Inciting Democracy: A Practical Proposal for Creating a Good Society
Questions and Concerns
G: What About…?
1. Does the Project Provide Resistance to Attack and Subversion?
The power elite regularly sabotages social change movements through various kinds of surveillance, disruption, and attack. Agents of the elite spread disinformation about activists, provoke infighting among activists, encourage activists to be belligerent, promote violent change tactics, and assassinate movement leaders. How would the Vernal Project resist infiltrators, provocateurs, and assassins from disrupting or discrediting progressive change movements?
There is no way to safeguard movements from infiltration and disruption, but the Vernal Project would foster social change movements that were less susceptible to these efforts in a variety of important ways.
The Vernal Education Project would create and promote:
Savvy activists: Vernal activists would know the history of movement sabotage, and they would probably be able to recognize disruptive techniques. They could warn their fellow activists about and would know how to respond effectively to sabotage, character assassination, and disruption.
Decentralized leadership: By empowering and build-ing leadership skills among thousands of people, movements supported by the Vernal Education Project would be much less vulnerable to assassination or co-optation of a few leaders. Likely, there would be hundreds or thousands of people who could step forward and carry on whenever any single person was killed, disabled, or co-opted.
Geographical decentralization: Change movements supported by Vernal activists would be dispersed all over the country. This would make them less vulnerable to charges of regional elitism (such as “Yankees are trying to run our lives” or “Washington bureaucrats are trying to dictate what we do”). It would also make the overall change movement less vulnerable to local or regional attacks.
Homegrown activists: Generally, Vernal students would live in their home communities while attending a Vernal session and would continue to live there after graduating. This would make them less vulnerable to community concerns about “outside agitators.” By building direct and personal connections with many people in the community, each progressive activist could garner broad support whenever she was unfairly attacked. Because each activist would be working in her home community, she would probably also be better at understanding and dealing with her antagonists.
Network of support: Vernal activists would probably have strong connections to other Vernal activists. If attacked locally, they could ask for support from other Vernal activists outside their locality.
Focus on diverse issues: Vernal-supported change movements would address a wide variety of issues. This would force opponents to challenge these movements on many fronts, which would likely reduce the extent of opposition or reformist co-optation on any particular issue. Also, by working on all kinds of economic, racial, social, and cultural issues simultaneously and taking a broad progressive perspective, Vernal-supported movements would be less vulnerable to accusations of elitism, classism, racism, sexism, ageism, homophobia, and so forth.
Strong progressive community: Vernal-supported change movements would develop a strong community spirit. Activists would probably know and like each other, which would make them less vulnerable to character assassination. I expect each activist would also have much greater personal support from her friends and colleagues than most activists do now. This would make each one less vulnerable to intimidation.
Emotionally healthy activists: Vernal activists and those they supported would probably be much more emotionally healthy than current activists. This would mean they would be less susceptible to manipulation by guilt-, hate-, and fear-mongers.
Greater understanding of conflict and how to resolve it: Members of Vernal-supported change groups would know that conflict is inevitable and that it can be positive if handled well. Hence, they would be less likely to suppress conflict. Vernal activists would also be skilled and knowledgeable in mediating and resolving conflict.
Practice of progressive ideals: I expect Vernal-supported social change groups would attempt to adhere to progressive ideals. Their change actions would strive toward goals of fairness, equity, and democracy and their tactics would be open, forthright, democratic, and nonviolent. In this context, secretive, manipulative, or offensive tactics or shortsighted shortcuts advocated by provocateurs would have little appeal. In addition, by adhering to these ideals, progressive movements would be widely admired. It would be much harder for opponents to criticize or stigmatize them.
Clear understanding of fundamental progressive change: Members of Vernal-supported change groups would probably have a clear understanding of the need for long-term, fundamental progressive change. Consequently, they would be less susceptible to calls to accept limited reform or to use unsavory tactics.
Alternative means of communication: Vernal-supported change groups would lilely build robust alternative means of communication between their organizations such as face-to-face meetings, internal newsletters, frequent phone calls, and email. They would also build effective means to communicate to the public such as pub-lications, community radio, and web sites. These communication channels would be less susceptible to disinformation and rumors propagated through conventional media or through infiltrators. Movement supporters could hear directly from activists instead of hearing interpretations disseminated by a hostile mainstream press.
In Germany they came first for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for the trade-unionists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade-unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me and by that time no one was left to speak up. — attributed to Rev. Martin Niemoller
2. Does the Project Provide Resistance to Takeover?
What would prevent the Vernal education network from being taken over by infiltrators with the intention of disabling or discrediting the whole Vernal Project?
Because each Vernal education center would not actually do any social change work, I assume it would be a less inviting target for infiltration than a change organization. Also, by being extremely dispersed geographically and with little national structure (there would be no national office or national staffmembers and the regional administrators would make no important decisions), it would be difficult to take over the Vernal network.
Furthermore, since the Vernal Project would produce relatively few graduates and would have little influence throughout Phases 1 and 2 (through Vernal Year 20), I hope that it would not attract much attention until it was firmly established.
The nature of the Vernal Education Project should also protect it from infiltration. To become a Vernal staffmember (or a new staff preparer), an activist would have to demonstrate a long history of positive change activity. Hence, it would not be easy for infiltrators to become staffmembers. The board of directors for each Vernal center would consist of Vernal staffmembers, students, and graduates as well as a few activists from the local progressive community. Each would have to demonstrate a relatively long history of progressive change work. Consequently, it is unlikely that infiltrators could take over the board.
If a few infiltrators did make it onto the board of a Vernal center, they could be disruptive. However, the other members of the board would be skilled and knowledgeable. They would likely spot an infiltrator who tried to disrupt the center. They could use their skill and knowledge for resolving conflict, and their ability to counsel activists, to confront anyone who was disruptive. Moreover, since the board would use a cooperative consensus decision-making process, those who were not open, cooperative, and oriented toward problem solving would stand out. If a boardmember refused to work honestly with others to resolve conflicts, it would be relatively easy to develop a consensus among the other members to remove that person from the board.
3. Does the Project Provide Resistance to Domination?
What would prevent the Vernal education network from being dominated by progressive activists with big egos?
Again, I assume that the emotional health of the Vernal staffmembers would be relatively good, and they would be knowledgeable and skilled. I expect they would rarely act arrogantly or try to dominate others. When one did, her colleagues (usually three others) could quickly intervene. I expect these other staffmembers would be strong and skilled enough to challenge, support, and counsel the errant staffmember until she stopped acting out.