In a comment in the October 12, 2007 open thread, Melanchthon suggests to launch a European petition.
The idea comes back several times during exchanges, especially after Nicolas Sarkozy made public his will to promote Tony Blair's candidacy for the post. Melanchthon then announces he is planning to write a diary. Some time later Migeru and Someone kindly remind him he has to write the diary and finally, on Thursday, January 31, 2008 Melanchthon posts a diary titled Petition against a Blair presidency of the EU, starting with the following paragraph:
I think we all share the same opinion: the nomination of Tony Blair as president of the European Union would be a disaster for Europe as well as for the rest of the world. We have mentioned the idea of a Europe-wide petition against it. You will find hereunder the text I've drafted (in French).
The diary proposes also several steps to be taken about drafting, translation, hosting and dissemination of the petition.
An hour later, the first translation to English is posted by Someone in the comment section. In the meantime, a dozen contributors discuss the arguments that should be used: should use a poll? should we point to the illegality of the war against Iraq? Is it a EU-only petition? Do we mention the conflicts of interest between his appointments as an 'adviser', notably at JP Morgan?
Two hours later, a Spanish translation is posted by Migeru. After an hour and some more discussion, a new English version of the petition is published with, thanks to DoDo and Afew, a reference to the so-called 'red lines' set up by Blair during the Lisbon negotiations with the intent of blocking any progress in social issues and tax harmonization, as well as common defence and foreign policy.
While the wording of the petition is discussed on ET, the translation process goes on: by the evening of the January 31, a German translation is provided by Turambar. On February 1, a Dutch version is provided by Nanne and a Hungarian one by DoDo. On February 2, findmeaDoorIntoSummer provides a Portuguese version and JakeS one in Danish, then an Italian version is published by deGondi n February 3. So, at the end of the week-end, we have the petition translated in 9 languages and more to come.
Early on Monday, February 4, a new diary is posted on ET: Phase 2: Petition against a Tony Blair presidency with the final version of the petition in English and in the following hours, the other versions are revised to match the final wording. After a short discussion about the domain name, Colman (Ireland) secures two domain names, including stopblair.eu by 1.00 pm.
By 5.00 pm, through phone calls and SMS from Jérôme, we learn that the Brussels correspondent of the Financial Times has heard about the petition and is planning to publish something about it on the FT website on Tuesday morning. At the same time, Colman tells us the version 0.0 of the site is ready and we are able to send the address (www.stopblair.eu) to Jérôme. As son as 10.00 pm, the info with a link is published on the FT site , and LondonYank posts a diary about it on ET and Daily Kos.
We decide to speed up process in order to have an up and running petition site (at least the English version on Tuesday morning. Linca works on the code, Loefing works on the page design and Melanchthon sets up a petition on an existing petition site (Gopetition), with the help of Colman, Migeru and DoDo. At 2.00 am on Tuesday, the petition page is set up on the Gopetition site and the design proposed by Loefing is approved by the ET users still awake. Linca works all night long to set up the StopBlair page. On Tuesday, February 5 at 7.30 am, the English page is operational and by 8.00 am, the French one, too. At 8.00, Afew posts a front-page story an ET: Stop Blair!. asking the translators to help set up the various language pages. The German page is operational at 8.50 am,
A Greek version is provided by Talos at 1.00 pm. The Hungarian page is up at 1.10 pm and the Greek page is up at 1.30. During the afternoon, the Spanish and Portuguese versions are operational, as well as the Dutch one.
On Tuesday afternoon, the Daily Telegraph publishes a paper on its site with the link, boosting the number of signatures. Diaries about the petition are posted on Daily Kos, BooMan Tribune and Docudharma. In the evening, a Catalan version is provided by Kcurie.
On Wednesday February 6 in the morning, a Swedish version is posted by NordicStorm. It is operational together with the Italian and Danish pages in the afternoon. A new diary is posted by Edwin on ET at 7.10 am: The first 1597 names:.
The petition is mentioned in the Belgian and the Dutch media and picked up by several websites and blogs.
On Wednesday evening, a Romanian version is provided by Deni and the page is up. Jérôme is invited by the BBC to face Dennis MacShane on Thursday.
