Making Activists Better Immunogens

Adapted from a critique of perpetually feckless
"peace" groups in "The Southern Court Defense"

Hold Your NGOs Accountable

Good intentions are not enough. Require activist groups to set some objective standards or timetables by which we might judge their strategies, tactics, and cost-effectiveness. Require them, in short, to put up or fold up, and clear the way for more innovative and promising approaches. "Cause" organizations, like most social organisms, tend to grow more fiercely devoted to their own continued existence than to discharging (and thus voiding) their avowed purposes - that is, those which originally afforded them meaning and a claim upon our hearts & checkbooks.

Solutions have always been bad business for one-issue problem-solvers. Imagine, for example, the magnitude of economic and professional disaster a cancer cure would present to the international cancer research community, its thousands of highly specialized laboratories, and tens of thousands of equally specialized workers. Without impugning the sincerity at work, we must recognize the subliminal force of this "succeed & perish" proposition, and its tendency to shift the focus of effort from urgency ('finding solutions') to safer, more sedate activities ('studying causes', 'educating' and fund-raising).

Large environmental and human rights NGOs might also increase their credibility if they were "Managed by Objective" and less concerned with "Organizational Development," to borrow two trendy concepts from modern corporate theory. Ideally, "Management-by-Objective" subordinates all traditional organizational concerns (hierarchy, routines, perks, etc.) to the single-minded realization of a common goal, whether it be ousting a tyrant or landing on the moon. As MBO groups are often tackling unprecedented tasks, and solutions tend to rise from unpredictable quarters, they try to cultivate the values of pioneers - vitality, innovation, and irreverence: "If our experts, professionals and exalted authorities are so damn smart, why is there still a problem?"

An MBO NGO would, in effect, nail its target to the barn, in full public view, and bend heaven, earth and all the idiosyncratic talents of its members to that single achievement. Plush home offices, flashy brochures and computerized direct mail operations are fine if an organization is methodically approaching its goal. But if it has been in business for ten or twenty years and hasn't palpably improved much but its own facilities, it's time we start asking questions and looking for alternatives.

Us vs. Them: The Last Five Year Plan

We believe that 5 years is time enough to vindicate any diagnostic vision or strategy of redress, and therefore make the following solemn commitments.

When this little MBO campaign formally opens shop on the '99 solstice (not coincidentally, the darkest night of the year), start your stopwatches. We ask those of you who recognize Big Bodies as a clear and present danger to our mental/social/planetary health for 5 years of aid and abetment. If within that time we have not induced a large enough shift in public awareness, activist strategy and democratic reform to finally rein in malignant corporate scale forever, look for a new game. Go and find (or confect) fresh strategies that can finish off the job. In fact, whenever you discover anything that may accelerate the process, please share it widely and/or try it on your own.

Like all good immune cells, we should always be experimenting with innovative tactics anyway. Just never forget that our objective is not to reform Big Bodies, but to deliquesce them back into human-scale entities that are locally rooted, functionally defined and politically inert. This is not a utopian or quixotic mission. It is exactly what happens in those infrequent but well documented cases when an aroused immune system persuades large malignant tumors to "spontaneously" subside. (After a million years of evolution and learning, one would like to think we're at least as astute as our brighter protozoan constituents.)

In any event, you can not improve, edify or "green" either tumors or Big Bodies. Once they lose their sense of place, democratic values and craftsman-like purpose, they have regressed beyond redemption. Reform efforts then only strengthen their defenses (e.g., lawyers, hit squads, PR flacks), and complicate the final cure. We must relentlessy "persuade" them to return to their initial organic scale and purposeful occupations (i.e., to the days before they were infected with MBAs, and unbridled growth became an end itself).

How you go about this is up to you and your fellows. Successful immune systems are perforce diverse. Some of you may preach or plead, and some will boycott, hack or monkeywrench. Still others may feel better armed wielding reason, rhyme or ridicule. But whatever tactics suit your taste and talents, keep in touch and stay unorganized. This movement can never succeed with a centralized, centripetal structure, and the last thing we need is a little Big Body of our own.

We also therefore swear our total campaign staff will never exceed two digits, and win. lose or draw, we shall gratefully self-implode at the 5-year check out. When big changes happen, though, they often happen quite fast, and much faster these days than ever before. Therefore, the dream is that, with a little luck and millennial momentum, we can turn this corner a couple years early and have some time for a serious carouse.