What scares newbies off?

Attention Conservation Notice: Quotes, reflections and links about why people don’t become involved in social movement organisations after an initial contact.

Cynical bitter hardened hacks (cbhh) have forgotten what it is like to be a “newbie.” If they wanted to the could reflect on this, and use their own experience of being new in other aspects of life. But by and large they don’t. And so newbies, some of whom might well have become cbhhs themselves over the coming years, are lost to the “movement”.

Here’s a few snippets from a rather excellent 2004 honours thesis entitled “Making a Difference: Factors that Influence Participation in Grassroots Environmental Activism in Australia” by Sam La Rocca. It should be read by anyone seriously concerned with building mass movements that can challenge the suicidal path we are currently on.

Costs, perceived or real, can discourage people from becoming active (Flowers 2002:2; Lubell 2002). Both Donald (1997:490-1) and Seguin et al. (1998) agree that people rationally weigh up the pros and cons to potential activist involvement. Potential costs posed by involvement include loss of leisure time, compromised professional credibility, and legal consequences of civil disobedience. The personal costs and ongoing challenges of activism often create stressed and burnt-out activists who are in turn quite ineffective marketing tools for encouraging potential activists to become involved.
Page 21 (emphasis added)

Bechmann (1997:1) contends that many people do not even ask how they can help, for fear that:
“By doing so, they’ll commit themselves to something far beyond what they’re willing or able to do. When you’re around passionate people who are struggling to make a difference and you express your tacit support, you can often feel their strong desire to pull you into their cause to the greatest extent possible.”
page 21

and finally

Anger and outrage can constructively drive activist passion and commitment to become active, but those same emotions can manifest as hopelessness and despair and be significant de- motivational forces. Similarly, while social networks can inspire some activists, newcomers can experience some activist sub-cultures as exclusive cliques that discourage the involvement of outsiders.
Page 23

There’s plenty more useful stuff, and I shall do a few blog posts. But if you ARE interested in La Rocca’s research question – What factors inspire and inhibit people becoming and staying actively engaged in grassroots environmental activism [in Australia]? – then why not read it yerself, and get different things out of it than I did?
It’s right here…

Other Dwight Towers posts on decruitment and retention
Decruit me some more
Decruitment: Sarcasm and Social Niceties
Adventures in the liminal zone: Why don’t newbies come back
A Climate Movement in Manchester – wouldn’t it be pretty to think so.
Youtube videos
New person’s experience of a meeting
Diary of a Newbie in a Parallel Universe

See Also
The Activity Meeting from Activism is my Rent
The agenda-less meeting by rhizome
Alex whatsit’s useless fucking PhD
Michael Albert on “the stickiness problem”
Cynthia Peters on class and social movements. Can’t find the one I was looking for, but “Five Guidelines for our Organising” is great…

About dwighttowers

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2 Responses to What scares newbies off?

  1. Hi Dwight
    Thanks for spreading the word about Sam’s excellent research. Thanks too for the links at the bottom of the page – looks like there is some productive discussion going on about how to improve meetings and engage new activists.
    Is this the Cynthia Peter’s article you were thinking of? http://www.zcommunications.org/the-class-divide-by-cynthia-peters
    It’s also referenced in this great article by Daniel Hunter from Training for Change: http://www.trainingforchange.org/beyond_just_education
    Betsy Leondar-Wright has written some very useful stuff about class cultures in activism: http://www.classmatters.org/
    Keep an eye on the Change Agency’s enews for related articles: http://www.thechangeagency.org
    Cheers & looking forward to following your blog

  2. dwighttowers says:

    Hi Holly,
    thanks! I don’t know if that is the Cynthia Peters one, but it is exactly what I meant (she is just brilliant, IMHO), so thank you very much for searching for it and commenting!

    There’s a youtube video on “Growing, Learning, Organising and Winning” – to my mind middle class activists don’t seem that fussed about short-term winning, and it is one of the (many!) reasons why their groups stay so middle-class.
    Here tis

    I dont know what happened to the sound in the first 18 seconds?! It’s a long time since I made it…

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