Introduction to Affinity Groups
- Starhawk 1
A Revolutionary Decision-Making Process
- C.T. Lawrence Butler 5
Introduction to Consensus
- Starhawk 9
Climate Change Action Group Meetings
- The Change Agency 18
The 4 Ps of Effective Meetings
- Katrina Shields 23
Tools for White Guys who are Working for Social Change 25
Shut the Fuck Up or How to Act Better in Meetings
- Dan Spalding 27
Further Information 38
Guiding Principles of Animal Rights 39
About this reader
This collection of articles has been compiled by Animal Rights
Advocates Inc. (ARA) to provide an overview of affinity groups,
meeting processes and consensus decision-making for activists.
Feel free to photocopy and distribute it as long as you maintain the
Introduction to Affinity Groups
Affinity groups (AG) are self-sufficient support systems of about 5 to
15 people. A number of affinity groups may work together toward a
common goal in a large action, or one affinity group might conceive
of and carry out an action on its own. Sometimes, affinity groups
remain together over a long period of time, existing as political
support and/or study groups, and only occasionally participating
in actions. Most of us will have had some childhood/formative
experience of being part of a group whether informally, as in a group
of kids that are the same age and live in the same street, suburb or
town, or formally, as in being involved in a sports team.
The concept of ‘affinity groups has a long history. They developed as
an organising structure during the Spanish Civil war and have been
used with amazing success over the last thirty years of feminist, anti-
nuclear, environmental and social justice movements around the
world. They were first used as a structure for a large scale nonviolent
blockade during the 30,000 strong occupation of the Ruhr nuclear
power station in Germany in 1969, and then in the United States
occupations / blockades of the Seabrook nuclear power station in
‘71 when 10,000 were arrested and again many times in the highly
successful US anti-nuclear movement during the ‘70’s and ‘80’s. Their
use in sustaining activists through high levels of police repression has
been borne out time and again. More recently, they have been used
constructively in the mass protest actions in Seattle and Washington.
Affinity groups form the basic decision-making bodies of mass
actions. As long as they remain within the nonviolence guidelines,
affinity groups are generally encouraged to develop any form of
participation they choose.
Every affinity group must decide for itself how it will make decisions
and what it wants to do. This process starts when an affinity group
forms. If a new person asks to join an affinity group, she/he should
find out what the group believes in and what they plan to do, and
decide if she/he can share it. Some groups ask that all members share
a commitment to feminism, for example, or to nonviolence as a way
of life. Others, which have specifically formed to do a particular action,
might have less sweeping agreement.
With whom do I form an affinity group?
The simple answer to this is the people that you know, and that feel
the same way about the issue(s) in question.
They could be people you see in a tutorial, work with, go out with, or
live with. The point to stress however, is that you have something in
common other than the issue that is bringing you all together, and
that you trust them and they trust you.
An important aspect to being part of an affinity group is to get to
know where each other is at regarding the campaign or issue. This
can involve having a meal together, and you all discussing it after you
have eaten, or doing some form of activist related training together,
like attending a nonviolence, conflict resolution or facilitation
workshop, developing de-arresting strategies if needed, working out
how to deal with certain police tactics ie. snatch squads, police horses.
You should all have a shared idea of what you want individually &
collectively from the action/campaign, how it will conceivably go,
what support you will need from others, and what you can offer
others. It helps if you have agreement on certain basic things: how
active, how spiritual, how nonviolent, how touchy-feely, how spiky,
how willing to risk arrest, when you’ll bail-out, your overall political
perspective etc. But then again, you may all just work together at a
job, play music or hike together etc.
Within an affinity group, there are a whole range of different roles that
its members can perform.
A lot of these roles will be determined by the aim or raison detre of
the AG, but could include a Media Spokesperson, to either talk to /
deal with news media, a Quick decision facilitator, First Aid to take
care of people that are hurt, a Spokesperson to convey the affinity
group’s ideas and decisions to other AG’s, a Legal Observer, and Arrest
As well as these roles within itself the AG can take on a specialised role
in the way it interacts with other AGs, or operates within the breadth
of the protest or campaign. There can be affinity groups specialising
in copwatching, countering “protest highjackers”, legal observation,
catering, communication & cluster liaison, medical, clowning, or good
old common garden variety blockading. With this role focus, each
AG can do its job and support the work of other affinity groups. In
this way, many affinity groups form an interdependent network that
achieves so much more than a large group of individual activists.
Within the context of a demonstration, as important as the aspect
of the AG that is out on the street, is the support crew. They do all
the mundane stuff, and regrettably don’t get the recognition that
they deserve. They can walk/feed pets, water plants, childcare, call
employers and freaked out parents/children, pay rent etc. As a
consequence, more people can participate (and risk more) because
they have help with these things. The emotional support is not to be
underestimated; apart from the offers of hugs, kisses, and phone calls,
people feel safe enough to risk themselves when they know that they
have emotional support. Support crew can also indirectly support
direct action by supplying information to news media and interested
community groups, raising funds and providing logistical support,
like food, water and accommodation. The street aspect of an AG, and
its support crew can (and should) swap round, so that there is a clear
understanding within it as to the importance of all roles in the group’s
The aim at the end of the day is to look after yourself and each other,
have fun, and work towards a maximised degree of constructive social
This article can be accessed in its original form at:
A Revolutionary Decision-Making Process
- C.T. Lawrence Butler
If you were asked to pick one thing that might bring about major
social, political, and economic change in this country, what would
you pick? Most people would pick their favorite issue; be it civil rights,
demilitarization, environmental sustainability, or whatever. Some
people would choose a system of values to replace the capitalism
system such as socialism or the Ten Key Values of the Greens. But
few people would even think of changing group dynamics (the way
people treat each other when interacting with one another in a
group); or specifically, the process they use when making decisions.
