I recently had an interesting interchange with a friend, also on the ICC of IOPS, as I am. I asked if he had been trying to recruit and he replied that yes, he had been talking to and writing various contacts. So I asked how it was going.
He said it was disheartening, people were ignoring his requests or even responding angrily. I was surprised, "what do you mean angry?" He said most of the people he wrote to did nothing, hoping he would go away without further ado, but some said they felt bullied by having already received a few emails about IOPS. Yes, bullied, by email…
He relayed that not one person, and these are all serious activists, said anything substantive about the organization's definition. No one gave any reason, in fact, for why they thought their joining would be useless or counterproductive. No one said I don't like the vision for these reasons - or I don't like the organizational commitments for those reasons. They instead simply dismissed IOPS the way you might dismiss a request to join a mars brigade, or a racist klan coven. Their reply was silence, or, essentially to say, "get out of my face with this silly IOPS already."
I wasn't particularly surprised by all this because I have had similar experiences - in my case I mail to a very large number of people - and some join, but far more do not, and those who do not join, just ignore me. This includes not only my bulk mailings, to roughly 100,000 people - in which case not replying makes good sense - but even mailings to actual friends and comrades including numerous media people. They either join, or they just ignore requests - and perhaps complain to others, though not me, that they feel bullied for having received the requests.
My friend and I were both disheartened about the situation. He felt, "if these activists had reasons and offered them, that would be fine. If they joined, hopefully knowing why, that would be fine. But to dismiss the project out of hand, like we were advocating something heinous - that just seems preposterous."
I said, okay, what is odd, we agree, is not people joining or deciding not to join due to liking or not liking elements of IOPS, but people not looking at its definition at all and not offering any reason related to what IOPS actually is now or aims to be, yet nonetheless being adamant about not joining, and even angry about being asked to consider joining.
So first, if you too encounter that reaction, you are not alone. But, second, what does it mean? How do we understand it? How do we relate to it?
The obvious answer on how to relate is that we listen and we stop bugging people where "bugging people" means being really obnoxious. Of course we shouldn't be obnoxious - but what about simply bringing the organization to their attention, via direct face to face comment, or via email, or whatever? To back off from further entreaties is the seemingly civil thing to do once asked, but both my friend and I agreed it is in fact not civil, but, ironically, instead it is succumbing to not doing what we think is right and warranted merely because others express anger at our efforts - in essence, being bullied into acting contrary to our beliefs.
We thought, let's try to "deconstruct" the situation - meaning, let's try to explain it.
Is silence plus anger a normal reaction from leftists to proposals? IF so, then the reaction to IOPS is typical and needs no further explanation.
Some people pose a path forward. If it is idiotic and has support from nearly no one, maybe silence would greet it - though even then there is likely to be some public criticism/dismissal. And if you happened to say to a friend, why not relate to x - and your friend felt that x was obviously idiotic, your friend would reply, hold on, you have to be kidding - not only won't I relate to x, but you shouldn't do so either. And then, crucially, you friend, being friend, would add - here is why.
But now suppose that x, the proposed path forward, is serious, has substance, and even has growing support. Do leftists typically ignore something like that?
No, typically there will be, and rightly so, discussion of it. Some will reject it, sometimes aggressively. Some will advocate it. All will offer reasons. And, as above, if you ask a friend to relate, he or she may say, I will do so later, or he or she may do it right away - but he or she is very unlikely to say, get out of my face with that, I don't want to hear about it. Even if it was of some narrow focus not relevant to your friend, the friend not would say bug off.
Suppose a person is doing lots of work and just doesn't see that joining IOPS would benefit that work, and so the person figures, well, it is not too important for me, maybe I will join later. Okay, that is fair enough - though a bit narrow in not understanding that joining is not just about benefitting one's own actions, but contributing to something potentially much larger - but, be that as it may, the person would certainly feel no hesitancy at saying why they were hesitant. And the person would not feel bullied or angry, at getting a few emails. And if told, wait a minute, all the stuff you are already doing is consistent with being in IOPS - and since you like the IOPS definition and the aims, why not join and see later if you want to do any new things specifically for the new organization meanwhile just continuing as you are, though perhaps with some international support - they may say, sure, okay. Or they may say no, and give a reason. Either way, it would be no problem - but not silence, and not anger, that would be a problem.
So what about IOPS? In three months it has support from almost 2,000 members. It has testimonials from diverse folks and participation in a temporary decision making body from people revered throughout the left such as Chomsky, Pilger, Santos, and Whittaker, as well as from more locally known and revered folks from around the world. Its statement of vision and its organizational commitments are clearly serious, accessible, and reflect views held by a very large number of activists, probably a great majority and maybe nearly all those who are asked to consider joining.
So is there a public response? No. There has been one article noting the existence of the effort, and that was in Al Jazeera - and that is it. There has been nothing in serious alternative media outlets, other than Z. How do we explain that? And then what do we do to reverse it?
No one who has been asked to look at the IOPS site and consider joining it based on reading the defining documents, has written back privately, much less written publicly, that there is something about the IOPS definition that makes them feel that joining would be mistaken nor even that IOPS has no chance to be beneficial. When you consider it, given the cantankerousness of the left, that is rather remarkable. Silence, though odd, is not golden.
