A topolgy for grassroots democracy

This post only expresses the opinion of the author

At the centre of grassroots democracy lies the individual. Her thoughts, fears and desires. She will have more or less concerns about how the wider world is ruled, but as many as she has, she has the right to express her will. She may not want to vote A or B in a particular referendum but she may wish she could have done it so many other times. The problem is that if we are all together and speak at the same time, we cannot listen. To be able to express our thoughts freely we must be surrounded by trusted people. We must be in small groups. The question is how to bring the conversation outside the small groups where is best generated.

We have to accept a fundamental limitation of humans. We can only know and trust so many people. In large groups the conversation tends to be controlled by power eagerness rather than by ideas. If we are in small groups, such DiEM25 Spontaneous Collectives (DSC), the basic organizational unit of the movement, our thoughts and ideas may spring easily, but they do not go far. Information has to flow out from our DSC and into other DSC’s. From your mind to my mind. The coordinator’s list, an e-mail group in which one member from every DSC participates, is an attempt to make information flow, but it makes conversations impossible. Too many people, too much information, too little trust. The coordinator list is a bottle neck. The DiEM25 forum proves also inefficient because of its impersonal nature and because it requires a very proactive attitude from individuals. Another solution is needed.

Let us assume that all DSC’s meet once every two weeks and every alternate week there are many meetings, online or otherwise, where people from different DSC’s get together. We will call this groups where DSC’s mix, Networking  Spontaneous Collectives. The ideas which where discussed in the comfort of a local the DSC meetings will have a low resistance path into all the other DSC’s through the NSC’s, by simple mouth to mouth. If  only the “coordinator” of each DSC is involved in outside conversations, this person will be a bottle neck for the information flow. Ideally, every single member of the DSC should be involved in a different NSC to ensure that we have a redundant network for the information interchange. This is the topology of the Internet. Multiple alternative paths exist between any two points. It is extremely efficient, extremely resilient to failure, extremely democratic.

In practice this total level of engagement will never happen, because most people will not take part in more than one group.  Nevertheless, as long as at least one does participate in one NSC, the DSC will no longer be isolated. Once the human relationships have been established among people across Europe, IT will come to the rescue by strengthening and making the information flow flexible and reliable, but the connections must be build around individuals, around their ability to relate to another limited set of individuals involved in one single large scale conversation. To think of the internet as a solution to the problem of democracy is a simplistic mistake. Democracy is about people, and and the internet is the most incredible democracy tool that people have had, but it is only a tool.

We must accept that many people are not interested or motivated enough to spend part of their life finding ways to optimise the use of the commons. I like to think that at one person every one thousand is a natural activist. From 500 million Europeans you will probably never have more than 500.000 people interested in an active political live, however, that should be enough to ensure true democracy. However, this is already a very large number to take part in a single conversation. If we picture a movement like DiEM25 eventually turning into a successful European party, this means that it will gather hundreds of thousands of activists who need to talk to each other.

If we have such large groups, a myriad of interconnected, redundant, networking nodes will be necessary to connect everyone with the rest, so ideas actually flow mouth-to-mouth from Faro (PT) to Rovaniemi (FI), from Hammerfest (NO) to Naxos (GR) in a matter of days or weeks. We could ask ourselves what is the optimal structure to unite with least intermediate steps each DiEM25 member to the rest. The ideal topology resulting from a formal mathematical analysis may serve as a guideline, but it would be entirely unnatural, inhuman and will never work on a movement relying on spontaneous participation.

We may, in order to initiate or trigger the creation of NSC’s, create placeholders inspired in that optimal topology. We may create NSC’s based on language or topic which people may want to join, but things would only really work if individuals decide to organise their own NSC to talk about what they want, to speak in a particular language or meet at a suitable time of the week. If NSC’s emerge naturally, they will be less efficient at creating the mesh of nodes, we will have to compromise on the number of steps between members, but in exchange we will foster quality communication because people would have chosen on what, how and when to take part. They will quickly get to know people in their NSC (or NSC’s) and they will find the trust needed to speak up their mind, share their views and those from people in their DSC.

If a good network of DSC’s and NSC emerges from DiEM25, ideas would flow like crazy in Europe. We will then have to ask ourselves, all together, what is the solution to true large scale democracy.

From a practical point of view, Network Spontaneous collectives must be easy to implement. There should have a toolkit consisting of basic rules of the game, (may be similar to those used in DID or otherwise) and clear models to streamline all the information generated by the NSC ( where to put files, recordings, votes and so on). They should be offered facilities to easily teleconference (not necessarily sharing their personal details, but joining an anonymous call). Also, new tools must be designed or found in order to allow everyone to have a clear overview about which topics are being discussed at any given time: in the NSC, in other DSC’s, in DiEM25 at large.

Network collectives must have the same sort of recognition than any other DSC, they must have visibility. Their activity must have some window to the outer world: tools should be available to share meeting minutes and recordings, memos and other files. Taking part in a NSC must be easy and fulfilling, but for that they have to be relevant. They become relevant when their opinion is taken into account. That is, they can become relevant when the channels exist for the information to flow without bottlenecks.

Salud, Paz y Democracia


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