“What the hell do we do next?”

If you’re part of a group or organisation Rhizome works with, the chances are that you identify yourself as part of the Green Movement in its broadest form. If you’re a trainer or facilitator who read this blog, the chances are that you do a lot, if not all, of their work for that same movement. You may well feel that  with it from within – you are of the movement and for the movement. So how do you feel about Paul Kingsnorth’s thoughts:

“The green movement, which seemed to be carrying all before it in the early 1990s, has plunged into a full-on midlife crisis. Unable to significantly change either the system or the behavior of the public, assailed by a rising movement of “skeptics” and by public boredom with being hectored about carbon and consumption, colonized by a new breed of corporate spivs for whom “sustainability” is just another opportunity for selling things, the greens are seeing a nasty realization dawn: despite all their work, their passion, their commitment and the fact that most of what they have been saying has been broadly right—they are losing. There is no likelihood of the world going their way. In most green circles now, sooner or later, the conversation comes round to the same question: what the hell do we do next?” [my emphasis]

Is it a question you recognise? It’s taken from a longer article in Orion Magazine which I was directed to by Dave Pollard’s recent Links post. If Kingsnorth is even half right (and I reckon he is) it’s an enormous question that spawns others.

What are we at Rhizome doing, for example, to facilitate the movement answering the question? … What should we be doing? … Are we wasting our time working with and for the Green Movement?

Kingsnorth poses 5 possible answers to his question:

One: Withdrawing…take part in a very ancient practical and spiritual tradition: withdrawing from the fray. Withdraw not with cynicism, but with a questing mind. Withdraw so that you can allow yourself to sit back quietly and feel, intuit, work out what is right for you and what nature might need from you. Withdraw because refusing to help the machine advance—refusing to tighten the ratchet further—is a deeply moral position. Withdraw because action is not always more effective than inaction. Withdraw to examine your worldview: the cosmology, the paradigm, the assumptions, the direction of travel. All real change starts with withdrawal.

 

Two: Preserving nonhuman life…The human empire is the greatest threat to what remains of life on earth, and you are part of it. What can you do—really do, at a practical level—about this? Maybe you can buy up some land and rewild it; maybe you can let your garden run free; maybe you can work for a conservation group or set one up yourself; maybe you can put your body in the way of a bulldozer; maybe you can use your skills to prevent the destruction of yet another wild place. How can you create or protect a space for nonhuman nature to breathe easier; how can you give something that isn’t us a chance to survive our appetites?

 

Three: Getting your hands dirty. Root yourself in something: some practical work, some place, some way of doing. Pick up your scythe or your equivalent and get out there and do physical work in clean air surrounded by things you cannot control. Get away from your laptop and throw away your smartphone, if you have one. Ground yourself in things and places, learn or practice human-scale convivial skills. Only by doing that, rather than just talking about it, do you learn what is real and what’s not, and what makes sense and what is so much hot air.

 

Four: Insisting that nature has a value beyond utility. And telling everyone. Remember that you are one life-form among many and understand that everything has intrinsic value. If you want to call this “ecocentrism” or “deep ecology,” do it. If you want to call it something else, do that. If you want to look to tribal societies for your inspiration, do it. If that seems too gooey, just look up into the sky. Sit on the grass, touch a tree trunk, walk into the hills, dig in the garden, look at what you find in the soil, marvel at what the hell this thing called life could possibly be…

 

Five: Building refuges. The coming decades are likely to challenge much of what we think we know about what progress is, and about who we are in relation to the rest of nature. Advanced technologies will challenge our sense of what it means to be human at the same time as the tide of extinction rolls on…In this context, ask yourself: what power do you have to preserve what is of value—creatures, skills, things, places? …Can you think, or act, like the librarian of a monastery through the Dark Ages, guarding the old books as empires rise and fall outside?

If any of that rings true with you, and with us here at Rhizome, it begs the question of where we put our energy, skills and resources.

On one level, the level of how we work I could argue that Rhizome’s already, instinctively, in tune with Kingsnorth’s 5 answers. I see in myself and some of the conversations I have with my Rhizome colleagues our own take on these impulses.

We ‘withdraw’ into our internal relationships, using the work we’re asked to do as an opportunity, a tool even, to build our relationships, to challenge, to grow, to contemplate and reflect.

We also insist that relationships, that the nature of groups and organisations, have a value beyond serving a group’s structure or process. In working that way we make Rhizome and the groups with whom we work (or should that be ‘relate’) more able to be refuges.

And largely we do this by inviting folks to join us in getting our hands dirty. No hi-tech training tools or techniques – just people experiencing together, doing together and reflecting and learning together from that doing. Increasingly I find myself designing work that emphasises getting hands dirty at the earliest possible opportunity and for the longest possible time.

What of preserving nonhuman life? I don’t want to stretch the analogy to breaking point, but there’s an element of truth in saying that if we can help each other to relate more openly, more honestly and across our diversity we stand more chance as individuals, as groups and as a society and a species, of opening up to the needs of an even more diverse group – the ecosystems, the nonhuman life, all around us. Every group or organisation is a kind of ecosystem – a tangled and interdependent web of relationship, power, and dynamics.

But how we work is just one level and there are the where and with whom questions to be answered or at least to be continually asked. Rhizome folk meet next week. Our discussion are always lively, interested and interesting. When presented with questions like this one how could they be otherwise?

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Strategy……or evolutionary purpose?

We recently blogged about Rhizome’s internal discussions on strategy. Here’s more on one perspective in that discussion:

Values are obviously very important in helping people make decisions about how to prioritise one thing over another when there are various options. But to continue the metaphor, if you arrive at any place on a map, and you have your compass with you, then your compass will help you find your way- if you know where you want to go. A compass doesn’t help you decide where to go. For me, having values without some sense of direction/purpose/strategy certainly helps in some contexts, but doesn’t do the job for me in terms of helping with all of the many complex and subtle decisions that are made in organisations. It leaves too much open to individual opinion and interpretation, which can then take a lot of time to process, normally in some kind of group context. That’s fine if you want to be in an organisation which spends a lot of time processing individual feelings, exploring interpretations and creating shared understandings about lots of stuff which is undefined- but not so much if you want to get a lot of stuff done effectively! Its like having a map, and a compass, but not knowing where you are going and not having any criteria about how to decide that either.

So I do think there is a need for some sense of organisational purpose, but not in the sense of a traditional ‘Mission Statement’. I find the notion of evolutionary purpose more helpful here than a traditional mission statement. More conventional ways of thinking about mission and vision involve a leader individually, or a group collectively, exploring and sharing their ideas about what they would like to happen/the world to be like/the organisation to do, find what is shared and create a sense of shared purpose around this. One of the problems with this is, as Brian Robertson, one of the founders of Holacracy says, that it can foster a sense of individual and personal attachment to the mission/ vision/ purpose of the organisation which the leader or group comes up with. These attachments can then get in the way of the purpose being achieved, as we can identify with them and this process invites our egos to get involved. Evolutionary purpose on the other hand is about listening to what needs to happen and being in service to that.