Process is the key to revolutionary change. This is not a new message.
Visionaries have long pointed to this but it is a hard lesson to learn. As
recently as the 70s, feminists clearly defined the lack of an alternative
process for decisionmaking and group interaction as the single
most important obstacle in the way of real change, both within
progressive organizations and for society at large. Despite progress
on many issues of concern to progressive-minded people, very little
has changed in the way people treat each other, either locally or
globally, and almost nothing has changed about who makes the
decisions. The values of competition, which allow us to accept the
idea that somebody has to lose; the structure of hierarchy, which, by
definition, creates power elites; and the techniques of domination
and control, which dehumanizes and alienates all parties affected by
their use, are the standards of group interaction with which we were
all conditioned. There are but a few models in our society which offer
All groups, no matter what their mission or political philosophy, use
some form of process to accomplish their work. Almost all groups, no
matter where they fall on the social, political, and economic spectrum
of society, have a hierarchical structure, accept competition as
“natural”, acceptable, and even desirable, and put a good deal of effort
into maintaining control of their members. It is telling that in our
society, there are opposing groups, with very different perspectives
and values, which have identical structures and techniques for
interaction and decisionmaking. If you played a theater game in
which both groups wore the same costumes and masks and spoke
in gibberish rather than words, a spectator would not be able to tell
So what would an alternative revolutionary decisionmaking
process look like, you ask? To begin with, a fundamental shift from
competition to cooperation. This does not mean to do away with
competition. Ask any team coach what the key to victory is and you
will be told “cooperation within the team”. The fundamental shift is
the use of competition not to win, which is just a polite way of saying
to dominate, to beat, to destroy, to kill the opposition; but rather, to
use competition to do or be the best. In addition, the cooperative
spirit recognizes that it is not necessary to attack another’s efforts in
order to do your best; in fact, the opposite is true. In most situations,
helping others do their best actually increases your ability to do
better. And in group interactions, the cooperative spirit actually
allows the group’s best to be better than the sum of its parts.
Cooperation is more than “live and let live”. It is making an effort
to understand another’s point of view. It is incorporating another’s
perspective with your own so that a new perspective emerges. It is
suspending disbelief, even if only temporarily, so you can see the
gem of truth in ideas other than your own. It is a process of creativity,
synthesis, and open-mindedness which leads to trust-building,
better communication and understanding, and ultimately, a stronger,
healthier, more successful group.
The next step is the development of an organization which is non-
hierarchical or egalitarian. A corresponding structure would include:
participatory democracy, routine universal skill-building and
information sharing, rotation of leadership roles, frequent evaluations,
and, perhaps most importantly, equal access to power. Hierarchical
structures are not, in and of themselves, the problem. But their use
concentrates power at the top and, invariably, the top becomes less
and less accessible to the people at the bottom, who are usually
most affected by the decisions made by those at the top. Within
groups (and within society itself ), there becomes a power elite. In
an egalitarian structure, everyone has access to power and every
position of power is accountable to everyone. This does not mean
that there are no leaders. But the leaders actively share skills and
information. They recognize that leadership is a role empowered by
the entire group, not a personal characteristic. A group in which most
or all of the members can fill any of the leadership roles cannot easily
be dominated, internally or externally.
The last and most visible step towards revolutionary change in
group process is the manner in which members of the group interact
with each other. Dominating attitudes and controlling behavior
would not be tolerated. People would show respect and expect to
be shown respect. Everyone would be doing their personal best
to help the group reach decisions which are in the best interest of
the group. There would be no posturing and taking sides. Conflicts
would be seen as an opportunity for growth, expanding people’s
thinking, sharing new information, and developing new solutions
which include everyone’s perspectives. The group would create an
environment where everyone was encouraged to participate, conflict
was freely expressed, and resolutions were in the best interest of
everyone involved. Indubitably, this would be revolutionary.
C.T. Lawrence Butler is the co-author of On Conflict and Consensus and
Food Not Bombs - How to Feed the Hungry and Build Community. He
is a father, a political activist, a nonviolent conflict resolution mediator
and trainer, and vegetarian chef. In 1980, he co-founded the Food Not
Bombs collective in Cambridge, MA and is also a former Cambridge Peace
Commissioner. Currently he travels in the United States, Europe and Africa
giving lectures and teaching workshops on Formal Consensus. Groups he
teaches include government agencies, schools, Indian Tribes, Co-housing
groups, professional associations, religious organizations and intentional
communities. He is currently in the process of completing his third book
titled Consensus for Cities of a 100,000. He is developing a certification
program and a process for training teachers of Formal Consensus.
This article can be accessed in its original form at:
Introduction to Consensus
What Is Consensus?
Consensus is a process for group decision-making. It is a democratic
method by which an entire group of people can come to an
agreement. The input and ideas of all participants are gathered and
synthesized to arrive at a final decision acceptable to all. Through
consensus, we are not only working to achieve better solutions, but
also to promote the growth of community and trust.
Affinity Groups and Consensus
A group cannot hope to reach consensus decisions without having
some base of agreement. Once a base is agreed upon, working out
the details of specific issues and actions is not as difficult as one might
expect, providing that there is a willingness to go along with a good
idea, even if it is someone else’s. If you find that you cannot work
effectively with your group, it might be better to try to find another
Affinity groups for mass actions are often formed during nonviolence
training sessions. It is a good idea to meet with your affinity group a
few times before an action to get to know them if you are not already
friends, and to discuss issues such as noncooperation and relationship
to the legal system, the role your group will play (in a large action),
etc. After an action, it is also helpful to meet with your group to
evaluate and share experiences.
Consensus vs. Voting
Voting is a means by which we choose one alternative from several.
