ground rules for grassroots democracy

1. The more involved you are, the more say you have: Participation should always be rewarded with influence. New participants should defer to experienced members. Groups can and should limit (but never prohibit) decision making participation of individuals who are not "pulling the weight" and doing the hard work.

1.a Those who do not contribute to a process, but only criticize the outcome are not participants so much as "critics". Participants should be obliged to respond to questions or concerns of other participants, but responding to critics is optional. The more someone participates, the more influence they will rightly have.

2. Everyone gets a Fair Warning. There are only two valid reasons to dispute or overturn a completed decision: one is that "no advance notice" or fair warning was issued (see Rule 9 for the other.) The length of notice should be fitting to the impact of the decision. The channels of communication by which fair warning is issued must be universally accessible, and the product of a group decision.

3. Respect the process Once the process has begun, it should be carried through to completion. The only people who can abort or alter an ongoing process are those currently engaged within it.

4. Respect the people: The vast majority of the time, people in grassroots organizations do what they do, and make the decisions they make because — by all that they know and believe — it is the right thing to do. Questioning people’s motives or character is unacceptable.

5. Respect the outcome Democrats are, by definition, people who respect and support the outcome of a democratic process whether they personally agree or not! People who quit or stop contributing to a group because they don’t respect a decision are not being democratic.

6. Respect the rules and authorities The governance of any organization is based on two balancing forces: rules and personal authority. The more rules you have, the less authorities you need and vice versa. Rules are dangerous because they are inflexible, and valuable because they are unbiased. Authorities are dangerous because they are biased, and valuable because they are flexible. Members and officers have to commit to creating a set of rules and granting authorities that provides for the long term viability of the organization, and that facilitate increasing respect for the rules and authorities.

7. Absolute zero tolerance for abuse, antagonism or violence. Equal participation in a democratic organization is reserved for those who can communicate and act in a respectful manner. Those who fail to respect the rules or other participants must immediately void their own rights, since the only alternative is allowing such people to void the rights of others.

NB: Decisions based on Rule 7 may be the only exception of rule 2. All participants should be told at the first participation about Rule 7. That being said, there are no warnings required, and no exceptions for first offenses. Many grassroots organizations fail their objectives principally because they allow abusive behavior to cripple participation. All organizations must have a designated person with authority to deal firmly and immediately with abusive behavior.

8. Respect Dissent: Given due process and respect to the other participants is necessary, Members have the right to full expression of their ideas (by presenting or submitting them) and no one shall be censured, ridiculed or discriminated against for holding unpopular ideas. Dissenters have the right to have their reasons put "on the record" and made accessible all other members. Dissenters should be encouraged to predict a negative outcome to what they see as a bad decision. This prediction can be later validated or invalidated.

9. Respect the truth. Everyone must be diligent to ensure that they always tell the full truth. Someone telling a falsehood is the only other reason (see rule 2) a decision may be overturned. This means that all of your statements are true, do not leave out relevant information, and are not construed in such a way as to mislead. You are also responsible for verifying the truth of things you forward to the group, unless you provide a disclaimer. This may seem a tall order but democracy is about living together and counting on the word of our colleagues. Do the extra research that is required before you make statements to ensure that your friends can count on absolutely every word you say. It returns big dividends in winning their confidence. After a while the extra effort becomes habitual.

10. Openness: to maintain trust and solidarity within the party, it is essential to be open and transparent. The "any member, any meeting" standard exists as a right at all times. Exceptions to "any member, any meeting" be justified, not the reverse.

In general correspondence, the rule is that between peers and associates in the organization, secrecy is not appropriate, we must never say anything about a person that we are not prepared to say to the person. Like respecting the truth, this is a high standard, but one that must be upheld, particularly at the highest levels in the organization.

In the conduct of the organization's business, a person should be cc'd when:
  • something in the correspondence refers to them.
  • the correspondence includes something that came from them (unless they gave consent to forwards)
  • if is refers to something in their jurisdiction.

People should not be cc'd when:
  • they don't want to know - as you build a working relationship with people, they will tell you what things they don't want to know about, but don't assume this.
  • they know already - if you are telling someone else something you have already informed them of.
  • discussions involving them are held "in camera" - given that there exists a due process and specific reasons for doing so.

Apart from this, communications are automatically .cc'd to the persons involved.