On a recent speaking trip I repeatedly encountered the query, what is IOPS doing? What can I do by way of IOPS if I join that I cannot do as or more easily without joining? What is the IOPS program for me to plug into?
I admit, I found it frustrating, even disturbing, that people wanted a fledgling institution to essentially give them a set of tasks to work on, without their having had any say in the origination and development of the character of those tasks. Still, one has to relate to what people feel, not simply what one wishes they felt, so, I thought about an answer and offered it, often.
What can, or ought, IOPS program look like, at this early stage of its development?
The first thing to highlight is that many possible components of program would make no sense. To say, for example, IOPS should have as a priority ending the war in Afghanistan, or redirecting budget expenditures around the world to end the current crisis, or pressing media all over to report and editorialize better and in response to the needs of different constituencies, or improving international policies vis a vis immigration, or battling for policies to curb global warming, and so on, would certainly make sense as far as the merits of the priorities are concerned. They would, however, just as certainly make no sense, at least to me, as statements of focus for IOPS as a whole. There are established, large and capable organizations, movements, and struggles, on all these and countless other fronts. It certainly makes sense for people in IOPS to relate to those efforts and to learn by participating in them, and to contribute to them, as well, of course. But for IOPS to announce its prioritization of any or all of these agendas would be utterly hollow, as well as inconsistent, it seems to me.
The inconsistency would be that it would deny self management. For self management, there needs to be means for an involved, aware, and committed membership to deliberate and arrive at priorities and paths. More, there also needs to be sufficient involved, aware, and committed membership for its allegiances actions in these well trod areas to matter. It seems to me that none of that exists, yet. Even more so, what also doesn’t exist is infrastructure to sustain and make real such commitments beyond mere rhetoric. Of course IOPS members are for progressive aims such as those mentioned, obviously. Who does that need to be said to? But equally as obviously, it doesn’t, yet, add much to existing efforts for IOPS to say it is for such things. Does it imply that each member needs to join some campaign already out there? The commitments already make clear the importance of that. Does it imply each member should join with the rest of the members and create new campaigns duplicating what is already out there, but much smaller? Are there enough of us for either to make sense? Are we organized enough for either to make sense?
Okay, maybe different people will answer these questions differently. My own views are that these type pronouncements of grand program or time spent duplicating existing efforts rather than people simply becoming involved in them would make little sense, in addition to arising from little participation and practice. Yes, I would like IOPS to be able to help launch, or even take the lead in launching an international campaign for shorter work week and associated redistribution of income and skills, as well, that would differ from anything now happening, be broader, and be deeper. And yes, I would like IOPS to be able to help launch, or even take the lead in launching an international campaign to press the press, seeking major transformations in mainstream media via massive campaigns and projects, all around the world. But, the reality is, such real activity is still a ways off.
What then, does make sense, even now, both for its own merits and to lay the groundwork for more to come?
Well, how about creating chapters? For some reason many folks hear that and roll their eyes as if it isn’t real activism, real program. Well, chapter building entails people finding other members in their geographic vicinity and doing the hard work of getting together, starting to meet, raising levels of confidence, awareness, and trust, and establishing local operating norms for involvement. This is all very hard but incredibly valuable. Those who say they want things to do - why doesn’t this count? This is in fact the heart and soul of organizing - not holding rallies, making demands, etc. - which are also important, but are more like the arms and legs of organizing - unworkable without heart and soul, first.
Next, suppose a chapter arrives at ten, twenty or more members. Now it would seem possible for that chapter not to have international program, or national program, of course, but to have local program, arrived at in a self managed participatory way by its own members. There could be energy collectively applied to many programmatic matters including, for example, (1) self development of the membership’s knowledge and skills; (2) meeting the membership’s immediate needs; (3) outreach in the form of face to face meetings with others, speaking events for others, and other events that also seek new members and to raise awareness, etc.; and (4) finally, yes, even initiating local campaigns, say around foreclosures, or at a local workplace, or pollution dump site, or whatever.
And so we return to all the folks saying, I don’t want to join, until there is program. Or I don’t want to give time, until there is program. My reply... make some program. Going to a demo is nice. But to call that real program, and say that organizing people, and structure, and the like, isn’t, is, honestly, horribly confused.
The hardest task in the long history of any revolutionary organization certainly include initially getting going by developing sufficient membership and awareness and skill and trust and commitments to be able to impact broader social relations in a sustained way. There are no magic steps to viable scale. You can’t go from disparate individuals to mass campaigns with nothing in between - or, at least, you can do it, and then sustain and enlarge on it. You can certainly join mass campaigns, work on them, learning lessons, making ties, etc., which is good. You can also develop local membership and local program, which is great. And when there is a lot of the latter, perhaps regional or even national campaigns could be undertaken. And finally international.
I am myself, regarding these matters, right where I was when the IOPS internet site first went online, and then, for point of reference, let’s say three months later. If between then and now, everyone had spend lots of time talking to - or even writing for, giving talks for, and otherwise reaching out to - two or three potential new members a month, recruiting even just one of those a month into IOPS - by now we would be talking very seriously about the relative merits of the programs many chapters were actively pursuing. If efforts among small groups and by individuals to become more confident in their views and skills had also been proceeding, and development of means of mutual aid among members, then all those new people would be ready to act, and eager. We would in that case now be talking about which local efforts had sufficient resonance and merit that they might be combined into national campaigns, and even into international ones. We would now be taking lessons from real experiences and seeing how to apply them. A convention would be on our near term agenda.
There is no other activity that I can see having plausibly been undertaken - no other programmatic involvements - over this past span of time that could have had that type impact, than the outreach and internal development efforts mentioned above. And the same holds for the next six months, as best I can tell.
Either we get with talking, holding gatherings, talking, having public events, talking, joining in campaigns that already exist, talking, and writing too - and then also thinking through procedures for internal skills and knowledge development and acting on our insights including to meet needs of members - or we are not going anywhere. I do believe the situation is that simple. I do believe the situation is that complex.
IOPS has enormous potential. But IOPS can drift into the ship-wrecking shoals of would have, could have, should have, very easily, then sinking into oblivion. Alternatively, IOPS can climb onto the raging currents of outreach and self development, as it grows into relevance. Which path we take is up to us.