Consensus, on the other hand, is a process of synthesizing many
diverse elements together. Voting assumes that people are always
competitive and that agreement can only be reached through
compromise. Consensus assumes that people are willing to agree
with each other, and that in such an atmosphere, conflict and
differences can result in creative and intelligent decisions. Another
important assumption made in consensus is that the process requires
everyone’s participation, in speaking and in listening. No ideas are
lost, each member’s input is valued as part of the solution, and
feelings are as important as facts in making a decision. It is possible
for one person’s insights or strongly held beliefs to sway the entire
group, but participation should always remain equal.
What Does Consensus Mean?
The fundamental right of consensus is for all people to be able to
express themselves in their own words and of their own will. The
fundamental responsiblity of consensus is to assure others of their
right to speak and be heard. Since our society provides very little
training in these areas, we have to unlearn many behavior patterns
in order to practice good consensus process. Consensus does not
mean that everyone thinks that the decision made is the most
efficient way to accomplish something, or that they are absolutely
sure it will work. What it does mean is that in coming to that decision,
no one felt that her or his position on the matter wasn’t considered
carefully. Hopefully, everyone will think it is the best decision; this
often happens because, when consensus works properly, collective
- 10 -
intelligence does come up with better solutions than could
The Process of Consensus Agreement
At least informally, consensus should be sought on every aspect of
group meetings, including the agenda, the times the group should
take for each item, and the process the group should use to work
through its tasks. The following is an outline of formal consensus, the
process a group uses to come to agreement on a particular course of
First, the problem should be clearly stated. This might take some
discussion, in order for the group to identify what needs to be solved.
Then discussion should take place about the problem, so the group
can start working towards a proposal. The biggest mistake people
make in consensus is to offer proposals too soon, before the group
has had time to fully discuss the issue. Tools a group can use during
this preliminary period of discussion include brainstorms, go-rounds,
and breaking up into small groups. When it is apparent that the group
is beginning to go over the same ground, a proposal can be made
which attempts to synthesize all the feelings and insights expressed.
The proposal should be clearly stated. Then discussion is held on the
proposal, in which it is amended or modified. During this discussion
period, it is important to articulate differences clearly. It is the
responsibility of those who are having trouble with a proposal to put
forth alternative suggestions.
When the proposal is understood by everyone, and there are no new
changes asked for, someone (usually the facilitator) can ask if there
are any objections or reservations to the proposal. It helps to have a
moment of silence here, so that no-one feels coerced into agreeing. If
there are no objections, the group is asked “Do we have consensus?”
All members of the group should then actively and visibly signal
their agreement, paying attention to each member of the group.
- 11 -
After consensus is reached, the decision should be clearly restated,
as a check that everyone is clear on what has been decided. Before
moving away from the subject, the group should be clear who is
taking on the responsibility for implementing the decision.
Difficulties in Reaching Consensus
If enough discussion has occurred, and everyone has equally
participated, there should not be a group decision which cannot be
supported by everyone. But depending on the importance of the
decision, the external conditions, and how the process has gone,
the group might be on the verge of reaching a decision you cannot
support. There are several ways of expressing your objections:
• Non-support: “I don’t see the need for this, but I’ll go along with the
• Reservations: “I think this may be a mistake, but I can live with it.”
• Standing Aside: “I personally can’t do this, but I won’t stop others
from doing it.”
• Blocking: “I cannot support this or allow the group to support this.
It is immoral.” If a final decision violates someone’s moral values,
they are obligated to block consensus. A decision by an affinity
group spokescouncil can only be blocked by an entire affinity
group, not by an individual. Blocks will rarely occur if the group has
fully discussed a proposal.
• Withdrawing from the group. Obviously, if many people express
non-support or reservations, or leave the group temporarily
through standing aside, there may not be a viable decision even
if no-one directly blocks it. This is what as known as a “luke-
warm” consensus and is just as desirable as a lukewarm bath or
a lukewarm beer. If consensus is blocked and no new consensus
is reached, the group stays with whatever the previous decision
- 12 -
was on the subject, or does nothing if that is applicable. Major
philosophical or moral questions that come up with each affinity
group should be worked through as soon as the group forms.
Discussions about values and goals are as important as discussions
about actions to be taken, and too frequently get pushed aside by
groups who feel time pressures.
Figure 1. Diagram of Consensus Process
Roles in Consensus Process
In large groups, it is helpful to designate roles for people to help the
process move along. It is important to rotate these responsibilities
for each meeting so that skills and power can be shared. Ideally,
- 13 -
such responsibilities should belong to everyone, and not just the
The facilitator’s job is to help the group move through the agreed-
upon agenda, and to make sure everyone gets a chance to speak
by calling on them in order. Facilitators should see that speaking
opportunities are evenly distributed; that quiet people get a chance
to speak and people who talk too much are given a chance to listen.
The facilitator should observe when the discussion seems to be
nearing the point when a proposal could be made. S/he can then call
for a proposal or offer one to the group, and after more discussion
if necessary, s/he can then guide the group through the check for
consensus as outlined above. Facilitators should not use their position
as a platform from which to offer solutions; solutions should arise
from the group, and no-one should facilitate if they find they have
strong opinions on a given issue. A facilitator can always hand over
her or his responsibilites temporarily if s/he feels it necessary to step
down. The group should not rely upon the facilitator to solve process
problems, but should be ready to help with suggestions on how to
proceed. Very large groups should use two or more facilitators.
Vibeswatcher or Empath
Vibeswatchers are useful in large groups where people don’t
know each other, and their job is to be attuned to the emotional
state of the group. Is the group tense, or bored, or too silly? The
vibeswatcher might suggest a game, or more light, or open
windows, or a group hug. Sometimes simply calling attention to
an emotional undercurrent that may be affecting group process is
helpful. Vibeswatchers should also call the group’s attention to a
person whose anger or fear is being ignored, or to people who may
be involved in a dialogue that has its causes outside of the group’s
activities. Vibeswatchers also should assume the role of “gatekeeper,”
taking care of any external disturbance for the group.
