Impeach the Boss!

Can This Surge of Democratic Energy in South Korea Move from the Streets to the Office?

Demonstrators march in Seoul, (successfully) demanding the impeachment of President Park

I first heard from Sunkyung Han and AhYoung Park in mid-2016. They’re from an organisation called “C.”, like C-dot: connecting the dots across the social sector in East Asia. They arranged a visit to New Zealand to research Enspiral in June, with the intention of perhaps copying some of the structures of our decentralised, collaborative, values-oriented network of social ventures.

A few months later, they invited me back to Korea, to host a workshop called “Everyday Democracy”. My workshop occurred the day after parliament voted to impeach President Park, an extraordinary, historic event secured by weeks of massive, peaceful, festive demonstrations across the country.

It felt like everyone in the country was having the same conversation, alternating between sheer disgust at the corruption at the top of government and corporate pyramids, and the immense optimism that people-power could indeed restore some sanity and justice to our institutions.

Our hypothesis for this “Everyday Democracy” workshop: perhaps the success in the streets could be directed into a transformation of oppressive structures in other aspects of daily life too. So I opened the workshop with a provocation: It’s wonderful that you’ve removed one corrupt tyrant. Now what are we going to do about the dominating hierarchies in our workplaces, universities, and social structures?

You can see my report from that event here. Since that workshop last December, a group of people have been meeting regularly to support each other as they learn about non-hierarchical organising. They call themselves “Hack the Org”.

C. and Hack The Org organised follow-up events in March 2017, which is what brought me back to Korea for this trip. I invited fellow Enspiral member Rose Lu to join us too, to offer another perspective on Enspiral.

We’ve just left Korea, after a fantastic 2 weeks in Seoul and Busan, meeting academics, activists, city officials, the Mayor of Seoul, students, social innovators, impact investors, and corporate refugees. I feel a tremendous sense of privilege to be able to return and get an update in this fascinating, hopeful situation.

In my very subjective opinion, I think there’s some good progress in the political situation, though there’s plenty of complexity there too. The constitutional court ratified the parliament’s impeachment vote, and the CEO of Samsung has been arrested, caught up in the corruption scandal. However, while my friends had hoped this would be an ideal moment to boot up a new, digitally responsive political party, the establishment parties have closed ranks and apparently succeeded in shutting out newcomers. With the President out, everyone’s attention seems to be caught up in choosing a successor, a depressing binary choice between the lesser of two evils.

The politics is interesting, I guess, but far more thrilling for me is the experience of returning after 3 months away and discovering this “Hack the Org” crew have developed into a real community with warmth and enthusiasm and commitment. The events they hosted were wonderful, drawing people from many walks of life, and inviting them to dream together about what life could be like if it weren’t so dominated by corrupt, unaccountable hierarchies in home, work and school.

Checking in at one of our events, at Youth Hub Seoul

In this series, I’ll share reports from some of the events, and some more unlicensed opinion about what’s happening in Korea and what questions it’s left me with, as I continue my journey across the USA.

Stories:

  1. I Want a Different Organisation — Reporting from a two-part workshop exploring non-hierarchical organising with people from Enspiral.
  2. A City from the Future: What if Seoul City were organised like Enspiral?— reflections from a lecture I gave to Seoul City officials.
  3. More to come…