


Well, your having opened the topic, how about our personal responsibility as members of IOPS? At the risk of sounding bitter, I remember an exchange with a member of a prominent collective of musicians in the black community, called Underground Resistance, who showed some initial interest. However, they asked as to what IOPS could bring to the table to help lessen the ills affecting the black community in Detroit, and justly so. Several people in the Detroit chapter were contacted, but nothing came of it… I can’t but help feeling that we might have underestimated the required outreach and organizing work. Also typical of our concern for racial balance, I couldn’t find one person from the chapter back then who was black, and I couldn’t help thinking, this is not going to make things easy.

I don’t know the example, and so I can’t comment on it specifically, but more generally, there is a kind of very vicious Catch-22 in this type of work.

You need success, visibility, some evidence of intent in practice, etc. regarding structure, program, composition, really everything, to offer a credible and attractive option to people of diverse types of background. On the other hand, you need people, members, with energy and confidence and diverse experience, if you are going to have a practice that conveys hope and confidence.

You need x to get y. You need y to get x. Some would say, after you have some folks, that is, a little x – do the practice. Others would say, after you have some folks which is a little x, reach out to get more folks, so the practice you do, y, when you start that, will be real. This isn’t a matter of great principle, but is, instead, a matter of doing what works.


So, what happened? And was there every any hope, given the difficulty?

Honestly, my best guess is, as we discussed, that rather few early members tried to get more members, and that those who did had little success. And that not many early members tried to generate local program, and those who did, had little success.

In my thinking, the trick, to get over the hurdle of the contradiction – members needing program, program needing members –  would have been a big jolt of hope and energy and outreach, coming from a relatively few folks who were in position to generate it, or perhaps from a few thousand folks, none able to generate as much alone as someone with great access, but all together able to generate even more – or from some other direction.

Writers, movement leaders, media people, etc. didn’t do it. And nor did the few thousands on board do it. So it didn’t happen – yet.

I think some other people probably thought the trick to transcend the Catch 22 would have looked more like what pushed Occupy at the outset – some exciting act in turn galvanizing involvement – but the trouble is, an organization is something far more demanding than an upsurge, and the aim is that it lasts with worthy attributes.


Suppose IOPS grows and solidifies into the kind of International Organization with National Chapters it has been meant to be. What difference would that make?

Well, suppose there are national branches in 100 countries, with between ten and hundreds of chapters composing each of those. And suppose the chapters are operating with self management, and a program around various topics and issues, locally, nationally, and even internationally, and also advancing the dissemination and discussion of vision and strategy. To me, and I suspect to you too, to ask what difference that would make it is like asking, what difference does making big progress make to the effort to make progress?

So, I think it would change tons of things. For example, it would increase effectiveness of mass campaigns, it would propel efforts to share and align activists across borders, it would inspire and support efforts to include future-oriented strategy into short term oriented campaigns, and so on.

Again, I don’t know why that picture doesn’t motivate more people more substantially. As one example, I don’t know why it doesn’t lead alternative media to decide, basically, let us cover this, report on it, help disseminate information about it, help generate associated discussion, critical and supportive.

The Chinese used to have a slogan which, at the time, I didn’t really get. “Dare to Struggle, Dare to Win.” It has a nice ring to it, but what does it really mean? Why should you have to dare to struggle? – okay, one reason is if there is serious repression. But why would you have to dare to win? Was it due to being afraid of the responsibility? Being afraid of winning and then failing? For that matter, maybe it wasn’t due to fear of repression you had to dare to struggle, but, again, fear of failure.

And maybe that helps explain it. IOPS was ambitious and remains so. It is not some short term limited endeavor. It is about revolution, across the planet, sought for however long it takes to achieve the result.


If 95% of the respondents to the poll would join immediately or as soon as a bunch of others joined back then, was it a mistake to assume that this joining should be interpreted as “we would do everything in our power to make such a worthwhile project succeed”?

It would have been a mistake, except another question was about working to recruit others, and if I remember right, we even asked about dues, etc. But nonetheless, I doubt anyone expected everyone who signed up to join would bring that kind of intensity and focus. But how about half, or a quarter, or a tenth, even? Even a tenth may have been enough, especially if it provoked wider coverage and discussion, which would in turn have motivated more activity.


Do you think the membership might have underestimated the work required to make IOPS work?

My guess is most members had no real clue – how could they have? On the basis of what prior activity? Some had probably tried to build organizations, but probably not too many. But thinking it would happen magically, spontaneously, without people having to talk with others, without people writing about their experiences, without people injecting commentary about the effort everywhere so that others would learn of it – that I don’t get.