- 14 -
A timekeeper keeps the group on track by giving the group a warning
halfway through that discussion time is running out and by asking
the group if it wants to contract for more time on a given issue.
Timekeepers should ask if people want to set specific time limits on
brainstorms or time allotments to each speaker on go-rounds. Before
speaking themselves, timekeepers should be sure that someone else
is timekeeping for that period.
A notetaker tries to clearly record key points of discussions, the
consensus decisions reached by the group, things that were left to
be decided later, and who has taken on responsibilites for particular
tasks. The group (or the facilitator for the next meeting) should be
able to use the notes to construct the agenda for the next meeting. A
notetaker can also be helpful during the meeting to remind the group
of key points covered in discussion if the group is having trouble
formulating a proposal.
It’s important to emphasize that every member of the group should
try to facilitate, vibeswatch, timekeep, and notetake. Sharing the
responsibility ensures that power is distributed equally within the
group and makes consensus easier on everyone.
Decision-making During Actions
It is clear that consensus can be a time consuming activity. It is
therefore important for affinity groups to make their fundamental
decisions prior to going to an action. Discuss in advance such
questions as: What do we do if faced with a provocateur in our group
or a nearby group? How long do we want to stay on site? How do
we respond to police strategies designed to keep us away from the
site? It helps for an affinity group to define for itself its particular
goals, or tone. Such general definitions as “Our group will always
- 15 -
go where numbers are most needed,” or “We want to be where we
will get media coverage,” or “We want to leaflet workers inside the
site,” will help a group make decisions under stressful and changing
Be prepared for unexpected circumstances by selecting a
spokesperson and a facilitator for your group for quick-decision
making process during the action. It will be the spokesperson’s
responsibility to communicate the group’s decisions to the action or
cluster spokescouncil. It is the facilitator’s responsibility to quickly and
succinctly articulate the problem to be discussed and to eliminate
those points where agreement has already been reached. It is the
responsibility of everyone in the group to keep the discussion to a
minimum if quick action is called for. If your point has already been
made by someone else, don’t restate it. A calm approach and a clear
desire to come to an agreement quickly can help the process. Don’t
let anxiety overwhelm your trust in each other or your purpose in the
action. Strong objections should be limited to matters of principle.
Tools for Consensus Process
Usually used for introductions, but besides names, people can tell the
group how they’re feeling (anxious, silly, tired), or what they expect
from the meeting (certain decisions, certain length). A group might
adjust their agenda according to the emotional state or practical
needs revealed by the group during check-in.
Each person is given a certain amount of time to speak on a particular
subject, without having to comment on other contributions, or
defend their own. Should be used at the beginning of discussion on
an issue, if only a few people are doing the talking, or if the group
seems stuck for good solutions.
- 16 -
a short time during which people can call out suggestions, concerns,
or ideas randomly, sometimes without being called on. Helps to get
out a lot of ideas fast, stimulates creative thinking. It’s not a time for
discussion or dialogue. Someone can write down brainstorm ideas on
a large sheet of paper so everyone can see and remember them.
Breaking up into small groups
Depending on the size of the original group, this could be from three
to a whole affinity group. A small group gets a chance to talk things
over for a specified amount of time before reporting back to the large
group. This gives people a chance to really listen to each other and
express themselves, and is very useful when a group seems unable
to come to consensus. In a spokescouncil meeting, breaking up into
affinity groups to discuss issues or to make specific decisions is often
In a large group, or a small group which seems hopelessly divided, a
fishbowl helps to make clear what’s at stake in particular positions. A
few people, particularly those who feel strongest about an issue, sit
down together in the middle of the group and hash things out freely
for a designated period of time while the group observes them. The
people in the middle don’t come to any decisions, but the fishbowl
gives everyone a chance to hear the debate without involving the
whole group; often hidden solutions are revealed.
This article can be accessed in its original form at:
- 17 -
Climate Change Action Group Meetings
- The Change Agency
Starting or joining a climate action group is an important step
toward a just and sustainable world. Your commitment will bring
challenges and rewards. It is possible groups addressing climate
change may feel a greater sense of pressure than other community
groups: the problem is global and urgent. It is important that your
group balances the task dimension of your work – bringing about a
reduction in greenhouse emissions – at the same time as looking after
the maintenance side of group life. It’s equally important to look after
yourself and group relationships as it is to kick the goals you’ve set
your sights on. Members of your group will know best how to balance
task and maintenance. This tip sheet has been written to help you
and your group work well together and achieve your objectives and
highlights some group habits and actions that resilient community
groups have relied on: effective meetings with an agreed agenda;
clearly-defined roles; mindful decision-making; accountability; and
Good meetings should:
• Create trust
• Be punctual in starting and finishing
• Establish goals collaboratively and effectively move towards them
- 18 -
• Maintain participants’ interest
• Ensure everyone is invited to speak, is heard and given a fair share
of time available,
• Encourage everyone to take up an activity, no matter how small
• Celebrate achievements/successes
• Take care of participant needs such as childcare, social needs etc.
• Set a time and date for the next meeting and review what should
be achieved by then.
• Select facilitator and minute taker
• Apologies/those present
• Agree on the finishing time
• Check in. How is everyone? What’s going on?
• Previous minutes/matters arising from the previous meeting,
including task review
• New business (including tasks and timing)
• Evaluation: What was great or interesting tonight? How can we our
meetings be improved?
The facilitator is responsible for trying to achieve a good meeting.
