As a process analyst, I don’t just draw pictures. That’s a small part of all I do. Pictures are good to communicate motion – start here, end there, these things go together, green means go, red means stop, and so forth. Mostly, though, I write stuff down.
I’m pretty sure no one but me actually reads all the words I write and that’s OK.
I write for different audiences and for different purposes. A key part of my writing is the remembering. People forget what it is that they do. This isn’t because they are stupid. It is because they are present in what they do and, once done, they go to the next thing. When you start a job, it’s all new, you feel like a dolt, there’s equal parts “WTF?” and “Oh, cool!”, and then, at some point, you forget what you’re doing and you just do it. You are the fish that does not think about the water surrounding it. When I document the “as-is” process, I make people remember what they are doing because they have to explain it to me. Often, they will pull up short and confess that they don’t know why they do X instead of Z, it’s just how it’s done.
Developers love the flowcharts and process diagrams I create. They don’t want to read the words. Words are bore-ing, an impediment to the rush of creating something new. Then it gets to QA, I start clicking on the buttons and stuff doesn’t work. Again. “Mike, what happened to the form validation on X?” “What validation?” “The validation documented on page 6.” “Oh, I didn’t read that.” My forehead meets my desk, I send aggrieved emails off to our manager raging about Mike’s refusal to read specifications, I curse loudly, then take deep breaths and IM Mike to come see me. Again.
That’s just SOP in any organization where you have complex shit going on. People fall into routines. People fail to read. People get wrapped up in the moment of what they are doing and don’t think about other people, like the new hire, the next person in the process, the end-user of the new product. Sometimes you are cursed to work with SAP and it all hits you at once. Hence, the need for the person who remembers, reminds, documents, structures, architects — in a word, institutionalizes those processes.
This is all a very long way around to talking about the lure and false promise of political protest as a route to change. Protests, demonstrations, marches, sit-ins, and other public performances of that ilk, are the preferred mode of political participation for a number of people on the left. It feels like it should accomplish something. There’s energy in the streets and power with the people! But, an hour afterwards, it is gone, relegated to YouTube snippets and Twitter debates. To be effective (vs. being impressive), it needs to be routinized.
Doing this is a buzzkill. Someone has to write it all down, analyze it, pull out the purpose, the participants, the objectives (conceptual and practical, idealistic and concrete), define the rules (What are the bounds? What is a valid action? What are the steps, with hand-offs to which actors, to achieve the objectives?), set down the process paths, create the flow charts (Yay, pictures!), document the data points (We need signs, we need sign-up sheets, we need name tags, we need talking points), and identify next steps after objectives are achieved.
Protests, in and of themselves, achieve bupkis. They may give you a high and make you feel empowered, but until they are repeatable and achieve a measurable outcome, they won’t make much difference. They are a vital, irreplaceable part of political change; they are the picture that can convey meaning in a way that words cannot, make the abstract visceral, and produce proof that you are not alone in your dissatisfaction.
The reason Indivisible is having an effect in a way that OWS never did is because they are institutionalizing what they are doing. There’s plenty of protesting being done (just ask Darrell Issa and Duncan Hunter, currently getting targeted down here in San Diego), but even more there is steady routinization of getting organized, what are the main objectives this week, how do you handle situation X, what are acceptable rules of engagement, and so forth.
It warms the cockles of my process analyst heart.
What it is also doing is changing the focus of left protest away from grand gestures and ideological tail chasing. It explicitly eschews the more-progressive-than-thou posturing of the alt-left, and cares nothing for the political theater of “How are the Democrats wrong? Let us count the ways,” that marks the “revolution”. It is focused on the malfeasance and criminality of the party that actually holds power, and addresses very specific pieces of legislation or appointments that are in the public eye. It presents the picture of why the actions the people in control of the government (that would be the Republicans) are wrong and to be opposed. It also builds up local political networks that are durable and reliable over time, and are not dependent on any particular politician or political clique.
The end result, if we’re lucky, is that people will forget the process and simply get on with the performance of political participation. It will be a regular balance to the more daunting edifice of government bureaucracy — something we need to prevent ruthless depredation from autocratic kleptocrats like 45* — as well as the much too insular rules and practices of deliberative bodies, from city councils to the Congress.
This may sound like a sellout of the “movement”. It is a taming of it, but it is also how you preserve the presence and application of popular power over time and across administrations. Otherwise you are left with the adrenaline rush of the march followed by the let down as life goes back to usual when a new cat video goes viral and people stop looking at the masses in the street.
If you want to stop being disappointed at having no long term effect, no matter how loudly you yell, how much you threaten, then consider that your process could stand some improvement. Weber counsels, “Politics is a strong and slow boring of hard boards. It takes both passion and perspective.”