Affinity Groups Reader


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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.

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Affinity Groups Reader

  1. 1. AFFINITY GROUPS an activist reader
  2. 2. Contents 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 original attributions.
  3. 3. Introduction to Affinity Groups - Starhawk Working Together 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. History 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 -1-
  4. 4. ‘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 -2-
  5. 5. 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. Organisation 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 support. 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 -3-
  6. 6. 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 effectiveness. 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 change. This article can be accessed in its original form at: -4-
  7. 7. 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 -5-
  8. 8. all conditioned. There are but a few models in our society which offer an alternative. 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 them apart. 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, -6-
  9. 9. 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. -7-
  10. 10. 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: -8-
  11. 11. Introduction to Consensus - Starhawk 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 one. 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), -9-
  12. 12. 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 -
  13. 13. intelligence does come up with better solutions than could individuals. 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 action. 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 -
  14. 14. 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 group.” • 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 -
  15. 15. 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 -
  16. 16. such responsibilities should belong to everyone, and not just the designated person. Facilitator 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 -
  17. 17. Timekeeper 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. Notetaker 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 -
  18. 18. 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 circumstances. 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 Check-ins 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. Go-rounds 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 -
  19. 19. Brainstorms 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 necessary. Fishbowl 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 -
  20. 20. 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 inclusiveness. Good meetings should: • Create trust • Be punctual in starting and finishing • Establish goals collaboratively and effectively move towards them - 18 -
  21. 21. • 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. Meeting agenda • Select facilitator and minute taker • Apologies/those present • Agree on the finishing time • Check in. How is everyone? What’s going on? • Correspondence • 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 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 -
  22. 22. 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. Minute taker 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 meeting. Consensus 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. Check in 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 -
  23. 23. Action sheet 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 progress made. Person Responsible Description of Task Completion Date Group development 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 -
  24. 24. Realistic objectives 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 This article can be accessed in its original form at: pdf - 22 -
  25. 25. The 4 Ps of Effective Meetings - Katrina Shields Purpose 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. Preparation • 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 -
  26. 26. • What might streamline the information sharing and decision- making? • Do you need to prepares some energisers or lighteners? Process 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? Practical action 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: GroupProcess.pdf - 24 -
  27. 27. 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 aware. 2a. Count how many times you speak and keep track of how long you speak. 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 group. 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 recognized. 7b. Practice recognizing more people for the work they do and try to do it more often. - 25 -
  28. 28. 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 to navigate. 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 living. 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 collective liberation. 15. No one is free until all of us are free. This article can be accessed in its original form at: - 26 -
  29. 29. 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 Introduction 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 -
  30. 30. 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 exceptions. 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 -
  31. 31. 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 instead • 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 -
  32. 32. • 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 confident. 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 -
  33. 33. 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 was silent. 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 -
  34. 34. 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 behavior. 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 -
  35. 35. 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. The solution 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 feathers. 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 -
  36. 36. 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 group. 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 -
  37. 37. 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 how 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 responsibilities. 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 delegated. 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 -
  38. 38. 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.”) Epilogue 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 -
  39. 39. 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 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 -
  40. 40. Further Information Online Resources Online Books Animal Rights Advocates Inc: On Conflict and Consensus: ocac.htm The Change Agency: Collective Organisation Consensus Network: amje1.htm The Tyranny of Structurelessness: Starhawk’s Activist Resources: amtos.htm trainer-resources/trainer-resources. html Books Consensus: A New Handbook for Grassroots Social, Political, and Environmental Groups - Peter Gelderloos - 38 -
  41. 41. 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 -
  42. 42. Notes - 40 -
  43. 43. 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 Coalition Building
  44. 44. animal rights advocates inc.