Virtual Organizing

June 11, 2008 | 1 Comment

Category: Activism, Web

There are more and less effective ways to organize online.  It is extremely difficult to work with activists exclusively online and by phone without any real-world contact.  Handling web and other communications for a budding national organization with over 30 coordinating committee members, Marcia and I became intimately familiar with how things can go awry.

The communication system was begun by two well-intentioned older males with many years of experience organizing on the Left, and they proceeded to seek to reproduce the positive results they’d achieved in the past using organizing methods they were familiar with in the world of flesh and blood.  The put together a group, the Coordinating Committee, that then granted the founders the authority to make executive decisions.  With no committees other than the Administrative Committee itself during the important early period when founding issues and logistics were established, the Administrative Committee did its best to make things work efficiently.

Transparency, hierarchy and diversity issues emerged quickly, characterized by arguments over what these three founding principles actually meant or how, in the context of the forming organization, these three processes should be interpreted and addressed.  The well-intentioned older males didn’t get what the issue was.  In their world, you proved you were credible in a position of authority, and then you made decisions.  They behaved in ways that kept as much authority as they could in as few hands as possible.  Things got done.  Some coordinating committee members quit.

How might an organization creating itself online via emails, conference calls and a website best empower the people in that process so that communication is enhanced, authority is spread among as many people as possible from as many backgrounds as possible and decision-making processes are transparent, not opaque?

What are the best practices for putting together a national political organization online?

• If the idea for the project came from one person or very few people, and it was those people that brought their allies to the project, then efforts need to be made to embrace their ideological opponents.  Representatives from all three Left waves (soft Left, hard Left and tech Left) offer important resources to be relied upon to build the project.  Exclusion of any one or two of these groups reduces diversity and encourages nontransparency.

• Create and solicit volunteers for committees very early in the process.  Divest the center of authority and give it to where project details can be explored.  A committee of committee chairs can coordinate information and action directions.  The chairing of the coordinating committee can revolve among the chairs to keep authority from lodging with specific individuals.

• Minutes can be kept for all committee conference calls and posted centrally.  The person taking minutes for the coordinating committee can change as the chair changes.

• Each committee can have its own listserve set up to archive all communications.

• Place available information on all committee conference calls on the website in real time with no delays.  Minutes can post within 24 hours.  Make sure listserve archives stay current.

• Allow interested organizations and individuals access to committees through the website.  If there are officers, they too can allow website access.

At some point, the budding organization will require a structure.  Creating a conference and moving from online to real time offers communicative deep relief.  Yet, codifying process into a tentatively permanent form–structure–offers deeper challenges.  Conference structure informs the organization structure that emerges from the conference.  Moving from online to off-line real time communications brings in a host of additional variables to address.  Establishing principles of transparency, horizontal communication and diversity among the folks working online, preceding a real time gathering, encourages the emergence of these principles in the organization that results.


This entry was posted on Wednesday, June 11th, 2008 at 6:36 am and is filed under Activism, Web. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
1 Comment so far

  1. Suraj on December 22, 2012 6:15 am

    @bigmanbigkid i agree with everything exepct the insure part Evos and STI’s (especially) are more expensive these days. My boy is in his early 20 s and has an E46 M3 and was looking for an evo, got an insurance quote and both the Evo and STI were tons more a year than the M3! damn :/

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