General organising

This page contains basic information on running a political or campaign group democratically.

The more democratic a group or campaign is, the more effective it is, as all people involved can have an input and feel a part of the project.

Although often basic, this information is essential for the smooth-running of an organisation and sticking to these simple guidelines can make the difference between a long lasting successful group and a failure.

Below find tips on many aspects of organising, from facilitating meetings and financing your group, to structure and making decisions.

How to start a group

A basic guide to getting started with setting up a political or campaigning organisation.

There are four simple requirements for an effective organisation.

People
People is pretty self-explanatory. To have a group you need more than one person and really at least five before it becomes sustainable. For example, for an anarchist group, in most places anarchists are not very hard to come across. In most countries at least 1 in a 1,000 to 1 in 10,000 people might consider themselves an anarchist. So even in fairly small towns there are likely to be at least a dozen or so 'anarchists'.

Unfortunately the next step most groups take is to try and set up a group which includes just about everyone that adopts the label. This may seem like the logical thing but problems arise when we look at the next two requirements.

Politics
For a group to be effective it has to have a clear idea of what it is fighting for, not simply what it is fighting against. And it must agree what the best tactics are to use and that everyone in the group will use follow the agreed tactics. This will be discussed at length later.

Money
In order to function an organisation needs a paper, leaflets, rooms to met in, money for mail-outs and a dozen other items that require lots of the green stuff. Ways of tackling this requirement include:

  • Ignoring it - Which means things only take place if someone is willing to fund them out of their own pocket. This is pretty common but if course results in things not getting done. It also gives the funder undue influence.
  • Use 'criminal' means to raise money - This sometimes happens but is generally not a good move as sooner or later people get caught and end up in prison or worse. What's more if you come under any sort of police investigation it will rapidly become apparent that your getting funds from some dodgy source which will in itself attract further investigation. It also gives the state a good excuse for a 'non-political' clamp down.
  • Organise fund raisers - Although this can work well for special purchases, like say a printing press if its used for regular bills (printing, rent etc.) it soon turns into a massive drag and waste of resources. You can spend half of the time discussing gigs etc. which is off-putting.
  • Membership levy/subs - This is what many groups use. For example members contribute 5% of their gross income on a weekly or monthly basis. A percentage system is fairer then a flat rate as an unemployed member (on ₤100 a week) pays ₤5 where as someone working and earning ₤500 a week pays at least ₤25. This gives an income to pay for a paper, magazine, leaflets, rooms and even to subsidise travel to demos for unemployed members. Of course it also has a negative effect on the first requirement - people - as some people may be unwilling to loose the equivalent of a couple of beers a week. Which brings us to the fourth requirement - commitment. Read more about financing your group

    Commitment
    The amount of work you do and the amount of money your willing to put in depends on you feeling good about the organisation. It is adversely affected if you feel you are being used, or that other people are not willing to contribute their share. That much is obvious. However its also true that your commitment will be dependant on how much you agree with what the group is doing/saying and whether the groups seems to be going somewhere or just treading water. It's easy to keep people around when lots of stuff is happening, the difficult thing is the periods in between bursts of activity.

    Some favour a high commitment oriented group over a 'as many people as possible' one. With time the high commitment group can come to involve a lot of people where as often the reverse is not true. Enough background, here's some concrete ideas.

    Find another four or five people that are willing to do something serious. You may know this many already if not get an address you can print on leaflets and start leafleting demo's etc. with anarchist stuff. Get a flag or a banner together. Maybe call a public meeting on a relevant issue see who turns up.

    Once you get your four or five people be prepared to spend a couple of years getting your act together before you start to expand. Agree on a membership levy and conditions of membership. Write down agreed perspectives and strategy for promoting anarchism and getting involved in activity. Start publishing a regular paper arguing these ideas. Sell it through bookshops, campaign meetings and demos. Get involved around struggles and develop respect for your group as good activists and people with good ideas. Don't concentrate on talking to anarchists, concentrate on talking to activists. Find out about the national groups and travel to nearby demos/ conferences. Make a banner you can bring on marches.

    Above all you need to be patient. A big problem is the 'revolution next year' syndrome where you hype yourself up to expecting a lot and then get disappointed when it does not materialise. Work out where you are going but be prepared to go there slowly, as I said above its likely to be two years before you get any serious return on your work.

    libcom.org 2005
    This text is adapted from The Struggle Site.

  • Basic principles of revolutionary organisation

    A brief outline of basic points of agreement which we think are the minimum necessary to be the basis of potentially productive pro-revolutionary organisation.

    Communist: We are against all forms of capitalism whether private, state or self-managed. In its place we want a classless, stateless and moneyless society based on solidarity, co-operation and the principle ‘from each according to ability, to each according to need’ - a libertarian communist society.

    Class struggle: Capitalism is characterised by the creation of a class of people, dispossessed from the means of production and subsistence, who are required to work for a wage to get by. This condition pushes us to resist - to do less work, for more money. However, our employers want us to work more for less money to increase their profits. The struggle resulting from this contradiction sets our human needs and desires against those of capital. This struggle also lays the foundations for a new kind of society, based on the fulfilment of our needs. Opposing all discrimination and prejudice like sexism and racism by attempting to unite the working class is just as much a part of class struggle as striking for higher wages.
    Direct action and solidarity are the basis of working class strength. We support the actions of our class in our own interests. We are opposed to all those who claim to be our representatives, like the trade unions or political parties which seek to manage capitalism supposedly on our behalf.

    Internationalist: Our class is global and so should be our solidarity. We oppose all nationalist movements, whether openly conservative or supposedly progressive and ‘anti-imperialist’ in nature as both are based on the unity of workers with their rulers. We never take sides in wars between states or would-be states, instead always supporting mutiny, fraternisation and the working class fighting in its own interest.

    Everyday life: Whether waged or unwaged, it is our everyday activity as workers that reproduces capitalist society. And it is through disrupting this activity that we can challenge and eventually replace it. As such, our activity as radical workers should always be based primarily on issues rooted in our everyday lives and experiences.

    Organisations should feel free to use or adapt these to your own purposes.

    Coming up with a strategy and set of principles

    Advice and information on devising a basic political and strategic programme for your organisation.

    If you are going to be involved in struggles as an organisation (rather then a loose collection of individuals), and you want to have an influence on them that you will then need to act in unity. To do this you need to agree what it is your fighting for and what tactics you think that struggle or movement should be using.

    Furthermore, over the course of the last 150 years of working class struggles, many lessons can be learned about what sort of ideas and strategies have failed and which have been successful. It is important to learn these lessons and distil them into the theoretical foundation of your organisation, so that you don't end up repeating the mistakes of the past.

    We recommend, therefore, coming up with a basic set of aims and principles to your organisation which briefly and clearly outline your understanding of the world and how you believe you can go about changing it.

    Some find the best way of putting this together is to start by a process of education and discussion around some key issues or historical lessons and then move onto creating written policy that can be debated, amended and if necessary voted on point by point. We have a sample basic set of aims and principles for revolutionary organisations here, which you could use as a model to work from.

    The big advantage of this method is that once things are written down in this way it becomes very clear what exactly has been decided. But it should be understood that these positions should never be seen as 'the end' of a particular debate. They don't represent perfection but rather the best collective understanding and tactics the organisation could generate at that particular time. They should always be open to further debate and amendment as circumstances and knowledge changes. Although it is a good idea to limit major modifications to national conferences so when there is a lot of disagreement you don't end up doing anything but amending position papers!

    You'll also want to work out how much agreement you will expect new members to have with the aims and principles before they join. You could consider having a "supporter status" for your organisation so that sympathetic individuals can get involved even though there has not been time to educate them sufficiently on the intricacies of your ideas.

    libcom.org 2010

    Decision making and organisational form

    An essay about different methods of organising for political groups, discussing the merits and downfalls of using consensus, chairs, majority voting and more.

    "Consensus" has had a certain popularity as a decision-making method among social change groups since the '60s, especially within the anti-nuclear movement but also in anarchist and radical feminist circles. I think we can understand why if we consider what sorts of organisations exist in this country. Mass organisations in which the membership directly shape the decisions are hard to find. How often have members been ruled "out of order" at union meetings by an entrenched official? Most leftist political groups also have a top-down concept of organisation, as befits their preoccupation with "leadership."

    On the other hand, this sort of alienation and lack of control appears absent in activities organised through small circles of acquaintances. Those who engage in an action together typically reached a common agreement after talking it over informally. This leads to the model of the small, informal group -- no written constitution, no chair of meetings, no elections for delegated tasks, no careful definition of jobs, no written minutes of meetings. Decisions are made by having an unstructured discussion until consensus is reached.

    But informality does not eliminate hierarchy in organisations; it merely masks it. To the insiders, everything appears friendly and egalitarian. But newcomers do not have the same longstanding ties to the group. And having no clear definition of responsibilities, and no elections of individuals who carry out important tasks, makes it more difficult for the membership to control what goes on.

    Fortunately, the "small, informal group" is not the only alternative to the dominant hierarchical model of organisation. It is possible to build a formal organisation that is directly controlled by its membership. Being "formal" merely means that the organisation has a written set of rules about how decisions are made, and duties of officers and conditions of membership are clearly defined. An organisation does not have to be top-down in order to be "formal" in this sense. A libertarian organisation would have a constitution that explicitly lays out a non-hierarchical way of making decisions.

    Delegating responsibilities
    Sometimes people have the idea that setting up elected positions with defined responsibilities is a "hierarchy," as if any delegation of responsibility creates a boss. Yet, informality does not avoid delegation since some people will inevitably do tasks on behalf of the group, such as answering correspondence or handling a bank account.

    It is possible to elect people to perform delegated tasks without creating a top-down organisation. Here are a few guidelines:

  • The scope of authority of an elected position, such as correspondence secretary or treasurer, should be explicitly defined and delimited, so that everyone knows what this person should be doing, and with the requirement of regular reports to keep the membership informed.
  • The person should be elected for a limited term, such as one year, and should be subject to recall at any time by majority vote of the membership (but with a requirement of adequate notice to ensure that this is not "sprung" all of a sudden by those members least favourable to the person currently doing the job).
  • If at all feasible, there should be a requirement of mandatory rotation from office. This is especially important for any position of acting as spokesperson or representative of an organisation or body of people. If an organisation is very small, however, it is sometimes difficult to rotate responsibilities. Even so, the person carrying out responsibilities can report regularly to membership meetings and can be thus directed by decisions of the membership.
  • Nobody is to be elected to set policy for the organisation, but only to carry out those responsibilities that have been assigned by the membership. The general membership meeting of the organisation must remain the supreme decision-making body and can over-rule any decisions of elected officers.

    The idea is that the main decision-making responsibility of the organisation is not to be delegated to some "steering committee" or executive but is conducted directly by the membership through their own discussions and votes; this is the heart of the libertarian concept of organisation.

    Since many authoritarian leftists define social change in terms of putting a particular leadership into power -- such as the Leninist concept of "the revolutionary party taking state power" -- it is no surprise that even organisations formed, or influenced, by authoritarian leftists may have a hierarchical set-up where the power to make decisions is concentrated in some executive board or steering committee. While libertarians oppose this practice, and pose the alternative of direct decision-making by the members or rank-and-file participants, it is, nonetheless, not necessary to oppose all delegation of tasks or responsibilities.

    The real question should be, "What is the relationship between those vested with responsibilities and the rest of the membership?" If the centre of decision-making lies in the general meetings, and those with responsibilities must report to these meetings, and are instructed by them, and (where possible) jobs are rotated, then we do not have a top-down structure, but an organisation where decision-making is from the bottom up.

    A chair is not a boss
    Often people who favour the "small, informal group" model of organisation also oppose the practice of electing someone to chair a meeting, even if the meeting is a larger gathering. It is easy to understand what they are afraid of. Consider union meetings where the chair is a paid official. He has certain entrenched interests to defend. To serve his ends, he may rule "out of order" motions from the floor on matters of concern to the rank and file, or manipulate the meeting in other ways.

    But here the problem is that there is an entrenched bureaucracy; chairing meetings is only one of the ways they control the organisation. The situation is different if the chair is elected at the beginning of the meeting by those present, and if the chair can be removed by majority vote at any time. Being chair of a meeting does not convert someone into a bureaucrat.

    I've sat through chairless meetings where people interrupt each other, voices get louder as people try to express themselves, discussions get side-tracked into numerous tangents, and important decisions are put off or hurriedly decided at the last minute. This experience has made me rather frustrated with the prejudice against having a chair of meetings.

    If a meeting only consists of a few people, then obviously it does not need to have a chair. But once meetings achieve a certain size, a chair becomes necessary in order to ensure that the meeting stays on track and moves through the agenda in a reasonable amount of time, while making sure that people have an opportunity to speak.

    I've heard opponents of chairmanship argue, "It's the responsibility of each individual to make sure that the meeting stays on track and individuals don't get out of hand." But even with the best of intentions, this is difficult to achieve in practice. When you're thinking about what you want to say next, it's hard to also be keeping track of whose turn it is to speak and of what the agenda is.

    The rationale behind having a chair is that we delegate to one person the responsibility to concentrate on such things as the agenda and the order of speakers while the rest of us are free to concentrate on what is being said. Of course, it can happen that a chair is manipulative, favouring one particular "side" in a matter under dispute. But in such a situation, a motion to replace the chair would be in order.

    The right to disassociate
    In working out a libertarian concept of organisation, we need to remember that the individual members not only have rights that must be respected by the organisation, they also have obligations to the rest of the membership. Since the majority have the right to control their own organisation, individuals must conduct themselves so as to respect this right of the majority.