There are two remotely comparable recent organizational initiatives I can think of. The first, obviously promising a larger scale, was the announcement a few years back by Chavez of his seeking a new Internationale - which immediately had pro and con debate around the world despite that as it was put forth included virtually zero substance about what features this new Internationale would have. Rather, the call was basically an eloquent statement that the world sucks, a claim that we need a new Internationale, and an assertion that Chavez and others in Venezuela would convene it and, obviously, largely define it. What its definition would be went unstated. Of course, the reason for the loud response, both yea and nay, was belief that this organization would form and persist - which it never did. Rather it got nowhere.
The other analogous event was a call in 2006 for a new international organization, called the Bamako Appeal, put out by a few prominent people on the left, most notably Samir Amin. It argued the need for organization, but was pretty vague about what it would look like and seek to achieve. Nonetheless, there was wide discussion, pro and con, though, again, the project went nowhere.
So now we have IOPS. There are many prominent people on board - though no heads of state, of course - and there is lots of serious substance. Initially, there was not much popular reaction - which was fair enough because people reasonably wondered if it would go anywhere. But then there emerged a powerful, excellent site. 2,000 people joined. Testimonials appeared. Activity diversified. People in 85 countries were on board. And, mostly, one could talk about it, if one desired, whether pro or con, not by guessing at its probable features or projecting one's fears or hopes and opining about them, but by literally talking about its clearly enunciated definition. One could, if one wished, talk about its structure, its organizational commitments, its site, and its vision.
And yet no one does. There are no critics. There aren't even any dissenters. There are just people turning away without looking, silent, but sometimes angry. And there are people joining.
Okay, it is a stretch, but in my own experience I have encountered this type situation of people not wanting to hear about something and being angry at reminders, though without reference to the thing's actual features, many times. The most explicit, long running, and intense, was during the Vietnam War, and especially the early days. We would go out to raise consciousness, to hand out materials. People would not reject taking leaflets due to having reasons relating to the content of the leaflets - they would reject without knowing what was in the materials, having never looked at them at all. They didn't, couldn't, and wouldn't, rebut the content of the message. They just didn't want to hear the message. They knew they did not want to oppose the war for diverse personal reasons - but they also knew they had no reasons related to the war itself, or morality, or anything other than just not wanting to buck their neighbors, employers, or, even more strongly, their own families, particularly when they had children, parents, or siblings in uniform.
Seeking people to join organizations, back then, also had things in common with the current IOPS experience. On campuses, for example, students took affront at being asked to consider joining anti war organizations, or SDS. They even felt picked on and bullied if they were given leaflets or called more than once. They did not want to hear about such a thing but they never said anything about the agenda or structure of the proposed organization. This wasn't everyone of course. Many related. Some didn't, and offered reasons, mostly weird - honestly. They might ask, for example, well what would I do if I were in the organization - clearly, with others, make decisions and act on them. But overwhelmingly, for most people asked, the reflex response was get out of my face - offered with passion but no reasons. Of course, in time, take note, many of those resistant people got deeply involved.
I don't know the extent of the analogy. There is similar behavior but I rather different logic because in the IOPS case we are not talking about reactions from the general public, but reactions from people who, under other circumstances, would say the definition matches very closely with their standards for having an ideal effort, and for whom the importance of developing mutual ties, even across borders, is a given.
IOPS even offers a very serious and pretty comprehensive Q & A discussion of reasons for and against joining, including agreement that some people certainly should not join, depending on their take on the matters discussed. But not one person - anywhere - as far as I know, has made reference to that document. But of course those who have avoided looking at the IOPS site, haven't seen the Q & A, either, at least so far.
So my friend was disheartened. How do you proceed when people will not discuss, explore, express - anything - about what you are proposing? Not that everyone has to invest time and relay their thoughts, but not anyone? No one? It is great that some join, and that IOPS is growing. But how do we talk to others, if they won't talk back? And why won't they talk back?
Well, I think the why of silence and anger. of rejection without assessment, is hard to discern - and there is probably no one answer, though the reaction is so consistent and prevelant that I suspect there are not many answers, either. The q/a deals well with the issues, I think. Of course there is skepticism. Of course there are worries. Of course people are busy. Of course people doubt it will work out. But beyond all that, it does seem like maybe there is something more. One very serious activist/writer told me his problem with IOPS was the idea of classlessness. He just didn't believe it was possible. Society would be egalitarian, if classless, but the trains wouldn't run on time. To my ears that was sad, but at least it was a real reason. Another activist said, well, sure, it is nice, but I am so busy. I couldn't understand that one. Everything he was doing was fine to be doing as an IOPS member. Nothing more was required. So what was the problem? But, in any event, on the question of what to do about people not wanting to take IOPS seriously, perhaps we can answer that, however hard it is to personally act on the answer.
As in the Vietnam era - we have to persist. We should not back off on grounds we are disturbing people. We shouldn't be obnoxious, of course. But the idea that it is obnoxious to sincerely ask serious activists to look at and assess an international organizational with 2000 members and lots of people who they have high respect for on board, and which we think is critically important, is itself nonsense. The same people look at thousands of ads all day long, asking them not to assess, but simply to buy things that are often outright harmful - and it is rare that they react as angrily as they will to you when you say, hey, have you checked out IOPS - if so, what did you think? Did you join? If not, how come? What didn't you like? But that doesn't mean you are wrong to pursue the issue. You aren't. So keep trying.
It induces some tension? So be it. It makes some folks irritated at you? So be it. Take it from me, I know the feeling. The alternative is to be, well, bullied out of what you believe in.