or “What we talk about when we don’t talk about what we talked about.”
I’ve started asking myself a simple but deadly question; What “message” is it ‘activist and campaigning’ groups send to people who don’t come to their meetings? What do we say – through our silence – when we advertise an (evening) event heavily, and then fail to give any account of what happened at it?
I think we say “if you don’t turn up, we don’t care about you” to the following groups of people;
parents who can’t get childcare, or who don’t want to use up what childcare they have on this particular meeting (1)
people who are tired after a lousy and long day at work
people who have a lousy and long day of work ahead of them and don’t fancy spending all their evening travelling to, being at, and travelling home from an event of uncertain length, quality and usefulness
people who work shifts
people who don’t want to drive because it’s such a hassle finding a parking place
people who don’t want to cycle in the dark
people for whom public transport is a difficult/uncomfortable option (the disabled, some of the elderly, anyone not on a bus route or tram route or whatever, women on their own late at night)
people who don’t like meetings (2)
people who are double-booked and much as they’d like to come, can’t
people who get hit with a family emergency or workload increase at the last minute
people who haven’t yet been to an event/meeting and are a bit nervous about it
other categories that readers cleverer and more empathic than this writer will – he hopes – add via the comments field
I don’t know about you, but I consider that to be a pretty impressive cross-section of society. And we are – in effect (not on purpose!) – telling them that we are not bothered if they want to be in our gang, our gang or not.
We advertise the event. The event happens, with whoever is there (usually fewer than we’d hoped for). And then we don’t have the courtesy or organisational oomph within our group to write-up two proper outlines (one v. brief, one detailed) of what was said, what was agreed, what work remains undone and email these outlines out, or put them on our website.(3)
If you don’t turn up, we don’t want to know. You may have energy. We don’t care. You may have time. We don’t care. You may have expertise. We don’t care. And so it goes.
And I have been guilty of this. And if I am honest with myself(4), I will be in future, only without the excuse of obliviousness.
Why on earth would you advertise events, put loads of work into making them happen and then not communicate them?
Practically, because we are so few in number(5) , and we work our fingers to the bone making the event happen, so we can’t type up an account afterwards without blood on the keyboard.(6)
Theoretically, because no-one ever says to us “Oi, muppet – by not communicating to those of us who didn’t come, you’re solidifying a clique and keeping within the smugosphere of meetings-junkies. Just because I can’t come to a meeting, doesn’t mean I am worth less to the movement than someone who turns up, spouts off a few questions, gets their ego-fix and then does nowt. You know, I might even be worth MORE, if you could find ways to make legitimate peripheral participation happen. Eh, numbnuts?”
In the history of activism, I doubt that sentiment above has ever been emailed, voice-mailed, said, written or perhaps even thought. Because the peripheral – those who don’t come to meetings – know their place. It’s on the periphery. Where they “belong”.
Gee,that’s working really well for us all, isn’t it?
(1) How completely unreasonable of them. You really do have to question their political commitment, eh?
(2) See (1)
(3) “What’s that Skip? Our group doesn’t have a website?” “Why’s that, Skip?” “Too much bother to keep updated, Skip?” “Crikey, Skip, you useless jumped-up hopping rat, you’re not a kangaroo, you’re a wombat.”
(4)something I avoid if at all possible
(5) Hmmm. Maybe next time someone wonders aloud why we are so small in number and white and middle-class you can print off this blog post and batter them with it.
(6) It’s really not so hard. Most of the post can be written before the meeting, with the relevant factoids dropped in.