And its about a different kind of ‘listening’ too. The more conventional kind of listening to what’s required from the environment is often done in the form of market research, user-consultation, stakeholder engagement etc. These ways use our minds to engage with the world and what is needed, which is important and necessary. There is another form of listening, which is done beyond the mind. Its not rational or evidence based. Its more transpersonal, where we sense into what is looking to pop up next in the evolutionary unfolding of the universe. What is there, not yet manifest, but waiting to be realised? An organisational purpose which coalesces around this can be a powerful attractor. This is an example of where the two domains of personal/spiritual and group development overlap, and is where its helpful to an organisation for the people involved to have meditation and mindfulness practices. This is dealt with in the work of people like Andrew Cohen and Craig Hamilton’s spiritual teachings on the Evolutionary Impulse.

Its about making a distinction between pushing and pulling. If we have an idea about what we want to happen, we can push to make it happen, and our egos can get engaged and this makes getting it done complicated. On the other hand, if we listen to what is needed in the surrounding environment, that will serve the evolution of the whole, we can be pulled in that direction. Values obviously inform this, and so are necessary, but not sufficient. When we listen to what is needed, and an organisation’s purpose can be formed around this, we can then be in service of that. Being in service to an organisation’s evolutionary purpose can help us disidentify from our ego’s getting tangled up in achieving the purpose. And most crucially, it can provide criteria to help people in the making of the hundred’s of small decisions as well as the big ones, that are needed in any organisation which is being effective in getting things done.

And once there is a sense of purpose, values can help in working out how to achieve that purpose (how to get to where you want to go), and a strategy doesn’t have to be a fixed plan about how it happens. It can be a framework which is referred to which help people decide which path to choose from a range of available options in any one moment.

Nick

Strategy…….or Unstrategy (here be dragons!)

mapbigStrategy, emerging strategy or unstrategy? 3 approaches the Rhizome coop discussed at our last meeting. We didn’t reach unanimity. We didn’t push for a consensus decision – in the relatively short time we had together it’s unlikely we would have reached consensus anyway.

We’ve grown in recent months and at the meeting potential new coop members were trying to get a better feel for who we are and what we do. So the question of our strategy arose naturally and inevitably. After all there’s usually a document somewhere that contains a mission statement, a set of objectives and so on, that allow the reader insight into who an organisation is, and what they try to do in the world and how they go about achieving it. Perfectly reasonable to expect Rhizome to have one. And yet we don’t.

When we founded Rhizome, Carl and I took a decision that we wouldn’t write policies and mission statements. Instead we’d publish our values and the work we were doing, and be held to account by being as transparent as we can through this blog and elsewhere. This post is in itself part of that drive for transparency.

So we found ourselves in tension (and I don’t mean to imply that’s a bad thing). We discussed whether the time had come to write our mission statement and plot our strategy; whether we could work with an emerging strategy by stating our desired end point but being flexible as to how we got there – adapting to the terrain as time and events shaped it; or whether we shouldn’t even map out an end point and simply continue to state our values and use those as a filter for all of the decisions we make – a sort of unstrategy.

If we worked by majority I’d say we were moving towards the latter, an unstrategy, a conscious decision not to put energy and time into creating a detailed map of the world and the work we do in it, but to put that same energy into cultivating and holding firm to our collective values and using those as a compass by which we navigate whatever terrain we encounter. I like this approach – it works for me. If we ever come across new territory, marked only “here be dragons” we’re not paralysed because we always carry our values compass with us.

But there are downsides, and it would be foolish to pretend there weren’t. And these were strongly articulated, meaning this is very much a live discussion within the coop.

One argument is simply about our credibility. We are asked to support and facilitate others in their attempt to map out the world and their path through it to their desired endpoint. And yet we might not have undertaken that same process ourselves.

Another is about identity and consensus. Can we have a clear and shared identity and purpose without a clearly defined strategy? And if we don’t have that clarity can we really do consensus decision-making. After all the final safety net of consensus is the block – a veto to stop a group doing something that would damage their integrity. Many would say that the yardstick against which the validity of the block is measured is a group’s shared identity and purpose. If we go down the route of an unstrategy, we’re substituting that with shared values – is that enough?

The discussion will no doubt continue when we next meet. We’ll also be posting more on the individual perspectives we’re hearing as part of the conversation. It’s an important dialogue. It may be a make or break decision for those interested in joining Rhizome. And as always we welcome your wisdom…..

Matthew

Facilitating strategy planning sessions

Last week Carl and I facilitated a strategy planning meeting for a coalition of international NGOs. We started with an agenda we had put together with the meeting organiser. It covered:

– discussion on the external context

– what the group wanted to see happen

– how they could get there

finishing with reflection on resources, capacity and commitment.

However during the morning this structure was abandoned by the group, who wanted to spend more time exploring their vision for their coalition, and its role in influencing and pushing for change on the issues they are focused on.

Our willingness to respond to the group’s direction seemed to work and participants appreciated our flexibility. As one of them said, it“allowed the group to take the agenda to a new place, which meant we had a better day.” Though another felt that it would have been helpful if we had been more directive – “maybe let us go on too much. Too much discussion.”

As you would expect they were an articulate and engaged group with lots of different opinions; discussion was not difficult to encourage. So it was fairly light touch facilitation, we summarised, asked questions, listened, recorded and nudged the group towards agreeing some next steps and actions. I am not sure that they got to where they thought they wanted to get to by the end of the day, but I think they took a couple of steps forward and had valuable discussions along the way.

Two thoughts on what helped, and what would have helped more:

– Co-facilitation – Carl and I alternated throughout the day between facilitating the discussion and keeping a record of key points on flips on the wall to support the discussion. In such a fast flowing, intellectual conversation on complex topics it would have been impossible to attempt to do both alone.

– As a few participants noted in it would have helped if more members of the group had been involved in pre-meeting discussions about the overall objectives and agenda for the day. Creating the space and time to factor this into the planning phase would have allowed everyone to arrive with a better understanding of what they were hoping to achieve.

Hannah

Strategic direct action – new guide

Tools for Change have uploaded a new Ruckus Society guide to strategic direct action.

An initial glance says it looks promising –  accessible, well formatted and coherent with case studies to boot.

 

Strategy: Hold the front page!

