'Networking' toward peace

A recent poll says that 72 percent of the American people support a nuclear weapons freeze. If so, then about 160 million people were wondering ''what's next?'' after three-quarters of a million marchers protested nuclear weapons in New York last month.

''What's next?'' may be answered by understanding ''what happened?''

Networking is what brought the nuclear weapons issue into public view. Networking is what brought thousands of people by plane, train, bus, car, bicycle, and shoe to midtown Manhattan. And networking is what the marchers, and the millions they represent, are doing and will be doing this week, next month, and over the years it will take to end the arms race and to pave the paths to peace.

A network is a web of free-standing participants linked by shared values. Networks link people, groups, and nations. Networking is a decentralized form of organization that links equals through cooperation rather than coercion.

We all experience personal networking, bonds linking us with others in families, neighborhoods, jobs, and clubs. More consciously, personal networking is being used by self-help groups and card-carrying business people who meet for mutual support. Personal networks are associations of individuals linked by common values, interests, genetics, or geography.

In the past two decades, networks have emerged among and between groups, offering an alternative to the Weberian presumption that only bureaucracies are effective in organizing large numbers of people. Like a child's set of Chinese boxes-within-boxes, the antinuclear movement is a network of groups within groups within groups, an organically organized, multilayered, multivoiced, decentralized structure.

The small group that worked for a year to bring up the nuclear freeze at its Vermont town meeting has links to similar groups in neighboring towns and is part of a statewide association of freeze groups that supported the idea of a United Nations march. Coordinating the plans for the New York demonstration were groups of individuals, associations of groups, and coalitions of associations that managed to chew their way through a thicket of disagreements and problems, ultimately assemblng hundreds of thousands of strangers peacefully in one of America's most violent cities.

There is no single, central leader of the antinuclear movement. It is no obeisance to a coercive higher authority that holds a network together but rather the bonds of commitment that emanate from personal decisions and shared values. No one ordered anyone else to go to New York. All were volunteers. The June 12 rally was a gigantic ritual activity for the celebration of a common value - a world free from the threat of nuclear destruction - a rite of passage complete with symbols, testimony, and song.

Why New York on June 12? What created the moment and place where Hiroshima survivors, a 100-year-old native American medicine man, thousands of babies, and contingents from dozens of countries could come together? The UN's Second Special Session on disarmament. At SSD II, free-standing sovereign nations have assembled as a network of equals with a shared desire for peace.

Born 37 years ago, the nuclear threat and the UN are fraternal twins. Barely two months after the August, 1945, obliteration of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the UN charter was ratified.

It is striking that a new form of human organization (group networks) should arise to speak to what UN Assistant Secretary General Robert Muller calls ''the planet's first species-wide organization'' (the UN) about the possibility of the destruction of the living earth (by nuclear weapons).

Perhaps the entreaty from the June 12 sermon in Central Park is, ''Go forth and network.''

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