If necessary she/he must act assertively to ensure the group can
achieve its objectives. At the same time the facilitator cannot get
deeply involved in discussion and certainly should not defend/push
- 19 -
a particular view. His/her role is to present material, elicit responses,
draw out from the group the points which the participants want to
make and keep the meeting “on track”. Ideally the meeting will hardly
realise that it is being facilitated.
This role is to record the meeting. The minutes should at least record
the decisions made and should include key points in the discussion.
The minute taker should also prepare the “Action Sheet” for the
Consensus decision-making helps create an effective action group.
Consensus-decision making can move the group out of the numbers
game of majority decision making, which can be highly alienating.
On the other hand consensus can take more account of difference.
Consensus decision-making is usually done by the facilitator
summing up discussion on an issue and putting that summary to the
meeting for acceptance by the whole group. For working consensus
it is sufficient that there is no one so opposed to the proposal that
they will stand in the way of the decision. The facilitator can ascertain
this by asking if it is a decision that everyone can live with.
This is a brief go round when those present have a chance to talk
about their feelings, personal and those related to climate change.
The power of this agenda item is that it allows people to express
feelings, vulnerabilities, joy, allowing participants to see each other as
people creating trust and commitment.
- 20 -
This simple system ensures that everyone knows what is being done,
by whom and by when. It can create a great sense of empowerment
when members of the group can see that action is being taken and
Person Responsible Description of Task Completion Date
Bruce Tuckman suggested teams tend to follow a pattern of
development that includes four or five stages: forming; storming;
norming; performing and adjourning.1 More direction is needed
in the beginning of group development while the group is still
forming. As the group continues to develop, less direction and more
support may be required to keep energy going and move through
interpersonal challenges. Well functioning groups may rotate the
facilitator role and also self-facilitate so that the facilitator can be
more involved in the content than during the group formation
stage. Individual members become more comfortable over time to
intervene to get their needs met. For instance, members may be more
inclined to make suggest how group meetings might be improved.
A powerful strategy in developing your group can be the rotation
of responsible roles such as facilitator and minute taker. The role
of facilitator particularly often involves training and feedback of a
person new to the position.
- 21 -
Climate change is not a new problem. Community groups have
been campaigning to stem dangerous global warming for at least 25
years. We can draw from their lessons. Many have found that creating
change is less difficult when the changes we set our sights on are
strategic, measurable, achievable, realistic and time- specific (or
SMART). What outcomes meet those criteria for your group members?
What scale will you work at? Local, regional, national or global? What
timeframe will your campaigns be geared toward? Objectives that are
achievable in 6 to 12 months are most motivating and give members
a sense of agency. The challenge is to choose objectives you are
confident will create conditions for further change. What tactics might
you consider? Which of these tactics will you select, how and in what
sequence? Why? The Change Agency website has tips and tools for
developing a campaign strategy that fits your unique circumstances.
The Change Agency Education and Training Institute Inc. is an
independent activist education initiative. We work with community
organisers and activists in the Australia Pacific region to help people win
social and environmental change. Check out their site which is chock full
of useful resources at http://www.thechangeagency.org
This article can be accessed in its original form at:
- 22 -
The 4 Ps of Effective Meetings
- Katrina Shields
Be clear about why you need to have a meeting. How much is it to
make joint decisions or share information? How much is it to build a
sense of community, cooperation or teamwork? What sort of results
do you want? Design accordingly.
• Are the appropriate people sufficiently informed?
• Is the location and venue conducive to your purpose?
• Does everyone know the starting time?
• Should childcare or help with transport be provided?
• What equipment (eg whiteboard, butchers paper, wall charts, etc)
might be needed?
• Are refreshments provided?
• What are you warming people up to thinking about beforehand?
• What should they bring?
• Are appropriate reports prepared and information gathered?
- 23 -
• What might streamline the information sharing and decision-
• Do you need to prepares some energisers or lighteners?
A balance needs to be struck between getting through the business
(the TASK dimension) and paying attention to the needs of and
relationships between people (the MAINTENANCE dimension. What
level of formality and structure is actually needed? Who plays what
roles? Are these appropriate? Can the roles be rotated? What sort
of group agreements do you need to make about the way you will
operate together? What sort of group culture are you building?
Is it clear what the outcome of the meeting was? Who was going to
do what? By when? What sort of records need to be kept? Do you
know how people feel about the meetings? Do you do evaluations?
When you identify problems, do some group problem-solving.
This article can be accessed in its original form at:
- 24 -
Tools for White Guys
who are Working for Social Change
(and other people socialized in a society based on domination)
1. Practice noticing who’s in the room at meetings - how many men,
how many women, how many white people, how many people of color,
is it majority heterosexual, are there out queers, what are people’s class
backgrounds. Don’t assume to know people, but also work at being more
2a. Count how many times you speak and keep track of how long you
2b. Count how many times other people speak and keep track of how
long they speak.
3. Be conscious of how often you are actively listening to what other
people are saying as opposed to just waiting your turn and/or thinking
about what you’ll say next.
4. Practice going to meetings focused on listening and learning; go to
some meetings and do not speak at all.
5a. Count how many times you put ideas out to the group.
5b. Count how many times you support other people’s ideas for the
6. Practice supporting people by asking them to expand on ideas and get
more in-depth, before you decide to support the idea or not.
7a. Think about whose work and contribution to the group gets
7b. Practice recognizing more people for the work they do and try to do it
- 25 -
8. Practice asking more people what they think about meetings, ideas,
actions, strategy and vision. White guys tend to talk amongst themselves
and develop strong bonds that manifest in organizing. This creates an
internal organizing culture that is alienating for most people. Developing
respect and solidarity across race, class, gender and sexuality is complex
and difficult, but absolutely critical - and liberating.