Vredesactie's strategic goal in newspaper format

I had the pleasure of working with trainers from Belgian Peace network Vredesactie recently, as part of the work I do for Turning The Tide. Steve, my TTT co-facilitator, and I travelled to Ghent to support a group in delivering strategy workshops to activist groups. We were quite clear from the start that it was a sharing, a dialogue. Our own experience is that strategy work can be tough, and is fraught with problems, especially in grassroots groups.

  • Some people understand strategy. The dangers are that they’re seen as a strategic elite trying to dictate the course of a wider group or movement; or that they actually do try to dictate the course of a group or movement without being given a mandate to do so.
  • Others could get it if they could find time to engage in a life already overfilled with activist commitments. For them strategy is a luxury that they cannot afford.
  • Others cannot engage with the rather cold logic of many traditional strategy tools, or don’t think big picture, and strategy can alienate them, make them feel stupid, or just frustrate them.
  • For some strategic thinking challenges existing power dynamics in a group, opening up the possibility of new ways of being and acting, and potentially lessening their role at the centre of the group.
  • A request for strategy may also be taken to imply that existing approaches are not effective, and cause offence.

This was one of the conversations we had, literally. We played out a conversation between these characters to see what it taught us about how we, as trainers, approached groups, and what the implications were for the tools and techniques we used to increase strategic action. We wanted to go into the workshop sharing the struggle of getting groups to ‘do strategy’, rather than just sharing tools for doing strategy. It was well received, and when we did turn to look at tools it was within a context of finding tools (and language) that would meet groups where they were at.

One tool I brought home with me was ‘Front Page’, a way of making setting achievable goals more accessible and enjoyable. Vredesactie folk went on to spend a day together after we left them, and tried the tool for themselves so you can see an example of what it looks like. The premise is so simple – mock up the front page of a newspaper reporting on your group having achieved its goal, then write some text to flesh out the picture. In doing so the group has some fun, and has a conversation about what it is they’re trying to achieve. Don’t be surprised if different group members discover they have different goals – that’s one of the hidden benefits of the tool – it makes these differing assumptions apparent.

Not sure when I’ll get a chance to use it, but it feels like a lively and useful addition to my strategy work.

Later in the year there will be a week-long gathering , in Belgium, to look at some of the same issues raised here. I hope that Rhizome will make a contribution, and do some valuable learning, of one kind or another

Counterpower – an interview with Tim Gee

Last year saw the publication of Tim Gee’s book Counterpower: Making Change Happen. We asked him to share his thoughts on the blog and here they are:

Why write the book now? Does the timing reflect your observations about the state of the social movements right now?
I began researching the book a few days after the 2009 G20 Protests in London, and the conclusion was written in response to the debates that followed the TUC march and associated protests in March 2011. Its publication almost exactly corresponded with the occupation of St Pauls. None of that was planned, but it reflects what the movement – and I as part of it – was doing.

Tell us about Counterpower – what’s your core thesis?
The power of any regime rests three main things –ideas (the ability to persuade us of their right to rule), economics (the ability to extract land, labour and capital from us) and physical coercion (the ability to punish us if we do not obey). If a movement can seriously challenge those facets of power, then elites will give away whatever concessions that they have to in order to maintain their rule – and so campaigns are won. If the movement is strong enough it can topple regimes altogether – hence the argument that a successful campaign is an unfinished revolution. The ability to remove the power of elites is our Counterpower.

What’s the most important message you’d like current or future campaigns to take away from the book?
I’d like to burst the myth that policy-making is a process whereby wise elites find the best solution for the most people. On the whole government policy is a reflection of the balance of power in society. Therefore for real social change we need to change the power balance. Simply designing good ideas and communicating them isn’t enough.

It’s relatively easy to analyse movements in hindsight, but did you get a sense through your research that the most successful ones planned their strategies and actually had an analysis at the time, or were they subject to wider events, to fortune?
Almost all of them had strategies and analysis, but it was often things not in the strategy that made all the difference. Take Indian Independence for example: Gandhi’s strategies have been much celebrated since, and were indeed central to bringing down the colonial regime. But India won its independence nearly 20 years after the Salt March. The last straw had been the mutinies in the army and navy in 1946, which were actually condemned by the Indian National Congress, as well as the Muslim League.

Many movements have grown in strength because of specific key events. Do you think that successful movements create these trigger events or just exploit the ones that happen anyway?
Trigger events are times when mass change can happen, because societies often need to be disorganised before they can be reorganised. But what direction that change takes is up to the agency of different forces in society and the actions and planning of the movement beforehand. This is reflected in the different changes that took place around the First World War. In Britain it was a trigger event for the extension of the franchise to women. In Germany and in Russia it was a trigger event for the downfall of the Kaiser and the Tsar respectively. But such events do not only lead to the redistribution of power. As Naomi Klein shows in The Shock Doctrine, the neoliberal right has in recent times been quite adept at using such moments to further consolidate power with the few.

Sometimes though, movements can create those moments, albeit on a smaller scale. As Martin Luther King put it in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail ‘We who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive’. That can certainly be seen in some of the key events of the anti apartheid struggle. For example, following the nonviolent Defiance Campaign in South Africa in 1952 the ANC increased its membership fivefold, even though the uprising was crushed in the short term.

What role can the kind of support that we at Rhizome, and many other folk around the world, play?
The work of trainers and facilitators in social movements is often unsung in the official histories, and many names have been forgotten – probably at least in part because of a natural instinct of such people to push others to the fore. Nevertheless the pioneering work of the likes of Paulo Freire, Saul Alinsky, Bill Moyer, George Lakey, Gene Sharp (and his colleagues) and James Lawson is worthwhile reading for any movement tactician, and is reflected on in Counterpower. All of them have been central to analysing the dynamics of power, identifying ways that it can be dissipated, then supporting people to have the confidence and skills to do so.

Do you think there are key moments where that support can best be concentrated?
The book lays out a four stage model of movements – Consciousness, Coordination, Confrontation and Consolidation. Ultimately I think you need different kinds of support at different times. So conscientisation along the Frierian model is most useful at the first stage, community organising at the second stage, direct action at the third stage and then dealing with fall-out at the fourth.

Many of the successful revolutionary movements you cite in Counterpower have overcome significant repression. Do you think that there needs to be a high level of explicit repression before a revolution can take place?

Movements are born because of repression – usually in covert economic form. In general movements are overtly repressed only when they have started being successful. Therefore resilience to repression will be a factor of many successful campaigns.

In Waging Nonviolent Struggle Gene Sharp talks about the use of Political Ju Jitsu – that is, causing the attacker to lose balance as a result of their own forward thrust. There are plenty of examples of repressive responses by governments backfiring against them – for example the police response to the Reform protests of the 1860s was what led to the resignation of the Home Secretary and then the passing of the second Reform Act in 1867. But the long struggle for the vote in Britain also shows that government repression can delay reform for years on end – as in the case of the 1794 treason trials, the 1819 Peterloo Massacre, and the brutal response to the Chartists and others in the general strike of 1842.

