There is power in numbers. There are literally hundreds of thousands of grass roots organizations trying to change the world, to make it a more just, safer, healthier place for people, workers, animals, the environment, the weak and vulnerable, even the arts and those aspects of humanity that make us more human.
We live in times when elected officials, regardless of party are becoming less and less accountable as they become more and more the proxy servants for lobbyists and corporations. With corporations exploiting their rights of corporate personhood-- from the coffers citizens United unleashed to the depredations of globalization, the middle class, we-the-people are under attack more than any time in recent memory, maybe even ever.
Paul Hawken writes, in his landmark book, Blessed Unrest, "Most social-change organizations are understaffed and underfunded, and nearly all are negotiating steep learning curves."
There are hundreds of thousands of such organizations but most are struggling, with very limited resources. When an organization with 200 people on a membership list, which usually has a dozen or so people show up at an event tries to influence legislators, local newspapers or members of congress, it doesn't get too far.
We need those small groups. But I like to think in terms of biological systems. The higher functioning, most versatile life forms have many parts that work together. It is time, it is necessary for groups promoting change to come together, to consciously decide to find common ground, to find ways to share strengths and resources, to explore weaknesses and ways we can help each other. There is a "body politic." We need a "body activic" or "body de change."
There are reasons to hope that our world, our culture is changing, going through two revolutions, a spiral rather than a wave of change, from top down to bottom up and from information to connection. These changes are huge manifested in literally a million ways, from Facebook passing google in pageviews, a major signal of a change from an information to a connection era, to the explosion of flash mobs, mashups, meetups, listserves and blogs-- millions of them.
The web and social media tools have made the creation and support of groups and organizations more affordable and possible in more creative ways than ever before. There are more possibilities for cooperation and interdependence.
But the 80-20 power rule still holds. Eighty percent of the work and the leadership will be done by twenty percent of the participants. Today, we also have the "long tail" which basically means that the twenty percent of the work done by the other 20% of the participants really does add up and makes a difference.
So we have millions of organizations, probably hundreds in your county, when you include activists, churches, unions, local service organizations... and again, that power law applies. Twenty percent of them will be doing eighty percent of the activism. I say that their effectiveness can be greatly increased if a "container" is created that coordinates the efforts-- of the leaders and of the "long tail" the less active member resources.
I don't know how such a body will look or function. I have some ideas on what it can do.
- build a regular communication network between organizations-- top-down, between leaders and bottom up, among grassroots members.
- Identify common interests, goals
- Identify and share resources-- connections, contacts, technologies
- support actions-- protests, petitions, letter writing campaigns
- Join together to influence those needing to be influenced, like legislators
There are impediments to making this happen.
- turf and control issues
- trust issues
- lack of infrastructure
- resistance to new approaches and technologies
- failure to engage enough groups
- failure to build strong communication and resource sharing infrastructure
We can make this happen, even though we don't know what it will look like, what kind of creature it will become. There are forces in the world-- powerful, transnational corporate forces that are coming together to build systems that are not organic, not human-centric. We who care about humanity, about we-the-people, don't have the billions in resources that they have... yet. We must build with what we have to create competing visions. I say visions because, as a bottom up entity, creature, animal, our vision can not and will not be singular. It will be more like the compound lens vision of a honey bee.
At first, I envisioned that the coalition would be a "progressive" coalition. But as conversations ensued I realized that there were natural allies who were not necessarily progressive-- farmers interested in re-localization, for example. But in many ways, they were on the same page. Labeling a coalition as progressive would be a mistake that would exclude many potential potent allies.
We have the potential to build a permanent infrastructure that supports temporary coalitions and alliances that can be very robust and powerful. That's the conversation I'm trying to start.
Which organizations does your organization already cooperate with? What ways do you cooperate? How many more organizations could your org be cooperating with? What changes could those cooperative coalitions be making that are not happening yet? The potential is unfathomable, but great.
Today, we're meeting face to face. That's one of the most costly ways to operate-- in terms of time and effort. My hope is that this first meeting will lead to further face meetings with a growing number of groups and interests as part of the coalition. But I am also hoping that the effort, started with face to face, analog connection, will evolve to become a connected process as well as a "thing" organization-- that we'll use some of the new tools we've recently had access to to-- to find new, synergistic connections at the most basic bottom up levels, between members and supporters between groups. This will be good in a lot of ways.
People want to find connections. They need to. People want to do good things and help others. This coalition will evolve organically. Leaders will evolve, projects will evolve. We just need to decide it is an idea worth putting some energy into.