Helpful Hints for Revolutionaries
How to Form Your Own Activist Group
All right, something's really gotten under your skin. Maybe it's the local pet stores that sell puppies and kittens to people while homeless animals at the shelter sit in cages. Maybe you feel your blood boil every time a new circus comes to town. Then again, perhaps you feel like there's something your community could genuinely benefit from: maybe a vegan resource organization, or a group of volunteers to help out at the local animal shelter. It's true that an organized group of people working toward a common goal if often more effective than a single person working by him or herself, but sometimes it's hard to know where to begin. So let's get started, already!
Articulate a need. Ask yourself simple but vital questions and answer them as truthfully as you can. For example, what can you do that would bring the most benefit to the animals, the environment and your community? What can you contribute that isn't being addressed? If there is already another group addressing similar concerns, ask yourself how your group would be different, and whether it really is necessary. Perhaps there's a group already established, for example, that does animal rights education, and you'd like to do more direct action -- could you form as the activist wing of this existing organization? Joining with another group strengthens unity and can make volunteers easier to find. Then again, if you find that there are many groups doing work that is less potent than you feel there is a demand for, a new group may be what your community needs. Considering the strengths and weaknesses of your given community, draw up a list of questions and a succinct statement of why this new organization should be created. (Keep in mind that you may want to simply form a chapter of an established national organization, such as EarthSave or the Animal Defense League; the same critical questioning should be done, though.)
Branch out. Now you need to find others who will help to create and refine this vision. In a flyer that describes your new group - perhaps with a name, even one that's just functioning for the time - announce an open meeting and post it in cafés, libraries, college campuses, natural food stores and co-ops, and anywhere you think interested people might come across it. Take out a classified ad. Talk to your friends and their friends. Try to reach a fairly broad population. It's smart to find a meeting location that is accessible by public transportation, and one that has plenty of space that you can occupy without much interruption. You might want to have interested people RSVP so you can anticipate how many will need to be accommodated. Coffeehouses and restaurants are often considered, but in reality it may be difficult to meet at such places because you'll need to be able to take up some space and it may not be appropriate for a long, focused conversation. Libraries and other public buildings or people's homes are often good for such a purpose.
Meet. Plan a meeting with those who have responded to your announcement and discuss the need for your organization. Before the meeting, write out your thoughts about this group and your hopes for the gathering so as to be able to articulate them clearly. Detail the reasons why you think that this group should be created, and also why now is a good time. At the meeting, you can also share preliminary thoughts you've given to the group, such as a possible name, organizations you might be able to partner with, the activist direction you might take. Always engage those who have assembled by creating an open and friendly but focused environment. Ask questions and welcome feedback.Brainstorm with the group on what you'd like to accomplish and all the myriad ways of achieving that end. Try to begin and end on time. Running a meeting such as this is an delicate dance between adaptability and discipline...Over time, it will become more comfortable. Try to be Zen about it!
Carve out details that are agreed upon. This can be one of the more difficult or frustrating aspects of the work you are planning to do, but it must be done to avoid future conflict and bring your purpose into focus. One of the most important decisions that must be made is whether your group is non-hierarchical or has officers, for example, chairperson. If you decide to be non-hierarchical, it still means that people will have tasks they have volunteered to do: there can still be designations, but no one has more authority than another. It's mostly a matter of the comfort level of the group. Another very critical thing to decide upon is what will be your group's decision making process. For example, is it consensus, majority rule or "authority" rule? It's a good idea to read a bit ahead of time to familiarize yourself with the different models, their pros and cons. Additionally, agreeing on a mission statement or statement of intent is really important. Where do you fall on the continuum of ideology (for example, radical or more mainstream)? Other decisions that should be made are the best days and times generally for those in the group to meet, and how often you want to meet. It's generally a good idea to establish some regularity and try to stick to it as much as possible for attendance to be high. Keep in mind that these decisions often take some time to consider, discuss and debate, so this is usually covered over several meetings. Also, a chalkboard or easel with paper is good to have on hand
Distribute the tasks. Who is going to contact others about upcoming meetings? Who is going to set the agenda? Who is going to book the meetings? Who is going to take and disseminate the minutes (a really crucial aspect of record-keeping)? Is anyone savvy with the media? Visual image making? Be cautious of someone who wants to take on too much work: these people are often well-intentioned, but burn out quickly. Aim for an equal distribution of tasks. Set up a timeline; working from the destination (say 1 year from now) until the next time you meet is a good way of organizing it. Forming committees is a great way of getting the work divided out into manageable pieces. And remember: don't adjourn any meeting until you repeat the commitments people have agreed to.
By no means is this list complete, but it's a way to get started. Now - go out and get to work!
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