9. Be aware of how often you ask people to do something as opposed to
asking other people “what needs to be done”.
10. Think about and struggle with the saying, “you will be needed in the
movement when you realize that you are not needed in the movement”.
11. Struggle with and work with the model of group leadership that says
that the responsibility of leaders is to help develop more leaders, and
think about what this means to you.
12. Remember that social change is a process, and that our individual
transformation and individual liberation is intimately interconnected with
social transformation and social liberation. Life is profoundly complex
and there are many contradictions. Remember that the path we travel is
guided by love, dignity and respect - even when it is bumpy and difficult
13. This list is not limited to white guys, nor is it intended to reduce all
white guys into one category. This list is intended to disrupt patterns of
domination which hurt our movement and hurt each other. White guys
have a lot of work to do, but it is the kind of work that makes life worth
14. Day-to-day patterns of domination are the glue that maintain systems
of domination. The struggle against capitalism, white supremacy,
patriarchy, heterosexism and the state, is also the struggle towards
15. No one is free until all of us are free.
This article can be accessed in its original form at:
- 26 -
Shut the Fuck Up
or How to Act Better in Meetings
- Dan Spalding
An open letter to other men in the movement...
“Even with my mask I often spoke the tyranny of power. My first duty was
to cultivate a revolutionary silence.” -Subcomandante Marcos
Being an activist these days means fighting for a thousand different
things - indigenous rights, rainforests, corporate accountability,
etc. Despite this diversity of campaigns, there seems to be some
agreement on the kind of society we want to create. It’s a society that
isn’t based on white supremacy, class exploitation, or patriarchy.
This essay is about how men act in meetings. Mostly it’s about how
we act badly, but it includes suggestions on how we can do better.
Men in the movement reproduce patriarchy within the movement
and benefit from it. By patriarchy I mean a system of values, behaviors,
and relationships that keeps men in power. It relies on domination,
claiming authority, and belligerence. By the movement I mean the
anti-corporate globalization movement in the US I am a part of.
I think people organizing for affordable housing, against police
brutality, for the rights of immigrants (for example) are also fighting
- 27 -
the same system that’s wringing the blood out of the bottom 99
percent of the world’s population and the environment they live in.
However, I don’t know from my experience if the men who organize
around those issues act the way the men in the movement do.
Just to be clear, those men are almost always white and from middle-
class or wealthier backgrounds. In my experience, as someone who
identifies as a man of color, men of color dominate meetings in
basically the exact same way. But I find that men who do not speak
English fluently tend not to do so as much. I wish I could think of more
Who cares about meetings?
Good question. Most meetings of large-ish organizations (of more
than 30 people or so) I’ve been to don’t amount to too much. The real
work - doing research, getting people involved, organizing protests
and actions, fundraising, media stuff - gets done by working groups
or individuals. Meetings are just about a lot of talking, right?
Well, yes and no. At worst meetings force a lot of people to get
together and generally discuss everything that’s been done,
everything that’s going on, and everything that needs to be done.
These meetings tend to wander a lot. Responsibility is not clearly
delegated, decisions aren’t made overtly, and the organization isn’t
more focused afterwards than before. At the same time, there’s
heated arguments over seemingly trivial things, or hurtful criticism of
individuals. But those arguments and criticisms don’t amount to too
much in the end.
But a good meeting is a different animal altogether. With good
self-facilitation and a good facilitator (or two, or three...), everyone
contributes to the meeting, without anyone taking control over it.
People make constructive criticism, and try to incorporate concerns
raised into their proposals. And since everyone gets to contribute
- 28 -
their ideas into the decision-making process, the decisions are not
only the best possible ones - but also the ones people are most
invested in. Since everyone feels ownership over the decisions,
people are more likely to take on responsibility for projects.
If you’re serious about using consensus, you have to care about
meetings. That’s the only place a group can democratically decide
what to do and how to do it. The alternative is an informal group of
the most influential and forceful members (who dominate discussion)
making the big decisions.
It’s not just how often you talk, but how and when
Consensus decision making is a model of the society we want to live
in, and a tool we use to get there. Men often dominate consensus at
the expense of everyone else. Think about the man who...
• Speaks for a long time, loud, first and often
• Offers his opinion immediately whenever someone makes a
proposal, asks a question, or if there’s a lull in discussion
• Speaks with too much authority: “Actually, it’s like this…”
• Can’t amend a proposal or idea he disagrees with, but trashes it
• Makes faces every time someone says something he disagrees with
• Rephrases everything a woman says, as in, “I think what Mary was
trying to say is...”
• Makes a proposal, then responds to each and every question and
criticism of it - thus speaking as often as everyone else put together
(Note: This man often ends up being the facilitator)
And don’t get me started about the bad male facilitator who…:
- 29 -
• Always puts himself first on stack, because he can
• Somehow never sees the women with their hands up, and never
encourages people who haven’t spoken
It’s rarely just one man who exhibits every problem trait. Instead it’s
two or three competing to do all the above. But the result is the same:
everyone who can’t (or won’t) compete on these terms - talking long,
loud, first and often - gets drowned out.
This is a result of society’s programming. Almost no men can actually
live up to our culture’s fucked up standards of masculinity. And our
society has standards for women that are equally ridiculous. In one
way, we both suffer equally. That’s why we all yearn and strive for a
world where these standards - which serve to divide us and reduce us
and prop up those in control - are destroyed.
In another way these standards serve those who come closest to
living up to them. Sure, we all lose when a few men dominate a
meeting. But it’s those men who get to make decisions, take credit
for the work everyone does, and come out feeling more inspired and
But I can’t be sexist - I’m a hippie
Oh, but you can. The irony is that you can basically do all the things
listed above, even if you don’t fit the stereotype of the big strapping
man. I’ve seen hippies, men who would be described as feminine,
queer men, and others who in many ways go against the grain not
go against the grain at all when it comes to dominating discussion.
