“Get your fucking game face on”

During a googlemail ‘chat’ yesterday I wrote the following

I was saying to an academic today, that I can understand, if not forgive, the Council being so hopeless. It’s the uselessness of the activist/campaigning lot that does my head in. I went to day one of the climate camp gathering. Every bit as shit and deluded as I had expected of course. Couldn’t bring myself to blog it… yet.

And along came this reply (which I have added numbers to for clarity of commenting)

“1) hmm, I think I’d differ a bit there. I share your frustration (though I should add, frustration with myself, as I am often among the massed ranks of the useless activists) but I’d say I’m more pissed off with council uselessness when it comes down to it: they are trained professionals with resources at their disposal, paid by the public to do a good job, and they have 40 hours a week to do it.

“2) Without excusing the activist crapness, I always try to bear in mind that most activists are having to use stolen hours of their free time away from jobs or study (which most of their mates are spending relaxing) taking on a stressful and at times seemingly impossible task, having to learn on the spot about the impossibly complex questions like how to affect social change, with minimal or non-existent resources, and with the whole of the rest of society (including often their family and peers) calling them an idiot for doing so.

“3) Also, despair, stress, the pressures of work, family and the high attrition rate caused by failure to achieve goals, mean the overwhelming proportion of activists are young (climate camp more so than most), and therefore more likely to lack knowledge, be prone to hare-brained ideas and incompetence.

“4) And at a time when general apathy and disillusionment is at such an all time high, then activists don’t even have the advantage of being many in number – which goes some way for compensating for a lot of the problems concerning competency, and also means you’ll have a larger pool of talented people.

“5)  From my perspective then, without condoning or excusing it, I can understand activist incompetence more than I can the council…”

And my replies

1) They may be ‘professionals’ (in what though? In my experience most of them seem to know virtually nothing about climate science/policy/engagement etc.) but they are prey to laws of bureaucracy like the Peter Principle and Pournelle’s law. And having to kiss the arse of everyone higher up the food chain than them. So they are too busy puckering up to actually get anything, you know, done. Urrgh.

2) Stolen hours? How many “activists” spend endless hours watching shite television, sitting in the pub talking bollocks etc.  How many have looked into ‘time management?’  They’ve never had to, because they never put themselves under proper unavoidable deadlines to get anything done.  Because the costs of lunching something out are so low.

3) Despair, stress and pressures of work. Yep, activist burnout is a problem. Largely to do with choosing unachievable goals and ramping up expectations too high. But I remain to be convinced that we could retain loads of people, in a ‘zone of legitimated peripheral participation’ if we were honest about biographical availability, if we didn’t run groups as cliques, if we didn’t allow lunchoutism to dominate.  I see no acknowledgement of the identifiable and semi-preventable CAUSES of the problems you identify.  I see lots of people saying “but it’s always like that, it’s just how it is” when activism pathologies are mentioned.  Curiously, if you say “but capitalism’s always like that, that’s just how it is” they argue vigorously….

4) Our numbers are indeed way too small. But whose fault is that? Surely our own, for running such shite meetings, and shite groups and shite campaigns. Smug, irrelevant, directionless, poisonously reactive, boring and depressing. There was an excellent analysis published in July 2009 of the dangers of Copenhagen. And all the groups – liberal, state socialist and soi-disant radical non-hierarchical ALL ignored it. We are merely reaping as we have sown.

5) Well, I can understand both Council and activist incompetence. But at least the Council doesn’t go around pretending to have this wonderful analysis of how Wicked hierarchical power is and how Wonderful it is. You know where you are with the Council – they’re shite and everyone knows it (except themselves, of course). What irks is the smugosphere nature of activists, always willing to let themselves off the hook because they Mean Well, or they are Under-resourced. That’s true, but the human resources they let slip through their fingers all the time is staggering. It’s a bit like a teenager convicted of the murder of his parents begging for mercy from the judge because he is an orphan. I have seen precisely NO tactical innovation from Manchester’s climate ‘activists’ over the last four years. Just the same old shit, with the same old results. And if you ever call them out on it (using the same analytical tools they applaud you for when you are skewering the Council/Airport/MEN) then you become the anti-Christ!!

Basically it comes down to this.  As you and I sit here reading/debating this, with electricity (by definition) readily available to us, clean water coming out of our taps, formal legal freedoms allowing us to write and assemble, there are tens of thousands of activists around the world struggling in situations far more dangerous, and without any of our advantages.  And if I were one of them, listening to us whine about how difficult it is to get the Council to do anything, or about how we had no time and our friends and family were not supportive and this and that and the other, I would be very very tempted to quote the line Matt Damon’s character in the movie Green Zone says to a reluctant colleague.

“Get your fucking game face on.”

About dwighttowers

Below the surface...
This entry was posted in a little self-knowledge, activism and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to “Get your fucking game face on”

  1. This is the tame version?!

    I think I agree with virtually everything you say. There’s no point blaming others for what we control, but choose not to accept responsibility for. Instead of being helpless (smug) onlookers, we could be masters of our own destiny. But that would take vision, imagination, innovation and leadership few are willing to give.

    And to think our lives as activists are hard as we tuck into our hummous in heated homes in a welfare state… A monumental lack of perspective.

  2. Sarah Irving says:

    Hmmm. I sort of agree with most of this, and I sort of don’t.
    One of the problems with asking activists to use tools like time management, accountability and goal setting is that it’s effectively telling people they have to apply work ethos, practices and standards to the stuff they’re doing in their leisure time. They’re already giving up their leisure time to ‘do activism’ and so a lot of them expect – rightly or wrongly – to be cut some slack, or for activism to be somehow fun and fulfilling.
    Why do most people do activism? I’m not sure that it actually is because they believe they can effect the changes they claim to be aiming at; I can’t help suspecting that if activists were driven primarily by that then actually we would have even fewer of them than we do now, because the chances at this time of achieving the kind of goals they/we claim to have are so tiny – if your main aim in being ‘an activist’ was actually to achieve those things then you’d give up after ten minutes and go and sob in a corner. I suspect that a lot of the time it’s more about personal self-fulfillment, group membership etc, or even just being able to live with yourself. ‘Activism is my rent for living on this planet,’ etc etc.
    I’m not saying any of this to excuse lunch-outery or slackness, but I also think this debate could be usefully informed by thinking about the psychological reasons why people might get into activism and want to stay in it, because a lot of the time saving the planet or changing society maybe aren’t actually the prime drivers, and therefore maybe it’s hard to make them the benchmarks against which the value of activism is measured…?

    • dwighttowers says:

      Thanks, and I think you are right. What is missing from the post is more of an understanding of what motivates and keeps some people. Certainly a ‘business’ ethos will alienate some from being involved. The lack of a business ethos may (overtly or covertly) alienate others. I suppose it’s about having places and means within a ‘movement’ where these things can be catered for. Unfortunately, many ‘newbies’ will not get what they want and instead of “shopping around” (the term is revealing – as if forms of activism are like a new t-shirt from GAP or wherever) they are lost altogether. More thinking is certainly called for.
      Cheers
      “Dwight Towers”

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