Perhaps an organiser on a different continent in a different century could have advised campaigners of both the past and present. Before his assassination, the Black Panther organiser Fred Hampton came out with some prophetic words: ‘You can kill the revolutionary, but you can’t kill the revolution’.

So we don’t need to live in an explicit dictatorship for injustice to become so unbearable that it leads to revolution? Is a “European Spring” a possibility?
I see a revolution as any process that redistributes power from the haves to the have-nots. In most European countries there is a dictatorship of corporate power. So I  think it’s worth a go…

Watch an interview with Tim courtesy of London Indymedia

Tim Gee is the author of ‘Counterpower: Making Change Happen’, New Internationalist, 2011

Rage, rage against the dying of the light…

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Dylan Thomas

Groups die. Networks die. Movements die. It’s meant to happen. It’s part of a natural cycle and we should embrace it rather than rage against it. Why? Because like most cycles it has its own rebirth built in to the process, so it’s not really death after all, just change. That’s not to say that change cannot feel as difficult, even as traumatic, as a death.

Why these rather sombre thoughts? I started this post soon after Climate Camp’s decision not to hold the annual mass gathering in 2011 and it’s sat in our drafts folder for months. I had a couple of conversations over Friday and Saturday that turned my mind back to the topic of the life cycle of campaigns and campaigning movements.

There are many people out there who spend a lot of their time and effort trying to prevent groups from dying. Some of them are formal “capacity builders” employed or volunteering for an NGO. Others are just group members trying to keep their campaign going. They support groups to recruit and retain members, to try new processes that make the group more open and give it more chance of a long life. It’s a large part of our work here at Rhizome, too. That’s because groups are fragile even if they don’t always appear to be, and they can fall prey to a whole host of diseases that cause untimely death: lack of clear and shared leadership, poor process that excludes potential members, lack of resources, burnout of core people, and much more. But given the right conditions they can thrive, grow and set their own seed.

Sometimes our capacity builders (formal and informal) are left waiting for a group to die. To say that they will the group to do so would be unkind, but every network has groups that are not moving with the times, are stagnating, and are an obstacle to new energy emerging in that town, city or region. What do you do?

It’s a bit like the mature tree that blocks light to the forest floor preventing saplings getting enough light to thrive. Sometimes good forest management requires us to fell the old and diseased trees to let new ones grow in their place. The old tree has done its work. Year after year of leaf-fall has created a rich humus on the forest floor. Its roots have broken up the hard soil. New groups can grow in its place feeding off the composting wood. Nothing about the old-timer is wasted. Without the old tree the soil wouldn’t have been enriched to the point at which a new tree could establish quickly and healthily. But do we wait or do we wield the axe?

Before wielding an axe, I’d encourage capacity builders to check their assumptions and ensure that perception and reality are the same. I’ve seen too many organisations making assumptions about the vigour of a group based on factors such as the age of the participants. I’ve seen too many solvable group dynamics issues presented as wider social “problems” – ‘young activists don’t want to work alongside older activists’, ‘people give up activism after university and only come back to it later in life when their kids are older’. When you dig down it’s often more a case of the way we hold meetings fails to attract and retain people. Especially as within the same network or movement there are usually plenty of groups that contradict the assumptions. What’s needed is sometimes just minor tree-surgery and not wholesale tree felling. However sometimes groups aren’t able to be receptive to the changes that would solve their problems….

There’s a similar pattern to the growth of activist movements and NGOs. Movements start small, young, vigorous, supple, eager for growth. Just breaking through the soil with a first action, first media story, first substantial donation can seem almost unbelievable. But those that survive the early stages often start to lignify, to become established like a tree or woody shrub. And from here on in there is tension. For some this is the aim – to have more heft, more gravitas, more pull in the world. Bigger is better if you want to stand head and shoulders above the top of the forest canopy. Others find this establishment an affront to their vision for youthful vigorous action. The dizzy heights of the canopy are too far from the forest floor where the real action happens.

And this struggle is not always pleasant. There can be bad feeling on both sides. I think the bigger picture is that the two are intimately entwined. Some plants need to develop to a certain stage before they can produce viable seed. Some plants send out runners which soon establish themselves and the connecting rhizome or stolon rots away leaving them independent, though genetically linked. Others grow from the crown out – each year another layer of young growth is added to the outside of the plant whilst the centre of the crown slowly loses its vigour.

Of course there are other plant life cycles that are relevant here such as those of many annual plants that live short and often colourful lives ending with the self-sowing of thousands of seed. Each has its own delivery mechanism for the seed – pods that burst and scatter the seed, seed designed to be picked up in the wind and so on. No-one can dictate where the seed lands. And maybe that’s important. Though often of course we try to control the cycle – extend the naturally short but spectacular life, control precisely where the seed is sown and so on. Perhaps we shouldn’t?

So what, if anything, can we learn?

  • That one of the roles of a movement is to spark new movements.
  • That the tension is natural, even desirable – it’s part of the life cycle.
  • That sometimes we need to let light down to the forest floor or ignite a forest fire to create the conditions for new seeds to germinate.
  • That however much we admire the majestic forest canopy nothing lasts for ever, nor should it.
  • That there’s a debt of gratitude owed to a dead or dying group or movement – it’s enriched the soil for new growth.
  • That we shouldn’t rely on Dylan Thomas for movement-building advice.
  • That it’s OK to burst onto the scene spectacularly and fade away equally as quickly as long as we have a mechanism for sowing some seeds in that time, preferably far and wide. Longevity isn’t everything.
  • That maybe we try to control the growth and spread of movements too much instead of focusing on preparing the soil so that wherever a seed lands its chances of germination are improved.
  • That you can stretch a metaphor just a little too far.

So many tactics. So little time….

The Academy of Change (credited with a significant role in preparing the ground for the Egyptian uprising) have posted Political activists reveal 65 ways to start a Syrian revolution, which gives some examples of the range of tactics open to activists. Clearly Gene Sharp, and others, have compiled similar lists in the past, but it’s always good to see what’s current and is working in what context. Here’s a significant chunk of the post handily broken down for individuals, groups, and society as a whole:

The first 18 suggestions include ways that individuals can participate in the Syrian revolution, and this includes: providing food and medicine to protesters, utilizing the internet to convince people to participate in the revolution, transferring news and information to those demonstrating and protesting in Syrian cities, putting up pro-revolutionary posters, raising revolutionary flags, conducting dialogue with pro-government soldiers and police to convince them of the merits of the revolution, providing financial support to revolutionary activities, providing financial support to the poor, amongst other suggestions.

