Problems with effective organising in the UK.

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ideasputtoaction
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Sep 5 2016 13:22
Problems with effective organising in the UK.

Hi,

I've been involved with organising locally with a number of groups and to a number of demonstrations throughout 5-6 years.

Though one issue I see constantly come up and get in the way particularly within Anarchist and Anti-Fascist groups is the inner politics of certain individuals in groups who have big egos and that the length of being involved with activism think they know it all try to take control and be in charge of the group themselves.

As a result this has lead to the complete collapse of groups, years of work and their founding. This is a massive ongoing problem which needs addressing I think. I know what I experienced isn't isolated, that these problems have happened before and these characters appear up in groups across the whole country.

My point is anyone or group who have experienced this how did they/you overcome these obstacles or characters?

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Khawaga
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Sep 5 2016 14:41

In my experience, the only way to get around big egos is if "everyone" else tells them to fuck off. Though that rarely happens and instead "everyone" else just leaves organising and the group or project will eventually collapse. I'm sorry I don't have any more productive suggestions.

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jondwhite
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Sep 5 2016 15:57

You know how to solve that? A vote. Democracy.

no1
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Sep 5 2016 16:57

this could potentially be useful:
https://libcom.org/library/tyranny-structurelessness-jo-freeman

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Khawaga
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Sep 5 2016 17:36
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You know how to solve that? A vote. Democracy.

Ideally, of course, that would be the solution. But, as no1 suggests with the link to Freeman's essay, informal power exists even in formal organizations. And who holds informal power: those egos that the OP point to due to their long involvement in activism. Indeed, some egos has such a good grasp of rules of order that they can effectively manipulate a vote (in one case I am familiar with, a dude (because it's usually a man) managed to shut down a vote that concerned his sexist behaviour because of this).

Tarquin
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Sep 5 2016 17:47
jondwhite wrote:
You know how to solve that? A vote. Democracy.

I think there is real problem with statements like these. When somebody "takes control" of a group or a project within it they have generally steered any discussion or action in a direction they have chosen long before anyone takes a vote on it.

For example, and I'm sure we can all think of a quite few like this, is the person with shit loads of time on their hands who kicks something off with a bajillion word email which you either don't have time to read or spend all of your time addressing a myriad of things this person has brought up rather than what you think on the matter. If this person or people control the discourse then voting can become pretty meaningless.

I don't think I've ever been in groups that have eliminated things like this but I believe the ones I have been part which there was less of that limited most of the discussion to real life actual meetings and had proper deadlines (which were actually adhered to) for when things would be up for discussion. Also these groups (I'm only really thinking of two here) were both made up primarily of people directly affected by the issues we were organising around. Which also probably* helped.

Just my experience, like.

*deffo

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Chilli Sauce
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Sep 5 2016 21:10

So, not to dispute anyone's experience - and I've certainly come across some big egos in anarchist groups - but it's never been anyone seeking to take control that I've seen as the cause for groups tanking. Far more often, it's either (a) a lack of focus (b) a lack of practical activity or (c) lack of people following through.

In my experience, anarchist groups are really good at coming up with constitutions, policy, and administrative positions in a democratic manner. The problem is follow-through, people stepping up, and moving beyond political activities to more practical ones.

To be honest, the ability for anarchist groups to fill national positions - again in my experience - is much more of a problem than an individual seeking to dominate a particular group.

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Khawaga
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Sep 5 2016 21:25

Fair enough chilli, but that's not what the OP asked about. The OP described a specific problem and did not ask what the main reason for why projects and groups collapse (fwiw, i agree with your assessment). So let's not derail this thread.

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Chilli Sauce
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Sep 5 2016 22:45

Fair enough, Khawaga - maybe that post was a reflection of my own ego smile

In (a maybe indirect) response the OP, it seems like the situation outlined is more likely in a scenario where new members don't feel like they're in a position to question existing group practice. So maybe actively showing new members the ropes in terms of procedure (motions, chairing, etc) and looking for ways to make it easier for new members to take a more active role (childcare, travel reimbursement, etc).

ideasputtoaction
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Sep 6 2016 07:34

This is how it seems to be playing out which is inevitable though also a shame because there was a lot of like minded people with similar beliefs who too felt the need to leave and haven't been as active since (burn out).

It sounds like your suggestion would've been good to say if people had known how things have turned out as they are now. Though like other posts said internal power can be more difficult to adjust than it looks once people place themselves in such positions.