    For example, if an individual makes public statements that claim to speak for the organisation, but state only the viewpoint of the individual, not a viewpoint actually discussed and agreed to by the majority, then that individual is acting irresponsibly and anti-democratically.

    There is, however, no reason why an individual should be required to stay mum publicly about disagreements within the organisation. As long as the individual makes clear that the stated viewpoint is his or her own, public disagreement with the position of the organisation is not irresponsible.

    A libertarian concept of organisation must allow for diversity of opinions. This means that members must try to maintain a climate of respecting the opinions of others in the organisation. But what happens when members do not respect the rights of others? What happens when members are threatening to others, or conduct themselves in ways that are very disruptive to the life of an organisation? In such a case the majority may have to consider disassociating themselves from that individual. In other words, the rights of the majority include the right to expel individual members.

    To some anarchists, expulsions are always a "purge." The authoritarian connotation of the latter term are meant to suggest that any expulsion is a violation of freedom, an illegitimate act. But the position of these anarchists is actually self-contradictory. For, it is a very basic libertarian principle that the membership of an organisation have the right to directly control it. And this means that no individual has the "right" to act in ways that prevent the majority from accomplishing the purposes for which they got together. If the majority in an organisation did not have the right to expel disruptive individuals, this would mean that they couldn't control the conditions of membership and direction of that organisation. Freedom of association implies the freedom to disassociate.

    On the other hand, the power to expel members should never be delegated to officials. For, if elected officers can expel members on their own, they can expel critics of how they are conducting their responsibilities. Expulsion certainly is used by officials in hierarchical organisations as a means of maintaining their top-down control. What is illegitimate in such cases is not the act of expulsion in itself, but the top-down way it is carried out.

    The point here is that individuals have obligations to the other members of an organisation. And the majority have the right to ensure that the responsibilities of membership are observed. But expulsion is a last resort, and should not be used lightly. Expulsion is something that the membership should decide on directly, in a general membership meeting or convention. And it should always be required that accused individuals be given advance notice and have the right to defend themselves before the general membership prior to a vote to expel.

    Talking until agreement is reached
    The partisans of informality also tend to be averse to voting as a way of making decisions. They prefer the process of talking until agreement is reached (or not reached). In my experience, this process tends to encourage informal hierarchy. That's because this process tends to heighten the influence of the more articulate and self-confident individuals, and tends to disenfranchise the shy newcomer, and the less articulate. Voting has the advantage that it is an equaliser. The shy and the aggressive, the articulate and the not-so-articulate, all can raise their hands, and each has only one vote.

    Advocates of consensus sometimes say that hierarchical organisation is the only alternative to consensus. But there is also the alternative of direct democracy where decisions are made by majority vote. Direct voting by the members puts the majority of members in control, and control by the majority of members is the opposite of hierarchy. In a hierarchical organisation, it is not the majority of members who are in charge but a few leaders at the top -- that is what "hierarchy" means.

    The libertarian idea of direct, democratic voting is quite different than the official concept of "democracy" in this society. "Democratic voting" typically means electing officials who then have all the power of making decisions. But that is really elective autocracy, not genuine democracy, which requires direct decision-making by the rank and file.

    Formal consensus
    Though "talking until agreement is reached" is the natural method of decision-making for "small, informal groups," not all advocates of consensus decision-making are averse to formal organisation. However, making the organisation formal -- a written constitution, definition of membership and so on -- does not eliminate the basic problems of the consensus process.

    The requirement of unanimity means that disagreements have to be talked out until verbal consensus emerges. This means that even a formal consensus system tends to heighten the influence of the more talkative, self-confident participants. Also, the requirement of consensus often leads to prolonged, marathon sessions, or meetings where nothing is decided.

    This aspect of consensus tends to make the movement less conducive to participation by working people, and tends to reduce participation to the hard-core activists. When people have other demands on their time (job, children, spouse), they will tend to be frustrated by meetings that are unnecessarily long, indecisive, or chaotic. Most people will want to have some sense that something will be accomplished, a clear decision made, and in a reasonable amount of time.

    In his pamphlet Blocking Progress, Howard Ryan describes a nightmarish example of what can happen with consensus.(1) Many people in the Livermore Action Group -- an anti-nuclear action group here in the Bay Area -- were uncomfortable with the first point of LAG's action guidelines which stated: "Our attitude will be one of openness, friendliness and respect toward all people we encounter." "A common sentiment", Ryan points out, "was that oppressed people often do not feel these things towards police or authorities and should not be required to feel them in order to join the [Lawrence-Livermore Laboratory] blockade." In 1982 there was a month-long discussion of this issue, followed by two full days of informal open debate. At the second of these assemblies it was proposed to replace the "friendly and respectful" language with "non-violent."

    Coming towards the end of this long process of discussion, there was a suggestion by one of the participants in the second meeting that a straw poll be taken to determine the general opinion in the room. This was itself considered so controversial that two hours were consumed in debating whether it was even okay to take a straw poll. Finally a poll was taken and the vote was 74 to 2 in favour of changing the non-violence code to remove the "respectful and friendly" language. One of the participants has described what then took place:

    One of the two people [a doctrinaire pacifist] blocked it. He was asked repeatedly to stand aside, to leave, to die. People were just so upset. He wouldn't budge and it was blocked.

    This is a good example of the elitist coercion that consensus permits.

    Consensus is anti-democratic
    The requirement of unanimity is anti-democratic. A small minority does not have the right to prevent the majority of members from doing what they want to do. Organisations are not of value in themselves but only as a vehicle for cooperation and collective activity. Insofar as consensus thwarts the majority from doing what it wants, it makes the organisation an ineffective vehicle for them. This can lead to splits and fragmentation -- exactly the result that the advocates of consensus say they want to avoid.

    The rules of an organisation can -- and must -- protect the rights of individuals and minorities. If one studies the situation in the AFL-CIO-type unions, and major political organisations, it is true that the rights of individuals and political minorities are often in a sorry state. But these are hierarchical organisations. It is the hierarchy, not "majority voting," that is the problem.

    Anarchists of the more individualistic persuasion argue that consensus is necessary to avoid "tyranny of the majority." But where in the real world does the majority have real power? The real tyrannies that people are fighting around the world are tyrannies of entrenched minorities, of governments and bosses. I don't want to claim that "majorities are always right" but I do believe that people have the right to make their own mistakes. The issue here is whether people have the right to control their own movements and organisations. To give a single individual or small minority the right of veto on decisions is to have a system of minority rule.

    Even when individuals or minorities do not actually threaten or use a block to keep the majority from doing what it wants, everyone is aware that they could, if the organisation is run by consensus. The structural requirement of unanimity puts pressure on the majority to placate small minorities in order to accomplish something. Often this leads to decisions that paper over disagreements and leave everyone dissatisfied.

    Rudy Perkins has described this problem, based on his experience in the Clamshell Alliance in New England in the late '70s:

    Majority rule is disliked because amongst the two, three or many courses of action proposed, only one is chosen; the rest are "defeated." Consensus theoretically accommodates everyone's ideas. In practice this often led to:

  • a watered down, lowest-common-denominator solution, or
  • the victory of one proposal through intimidation or acquiescence, or
  • the creation of a vague proposal to placate everyone, while the plan of one side or another was actually implemented through committees or office staff.

    In other words, within the anti-nuclear movement ideas are in competition and some do win, but under consensus the act of choosing between alternatives is usually disguised. Because the process is often one of mystification and subterfuge, it takes power of conscious decision away from the organisation's membership.(2)

  • Consensus puts pressure on minorities not to express misgivings or disagreements because their dissent would prevent the organisation from making a decision. Thus it actually becomes harder for minorities to state dissenting opinions because dissent is always a disruptive act. When decisions are made by majority vote, on the other hand, there is not this heavy "cost" to dissent and minorities can freely state their disagreement without thereby disrupting or blocking the organisation from reaching a decision.

    Consensus also means that it becomes very difficult, if not impossible, to change an organisation's orientation even when it is clear to most members that the current direction is failing. That's because there will almost always be a minority who will be against change, because the current direction of the organisation may have been what attracted them to it, or because they may simply prefer what they are used to.

    Simple majority
    "Simple majority" is the requirement of one vote more than half the votes cast in order to make a decision. A simple majority is the smallest number of votes needed to guarantee that a decision is made.(3)

    Advocates of simple majority sometimes hear the retort: "But do we want to have a major decision made with 51% for 49% against?" Decisions that organisations make in the course of conducting their affairs vary a lot in their relative importance to the participants. For some decisions, a narrow majority won't matter because those who voted "no" may not have really strong feelings one way or the other. If it is an important issue, though, it is clearly a problem if an organisation is closely split.

    Sometimes, in organisations that are based on membership participation and democratic voting, close votes will lead the group to stop and reconsider the issue in order to find a proposal that accommodates objections.

    More often, this process happens before it reaches a vote. When it becomes clear in the course of the discussion on a proposal that the membership are closely divided and have strong feelings on the issue, there is likely to be an effort to find a proposal that mitigates objections. For one thing, it is to the advantage of the proposal's partisans to have as much support as possible within the organisation. The work of the organisation is bound to suffer if it is badly split -- dissatisfied members may drag their feet or drop out.

    When a union conducts a strike vote, for example, the partisans of a strike will want to get the largest possible majority for a strike. If the vote for a strike isn't overwhelming, if there is only a narrow majority for striking, the union will be less likely to actually go out because the division among the workforce undermines the chances of winning a strike.

    Such considerations have at times led people to propose decision-making based on larger majorities, such as two-thirds or three-fourths. But the problem with this is that most of the decisions that organisations make are not so crucial that large majorities are needed.

    Moreover, stipulating a majority larger than 50% plus one means that decisions can be blocked by minorities. Though the minorities required to "block" a majority are larger than under consensus, this still permits minority control. A cohesive minority could exercise undue influence on a group due to its potential for blocking what the majority wants. Thus the arguments against consensus also apply to some extent against a formal requirement of two-thirds or three-fourths majority. The advantage to "simple majority" as a decision-making method is that it is the only way to formally preclude minority rule.

    There may be circumstances when it would be desirable to have a larger majority than 50% plus one -- as in those cases where the organisation is closely split on important issues. But instead of trying to make a formal rule for this, I think this should be dealt with by the membership using good sense in such situations. Not everything that is desirable for an organisation can be created by formal rules.

    The conditions required for the healthy and democratic functioning of an organisation go beyond the formal rules. Whether the rights of members are respected also depends on the climate in the organisation. How people treat each other is an informal factor but it is just as important as clauses in constitutions.

    There is usually some sort of underlying, informal consensus in almost any organisation. To take an obvious example, there needs to be a consensus that disagreements are not settled by punching someone out. So, there does need to be a consensus on some things, on certain basic assumptions that underlie the unity of the organisation. The advocates of "consensus decision-making" are correct in perceiving this, but where they go wrong is in trying to elevate this into a general principle of decision-making so that everything requires a consensus. The consensus system puts day-to-day decisions, on the one hand, and the most important decisions, fundamental purposes and ways of treating each other, on the other hand, all on the same level.

    Small groups, no power
    However, consensus does often work reasonably well in small groups, especially where the participants have a common background and shared assumptions. Some people might maintain that small, independent groups are all that is needed.

    Indeed, some partisans of the small group have argued that "bigness" inevitably brings bureaucracy in movements and that only small, independent groups can be genuinely controlled by their members. This ignores the methods that libertarians have developed for avoiding top-down control in mass organisations (such as the guidelines I mentioned earlier), and the examples of libertarian mass unions that functioned through assemblies, without an entrenched bureaucracy; organisations like the Industrial Workers of the World back in the '10s or the Spanish National Confederation of Labour (CNT) in the '30s.

    If the "bigness means bureaucracy" dogma were true, a libertarian society would be impossible. To have a society organised along anarchist lines means that there must be a means by which the whole populace can participate in making crucial decisions affecting society as a whole. For this to happen it must be possible to have large organisations, organisations spanning vast areas, such as the North American continent, that are able to function in a non-hierarchical way, directly controlled by their rank and file participants.

    If the whole society could be organised to make decisions through direct democracy and mass participation, as anarchists advocate, then surely it must be possible for people to build mass organisations that are run this way today. If not, then how could a libertarian society be brought into existence? Only a mass movement that is itself organised non-hierarchically could create a society free of top-down, bureaucratic, exploitative social relations.

    This brings us to the clearest problem with the "small groups" doctrine: Small groups have no power. The power to change society requires a mass movement, and the development of solidarity among working people on a large scale. To unite people from a variety of backgrounds and cultures, to coalesce the various groups into a real movement, to pool resources, mass organisations are needed. In the absence of a larger movement, small groups can be discouraged by their own lack of resources and sense of isolation.

    Unless working people can organise their solidarity into mass organisations, they will not be able to develop the power to challenge our very powerful adversaries -- the corporations and their government. Without a mass movement, most people will not develop a sense that they have the power to change society. Our ideal of social change in the direction of democratic participation and workers control will appear to most people as merely a "nice idea, but impractical." Only the strength of a mass movement can convince the majority that our vision of a society run by working people is feasible.

    Footnotes
    1. Howard Ryan, Blocking Progress: Consensus Decision Making in the Anti-Nuclear Movement, 1983, published by the Overthrow Cluster of the Livermore Action Group. Ryan's pamphlet makes a number of the same arguments against consensus that I am making here.
    2. Rudy Perkins, "Breaking with Libertarian Dogma: Lessons from the Anti-Nuclear Struggle," Black Rose, Fall 1979, p. 15.
    3. If we were to allow a decision to be made when half vote for a proposal, then it might happen that half vote for proposal A and half vote for proposal B. And what if A and B are conflicting proposals? Requiring one vote more than half guarantees that a single solution is decided upon.

    libcom.org 2005
    This text is adapted from Tom Wetzel's original article entitled On Organisation.