A hippie might speak slowly and use hippie slang, but still speak as
the voice of authority, and cut off the woman who was speaking
before him. A man who some might call feminine can still make a face
like he smelled something when someone he doesn’t respect says
something he disagrees with, thus telling her to shut up; he may also
politely but consistently put himself on stack every time someone
- 30 -
criticizes his proposal.
So shut the fuck up already
What’s to be done? I’ve come up with a little idea I like to call, “Shut
the fuck up.” It goes as follows: Every time someone...
• Says something you think is irrelevant,
• Asks a (seemingly) obvious question,
• Criticizes your proposal or makes a contradictory observation,
• Makes a proposal
• Asks a question, or
• Asks for more input because there’s a brief lull in the discussion. . .
Shut the fuck up. It’s a radical process, but I think you’ll like it.
Since my childhood, I was raised by my parents and by every teacher
I ever had in school to demand as much attention as possible. In
class I spoke more often than almost anyone else I knew. Surprisingly
enough, some of my teachers were annoyed with me. But while they
may have counseled me to raise my hand first, they never asked me
to speak less or listen more. As a result I probably got twice as much
attention from my teachers, measured in time spent with me, than
most of the other kids I went to school with.
But a mere 15 years after I started learning to exhibit almost all the
dominating male behavior I list above, something happened. I was
in a class with a friend of mine. Let’s call her Anne, because that’s her
name. Anne and I were in the same study group, and the night before
she had gone over the exact question the professor was now asking.
However, Anne wasn’t answering, even though the rest of the class
I don’t know what struck me to actually stop and think instead of
answering the question myself, as I was wont to do. That incident got
- 31 -
me thinking about who spoke most often in class, why, and what I
could do. The answers to the first two questions I’ve basically given
already. The third is a little trickier.
What else can we do?
Lucky for us, being a man gives us a lot of authority. I mean that in
a good way, too. Much like people of color are always assumed to
be selfish or paranoid when they speak out against racial profiling,
women are often assumed to be bitchy when they call out patriarchal
What does that mean for us? First, we shut the fuck up. This was easy
for me in school - I just made a rule that I never spoke more than twice
in a 50 minute class. Surprise! Almost every time I would have spoken,
someone else eventually said the exact same thing, or something
smarter. It was frustrating when it was another obnoxious man doing
the answering, but a lot of times it wasn’t one of the two guys in class
who spoke most often.
The problem is that the classroom is designed to have one person in
charge, and it ain’t the student. While you could point out problem
behavior in class, there’s not a lot of ‘space’ for it - it’s not expected or
encouraged, and would probably be dismissed by the professor.
The beauty of consensus is the facilitation. Not only can we facilitate
ourselves - and we should - but we can facilitate each other. This is
mainly the job of the person chosen to be the facilitator. But when the
facilitator is ignoring problem behavior - or exhibiting it - it’s easy for
other people in the group to guerrilla facilitate.’
Sometimes it’s as easy as pointing out the people who have their
hands up, but are somehow missed by the facilitator, or by suggesting
straw polls or go ‘rounds or other tools that get everyone involved.
But it’s usually not that easy. The worse the pattern of behavior in the
group, the more natural the fucked-upedness will seem. And you’ll
- 32 -
often be given the evil eye by the people you’re calling out, if not a
verbal backlash. And finally, it’s obviously not the job of the people
most trampled on by patriarchal behavior to always be calling it
out. That’s where we come in. We are, at least at first, given the most
respect when we call out bad behavior.
The problem is doing the calling out in a constructive way. It’s all too
easy to call people out in a hurtful and authoritarian fashion - thus
entertaining everyone with your unintended irony, but also acting
the exact way you don’t want others to. When you call people out in
a way that’s hurtful instead of constructive, it still tends to keep the
quietest people at a meeting from participating.
So call people out, but try not to be too personal about it. Unless it’s
outrageous, wait until the person is finished, and then make your
process point about how people should stick to stack, or consider not
talking if they’ve just spoken, or whatever. And if it seems someone’s
pissed off at your calling them out (and white men make it real easy
for you to tell if they’re pissed off ), make the effort to talk to him after
the meeting is over. It usually doesn’t take much to smooth ruffled
Unfortunately, it also doesn’t take much for those same people to do
the exact same thing the next meeting. So while part of the answer
is self-facilitation and facilitating others, another part is also giving
everyone the skills and confidence they need to assert their place
in the meeting. This means having regular workshops, for new and
experienced activists, on how consensus is supposed to work. It also
means going through the formal process of consensus and explaining
it during meetings. You can do it quickly, especially after the first few
times. But when people assume that everyone is familiar with the
process, those who are least confident (but still have good ideas) will
be the first to drop out of discussions. Meanwhile, other people who
- 33 -
think they know the process but don’t tend to hold things up. I’ll let
you guess what I think the gender breakdown of those groups is.
Another key ingredient is talking to individuals outside of meetings.
Talking honestly - “I know you care about the group, but in meetings it
seems like you talk down to anyone who disagrees with you, and you
cut people off a lot, and that makes it really hard for other people to
participate” - is a big part of it. And as with any interaction, you have
to keep an open mind to hear their perspective. Ideally, you could
resolve things at this level and not have to bring things up before the
But it’s still a good idea to come up with a structure to address the
way people act badly in meetings, for people to regularly “check in”
with how they feel the process is going. It also makes it easier for
people who wouldn’t normally criticize others to do so constructively.
The structure could mean that once every two months the group
has a “process” meeting, where the focus is on how people act in
meetings, working groups, etc. It’s often easier and ‘safer’ for people to
call out problem behavior, and easier and ‘safer’ for the culprits to own
up to it and ask for constructive criticism.
