PGA Process

 Open letter to People's Global Action

author: Sans-Titre

Here follows an open letter to People's Global Action from the French SANS-TITRE informal network. It confirms our interest in taking part in the ongoing PGA process and, in particular, our interest in helping prepare the forthcoming Leiden gathering. The purpose of this letter is to set out some of the critical issues which we want to see discussed.

Date: 05-09-02 13:30

The next sans-titre meeting will take place at Strasbourg, before, during and after the European coordination meeting for the No Border camp on 12th & 13th May. We should like to debate plans for the next PGA European meeting with any interested people who will be in Strasbourg then. We are specially interested in discussing the issue of PGA/No Border convergence. The sans-titre Strasbourg meeting will continue into Monday 14th, which would be the best time for anyone interested in discussing this to come along.


Since the changeover in European convenors, the new convenors pronouncements have been generally encouraging. Now seems an appropriate time to raise the issue of potential structural flaws in the way PGA operates. We believe that an open letter is the best way to raise this issue. The general political climate is harsh and will remain harsh. The number of politically motivated people in Europe seems especially low. It is therefore vital that we should come together to define whatever shared identity, structure and strategy we think we need.

Until now, sans-titre has supported and actively participated in PGA-inspired action. But we feel we have played no part in developing the basic premises of such action. Whenever we have been involved in PGA-inspired action, we have been unable to identify decision-making bodies. Moreover, there has been no collective assessment of the effectiveness of PGA-inspired actions.

Prior to the Milan meeting, we tried to use the caravan99 list to initiate debate. We wanted to start a process of strategic thinking about the validity of counter-summits. The issue we raised never appeared on the agenda. No debate ever took place. And to this day we do not know who took the decision not to make time for it. We don't know how the decision was taken.

If the PGA-process includes decision-making and assessment bodies, where are they to be found? How can we take part?

As far as we are concerned, the consulta, as presently devised, does not constitute sufficient response to this problem. In fact, the consulta seems revelatory of a certain tendency to mythologize the zapatista model and apply it, in a highly questionable manner, to an utterly different context. Furthermore, the existence of an internal consulta side-by-side a public or social consulta reveals an intrinsic ambiguity of purpose. A social consulta in Europe cannot mean the same thing as a social consulta in the Chiapas. Each country possesses its own peculiar history, culture and society, and its own opposition movement, with significations variations in structure, in strengths and weaknesses. How can a single instrument, such as the consulta, account for these real differences? We believe that meaningful exchange, on such a vast scale, necessitates the use of a variety of tools. We believe that real-time meetings need to be organized without deadlines. We believe that a precise definition of the goals and modus operandi of the internal consulta is lacking (though the first of these may be being reached as we write). As far as we can tell from e-mail traffic, the same thing is happening now as happened with the PCN tour: urgent operational requirements are squeezing out discussion and debate. The consulta was discussed and criticized during the Cochabamba conference in Bolivia. The published accounts of those discussions are inadequate, considering the need for collective European thinking which is essential to such a project. Once again, we come face to face with the flaws in our de facto decision-making process: Who decides what? When? And how?

PGA's 5th principle refers to "An organisational philosophy based on decentralization and autonomy". However, the lack of clearly defined procedures and structures induces a new and more perverse form of hierarchical control (which is not to say to we want more bureaucracy or more institutionalised structures). That hierarchical control is all the more perverse for being unspoken and harder to combat. (See, on this, Jo Freeman's "On the tyranny of the absence of structure", a useful text which has helped us analyse our own organizational problems).

The most obvious example of this unspoken and perverse hierarchical control is the way the "support group" works. During the convenors' and ex-convenors' November meeting in Barcelona, the support group's mode of action was explained at last. So were criteria for membership: "cultural adaptability", "knowledge of at least three languages", "ability to finance oneself".

When and how was the support group defined? How were these criteria determined? How valid are they? Who runs the recruitment office? Why are there only Europeans in a support group which is involved in worldwide activities? Even if a support group turns out to be a good idea – something which cannot be taken for granted - we obviously need to know who is in it (published membership list and rota), how people are co-opted, what the exact mandate is and how this mandate may be revoked. What are the support group's precise areas of responsibility? Is it involved in the consulta? Is it organizing the next conference? Is it in charge of the bulletin?

Such criticism has been expressed before. It has never been addressed.

Here is a summary of the points then raised:

Writing this letter has been an instructive and lengthy process. It has provoked numerous discussions within sans-titre. We feel we have opened a number of avenues of thought. We need to pursue the process. We need to return to first principles, regarding identity, the way we organize and future priorities.


members of sans-titre present at the Rennes meeting, 8th April 2002

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