As for ways that groups (between 3 – 5 people) can participate in “developing the revolution”, this includes: painting the walls of certain important buildings in pro-revolutionary colors, changing the names of streets so that they bear the name of martyrs of the revolution, carrying out campaigns to convince neighborhoods of the merits of the revolution, defacing and fabricating official state-affiliated newspapers, making pro-revolutionary banners, obstructing certain streets with cars, creating a new constitution, and preventing government officials from going to work.

The website also included 25 suggestions for ways that groups of thousands of people can contribute to the Syrian revolution, and this includes: acts of civil disobedience, marching in the streets, including marches with demonstrators all wearing the popular anti-establishment Guy Fawkes “V” mask, taking part in strikes, bicycle rallies, withdrawing funds from government banks, not doing business with companies or shops loyal to the regime, amongst other suggestions..

As for the AOC’s suggestions for ways that millions of Syrians can join together to participate in the revolution, this includes; refusing to pay electricity and water bills, refusing to pay government taxes, boycotting official state celebrations and events, disobeying unjust laws, and other widespread acts of civil disobedience.

Am I advocating these specific tactics for the Occupy movement or others? No. Tactics are context specific. A tactic that forces the hand of a dictator may not even register here in the UK and vice versa. But we do need to be thinking of possibilities, customising tactics that work elsewhere, finding action that ordinary citizens can engage with, breaking down ideas and making them accessible, and of course getting the ideas out there.

Essentially this is an appeal to be strategic on some level or another. Strategy is a hard one – there are those I’ve spoken to who argue that we simply need to go where the energy for action is, which is as good a criterion to use as any since we can’t ever know the outcomes of our actions. Others advocate understanding theories of change, and planning each and every tactic like moves in a game of chess.

The Occupy movement has of course named itself by a tactic, which may limit its range. But a friend of mine reminded me the other day just how many ways there are to occupy. Clearly there’s the occupation of public space – bridges and squares, but, for example, there’s also the occupation of switchboards and websites (what used to be called phone or fax blockades – a constant barrage of calls, faxes, emails to a corporation or government that strains its communications systems to the point of breaking). I’m sure others spring to your minds as you read.

 

Post-capitalism – errr, I thought you had a plan?

After my last post on the tactics of Occupy movement an old friend called and berated me (nicely) for not giving an alternative vision to capitalism. So here goes. And before you put the kettle on and settle down for a long read, no need. I’ll be brief:

I don’t know. Nor do I feel the need to know. What I do know is that capitalism doesn’t work. It preys on the worst aspects of the human psyche – limitless greed and the desire to hold power over others.

We need to clear the decks, pause and take stock. We need to make space for alternatives. So my alternative is making space for alternatives. Cop out? Stay with me. Whatever exists post-capitalism needs to be defined in its own terms, not with reference to capitalism. Like the black consciousness movement, or feminism, or indeed any liberation struggle we need to refuse to frame the conversation in the language of the oppressor, or with reference to the oppressor’s values. Let’s get rid of capitalism and not rush to fill the void. That void doesn’t have to be a vacuum, sucking in a new ‘system’ whole and complete.

What I do know about my personal vision is that it involves autonomy and diversity. And it involves continuing, and continuous (r)evolution

Autonomy and diversity?

Many folk involved in grassroots direct action will tell you that when we work in affinity groups we’re not only confronting injustice, but we’re living a structure that provides an alternative to the unjust systems we confront. The autonomous affinity group, often working in a collective with many other groups. That’s my picture of the future, but for affinity groups read communities.

And diversity? You can’t impose autonomy. So other communities may disagree, they may organise in ways that don’t work for me. It’s not just likely, it’s an inevitability. If I can’t tolerate that diversity, then life’s going to be tough, because persuading each and every one of you that I’m right and that I have the one truth is going to take more of my time than I’m prepared to give, and the broad beans won’t sow themselves.

And yet one of the biggest issues for groups that subscribe to this same model of autonomous affinity groups working in collaboration seems to be an intolerance of diversity, an inability to use consensus (understood to be the core process of such an approach) in groups with significant degrees of difference. A challenge then for life post-capitalism.

Continuous (r)evolution?

A wise and radical Methodist theologian of my acquaintance once wrote words to the effect of revolution not being the answer. Revolution, to his mind, implied a single turn of the wheel, moving on a fixed point and replacing it with a different fixed point. Regime change. He advocated being radical rather than revolutionary and thinking in terms of a constant motion of the wheel. Doesn’t every generation have its revolution only to find that its children feel the need to revolt against the new world order their parents created? Yet somehow we find ourselves thinking in terms of regime change rather than expecting, inviting and preparing for continuous change.

Only last week I was discussing utopia with Carl, my Rhizome co-founder. We’re meeting in early November with 5 or 6 others who are interested in getting involved in Rhizome (we’ll tell you more about that as it happens) and we’re planning an agenda that allows genuine space for dialogue about what Rhizome is and could be. It was refreshing to agree that we didn’t have a utopian vision that all potential Rhizome folk have to sign up to, and to acknowledge that our own visions and values already differ considerably anyway. I’m enjoying that diversity and look forward to more of it. Hopefully we can do a little bit of modeling the possibilities of autonomy, diversity, and ongoing reflection and change.

Are we overly occupied with occupation?

The Occupy movement is spreading. The Occupy LSX camp outside St Paul’s in London continues to make it into the news bulletins (even if a lot of the coverage isn’t about the real issues). And yet I feel dissatisfied.

I get the reasoning. The Arab Spring has galvanised people, created hope that systems can change for the better, left us in awe of what people power can achieve. And occupation of symbolic spaces was a key element there. No wonder that we’re inspired to do the same. I also get that there’s a powerful upside to the tactic. Starhawk’s blogging about her involvement with the movement in the USA. In a recent post for the Washington Post she says:

At its essence, the message of the Occupations is simply this:

“Here in the face of power we will sit and create a new society, in which you do count. Your voice carries weight, your contributions have value, whoever you may be. We care for one another, and we say that love and care are the true foundations for the society we want to live in. We’ll stand with the poor and sleep with the homeless if that’s what it takes to get justice. We’ll build a new world.”

And I don’t doubt any of that. I also recognise there are other positives.

What I do doubt is that the holy trinity of Strike: March: Occupy! is, in our context, what an occupation of Tahrir Square was in Egypt, and that it has the same revolutionary potential. What happened in Egypt and elsewhere was so much more powerful. In occupying space, making a public stand, activists there risked everything. I recently heard a snippet of a documentary in which an activist said that they went out on the streets expecting to never return. Arrest, torture, death.  The unholy trinity of the repressor. These were the likely outcomes of protest. These regimes could not tolerate such public shows of dissent. And that was the power of the movement. It forced the intolerable onto a regime. The regime had to respond and in doing so escalated the resistance and ultimately guaranteed its own demise. Of course it’s never clear-cut as to whether the resistance can take the increased repression for long enough to overthrow a regime, but there are enough case studies of nonviolent resistance to suggest it’s a distinct possibility.