  • Financing a group

    Finance is one of the most essential things to get right when setting up a group. This articles highlights some basic finance strategies and argues that the best method to use a system based on a membership subscription.

    Subscription membership is where all members are required to contribute a percentage of their (gross) income on a weekly or monthly basis. A percentage system is fairer then a flat rate as an unemployed member (on ₤100 a week) pays ₤5 where as someone working and earning ₤500 a week pays at least ₤25.

    In richer countries this should provide enough money to run an organisation without the need for additional fund raising for routine use. However in serious organisations outside of the richer world it is not unusual for members of a small group to have to donate much larger percentages of their income in order to keep their group functioning! For this reason if your are in the richer world you might like to set aside a percentage of the groups income as an international solidarity fund.

    Each local section of the group will need a treasurer to keep track of the payment of subs and to keep track and account for any expenditure by the local section. These accounts should be available for any member to inspect although in terms of income you might want to decide that while individual subs should be listed no name should be attached to each item. This is essential as suspicion over the misuse of funds can easily destroy a group.

    On a regional/national basis National conference should decide that a certain percentage of each branch's income (perhaps 50%) should go to a national account and supervised by a national treasurer. This national account can be used to pay for national expenditure (printing of papers, books etc), perhaps helping small branches with low income/unemployed members to carry out regular activity, and helping individual branches faced with local opportunities to make the most of them. Again these accounts should be open to inspection by all members and a summary listing major items should be regularly circulated to all members.

    libcom.org 2005
    Adapted from the Struggle Site.

    Getting the Word Out: Guide to Promoting Events

    Across the world, anarchists and autonomous anti-capitalists are constantly at work putting on different kind of events where they live for the purpose of bringing people together, engaging the public with new ideas, and also raising money and building capacity for a wide variety of groups and projects.

    In this column, we’re going to discuss some basic ideas about how to promote events and by this we mean gatherings and happenings that take place in a set setting which usually feature some sort of activity that takes about 2-4 hours. This could be a speaker, panel, film, presentation, or workshop. Larger examples would benefit events, music shows, conferences, and festivals.

    Our goal with this specific column will be to discuss how to get more people to come out to your events and how to in turn, build up your group and affinities through organizing them.

    Keeping Goals In Mind

    As with anything, we first have to think about what our goals are when we organize events. First and foremost, we are looking to meet new people through organizing in our community, people that we then can begin to build affinity and relationships with into the future. Hosting and putting on events allows us the space to begin to make these connections, as well as form alliances with other groups, educate and organize those around us, and also fundraise to sustain our projects.

    We also have to specifically think about the event we are working on in terms of goals. Does the event represent an intervention on our part in the wider context of a tension, a struggle, or an unfolding reality around us? Does the event intend to bring out people from the community and or neighborhood, or just the same set of friends that always show up? Will there be childcare at the event and will it be accessible to people of all ages and abilities? Will the event be a success for the group that is coming through giving a presentation? These are all things to keep in mind.

    Form teams to go out and promote your event in your neighborhood and wider community.

    After the event is over, there are also many questions to ask. Did it go well? Were there any problems? How was security? How was the turnout? How much money did you raise? Was there any problems with the police or fascists? Did the crew organizing the event do a good job facilitating and running the event? Did people who said they were going to bring food show up? What could have gone better next time? A post-event debrief often can allow people the opportunity to address these topics and learn from potential mistakes and celebrate successes.

    Making Flyers and Promotional Materials

    With these goals in mind, a big part of getting the word out is having the right promotional materials. In this section, will will focus on real life, printed materials. And, whether you are a graphic artist or can barely work a photo filter, the good news is that there are a lot of free online programs that will give you the ability to easily make snazzy flyers and images to promote your events both online and offline. Here are some basic online tools that are free to help you promote your events, and while we encourage people to learn how to use Photoshop and Indesign, if you don’t have access to these programs, here are some easy alternatives.

    - Pixlr: An online free image editing web app. Think of it as a basic form of photoshop that works a lot like Instagram. This program is perfect for making images to share on social media like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Just upload an image and then use the filters and effects to make the photo look how you want. Crop and change the size to fit the dimensions you need, and you can also add text to make it look like an actual flyer with info.

    There are many places online where you can make great looking promotional materials for social media and to print out.

    - BeFunky: Another free online image editor. This also has a collage maker that is really cool.
    - Audiogram: Audiogram allows you to make short videos for Twitter and Facebook that includes a static background image with music and audio speech played over it, with text optional. This is the perfect tool to announce events and add flare to social media about your event. You will need to sign up with email for this one, but it is free.

    - Canva: Free flyer making web app. Requires email but is free to use.
    - Audacity: Free open source program for making podcasts and recording music. Use this program to record audio sections for Audiogram or other video programs to share online.

    Offline Promotion

    In this digital age, people often forget about promoting events offline, however we are in the opinion that just doing online promotion can often be a mistake, and that to ensure the highest degree of turnout, both online and offline promotion is best. Here are some basic ways to promote your events that don’t involve the internet:

    - Putting up flyers in businesses windows. Getting a flyer up in a well trafficked store window is a great place to advertise your event. Places like grocery stores, corner/liquor stores, coffee shops, restaurants and smoke shops also often have bulletin boards or places to put down free publications or flyers. Bring tape with you to make it easier on the workers to say yes and be prepared for them to say no or, “I’ll have to ask my manager.” Make a mental note of establishments that say yes and be ready come back to the same spot with the next flyer.
    - College campus and community bulletin boards. Campuses and other public places often have bulletin boards for promoting events.

    - Hand out quarter sheet flyers and leave them around town. Quarter sheets are simply small flyers that fit four to a page on an 8.5″ by 11″ sheet of paper. These are great for handing out on the street, putting in newspapers, handing out at events, or leaving a stack for people to grab in various spots. Some great places to hand out flyers is at the skate park, farmers market, corner and liquor stores in their free area/newspaper racks, coffee shops, grocery stores, and in front of well trafficked places like Wall-Mart, on campuses, places where students get out of school, the DMV, etc.

    A combination of promotion online and offline for events often is needed for a greater turn out.

    - Put up posters everywhere. Making flyers and posters will definitely help promote your event and can be put up on phone polls and around neighborhoods. Get a team and go wheatpasting, or simply get some tape or a staple gun.
    - Try and get the event listed in the local newspaper or alternative weekly if you think that is a smart thing to do. Many newspapers have an event calendar and will add your event if you email them.
    - Get creative! Put up banners, sandwich boards, go door knocking, leave flyers on cars, hold an info-point, and come up with other ways of telling people about the event.
    - Go to group meetings and other functions and announce the event, hand out flyers.
    - For music events and festivals, for not that much money you can get slick card stock flyers made.
    - For big events, hit up local radio stations to get the event announced on the air.
    - If you feel it is worth it, issue press releases to local journalists to get the event covered in the newspaper. Generally, getting a story written before hand (thus encouraging people to attend the event) is better than a write up afterwards.

    A Few Tips for Online Promotion

    While social media dominates our lives and we are bombarded with event announcements throughout the day, here are some tips for promoting events on social media.

    - On your social media accounts, make sure you clearly state where and when an event is taking place. Don’t assume that people know where you are talking about. Also including contact information and a website will also help. Make sure your event announcements are clear and also have images and video if possible.
    - If you set up a Facebook event page, make sure to share it often, encourage people to invite their friends, and post often on to the page to encourage people to come out to the event, promote, download flyers, etc. Also, make sure that you set the list of people attending the event to PRIVATE, this can be done on the desktop, by EDITING the event page and make sure that the event listing is set to PRIVATE. In the past, police and fascists have used open event lists to harass people.
    - For bigger events, make sure to reach out to [i]IGD[/i] and your local counter-info page to promote your event on This Is America, as a post on their site, and to share on social media.

    Building Capacity for Events

    Events serve many purposes. They create a social environment where people come together and discuss ideas and form new bonds. They also create an atmosphere where new people can meet each other and get plugged into a broader network. But events also give established crews and groups something to organize around. Here are some ideas for building up your group’s capacity (for ideas on how to form a group, go here) to put on and promote events:

    - When you plan events, as a group go over what roles people will play and what they will do. Who will run the door, collect money, create a flyer and make social media, introduce the speaker, do security, etc.
    - Plan as a group to go out and flyer and promote the event.
    - Develop a network of people who can flyer and promote events in different neighborhoods, thus spreading the work around and covering as much ground as possible.
    - When your group tables at events or meets, make sure to have lots of flyers on hand for people to take. This way, you are building towards the next event and giving people materials to take with them to promote.
    - Create and maintain an email list, text blast, and social media accounts which can help bring people out to new events.
    - If you are able, consider making a publication or newsletter or website to also promote your events, this way people will have a go to place to learn about what the next upcoming event is.

    Closing Thoughts on Breaking Out of Subculture

    One thing we should keep in mind when promoting events, is that we often have a tendency to only do outreach and promotion in certain areas, neighborhoods, and cultural spaces. But if we only do outreach and event promotion at certain coffee shops, punk shows, and bookstores, we will ensure that only people that frequent those spaces attend our events. This is why promoting events in a variety of working class and poor neighborhoods is important if we are to grow as a movement.

    We must remember that not everyone has the ability to come out to events and spend several hours of their day listening to a speaker or watching a film. Work, lack of child care, no access to transportation, and plain exhaustion often keep people from coming out to events. Addressing these real life barriers is important: providing childcare and rides can be vital in allowing people the ability to attend events, just as is providing a meal.

    Let’s also work to rethink what an ‘event’ supposedly has to be. Success just doesn’t have to just look like a packed room at the local infoshop or autonomous community center, it could be a block party, a film projected in the park, a festival outside, or a table set up somewhere in a local park or outside the social services office. Workshops and presentations can take place anywhere, so if we know our audience, there’s nothing stopping us from going to where people are already.

    Lastly, lets keep in mind that spaces and groups can be intimidating to new people. Most people already have a perception in their head about what a group full of rabble rousers will look and act like – and often people are afraid to get mixed up in anything that might get them in trouble. With that in mind, we have to work at being personable and real with people, both on the streets, at work, and in our communities, in our autonomous spaces, and in our day to day organizing. With these realities and tensions in mind, we can move forward and work to overcome the real obstacles put in front of us.

    Here’s to hoping your next event is a smash hit!

    Work, lack of child care, no access to transportation, and plain exhaustion often keep people from coming out to events. Addressing these real life barriers is important: providing childcare and rides can be vital in allowing people the ability to attend events, just as is providing a meal.
    It's Going Down

    Handling difficult behaviour in meetings

    This guide covers some typical behaviour types a facilitator may come across in group or campaign meetings. We list the behaviour type, suggest a reason and some solutions to tackle the problem.

    The heckler
    One of the most common behaviours, the heckler is often aggressive, argumentative and gets satisfaction from provoking others. First off don't let him or her upset you - stay calm. Try to find merit in one of his/her points; express your agreement, and then move on to something else.

    The one who won't shut up
    Overly talkative often fall into one of four categories: an "eager-beaver"; a show-off; someone very well-informed who is eager to use their knowledge; someone just plain talkative. Some ideas to try and deal with this kind of person include, waiting until he/she takes a breath; then thank him/her and say something like "Lets hear from someone else." Try slowing the person down with a difficult question. If he/she makes an obvious misstatement of facts, toss the comment back to the group and let them correct the person. In general, let the group take care of him/her as much as possible, but often as a facilitator you will need to cut the talkative person short in their ramblings and move the discussion on.

    The cynic
    The cynic may have a particular problem with a certain issue, or may just gripe at random, for the sake of complaining. In some cases they may have a legitimate complaint. To try and make the meeting more useful try to point out that the purpose of the meeting is to find better ways to do things by constructive cooperation. In some cases, it may help to have a member of the group answer instead of you.

    The silent one
    People who don't talk in meetings may be bored, feel themselves superior to what's being discussed or maybe timid, shy or uncertain. While obviously its more productive if everyone chips in their opinion its worth remembering that if someone doesn't want to speak (for example at their first meeting) you shouldn't force them. Some things you could do to get quiet people talking are: arousing interest by asking directly for his/her opinion, asking for his/her view after indicating respect for his/her experience (but don't overdo this!) or compliment or encourage him/her the first time he/she talks. But most importantly work to foster a non-intimidatory atmosphere in meetings where everyone feels equal and valued.

    The egos
    Its not always that debates get to heated or the people are egoists, sometimes people's personality's just clash and they don't get along. To calm things down try to compliment the individuals on their enthusiasm and participation, but ask them to focus on constructive solutions. Emphasise points they agree on. Work to bring the rest of the group back into discussion, by throwing them a question to balance things out.

    The chatty couple
    People having side conversations can sometimes be a problem in meetings, they may be commenting on the discussion, or may be having a personal conversation. Try reminding the person what you are meant to be doing, pointing out that there is a debate going on etc. You could try drawing them back into the meeting by asking an easy question and recapping what has just been discussed.

    The one who is defiantly wrong
    If what someone is saying is totally incorrect they may be confused about the issue or could have been misinformed. Tactfully restate what they were saying to try and show how it may be incorrect, or acknowledge their contribution but leave the debate open so as someone else in the group can provide correct information.

    libcom.org 2005
    This text is adapted from the original by the uhc-collective.

    How to organise and facilitate meetings effectively

    Advice and tips on how to organise meetings which fulfil their purpose efficiently.

    One thing central to any functional group is regular meetings. In a healthy organisation almost all decisions will be made at these meetings and there will be a sufficient level of discussion to ensure all those attending have a good idea of the activity and arguments in the different struggles the organisation is involved in. Meetings might also have some time given over to education.

