Over a fantastic discussion the other day a few of my peers and I started to look at the big trends in the movement and basic assumptions that stand in the way of building support for a more network-centric and bottoms up engineering of resources and strategy. It seems like a painfully obvious place serious investment.
Unfortunately, there seems to be a huge block to taking a network-centric approach to political organizing and capacity building which appears to be centered on views of the "public". The progressive movement is on its heels and has been for a long time.
Environmental groups and foundaitons are part of that larger progressive movement's failure. Like others the environmental wing has turned itself both into a fractured hodgepodge of issue groups and competing brands while also turning into a centralized, top-down system with a bunch of professional campaigners, communicaitons staff, lawyers and fundraisers. Large chunks of small groups never achieve the "scale of" the huge groups but the culture of organizaiton first consulting, fundraisng strategies and development "experts" have indoctrinated even the smaller groups into smaller versions of the centralized approach to advocacy.
A large segment of the professionals have been coached into looking at the grassroots base with disdain "you don't have the intelligence to understand our political strategy". "you're only good at sending money and letting me(the centralized group) tell the story and fight the fight." It is a strained relationship with groups increasingly tired of working with volunteers, training and supporting serogate or explaining itself to others. While individuals are incresingly burnt out by engageing with groups and leaders that show litle respect for their time, contributions or voice.
As a sector the tools, training, membership, media and investment strategy reflect this core assumption. intelligence, content creation, idea ownership, tools, evaluation, grants and membership models target group "ownership" not individual empowerment.
The real heart of resistance to building network-centric infrastructure, building distributed empowerment strategies or shifting power and control to the "edges" of the movement stems from a lack of trust of the base. "They might not do what we want them to" is the basis of the fear that cripples a genuine shift in strategy away from organizaitonal building toward movement building.
I am not really sure how to combat this breakdown other than total revolution but it seems to be the dominate force guiding the "whats next" debate for the movement and the party. The bigger the proposals for forming the "next big group" or centralizing more money and resource spew forth from those that trust people even less (after the recent elections). The assumption feeds the dynamic which serves to futher insolate the thinking and accelerate the alination of the very "outside" circles needed to start to produce different outcomes.
The bigger the push to deploy support tools, skills and people to local communities the higher the general level of trust in the public. Populism is the genuine alternative. Network-centric advocacy strategy would help accelerate the expansion of populist movment and exercise of the populist agenda. We need a strong faith that care, compassion, health care, fairness and environmantal protection will always be part of a populist based movement. We do not have the resources to win progress alone (on the terms our laywers and consultants would like) we must trust people and base our strategy on that trust.