From crony capitalism to democracy
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Effective political activism can be described as a 5-step cycle:
- Review (then refocus)
This cycle is a refinement of the famous Plan-Do-Check-Act (PCDA) Deming cycle, which had 4 steps and was based on a 3-step cycle due to Walter A. Shewhart. This formulation places more obvious emphasis on research and public / media relations than PDCA, because they are critical to achieving political change.
Research is important, because with any problem with any history the popular wisdom is often wrong: Otherwise the problem would likely have been fixed already.
Of course, these steps overlap: Plans will rarely be effective if they conflict with the best available research, and the research component of any effective project will often require careful planning and management. Research will typically continue through the action step ("4. Do" in this model), if only to help provide data to improve the effectiveness of the "Review (then refocus)" step.
What is the most important issue I might be able to help improve? What organizations exist that are trying to improve that issue? Can I be most effective working within one or more of those groups or trying to start something new or both?
People who accept the common wisdom on major societal concerns are often misled. Common sense works well for issues that are easily managed by most people. However, major problems that show little improvement for years and decades are often intractable because the popular wisdom is inadequate. These common misunderstandings are often perpetuated by the mainstream media to sustain the power of leaders who benefit from the current dysfunctions. This issue is perhaps most obvious in war, where the first casualty is truth and it is often considered treasonous to follow the media of the opposition.
To get past this, we need to study both public opinion and the available literature from all perspectives. In many cases, groups taking superficially opposite positions share common concerns. An improved understanding of the opposition can often help build a broad coalition for a successful change effort.
- Review existing research: Wikipedia is often a very valuable source for understanding the range of published opinion and research on any particular issue. However, it's often wise to research the literature beyond that using, e.g., Google Scholar and research tools at nearby university libraries. Many universities allow outsiders to use their facilities to access electronic databases of research publications not easily available elsewhere. As you find things that do not seem appropriately represented in relevant Wikipedia articles, it is often wise to add what you've found to Wikipedia. For example, the Wikipedia article on the Stop Online Piracy Act got a million views between Thanksgiving and Christmas, 2011, and helped block that give-away to the major media conglomerates. More typical is the Wikipedia article on Electoral reform in the United States, which received over 1800 views in the 90 days between May 16 and August 13, 2013, roughly 20 per day. Any improvement in an article like this could have broad impact.
- Listening campaign: Ask people you know or you meet for their concerns, especially about the issue that most concerns you. Look especially for people with different views of the problem, because their views might provide critical information on how to craft solution options the have the greatest chance of being (a) implemented and (b) effective if implemented. Take notes to share with a group to help target future work and make it easier later to choose terminology most likely to appeal to the broadest possible audience.
- What new research is needed? In many cases, people who cannot agree on the solution to a problem can nevertheless agree on research that could later make it easier to build a consensus for action. In some cases, needed research can be crowdsourced by volunteers, each contributing a small part. Wikiversity might be useful in helping to organize research projects like this. Wikipedia has a policy explicitly excluding original research. Wikiversity fills this gap by explicitly supporting original research. You can encourage opponents to contribute to the research on Wikiversity. This can produce project descripions with broader appeal and stronger research results. Conflicts can be managed using the Wikimedia culture of focusing on documenting sources, writing from a neutral point of view and assuming honesty on the part of others. Examples of research initiatives of this nature on Wikiversity include,, and.
- Effective media relations: There has never been adequate funding for substantive investigative journalism especially involving perspectives that challenge the establishment. Concerned citizens can help fill this gap by cultivating skills as citizen journalists. Social media such as Facebook and Twitter have been used very effectively to disseminate all kinds of information including research results in supporting a variety of organizational change efforts. Indymedia will accept anything. Wikinews has high standards for quality journalism and reviewers who are willing to help new contributors write to their standards. The Investigative News Network includes a variety of organizations, some of which could be interested in your cause, possibly to the point of collaborating with citizen journalists to disseminate your story. To support the widest possible dissemination of your message, you may want to use a Creative Commons license like the Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike license. A more restrictive license would make it more difficult for commercial media outlets to disseminate your message, thereby generally limiting the breadth of your appeal.
Obviously, planning and research are parallel activities to some degree: We first need to decide what research would be useful, appropriate and necessary. Then we need to plan the acquisition of enough information to select appropriate strategies and tactics to improve the problem.
