How do 57 people write a manifesto?
Conway Hall, January, 2017. There were maybe 50 people who organized themselves quite efficiently and quickly into an arrangement of chairs where everyone could see and take part – this in itself suggested to me that these were people were well used to small rooms and the logistical problems that can exclude. it was another of those small sophisticated moments….
Equally sensible was the early election of a facilitator – DiEM people appeared to have been involved in asking her, and these 2 chaps also introduced themselves at the outset briefly as people who would help by collecting emails etc.
Our facilitator was ready to get things going and got 2 other women (one the Brexit Leave-voter who spoke earlier from the balcony) to volunteer to take notes of the discussion. 2 – because it would remove the pressure of being the lone recorder and because they’d be more likely to get everything down between them. Another small moment of enlightened meeting practice.
About half the assembled spoke. No one hogged the time – and there was a fairly clear and early division of interest into those who wanted to raise the issues they thought any new London DiEM should get involved with e.g. NHS, housing, transport – and those who thought policy decisions of that sort shouldn’t be the business of the Manifesto. There was no attempt to discuss the new name but a general sense that a new name was needed. Someone suggested it and/or the Manifesto should contain the words The Common Good. Someone else thought the key idea was/should be Democracy – a reclaiming of the word that DiEM had already begun. I said I thought that alliance-building should be a key element in the Manifesto. There was no sense of anyone privileging other loyalties or memberships or organisations - indeed the reverse – there seemed to be a tacit understanding that what was needed, what they had come along for, was something beyond narrow party allegiances and sectoral interests.
The feeling overall reflected the feeling of the whole morning: a purposeful seriousness, a reassuring combination of experience and modesty, a readiness to listen, no grandstanding or windbaggery at all (amazing), a kind of patience. There was an agreement that we couldn’t write a Manifesto on the spot or even any time very soon – though also an expectation that one would be written and that everyone present was ready to take part if they could. People wanted to take not just part, but also responsibility.
A week on from the Conway Hall meeting in which 57 people opted for the manifesto-drafting corner, the group has established itself and begun a conversation in a number of different places online with the help of a very patient DiEM facilitator, Vasilis, whose commitment to making this particular corner of the democratic process visible and accessible is inspiring in itself. The more visible it is, the more complex it appears and the more interesting it becomes as a way of learning, actually, practically, how to engage with others who have the same desire to take part in this important discussion but who can’t be in the same room every Saturday morning.
So far all suggestions for online talk have been taken up and we now have a number of different channels open exchanging views on the questions and issues raised in the originating Conway Hall conversation: some people are exchanging emails, others have begun contributing manifesto comments on piratepad, others are communicating via Slack – and everything is now being coordinated on a wiki page. It’s hard to tell how many of the original 57 are present – a good number of voices seems to be active; others may be reading and not yet speaking. Contributions have ranged from a compressed read of Lenin’s Imperialism – the Highest Stage of Capitalism, to a growing list of suggestions for the name of the new UK expression of DiEM, to detailed draft paragraphs on specific issues like Universal Basic Income, the NHS, Involuntary Migration. There are also outlines of earlier thoughts from some of the DiEM coordinators.
At the beginning of the week we agreed – I say ‘agreed’ tentatively because agreement isn’t easy to identify with confidence: there were at least no dissenting views as far as I know – to work towards a deadline of March 25th (the date of the DiEM Rome meeting) for a draft manifesto. With the amount of energy there clearly is and a shared sense of urgency, this seemed to be achievable…. but substantial progress has still to made and a week has passed. Perhaps the time invested here, in finding out how best and most efficiently to work together, is the most important thing we can have done with this week. It’s strange to be reassessing one’s own impatience and the cost of its short cuts.
The focus here on the process reflects my personal experience this week, and perhaps it also reflects something essential to DiEM UK (or whatever we decide to call it). I have yet to find my way into editing reality. Perhaps it’s delusional to think I can’t be the only one having problems, but am I alone in finding it hard to sign up and join in? I keep coming back to a moment during a break in proceedings at Conway Hall on January 28 when someone sitting in front of me turned round and said: ‘Do you mind if I ask what democracy means to you?’