    Before the meeting
    Make sure everyone knows the time and place
    A new group or one engaged in a lot of activity should meet at least once a week, at the same time and day. It helps to establish a consistent meeting day, time and location, as soon as possible so people can make it a habit. If they have to search for you or keep track of an ever-changing meeting time, they're far more likely to forget or not to bother. You'll want a space that's private enough for you to have strong disagreements in and where only the members of the group will be while you are using it. This could mean a private room in a quiet pub that would be glad for the additional customers on quiet nights!

    Develop an agenda
    An agenda gives people time to plan, to think over things that will be discussed, to do assignments and bring necessary information and materials. It doesn't have to be set in stone - you can always add and adjust as needed, even during the meeting.

    The agenda can be printed and distributed, either in advance or at the meeting. Or, it can be written on a chalkboard or whiteboard where everyone can see it. This helps keep people on topic and lets them know what will be covered and when. If its known who is chairing the meeting in advance it may be a good idea for that person to start the meeting with a suggested agenda.

    An agenda should include all of the following items that apply to your group:
    1. Additions and approval of the agenda,
    2. Reading, corrections, and approval of the previous meeting's minutes,
    3. Announcements and correspondence to be dealt with,
    4. Treasurer's report,
    5. Committee reports,
    6. Unfinished business (issues left over from previous meetings),
    7. New business.
    If there is any disagreement over the order of the agenda then this should be quickly discussed and voted on at the start of the meeting. If the chair thinks there is a lot to get through it may make sense to set a maximum amount of time that can be spent discussing particular topics right at the start of the meeting.

    Make sure the room is open and set up properly
    Have you ever arrived at a meeting only to find the door locked, and everyone had to stand around waiting while the facilitator scrambled to find the key? Or have you ever been in a meeting where there weren't enough chairs, and each time a latecomer arrived, they had to interrupt and search for one and move it in? Not especially effective ways of inspiring confidence and credibility or getting things done efficiently, are they? Try and arrange the room so that everyone sits in a circle and make sure you are seated where you can see everyone.

    During the meeting
    Start as you mean to continue
    Make sure you start on time. This is especially important for newcomers, who can get a bit put-off by the meeting start time being increasingly pushed back while people chat or wander around. First thing to do is make sure everyone knows who everyone else is. As clichéd as it may be - have a 'go-round' and get people to say their names and maybe a bit of other info about themselves. Next up make sure someone has volunteered to facilitate the meeting (who will have the agenda, and make sure the meeting flows smoothly) and someone else is taking decent notes of the meeting. Its important that the same people don't end up doing these tasks every meeting, perhaps the best way to tackle this is to have a list of everyone willing to chair and each week take the next person on the list.

    Minute taking
    Someone should be responsible every week for keeping minutes of the meeting and preparing these to be read at or distributed before the next meeting. Minutes need not be very detailed (you don't need to write down what everyone says). They should aim to include:
    1. Who attended the meeting,
    2. Topics discussed,
    3. Decisions reached for each topic,
    4. Who has volunteered to do what,
    5. Items to be discussed at next meeting (and when that will be). Read more on taking minutes

    Encourage group discussion to get all points of view
    Turn questions back to the group for their input. Ask people to comment on something just said. Compliment people on their ideas and thank them for their input. Ask open-ended questions. You may need to ask the more quiet people for their thoughts, and tactfully interrupt the longwinded ones to move the discussion along. Encourage people who just want to agree with a previous speaker to say "ditto" rather than taking the time to repeat her/his point.

    Stay on top of things
    It's part of your job as facilitator to manage the traffic and help the discussion move along. If several people are trying to talk at once, ask them to take turns. It helps to have a pen and paper to hand for when things get busy- jot down people's names in the order they raised their hands. It can be a good idea to let people who have not spoken yet to skip the queue and put them at the top of your list. Make sure everyone gets their turn and things keep moving - you might have to start asking some people to keep it short! Often a discussion can become dominated by a couple of speakers, try and avoid this situation by inviting the rest of the people to contribute (going round in a circle and asking for people's views can help).

    If the discussion is getting off-topic (i.e. it strays from the agenda), point this out and redirect it back on course. If someone is getting hostile, argumentative, or needlessly negative, tactfully intervene and try to turn the discussion in a more constructive direction. If necessary, ask the group to agree to a time limit on a discussion that might take too long. You might want to agree to limit each speaker's time, or say that no one can speak a second time until everyone has spoken once.

    If the group is spinning its wheels and people are only repeating themselves, restate and summarise the issues and ask if people are near ready to make a decision on the subject. If it just doesn't seem that the group can make a good decision right now, suggest tabling the matter until another time. You may want to ask someone to bring back more information, or form a committee to work on the issue.

    Don't use your position as facilitator to impose your personal ideas and opinions on the group
    If you have strong feelings on a particular issue, you may want to step aside and let someone else facilitate that discussion. At the very least, keep your own comments to a minimum, try to let others speak first, and identify them as your personal beliefs, outside of your role as facilitator. Avoid criticising the ideas of others - your position gives your comments undue extra weight.

    Non-verbals are important, too
    Be attentive to people who are speaking - look at them, lean forward, smile, nod. Make eye contact with people who may need encouragement to speak. Pay attention - people who are less confident about speaking will often indicate that they want to speak in minor way (e.g. briefly half put up their hand). A good chair will spot this and encourage them to speak

    Don't be afraid of silence
    It's a very useful tool. It gives people a chance to consider and collect their thoughts. It may encourage someone to voice a comment they've been thinking about but hesitant to say.

    Guide the discussion toward closure
    Restate people's comments to make sure everyone understands their point. Ask for clarification. Summarise what has been accomplished or agreed and what is left to resolve. Suggest when it's time to wrap up and make decisions or take action.

    Decision making
    Arguments about how best to reach decisions are fundamental to anarchism. You may wish to leave time for discussion in the hope of being able to reach consensus, only then moving to a vote, or you may wish to go straight to the vote. If time permits it may make sense to postpone making a contentious decision to the next meeting to give people a chance to think things over (and calm down!). Read more on decision making

    Take time at the end of the meeting to process
    Reflect on what went well and what people appreciate about others' input and actions. Check out assumptions. Encourage people to share any lingering concerns or things that just don't sit right.

    End on time
    Nothing makes people dread and avoid meetings more than knowing they're likely to go on and on and consume far more of their time than they want to give. Set a time to end the meeting at the very beginning and stick to it!

    After the meeting

    Minutes
    Make sure the minutes will be written up, organised and then distributed among those who attended within a reasonable time scale.

    Follow up with people.
    Thank them for their input. Make sure they understand assignments and have what they need to do them.

    Now you're done you can start getting ready for the next meeting!

    libcom.org 2005
    This text is adapted from work by Mary McGhee and The Struggle Site.

    Successful delegation guide

    Tips and advice on delegating tasks to different people.

    1. Be specific...
    It's easy to give someone a vague assignment ("You take care of publicity") only to find out later that what they understood this to mean is very different from what you intended. People need to know what tasks they're responsible for and what the finished product should look like. Example: "Prepare a press release and send it to the local newspapers, TV and radio one month before the event."

    2. ...but don't micromanage
    Tell them enough so they understand what's expected of them, but not so much that they have no chance to think for themselves. Leaving the person room to make some independent decisions lets them choose a style of doing things that suits them best. It makes them feel respected and trusted and part of the team. It builds a greater sense of pride and ownership in the project, and it gives them a chance to develop their skills and confidence. They might not do the outstanding job that you think you would have, but it might still be good enough--and the benefits to the person doing it are probably worth the tradeoff. So learn to let go!

    3. Agree on deadlines
    Make sure the person understands when they can expect things they need from other people, when their part of the task needs to be done, and how this fits in with the larger timeline for the whole project.

    4. Follow up
    Check back with the person you've delegated to, to find out how it's going. Ask if any questions have come up since you last talked. Make sure they have what they need to do the job, and that they're getting the necessary assistance and cooperation from others. Sometimes people are reluctant to admit they didn't understand something, or that they're having trouble. Asking gives them an opening and permission to say so. It's also a way of finding out if someone simply isn't doing the job, before it's too late.

    5. Match assignments with people's skills...
    Some people write well, but hate to talk on the phone. Some people can schmooze anything out of anybody, while others would rather do anything besides ask for donations. Find out what people are good at, and what they like to do, and make the most of it.

    6. ...but don't let people get typecast against their will
    People with particular skills (artistic, computer, etc.) often get stuck with the same jobs over and over, because they do them so well. If they like it that way, that may be fine (although you might want to encourage them to stretch a bit and do something unfamiliar once in a while). But they may be more than ready for a change--and someone else may be just waiting for a chance to do "their" job.

    7. Make sure assignments get handed out fairly and realistically
    Most groups have at least one workhorse who tends to take on too much--sometimes to the point of exhaustion and burnout. Another problem is the person who gets carried away with the enthusiasm of a moment and volunteers for things, then finds her/himself unable to follow through. Encourage people to take a realistic look at their workload and abilities, and to take on the jobs they can reasonably handle.

    8. Give accurate and honest feedback
    People want to know how they're doing, and they deserve your honest opinion. Praise effort and good work, but also let them know where they might have done better. Encourage risk-taking and growth by treating mistakes and less-than-successful efforts as a chance to learn and do better next time.

    libcom.org 2005

    Taking meeting minutes guide

    A guide to taking minutes of meetings effectively, to record and monitor your decisions and activities and keep people informed.

    Minutes of meetings form a historical record of a group's work. They serve as a record of decisions and details when people's memories fail or when they disagree. They remind people of assignments they've taken on and deadlines they need to meet. They inform those not present of what happened at the meeting. They give future members of the organisation a way to build on past successes and avoid reinventing the wheel.

    Some groups designate one person to take the minutes at every meeting; others rotate the job. Do what works best for your group, as long as the information gets recorded and preserved somewhere.

    The minutes of a meeting should include the following (if they apply to your particular group and your meetings):

  • Date, time and place of meeting.
  • List of people attending, and any members who were absent.
  • Time the meeting was called to order.
  • Approval of the previous meeting's minutes, and any amendments.
  • Summary of reports, announcements, and other information shared.
  • Proposals, resolutions, motions, amendments, a summary of the discussion, and final disposition (if you are using formal parliamentary procedure, record who made the motion and who seconded it).
  • Time of adjournment.
  • Next meeting date, time and location.
  • Name of person taking the minutes.

    Motions and resolutions should be recorded verbatim and should be read back during the meeting to make sure they have been accurately transcribed.

    Summarise the discussion, capturing key points and decisions reached. When someone takes on an assignment, a deadline is set, or other important agreements are reached, make sure to record them. This will serve as a reminder when the minutes are read later on.

    Separate fact from opinion. Facts are objective and indisputable; opinions are personal views. Take this sentence: "The low turnout for the event could be due to poor advertising." Whose idea is this? Attribute opinions to their source (e.g. "Jane suggested that..." or "The group concluded that...")

    Sometimes, it can be helpful to distribute the minutes before the next meeting. This gives people a reminder of assignments and deadlines, as well as when and where the next meeting is.

    Distribute copies and read the minutes near the beginning of the next meeting. Any corrections or additions should be recorded in the minutes of that meeting. The group should then approve the minutes, meaning that they agree that they are accurate and complete, either as read or as amended.

    libcom.org 2005
    This text is adapted from the original by Mary McGhee.

  • Winning Phone Zap Campaigns: An Interview with Oakland IWOC

    Call-in campaigns, also known as “phone zaps,” have become an often used tool in a growing number of people’s tool boxes. Whether calling into prisons to get someone out of solitary or to restore access to the outside world, against slumlords in tenant battles, to get workers rehired, or attempts to get fascists fired, more and more groups are using the tactics in broader struggles.

    Wanting to know more about how people can better organize their call-in campaigns, as well as some success stories, we reached out to someone at Oakland Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee (IWOC) about the tactic to get some tips.

    IGD: Just what are phone blast actions or “phone zaps”?

    Oakland IWOC: So “phone blasts” are pressure actions using phone calls and emails that target public or private figures or institutions in power. It’s a tactic that’s been used by all sorts of movements and campaigns from housing fights, to anti-policing campaigns to prisoner support, but right now I’ll speak most on prisoner support actions because that is what I’m primarily involved in and also an arena where phone pressure is especially effective.

    The general idea: landlords, city council members, corporations and yes, prison officials operate out of offices that still depend on phone access for doing business. Their business routinely if not implicitly involves fucking people over and flooding offices with phone calls effectively blocks a portion of their ability to operate plus it often punctuates its message by driving an office to pure bedlam. It’s not like writing a letter to your congressperson – no one is making an appeal to established power. We aren’t engaging in dialogue but inducing a bit of crisis to shift power to ourselves. Think of it as a DDOS attack but an old thyme one that uses phone calls instead of server hits to bring down a target.

    This bit of operational crisis helps extract concessions or push back on repression or any other bullshit that doesn’t stand up well in the light of day. We’ll talk a bit more about how some of this plays out specifically later.

    IGD: What are some of the big mistakes you are seeing people make in terms of how they are organizing call-in campaigns. Or in other words, how could they be more effective?

    Oakland IWOC: We’ll instead of getting all negative and ripping on some examples of how this tactic has been poorly deployed, we can instead talk about the foundation of a successful action over just highlighting a slice of the possible mistakes.

    The Phonezap Basics!