There is a self fulfilling logic to cynicism, or let’s even call it informed and reasoned doubt which makes sense for the individual but is collectively devastating. If most of us doubt some project, even though we like its features, and if it would be quite demanding were we to get serious about the project, then we will each individually quite reasonably hold back from becoming involved, looking to see if our doubt is warranted or not. But lots of people holding back of course increases doubt for everyone, increasing the likelihood of other people holding back, and so on. So each individual’s perfectly understandable and reasonable skepticism, feeds on and enlarges that of other individuals, all being equally sensible, and soon, the project is dead – even though, had people been more optimistic, it could have succeeded. This dynamic has been afflicting IOPS, like many other efforts.


Is there an exit from this conundrum?

Well one might be a few people with great access to other people having a big impact on reducing skepticism, leading to a less skeptical context and then a hopeful mood. Or, another might be a large number of less known people could work hard regardless of their having doubts, collectively having the same effect. I think both avenues were possible. But neither, so far, has occurred sufficiently for IOPS to take off.


Do you think that despite our multi-focused approach, the baggage from our former movements has crept in? Single-focus approach in deeds, multi-focus in form only?

I tend to think much of the discussion of things like that, more subtle points that might be problems, is ignoring the elephant in the room. The problem with IOPS isn’t something about its design or conception, it is simply the difficult hurdles, mentioned above, not yet being overcome. There isn’t sufficient numbers of members or sufficient energy among them, to have multi focus activity. Rather than it being too little multi focus activity diminishing numbers of members.

I am not saying that what you mention, and other things that one might mention, are irrelevant. Far from it. But it you look at the IOPS commitments, it is easy to see that desires to deal with such matters are there… but energy and numbers are missing. Suppose there was a convention with a hundred chapters present, and 5,000 members, and with many many more members paying attention online and to daily reports, and so on. Do I think it would decide to forego multi-focus or any other IOPS commitments? No.


Do you think that we still have imported many of the old ways in terms of communication style and personal interactions from other movements? Ad-hominem attacks, you disagree with us therefore you are the enemy, etc.?

How could any effort not still embody familiar patterns that are operative all over? But, the point is, all such problems are aggravated by low numbers, low energy, etc. The route to jettisoning past bad habits isn’t magic. It has to happen by way of having trusting engagements with others. Thus the contradiction, again. We need to grow, to act, creatively and effectively, to have people. We need people to act…


Do you think that accountability in light of what we signed up for is missing? Commitment without accountability in some form?

Sure it is, but inevitably so. That is, you can’t start a project with people all over the world, and have serious accountability unless you impose some central authority, and then have accountability to it. It is hard even to have reporting of activities, until you have some structure, some mechanisms of broad participation. To me, all the problems go back to the obvious truism that you can’t have a skyscraper without a foundation. People pour and mix foundations, though, because they are confident that on top of them, a skyscraper can be built. People working hard to create a foundation for a new international organization would, by analogy, either need to believe an organization could arise on their efforts, or if they doubt it, would need to act anyhow.


What of people who haven’t written or organized but raise objections without suggesting alternatives?

I don’t think people have to offer a solution to have a concern. But I admit much of what occurs strikes me as a bit off, often. Even just suggesting alternatives – people do it having had nearly zero experience, sometimes, which is fine, but then they seem to think what they have offered no one else has ever thought of or done and no one else could possibly have good reason to doubt – and they largely ignore reactions just repeating their preferred options.

Or take the frequent situation of someone talking about participation and the need to a way to have everyone involved in decisions – at a time when everyone is very few, and spread all over, and the ways they then offer would give a tiny set influence but with no serious attention to others later.

But again all this kind of difficult tension inducing difference among folks would be moot, I think, or readily handled, if we had even just 5,000 seriously committed members who were ready for a convention and even more so to operate collectively and respectfully with others in light of resulting decisions. We don’t have that, however – yet.


What of personal attacks against yourself, due to you being the most prominent and active member of the ICC?

It goes with the territory. Given that my efforts internally have been overwhelmingly secretarial on the one hand, and just trying to get visibility and discussion among those who aren’t participating, on the other hand, I admit that it is hard to understand, sometimes. Especially when someone says, in essence, let’s get past all the elitism and simply decide that thirty or fifty people distinguished only by writing lots of comments under blogs should make decisions.


