Old School

July 18, 2008 | Leave a Comment

Category: Activism, Society, Web

I participate in several dozen listserves.  Mostly I observe.  These are listserves for statewide coalitions, statewide networks, local organizations and national organizations.  Primarily, I use listserves to gather information.  As a web developer for almost 30 Left/Progressive organizations, I end up listening to a lot of conversations.

On rare occasions is something said that compels me to respond.  I just read something that made my blood boil, my face flush and my heart start skipping beats.

I am an activist whose primary focus is organizational structure and communications infrastructure that serve transparency, diversity and horizontal communication.  I want to know what makes change possible and create systems that encourage the process.

On the Left there are passionate adherents for specific issues that believe the best way to achieve goals is through top-down, closed-door discussions limited to activists that satisfy specific criteria.

These activists mostly seem unaware of the communications revolution cascading across society, mostly through our young.  What they know is nontransparent hierarchy.  It works for them.  In some cases, it’s worked for them for a long time.

The words that caused the surge of anger that prompted this rumination was my reading a communication that said that the coordinating committee of an organization does not just represent the members of its organization but is the organization.  The author suggested that the nature of organization and the difficulty of managing groups demands that a few people decide for the many what is best for them.

I guess I’ve crossed a line where something so obvious to so many can feel abusively outrageous to me.

I observe, explore and play with networks:  evolutionary biological networks; social networks and their transformation structures; networks within a human psyche; the hub, node and spoke network connections between communications of organizations of the Left.  Immersed in networks, my experience is that everything is connected, horizontally.  There are no walls.

Hierarchy, barriers and segregation of information are processes that reflect fictions or myths that we subscribe to.  We build social structures to manifest a story that is reaching its conclusion.  The time of the few controlling the many is coming to an end.  Listening to the Left, successful strategies that support these changes won’t erupt from the established national Left organizations operating with the old myths or paradigms.

I often hear my colleagues express dismay that so few young people protest in the streets, preferring to engage in keyboard activism.  Observing the Obama campaign, it seems to me a lot of young people are becoming active.  Raising money from a quarter-million contributors in a given month seems pretty active to me.  So, if we might posit that a large chunk of the American Left is at best unclear on the nature of the societal changes underway and that there are a large number of young people ready to be engaged, provided it offers them an experience of networking online, then what would it take for these young online activists to start demanding change?  How will they demand change?

Regardless of the adulation for Obama, I doubt it would be by letting some few members of an organization or a charismatic individual decide.


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