    A clear, concise call to action: You are speaking most likely to supporters or allies who don’t need your polemic or additional convincing. If there is a lot of additional background to convey, you can link or reference another article or post for those who need it. A giant rambling wall of text turns off motivation and engages next to no one.
    A sample script: Plenty of people are self-conscious and a bit reluctant to call authority figures at some hostile institution and throwing out an example of a possible brief message not only helps convey what the talking points are that need to be delivered but reassures possible participants and gives them something to follow or expand on.
    Multiple numbers to call: After all sorts of these phone actions, we’ve found that once we have someone’s attention and commitment to participate, that once they take the time to call one number they will also call three numbers while they are at it. We rank them in order of importance and most importantly, we test them. When doing research finding targets and numbers to call within an institution, call them and make sure the numbers are still active and correct. Nothing worse than trying to build a campaign, sending out a thousand emails with wrong or dead numbers on them. Also, when all sorts of people are calling and taking over these offices with calls, it is often hard to get through. Give people a selection of numbers to call and they will keep trying, jumping from one number to the next – more calls land, more voicemail boxes get filled, and more pressure is applied.
    ADVANCE NOTICE!: Sometimes a quick response feels like a must, but what is better – calling for something overnight and getting a dozen calls? or taking 3 days to research, muster support and promote a blast that nets a 100 calls? People have lives and politically active people get sent a additional requests for their time or money everyday. Advance notice and dogged promotion help make an easily lost request into an event that looks worthwhile and actually is strategic, thoughtful and supported. Like with any online outreach or social media campaign, consider when people are logged on or how they stay in touch. Use multiple channels – social media, email listservs, text messages, face to face meetings, etc. Get the call out in front of them multiple times. It’s a hectic world overloaded with media – you gotta cut through all that.
    Set a target time window: Set a day to shut that office down. Calls trickling in over a week don’t really make an impression at all or shut anything down. And make that request for a supporters time as concrete as possible so as to hook their participation and also involve them in an event. During the blast there will be periodic updates to get people feedback on just what their calls are achieving. Make it into A Thing.
    Good targeting: You want to pick targets that will feel the pressure and are in some way vulnerable. Phone zaps for prisoners involves dealing with state bureaucracies and prison administrations. Withing these institutions they got people who are basically paid to lie and take abuse. Fuck bothering to talk with public relation officers. A waste of time. At prisons for example, wardens are essentially middle management who fear for their jobs. That is a vulnerability. There might be some theoretical linkage to some department head on some issue but oftentimes state directors in capitals are political animals who have well versed consultants and are could be pretty well shielded. The point is to have an organizational and political analysis of the institution you are messing with. Pick targets that get results or are vulnerable over anything else.
    Familiarity: So how does a crew or group develop that targeting analysis? Long term work provides familiarity, experience and thus effective organizing. Stick with it and you get more dangerous to the system.
    Update and followup: These actions involve a lot of people spread out all over the place by themselves making calls and making them to asshole functionaries of giant, opaque institutions that never admit anything in the moment or admit these actions effected them at all let alone that they did anything fucked up to begin with. Not a whole lot of gratification or incentive for someone to participate which is why organizers gotta update people on exactly what effect they are having. We’re familiar with these institutions and are monitoring all the signs for effect. Let people know via all those above-mentioned comms channels what effect they are having as it happens – Facebook and Twitter are great for real time encouragement and updates. When an action is over, FOLLOWUP immediately to let people know just how it all went, and followup down the road to let people know what effect they had. Retain that commitment and energy. So much political work is like yelling into a black hole with little feedback or measurable success and is ultimately very draining and unsustainable. Phone actions actually yield immediate results.
    You are building capacity, not just a single action: Think of each action not as an isolated event but as another opportunity to increase capacity and involvement. Your crew’s organizing demands actions again and again. Prison retaliations and abuses happen again and again. Evictions happen again and again. Develop that circle of supporters that can be relied on for calls and treat them as an extension of your immediate crew and as individuals to retain and count on. (See above point on following up and updates.) It’s much more effective to value and retain people who have participated before and know they are valued and part of something effective.
    Last but not least – Get direct commitments. Build phone trees: Reach out directly to other groups or crews for hard commitments to make calls. At Oakland IWOC we’ve managed to build a network of about 100 callers in a dozen crews that operate as affinity groups with us at the center as dispatchers and admins. We send affinity group liaisons the callouts and ask for hard commitments for how many callers they can muster for phone zap. They in turn report directly back to us on how the calls went. We monitor the phone blast, issue updates, send encouragement and sometimes issue new numbers to call if the initial targets shut down. In addition to our own membership, they form the backbone of our phone actions. Anyone who has managed group social media accounts or mass mailing accounts knows how tenuous social media engagement is and how little emails actually get opened. DON’T RELY ON SOCIAL MEDIA. IT’S FICKLE, ALIENATING, AND A REALLY POOR WAY TO BUILD RELIABLE CAPACITY.
    It’s always a crap shoot mobilizing numbers and we’re dealing with a lot of variables generally in addition to dealing with a shifting, deceptive enemy- direct commitments and report backs not only serve as a reliable backbone to an action, a good way to build long term capacity but also serve to remove a few variables and uncertainties which helps a lot with evaluating an action.
    Evaluation: Collect those report backs, followup with participants, and then huddle up to critique how the action went down. We’re engaged in shifting power and building our own capabilities and reach. We’re not just doing shit to feel good or look good. Right?

    IGD: Can you give us some examples in your experience of the successes from these campaigns?

    Oakland IWOC: Recently the two sons of a prominent abolitionist, Kim Wilson, who are both in Delaware prisons were singled out for retaliations; repeated shakedowns, fabricated write ups for violations, and confiscated personal property. A national call for phone pressure went out and within a day or two the write up was thrown out and property was beginning to be given back.

    Last summer, Oakland IWOC was fielding reports from contacts inside Corcoran of extreme duress, even heart failure due to a heatwave. Guards were keeping prisoners locked down while they chilled in the control pods with AC or in the day rooms with the fans. A phone campaign was mounted that also happened to make its way into prisoner family groups on Facebook. We refused to give locations or names of contacts and forced wellness checks throughout the whole facility, got prisoners out of their cells, and got them medical attention for the different symptoms of extreme heat stress.

    Kevin “Rashid” Johnson, a well known prisoner and political leader was thrown into a freezing “camera cell” (a further isolated and harsh solitary cell with no belongings allowed plus additional surveillance deployed) with a broken window in the middle of winter in Florida to retaliate against him from writing in support of “Operation PUSH,” a call for a statewide strike to kick off on MLK day 2018. He could barely write due to his hand shaking with the cold. A thousand calls land, lawyers visit, and he is returned to his regular cell.

    Sometimes the effect is diffuse and can only be seen to register over time… still very real and known to prisoners and experienced supporters … but sometimes like the instances above, the effect is immediate and undeniable. And anyone who has done time can tell you how guards and administration are essentially bullies that single people out for retaliation. Perhaps you are a resister or political or perhaps you don’t have anyone on the outside looking after you. Guards will do whatever they can get away with. But they too are part of a bureaucracy and prisons need to maintain a veneer of reason and accountability in order to obscure all their intrinsic violence and bullshit. Bad publicity (like phone blasts which are linked directly to inmate testimony and conditions) threaten that cloak not to mention undermines a warden/bureaucrat’s position in the hierarchy.

    Phone zaps get results!

    It’s not like writing a letter to your congressperson – no one is making an appeal to established power. We aren’t engaging in dialogue but inducing a bit of crisis to shift power to ourselves... This bit of operational crisis helps extract concessions.
    Oakland IWOC

    Building a solidarity network guide

    A guide to building a successful solidarity network along the lines of the Seattle Solidarity Network, written by two SeaSol organisers, in text and PDF pamphlet format.

    PDF versions:
    US paper size: http://libcom.org/files/seasol-pamphlet-expanded-US.pdf
    A4 paper size: http://libcom.org/files/seasol-pamphlet-expanded-A4.pdf

    by Cold B and T Barnacle

    Contents:

    Introduction ~ Defining the scope ~ Prerequisites ~ Starting Fights ~
    Demands ~ Strategy ~ A Taxonomy of Tactics ~ Meetings ~ Mobilizing ~
    Structure and organizing capacity ~ Inside organizing

    Introduction

    In which we describe this article’s intended purpose and audience.

    The Seattle Solidarity Network (or “SeaSol” for short) is a small but growing workers’ and tenants’ mutual support organization that fights for specific demands using collective direct action. Founded in late 2007 by members of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), SeaSol is directly democratic, is all-volunteer, has no central authority, and has no regular source of funding except small individual donations. We have successfully defeated a wide variety of employer and landlord abuses, including wage theft, slumlord neglect, deposit theft, outrageous fees, and predatory lawsuits.

    We’ve gotten a lot of inquiries in the past several months from folks in other cities wanting to start something like SeaSol where they live. Our mission in this article is to describe, for the benefit of those trying to build something similar, our experience of what it took to get SeaSol started and to keep it growing.

    Please note: we are writing as individuals, and not in the name of the organization.

    Defining the scope

    In which we discuss the challenges of defining the scope of a solidarity network project in its early days.

    The first step in starting an organization is to decide what it’s for. When starting SeaSol, we made a point of defining the scope of it very broadly, and this has proved to be one of its greatest strengths. Last month we were fighting a housing agency over towing fees. Today we are fighting a restaurant owner over unpaid wages. Next month we might be up against a bank, an insurance company, or a school administration.

    Because people are so used to single-issue organizing, when we first started it was difficult for some to wrap their minds around the idea of an organization that was not just about job issues or just about housing issues, but would deal equally with both, and beyond. There was also an urge to restrict the scope of the project to just certain sectors of the working class, such as the poorest of the poor, workers in specific industries, or specific neighborhoods within the city.

    Rather than becoming specialists, we have insisted on keeping our scope broad and flexible. Any worker or tenant in the Seattle area can join and can bring their fight to SeaSol. This helps us to bring in as many people as possible, and to keep up a constant stream of action. It means that instead of developing identities as tenant, neighborhood, or industry activists, we are building a sense of broad working class solidarity. It also means that the activists who started the project did not have to see ourselves as something separate from the group we wanted to organize. We were part of that group.

    Prerequisites

    In which we explain the basic things we needed in order to be able to launch SeaSol.

    People wanting to know how SeaSol got started often ask whether we had funding, whether we had an office, or whether we had extensive legal knowledge. We had none of these things, and we didn’t need them. However, there were a few basic things that we absolutely did need to have in order to make it work, and they are probably just as essential for anyone else out there who wants to build a solidarity network.

    1. One or two solid organizers. Of all the essential elements, this one tends to be the most difficult to come by. Without it, any new solidarity network is doomed. Other activists may come and go, but there must be least some who are extremely dedicated to the project, competent, self-organized, able to put a lot of time into the work, and planning on sticking with it for at least a couple of years. In SeaSol, it helped that some also had prior organizing experience.

    2. The ability to round up at least 15-20 people. This one is obvious, but people who are new to organizing almost always overestimate how many people they can mobilize. Getting 15 people to an action usually requires getting about 25 people to tell you, “Yes, I will be there.”

    For the first SeaSol actions, before we had an established phone tree, we just had to try to mobilize among our friends, our friends’ friends, IWW members, and people connected to other pre-existing organizations. We also sent emails to a few old lists that were left over from defunct radical projects from the early 2000’s. Our first action invitation was the only exciting thing that had gone out on some of those lists for a very long time, and this probably contributed to what we then considered an excellent turnout, 23 people.

    3. The ability to reach out and find workers and tenants who have conflicts with their bosses and landlords. SeaSol did this by putting up posters around bus stops. See the ‘Starting Fights’ section for more on this.

    4. Some logistical details. Starting a solidarity network requires very little money. You will need a place to meet, but there is no need to rent an office. We held meetings at an organizer’s home for the first year of SeaSol. You will need a phone number that goes to voicemail – we don’t try to be ‘on call’ whenever the phone rings (we’re not paid social workers!). We use a free voicemail service that sends the messages to our internal email list. You will also need an email address, a website, and someone with decent graphic design ability for making posters and flyers.

    5. A plan for getting started. You might be tempted to launch your solidarity network by publicly inviting all interested activists to an initial meeting. This is probably a mistake. When the direction of the project hasn’t yet been firmly established through action, it’s very easy to get blown off course. At this early stage, if you hold a large meeting by bringing in people with a wide variety of different ideas and agendas, you’re likely to get a lot of confusion and strife, and not a lot of action. In SeaSol, our tiny initial group of like-minded activists spent several months putting up posters and winning a few fights before we ever publicly announced our meetings, or held any public events other than actions.

    Starting Fights

    In which we describe how we find people with employer or landlord conflicts and bring them into SeaSol campaigns.

    Postering. From the start, our main way of finding new people with job or housing conflicts has been by putting up posters on telephone poles. We mostly post them in working class neighborhoods or in industrial areas where a lot of people work. The most effective places to stick them seem to around high-traffic bus stops. Someone who’s standing around waiting for a bus is more likely to take the time to read a poster than someone who’s walking past.

    We keep the content of our posters extremely simple and direct. Because we want to elicit fights that we can win with our current size and strength, our posters list specific problems that we think we can potentially deal with: “unpaid wages?” “stolen deposit?”. If someone is currently facing one of these problems, these words are likely to catch their eye.

    Postering is a ‘passive’ form of outreach, since we’re leaving it up to the screwed-over worker or tenant to contact us and ask for our support, instead of us approaching them. We do this for a reason: people who have taken the initiative to contact us are more likely to be people who are prepared to play an active role in a campaign. Also the fact that they have approached us, and not the other way around, makes it easier for us to insist on some conditions in exchange for our support. For example, they’ll have to be actively involved in their own fight, and they’ll have to join the solidarity network and commit to coming out for others as well. That’s our deal – take it or leave it.

    Getting contacts via posters isn’t easy. At the beginning of SeaSol, there were doubts about whether anyone would ever call us. We started by spending several weeks working on and arguing about text and design for two different versions, one for boss problems and one for landlord problems. Then we probably put up around 300 posters before we got our first call. They get torn down so we had to keep going back and putting them up again.