Are we doing that here? Are we consciously choosing tactics that will force the system we protest about to show its hand? Is our action intolerable to the state, the financial system? I think not. And I think if we’re serious about revolution it needs to be. So occupy if that’s the appropriate tactic. But occupy spaces that genuinely stop the system functioning. Be creative in making it happen so that the police cannot repel us (more or less anything is possible to a well organised affinity group and there’s experience to support that). And escalate continuously. Don’t get stuck in a tactical rut. I’d call on folk to connect with the intention behind the Arab Spring, with the level of provocation and protest, and not the tactic used.

I’m not on the streets right now, so easy said. At least those in the tents are there in body as well as spirit.

Of course we don’t have a brutal dictator to depose. Our system is far more subtle and seductive (at least for now). Mother of all parliaments, NHS free at the point of delivery and so much more. But the repressions still there, and getting more obvious by the day. Our job is to bring it out into the sunlight. And we need to find tactics that do that most effectively. I’ll hand over to Martin Luther King Jnr to end:

“we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.” Letter from Birmingham Jail

A vision for visioning…

A week ago I spent the day with 16 staff and volunteers from 4 sustainability organisations that all share the same faith background. We came together to vision for a sustainable faith community here in the UK and possibly internationally.

Having read and blogged about Donella Meadows paper on visioning in the run up I was determined to create a space for visioning, and not just for slightly more creatively framed strategy (which is what I think a lot of visioning days offer groups). Here’s a few things that emerged from this group that seem relevant to the wider world:

Visionaries without vision?

Those of us who work on issues such as sustainability are probably viewed as visionaries in our communities, and not without good reason. We work, day-to-day, to bring a message of a more sustainable world closer to reality. Visionary stuff, surely? And yet we can struggle when asked what our vision is. My faith based group definitely didn’t find it easy to vision. I noticed that encouraged to use colour, movement, pictures, most fell back on words. Encouraged to lift their eyes to the horizon they chose detailed examples from the foreground all of which highlights the difficulty that visioning presents us with.

Visioning is was hard work for most of us and there’s a danger that the struggle leaves us feeling unfulfilled and dissatisfied. So do we need a vision for visioning? How do we support a creative and dynamic vision for the future?

Come over to the dark side

In this particular visioning, denial, fear, the bleak future and a recurring reference to the ‘dark side’ all reared their head and at moments dominated.

That we, as a community of change-makers working to support others through their own struggle for sustainability can be overwhelmed by the weight of issues like climate change is telling. That we put on a brave face and project positivity is a potential problem because it means we’re working from an inauthentic place. If we need authentic action to make genuine and lasting change (and it makes sense that we do), then do we need to stop being  positive when we’re not feeling it and do the work necessary to vision beyond the bleakness? Or do we admit that we don’t have that vision and use our skills as trainers and facilitators to work with people as peers and to find a way through the darkness to a collective vision together?

Teaching new dogs old tricks

One of the disappointments of the day for some people was that they felt that there was a lack of new thinking. What emerged for many was a restatement of the radical founding vision of their faith. This got me thinking. Isn’t this true for many groups and organisations? Isn’t the struggle not for a constant supply of new thinking but to stay true to the initial vision and articulate it in a way that’s relevant for each new generation?

Isn’t the same true of many social change organisations? By their nature they tend to start from a vision, but over time begin to drift – mission creep, institutionalisation diluting radicalism and so on. People split away and new organisations are formed, often claiming a greater connection to the original vision, and so it cycles. For many organisations this can take years. Climate Camp is a useful case study because it’s shown us this dynamic at work in just 5 years. The founders have gone from articulating a clear vision to leaving the movement in droves because they feel that the movement is no longer true to their vision. But was the founding vision articulated to each new generation of climate camper? If so was it articulated in a way that inspired. Or was it simply assumed that the vision was clear to all, and shared by all? I generalise, but there’s some learning in there somewhere for all organisations.

And as for us facilitators – do we have a clear vision? Do we need to have an inspiring vision of what visioning can offer a group and movement or is that an obstacle to their visioning? Do we need to regularly reconnect with our founding vision for a piece of work, whatever its nature (and for our work as a whole) and successfully articulate that as the meeting or workshop unfolds?

Dare to dream?

Environmentalists have been especially ineffective in creating any shared vision on the world they are working towards

Donella Meadows

Ouch!

Next week I’m facilitating a visioning day for folk from various Quaker sustainability projects . In dialogue with my contact, Sunniva, at Quaker Peace and Social Witness we decided to frame the day as a ‘visioning’ rather than a strategy day. For me this was about giving the group explicit permission to think creatively, to welcome intuition and emotion, and tap into their shared values.

However I’m hearing the language of strategy coming back at me from the participants as I ask them what they hope to get from the day. In response, I went as far as to sketch out an alternative, strategy focused agenda for the day. It seemed sensible to check out this disconnect. Sunniva sent me Donella Meadows‘ paper Envisioning for a Sustainable World to support her decision to vision rather than strategise. If I’m honest I groaned a little at seeing the academic format of the paper, but soon found myself absorbed and then inspired. I’ll leave it to Donella to say the rest:

    I have been honing my capacity to envision. I rarely start a garden, a book, a conference, or an organization, without formally envisioning how I want it to come out – what I really want, not what I am willing to settle for. I go to a quiet place, shut down my rational mind, and develop a vision. I present the vision to others, who correct and refine it help it to evolve. I write out vision statements. When I lose my way, I go back to those statements. Sometimes I still feel silly doing all this. I was raised in a skeptical culture, after all, and worse, I was trained as a scientist, with all “silly irrationality” drummed out of me. But I keep practicing vision, because my life works better when I do. Here are some things I have learned about the way vision works:

– Envisioning is not a left-brain activity, it doesn’t come from the part of me that does rational analysis. It comes from whatever part of me informs my values, my conscience, my sense of morality. Call it heart, call it soul, whatever is the source of vision, it is not rational mind.

– I have to keep filtering out any remnants of past disappointments, any tinge of negativism, any analysis of “reality.” I have to work actively to focus on what I want, not what I expect.

– I have stopped challenging myself, or anyone else who puts forth a vision, with the responsibility of laying out a plan for how to get there. A vision should be judged by its clarity of values, not by the clarity of its implementation path.

