First off; why on earth read this? What credentials do I have to mouth off about successful movement-building? There was a moment 6 years ago (Call to Real Action), but you can’t dine out on that stuff forever, you know. There was a failed effort last year (People’s Environmental Scrutiny Team), from which I learnt a lot. But anyway, if you insist-
In response to a very sensible question,
First off, what we DO depends on what result we hope to achieve. I know that sounds banal, but actually, part of the problem is that a lot of our activism is, quite understandably, aimed at getting others (usually governments and corporations) to do something. Personally, I think the time for that has largely passed. There is a real mess coming (the second half of the twenty-first century is going to make the first half of the twentieth look like a golden age of peace and love), and states and corporations are going to be less and less willing (or able) to do ‘the right’ thing, even if cajoled into it.
On a trivial level, for instance – I’ve watched Manchester City Council move from a not-very-smart elephant (and unable to tapdance) in 2008-9, with all its fine promises about climate change to its current status as an anorexic gnat that hasn’t been taking its OCD medication (gaia help us all after DevoManc). Thanks to all the Tory cuts, the council has lost a few occasionally reasonable members of staff and (thank goodness) a lot of outright muppets. Of the 96 Councillors, there is but a handful who are worth talking to. My point is – even if the council as an organisation had the will to keep some of their promises (doubtful) there is actually very very little they could themselves DO. So why waste breath or attention on them, except for the lulz?
So, for me, it’s about how we can do activism that yes occasionally makes demands of others, but is more focussed on identifying the skills and knowledge we have, the skills and knowledge we will need (and the single points of failure – i.e. is there only one person in the group who knows how to update the website. What happens if they leave?!).
That however, is a fundamentally different mindset from comfort-zone of “the demo is in three weeks?! Who is going to print the placards? We need to sell lots of papers/collect lots of signatures!”
We also do indeed need to get the existing groups co-ordinating. But each is (happy in) its silo, and folks are busy enough with their own group(s)’ meetings without attending another one and having tussles about who is ‘in charge’. There is lots of mutual suspicion about groups trying to “take over”, and about these co-ordination efforts being more trouble than it is worth. I am not sure if this can be solved [probably it would take a committed, trusted and available ‘Big Cheese” with amazing interpersonal skills]. I don’t know of that person in Manchester. So we’d be looking for a less-skilled individual… “not me” – I am far too loathed and also far too busy.
So look, I don’t believe that we (“climate activists”) will (or perhaps even can) create the kind of activism that can do the two things we really need
a) pressuring the state to be less rubbish
b) creating exchanges of skills and knowledge that build the confidence of individuals and groups, their connectedness and their – dreadful word – ‘resilience’.
The rest of this post is simply some questions. (I have some answers, which if you do keyword searches for things like meetings, movement-building 1, movement-building 2, emotathons, ego-fodder, smugosphere, novice lines you might find something of use.)
- Why do so few people who come to our meetings stick around for the ‘long haul’?
- How can we make being involved in a campaign/group less dependent on availability for an evening meeting or a march?
- How do we identify and people’s skills and knowledge?
- How do we create opportunities for people to gain in skills, knowledge, confidence, connection?
- How can we be ‘welcoming’ without freaking people out and having them think we are a cult?
- How can we get “old” people back involved (ones who left because of burnout, cynicism, unmanaged conflict)? What is required here? Should we always get these people back?!
- How do we manage conflict between individuals and groups (especially when it involves us)?
- How do we make sure we don’t waste people’s time/attention/bandwidth
- How do we maintain morale (given that it is going to be escalating and accelerating nastiness from here on).
- Why are our meetings and organisations (largely) so white? And relatively male?
- How do we capture tacit knowledge and explicit knowledge, and share it?
- How do we increase individuals’ and groups abilities to conduct honest and thorough post-mortems of success and failure (rather than have people slink away to lick their wounds, taking their insights with them into their caves).
- How can we create synergies between groups?
For all of the above questions we need think
- 1) What is the current level? (and how do we find out, reliably and efficiently)
- 2) What can we do to increase each of these? (what do we need to start doing straight away?)
- 3) What skills and processes would we need to help increase these? (long-term, what’s needed?)
- 4) Are there ways that we can efficiently and meaningfully measure our impact?
- 5) What are some of the common (past, present, possible) fuck-ups to do with each of these?
What will actually happen?
We (in social movement organisations) will just keep doing what we always have done. That’s what we do, that’s who we are. Innovation is painful, and if you think you’re right, and that you will be rewarded sometime, why would you change?
‘New’ people will come to our meetings and events. They will judge (rightly) that either
- a) nothing important is happening, or
- b) they would only benefit in terms of skills learnt/camaraderie shared if they became a part of the inner clique. This would take more time/energy/motivation than they have … so they will walk away, largely unnoticed.
Some groups will die, but others will be sustained by a flow (often a trickle) of newbies who ‘stick’.
And the carbon will accumulate, and the desperation will accumulate. We will reach for various Gods and Geo-engineering. And it will be pretty horrible for a long time. After that, after everyone alive now is dead, or wishes they were? Well, that doesn’t bear thinking about….