However the people of two who are still in charge are reluctant to see that their groups aren't groups anymore and still cling on to the projects even though there's no chairman, treasurer, meetings, socials, campaigns benefit gigs or demonstrations organised by them except Facebook posts.

Hopefully it will collapse and be rebuilt though I wondered if other places in the UK also felt or were this fragmented or experienced similar situations - and suggestions on how to move forward despite this situation.

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Auld-bod
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Sep 6 2016 11:03

Most meetings I’ve been to, which ramble on without focus, or where egos run unchecked, is where there is a lack of ‘a chair’. The most difficult and misunderstood role in any meeting is ‘the chairperson’. Many people appear to think it is acting as both referee and centre forward. Anarchists are not alone in this, I’ve been to party political, and union meetings where ‘speakers’ think they can assume the role of chair as and when they choose. (An example of this practice is televised press conferences where speakers select who will ask the questions.)

Knowing how meetings ‘work’ is as important as any political action or theory, as without this basic knowledge a person cannot properly participate and in the end can only vote with their feet.

seahorse
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Sep 6 2016 19:36

I have very limited experience in this, but I've definitely run into these personalities before. I think Khawaga is right that "the only way to get around big egos is if "everyone" else tells them to fuck off." But getting that to happen might be pretty difficult.

If the situation is bad enough, I think it might be best to approach it almost the way you would in organizing a workplace, going through the A-E-I-O-U steps (although the U in this case would stand for... what... Unseat this person from their informal power?).

Keeping it on the downlow, you can ask other group members to hang out one on one, then bring up the problem that's on your mind. Find out if they're also concerned about it, and agitate them further by discussing the situation and specific ways this person has been messing with the group and with the work you're trying to do. Best thing is if you can get the other person to talk about it. Then talk about possible solutions: probably starting with confronting this person as a group in a future meeting. You can discuss escalation tactics if that doesn't go well or if they don't change, which I guess would be suspending or even expelling them. Keep meeting with people this way... perhaps if you're sure that others are also fed up with the situation, you can meet in small groups and one on one meetings aren't needed.

Make sure people you talk to understand that it needs to be kept quiet until it's time to act, because if the person finds out what's going on ahead of time they can easily manipulate the situation by making themselves out to be the victim of toxic gossip and bullying and then everyone will feel ashamed and sorry for them and just drop the whole issue.

If the situation is less extreme, and you think the person who's causing the problem would not react too defensively or manipulatively to a confrontation, you can try just bring the issue up in a meeting without first doing any prep work of meeting with other group members to make sure they will back you up, and just hope that things go well.

I've never tried anything like this or heard of it being tried... but it sounds like it might work... I think? What do other people think?

MT
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Sep 6 2016 20:09

ideasputtoaction, what did you do in those groups when faced with such people/situations?

seahorse
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Sep 7 2016 00:37

Thinking about this some more, I think in some situations the best thing to do might be to just talk to the person who's causing the problem one on one. We all have our personality flaws and often we aren't aware of them or aware of the negative impact our actions are having. Being confronted by everyone in a meeting can be a very humiliating experience. If it were me that was acting this way, I would hope that one of my comrades would first approach me to talk about it and tell me the negative impact I'm having. Hopefully I would be non-defensive enough to open my mind and really understand.

If this attempt at one on one, friendly and comradely confrontation fails, then you could go for the public confrontation in the meeting.

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Khawaga
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Sep 7 2016 13:54

You're right Seahorse that the first thing you should do is to raise this with the person in question. In my post, I should have noted that getting everyone to tell someone to fuck off should be the last resort. In the one example where we did tell someone to fuck off, it was after several people had tried to talk to the individual in question several times. And the telling to fuck off was something that took years after this person was given chance upon chance by many different people and groups to correct their behaviour.

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jef costello
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Sep 7 2016 14:29

First group I was involved in was very good in that they rotated the chair, minute taker etc every meeting. I think my third meeting I chaired (with help from others) and then I had some input in setting up a group later on and I found it useful then.
The problem I personally have with organising is simply not knowing what to do.
I also think radical ideas are less embedded in everyday life and the idea of taking action is more remote

ideasputtoaction
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Sep 7 2016 18:34
Khawaga wrote:
You're right Seahorse that the first thing you should do is to raise this with the person in question. In my post, I should have noted that getting everyone to tell someone to fuck off should be the last resort. In the one example where we did tell someone to fuck off, it was after several people had tried to talk to the individual in question several times. And the telling to fuck off was something that took years after this person was given chance upon chance by many different people and groups to correct their behaviour.

I see your point though I think it's gone far past that - I don't have anything to do with him/the two anymore as the people still in control of the groups aren't very nice at all.

