April 7, 2008 | Leave a Comment

Category: Activism

Conflicts among activists predictably congregate around several themes:  endorsements, speakers, Democrats and structure.  I spend most of the time that I’m organizing with regional or state networks or coalitions.  Whether the coalition has 12 local organizations or over 100 state organizations, these same four issues keep emerging.  I’m personally deeply fascinated by the nature of structure yet find myself dismayed by the frequent friction that accompanies the working out of the details.

There is more than one polarity at play, but lately I keep seeing the struggle for balance between top-down vs. bottom-up, sort of a vertical teeter-totter.  Authority vs. anarchy is another way I hear the conflict described.  Seeing things from an evolutionary perspective, I must admit I have a soft spot for anarchy.  Biology is messy.  Messy makes for such a resource-filled, creative start.

Yet, I see what a creatively led, top-down organization such as Moveon has accomplished, and it’s obvious to me that no easy conclusion can be drawn.  Balance seems necessary.  Many people whose opinions I respect reflexively lean toward the more hierarchical perspective because often you can accomplish more with fewer resources if there are fewer people giving directions to a cooperating group of folks.  If resources are scarce, anarchy is less reasonable.  Nature can go berserk with fecundity when there are vast, untapped resources or after massive death.  Creativity seems more connected to scarcity.  Species become narrowly channeled into unexpected blossoming when forced into behaviors that are unfamiliar.

So you need some sort of balance.  Things need to be loose enough to allow ideas and new energies to rise up from less obvious sources of inspiration.  Yet, for there to be direction to accomplish specific goals, it is useful to grant authority to a position characterized by experience and/or perspective.

Watching the dance of emotions that seem to accompany the discussions of these matters, I conclude that these issues of authority vs. anarchy and the control of resources that the polarity seeks to address tap into personal issues, scripts and varying personal experiences that have informed our conclusions.  I am stunned by the passion that a discussion of structure will stir among people who are allies in almost all other things.


Name (required)

Email (required)


Share your wisdom