The Demosphere Manifestoby Mary Joyce, Paramendra Bhagat
Preamble: So Let Us Begin
The number of human beings on the planet is finite. The number of countries on the planet is finite. It is possible to create a democratic spectrum based on the rubric that, in a democracy, citizens have ultimate control over the policies of their governments. We look at the list of non-democracies and lay them out along a spectrum: some autocracies are worse than others. Some democracies are "illiberal". We take all this into account and we work to identify individuals and groups in and from those countries that are working to establish democracy in their respective countries. Such activists exist in all countries. Whether they are few or many, effective or ineffective, they are there. However, the worse the autocracy, the harder the task, the less vibrant that activist community might be. Then we use digital technology - websites, e-mail, chat rooms, online forums, blogs - to connect these activists with one another. One country group learns from another, there would be cross-pollination in terms of learning strategies, techniques, message honing.
Article 1: Bridge Activists
A problem presents itself. Most autocracies are in the Global South. In these countries there is limited access to the internet. How can we expect to reach out to democracy activists using the internet if most of these activists don't even have daily access to computers? This is where "bridge activists" come in. Bridges activists are tech-savvy. They know how to use the internet and they have regular access to it. They are also in contact with other local activists, activists who may not be so knowledgeable about the internet. Bridge activists are a bridge between the knowledge and political experience available on the internet and local activists working on the ground. In this way, the leap can be made from the grassroots to an international digital democracy network in a single step, through a single type of activist.
Article 2: The Demosphere
What is this international digital democracy network? It is the demosphere. It is an informal network of blogs, websites, and digital citizens who support democracy and want to empower local democracy activists. It is a digital ecosystem. The pieces exist, but they are not yet connected. A digital network for democracy must be created. It will be created by individuals who believe in the network and who inform others about it and connect them to it.
Article 3: The Role of Bloggers
Some of the most powerful bridge activists in this movement will be bloggers. There are three basic components to power for any democracy movement: money, message, organization. Blogs are great ways to marshall all three. Blogs make possible politics at the speed of thought. Blogs empower the individual. Sometimes you end up with armchair revolutionaries but some bloggers are also activists. With time, they may also become bridge activists. Blog networks are also in the position to form the basis of a larger digital democracy network. A blog is one star. A blogalaxy is many stars. A blogalaxy has many individual and group blogs all interlinked to each other through blogrolls, RSS feeds, e-mail lists. These blogalaxies can be a foundation from which the demosphere can grow.
The demosphere will be in the background. Screen time will always be secondary to face time. The most difficult work will be done in the organizing among those that might not even be online. This will be the job of the bridge activist and his/her online supporters. The demosphere will be an extensive, sophisticated. support system: something important, but in the background.
Article 4: Access
Chances are, most people not living in democracies are poor, do not have internet access, are possibly illiterate. According to a document by the World Economic Forum, in 2003 10% of people in the Global South had internet access. In the rich countries, this figure is closer to 40%. However, 10% translates into a higher level of access than people may think. People in most large cities and towns on the planet can get online from an internet cafe for a few cents an hour. Maybe the computer is old, the service is slow, and even the low fee prohibits frequent use, but the possibility is there.
But then again, not everyone has to come online, not everyone has to blog. There might be language barriers online. This is where bridge activists come into play. People and groups who can not or do not come online have access to bridge activists who are online and connected, inside and outside the country.
Article 5: Diasporas
Diasporas are also important because expatriates will be key bridge activists. Functional, effective, egalitarian bridges can be created between people and groups in countries without democracy, and diaspora members in countries that are democratic. Expatriates have the money and the internet access that result from their membership in the diaspora, as well as an intimate knowledge of the local conditions in their home country. Indeed, members of the diaspora are so widely dispersed across the globe that the internet might be the only way to truly organize them en masse. It is easy to organize discussions and fundraising online: point and click, point and click.
Digital citizens do not face the traditional political and geographical barriers. "Brain drain" was a colonial term. We are all global citizens. The two megatrends of globalization and the internet mean expatriates can digitally play an active role in the political life of their home countries, also post-democracy, in many cases more actively than if they were still living there.
Article 6: The Boundary Concept
Another problem arises. There are countries like China that seem to be able to control even the internet. How would the demosphere reach activists in countries like China? For these types of countries, we would employ the "boundary concept." According to this concept, we organize from outside the boundary. In addition, local activists organize clandestinely from within the country. If that organizing is fierce enough, and the temperature is raised, ultimately the boundary will melt. And we go in.
The appropriate mix of the open and the clandestine will depend on where a particular non-democracy is on our spectrum. Even people from those countries in the diaspora might prefer to work clandestinely for fear of reprisals against their collaborators inside the boundary. Individuals make their choice as to whether to work openly or in a clandestine fashion. The nature of the online world facilitates clandestine work.
Article 7: Action
What will the actions of the demosphere be? For now, we can only speculate. Certainly, some fundraising will occur, channeling money from the diaspora and the democracies to effective, credible, and accountable grassroots activists on the ground. Online money transfer mechanisms will assist in these activities. The transparency of the network will also make sure there is accountability on money matters. All book keeping will be online. This is key.
The network may also act as an advocate, spreading the news of activist persecution to an international audience. People in the network who might get targeted by the state should feel the entire network knows when something happens to them. This role would be similar to that of Amnesty International, the Human Rights Watch, and the Committee To Protect Bloggers, but focused specifically on democracy activists.
We might also, through blogs, publicly debate opponents of democracy. When direct debates are not possible, we will opt for indirect debates. We challenge whatever public statements might be available. We draw attention to their weak and fraudulent arguments and then we counterargue. As soon as they say something, we respond immediately.
We have to create organizations and umbrella organizations among the diaspora. The right to peaceful assembly is just like the right to free speech, a fundamental human right. People should organize as they see fit. We would not direct how people organize. Rather, we would facilitate their organizational activities.
Article 8: The Goal
Once we have this basic infrastructure in place, we could really change gears. The goal is the establishment of democratic governments throughout the world. In some cases, reform will take years. In other cases, decisive street demonstrations, like in Ukraine in 2004, will lead a country from authoritarianism to a fledgling democracy in one dramatice event.
The message is peace and equality. The message is dignity and pride. You organize to achieve them when you do not have them. The demosphere supports this struggle. From the poorest village to the largest metropolis, the demosphere supports this struggle. From the homeland to the edges of the diaspora, the demosphere supports this struggle. From the activist marching through the dusty street to the blogger thousands of miles away on her laptop, the demosphere supports this struggle. On every continent, in every nation, in every heart that beats for the same dream. This is the demosphere. Join us.