What do you Imagine?
Given that you are looking at this website, I suppose that you are disappointed with the social and political situation in our country and in our state. You may be looking for ideas or you may have your own already. Your ideas may be new or shared by others. They may be incomplete, as mine are, or you could be convinced that certain remedies are obvious. You may feel powerless.
In October 2011, ten years after the 911 catastrophe, the 'Occupy Wall Street' movement spread, and groups formed in Grand Rapids and Muskegon. It was exciting to see people unite in their determination to take the power that would belong to them in an actual democracy. It reminded me of the anti-establishment days of the late 1960s when resistance to the U.S. 'military industrial complex' and racism promised to check the fascism that was freely growing with JFK and MLK out of the way.
The early 'General Assembly' meetings were large. Ninety-nine percenters were passionate and thrilled to express themselves through artful posters, apparel, and the 'people's-mic'. But the exuberance turned sour. The crowds diminished. Shrinking groups held out hope for real change until they too vanished into the background. I was one of the two last members of the Muskegon group, which began with over a hundred highly energized participants.
We could list many possible reasons for the decline. Of course, the early count included people who were only curious, and politicians just interested in the photo op. But clearly, a huge section of our society was fed up with the political structure and power distribution. The sense that these groups were about to change the world in a deliberate and dramatic way, was undeniable. So, what happened? Lack of a clearly expressed purpose, frustration with a poorly understood consensus model, and personality conflicts all contributed to declining numbers. But something else prevented these people from working together.
During one of the early large group meetings, a woman I recognized as a regular attendee took the 'mic'. Her husband had spoken in previous gatherings and seemed very committed to the cause, (which was of course, 'Democracy, not Corpocracy'). Her announcements surprised and baffled me. She said, in tears, that she was quitting because nobody had cared to listen to her. That was the last time I saw either of them. This wasn't the only time. Many others quit in a similar fashion. And this wasn't unique to Muskegon and Grand Rapids, as witnessed through visits to other groups and the 'Inter-Occupy' gatherings. What was happening was exactly what my friend's wife described before she quit. A small number of extroverts would always seem to take control of the meetings, even though this wasn't their intent at all.
We asked ourselves what we could do differently. We needed to stay together in order to accomplish anything. Our objective was democracy. Listening to one another was key. We invited discourse from everyone and strove for consensus at every meeting. What more could we do?
That brings us to the present era. While collaborating with students at the University of Michigan in September 2019, we defined and prioritized three objectives in order to focus our efforts towards building an effective and powerful organization. An initial phone conversation had the consultants ask to what degree the GP-MI implemented two-way communication with its membership, assuming that to some degree we did. I described our intention to implement the Web 2.0 philosophy within discussion forums, the SCC decision making platform, and website content management. The consultants recognized these as necessary and basic but seemed to imply that we were probably not ready to be talking with them yet.
Our list of objectives was detailed in an email from one of the specialists, Michael Zhang. You can see that 'Communication throughout the Party' is a top goal, listed under 'Organizational Improvements'. Personally, I believe the list is upside-down; that our #3 should be #1. 'Growing the Party' and 'Managing the Money' are only realistic for a vital organization, and that cannot exist without effective communication, which, in our case, admittedly, has not yet been established.
A vital organization is the only thing that can generate the resources, devise strategies, and do the work that will bring our shared goals to fruition.
We tend to focus only on the 'number of members', without considering who they are. But even a large list of individuals who receive and sometimes respond to requests for support does not make for a vital organization.
Two things are needed. A carefully considered and clearly defined organizational structure, and engaged participation throughout the network. The organizational structure is being crafted by the Handbook Committee. The network of engaged participants needs to be built. It will depend upon effective two-way communication.
Charismatic leaders, even of of the same caliber as the Pied Piper of Hamelin do not make a vital organization. It's too bad that our culture continues to fantasize about superheroes. That instills the notion that a good king would make everything right. I wish Hollywood would change their theme, and instead of Spiderman, Black Panther, Zorro, or the Scarlet Pimpernel, would portray the real achievements that are possible only through a collaboration of many different people. Rather than dreaming of the Lion King, we might learn to depend upon one another.
The idea that powerful leaders make for a powerful organization is thrown into question by the biologist William Muir's study of chickens, as described in author Margaret Heffernan's TED talk, whereby selectively breeding for high egg-producing chickens backfired and left mostly dead chickens.
Many systems operate fine with one-way communication. A chili-dog franchise owner, for example, should not consult hired workers over recipe and distribution processes. The military certainly wouldn't look for soldier feedback while planning the next assault.
An organization that primarily seeks to advance democracy through volunteer efforts is especially different. Members need to trust one another; trusting that their opinions will be respected and that their contributions are investments in a system in which they share ownership. This relies solely on effective two-way communication.
Wise people are sensitive to corporate and government ruses that present what appear to be two-way communication opportunities, but are schemes to deceive or otherwise sway public opinion. Questions are filtered or devised ahead of time, sketchy questions from the unprepared public are answered by very long prepared responses. Often video recordings of the events are not permitted, with only edited versions offered afterwards. Two of my examples involve the Muskegon County Jail initiative and the Fracking industry.
Authentic two-way communication requires a genuine commitment and willingness to get to know and accept who these members are, including minority and marginalized people. They should be encouraged to speak to us, for themselves, in their own words, in public, with the assurance that what they say will be respected and treated with dignity.
For clarity take the smallest organization, a partnership between two lovers. It is easy to see how top down, one-way communication, or hoax will discount the quality of the alliance.
For these reasons, the GP-MI website offers three channels for real two-way communication between its members and officers: Discussion Forums, The SCC decision making platform, and website content management through the publishing of articles.
I hope that people whom I may not even know yet will take a chance and tell us what their world is like and what they think we, working together, should do about it.
I'm talking to you. I want to know what it is that you imagine.