By Michael Albert at Feb 09, 2010
I have already endorsed, along with many notables and activists, the Proposal for a Participatory Socialist International and have been working hard on urging others to do so, as well. Will you?
Many people I know say, roughly, “Well of course you endorsed, I will too.” Some, however, say, “Why would you bother?” or even, “How could you?” And then there is another and largest group who don’t explicitly endorse or not endorse. They simply ignore the proposal and all communications about it.
We are no longer able to use serious tracking programs to record ZCom user levels because, given the scale of the site, reliable programs of that sort would use too much server time and disk space. Still, extrapolating from a few years back when we had tracking software in place, a conservative estimate is that about 40,000 people a day use ZCom and about 400,000 people access the site each month. If the composition of users is roughly the same as a couple of years ago, about two-thirds of that total is inside the U.S., while the other third accesses the site from countries around the world. Of course, the total per month could be considerably higher or somewhat lower, but I think 400,000 users a month is a reasonable estimate.
In that light, if you look at the vision and strategy poll we have online, you will easily see overwhelming support in the poll for the proposal’s ideas. Of course the poll takers are a self selected group willing to spend time answering. But even if we are very cautious about guesstimating ZCom user preferences, we can still take some insights from people’s answers.
For example, instead of assuming that 90% or even 95% of all ZCom users agree that the ideas in the proposal should at least be part of a discussion leading to a new International and would start out in such a discussion supporting virtually all those proposal ideas - let’s instead assume that only half that proportion would even like the proposal’s ideas.
That would mean, however, that just under 200,000 people using the site in the month of February, if they acted only on the basis of the features the proposal advocates and the discussion it seeks, would endorse it. That’s quite a number.
In just a couple of days of public availability the number of endorsers has climbed to over 820, which is incredible compared to other comparable efforts at attaining serious agreement from a wide audience. What makes it even more incredible, however, is that the number who have read the whole proposal is only a little more than the number who have endorsed it. Almost no one examines it, that is, and then chooses not to endorse. Nonetheless, I think we can predict that a massive level of endorsements won’t happen. So I think we have to ask, Why not? Why won’t ZCom users express these preferences visibly, easily, and in full? The 820 current endorsers will climb, maybe to 1,000, maybe even to 2,000, but at this point I admit that I very much doubt it will climb all the way to 200,000. But why is that - and can we do anything to improve the end result?
Let’s return to the reasons people have actually offered for so far not endorsing the proposal:
(1) Many say it is premature to try to create a new International. They feel we aren’t ready.
While this may be true, it seems irrelevant to the Proposal for a Participatory Socialist International, which is about any effort undertaken by anyone, at any time, to create a new International.
If an effort doesn’t begin until much later than this April, as anyone with this objection to endorsing would prefer, the proposal would nonetheless remain applicable. If, on the other hand, an effort to create a new International begins just weeks from now, which seems likely given the Venezuelan call, wouldn’t it be better to help enrich the discussion, than to say “I think the effort is premature so I will stand off to the side?”
(2) Some say they are worried about the impact a new International might have on the WSF.
This explanation I find confusing, too. Why wouldn’t a new International be a natural complement to the WSF? Isn’t new organization one of the things the WSF was aimed at inspiring? And wouldn’t a new International be a recipient of WSF insights and ideas, thus giving those ideas a fertile place to come to fruition? And wouldn’t it promote the WSF?
It seems to me anyone who likes the WSF should also like the idea of a new International that embodies the features put forth in the proposal. Why wouldn’t urging consideration of the proposal’s features flow naturally from a concern about relations to the WSF, rather than be prevented by that concern?
(3) Many say they are worried that a Venezuelan hosted effort to found a new International will set up a flawed, old-style entity that will do little good and perhaps even some harm. The left has had four Internationals in the past, and every one of them was horribly flawed. So why should I think a new one created now would be better?
There are lots of reasons. For example, the times are different. Insights prevalent now transcend earlier views. The practices of the Venezuelans are, I believe, remarkably innovative and forward looking, as compared to past hosts and creators. And perhaps most important, it is now possible for the “rank and file” to seek participation rather than leaving everything to notable figures!
But, nonetheless, suppose the person with this fear, disagrees. In that case, why not advocate features that would be desirable and that would rule out the old style structures? It seems to me this explanation of not endorsing is actually, ironically, a good reason to endorse.
(4) Some others say they don’t have any free time to give to another major undertaking, so it is better entirely avoid involvement.
I hear this and wonder, how is endorsing by clicking a link a major undertaking? But more, this explanation implies the only thing anyone should do is that which they can give tremendous time to. But why should that be? Some things we can and will give more time to, some less. There is nothing wrong with that.
Yes, endorsing, and then also discussing the issues and urging others to endorse, and more important, later participating in on-going discussions within an actual project to create a new International, is certainly more likely to help that process then simply endorsing and then doing nothing more. But not everyone has the time to do all that. If you lack the time, isn’t endorsing better for prospects than not endorsing?
(5) Finally, many say petitions never accomplish anything. They refuse to endorse even though they like the content and hope that it will be taken seriously, due to believing endorsing will achieve nothing.
But this proposal will succeed if lots of people read and think about it, thereby developing their ideas on the topics. It will have even greater success, if the number of endorsers is so high that there will be many folks who have been affected by the proposal and who will bring variants on its ideas to the table. It will succeed even more, if there is a general receptivity to addressing ideas that have such wide endorsement as those presented in the proposal.
Since this proposal doesn’t have to convince enemies of justice and participation, but only advocates of justice and participation - it seems to me quite likely to succeed.
So what does the above tell us?
Suppose 80% of those who would like the proposal’s contents assessed by any project to found an International, disagree with me about one or more of the above reasons for not endorsing. That would mean 160,000 folks would refuse to endorse for one or more of the above reasons. I think that is way too high an estimate, but, let’s say I am wrong and it is roughly accurate. That would still leave 40,000 ZCom users Zin February, who would have very good reason to endorse.
Are there other reasons why they wouldn’t endorse? There must be - but until people offer them, it is hard to know what they are. My guess something subtle I am missing is obstructing many folks.
Here is one possibility. Perhaps the reason is doubting our own legitimacy and fearing that in victory we might actually make more of a mess than the mess we oppose. Perhaps one reason people lay back from participating, even in simple choices like endorsing what they actually, in fact, agree with - has to do with this type feeling?
At any rate, if 40,000 people, or even just a fraction of that, endorse this proposal, it will be an unprecedented show of shared views and will obviously enlarge discussion and likely get the views fully addressed, refined, adapted, and even in one degree or another adopted. So what do we do to help make that happen, supposing some of us have some time to lend to the task?
Mainly, we can discuss and advocate the relevant ideas and assert the merits of people endorsing if they like those ideas, whether verbally directly to people we know, or in essays or blog posts, more broadly. But an additional way to further the process is for folks who aren’t endorsing, and even more so, folks who aren’t even looking at the proposal, to please indicate why. If you do that, your reasons can be addressed, or perhaps your reasons will prove powerful and compelling. Either way, we all get to move forward more insightfully.
So, please, can you take a little time and read the proposal? It is here:
Can you then either endorse it, and perhaps, if you have time, blog about why you did - or, if you choose not to endorse it, can you please find a way to explain why not, even if only briefly. You could do it here in the blog system, as one option.
A new International is not a little innovation. It is a very big step forward that could have powerful ramifications for years to come. To be part of the left, to be eager for a better world, and to watch the process unfold, but not even offer views about what one would like to see emerge - I don’t understand. And now there is an easy and relatively quick way to offer some views and provoke more involvement. Please, use it.