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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 4/9/14

We need to organize -- NOW!

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There are various political strategies being advocated and tried to counter our steady descent into an imperial, oligarchic police state of environmental devastation. Some favor working within the Democratic Party, some favor building a third party, some favor focusing on various issue-based advocacy groups.

All such efforts have their places and virtues. But they are essentially top-down strategies. They involve organized core groups that seek to mobilize and fund-raise masses of supporters.

The Occupy movement was innovative, conceived as bottom-up and leaderless. But the Peoples' Assemblies haven't worked very well, relying on drawn-out struggles for consensus, and in practice, actually being led by those most energetic and prone to take the "talking stick." It's proved to be easily infiltrated by provocateurs, and crowded in public occupations by the apolitical needy.

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The question has become fairly clear: How do we combine the effectiveness of bottom-up and top-down organization? How do we build an effective grass-roots organization to counter the highly organized and centralized state apparatus without becoming top-down ourselves?

Representative democracy, rather than direct democracy, has been the popular solution for large modern societies. But it should now be obvious that national representation is way too large a scale for effective power to be exercised by voters. A typical congressional district in the US might contain 700,000 people. Even state governments are too large and remote, and easily controlled by special interests. Even small cities are dominated by a small percentage of the voting population.

What's the ideal size for a democracy, for a truly democratic movement? At what number do members still justifiably feel important and empowered? At what point do candidates and elected officials become representations rather than representatives?

My own experience in a local of the Boilermakers' union convinced me that even an organization of just 800 members is too large to be effectively democratic. Most people don't feel significant and empowered in groups larger than a dozen or so. Conversely, some people are adept and drawn to the power of manipulating and controlling large groups.

So what's the solution?

Why don't we try building a personal (or "inter-personal") organization, a structured democracy based on tiers of small groups, each of which elects a representative to the next tier. At each level, individuals are a significant part of their group, everyone knows everyone else on a personal basis just by talking and working together, and they elect a representative based on the trust of familiarity.

Groups of about twelve people, or somewhere between seven and seventeen, might be ideal. It's easy to fool thousands of people, it's hard to fool eleven. Sociopaths, narcissists, and agents are more easily identified and neutralized when everyone is familiar.

A group could have a rotating coordinator, maybe changing hands on a monthly basis so everyone can share in the experience of responsibility. The coordinator could be in charge of maintaining regular communications and actions within the group. Each group could elect a representative to the next tier, also on a rotating basis, maybe for 3, 6, or 12 months at a time.

A group of representatives could constitute a committee, responsible for channeling the interests and ideas of their respective groups, and for collating and suggesting ideas and actions for distribution to their constituents. Maybe they publish a newsletter. If the number of such committees is large enough, each might elect a member to another tier of representatives.

It would be a bottom-up, top-down, and close-knit organization. People who know each other on a small, interpersonal scale -- even if it's only via email -- are more likely to be activists. Each person gets the opportunity to develop leadership experience. Friendships are made. The creativity of group culture thrives. The more people involved, the more local is the basic group, and in-person interaction can replace the Internet.

(I wrote an article for OEN several years ago, with these ideas discussed in more detail. The need has only become more desperate: )

Can this actually work? What could be accomplished?

Those are practical questions, not theoretical questions -- questions that can only be answered by people getting involved. Let's keep talking and arguing about politics, the economy, the environment, but let's get practical too. Let's see what we can actually build together. Before the Internet this sort of startup would not have been possible. Now it is.

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A former visitant of UC Santa Cruz, former union boilermaker, ex-Marine, Vietnam vet, anti-war activist, dilettante in science with an earth-shaking theory on the nature of light (which no one will consider), philosopher in the tradition of (more...)

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