On Thursday, a new diary is posted by DoDo: Stop Blair! in more languages. The BBC mentions our petition, as well as Chilean and Ecuadorian paper (through a Spanish agency). A Lithuanian version is provided by das monde. An Esperanto version is up, too. The Economist blog mentions the petition (dismissively). The AFP makes a communiqué. It is mentioned in "La Stampa" as well as by the Czech and Croatian media.
A Facebook group is created. Almanax posts a new diary: Stop Blair - Make the Media Aware! about dissemination of the petition through the media.
On February 8, Jérôme posts a diary: StopBlair media coverage regrouping all the references to the media. A diary: Stop Blair! - the lamest of rebuttals from the WSJE by Cyrille, comments the reaction of the WSJ.
On Sunday, February 10, a Polish version is added, as well as a Slovakian one, a Basque one and a Scottish Gaelic one. In the diary: McShane 'promotes' Blair candidacy in FT a LTE is collectively drafted in answer to a McShane paper in the FT. The LTE is published on February 13: ET in FT: Many will agree that Europe does not deserve Blair.
On February 12, Stop Blair viral - Update #4 discusses the way to disseminate information about the petition through networks. And Newropeans supports the petition 'No to Tony Blair as President of the European Union' brings the support of Newropeans.
On February 13, an analysis of the first 15000 sinatures in the diary: Stop Blair! The first 15002 signatures by Migeru.
During this period, several diaries addressed related issues:
A Presidential European: Uffe Ellemann-Jensen by Redstar.
The bigger picture by Migeru.
Why Blair might make a good President of the EU Council... by Franck Schnittger.
Breaking: Merkel endorses Juncker! by DoDo.
We have been discussing how to make ET a place for action as well as reflection and debate. We already have written LTEs and articles. Should we consider this petition as a new way for ET to participate in the public debate? In my opinion, beyond opposing Tony Blair's candidacy, this petition is also a way to contribute to the emergence of a European public sphere. How can we develop this approach?
A self-organising project
The process has started spontaneously and no role had been defined previous to the project. In fact, the "self-organisation" process started when we learnt about the FT imminent publication. No "project manager" has been nominated nor was it necessary. The main tasks have been defined and discussed in the first diary and in the course of the project. Then some ET users proposed to take charge of them spontaneously, according to their skills and availability. Coordination took place first through online open debate in ET diaries, which made possible for new participants to join the process. Once the process was started, coordination on "technical" issues took place in parallel through intensive e-mail exchange (more than 600 e-mails!) between members of the spontaneous "core-team" (which was progressively expanded to new members). We also used SMS and phone calls when key contributors were not reachable online.
Most of the decisions have been made collectively and only in two or three cases it has been necessary for one person to make the final decision (final version of the petition text, modifications after the launch, removal of certain signatures...). In these cases, the users involved in the process asked me to make the decision because, as the original author of the first text, I had some "legitimacy". It could however have been somebody else.
The success of this project has been made possible by the remarkable diversity of skills of ET users. A great number of users have contributed either to discuss the text, to design and set up the petition site and pages, to translate the petitions so quickly in so many languages, to disseminate information about it or to answer the media.
The remarkable efficiency and smoothness of this group work were also made possible by the fact that, thanks to months (sometimes years) of participation in this community, we have developed a common "ET culture" and a willingness to contribute to a common action.
Given the necessity we had to react very quickly, we made use of the simplest tools we had: diaries and e-mails. For future projects, it would probably be useful to use more efficient collaborative tools which, if I remember correctly, are available.
For example, it was sometimes difficult to track the contributions of different users, because several diaries related to the StopBlair petition were run in parallel. Also, no mailing list was established: we mainly used the "answer to all" button, but with different lists, which resulted in some "team members" not getting all the e-mails (and some getting several times the same e-mail!).
I also think that new tools like Someone's new translation tool will make it even easier to work together.
This self-organising approach has been very effective when we were under pressure to set up the site and launch the petition. It is however less effective for the follow-up of the petition and its promotion and dissemination in the long term. It has not been helped by the fact that I have a lot of troubles with my ISP and also because I'm quite busy at the moment.
I think it would be useful for future ET projects that we discuss these issues.