“Which movement should I join? When can I do that? I have no time.
Why should I join a movement? Does it make sense?”
I think these are the main questions and comments we, as activists, are facing when we want people to participate in our movement.
Let's start with a personal example.
I'm participating in a movement called People Affected by their Mortgage (PAH Plataforma de Afectados por la Hipotecain Spanish) and when someone comes to me to talk about the purpose of PAH, I first start explaining the problem a growing number of families is facing in Spain and we usually agree that's unfair, things should change. Then, the conversation is about her own participation and I can see how skeptical the person in front of me is, I usually answer by a "if you do nothing, nothing will change", and then she replies "nothing can be done, none can do anything, it's a waste of time".
The situation in which we have activists on one side saying "people don't want to do anything" and, on the other side skeptical people more and more convinced by the Margaret Thatcher's strong "there's no alternative" is quite common.
Last week, I read on the Spanish newspaper EL PAIS a statistic from a poll (Metroscopia) in May 2012 which deserves a very close attention: 30% of Spanish people think there's no alternative (versus 21% in April). In spite of the great Spanish movements started in May 15th 2011 in all the main cities in Spain, more and more people believe nothing can change.
I bet this is a quite common feeling among the population around the world.
So, as activists we must think about why people don't want to participate.
My guess is, this is what I check in different assemblies from several organizations, because participating is not attractive, people only see how long, hard and frustrating this is going to be and maybe without any positive outcomes at the end…and they are probably right in too many cases.
But, I think there are two other important issues as well.
The second one is the dynamic of the organizations which use to reproduce hierarchies in an explicit or implicit way. You can easily check it when you look at an assembly or meeting of a movement a few months after it was born, you can see who is talking, who's not, who is present, who's not. Saying it differently, how many people are participating and who is participating.
The third one, as important as the first two concerns the long term aim, I mean the one which answers the question: OK, instead of capitalism, what do you want?
I think we can't build a large movement without dealing with those issues of participation, we must take into account them if we are to spend our energy in a movement. A movement must be inspiring and make feel we get something from being part of it and we are part of something bigger that will improve our own life now and not only tomorrow.
That's why the International Organization for a Participatory Society provides some partial answers to those questions.
Concretely, it answers the question “what do you want?” in the long term view and the dynamic issue thanks to the institutional compromises defined by the principles of self-management (Decision making influence in proportion to the degree you are affected by a decision) and the balanced job complex.
These principles can give a view of what could be a fair organization which encourage participation providing the tools for it. Being part of a big movement gives the feeling what we do is worthwhile because it will help us and future generations.
I say IOPS provides only some partial answers to those questions because our job is to figure out what will follows, I want to talk about strategy. I think being part of a movement sometimes can be hard and frustrating but it doesn't have to be this way all the time. For the consistency of the organization, we can imagine activities that make us happy to be together, to enjoy sharing some time with people, at the end of the day to become a community of people who share the same values.
Questions like "Why joining a movement? Why giving some of your time makes sense?" are logical and deserve better answers than making judgments -as I too frequently hear them from activists- for non participating.
So, to me being a member of PAH (People Affected by their Mortgage) makes partially sense, it makes totally sense when I know it's part of a strategy to reach a better society.