    There are definitely people getting screwed over in your town. Don’t give up if they don’t call you right away. If you keep postering over and over in a lot of different places and still aren’t getting calls, consider redesigning your poster. In our experience, the most effective posters do not look like anarchist propaganda. Try putting them on brightly colored paper, and make sure the key phrases (“unpaid wages?”, “stolen deposit?”) stand out large and clear to a casual passer-by.

    Getting a call and setting up the first meeting. When someone calls us about a conflict with their employer or landlord, the SeaSol secretary-of-the-week listens to the voicemail and calls them back. The secretary asks questions, listens briefly to their story, explains what our group is about, and if it makes sense, sets up a first meeting with them, usually in a public place like a coffee shop. At these initial meetings we aim to have at least two, and no more than four SeaSol members present, with at least one being a committed organizer who has some experience.

    Agitate – Educate – Organize. In this first meeting, we go through the classic organizing steps of “agitate – educate – organize”.

    “Agitate”, in this case, doesn’t mean making a speech. It means listening to their story (even if they already told it on the phone) and asking questions to bring out exactly how the injustices affect their life. In talking through this they’re “agitating” themselves - in other words, they’re bringing to the surface the emotional forces which made them want to contact us in the first place. The emotional response to getting stepped on is often extremely powerful, but most of the time people bury these feelings in the back of their minds so they can get through day-to-day life. Now it all has to come back out. Only then will they be ready to face the possibly unfamiliar and scary idea of fighting back using direct action.

    The next step, “Educate”, means helping them understand how something could be done about their situation through collective direct action. We do this by briefly describing how our action campaigns work, using real examples. We give them a sense of what their first action (the group demand delivery) might be like. We don’t bullshit them or promise that we will win their fight, but we give them a sense of the strategy behind our campaigns, and why it usually succeeds. We also briefly explain the other key things they need to understand about SeaSol, especially the fact that we're all volunteers and that we're not a law firm or a social service.

    Finally, “Organize” means getting into the specific, practical tasks that we need to ask from them. Can they help us boil their problems down to a specific demand that we could fight for (see the ‘Demands’ section for more on this)? If we did fight for it, would they be able and willing to come to our meetings every week to take part in the planning? Would they be willing to become members of the solidarity network, receive frequent phone calls for actions in support of other workers and tenants, and commit to coming out whenever they could?

    Deciding whether to take on the fight

    We end the first meeting by making a plan to follow up with them, usually by phone, once SeaSol as a group has had a chance to decide whether we're going to take on the fight. We ordinarily vote on this (majority rules) at our weekly meeting. If it’s really urgent, we use a passive consensus process called the “24 hour rule” by emailing a proposal to our higher traffic email list. If no one objects within 24 hours, then the proposal passes. But the situation is rarely urgent enough to require this process, and it’s basically impossible to use it for tricky decisions (since we won’t have consensus), so usually a decision to take on a fight can wait until the weekly meeting. We make sure not to invite the person (or people) requesting support to be present at this meeting -- otherwise we would never be able to say no.

    We use three main criteria in deciding whether to take on a fight: Is the fight compelling enough to motivate our members and supporters? Are the affected workers/tenants ready to participate in the campaign? And, can we win it?

    We think about winnability as the relationship between two factors: how hard it is for the boss/landlord to give in to our demand, versus how much we can hurt them. For example: consider a restaurant that owes its former dishwasher $500 in unpaid wages. The restaurant has one location only, and it’s in a touristy area, where potential diners are not all that loyal to any particular restaurant. It is having cash flow problems.

    How hard is it for them to give in? They’re having money troubles, so it might be a little hard for them to scrape together the $500. On the other hand, this is always a matter of priorities, and $500 is not a ton of money for a business. If we pressure the boss enough, it seems likely that he might be able to come up with it.

    How much can we hurt them? Our ability to hurt any boss or landlord ranges from “we can embarrass them”, which is weak but still sometimes useful, to “we can put them out of business”, which is usually the strongest thing we can threaten. In the case of the real-life restaurant used in this example, with a few months of aggressive weekend picketing we could probably have put them out of business. After weighing the difficulty of the demand versus how much we could hurt them, we decided this was a winnable fight. As it turned out, the restaurant owner, after going through the five stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance), decided he didn’t want to find out if we could put him out of business, and the dishwasher got paid.

    When we don’t think we can win a fight (or don’t have the capacity, and have too many fights ongoing already), we don’t take it on. Moving from victory to victory keeps the group energized and growing. Getting bogged down in unwinnable fights would do the opposite. As we grow stronger, fights which are unwinnable now will become winnable in the future.

    Demands

    In which we discuss the formulating and delivering of demands.

    Formulating the demand.
    Before we can decide on whether a fight would be winnable, we need to know exactly what we’d be fighting for. This is something we have to figure out during the initial meeting. Usually when someone first meets with us, they have a problem with their boss or landlord, but they don’t yet have a demand. We have to help them come up with a clear, specific, reasonable demand that can be communicated to the boss or landlord, telling them exactly what we expect them to do to address the problem. The demand should be as simple and concise as possible. Sometimes it’s necessary to include multiple demands, but it can’t be a huge laundry list. If the demand isn’t simple, righteous and compelling enough, our own people won’t understand or feel strongly enough to come out and fight for it. If it isn’t specific enough, we’ll end up with confusion over whether or not we’ve won.

    Here is an example of a poorly-formulated demand to give to a landlord:
    “Address ongoing issues concerning moisture and mold which have continued to be ignored.”

    The main problem here is that it isn’t specific. How will we know when “ongoing issues” have been “addressed”?

    Here is a better version:
    “Repair the leaks in the kitchen and living room ceilings, which are causing water damage and mold.”

    It’s clear and specific. There won’t be much room for doubt over whether or not it’s been done.

    Putting it in writing.
    When we present our demands, we always do so by handing over a written demand letter. If we were to present our demands verbally, we might find ourselves getting bogged down in back-and-forth arguments with the boss or landlord, which would lead to confusion and delay. Presenting the demands in writing helps us avoid this, and it also lets the group democratically decide on exactly what message we want to get across to the boss or landlord, without much risk of mix-ups or miscommunication.

    Obviously the affected worker/tenant (or group of them) needs to be involved in the process of putting together the demand letter, and they need to be in agreement with the final version we end up with. However, this doesn’t mean we let them write whatever they want. The demand letter is signed in the name of the solidarity network as a whole, so we have to make sure it’s something that we as an organization are prepared to stand behind, and to fight a potentially long and hard campaign over.

    We keep our demand letters extremely short and to the point. This is sometimes a challenge, because often the first impulse of the person we’re supporting is to use this letter as a vehicle for expressing all their anger to the boss or landlord, or for presenting lengthy justifications for the demands. We have to explain that while all this stuff can be great when it comes to mobilizing our supporters, telling it to the boss or landlord isn’t likely to do any good at this point. In the demand letter, there are really only three things we need to get across: (1) what the problem is, (2) what the boss or landlord needs to do about it, and (3) how much time we're going to wait before taking further action.

    Here’s an example:

    Quote:
    October 23, 2010

    Mr. Ciro D'onofrio,

    It has come to our attention that a former employee, Becky Davis, has not been paid the final

    wages she earned working for Bella Napoli, of which you are the owner.

    A total of $478 was never paid to her after her month of employment. The various reasons given

    for this – missing invoices and a missing bottle of wine – seem to be spurious and untenable.

    As the owner of this company, we see it as your responsibility to ensure that this situation be

    resolved, and that your employee is paid in full the wages she is owed. We will expect this to be

    done soon, within no more than 14 days. Otherwise we will take further action.

    Sincerely,

    Becky Davis and The Seattle Solidarity Network

    www.seasol.net info@seasol.net 206-350-8650

    Delivering the demand.
    Our fights always begin with the delivery of the demand en masse. We round up a group of people, anywhere from 10 to 30, to go with the worker or tenant affected and confront the boss or landlord in their office or at their home. It isn’t a violent confrontation, but nor is it a friendly visit. The group is there to get the boss or landlord’s attention, to show that there is some real support behind the demand, and to make them think twice about retaliating. We don’t engage in conversation -- in fact, sometimes these actions are entirely silent. Once the whole group has assembled in front of the boss or landlord, the worker or tenant affected steps forward and hands over the demand letter, and then we leave.

    Some have argued that it would be quicker and easier just to send the demand letter by mail. In some cases this might be true, in the sense that we could get our demands met more efficiently this way, but it would not serve our larger goal of building up people power. Delivering the demand in person as a group builds a sense of solidarity, in a way that mailing a letter could never do. The people who take part in it end up feeling personally connected to the fight. This means that if the target boss or landlord gets scared and gives in quickly, it’s an empowering victory for everyone who participated in the demand delivery. If the target does not give in quickly, then all those who came out are now much more likely to be willing and eager to come out for the follow-up actions. If we got our demands met just by mailing a letter, the only people who would have participated in the victory would be the one or two individuals who had written the letter and dropped it in the mail. It would do nothing to build up power for the future.

    When planning a demand delivery action, we don’t want the boss or landlord to know we’re coming. Without the element of surprise, the action would have much less impact. They might even arrange to be absent at the time of the action, or to have police there waiting for us. This actually happened to SeaSol once, when we had foolishly forwarded around an online action-announcement in which we named the company we were targeting. Since then, when announcing demand delivery actions we’ve always made sure to avoid broadcasting the name of the boss or landlord involved. Sometimes we assign them a code name.

    Demand delivery actions can be a tense experience for some of our people, especially new folks. As we’re approaching the target’s office or home, the people in front seem to want to walk fast, while the ones in back lag behind. We’ve seen this lead to a situation where the person in front arrives almost alone in the target’s office, and in their nervousness, hands over the demand letter and turns to leave before most of their backup has had a chance to file in through the door. Obviously this squanders a lot of the power of the action. To avoid this, we now make a point of asking the people in front to walk slowly, and the person carrying the demand letter stays in the back of the crowd until after we’ve all gathered in front of the target. Then, once the full presence of the group has been felt, we part like the Red Sea while the letter-bearer passes through and hands over the demand.

    Why not refuse to leave until the boss / landlord gives in? Some have asked why we don’t just stay there in the target’s office until they’ve resolved the problem. No doubt occasionally this would scare them into giving in on the spot. But what about the other times, when they decide to be stubborn and refuse to give in? To counter us, all they’d have to do would be to call the cops and wait. After a while the cops would arrive to forcibly remove us, and with our current strength we would not be able to hold out for long. Then we’d be stuck spending our time on legal defense instead of planning further action against the boss or landlord. Plus, having started off our campaign with such an intense action, we’d have little or no room to further escalate the pressure.

    By choosing to leave once we’ve delivered our message, with a promise of more action to come, we keep the initiative. Instead of trying to defend a space that we wouldn’t actually be able to defend, we stay on the attack. This makes it very hard for the boss or landlord to counter us. We’re there in their face before they know what’s going on, and then we’re gone before they can bring in the cops. We leave them with an impression of strength, and we leave them wondering what we’ll do next.

    Finally, depending on the demand, it’s not always even possible for the boss or landlord to grant it on the spot. What about repairs to a building, or better safety equipment at work? Here the most we could force out of them immediately would be a written promise, which they would then be likely to break as soon as we were gone.

    Strategy

    In which we summarize the basic principles of strategy used in SeaSol fights.

    If the boss/landlord doesn’t give in before our deadline, then the pressure campaign begins. Through a sustained series of actions, we aim to create an increasingly unpleasant situation for the boss or landlord, from which their only escape is to grant our demands.

    There is no sense doing a demand delivery unless we’re ready to back it up with an action plan that can force the enemy to give in. Therefore we consider, what are the pressure points we can use against the enemy? How many people can we get out to an action, and what are people willing to do at those actions? All of this takes a serious and thoughtful analysis of our own strength.

    Our campaign strategy is based on the basic insight that the boss or landlord doesn't cave in as a result of what we just did to them--they cave in as a result of their fear of what we're going to do next. So we have to be able to escalate, or increase the pressure over time, and we have to pace ourselves so that we can sustain the fight for as long as it takes. At least once during a fight, we brainstorm possible tactics and order them from least to most pressure. Then we make a plan for how often and in which order we should carry them out.

    To illustrate this, here’s a list of the actions we took in our fight against Nelson Properties, in order from start to finish:

    1. We did the mass demand delivery.

    2. We started the ongoing posting and re-posting of “Do Not Rent Here” posters around many different Nelson buildings.

    3. We started door-to-door tenants’-rights discussions with current Nelson tenants.

    4. We started a series of small pickets in front of Nelson’s office.

    5. We delivered letters to Nelson’s neighbors, warning them about an as-yet-unnamed slumlord in their midst, and promising to return en masse to discuss the problem with each neighbor in full detail. We made sure Nelson himself got a copy.

    And then we won.

    A Taxonomy of Tactics

    In which we describe our criteria for evaluating tactics and elaborate a taxonomy of tactics we have tried.

    For any potential tactic we have to ask ourselves these questions:

    Does it hurt them? For example, does it cost them money? Does it hurt their reputation? Does it hurt their career?

    Does it hurt us? Does it put too much strain on our people? Does it get us arrested, prosecuted, or sued?

    Can we mobilize for it? Will our people like it? Will they understand it? Will they be able to do it? It is at a time when people are available?

    We want all our actions to build people’s experience, confidence, knowledge, and radicalization. We want to take action in an empowering manner, avoiding the disempowerment that comes from relying on bureaucrats, social workers, politicians, lawyers, and other “experts.”

