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(en) US, WSA - Ideas & Actions - 3 Ways Organizing With Friends Can Lead to Failure
Sun, 28 Jul 2013 07:51:24 +0300
Sitting among a group of college aged friends that all dress and talk in the same way is a
recurring scene in activism and organizing groups around the world. In large part,
organizing takes the form of a few people trying to rally their friends around a cause.
These practices are counterproductive to creating welcoming organizing spaces. ---- I’ve
been in all types: organizations that were started from friendships, groups of people that
later became friends after working together (which is better), and most recently a group
that I have a few friends in but most of the people I work with I just consider comrades.
Meaning once in awhile we go out for beers after a meeting or action but socializing
doesn’t go much beyond that. The latter of the three works best to promote a healthy
This article will examine the reasons as to how leaning on our friends to take a role in
our organizations can become problematic.
1. Organizations that have a membership based around a group of friends are unwelcoming.
In friend groups a culture develops: inside jokes happen and friends start to reflect each
other’s styles. Groups of friends tend to be homogeneous, belonging to a specific
subculture. This is natural, because we want to be around people that validate our
interests and beliefs. This means we often share the same tastes in music, sports,
fashion, and so on. But our goal in creating broader social movements means that we not
only have to look towards engaging people outside of our social sphere, but we also need
to create welcoming spaces for people that we may have nothing in common with except the
project that we’re all interested in. It’s incredibly difficult to create these spaces
when organizations start as groups of friends. A newcomer interested in the project will
quickly notice who is friends with who and who has influence over who. That new person
will feel left out in realizing that influence in these friendships spills over and
dominates the decision making process and power dynamics in the organization.
These types of organizations are identified with the social scene which its members make
up. For example, there might be a group made up of solely of hipsters around the same age
from a specific university, or solely of crust punks, or solely of diehard Seahawks fans.
These groups are going to be unwelcoming to people who could never see themselves as being
like those people.
2. Another problem is that friend drama spillover gets in the way of effective organizing.
The health and culture of these friend/activist groups are very much linked to health of
the friendships of the people involved. For example, friends date each other, they break
up, and friends take sides. Organizing spaces that aren’t dominated by friend groups are
less susceptible to friend drama spillover because others in the group are likely not to
stand for the distraction. There is also less of a possibility that this will cause the
friends who are involved in the conflict to leave the organization because the
organization is perceived to exist outside of the friend sphere of the people involved.
3. Many of our friends who consider themselves politically minded are just not as serious
about organizing as we are. Oftentimes, attendance at meetings is more motivated by the
social aspect than an actual desire to make revolution. The motivating force behind
recruiting our friends is the idea that by adding bodies to our group will somehow make us
more successful, and that by leaning on these people to attend our meetings it will
increase our groups capacity and power. This line of reasoning doesn’t work. A group
filled with friends can often lead to unreliable members which puts pressure on the
reliable organizers in the group to babysit. Babysitting leads to burnout, and burnout of
the solid organizers within the group leads to group failure. It’s better to put zero
effort into retaining these unreliable people. A group of three reliable people will
function better and accomplish more than a group of five with two or three “reliables” and
the rest being flakes.
This isn’t to say that people who have a lot going on in their life shouldn’t be able to
participate and be involved. Levels of involvement will always vary and we should make
space for people with families, illness, or other reasons that leave them with minimal
time to contribute. Unreliable people are something different altogether; they are the
people who say they will do something and repeatedly don’t follow through or require a
phone call meeting reminder to even show up. It just so happens that often times these
people happen to be the ones with the most time on their hands.
Why do friendship groups so often dominate our organizing? It’s because they are the
people that we have the most access to. Going out and doing real outreach and engaging
people that we don’t know and are different than us is scary at first. It takes work, so
doing this in teams is a good way to alleviate some of this fear. The simplest thing we
can do to change the friend activist group culture is to not lean on our friends to join
our groups and actively seek out self-starting organizers who are interested in the
projects we want to work on. Start with two or three people instead of five unreliables.
You will have better results.
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