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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.

Reimagining Society

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.

Management of the international chapter

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.

The initiators of IOPS did not formulate any concrete rules or procedures for self-management at the international level. The idea was that a “founding convention” of properly mandated delegates from the active local chapters would lay down such rules in the form of a constitution for IOPS. Other tasks for this convention would be to settle on a definitive, possibly very different, name for the organization, and to make amendments – or settle on a procedure for making amendments – to the three key documents (mission, vision, structure and program).

Clearly, for this to be meaningful, it would have to wait for enough working local chapters to be formed. The initial expectation was that this would take one or maybe two years. But what to do in the meantime, if some serious decision had to be taken that could not possibly be postponed till a founding convention? To address this issue, the initiators petitioned a number of people to form an Interim Committee to be consulted for such exceptional cases, to serve as place holders for the general membership until such time that the organization would have grown enough, say to 10,000 members, to hold the foreseen founding convention.

But, as already stated, the initial rapid growth slowed down. After the first year, it was clear that we would not reach 10,000 members in the next year, and probably also not the year after. A poll was held under all members to determine preconditions for a founding convention, which set considerably lower targets than thought realistic before – and a deadline for meeting these targets set one year later. However, by the time the deadline came around, in June 2014, we still fell quite short of these targets.

What to do? In a subsequent poll, a majority of respondents indicated that they felt we should drop the set preconditions for holding a founding convention, and that responsibility and initiative in coming events should be transferred from the interim committee to the working chapters and overall membership. Since then, members of the working chapters and a few others have held regular online chats to ensure that central services, such as the website, remain operational. Any decisions are taken by consensus, but for the rest there are currently no laid-down procedures. As time proceeds, some rules may crystallize that can be presented for discussion to the general membership. The idea of a founding convention has been put on indefinite hold. Opinions on whether we need to put some process in place for central decision making, as would have been the task of a founding convention, are divided.

For more on the Interim Consultative Committee (ICC), see: