The Path to Productive Activism
"Your politics are boring!"
I remember the first time I saw that message. It cut me to the core! Was he saying that what we are doing is boring? Or how we are doing it is boring? Were we focused on the wrong things?
He never explained further, but I suspect the reaction came because he was tired of meetings: meetings which seem to accomplish little.
But meetings are a part of organizing. Groups have to come together, discuss ideas, have a plan of approach and execution for whatever they hope to accomplish.
So, if he's right, and meetings are boring, how do we as activists deal with that reality?
Ask any activist, including those from the right wing, and they will all tell you that you must have food to attract folks, or at least a cup of coffee. Most importantly, though, people need to know their time is not wasted; and to whatever extent possible, to know that they will be with people they enjoy, or at least people who they want to work with.
How can we assure people that meetings are worth their time? The plan should be simple:
First, start your meetings on time, and with a prepared agenda. If you are trying to organize and are disorganized, this is a turnoff; people will feel that their time is not respected.
Second, stick to the agenda and conclude on time or early. Leave a slot on your agenda for questions or a discussion forum, but ask people to respect the agenda and each other during the meeting, allowing the meeting to flow as planned.
Third, have actionable plans for during or after the meeting. For example, if someone arrives with a new tool they are using to be a more effective activist, we all can learn about there and perhaps begin using it on the spot. Or maybe the plans will be for later, such as attending a government meeting as a group, or as individuals to report back to the group later. Maybe the group can hold a road cleaning event or community gardening event. No matter what, we as activists must be relevant between elections; and without tasks for the group, there is no point to the group.
Fourth, work towards victories -- even small ones. If a group decides to turn back the tide of militarism worldwide, that is a valid and honorable goal; but it's also honorable and valid to work together to identify storm drains in neighborhoods in need, or to improve the diets of folks living in food deserts through tabling and providing literature and samples. The list of potentially victorious options is long, and as wide as our imagination. But to make a real run at success, we will be well-served by winning some victories along the way.
Finally, and most importantly: we need to care about one another. At every meeting, we must connect as individuals and as a cohesive group. Making time at the beginning and end of every meeting to socialize helps create bonds which will carry us between face to face meetings, and folks who find they have things in common are more likely to work together to organize and build their way toward the victories that will keep them going.
Are you interested in activism in your community? Meetup.com, Facebook groups, and other social media outlets are fantastic ways to find like minds out there who want to work together for the best possible outcomes. If you think it might be fun and productive to volunteer with a cleanup, a movement, or a group who shares your political beliefs, take what Nike says to heart:
JUST DO IT. Find the group and go. You'll likely find that they will welcome you with open arms, maybe a bottle of water or some cookies, and hopefully, some tasks that will make you feel that your time is valued, and that your community is well-served.
And if you're leading or organizing, do it with respect for everyone's time, with goals in mind, and most of all: with kindness.