Democracy, coming soon to a theatre near you

Democracy – it’s spreading! And not by decree or through definitions and demands from its self-declared past masters. In fact, it’s not really clear just what is spreading in the name of democracy. It remains to be seen what the people of Tunisia, of Egypt, of Bahrain, of Libya, of Yemen, of Croatia, of Algeria, of here and there in the US and probably elsewhere as well by the time you read this will, in some temporarily final analysis, demand or choose or create or even just settle for. We live in interesting times, and for once that seems not to be merely a Chinese curse. Note, for instance, that these uprisings seem particularly successful as long as they remain non-violent!

Democracy is growing at EASST as well. Of course, EASST has always been a democratic organization, emerged out of a combination of grassroots activism and funding opportunities.
Since then, EASST has continued to grow. It is simply not practicable for an organization of EASST’s size (we are nearing 4-digit membership) to be run by consensus at general meetings, held in the interstices at our conferences every second year. Between general meetings, we are governed, according to bylaws passed by the general meetings, by an elected council. Council meets once or twice a year and confers via email between meetings. Council is led by our elected President and administrated by our paid part-time manager, both of whom prepare materials as an information basis for Council decisions, run day-to-day affairs according to their respective mandates, and send out queries to Council members when policy decisions need to be made more urgently than can wait until the next regular meeting.

This is a pretty standard model of organizational democracy, but that doesn’t mean we can pat ourselves on our collective backs and sigh contentedly. As mentioned, we have grown. We are nearing 4-digit membership levels, and a model of democracy that works fine for a small organization might be inadequate to maintain a sense of shared community in a larger one. Furthermore, expectations towards democracy have changed. Elections at intervals, varyingly attended meetings at same – in an era of constant and instantaneous communications, those seem fairly minimal elements to qualify as a “democracy ”. That said, our last general meeting had record attendance and we took time to discuss substantive policy matters at some length.

One of the items we discussed was the need for a more functional web site. We need a web site with management features that will allow us to continue to service a growing membership without increasing our administrative costs – features like on-line membership renewals, automatic reminders, updateable personal profiles. And while we’re at it, we want to offer features that can support direct membership involvement and interactions. With a clear mandate from a well-attended general meeting, the Council set about gathering bids for such a web site. The process was not without its conflicts and sorrows, but we are now happy to announce that the solutions will soon be coming on line.

Assuming you are reading this issue on line, you are now on EASST’s interim web site. Please browse around and explore it. Please send us comments: What do you like? What don’t you like? What features would you like to find here in future? Come back and watch for new developments. And regardless of inevitable imperfections, please take the web site into use. Your Council has envisioned it as an infrastructure – a theatre, if you will – for grassroots democracy, organizational transparency, and community building; but, it will only serve those ends if you, the membership, take it into use. Democracy cannot simply be staged; it must be enacted. “Use it or lose it ” as the saying goes. Shape it or take it as it comes. We’re hoping for the former!

 

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