I got a lot of input from many directions honing this commentary. I hope it can contribute to a process of diverse movement components agreeing on ways to work together most productively. I would very much like to discuss the points raised in the forums
Social struggle will never be perfectly choreographed but we can at least have broad norms regarding movement process that benefit all involved constituencies.
One desirable norm is that people influence decisions in proportion as the events being decided affect them. A minority should not impose itself by trumping other's choices. A majority should not dictate all ways to protest.
A second desirable norm is diversity. Movements should welcome many different approaches as people's right. They should recognize that what one doesn't agree with at the moment could in the long run prove superior, and that an exciting mix almost always improves on boring homogeneity.
Solidarity is a third desirable norm. Movement members should be civil to one another, but also care about every participant's well-being, conditions, views, and mutual interrelations.
So how do we mutually, democratically conduct large-scale movements including diverse and constituencies of different sizes and viewpoints?
In the immediate future, suppose that the progressive and left communities decide to have major demonstrations this spring around the Biotechnology industry and IMF and World Bank or in the summer at the presidential conventions. The anti-WTO movement, the anti-IMF/World Bank and anti-corporate movements, Greens, the Mumia, Peltier and prison movements, consumer movements, disability rights, anti-sweat shop movements, anti-racist movements, the women's movement, the queer movements, and so on, are all involved. The question arises, how can we all go to Washington, Philadelphia, or LA, and come out the other side stronger in every way?
One scenario says groups with the most money and outreach should decide tactics, who is welcome, and even what slogans are permitted. This doesn't elevate democracy, diversity, and solidarity.
A second scenario says we create a broad umbrella coalition around a laundry list of mutually agreed demands and actions that all participants accept. But what if two coalitions, or two coalitions and also two or three other important and differing organizations or networks come to town?
A third "self-managing" scenario favors protests becoming the sum total of their many components many priorities rather than embodying only a single organization's priorities or only the agenda of a single leading coalition. With this priority, the major organizations, coalitions, and constituencies involved in a major protest negotiate the final schedule which is neither what a few require nor only what everyone has in common - but is a mutually agreed amalgamation of everyone's agendas.
A rally highlights a speaker that some constituencies don't like. One stream of a march has banners with demands another stream doesn't celebrate. A street intersection is blocked by civil disobedience that some constituencies don't like. A building fields more militant tactics that only a small minority favors. But everyone understands that even as separate organizations and different constituencies and coalitions protest with different priorities, they all need to make room for and even welcome one another in ways that maximize mutual impact, that respect individual differences, and that diminish conflicts and internal disputes.
With this perspective, the process encourages the different organizations and coalitions working on massive future protests not only "to do their thing" to bring people and their own events to town, but also, to negotiate to incorporate as much diversity in shared venues as possible and, when that isn't possible, to incorporate controversial activities in separated venues, without curtailing each other's agendas.
The marchers march, those sitting in sit in, the direct action advocates do direct actions. Different participating organizations and coalitions bring their own demands, speakers, and methods. Each does not impose on the rest. The process of talking through the tactics and focuses that different constituencies, organizations, and coalitions bring to the overall project hopefully brings at least mutual understanding and mutual attention to not usurping one another's agendas. When constituencies need their own separate space, it is provided. When efforts can occur in a shared space, excellent. Decisions come about via open discussion of the involved organizing groups, coalitions, networks, and constituencies. The people who are the demonstration, who are the protest, who come from far and wide, know what is going on and why.
Doesn't it make sense, then, that on top of whatever other approaches participants bring to major movement projects, there always be appended an over-arching commitment to negotiations and planning among the different components to seek as much solidarity and mutual respect as can be attained?
Yes - I know - there is still the problem of ruling out police provocation and the like. But I think that open negotiation in a climate advocating solidarity and diversity plus self management, will so isolate out-of-touch elements as to make their exclusion obvious to all, even while incorporating the widest array, most exciting assemblage, and most powerful combination of forces possible.
Real participatory democracy isn't easy, particularly when we are operating in a grotesquely authoritarian and regimented society. But even with all its dangers and difficulties real participatory democracy is by far the best chance we have to effectively utilize our talents, commitments, and energies on behalf of winning valuable immediate gains while building movements that can go even further.