One tried to pay members back for campaign material with costs as high as £100 with postage stamps on more than one occasion and the other deleted members from admin roles for removing not factual posts which the group has been in hot water before for this.

I think you can understand after this why anyone would want to take a step back from these people.

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Khawaga
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Sep 7 2016 19:10

I completely understand where you're coming from. I've tried the personal approach and it didn't work. And because others tried as well, we were accused of "vicious personal attacks" (or maybe he called it politically motivated). Some people you simply cannot reason with.

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jondwhite
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Sep 7 2016 21:27
Quote:
victims of egotist: motion[s] to elect chairperson and ensure campaign materials are paid in cash and reinstate deleted members to admin roles
all those in favour: four hands raised
all those against: one/ two egotist hands raised
motion carried

Quote:
egotist: but that's not fair, its a personal attack ... / long monologue / intellectual bullying / derail attempts

Quote:
chair: sorry that's democracy, record everything in the minutes, please raise your hand to contribute, next item of business

problem solved ... or at least mitigated more effectively than other methods.
no 'tyranny of structurelessness', minimal 'tyranny of the majority' since not excluding egotist but holding them accountable democratically.

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Khawaga
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Sep 7 2016 21:37

Again, it's not as simple as that. Have you read any of the other posts?

Jim
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Sep 8 2016 12:38

I'm fairly sure I know who you're talking about and we banned one of them from this site ten years ago. With people like that and groups as small as the ones you're talking about I think it's probably worth just leaving the group and starting something else, trying to take as many people with you as you can.

With larger groups which aren't worth ditching completely it's fairly easy to deal with individuals seeking too much power/control. The best way is just being more organised, people are often able to accrue power in groups because they do large amounts of work. They know what tasks need to be completed for things to happen, how to do things etc. If you want to reduce the amount of power you need to take tasks away from them and give them to other people.

That's only really an option if other people in the group are able to take tasks on. If people aren't even prepared to take on the work then the group probably isn't worth saving. If it's that people lack the required skills then you need to make sure they're trained up. This can be difficult but it's one of the the only ways you can ensure people feel able to participate as equals. Oh and positions within groups should be rotated often, that also stops groups becoming too reliant on individuals. Sometimes that isn't necessary but it works fairly well.

In short, some groups aren't worth saving, in others you need to be more organised than the people who's damage to the group you're trying to minimise.

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fingers malone
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Sep 8 2016 14:20

Tbh I think a lot of people really underestimate how much of a problem this can be and think that it can be resolved through good chairing or having formal procedures- those are good things but the problem can be a lot more deep rooted than that.

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jef costello
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Sep 8 2016 15:09

I'm not sure it is just a UK problem.
Honestly getting rid of people is very difficult, people tend to drift away. You get ome from work and you've not really got time to make dinner before the meeting and you know Jim is going to spend another hour talking about libcom which will not lead to anything productive so you decide not to go this time, and pretty soon you give up altogether. It's not as if what Jim is saying is wrong it's just that he's wasting half the meeting time. In a situation like that you need a good chair, supported by the rest of the meeting, and in such small groups that is not easy, especially as there are often friendship links. People would rather let Jim waffle on for an hour than tell him to shut up.
A good way around that is to have an agenda and stick to it and if necessary put limits to it. If a debate between two personalities won't end, then propose a vote (if they can't manage to propose something to vote on then close it there and then) and close the matter.

Stuff like funds and stuff I've not got much experience with, everyone seemed honest in the groups I've been involved with, and we didn't really have enough money to be worth nicking.

I did once chase off a 'legendary' local figure who tries to get every group to boycott Israel. I explained the weaknesses of boycott politics (Thanks libcom) pointed out that boycotts didn't end apartheid (thanks libcom) and also pointed out that targetting one country in that way was at best illogical (thanks again libcom).

xx
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Sep 23 2016 06:01

The real issue of people drifting away is that most anarchist and similar groups don't organise around a tiny set of practical demands with some achievable wins. That means there are very low stakes, if the politics are abstract and the tasks are turning up at demos or sharing things on Facebook then people are going to give up and drift away more easily.

If it feels like what the group are doing is more achievable and meaningful - like Organsining a small group of workers or tenants or debtors or a social centre, or a website/online resource etc then people are going to have a higher stake. That means that the normal egotists are more worthwhile opposing or at least getting under control.

Of course there are a few exceptions to the above, but that doesn't invalidate the point.

Otherwise as Jim said - just walk away and start something else, what does it matter?