This is surprisingly difficult for two reasons:
- People routinely overestimate the value of current knowledge.
- Many people are bored with research and planning.
Part of the solution to this is to start with a relatively quick literature search and listening campaign, then be explicitly tentative in selecting a possible solution while continuing to do more research. Sometimes it's easier to build a broad coalition by focusing first on getting money and volunteers for research to clarify which potential solutions seem most likely to produce the best results.
Plans can be created using collaborative tools like Google Drive and the Rootstrikers Wiki. When the research suggests a solution requiring action by a legislative body, a table can be created of the elected representatives and their positions on various issues. Part of the table can be built from public sources, e.g, MapLight and opensecrets.org, giving data on lobbying, political campaigns, and previous voting records of incumbent politicians.
Then part of the plan can be to recruit volunteers in each district to contact their elected representative to ask about the representative's position and ask for support for the issue. Information collected can be added to the table. The results can be evaluated to distinguish those who are neutral from those with weak, moderate or strong support or opposition to your recommended action. After most of the table is completed, the action can then focus on the representatives who are neutral or show weak opposition or support to understand their position and convince them to move in your direction.
Work the plan. Publish intermediate results on the web and use partial results to help build momentum for completing the work or revising the plan as seems necessary.
While doing the work, it's important to keep appropriate records of what was done and what the results seemed to be.
Then periodically, e.g., quarterly, it may be appropriate to review progress against plan to decide what it would take to complete the task.
- Is it worth the effort?
- Should the focus be modified to increase its appeal, recruiting more volunteers or raising more money?
Return to step "1" whenever the review suggests that it may be appropriate to refocus your efforts.
This work was inspired in part by the work of Gene Sharp, especially Sharp, Gene (2010), From Dictatorship to Democracy: A Conceptual Framework for Liberation (4th U.S. edition ed.), Albert Einstein Institution, ISBN 1-880813-09-2, http://www.aeinstein.org/organizations/org/FDTD.pdf
- Drucker, Peter (1967), The Effective Executive, Harper & Row
- Knightley, Phillip (2004), The First Casualty: The war correspondent as hero and myth-maker from the Crimea to Iraq (Updated edition ed.), Johns Hopkins U. Pr., ISBN 0-8018-8030-0
- Graves, Spencer (Feb. 26, 2005), The Impact of Violent and Nonviolent Action on Constructed Realities and Conflict, Productive Systems Engineering, http://prodsyse.com/conflict/Nonviolence&Reality.pdf
- Many authors, e.g., Hind, have suggested that the mainstream media co-evolve with the established leadership of a nation or some other group. McChesney (p. 81) reported that, "A five-year study of investigative journalism on TV news ... determined that investigative journalism has all but disappeared from the nation's commercial airways." It's easy to understand why: Substantive investigative journalism will often uncover problems created by advertisers, who have routinely shifted advertising budgets away from media that provided coverage they didn't like. Commercial media organizations that tried too hard to inform the public either went out of business or were absorbed by competitors more supportive of the concerns of advertisers. The current media conglomerates in the U.S. are the survivors of that process. Their business model is selling behavior change in their audience to advertisers. If they lose their audience, they will have nothing to sell. If you produce journalism that attracts an audience, the commercial media will carry what they must to retain their audience. Hind, Dan (2010), The Return of the Public, Verso, ISBN 978-1-84467-594-4 McChesney, Robert W. (2004), The problem of the media: U.S. communication politics in the 21st century, Monthly Review Press, ISBN 1-58367-105-6
- Indymedia does not allow an author to revise a submission. Therefore, authors would be wise to revise what they write several times and have a colleague review the text before submitting it.
- Under Wikinews policies in effect in December 2013, one could submit an early competed draft to Indymedia before submitting essentially the same story to Wikinews. However, anyone who tries that must inform the Wikinews reviewers of this or face rejection for plagiarism. Writing for Wikinews is excellent training for volunteer citizen journalists. However, it can take a substantial effort to revise and provide documentation of your facts to the standards of Wikinews. They note that news is not news if it's not new. A story could become stale if an author is not committed to studying reviewers' comments carefully and responding appropriately in a timely fashion. Reviewers will critique a draft but will rarely offer revisions themselves. Therefore, in writing for Wikinews, it may be wise to have a team, who can discuss the most recent reviewer's comments and collaborate on a timely response before requesting another review.