The elections to the national board of the Committee for the Defence of Democracy (KOD) are taking place soon. This will be the closing chapter in the infancy of this fantastic socio-political movement. The period of our ‘adolescence’ will commence there on, the time of turning our mistakes into valuable lessons and making painful experiences help us create a new, real format for this movement. Not because that past was bad, but because the ability to reform and to adjust to the new conditions of the surrounding reality makes us stronger as the agents on the socio-political stage.
The forthcoming election in KOD is really a battle of differing visions on what this organisation should be (what values it should represent), rather than a conflict of particular individuals. What are the greatest achievements of KOD so far? There are many and they are worth mentioning. The front pages are dominated by sensations and scandal mongering, spectacularly peppered by comments from, very often, well known figures (and therefore listened to), but oblivious to the situation of KOD. What is most important, is often lost in this narration; the holistic image of the movement, the result of hard work of hundreds of people. The greatest value of KOD is that it worked quite naturally in a complex and multi-dimentional way. This is a dream of almost all grassroot initiatives. It is the organisation as a whole, not its fragmented components that constitute the value of this organisation.
KOD emerged on the wave of strong objections to the actions taken by the Law and Justice party (PiS), which disgraced the Constitution and degraded the rule of law. However, the initial protest as well as its sustained form over the long term, was the greatest challenge! KOD in a peculiar way, lived up to this challenge. KOD came out onto the streets last year and (despite great internal perturbations) and is still present in the streets.
KOD has arisen not only as a movement of protests, but also as a force seeking to develop substantial and considered alternatives. The legislative initiative regarding the reform of the Constitutional Court allowed the organisation to take part in the legislative process and to present the voice of citizens to the Parliament.
A permanent place in the public sphere
The movement has became an agent on the political and social stage, not only in the country, but also worldwide as a recognisable force of pressure. It has became a reference point for Polish and foreign social initiatives, a source of information on social attitudes in Poland, one of the most important models to be followed in order to improve effective engagement of public potential.
KOD persisted in its diversity
KOD succeeded because of the diversity of its actions and by conducting simultaneous and parallel demonstrations of varying forms and sizes for the last eighteen months. They took place in the capital, in big cities and small towns. The events at times, were attendance oriented (from several thousands to 240 thousand), at other times, they were focussed on the message.
The media haven’t sufficiently covered KOD’s local and regional educational activities. These activities were essentially concentrated on increasing awareness of democracy and the rule of law amongst the Polish people and also on strengthening communities. Many initiatives such as debates and open discussions with the leading authorities and experts, information centres, cultural events, including theatre shows, museums and film festivals, children’s workshop on the Constitution, even blood donation stations are what many KOD activists value more than mass demonstrations. This type of actions is a foundation of every day work at the grassroots.
Another strength of KOD is cooperating with other democratic forces in the country and abroad, and thus mastering the art of identifying mutual needs and postulates and forming larger, broader coalitions. In Poland it consisted mainly of cooperating with the oppositional political parties, supporting other strong and equally interesting initiatives such as the national Women’s Strike, Black Protest, Citizens of the RP, Action Democracy, numerous events concerning the educational reform, as well as collaborative creation of the framework for the National Strike (the latter was originally used by the National Women’s Strike).
The Nature of KOD
The greatest strength (as well as the bane) of KOD is its complex nature. Its foundations are built on the continued management of compromises among various viewpoints, opinions, perceptions, perspectives, interests, values and ambitions. Often this is the search for a compromise among the extremes.
KOD relentlessly balanced between the opposites, which were paradoxically mutually reliant.
On the one side of the movement, there is a strong need to retain the grassroot character of this initiative, on the other, there is a need for precise, coherent and centralised decision making process. On top of this, there was also a discord between the requirement to run the organisation professionally while allowing enough space for spontaneous initiatives.
KOD put its efforts in building its internal structures. This is in fact ‘building internal democracy’ at an accelerated pace. Internal communications and understanding of the law are being honed and together with building a collective culture, create the feel of the association’s identity.
All of these complicated and interfusing processes relate to (directly or indirectly) KODosphere, which has 9 thousand members, close to 70 thousand declared sympathisers, 250 thousand involved observers. Poland and the world are watching the fate of this association.