You mentioned that numerous inputs were provided to the poll that initiated IOPS. Who provided those inputs, so we can dispel the view that the ICC is not some “cabal” of prominent leftists deciding it all?

Well, to decide on the poll I asked people who I know and respect, and who had relevant experience, for feedback on possible questions. My guess is that virtually everyone who I asked for input, and especially all who gave it, is on the ICC. So there is a sense in which the ICC initially emerged from a group eager to see IOPS develop, but beyond that, we also reached out to try to get some diversity, and then we had those who got on board reach out as well.

In the end, far from a cabal, my guess is that only a few ICC members even knew more than five other members – and with the ICC’s members spread all over the world, their only activity was reading each new proposal – and my guess is there have been only about ten, for example, that we have a web site, that Z provide some funding to pay to build it, that it be built by ICC member Jason, etc.


Care to explicitly state which criteria would be used to define issues that “really need to be addressed” by the ICC?

There were no stated criteria – other than that it should be obvious. It was obvious, for example, that we needed a web site, and it wasn’t controversial on the ICC. Another proposal was to have a letter from the ICC urging outreach around gender, another was to propose preconditions to have a convention, and so on.


Why is it so difficult for people to understand that without a critical mass of active members, not just sympathizers, few results can be achieved?

There could be simple disagreement. So, every movement starts somewhere. And people often tend to think it is magic – a few people do something and bingo, everyone is in motion. So, they might think, in IOPS a few people need to do something to spur others on. But I would say that what the relative few who become more engaged need to do is precisely to get others to become comparably engaged, at least until a “critical mass” is attained. Others might think there is some other activity that could do the trick.

This is even true for movements. Whether it is the anti Vietnam War movement or Civil Rights movement, or women’s movement, all decades back, or later, the No Nukes and environmental movements, or the Gay liberation movement, and so on. They don’t spring into being full grown but far more often rest on very early hard work by a few people spreading seeds that only latter take root. With an organization, it is similar, but even more so, I suspect, because is not defined by supporting an action, or opposing an injustice, but by being for a positive vision and sharing ideas about how to attain it.

What used to frustrate me is when I or anyone else would urge in a blog or comment or whatever that what we needed to do, programmatically, was build chapters, increase members, etc., some people – many of those willing to engage online – would say, in essence, come on, that isn’t real activity. Real activity is demonstrating, or rallying, or whatever. I found it incredible that folks didn’t seem to get not only that working to increase size or to develop local organization was real activity, but that it was of paramount importance.


What do you think about the criticism that the way IOPS is structured blocks certain decisions from being made at the local level and not just the international one, contradicting the commitment to autonomy of chapters at the local level?

How? The only thing blocked by IOPS norms is a chapter deciding something for the whole international project. Any chapter can decide, however, whatever it wants for itself. I don’t even know what such a criticism could mean.


What about the international level? Could a local/national chapter undersign something like ACTA/TPP protest, while making clear it was only a local/national commitment?

There are two different questions: Could it? Should it? Clearly a local or national – if nationals existed, could. Whether it should or not depends on the issue. Would doing so have good effects on its local efforts to grow? Would it have any negative effects for others? It seems pretty obvious, to me, what is involved.


What of people saying “I’m happy to help with IOPS but only from a computer keyboard?” What if I want to participate but I’m an online person?

I think it is okay, particularly before there are working chapters, to do that. What is the alternative? But I do think people should have a sense of proportion and common sense about it. If someone is going to do nothing other than comment on things online, they ought have a lot of respect for others who do other kinds of work.

Even more, while I think having online members is okay, I think it is very far from ideal. And, envisioning down the road, I do think people should be urged to join or form chapters in a viable political organization – and that chapter members, who engage face to face with others, and who work on projects and campaigns, and who organize, and so on, are incredibly important to an organization and have a kind of experience which may well justify their having a different level of involvement and responsibility from other who are purely online members.


Suppose IOPS completely unravels. What would be the cost of that?

I don’t know what the cost would be. As with most things social it depends on how people react, and more than one reaction is possible. Some might think – for example – well this was a smart plan, it had good people trying, and it failed – so it is impossible to succeed at anything like this.

Others might think, this was a dumb plan, it had stupid or incompetent people involved, so of course it failed, it shows nothing about prospects.

More sensibly than either of those responses, I think, would be to decide this was a good plan and good people were involved, and it failed, so far, so why did that happen? How do we extract lessons from the experience and do better, much better, next time?

But before and instead of that, it could still succeed this time around.

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