The movement & its culture – an optimistic view


Richard Moore


The movement & its culture - an optimistic view

When thousands of anti-globalization protestors gathered
recently in Prague, there were many questions still to be
settled regarding protest tactics and related matters.  A
three-hour open meeting was held in which 3,000 people
participated - and the issues were settled satisfactorily by
consensus. Most of the participants had never been to such a
protest before, and were not familiar with a consensus
process.  Nonetheless an effective collaborative space was
soon established, and business proceeded in an orderly
fashion.  I suggest that this was an amazing accomplishment,
deserving of some attention.  For a 3,000-person meeting to
even be attempted seems out of the ordinary, but for it to
be productive seems almost unimaginable.

What we are seeing here is evidence of a remarkable movement
culture. This culture is based on respectful listening to
all viewpoints, the use of consensus, and the belief that
every individual has the same importance as every other in
the decision-making process.  The culture is non-
hierarchical, looks to no singular leaders, and is based on
no particular ideology.  It comes with no meeting manual, or
formally agreed procedures, but is propagated organically,
in face-to-face interactions.  As seen in Prague, the
culture has the ability to take hold, even when many of the
participants are newcomers.  The culture is extremely
well-suited to the needs of a diverse global movement, and
participants report that it imparts a palpable sense of
personal empowerment.

Of particular importance is the ability of the culture to
avoid divisiveness - the breaking up of movement energy into
competing factions.  Even over the emotionally-laden issue
of 'violence' (window breaking and such), groups are able to
discuss their deeply felt differences openly - and then
agree to respect one other by keeping their actions separate
in agreed ways.  This inclusiveness gives the movement some
unique strengths.  Internally, it enables the movement to
act with a high degree of coherence and unity, despite
differences in beliefs and priorities. Externally, the
inclusiveness gives the movement the potential to reach out
to a wide variety new constituencies. 

Let us consider, for a moment, how one of the big
anti-globalization protests gets organized.  In the host
city, various local groups work together to obtain parade
routes, meeting spaces, and campground and lodging
accommodations.  All over the world, various groups make
arrangements for their own transportation, and coordinate
lodging needs with those in the host city.  Meanwhile,
various organizations in different places offer non-violence
training courses for those planning to participate.  Others
prepare workshops and talks to be given as part of the
event, and still others make arrangements to provide
alternative media coverage.  Email lists and websites are
set up to distribute and exchange information about the
planned actions and to inform participants about anticipated
police tactics.  All of these activities are autonomous from
one another, with each group acting on its own initiative
and making its own decisions.  There is no central
organization structure, and yet the activities of all blend
effectively into a coherent and efficient project effort.

These international events show that the movement, without a
centralized organization, is capable of successfully
carrying out complex collaborative projects.  So far the
projects undertaken by the movement have been either street
protests, as in Prague, or conferences, such as the recent
"World Social Form" in Porto Alegre, Brazil. But, supposing
the movement grows and begins to develop a sense of
direction and strategy, it will need to carry out other
kinds of projects.  These might include strikes (industrial
actions), boycotts, university teach-ins, outreach
campaigns, new political parties, or whatever - it is too
early to predict.  But whatever path the movement takes, its
~collective competence~ bodes well for its success.  The
movement culture is a ~can do~ culture.

The movement culture is also a ~can survive~ culture. With
its decentralized structure, the movement cannot be crippled
by the arrest (or assassination) of a few key leaders, or by
the closing down of central organizing points.  Infiltrators
and provocateurs can wend their way into the movement, but
their influence is minimized by the use of consensus, and
there is no leadership apparatus for them to subvert or
capture.  They can carry out individual acts, in an attempt
to discredit the movement, but the movement culture gives
them few points of leverage from which to amplify their
influence further.

People come to the movement from a variety of different
concerns - around environmental destruction, multinational
sweatshops, unemployment, the undemocratic nature of the WTO
& IMF, the weakening of national sovereignty, excessive
corporate power, and others. The common thread seems to be a
realization that the process of globalization is worsening
all the various concerns, and hence the negative media
label, 'anti-globalization', seems to be fair
characterization of what currently unifies the movement.

If the movement is to become a vehicle for real change in
our societies, then it will presumably need to develop some
kind of new-society vision and some kind of political
strategy. That is, the movement will need to evolve a
collective understanding of where it wants to go, and how it
thinks it can get there.  So far, the movement has not
turned its attention to these kinds of questions, at least
not in the determined and effective way it has turned its
attention to organizing protests.  To be sure, each protest
is accompanied by numerous workshops and discussions, and
there was the World Social Forum - these are beginnings.

The movement is very much an ~organic~ movement, growing by
a natural social process, and evolving its own culture as it
moves forward.  It makes sense to think of the movement as an
~organism~, and the image that comes to my mind is that of a
young colt.  In the big protests, the colt is learning that
it can kick up its heels, prance around the field, and worry
the sheep.  It's finding its muscles, and learning how to
coordinate its spindly legs.  It's not ready yet to pull a
load or run a serious race.  But its day will come, and
meanwhile play is nature's schooling.

The regime is showing very clearly that no slow-down in the
globalization process is going to be contemplated.
Globalization is in our face and it will remain there for
the foreseeable future.  The regime builds walls around its
meetings, and the FTAA treaty is approved even as the
protests rage.  On the other hand, the movement seems to be
in a strong and dynamic growth phase.  New people are
joining, and a variety of organizations are working
increasingly together in various kinds of ad hoc alliances.
The webs are weaving, solidarity is building, and there is a
creative energy in the air.  It seems the movement will be
in our face for some time as well.

The movement (switching metaphors) is currently a hotbed of
glowing coals.  New fuel is arriving all the time, and the
regime responds only by fanning the flames.  The temperature
is rising and the pressure is mounting.  We cannot be
certain, but it seems that the movement's cultural mindset
is very likely to turn gradually but decisively from an
~intent to protest~ to an ~intent to make revolution~. 
Already the movement is being referred to in the media as
'anti-capitalist', and perhaps we can take that as a good

That change of intent, when and if it occurs, will be a
critical turning point for the movement.  When the intent is
to make revolution, then movement attention will naturally
turn to the questions, 'What do we want?' and 'How can we
get it?'.  When these questions are addressed with the same
enthusiasm and resourcefulness that are currently applied to
staging protests, there is every reason to expect that
effective progress will be made in answering them.  One can
readily envision a spiralling sequence of World Social
Forums, along with countless Regional Social Forums.   The
consensus-based, networking culture is ideally suited to
collaborative problem solving, and to eventually achieving
wide-scale harmonization of views.

Revolution is always a project, and a popular revolution is
a collaborative, decentralized project.  Our movement colt
is not yet a revolutionary, but he is currently exercising
just the right muscles for when the day comes.