    We take different approaches for different targets. We try to be creative and flexible. Tactics brainstorm sessions are sometimes hilarious. Picketing was great for Pita Pit because it was a public restaurant in a high foot-traffic area. Picketing was not a great idea for the Capitola Apartments, because it was hard to know when potential renters might show up to view the place, but repeatedly putting up “Do Not Rent Here” posters worked great.

    Here are some of the types of tactics SeaSol has used so far. Each one has its pros, cons, and logistical considerations.

    Handing out flyers in front of a workplace. Flyering at a workplace can be targeted at customers, at workers, or at random passers-by. Just handing out flyers is a little bit less aggressive than picketing with signs. The content can either be purely informational, just arousing sympathy and raising awareness of the issue (ostensibly—really it’s always about freaking out the boss), or it can be openly about turning away customers, as in “Don’t shop here!”.

    Picketing a store / restaurant / hotel. The timing of a picket is really important and often warrants scouting the location to determine the time of most possible impact. We have found that direct messages garner the most attention: “Don’t Rent/Shop/Eat Here” grabs people’s attention more than a nebulous “Justice for all workers!” or similar. When we picket we usually hand out an aggressive flyer at the same time. We have also tried out other tricks to help turn away business. For example, in the Jimmy John’s fight, we handed out coupons for Subway; in the Greenlake and Nelson fights we had collected negative online reviews to show to potential customers; in the Tuff Shed fight we had a list of other shed stores to direct people to.

    In some cases picketing can antagonize the current employees, especially if they are restaurant workers who are dependent on tips. Recently we have discussed the idea of always doing a week or two of less aggressive, informational picketing or flyering before we start aggressively turning away business. This would give us an opportunity to make contact with the current employees in a positive way and explain the issue to them. We have also begun taking up collections for the tip jar when picketing a coffee shop or restaurant.

    Picketing an office. Usually picketing a company’s office does not turn away customers, but it does generate embarrassment. Again timing is key. When are their busy times? Sometimes we haven’t been sure if they’ve noticed us, so we’ve stood right in front of the door until they’ve asked us to leave.

    Postering around a store / restaurant / hotel. Again, the content can be informational or else urging a boycott. Posters are usually targeted at foot traffic so we put them up accordingly (eye-level, facing sidewalks). Posters often get ripped down quickly.

    Postering around vacant rental units. The posters usually say “DON’T RENT AT [name of building]”, and they highlight problems that will turn off potential renters, such as pests, mold, deposit theft, etc. We emphasize that if someone rents from this landlord, they too will suffer from the landlord’s injustices. Here we’re appealing to potential tenants’ self interest, whereas in a “don’t shop here” flyer, we’re typically making more of a moral appeal. To make sure the landlord sees the connection between these posters and our conflict and demands, we add a little explanatory text at the bottom, like “Nelson Properties is currently persecuting former tenant Maria. You could be next.”

    Visiting neighbors with flyers. Airing the boss or landlord’s dirty laundry in front of their neighbors can often make them extremely uncomfortable. This is most effective when they live in an upscale neighborhood. You can approach the neighbors on the pretext that, as neighbors, they might be in a position to influence the boss or landlord to “do the right thing.” If neighbors do actually exert pressure, it’s more likely to have to do with the fact that the boss’s or landlord’s activities are subjecting the neighborhood to an uncomfortable situation, rather than based on moral considerations.

    Visiting the landlord’s workplace (if any). The issues involved with visiting a workplace are very similar to visiting a neighborhood: to put the boss/landlord in an uncomfortable position. It’s good to show up in a big enough group to get a lot of attention, speak to the person’s boss and/or coworkers about the issue. We hope this will then generate secondary pressure on the landlord, via their boss ordering them to see to it that this doesn’t happen again.

    Introductory letter to neighbors or coworkers. In the past we used to do neighbor or workplace visits without any warning, as a one-off tactic. This succeeded in upsetting the boss or landlord quite a lot, but it didn’t seem to cause them to give in. The problem was, it didn’t generate ongoing pressure. After we did it, the damage was done – they had been “outed” to the neighbors/coworkers. Before we did it, they didn’t know it was coming. So it didn’t add any pressure.

    After running into this problem several times, we decided to try doing the action in two parts. The second part is the visit as described above. The first part, one to three weeks earlier, consists of mailing or discreetly dropping off (on doorsteps or car windshields) “introductory letters” to the boss or landlord’s neighbors or coworkers, making a point to accidentally mail or leave one for the boss/landlord themselves as well.

    Here is an example of one of these letters, from our fight with Nelson Properties.

    Quote:
    Hello,

    We would like to reach out to you, as concerned neighborhood residents, about a tragic situation which you may be in a position to influence for the better.

    Maria and her family, who recently moved after suffering health problems due to landlord negligence, are now suffering further abuse at the hands of an unscrupulous business called Nelson Properties, which is rooted in this neighborhood. Having collecting rent from them without doing basic maintenance, Nelson is now pursuing Maria and her family for even more money that they do not owe and do not have, and is also wrongfully pocketing their deposit - a small extra profit for Nelson, but a huge loss for a low-income worker like Maria.

    A group of concerned activists will be roaming the neighborhood soon to distribute more information and to discuss this issue in more depth with each household on the street.

    We look forward to meeting you!

    Sincerely,

    Seattle Solidarity Network
    www.seasol.net

    These letters are vague and polite—we don’t want to sound like thugs—but they let the boss/landlord and neighbors/coworkers know that we will soon do something that will make them uncomfortable. It contains just enough information so that the boss or landlord themselves knows it’s about them, but it won’t necessarily be entirely clear to the neighbors/coworkers who this is about. This leaves plenty of room for us to get more specific when we actually visit the neighborhood or workplace.

    In this particular example, we had been fighting them for a month, and then they gave in within two days after we delivered this letter.

    Postering around the boss or landlord’s home. We have found this to be an effective way of airing the target’s dirty laundry in front of their neighbors and family members. This is similar to showing up in person but easier—it takes fewer people and can be repeated over and over as posters get torn down. Make sure to include the boss/landlord’s name and address on the poster and if possible a photo of the boss/landlord or of their house.

    Addressing city council meetings. Most city councils have a public comment period where anyone can speak. These are often televised. They’re usually poorly attended, so a sizable organized group with a compelling message tends to get attention. This is mainly useful if the boss or landlord has business relationships with the city, or if the council has decisions to make which will impact their business in some way. Otherwise this tactic is not likely to have much impact, unless the target is exceptionally high-profile and concerned about his/her reputation.

    Come prepared with a short speech, so you’re not making it up as you go along. This tactic has more impact if combined with picketing at the outside entrance before the start of the meeting. We have found it works well to have all supporters stand while the speaker is speaking and cheer after they finish. This allows for the presence of the group to be felt by the council in connection with what the speaker is saying.

    Crashing events (such as open houses). This tactic makes the most sense in a long-running fight, where you are trying to find every possible way of making trouble for your target. When you find, usually by searching online, that a company you’re fighting is holding an event that’s open to the public, you can have a few people go in “plainclothes”—without picket signs—and blend in with the crowd. Then after a prearranged signal (someone yells, “yee-haw!”), they start distributing flyers to the crowd to inform everyone of the company’s misdeeds. Don’t forget to save some of the free snacks for your comrades outside.

    Picketing at public meetings and events. Any meeting, convention, or other event that your target is connected to can be a good option for picketing. Your target may have dealings with government agencies, sponsor industry meet-ups, belong to a country club, or be connected to a charity. These can provide picketing opportunities where you can tarnish their reputation in the eyes of people whose good opinion they care about.

    Calling to arrange to view an apartment. If a landlord has vacancies they are trying to fill, you can mess with them by calling to arrange viewings. This works best when combined with picketing or flyering outside the rental office or outside the for-rent unit. Then the person who arranged the viewing can either: (1) not show up and call later to say they’ve changed their mind after receiving a flyer about the conflict, or (2) if they’re a good actor, they can go through with the viewing and act very uncomfortable about the people picketing/flyering outside.

    Online reviews. Some businesses rely heavily on the internet for getting customers. There are several popular websites where anyone can post reviews about businesses. A sudden barrage of negative reviews can have a major impact. Plus it’s a fun tactic that lots of people can do on their own time, and even supporters in other cities can help out. For this tactic to be effective, the target has to be able to see that the barrage of negative reviews is connected to your conflict and demands

    Satirical charity events. If your target is known to be wealthy and is vulnerable to public shaming, holding highly-visible “charity” events on their behalf can be a clever way to ridicule them. To get the most possible mileage out of this tactic, plan it well in advance and advertise heavily with posters and/or flyers. Here’s an example:

    Quote:
    Impoverished landlords Harpal Supra and Tajinder Singh need your help! For months they have not been able to maintain decent health and safety conditions - such as clean drinking water and ventilation - in the house at 24260 132nd Ave SE, Kent. In protest, the family who lives there has decided to withhold rent money from them. The landlords are in such need of this money that they are now in the process of evicting the family!

    You and your family are warmly invited to a Charity Bake Sale for Harpal Supra and Tajinder Singh, from 3pm to 6pm on Sunday, April 26, at 24260 132nd Ave SE, Kent - right next to the Gurudwara Sacha Marg.

    Come eat, and contribute whatever you can - even $1 or 50 cents - to help Harpal Supra and Tajinder Singh.

    When we finally won our year-long fight against Lorig Associates, one of their conditions for giving in was that we formally agree not to hold any more charity bake sales for Bruce Lorig.

    Tenant investigation. When fighting a large landlord, you might find it worthwhile to go door-to-door informing all the other tenants of their rights and asking about landlord abuses. We call this a “tenant investigation”. We generally go in with a half-page flyer that lists a bunch of common landlord-tenant problems and invites people to get in touch if they’d like more info about their rights. We make a point of leaving some of these lying around the building, so that management is sure to know about our visit. This tactic tends to make landlords pretty nervous, and it’s a great way to establish good relations with the other tenants who are not directly involved in the fight.

    Noncompliance pact. We’ve been in a couple of fights in which a group of tenants were all facing evictions or major rent hikes. In this situation, a powerful tactic has been for everyone affected (or as many as are willing) to form a mutual “noncompliance pact”, and to inform the landlord that none of them are going to comply or voluntarily vacate the building until all their demands have been met. This puts the landlord in a tough position, since forcibly evicting even one tenant can be a lengthy and expensive process, so for a whole group of tenants it may be more trouble than giving in to the demands. Here’s an example of a “noncompliance” letter, signed by ten residents in an apartment building:

    Quote:
    We, tenants of the Kasota apartments who are not Sound Mental Health clients, hereby notify you that we cannot accept the cruel and unjust way in which we are now being forced from our homes. You have presented us with a rent increase which is so extreme, you must be aware that we could not possibly afford to pay it. It appears that the intent is simply to drive us out.

    If we are to be forced out of our homes, then we respectfully insist that you provide each of us with relocation assistance, so that we can find other places to live and not join the ranks of the homeless.

    We hereby pledge:

    Unless and until each and every one of us has received adequate relocation assistance, none of us will pay the increased rent or voluntarily vacate the building.

    Meetings

    In which we discuss what it takes for solidarity network meetings to be inclusive, democratic, and effective at getting things done.

    Meetings may be a boring topic to write or read about, but in fact, we spend more time together in meetings than we do on picket lines. Meetings are where the actual planning of our campaigns happens. Meetings are also where we put direct democracy into practice. In this section, we’ll go over a few of the key practices we’ve developed in the course of three years of SeaSol meetings.

    We meet every week, and we really get stuff done during these meetings. When SeaSol first formed, we only met twice per month. The long gaps between regular meetings meant that most of the logistics and planning of our fights had to get done separately in between these meetings, in small ad hoc planning sessions among the most active organizers. This made it hard for newer people to start participating in a meaningful way. It was also hard on our schedules. When we finally switched to meeting every week, splitting the meeting into smaller “breakout” sessions where needed, it seriously improved our ability to grow and to take on more fights. Now, these regular meetings are the place where almost all of our actual planning gets done, and there’s rarely a need for separate planning sessions in between. The regular meetings now provide a space where any SeaSol member who wants to step up can easily start participating, alongside more experienced folks, in the planning and execution of our campaigns. Having this “permeability” within the group, where new people can easily volunteer for jobs and can get involved in real organizing very quickly, gives a huge boost to our ability to bring in and develop new organizers. Also our meetings are now much better attended, since they’re much more worth attending.

    We assign clear responsibility for specific tasks. In a representative democracy, or in a staff-driven organization that has a Board of Directors, there is usually a fixed distinction between “legislative” and “executive” roles, in other words, between those who make the decisions and those who carry them out. In a direct, participatory democracy like SeaSol, this is not the case. Because we have no fixed “executive” who can be expected to carry out the decisions of the group, whenever we decide to do something, we then have to ask, “which of us will take responsibility for making sure this task gets done?” Otherwise, more often than not it won’t get done at all, and our democratic decisions will be meaningless. When we give someone responsibility for a specific task, this does not mean we’re giving them authority, in the sense of a coercive ability to order others around. They just have to ask nicely for help, and hope that others are willing to cooperate. If all else fails, they just have to do it themselves.

    We create an agenda at the beginning of each meeting. Whoever is present at the beginning of a meeting has an opportunity to contribute agenda items. This process doesn’t take long, because the main items tend to be the same every week: incoming calls, breakouts to plan ongoing fights, outreach to bring in new members, etc etc.

    Time is of the essence. Some people like to use group meetings as opportunities for ranting at great length on various topics. If we allowed this, our meetings would run on forever and we wouldn’t get much done. To prevent it, when making the agenda we set a time limit for each item, and we ask someone to play the role of “time keeper” for the meeting. This allows us to manage the overall length of the meeting, and to make sure everything essential gets done.