Challenges: Young People at KOD
The median of age at KOD is 60. Involvement of young people is the challenge facing KOD. The question is: does KOD carry in itself too great a charge of social stereotypes or conservative narration? Attention, liberalism can also be conservative, as long as it doesn’t evolve.
Young, active people, brought up in the 21st century are often open minded experienced and innovative (not only in the field of technology, but also in group dynamics or the way they perceive the world). Young person will respect authority or an elderly person, but will not put these people in high regard just for these reasons. Young active people, apart from the debate on the past, want the new (not the old in new wrapping) perspectives and development, they do not want the chiefs or life leaders, but the people or mechanisms who will enforce their abilities and their potential. The young don’t want the slogans nor the hope but the specifics and plans, they want arguments. Of course, I omit the inactive youths i.e. those who are not interested in politics at all.
Being open to knowledge
A number of methodologies for effective and in partnership work for groups or voluntaries have been developed in the last years by the international organisations. Internet is smothered with the recommendations for the models of good practices, coaching and generally accessible knowledge on this subject. Unfortunately, (or fortunately), this knowledge, if applied, will transform human relations within the organisation. This knowledge will give primacy to the method, abilities rather than the image or the strength of the individual.
KOD will have to decide what organisation it wishes to be. Will KOD be a modern, progressive association nurturing itself and its members? Or would it be a hierarchic vertical social structure built on ‘a recognition of the authority or power’?
Post-truth and populism
The incapacity for critical and analytical thinking is not, as one may think, the feature of fanatical or extreme formations. In the age of rapid communication and social media, the ability to verify information or to distinguish facts from opinions is essential for conducting a well informed debate or a discussion. Communication challenges of the 21st century have undoubtedly affected (in a negative way) the quality of the debate within KOD and about KOD.
Priorities for the KOD of tomorrow
Few things come to mind when I think of the ideal KOD of tomorrow. Whatever format it takes (grassroot, central or something in-between the two models), it will need to work out the basics for sound organisational culture set on ethics, honesty and transparency.
If the organisation manages to create internal mechanisms to cultivate the above values, then there should be no concern for the future of KOD. The organisation will not be threatened by the crises of image, it will not be ruined by internal dynamics.
The myth dominating KODosphere, is equating “processes” with corporate life. The notion that regulatory mechanisms for cooperation exist only in business, is simply wrong. On the contrary, in the most modern of organisations, human dynamics are supported by a number of soft mechanism built on the immense knowledge and conducted by coaches/facilitators. The purpose of these mechanisms is to moderate the group so that it is able to fulfil its potential to the maximum.
Soft regulations, unlike hard, corporate regulations serve to build the roads where paths have already been trekked through, to make it easier for the people to walk their paths.
For me, KOD has to open up to this idea. Innovation means that at a certain point, landline telephone system is replaced by mobile communication and we switch from riding a horse to driving a car.
The KOD of the future, in my understanding, is the association that builds the potential of its members. All will depend on the strength and the minds of the people participating in this initiative. As an example: to give the participants an opportunity to take part in workshops on: elocution skills (as their task is to have a dialogue with people therefore they should be able to formulate solid arguments), coordinating and facilitating a group vs ‘managing’ a group, creating and completing projects, crisis management, building and conducting an association, its culture, building and creating strategy, developing communication skills, etc. If all this happens, the end result will be organisational culture of KOD which will function on a partnership level, horizontal and plural, prepared to gain further knowledge. By the same, the organisation will have the tools and the skills to properly evaluate what happens now and to respond accordingly.
All this should rest in the framework of the organisation which emphasises transparency of actions and where people learn to make decisions together on larger projects, initiatives, roles while leaving sufficient autonomy for the work on the smaller scale done locally.
9 thousand members working in so created conditions, will be able to achieve a great deal, bring about real change. First of all, such dynamics will tear PIS to shreds, then it will attract another 9 thousand members and the young among them. KOD should not just unite, but nurture to grow.
* Katarzyna Mortoń, political scientist, specialising in the building of social awareness potential and media, business owner, dancer. Find out more on her blog www.stuffbymorton.blox.pl