What Defines the Campaign is its Statement, Not the People who Collect Signatures!
Wednesday 25 July 2007
By: Somaiyeh Farid
Translated by: Shahrzad
The One million Signatures Campaign was initiated following the gathering of June 12 (22 of Khordad) by 54 women’s rights activists. The Campaign was started with the goal of changing discriminatory laws and expanding the demand for this change among the public. By creating a website and attracting and training volunteers, the Campaign quickly grew among a wide range of men and woman in favor of equal rights. One of the reasons for the rapid growth of this effort can be attributed to the clear and specific goals that have been mentioned in the Campaign’s statement. It was these specific and clear demands that made the campaign well known and popular among different classes and groups of the society within a short time.
From the start of the campaign many people have begun to define the meaning of the word "campaign" and the process of activism in this Campaign. In this speech, I would like to clear up some of the ambiguities that have accrued during this Campaign’s existence from my point of view and I am hoping that others will join me in these discussions as well.
The process of decision making in the Campaign is horizontal and diffused
One of the ambiguities that exists about the One Million Signatures Campaign as a social movement, corresponds with its structure and the process of decision making. The Campaign does not have a legal (official) structure thus it has not been officially registered anywhere and it does not have a board of directors or a central committee charged with making decisions. Therefore the process of decision making is carried out through a distributed and diffused manner. Although there are some individuals who were pioneers of this campaign, and who took the initiative in starting it, because of the lack of an official structure in the Campaign, the decisions have not been necessarily made in a centralized way by these founding individuals. And although the initial members of the Campaign have been more involved in the decision making process, anyone who joins the campaign and works toward achieving its goals would be considered a leader and can get involved in the process of decision making.
The absence of a legal and official structure does not mean lack of structure, the structure of the Campaign is different from an organization or an institution, however. Without a doubt, every movement needs some organizing and this Campaign, as team process, does have a structure which includes people who give meaning to the structure. But this structure is not rigid and what is meant by organizers is not equivalent to organizers in an institution. Organizers in this campaign are the people who start the Campaign and those who help carry it forward. Starting the campaign does not necessarily mean the inception of the Campaign, rather, "start" is the point where each person joins the Campaign and after joining takes steps toward expanding and spreading it. Therefore, anyone can for example, make a website for the campaign with her or his group or take the message of the campaign into their own society without needing instructions from others involved in the Campaign. Although we agree that decision making by a group is much more effective and accurate, since the demands of the campaign are in fact minimum common demands of women and women’s groups, and as such the Campaign has managed to attract the involvement of a large number of people, it therefore must allow for diverse approaches in activism within its broad structure. The members of the Campaign are in a horizontal (non-hierarchical) structure in relation to one another and might have different view points and therefore utilize varying options and strategies for action. If the campaign along the lines of its aims, manages to successfully move to other cities and expand, surely with this large number of people there will be a diverse array of actions and each will find their own way in working to achieve the goals mentioned in the Campaign’s statement. It will be impossible to get every-one’s opinion when it comes to decision making and often we will not achieve majority agreement on a certain course of action. So how can we solve this problem of decision-making?
The process of decision making is divided into two parts: external and internal
In my view, there are two types of decision making processes in this Campaign: 1) decisions concerning internal issues; and 2) decisions with respect to external issues, specifically regarding the adoption of an official position with respect to matters of importance.
In regards to the internal issues, there are no specific modes to follow. As a member, anyone can work toward achieving the goals of the Campaign by for example, organizing meetings, seminars, building websites or group weblogs. In fact, creation of websites and weblogs or the organization of seminars have all been implemented as a result of ideas put forth by individual members, and their follow-up.
The situation is different when it comes to taking a position toward external matters. Since anyone who gathers signatures is considered a member and currently there are over 500 members actively working in the Campaign inside and outside of Iran, it is unrealistic and near to impossible to get every-one’s opinion regarding a particular issue on which the Campaign could take a stance; secondly, the campaign has caught many people’s attentions with its clear and simple message and it’s minimum demands. Now we have to see how a campaign that does not have a legal/official structure, but has a single specific goal and has many members, can make a statement regarding, for example, March 8th -the international women’s day. All over the world this campaign is known by its statement and booklet. The validity of these signatures and the Campaign’s growth in such a short time has been because of its statement. For the Campaign to take a position that is not about its specific goals and internal matters, is to digress from the statement and thus should be avoided. Each member can have an opinion regarding external matters, but never as a representative of the Campaign.
In this campaign no one holds an official position
The absence of organized roles in this campaign has its benefits and downsides. Since no one has an official position, anyone who takes over a responsibility simply has a personal commitment to fulfilling her/his task. In an official enterprise, everyone is assigned a responsibility based on their position and each responsibility has its own rewards, but in this Campaign people work merely with love without expecting to be officially compensated.
Lack of official positions, allowing each member to make decisions independently, and quick exchange of experiences strengthens each member’s individuality and allows anyone who desires to help move this campaign forward to gain more self confidence and expand their ideas. Thus this structure will help in developing every-one’s individual personalities and capacities.
Furthermore, in this structure people see the results of their actions more clearly. This causes members to feel more responsible when they have an idea and the idea in turn is put into action. Therefore each member will feel more responsible about the work that she/he has initiated. In the short term, this opportunity helps deepen people’s understandings and expand their experiences. While we strongly recommend that volunteers participate in training workshops before becoming involved with the Campaign, we also allow for the inclusion of those members who simply pick up the statement and booklet of the Campaign with the aim of collecting signatures. In this way, anyone can help advance the campaign without any membership requirements or the need to ask for direction or permission from anyone. Often when members go among the people and have to answer many diverse questions, they realize the importance of teamwork and they come back to the group to hear others’ points of view and to learn from their experiences. As such, the loose structure of the Campaign also in this way, allows and encourages team work.
This Campaign is a social movement toward achieving a clear and specific goal.
One of the issues that has been brought up by many -from people in the streets to the intelligence ministry’s interrogators to even the members of the Campaign- in the last few months is the concern over someone "taking advantage" of this campaign. It seems that there is a concern that some people with political or personal motives might be able to steer the campaign away from its path or might join the campaign and advertise and support it in order to achieve their own agenda.
This campaign is a social movement which seeks to achieve a clear and specific target. At this point, I have to say that the main purpose of the members of this campaign is to raise awareness and to broadcast the demands of women with respect to reforming and changing laws that discriminate against women and as mentioned in the statement of the Campaign. It’s not possible nor is it desirable for us to read into people’s motives when they join the campaign. Our goals are clear and we welcome anyone who joins us and helps us no matter what their motives are. Moreover, the activities of the campaign are mostly documented and thus it’s more difficult to take personal advantage of this effort.
The issue to consider here is the goal. The Independence of a movement means that its funding and goals are independent from other social and political groups, but it does not mean that we cannot accept any members or supporters from other groups. This campaign will become stronger when it has the support of a variety of groups. The more successful we are at gaining support among different social groups the more hope we can have in achieving our goals. What defines the Campaign is its statement, not the people who gather signatures.