How not to movement-build #94 – telling non-attendees to piss off

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)
agoraphobics
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?

Footnotes
(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.

About dwighttowers

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

4 Responses to How not to movement-build #94 – telling non-attendees to piss off

  1. leavergirl says:

    Maybe there is another reason… everybody is so relieved it’s over they don’t want to think about it anymore… ;-)

  2. Jonathan Atkinson says:

    Good points, I know I’ve been guilty of the above many times.

    There’s a wider point though. Chris Church, a long time community campaigner, often references a survey on the percentage of people who would NEVER attend an weekday, evening meeting ie the people in the list above, I can’t remember the exact number but it’s something like 86-90% of people.

    If we attend a weekday, evening meeting we are the minority of the minority. Once you understand that it makes things easier. Rather than advertise that meeting wide and far and hope that the doors will burst with people we need to engage people in other ways, social media, blogs (however ranty!), over food, at weekends, using benefits, fundraisers and events etc etc.

    Obviously meetings play a role in movement building, they are an important part of planning and co-ordination, but for too many they are seen as THE central role, the meeting sits atop the hierarchy of involvement (with the sage on the stage at the top of that!).

    Meetings are ONE, of many, ways to facilitate action, Ultimately it’s the action we need to focus on rather than the meeting.

  3. Sam Gunsch says:

    In the youthful parlance of the Web: O…M…G…

    To me, as a former volunteer then staff, ‘leading’ of one of those “activist and campaigning’ groups” the observation at the core of this blog post is so painfully obvious once it’s been said…

    Among the various descriptions of this ‘obvious’ issue… this might induce the most guilt-wincing:

    “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) ”

    How little reflection on what we were doing all those years.

    BTW…Question from a Canadian…
    re: “and then does nowt.”

    I’m guessing from context: ‘nowt’ is equivalent to nothing… or is it a bit richer and more than ‘nothing’?

  4. dwighttowers says:

    Hi Sam,

    yes, “nowt” is a Northernism meaning “nothing”. Glad you liked.

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