Tuesday, June 1, 2004

Rant on cooperation and factionalism in activism

I had a bit of an email chat with an activist from another part of Canada today. The discussion was mostly 'business', but I commented at one point about the insufficient cohesion/communication between local (Calgary) activists/groups.

My correspondent replied:
Drag about the cohesion thing - too many communities divided already.
That comment triggered a rant on my part:

We're not so much 'divided', just not actively connected. The new Activist Network collective are still struggling to get things moving forward, and - separately from that - some groups are not bothering to tell others what they've got going on (which is an eternal source of frustration for me).

After all these years, I still firmly believe that the most critical thing we have to do as "activists" is to keep talking with each other. Regardless of ideological or tactical differences, we must maintain the dialogue if we are to have any chance of succeeding in the long term. Most of us seem to at least be "pro-democracy" (real, participatory, democracy - not the elected-dictatorship crap of the dominator culture). Isn't dialogue among diverse interests the very foundation of democracy? Shouldn't we try to embody the goals we strive for?

It's particularly frustrating when it's super-easy to just add some addresses to the Cc/Bcc list on email when sending out meeting/event/action notices. I understand and respect the need for keeping things to a "close circle" when there are issues of surprise actions or illegal/c.d. actions - but those are a fraction of a percent of the activism that goes on in this town.

We have everything to gain by working together, and nothing to gain by dividing. Yes, it's incredibly hard work to work in mass movement - but that work is necessary if we're going to make real long-term change.

For me, it's like with politics/government. If you want something easy, with minimal work, it's called fascism. If you want democracy, it's hard work almost every day of your life. Speaking as an almost religiously lazy person, I think democracy is more than worth the work.

Sadly, some of the most needed work in movements right now is "anti-factionalism". It seems to me that there is a frequent lack of recognition for one of our most powerful tools: compromise.

The word compromise has been framed as negative for most people. In the dominant culture of individualism worship, compromise is presented as a diminishment of the individual - a taking away from what the individual needs/wants. In reality, when approached fairly and with honest intent, compromise is the best possible outcome. It gives us the maximum positive results while minimizing harm.

In the consensus approach to democratic process (an approach that seems to be hailed by a growing number - if not the majority - of activists these days), the optimal outcome is compromise. Many groups seem willing to apply this within their internal organizing; does it not make sense to apply that across movement(s)?

The majority of my own work has been focused on building connections across diverse interests, ideologies & tactics (e.g., Activist Network) and preventing factionalization (e.g., G8 ACT, Peace Calgary). Thankfully, there hasn't been any notable factionalism in Calgary yet, but I intend to be here if that day comes, too.

Probably the biggest challenge we face as activists is recognizing that some of what we struggle for will be lost. We won't win every individual struggle. If we individually cling desperately to our own interests, our own issues, our own priorities - we risk losing the whole. It's only when we come together, and find the powerful compromise amongst our individual efforts to form the whole movement that we may be able to achieve the fundamental goals of global peace and justice to build a sustainable existence for all.

(Copied from my postings to the Wayground Blog.)

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