    We use strong meeting facilitation. In our experience, probably the most important factor in making a SeaSol meeting work well is having a strong, competent facilitator. It’s the facilitator’s job to make sure that we’re moving through the agenda, that decisions are being made democratically, and that everyone who wants to participate has the opportunity to do so. This is a tricky skill, and it takes time, effort and practice to develop it. We’re always trying to help each other get better at it.

    Here are some tips we’ve put together to give to new people in SeaSol who want to try facilitating a meeting:

    Tips & Tricks for SeaSol meeting facilitation

    Quote:
    - Listen for proposals in what people are saying. Try to steer the group towards making decisions and acting upon them, instead of talking in circles.

    - Restate proposals to make sure everyone knows what's being decided on. A few phrases you can use are: "What I'm hearing is..." and “We have a proposal to...”

    - When in doubt, take a vote.

    - Keep “stack”, i.e. a list of people who want to speak on a topic. Call on people in order. If it’s too much to keep track of, you can recruit a helper to keep stack for you.

    - Don’t be afraid to cut people off if they are talking out of turn, over time, or interrupting other people.

    - Don't abuse your position as chair to give your opinion more weight / time / authority.

    - Be neutral when you ask for votes, and use the same tone of voice for all options. As in: “All in favor.” “All opposed.” Rather than: “Does anyone want to vote against this?”

    - Always have a time keeper and note taker.

    - Add up the length of the agenda at the beginning of meeting so the group knows what they’re getting into. This may cause people to decide to spend less time on certain items.

    - You can ask the time keeper to give you warnings (5 min, 3 min, 1 min)

    - Ask meeting attendees’ permission to extend the time on an agenda item (possibly through a quick vote).

    - Periodically check back in about the meeting's remaining time, and when the meeting is projected to end.

    - Need a break? Ask someone else to take over as chair.

    - If your mouth gets dry, it’s a sign that you're talking too much.

    Mobilizing

    In which we describe how we consistently turn out enough people for our actions

    Since the point of a solidarity network is to engage in direct action, mobilizing people for actions is one of the most important things we do as a group. We take our ability to mobilize very seriously. We try not to waste people’s time or mess people around by frequently canceling or rescheduling actions, and we try to make sure our actions are worth showing up to.

    SeaSol’s main tool for mobilizing is a phone tree, currently with about 170 people. Each member of the organizing team (What’s that? See the section on “Organizing capacity and group structure”) is a "branch" on the tree and has about 10 people to mobilize each time we have a major action. Whenever possible we want to use the strength of existing social bonds, so for example if someone on the phone tree is a close friend of one of the organizers, then they should probably be on that organizer’s calling list. We also have a mass email list for action announcements. Mass emails rarely cause many people to show up, but they’re useful for a reminder or for reference. An individual email sent to a friend who checks email a lot (“Hey Kate, can you come out for this?”) is a different story -- personal invites can work well in any medium, depending on the habits and preferences of the person you’re inviting.

    Regardless of how we’re contacting someone for an action, our goal is always to get an answer from them -- yes, no, or maybe -- as to whether or not they’ll be coming. A person who has said “Yes, I’ll be there” to another human being is much more likely to show up to an action than someone who’s just received a message. For that reason, when making phone calls we make a concerted effort to actually talk to people rather than talking to their voice mail. Before leaving a message, we try calling on two different days, sometimes at different times.

    It’s important to have realistic expectations about turnout. If you want to get a lot of people to an action, it usually takes a lot of work and organization. Out of thirty people who say “yes”, we’ve generally found that somewhere between fifteen and twenty will show up. Out of ten people who say “maybe”, we might expect between zero and two (maybe means no!).

    To consistently do a good job at mobilizing requires some structure and some collective responsibility. Our organizing team always has a deadline for when we should get our calls done. We report our results to each other by email. Then the person who’s “bottom line” for the action follows up with anyone who hasn’t reported yet, to see if they need help and to make sure it gets done.

    Structure and organizing capacity

    In which we discuss the challenges of organizational structure and of developing solid organizers

    At the beginning, SeaSol had almost no formal structure. There wasn’t much need for it, since we were a tiny group of people with a low level of activity. We realized that we might later have more need for formal structures, as the group got bigger and more active, but we did not try to set them up in advance. In hindsight, this seems to have been a wise decision. If we had spent our time arguing about, planning, and then maintaining formal structures that we hypothetically might need at some point in the future, it would have been a serious drag on our ability to start taking action and building real strength. Instead, over time we have added on pieces of structural organization (e.g. an organizing team, a secretary role, a definition of membership) on an as-needed basis, as the group’s increased size and complexity has created both the need for them and the capacity to maintain them.

    For example, for our whole first year we informally left almost all administrative work to one dedicated, reliable person who had a ton of free time. That was who answered the calls, replied to emails, and set up the initial meetings for new fights. The role was not elected or even formally defined. The work just needed to get done, and if we only had one person who was able and willing to do it consistently, that was who had to do it. Then later on, once we had multiple reliable and committed people who were able to shoulder that burden, we created a formally defined role called “secretary duty”, which changes hands almost every week.

    As we’ve developed SeaSol’s structure, we’ve always wrestled with the fact that there have been dramatically unequal levels of involvement between different people in the group. In principle we would prefer to have everyone participating equally. However, this doesn’t seem to be possible in a volunteer-based organization. We will always (if we’re lucky) have some people who want to spend half their waking hours on solidarity-network organizing, while others only want to receive an occasional email, and the rest are somewhere in between. SeaSol has decided to accept this unevenness as a fact of life, and to develop a structure that makes room for different levels of involvement. We try to make it as easy as possible for people to move from one level to the next.

    When someone signs up online for our action-announcements phone list or email list, and they haven’t yet been to an action or a meeting, at first we consider them a “supporter”. At this level, at most they’ll get a phone call about once per month inviting them to an action. Once someone comes out to an action, at the end of the action they’ll be invited to become a “member”. Being a member doesn’t require them to pay dues, but it means considering themselves part of SeaSol, committing to come out to actions whenever possible, and receiving much more frequent phone calls and emails. When someone enlists SeaSol for their own job or housing conflict, they're required to become a member if they weren't already.

    The highest level of commitment is to be an “organizer”, i.e. a member of the organizing committee (or “team”). Although it’s technically an elected committee, we encourage as many people to join it as are willing. Organizers commit to coming to all weekly meetings and to being the “branches” on the phone tree whenever we do a mobilization. Organizing committee members are also the ones who return calls and who take the lead on meeting with people for potential new fights. The organizing committee does not have any special powers, nor does it ever meet separately from the rest of SeaSol. It’s a position of responsibility, not of authority.

    Having this committed core group is absolutely essential to SeaSol’s ability to keep things going and to get things done consistently. When projects don’t have a group of people who have committed to doing a certain amount of work, they tend to end up with one or two poor overworked souls actually doing everything to keep things together, while the people around them say, 'Wow, this just works! It's easy! It’s so organic!'

    Whatever energy we can spare from the basic organizing, we try to spend on developing new people’s organizing capacity. We have semi-regular trainings covering the basic skills it takes to run a direct action campaign. Afterwards, we often do one-on-one followup sessions where we share our strengths, challenges, and goals as organizers.

    There is often a difficult balance to strike between developing newer people and making sure stuff gets done. People don’t like to feel micromanaged, but on the other hand, leaving them to fail at a task or drop the ball can be even more demoralizing and disempowering. We have a few strategies to try to walk this fine line. First, we maintain a group culture that more or less frowns on flakiness and values solidness. When you take on a task, everyone expects that you will actually do the task by the time you agreed to, and then report back on your progress. When you do so, you gain some respect within the group. When you don’t, you lose some. This generates real social pressure to follow through on what you say you’re going to do. Second, we make an effort to push people to move past their fears and try out new aspects of organizing. This can be as simple as doing a task with someone the first time, and then the second time asking, “Why don’t you try taking the lead this time?” The standard axiom for this is, “see one, do one, teach one,” although it should probably be “see a few, do a lot, teach one”. Third, we follow up with each other to offer support and to help work through any obstacles people are facing in getting stuff done. When a new person volunteers to bottom-line something, we often have someone who’s more experienced volunteer to be their “backup” person, to help them through any difficulties and to pick up the ball if it gets dropped.

    Finally, it’s worth mentioning that the most common obstacle to people developing their organizing capacity within SeaSol has been personal disorganization, i.e. not keeping a calendar. Just by the simple step of starting to keep a calendar, we’ve seen hopelessly flaky people go through dramatic transformations and become awesome organizers.

    Inside organizing

    In which we describe our current efforts towards expanding SeaSol’s scope to include the building of worker and tenant committees within workplaces and apartment buildings.

    So far, most of SeaSol's workplace-related fights have been in support of someone who has already quit or been fired, and either they're owed wages, or they were fired unjustly, or the employer is still retaliating against them in some way (threatening to sue them, stopping them from getting unemployment or injury benefits, etc). Likewise most of our landlord fights have been in support of someone who has moved out of the building and has had their deposit stolen or been charged unreasonable fees. In these situations, the ex-employee or ex-tenant no longer has much to lose in fighting back, since the target employer or landlord is no longer in a position to fire or evict them. This makes it possible for us to launch almost immediately into a public action campaign to deal with the individual injustice.

    On the other hand, when we're working with someone who wants our help in fighting their current boss or landlord, the strategy has to be different. If an individual worker or tenant were to target their current boss or landlord with a SeaSol campaign, while still isolated within their own workplace or apartment building, they’d be almost certain to get hit with extreme retaliation, if not outright firing or eviction. Therefore in this situation, instead of immediately launching an open campaign to support the individual, our first task is to help them build up a strong committee of workers within the workplace, or of tenants within the apartment building. This has to happen “under the radar” as much as possible, through careful one-on-one organizing. Only then, when there is a united group within the workplace or apartment building, does it make sense for them (or for SeaSol) to launch into an open, public struggle against the boss or landlord.

    SeaSol is only now starting to put serious work into developing the capacity to do this kind of “inside” organizing effectively, while continuing to carry on our usual “outside” fights at the same time. We're going into this effort jointly with the IWW, making heavy use of the IWW’s on-the-job organizing training curriculum. It’s the next frontier. [cue inspiring theme music]

    Got questions? Want to talk to us? Coming through Seattle?
    Contact the authors:
    coldbandtbarnacle@seasol.net.

    AttachmentSize
    seasol-pamphlet.pdf1.69 MB
    seasol-pamphlet-expanded-US.pdf1.92 MB
    seasol-pamphlet-expanded-A4.pdf1.92 MB

    Federations and networks guide

    Information about different ways of setting up effective organisations that have more than one group or section within them.

    What is a federation?
    Federations are essentially unions of autonomous organisations and/or affinity groups. An anarchist federation can be viewed as the regional, or national, or international decision making body of the union (depending on the federation's self-imposed geographical limitations) and the collectives or affinity groups that belong to the federation can be viewed as autonomous union locals. Federations are formal organisations with constitutions, bylaws, and specific membership guidelines. There are three general types of federations that have been formed in recent memory, they can be refered to as "Specialist", "General Revolutionary", and "Synthesist" Federations. This terminology is in no way standard, but it is useful for purposes of description.

    Specialist federations
    Federations, like affinity groups and collectives, can exist to serve a specific role or achieve a specific goal. An example of a "specialist" federation is the Anarchist Black Cross Federation (ABCF http://www.anarchistblackcross.org), which exists to do support work for political prisoners.

    General revolutionary federations
    Federations can also be very broad in scope and focus on organising around a particular political viewpoint, as well as doing organising work and activism that embodies and advances that political view. An example of a "general revolutionary" federation is the North Eastern Federation of Anarchist-Communists (NEFAC http://www.nefac.net), which is a federation with a broad scope that does a variety of organising and activism consistent with the principles of Anarchist-Communism.

    Synthesist federations
    An Anarchist federation that is "synthesist" is one that attempts to be inclusive of all Anarchist tendencies and bring Anarchists of all the varying tendencies into a single organisation - a "synthesist federation" can be considered a subcategory of "general revolutionary" federations. The closest example of a contemporary "synthesist" federation is the defunct Love and Rage Federation (in North America).

    Federation structure
    How a federation is organised and how it makes decisions is entirely up to the members of the federation. But, in terms of decision making, it can be safely said that all currently viable Anarchist federations use recallable delegates that are sent by their collectives and/or affinity groups to federation assemblies to make decisions that pertain to the federation as a whole. In terms of the what the specific internal structure of a federation is or whether consensus or direct democracy is used by the federation to make decisions, there are no hard and fast rules other than the structure and decision making method used by the federation must be consistent with the fundamental principles of Anarchism.

    What is a Network?
    A useful way to define an anarchist network is to compare it to an anarchist federation. Networks are far less formal than a federation (although, some networks are formal enough in structure to blur the line between network and federation), and they usually only require an agreement to a set of principles or the sharing of a general political viewpoint as a qualification for membership. Also, unlike federations which emphasise collective action and organisation, networks emphasise autonomy over formal organisation. This does not mean to imply that anarchist networks are not organised or that they are against organisation. It simply means that their organisational focus is on allowing individual member groups to engage in actions that fit within the context of the network and utilise the network itself primarily for solidarity and support of the individual member groups as needed.

    Generally speaking, there are two main types of networks: formal networks and informal networks.

    Formal networks
    What typically makes a network formal is that it has a "global" decision making structure - meaning that, like a federation, there is an overarching body of delegates that make decisions pertaining to the network as a whole - in most other aspects formal networks are mostly the same as informal networks. A good example of a formal network was, the now largely defunct, Direct Action Network (DAN).

    libcom.org 2005
    Adapted from Anarchism in Action by Shawn Ewald.