New and improved: the Anarchy!

New and improved: the Anarchy!

Meetings don't have to suck! Some thoughts on the anarchist movement.

If we – as a movement – take step back I don't think it's actually that difficult to see why so many people come to a few meetings and then never return. As I've gotten a bit older and my time is a bit more precious, I find myself getting more easily frustrated with a lot of aspects of anarchist organisations. I don't have kids, but I imagine if I did, all these things would be all the more pressing.

Anyway, enough with the whinging, here's my list:

Start meetings on time.

Some less-than-desirable aspects of the anarchist movement are probably unavoidable in the short-to-medium term. Pubs and cafes are far from ideal meeting spaces and it's quite a spoiled group that gets to meet at a building that's up to code. That's all probably largely unavoidable until our financial base develops a bit. What is avoidable is when we begin our meetings. A 7 o'clock start should mean a 7 o'clock start. And, granted, many people work and have responsibilities at home and are going to be late from time-to-time; this is meant as no disrespect toward them. But as a movement we'd benefit from the discipline that comes from sticking to a schedule (something that would hopefully carry over into other aspects of our organisations as well).

Chair with an iron fist.

It seems that no matter how often we meet, we always have more to discuss that can feasibly be achieved within the agenda. And – let's be honest – every group has at least one talker. Chairing is a skill. Some people are naturally good at it; most aren't. And I think that's largely because good chairing takes a directness which anarchists – generally friendly people with a concern for inclusion – aren't always comfortable with.

So, what can be done? A few minutes at the beginning of every meeting to explain chairing procedure is always a good idea. From there, setting time limits for each topic and for individual responses will need to become a normalized part of anarchist meetings as we grow as movement. Finally, co-chairing – where a confident chair pairs ups with a less experienced individual – seems pretty sensible.

Moderate the hell out of email lists.

Anarchists love email. Besides the bad habits this can lead to when organising with non-anarchists (face-to-face or a phone call always beat an email or text), it means that most of us have a perpetually full inbox. I'm sure everyone reading this has experienced an email spat that goes on for days or has been on a list or Facebook group where people send callouts, links, and petitions that are totally unrelated to the purpose of the group.

Despite the media's best efforts to portray us to the contrary, anarchism is not about a lack of rules. It's far more about who makes the rules, how the rules are enforced, and to what end the rules are made. The point being: having an accountable moderator with a wide mandate to keep lists focused and SPAM-free would allow organisations to use email in a way that facilitates practical organisation instead of hampering it.

Get organised.

Meetings are, no doubt, an essential part of a functioning democratic organisation. That said, not every decision needs a full meeting. Working groups with a defined mandate can work wonders to shorten the length of meetings, help orientate groups toward a practical focus, and develop a culture of both mandates and accountability. In this way, every member can be involved in at least one practical effort and wider meetings can focus largely on feedback from each working group.

On a similar note, a tight organisational focus allows individual organisations to become skilled in their particular area, while cutting down on agenda items. Plus, such a division of labour allows anarchists to join the organisation that most suits their needs or interests at a given time. No doubt there are a myriad of activities the anarchist movement needs to undertake – workplace organising, propaganda, theory and analysis, anti-eviction, copwatching – but I'd argue that particular organisations should focus on a limited sphere of activity. And, of course, communication and coordination between different organisations should be a given.

Learn from the Metro.

For those who may not know, the Metro is this terrible, terrible, reactionary tabloid given out on the London Underground. In terms of content and it's general disdain for the working class, the Metro has nothing to offer the Anarchist movement. However, what the Metro has figured out is how to write articles that can be read and understood quickly by pretty much anyone regardless of their level of education. They average paragraph is like 1.2 sentences long and written in simple, jargon-free language.

This needs to be our model for any public anarchist communication, be they leaflets of callouts. This season, dense double-sided communiques of 8 point text are out and bullet points are in!

So, my advice for the anarchists movement is to read Orwell's rules for political writing at least every six months and to never, ever, ever have more than 300 words on a leaflet. Ever.

This is not say there isn't a place for analysis. From Aufheben to Fighting for Ourselves, the modern anarchist movement should take some pride in our theoretical texts. But every text is not a theoretical text and the first rule of good writing is to write for your audience.

