The International Organization for a Participatory Society

I joined the International Organization for a Participatory Society.

I joined the International Organization for a Participatory Society.

I don’t join organizations lightly. I worked pretty intensely for a couple of years in an organization called the Canada Colombia Solidarity Campaign about ten years ago. I was involved in the Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid for a few years. I am in a collective called Pueblos en Camino. And, of course, I have been heavily involved with Z Communications, and in fact, that has probably been my longest- and most intense affiliation. And while I pay membership dues to the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty, try relate to the Greater Toronto Worker’s Assembly, and have warm feelings towards dozens of other organizations, actually joining an organization is a commitment that I think is a bit unfair to do if I am not going to be able to put in much time.

In my own political life, I have noticed an interesting pattern. Activist work is always issue based. Activists work on issues, and organizations are based on issues. Certainly the ones I have worked on here in Toronto have been issue-based. But, from one issue to the next, you see many of the same people working in the organizations, showing up to the events (which happen in a handful of locations). If you see someone at one of these issue-based events, there’s a good chance you can predict their views on climate change, labor rights, women’s rights, indigenous rights, who’s to blame for unemployment…

This suggests that these activists are taking an overarching approach to their activism, and that there are some principles guiding what they do. The issues are examples where the principles apply. It makes sense, if you see the connections between the issues, to wonder whether there is some greater level of organization or work that could be done based on the principles. In recent years, the Greater Toronto Worker’s Assembly is an effort in that direction. The GTWA has an encompassing set of goals, that many different political tendencies could find acceptable. It has a local focus on trying to build strength, and learn lessons, in Toronto. As I said, I have tried to relate to the GTWA, but have not been able to give as much time to it as I think the initiative merits, on principle.

Now to IOPS. IOPS actually specifies its social vision in considerable detail, which I think is a benefit. Instead of trying to write a basis of unity to create a coalition out of many other organizations, put the vision out there and see who shows up. It is conceived of as an international organization, which is another potential benefit. I see nothing in the vision, structure, or program that I disagree with.

Contrast IOPS with the World Social Forum process. The WSF process was conceived as an alternative to the WEF, and I believe it was intended to be a forum, a space for many different things to happen. IOPS, by contrast, is much more specific about the kind of society it is seeking and what it expects its members to do. But if IOPS could have a convention the size of the WSF, tens of thousands of people, with as much international and activist representation as the WSF, we could see what we wished could have come from the WSF: a whole that was greater than the sum of its parts.

If every city had a worker’s assembly and we had a giant IOPS, I think people who held these values would feel a lot less alone and maybe a little less crazy.

Author: Justin Podur

Ecology. Environmental Science. Political Science. Anti-imperialism. Political fiction. Teach at York U's FES. Author. Writer at ZNet, TeleSUR, AlterNet, Ricochet, and the Independent Media Institute.

2 thoughts on “The International Organization for a Participatory Society”

  1. I agree, bro
    Thanks, Justin! Taking advantage of your comment section for a rant.

    I’ve been evaluating some of my own experiences with different groups and organizations over the past several years, so your post has resonated with me.

    I’ve been in groups where there was a near aversion to defining bases of unity altogether and others where a set-in-stone constitution seemed to regulate any direction some of us wished to take. In most cases, no matter how different each of these organizations operate in practice as a result of their vision/strategy, or lack thereof, genuinely good and sincere people are too often pushed out, isolated or abused. At the time, there are reasons: there might be a personal conflict with another member of a group, a failed campaign that exhausts people and makes them retreat into the abyss of the who-gives-a-shit culture, or a particular direction that one can’t reconcile with the very personal (and political) desire to move against or for something. Only later do things start to become clear, and it’s personal.

    I’ve found the failure to engage with just the kind of vision/strategy building/defining you mention to be pretty much the straw that broke the camel’s back. It’s like, I’m pissed about something that’s going on, but there’s nothing in the bigger picture of ‘us’ that I can go back to so as to be able to reconcile those feelings.

    Also crucial is discovering the lack of affinity among people in terms of their intentions and motivations, which often, in the end, guide what happens (and how) when things get tough. I admire in this post your sincerity and honesty in not making false commitments. I think if we all did this we would all be able to rely on each other more.

    Action/’activism’ is a conversation with desire. If we cannot find spaces in which we can speak, listen, make mistakes, learn, work, motivate, and concomitantly weave with each other, there is no conversation. Desires thus fall by the wayside and we absolutely do feel crazy. They don’t go away; they’re just not active, and we feel dead. Luckily, most of us, I hope, will have a few others who we connect with on a very profound level – companeros, friends – who can pick us up, be it during late night conversations or acts of friendship and solidarity that root us and prevent us from being swept away, gone, defeated.

    I’m glad you have found the groups and people you have. We all need that. Our values are also our desires, and we need to be able to develop them, to be the good kind of human that can say with certainty, ‘that’s fucked. Now, what do WE do?’

    It’s a process that needs to be nurtured.

    1. Thanks for the rant!
      I am glad you visited and provided this additional fodder to think about… and of course it is good to hear that other people have had similar experiences, since they are rarely written about: The lack of affinity, personal conflicts, disguised as political ones. I spend a lot of time thinking about these things, and write about them only very rarely… because, of course, there’s other work to be done. But these things get in the way of work being done, so… they’re important too. Anyway thanks for coming by and writing a comment.

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