Finally, it means constantly thinking about how we, as men, tend
to dominate and control the world around us. To me this is most
apparent (at least in other people) in meetings. To me, that’s also
where it’s easiest to address. This is a continuous process. We have to
always read about this, talk about it, inquire into how others address
it, come up with creative and successful solutions, and apply them.
But no matter where we take it, I think this struggle always starts with
shutting the fuck up.
As men, we’re encouraged to dominate conversation without even
thinking about it. It’s too easy for us to do really good work - fighting
genetic engineering, tearing down the prison industrial complex,
freeing Mumia - and still act exactly like the frat boy next door. We
have to confront each other and ourselves so that domination stops
- 34 -
seeming natural, and so we can start doing something about it. So
the next time you don’t think about how you’re talking, please think
about how you’re talking.
And the bonus section…...
But I can’t let a girl do this - I mean, I’m the only one who knows
Shut the heck up! Sharing responsibility for projects is fundamental
for ensuring that everyone in the group develops skills and
confidence. I’ll give credit where it’s due: We men are pretty good
at letting women bottomline work like child care, note taking,
food prep... But we rarely have structures to let women take on our
In your meetings, are women taking on projects in proportion to
their numbers? If you’re not paying attention, you should be. Along
with consensus, sharing work is one of the hallmarks of democratic
organizing. In my experience the most prestigious, challenging,
and rewarding work belongs to men. Often, it belongs to the same
men who dominate the meetings where these tasks are ostensibly
One way men make work theirs (in the worst way) is by hoarding
information around it. What work has been done? What’s left to do?
What are the priorities? The deadlines? If the work is done informally,
not only is there no accountability for it getting done, but there
are also no records and no regular updates. This makes it almost
impossible to pass on responsibility for the project to someone else -
unless you’re setting them up for failure.
Another problem is contacts. Somehow it seems that long time
organizers tend to all know each other. If there’s a problem they can
just call each other up. This isn’t just intimidating for people lower
on the activist totem pole; it makes it that much harder for them to
- 35 -
get the same work done. If we pretend our contacts are just friends,
instead of people we rely on to get work done, the group at the top
will stay there. And I think that group is almost all male.
Finally, there’s language. Experts in the capitalist world tend to mystify
their work. Whether it’s “move to demur,” “updating the HTML,” or
“within the confines of this narrative,” professionals have a vested
interest in making their work sound as obscure and difficult as
possible. Professionals in our society own the little part of the world
they have “expertise” over. They make decisions that affect everyone,
and get more control and authority as time goes on.
Sound familiar? All these factors - hoarding information, exclusive
contacts, mystifying language - get even worse during a crisis. In the
middle of an action it’s easy to say, “There’s no time to teach anyone
new, men or women, how to work the radios.” First, that’s usually a
group of men speaking. Second, that’s why you have start before
the action. If the problem is just a few big egos and a lot of people’s
complicity, then you can delegate immediately. If there’s more at
work, you have to set up a structure so folks outside the de facto
leadership meaningfully take on projects. That structure can include
documenting steps and information, helping new people develop
working relationships with other organizers, using everyday language
instead of bullshit acronyms, and so on. But without a process it’s
much more difficult to pass on that responsibility.
And who do you think you’ll be passing it on to?
(freely inspired by Jo Freeman’s “The Tyranny of Structurelessness.”)
This essay came out of my frustration with the male domination
in meetings in this movement and the absence of men’s efforts to
- 36 -
change it. It also came out of my need for self-reflection. This will
ideally lead not just to all men acting exactly like I think they should,
but also a lasting dialog on how we behave in meetings and what we
can do about it. If you have any thoughts on what I’ve written, please
contact me and tell me what you think email@example.com. This
isn’t a declaration of war; it’s just a starting point.
Time for me to shut the fuck up.
This article can be accessed in its original form at:
- 37 -
Online Resources Online Books
Animal Rights Advocates Inc: On Conflict and Consensus:
The Change Agency:
http://www.thechangeagency.org/ Collective Organisation
The Tyranny of Structurelessness:
Starhawk’s Activist Resources:
Consensus: A New Handbook for
Grassroots Social, Political, and
- Peter Gelderloos
- 38 -
Guiding Principles of Animal Rights
1. The animal rights position maintains that all sentient beings, humans or
other animals, have the basic right not to be treated as the property of others.
2. Our recognition of this basic right means that we must abolish, and not
merely regulate, institutionalised animal exploitation - because it assumes that
other animals are the property of humans.
3. Just as we reject racism, sexism, ageism, and homophobia, we reject
speciesism. The species of a sentient being is no more reason to deny the
protection of this basic right than ethnicity, sex, age, or sexuality is a reason to
deny membership in the human moral community to other humans.
4. We recognise that we will not abolish overnight the property status of
other animals, but we will support only those campaigns and positions that
explicitly promote the abolitionist agenda. We will not support positions that
call for supposedly “improved” regulation of animal exploitation that promote
one form of exploitation over another. We reject any campaign that promotes
sexism, racism, homophobia or other forms of discrimination against humans.
5. We recognise that the most important step that any of us can take toward
abolition is to adopt the vegan lifestyle and to educate others about veganism.
Veganism is the principle of abolition applied to one’s personal life and the
consumption of any meat, poultry, fish, eggs or dairy products, or the wearing
or use of animal products, is inconsistent with the abolitionist perspective.
6. We recognise the principle of non-violence as the guiding principle of the
animal rights movement.
- 39 -
If you have finished with this reader why not pass it on to someone else.
You may also like to check out some of ARA’s other activist readers:
An Introduction to Animal Rights
Animal Rights vs Welfare Reforms
Animal Rights Activism