This blog is part of an online learning platform which includes the Pathways to New Community Paradigms Wiki and a number of other Internet based resources to explore what is termed here 'new community paradigms' which are a transformational change brought about by members of a community.

It is intended to offer resources and explore ideas with the potential of purposefully directing the momentum needed for communities to create their own new community paradigms.

It seeks to help those interested in becoming active participants in the governance of their local communities rather than merely passive consumers of government service output. This blog seeks to assist individuals wanting to redefine their role in producing a more direct democratic form of governance by participating both in defining the political body and establishing the policies that will have an impact their community so that new paradigms for their community can be chosen rather than imposed.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Organizing to Achieve Social Change through Digital Citizenship

The last blog post finished off with Zeynep Tufekci and her TED video, Online social change: easy to organize, hard to win.  As was said, the video deserves its own post. The words that follow, however, have been summarized and edited from the original transcript. 

Tufekci speaks to the many challenges facing digital approaches to democracy across the globe. The problems that we face in the United States though are different from those faced by protesters in Turkey in both kind and degree. We have far greater capacity to establish ourselves, our weaknesses are more likely to be internal rather than external threats. 

Tufekci speaks of how a global awareness campaign can start with a network of tweets or that Facebook page can serve as a hub for massive mobilization. It can also do the same for a local effort and these opportunities should not be discounted as they can be scaled up if not inflated before doing so. As she says, everything can be organized partially with the help of new technologies. “Digital connectivity was used for everything from food to donations.”

Their achievements, their outcomes, however, are not really proportional to the size and energy they seemingly inspire. Hopes rightfully raised are not really matched by what they were able to achieve as end results.  The problem, as she points out is that while social media helps empower protest, it paradoxically can also help weaken them through the very way technology empowers social movements.

Why then haven't successful outcomes become more likely if digital technology makes things easier for movements? Being easier to mobilize does not always mean being easier to achieve results. Overcoming this requires deep diving into what makes success possible over the long term and applying the lessons in multiple domains.

Tufekci compares the Occupy movement of 2011 with the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Occupy movement started in 2011, with a single email from a magazine, Adbusters, that had 90,000 subscribers. In two months there were 600 ongoing occupations and protests in the USA.  After a month from Occupation in Zuccotti Park, one of the largest global protests ever organized was held across 82 countries, 950 cities. Years after Occupy sparked a global conversation about inequality, many of the policies that fueled it though were still in place (or are now being put back in place by the Trump administration). 

The Civil Rights Movement in 1955 Alabama protested the racially segregated bus system through boycott (market sector), navigating a minefield of political dangers, facing repression and overcoming, won major policy concessions, navigating and innovating through risks. 

Tufekci uses the metaphor of the Internet being our Sherpa helping to climb Mt. Everest by taking the fast routes and not realizing the benefits of slower work that goes into organizing all those daunting, tedious logistical but still essential tasks.

The Civil Rights Movement created the kind of organization that could think collectively and make hard decisions together, create consensus and innovates, and maybe even more crucially, keep going together through differences. The Civil Rights Movement innovated tactically, on-the-ground actions from boycotts to lunch counter sit-ins to pickets to marches to freedom rides. 

The painstaking, long-term work that put on the March on Washington in 1963, where Martin Luther King gave his famous "I have a dream" speech, 1963, wasn't just a march or a powerful speech, it also made those in power realize they had to take not just the march, but the capacity signaled by that March, seriously.

Occupy's global marches, in comparison, were organized in two weeks, but didn't necessarily convey long term commitment, instead one sees a great deal of discontent. 

The magic is in the capacity to work together, think together collectively, which can only be built over time. Movements that scale up very quickly without the organizational base that can see them through the challenges are like startups that get very big without knowing what to do next, and which rarely manage to shift tactically because they don't have the depth of capacity to weather such transitions.

Today's social movements want to operate informally, avoiding institutional leadership, with many wanting to stay out of politics because they fear corruption and cooptation.

Tufekci agrees that they have a point. Modern representative democracies are being strangled in many countries by powerful interests. But operating this way makes it hard for grassroots organizations to sustain over the long term and exert leverage over the system. This leads to frustrated protesters dropping out, and even more corrupt politics. Part of this arises from the complexity of both the problems and the environments in which they exist and the inability of our institutions to meet these challenges because they double down on complicated top down management approaches to addressing them. 

Politics and especially democracy without an effective challenge to power or the status quo hobbles, because the causes that have inspired the modern recent movements are becoming more and more crucial.

Tufekci believes that it is not true that the problem is today's movements are formed by people not taking as many risks as before. I agree that is not the problem. The problem is not realizing the unintended consequences within the system that arise from taking risks or not taking risks. 

She also has an argument with Malcolm Gladwell about today's protesters forming weaker virtual ties. Leaving that until later, I am not sure the two perspectives are as mutually exclusive as they might seem to be. 

All of these good intentions and bravery and sacrifice by itself are not going to be enough to bring about the change needed.  Movements have to move beyond participation at great scale very fast and move to the next level, even if it is at a small local level,  of how to think together collectively, develop strong policy proposals, create consensus, figure out the political steps and relate them to leverage the systems needing to be changed. 

Digital awareness-raising is great because changing minds is the bedrock of changing politics. In New Zealand, a group of young people is developing a platform called Loomio for participatory decision making at scale. In Argentina, an open-source platform called DemocracyOS is bringing participation to parliaments and political parties. Both can work with large and small scale efforts. They are great, and we need more, but the answer won't just be better online decision-making. To update democracy, we are going to need to innovate at every level, from the organizational to the political to the social and in every sector of our democracy. 

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