Hmm, I seem to have semi-answered this in the last section (of the book I’m writing). But if anyone’s got further suggestions of “dos and don’ts”, I’d be very grateful…
Be sensitive to (perceived) entry costs
It can be hard for experienced activists to remember (and sympathise) with the fears of outsiders.
People worry that their photos will be taken
People worry that they’ll be given heaps of work to do and no support, by people who don’t understand what it’s like to have massive responsibilities around children/parents/work etc
People worry that they’ll be laughed at for their ignorance of the issues.
People worry that they’ll be judged for not being sufficiently radical/dedicated etc
People worry that they don’t understand the issues enough to take action.
Put it in language that people understand
Use analogies and metaphors and examples that resonate with your specific audience. And do it at the
make specific requests and recommendations (using the ‘call to action’ thing of problem, who should take action, what to do) And then follow up.
Don’t rely entirely on the written word!
Focus on listening as well as talking
What do people already know?
What experience do they already have?
What perspectives do they have?
What questions do they have?
What expectations do they have?
Often people I’ve met staffing stalls for this or that campaign are so busy rattling off their spiel that they forget to ask what I already know or think about the issue. It’s easier to talk than to listen. You feel in control, and you feel like you are being active (which is pretty crucial for an ‘activist’). But as a punter, I feel ignored and condescended.
We fear to do this because the issues we are talking about (climate justice, species’ extinction, humanity’s terminal phase) are just so terrible. But we have precisely zero chance of creating ways of dealing with these issues if we don’t have more of the right people on board. And the humour is an important safety-valve for long term activism as well.
Make sure your meetings are fit for purpose (whether informational or organisational)
(there’s going to be an entire section on this!)
Make sure people can get and stay involved in your group without attending any/many meetings
(there’s going to be an entire section on this)
Have effective groups
which hold tight meetings, distribute and perform tasks towards worthwhile and achievable goals, with clear lines of accountability (which may or may not include hierarchy) and provision for dealing with lunch-outing.
Have plausible (smart) and “non-reformist reform” goals
(see Political Dynamite posts
Do Campaigns Really Need Smart Objectives Part One and Part Two
and rhizome network’s excellent piece in response.
Acknowledge the existence of “biographical availability”
(i.e. people have limited time, energy and self-confidence) Create “legitimate peripheral participation” to counter this.
Acknowledge the existence of authority
There will be people with more authority, whether this derives from their formal place in the hierarchy (if there is one), their age, gender, education, experience, history with the group, “cultural capital” or some combination of these and other factors. Authority only becomes a problem if there are no means by which it can be effectively challenged/forced to account for itself.
Be an effective node in networks
a) but don’t think you’re essential
By emphasising the network form McLeish argues that the flows of information and interaction between groups and individuals are more important that (sic) the points of convergence. The ‘nodes’ – the points at which multiple flows connect – may represent a key moment during a movement’s history but have a tendency to create ossified traditions, incapable of reacting to changing political opportunities. ‘Organisers thrown up by events, who find themselves serving or surfing these waves of history narcissistically imagine themselves their authors. Last year’s bright creative movement becomes a fossilized bureaucracy or an inert ritualistic subculture.”
page 279 of “Meaning in Movement: An ideational analysis of Sheffield-based Protest Networks Contesting Globalisation and War” by Kevin Gillan.
b) be aware of different kinds of networks (3 kinds)
(connectivity network, alignment network, productivity network)
What doesn’t work
Guilt/emotional blackmail “if you care about this issue/your children, you will do x.” It’s making people feel scared and manipulated. It breeds resentment.
Fear (of imminent apocalypse)
Promises of imminent eco-revolution, easily discredited
Treating people as ego-fodder
Giving people routine work that ignores their need for personal growth
You may get a short-term bounce, but those people will soon exit, and you’ll be left looking and feeling like an organisation in (terminal) decline.
Democracy in the Making: How Activist Groups Form by Kathleen Blee (Oxford University Press, 2012)
How to win campaigns by Chris Rose
Other DT Posts (well, anything tagged movement-building)
Adventures in the Liminal Zone: Why Newbies don’t come back