Why We Need Dissension in the Anti-Genocide Movement

29 Oct

The people that make up the anti-genocide constituency are a diverse group with a wide array of opinions on the best ways to prevent mass atrocities.  While this amazing wealth of knowledge could be used to create new, innovative strategies, dogmatic, top-down policy making blunts its potential.  While approaches differ from organization to organization, the anti-genocide movement as a whole generally doesn’t value dissent as a form of self-improvement and it is both a huge loss for the movement and for those that stand to benefit from robust anti-genocide policies.  As a member of STAND that has always been outside of the official leadership structure but still interested in policy, I have been frustrated with the lack of formal opportunities to engage with policy, and hope that we can do better together in the future.

While top-down policy making models are more efficient in quickly developing a coherent policy, it leaves the organizations members uninvolved and uniformed.  Especially for student groups, the opportunity to participate in policy making is crucial.  As it stands, however, non-MC members (I can’t speak for the MC) spend very little time at conferences actually discussing policy options, and it even feels awkward to bring up certain topics.  STAND has the smartest and most dedicated members I know, and they need a space to critically engage with the issues.  (However, STAND is still better at including members in policy discussions than many other similar organizations.)  If STAND, or anti-genocide groups as a whole, does not provide members with this space, members lose interest in policy and approach the issues from a more uninformed perspective.

I have a personal example of the problems that result from a lack of policy discussions.  I’m quite skeptical that CFCI is the right way to approach the DRC because I see the country’s problems as having their roots in poor governance, weak civil society, and a lack of institutions.  Resource exploitation is certainly a part of the conflict, but from my understanding, illegal extraction and exportation is a symptom, not a cause.  However, in the two years I have been in STAND, I have not had the opportunity to participate in a formal, honest discussion on CFCI’s pros and cons, nor have I heard a single voice promoted by STAND that is critical of the approach.  This deficiency of debate has prevented me from gaining a better understanding of CFCI, and it is an issue I still do not fully understand.

Dissent is a critical part of any decision making process.  Without opposing opinions, individuals and groups are not forced to improve their ideas to overcome conflicting arguments.  Advocacy organization, unfortunately, often forget this.  Human rights organization in particular are fond of advocacy toolkits, in which a small set of items supposedly provides individuals with everything they need to help a certain region of the world.  This top-down model, in which regular members have no chance to participate, fails to take advantage of the array of knowledge of the group’s constituency.  This, inevitably, leads to bad policy.  Anti-genocide organizations have a history of short-sighted, bad policy, partially due to the relative youth of the movement.  Containing policy decisions to a small group of experts or leaders, no matter their ability, will not create good policy.  We need to put our trust in our bright and numerous members, who have the ability to engage and debate these issues if they are given the chance.  Undoubtedly more debate will lead to a smaller capacity to react quickly to changes on the ground, but since working toward mass atrocities prevention is a long-term struggle, we have to adopt a model that expands and improves our organizations.

The top-down policy making that both STAND and other anti-genocide organizations are guilty of leads to a destructive cycle.  Members have no space to engage, lose interest in policy, bad policy is created, and members have no way to change the policy, bringing it full circle.  For the health of anti-genocide advocacy as a movement, we must improve our inclusion of members in policy making decisions.  Otherwise, we will keep making the same mistakes and create a smaller pool of future leaders.

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