– In my experience that path is NEVER clear at first. It only reveals itself, step by step, as I walk along it. It often surprises me, because my computer and mental models are inadequate to the complexities and possibilities of the world. Holding to the vision and being flexible about the path is the only way to find the path.

– Vision is not rational, BUT rational mind can and must inform vision. I can envision climbing a tall tree and flying off from its top, and I might very much want to do that, but that vision is not consistent with the laws of the universe; it is not responsible. I can envision the end of hunger, but careful modeling tells me that it can’t be accomplished tomorrow; it will take time. I use every rational tool at my disposal not to weaken the basic values behind my vision, but to shape it into a responsible vision that acknowledges, but doesn’t get crushed by, the physical constraints of the world….

– One essential tool for making vision responsible is sharing it with others and incorporating their visions. Only shared vision can be responsible. Hitler was indeed a visionary, but his vision was not shared by the Jews or the Gypsies or most of the peoples of Europe. It was an immoral, insane vision.

– Staying in touch with vision prevents me from being seduced by cheap substitutes. If what I really want is self-esteem, I will not pretend to achieve it by buying a fancy car. If I want human happiness, I will not settle for GNP. I want serenity, but I will not take drugs. I want permanent prosperity, not unsustainable growth.

– Vision has an astonishing power to open the mind to possibilities I would never see in a mood of cynicism. Vision widens my choices, shows me creative new directions. It helps me see good-news stories, pockets of reality that could be seeds of a wider vision. I see what I should support; I get ideas for action.

– People who carry responsible vision become, in some sense I can’t explain, charismatic. They communicate differently from cynical people. Even if the vision isn’t overtly expressed, it’s there and it’s noticeable. Inversely, many progressive, dedicated, “realistic” people unconsciously communicate their underlying hopelessness. Being around them is a “downer;” being around visionaries is a constant inspiration.

– I have rarely achieved the full expression of any of my visions, but I have learned not to be discouraged by that. I get much further with a vision than without it, and I know I’m going the right direction. I can take comfort in my progress, even while I continue to bear the tension of knowing I’m not there yet.

I am a practical person. I think of myself as relentlessly realistic. I want to create change in the world, not visions in my head. I am constantly amazed, but increasingly convinced, that envisioning is a tool for producing results. Olympic athletes use it to make the difference between the superior performance their trained bodies can achieve and the outstanding performance their inspired vision can achieve. Corporate executives take formal classes in vision. All great leaders have been visionaries. Even the scientific, systems-analyst side of me has to admit that we can hardly achieve a desirable, sustainable world, if we can’t even picture what it will be like….

….Of course having a vision isn’t enough. Of course it’s only the first step toward any goal. The grandest vision will get nowhere without proper information and models and implementation (and resources, labor, capital, time, and money). There are great difficulties in all these steps of social change and much work to do. I’m by no means indicating that we all become nothing but visionaries. I think what I’m advocating is simply that we make the world safe for vision.

That means, at the least, that we take a mutual vow not to go around squashing vision — our own, or anyone else’s, and especially not that of young people. Of course having a vision isn’t enough. Of course it’s only the first step toward any goal. The grandest vision will get nowhere without proper information and models and implementation (and resources, labor, capital, time, and money). There are great difficulties in all these steps of social change and much work to do. I’m by no means indicating that we all become nothing but visionaries. I think what I’m advocating is simply that we make the world safe for vision. That means, at the least, that we take a mutual vow not to go around squashing vision — our own, or anyone else’s, and especially not that of young people.

Mapping the activist experience

Take a look at Chris Johnston’s latest post: A journey through time, space and Leed’s global justice movement. It would be easy to be put off by the Leeds-specific title and the early mention of the-less-than-thrilling-named Customer Journey Mapping, but hang in there.

There’s something here for anyone trying to start, sustain or facilitate activism. Chris’s Activist Journey Map is well worth replicating for your group, network or organisation. Possibly a useful variation on other mapping tools for group’s strategy or visioning, or for designing support for networks of activists?

GM: Gathering Momentum

Anti-GM update, networking and strategy session for grassroots and NGO campaigners

Saturday 22nd January 2011, 10am – 6pm, Central London

The GM threat is gaining momentum: GM test crops are being grown in the UK again, GM food oil is frying our chips and most farm animals are fed GM soya grown on former rainforest land. The ConDems say they’re “the most pro-GM government yet”, and Genetic Modification is being repackaged as a magic pill to solve world hunger and climate change.

It’s time to act! We’re kicking off with a free day long gathering to build links and networks to counter the coming threat: briefings from farmers, scientists and researchers, opportunities to meet and strategise with everyone from Reclaim the Fields activists to NGO representatives, community food growers to radical beekeepers.

The day starts off with sessions on the most recent developments in GM crop science plus ecological farming alternatives put forward by UN researchers. In the afternoon we’ll focus on sharing and developing campaign ideas and networking. Campaigns discussed will include: GM animal feed, bees, GM food oil, GM free zone mapping, and there will be plenty of space to share and develop more. There’ll also be a strategic discussion on how we can effectively counter misinformation and lobbying.

If you’ve ever been involved, or ever considered getting involved in GM crop campaigning we’d love you to be there. Please email info_AT_stopgm.org.uk for more details.

GM: Gathering Momentum is organised by Stop GM in conjunction with the Genetic Engineering Network. The free event will be hosted in London from 10 – 6pm, and vegan lunch will be provided.

Rhizome facilitators will be in action on the day!

Studying direct action at the university of life…

I find myself in two minds about the student protest.

On the one hand I’m relieved that there’s some resistance and that it’s (at least for now) sizeable. In recent months and years we’ve missed so many opportunities for making change as a nation, and as a species. The immediacy of climate change should have spurred a rethink of the way we structure our society, the way we trade internationally and so much more. The banking crisis should have catalysed a change to a more human-centred and sustainable economic analysis. It would be devastating if the current round of cuts went through without significant resistance.

But on the other hand I’m left wondering about the efficacy of what’s happening. Student protest? Another march, another occupation. Tried and tested or lacking imagination and effectiveness? These tools are succeeding in making the student voice heard. But that’s only effective if the powerholders are listening.

A massive majority of people opposed GM food, but the government and their corporate pals went right ahead anyway. It took a persistent campaign of direct action to set them back 10 years. Over a million marched through London against war and their voices were ignored. The government may listen, but the voice of the people is often a whisper compared to the roar of the voice that really calls the tune – the voice of the $, £ and €.

