Activism is globally on the rise. Within a short time we saw the emergence of movements for democracy in China and against corruption in India. We experienced the dawn of the Occupy movement in the United States and the Idle No More movement in Canada. We witnessed the formation of the Indignados (15-M) in Spain as well as the Gezi Park protests in Turkey. And there are countless other examples around the world – all unplanned and without leaders in any traditional sense, bearing witness to people’s desire to have control over their own lives.
The traditional left has mainly ignored these developments, unable to interpret them in their established ideological frameworks and to adapt to a new spirit of people who do not seek to be led but who want to be free to decide for themselves. The new movements have inspired people all over the world, giving a sense that change is possible, but they have remained relatively isolated and their aspiration to change the world for the better has not yet found an organizational form that allows for long-term sustained and effectively coordinated efforts.
One of the characteristics of the system of repressive tolerance is that it allows people to protest, but insists that they formulate “demands”. If the protest movement gives in to that requirement, these demands are like an opening bid in a negotiating process with the powers that be. But these are negotiations between parties with very unequal power: the authorities have behind them the full potential violence of the state apparatus – riot police, and if that is not enough military forces. The final bid will be described as the ultimate compromise, but leaves their power intact.
Formulating demands will not bring us much further, unless we “ask the impossible”. That is, we should not only criticize what is wrong, but if we believe that “another world is possible” – the slogan of the World Social Forum – we also need a unifying vision of that other world. With that in mind, people at ZNet started a project called Reimagining Society. Over a period of many months, people contributed and discussed concrete ideas for a unifying vision. The process culminated in a poll, presenting what appeared to emerge as the consensus in the form of a sequence of “vision and strategy” statements with which the poll takers could indicate (dis)agreement, with in some cases alternatives for issues on which no consensus was apparent. Many thousands of visitors took the poll, with generally overwhelming support, and thousands also stating that if there was an organization promoting this vision they would consider joining it.
The start of IOPS
Encouraged by the response to the poll, the initiators prepared an editorially improved compilation of the vision and strategy statements of the poll that had garnered a majority of agreements, elevating it to the status of founding key documents of a new organization to be established, provisionally dubbed “International Organization for a Participatory Society”, or IOPS for short. They also collected enough money to have a website built for the organization.
IOPS is meant to offer a home for everyone who believes another world is possible, as sketched in our vision statement, and who is willing to work together on reaching it.
In a nutshell, our vision is based on the conviction that everyone is important and that every person should count and have equal say in issues regarding them. The aim of the social and economic organization should be to cater to the needs of all, with no group being privileged, in a way that respects both people and nature. The many issues that confront us, from exploitation to discrimination to the ravaging of the ecology and natural resources, all result from the power being in the hands of a small elite who cling to it, abusing it to maintain their privileged status at the expense of the many. Therefore, we believe that no single issue should be singled out and elevated as having a special status, but that the aim should be to give the whole system a radical make-over, dismantling all forms of privileged status and instead empowering everyone as much as possible to take control of their lives, all in a spirit of community.
Working alone, each of us can achieve only little. It is only when enough people come and work together that we can hope that our efforts will have far-reaching results. As IOPS was conceived by its initiators, it was to consist of local self-managing “chapters” formed by members living sufficiently close to each other to have regular face-to-face meetings, growing and constituting itself in a bottom-up fashion until sufficient weight would be reached to tie the organizational knot at the international level. Unfortunately, after a promising start in the first few months that saw a rapid increase in membership, growth has become slow and a sufficient concentration of members to form active local chapters has arisen in only a few places. Part of the problem is that almost nobody even knows that IOPS exists, and that we are mostly spread too thin to draw attention. Yet we remain hopeful that this is essentially a starting-up problem that will eventually be overcome.
Local chapters can and should be self-managing by using the methods of direct democracy. For chapters at higher levels, it is generally impractical or impossible to hold general assemblies in which all members attend. A possible model is to hold a convention attended by delegates from lower-level chapters.