The agenda-less meeting: more musings

In the first part of this post fingers were compelled to keyboard by Chris Johnston’s post in which he critiqued the traditional activist meeting. He finished by promising us ideas for alternatives and has shared his thoughts in his latest post Birth of the activity meeting.

I’m more in tune with this post than his last one – it’s hard to disagree that meetings should: be activity-based; enable learning; give early responsibility; be fun and social. Chris calls these activity meetings. But I’m still a little uncomfortable with the possible interpretation that newcomers to activist meetings need a step by step introduction, hand-held all the way. See the middle step of his 3 posts Inspiration for the resurrection – it’s a fine line between peer support and coming across as paternalistic, patronising and worse.

Let me clarify…. given the choice of the way things are at the moment with your ‘average’ activist meeting, or the ideas that Chris offers, I’m sorely tempted to side with Chris. But it’s not that binary. Better agenda-based meetings are possible (paint that on your banner for the next march!). And they can be made accessible to newcomers.

Yes, have more (much more) activity in your agenda meetings. But the polarisation between the two creates a danger that we have a ‘committee’ doing the back-room drudge of agenda meeting stuff (including planning activity meetings) whilst newcomers have fantastic meetings. That way informal hierarchy and burn-out lie. So let’s take the drudge out of the agenda meetings we have whilst simultaneously organising parallel activity meetings. There’s no need to choose.

One choice is clear though, the way most activist groups currently meet has to change if we’re to encourage newcomers to join, and enable the current generation of activists to continue to make change.

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8 thoughts on “The agenda-less meeting: more musings

  1. You two (Rhizome and Chris Johnston) are doing very good things here, bouncing off each others’ ideas, refining. You should surely try to meet up. I’m happy to produce an agenda for your discussions… 🙂

  2. Hi there, apologies again for taking so long to respond and many thanks for taking an interest in the first place! I’ve been finding responding to this really difficult, and I still don’t think I’ve found the best way to express my thoughts but here goes.

    Bottom line, I agree with the vast majority that you’ve written in both of your posts on newbie meetings. You’ve also shifted my thinking on a really important point – long story short, where previously I thought agenda meetings could not meet the needs of newbies, I now believe with a lot of effort they can. Instead of ‘killing’ the meeting for newbies it should be part of a healthy mix. This is a big deal, so thank you for making your case and enlightening me!

    However, I do believe much of both posts completely misrepresent what I wrote. According to them I’m guilty of;

    > Technocentrism – technological solutions are always desirable and accessible to all.
    > Generalisation – we can put people into boxes, and treat them on the basis of their stereotypes.
    > Top-down power – we should withhold power and responsibility from people who aren’t clever/experienced enough to wield it.
    > Black & white thinking – it’s all or nothing, things are either fantastic or terrible.

    In essence – what you must think of me! Part of me wants to go over what I’ve written and explain why no part of it is living these principles, and is usually counter to them. But I’m not sure that would be helpful – I’d be arguing for something we both already believe in. As well as thanking you for changing my mind on the potential of agenda meetings for newbies, I wanted to at least state these are NOT my values. Hopefully as time goes on I can make my belief in them more obvious 🙂

    • Ah, the joys of written communication! Apologies of it came across that way. If I overstated the case (“if”, he says….) about the assumptions that could be drawn from your posts it was intended to provoke thought about the possible dangers of throwing out the agenda altogether, and stimulate friendly debate. As I hope I made clear I’m well aware that we’re both working towards the same thing – accessible meetings that welcome newcomers and thus keep groups alive, healthy and sustainable for the longer term!

      And yes, I agree that making the agenda meeting work really well, from the current starting point of most groups would be a lot of work. But it can be done step by step….

      Let’s keep bouncing off each other – good things are emerging……

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