For me it’s the difference between resistance that’s essentially an act of lobbying – that is pressuring someone else to make change, and direct action. Direct action is about making the change regardless, with or without permission and co-operation from our “lords and masters”. At the very least direct action amplifies the voice of the people. At it’s best it also makes change along the way. I’d urge students to look wider than their own movement for ideas for action. And to those that condemn direct action so freely to the media, read your history. Think civil rights movement, think the roads movement of the 1990s…

Are the sit-ins, marches and occupations making real change? Would we be better placed organising to withhold fees or student loan repayments? Organising cheap, co-operative or squatted accommodation for students? Organising food co-ops? Setting up a free university (ideally ‘teaching’ in more empowering ways, and having a more enlightened political analysis). We’d certainly be better taking the time to ensure all action was focused at the real heart of the issue. Who is driving these cuts? If in doubt, follow the money trail and ask who stands to profit most. That’s where to focus the action.

Of course it’s easy to sit here and commentate from the sidelines. Rhizome will be making a small contribution, by facilitating some of the So We Stand nonviolent direct action trainings. The first is at Leeds Uni tonight. We’ll take a whistle-stop tour of some of the ideas behind direct action and nonviolence, practice a few techniques for making action more effective, and for dealing with confrontational situations. We’ll also cover the all important legal rights. And, if we have time, we’ll do an introduction to action planning. We’ll let you know how it goes.

Campaigning – a SMART choice?

Thanks (again!) to Dwight Towers for bringing Political Dynamite’s recent post redefining SMART objectives for campaigners to our attention.

If you’ve read our ramblings on Strategy you’ll know we’re engaged in a constant quest to find ways to make strategic campaign/action planning accessible, and this is a step on the way. All that business language, all those management tools are a turn off to many activists. The redefined SMART, (headlines below – read the full post as the summary doesn’t do it justice) is more human, has elements of vision and values in it, whilst still retaining some common sense, pragmatic thinking. A nice balance.

S – Success focussed (rather than specific)

M – Movement building (rather than measurable)

A – Ambitious (rather than achievable)

R – Reactive (rather than realistic)

T – Targeted (rather than Time-bound)

Here’s some additional thoughts culled from a comment I left on the original post.

‘A note on Reactive: Political Dynamite are absolutely right, when they define reactive campaigns thus:

On the other hand, successful campaigns do need to be reactive. They need to be quick on their feet. And they need an answer to the question ‘What do we do if the government ignores us?’.

But there’s the danger that it’s misinterpreted to mean ‘sit and wait then respond’. Whereas effective campaigns take the initiative whilst also having the nimble footwork that allows them to also respond to unforseen events. Even the smallest group can set the agenda if they’re audacious enough (there’s a couple more A’s for you!).

Also, let’s not assume that the government is the target. There are many that would say behind every elected government are unelected corporation pulling the strings

Here’s some alternatives to think about:

  • Shared ____ (values, process, aims, goals….fill in the blank as appropriate)
  • Sustainable – personally, as a group, and in terms of planetary footprint
  • Resilient – building a campaign that builds a community that weathers the adverse changes that face us all
  • Resourceful – innovating, imaginative and inspiring – moving beyond and reinterpreting old tactics, making us laugh, gasp, or just plain sick with envy that we didn’t think of it first
  • Tenacious – accepting that any campaign is hard work and hanging in there for the duration, not taking no as an answer, not being cowed by the size and apparent ‘might’ of the system

I’ll be taking some of this thinking into future strategy workshops and meetings. As always, any learning will be shared right here.

Cycling to Palestine

3 months cycling to Palestine, engaging with communities along the way, especially communities of resistance. Sharing stories, creating a story. Using performance and art, perhaps building up an international troupe of performers. All the while highlighting the struggles and resistance of the Palestinian people. Sound exciting?

On Sunday I was working with a group of activists planning just such a venture. The conversation had started during an outreach cycle ride to the Rossport Solidarity Camp this summer. The cyclists were moved by Israeli forces attack on the peace flotilla bound for Gaza to deviate from their planned focus and stop to take action in solidarity. The idea of an outreach ride to Palestine was almost inevitable.

We met to begin to explore a vision for the project. It’s a real pleasure to play a useful role at the start of projects such as these. Another pleasure was the absence of pressure to have it all done and dusted in a day. This was an exploratory day and decisions could be deferred to the next meeting.

I used several of the tools used with the Bridges group and added a spectrum line discussion to provoke thinking on some of the major issues behind the purpose of the ride. Once again using a simulated media interview to invite reflection and analysis of a project worked a treat. I’d been asked for a creative day that avoided a ‘big circle’ meeting.  We possibly went too far the other way, as there was an evaluation comment that “more plenary discussion would have been appreciated”

energiser!

The group was tired and a little worse for wear from the Just Do It fundraiser the night before, which impacted on the later activities. But with regular energisers we got there.

In terms of what worked well on the day, the group said:

  • we got to know each other on a personal level and had opportunities to relate as humans – not something that most meetings provide the chance to do
  • the spectrum line exercise was good, leading to useful discussions
  • the media interview activity was good especially for putting ourselves into other roles
  • having an external, neutral, facilitator worked really well
  • the energisers actually energised
  • we were clearer at the end than at the start of the day (!) – it was good and exciting shared space

Inevitably there were things that worked less well

  • we could have found time to work out a strategy for people who want to support the ride from here in the UK, but not actually join the ride
  • the ‘splurge’ (as the ideastorming somehow became known!) and 6 thinking hats sessions were frustrating because I wanted to talk as a full group
  • I would have liked to hear everyone’s ‘who we are’ conversation
  • the timing of the day wasn’t great – it’s Sunday and some of us are hung over

3 months in the saddle ought to sort out those hangovers…

Clicktivism & critical paths

We’ve touched on online activism before on this blog and spent quite a lot of time on strategy. So it seems appropriate to mention Chris Rose’s latest campaign strategy newsletter particularly the  Degrees of Annoyance article sparked by recent controversy over the e-campaigning methods of 38 Degrees. Well worth taking the time to read.

And since we’ve also referred to critical paths before I thought I’d quote the following from the article:

I’d suggest plan a campaign leading to a real change objective, with a properly researched Critical Path of steps which have to come about in order to make that real-world change happen. This forces you to understand the dynamics of the process you are trying to influence, and creates natural milestones which define progress and success – or lack of it.  It is reaching these change-points rather than the outputs which may be deemed necessary to try and get there, which should be used to judge success.  That makes numbers engaged online, or particular actions by particular online campaigners or supporters, a means and not an end.

This is a difference between tactics and strategy – the critical path must lead to the strategic outcome, while the tactics are used to help you get along the way.  Without a critical path you may have an end goal in mind but then no way of knowing whether a particular tactical activity – be it online or offline – is ‘working’.  How many meetings with politicians, how many direct actions or letters written, how many advertising billboards, community events, website visits or click through conversions are needed ? There’s no way of telling.  Don’t let enthusiasm for particular tactics replace a critical path strategy.