Don't be so obsessed with democratic procedure

I know this sounds crazy, so bear with me. Most of us join organisations because we want to partake in the class struggle in a practical way. Yet, despite this, we've all spent what feels like endless hours discussing local motions, regional motions, national motions, and international motions – some with accompanying discussion papers that run into the thousands of words. Worst yet, far too often such proposals, if they pass, never get enacted.

I'm not saying that anarchist groups shouldn't organise themselves on federal lines, only that our administration should reflect what's practically already happening on the ground. Often it seems we want to build a structure in the hopes it will facilitate action, instead of building the organisation first and then creating a structure to facilitate it on a wider scale.

Be prepared to deal with non-radicals

Recently, I've been lucky enough to be involved in some proper on-the-ground self-organised disputes with my workmates where we've been supported by a number of explicitly radical organisations.

It's been a steep learning curve. Things that, to me, seem like common sense in terms of taking action, publicising a dispute, or escalating a campaign are really, really big steps for folks in the heat of their first dispute. This is fine. As radicals we're probably going to have more experience – both theoretically and practically - in these matters.

But we also need to be able to take a step back and see things through the eyes of someone doing this for the first time. If our ideas are practical and well-presented, there's a pretty decent chance we can get our workmates on board (assuming they're on board with the dispute in the first place). But we do that by presenting our ideas practically, without the jargon and shorthand we customarily use within “the movement”.

This isn't a matter of hiding our politics I should add. Rather it's about ensuring our politics come through in our actions. In a dispute, it's our role to expand the struggle as widely as possible and try to push for the most militant course of action our workmates are comfortable with. There's plenty of time to talk about being wage-slaves and the extraction of surplus value later. And once we've proven our loyalty as workmates and our skill as strategisers, our workmates are going to be far more prepared to listen to us on the theoretical side of things.

Comments

JoeMaguire
Feb 14 2015 19:54

A lot of condensed experience and common sense there!

ETA There is probably something to be said about the limitations of email (ie it's not good for discussions or decision making) and it shouldn't be used to supplant real face to face meetings.

Noah Fence
Feb 14 2015 19:20

Good article Chilli!

I have a shitload of experience starting and chairing NA meetings which whilst they are obviously not political (although we expect exercised our autonomy in a radical way in an organisation that has been hijacked by the forces of capital) have certain parallels with non directive non exploitative democratic groups. I totally agree with your points here. Summing it up I would say that the most important things are to be punctual and reliable, to communicate any changes to meeting schedules, venues etc effectively and as a chairperson be welcoming friendly and calm but very firm if anyone starts dishing out shit. Also, sticking to the agenda is vital - in my experience digression almost always leads to a free for all.

Chilli Sauce
Feb 14 2015 19:34

Thanks guys! This one has been bouncing around in my head for a while, and I glad it gels with other peoples' experiences.

There's one other thing I'd wanted to add, but didn't in the end, but your experience, Webby, might speak to it as well. Basically, I think we need to be prepared for the fact that our workmates are going have prejudices and ways of expressing themselves that we're not going to feel totally comfortable with. I think having some idea in advance how we want to deal with certain ideas when they're expressed by our workmates or groups we're supporting is a good idea.

Basically, I think it's pretty similar to the last paragraph in the blog. There's a time and place to challenge things (and, obviously, some thing can't go unchallenged ever) and I think there's value, as a movement, thinking about when and how and where we challenge certain ideas.

Also, Webby, I'm surprised you didn't comment on this!

Noah Fence
Feb 14 2015 19:45

Chilli, not sure what you're getting at - I did read that article but don't see how it particularly relates to me? Or am I being a dumbass???

plasmatelly
Feb 14 2015 19:59

Sound advice! Personally I think it could be taken to be used as a Libcom introductory guide. I think your (Chilli) later comment about dealing with workmates and language/behaviour are pretty key, or key if we are to go beyond dealing with people who aren't bible carrying anarchist types. We should always challenge abusive language and behaviour, it's how we do it that counts. If we are only wanting a meeting of people who are in full agreement politically, then we can expect language and behaviour to be of a certain standard - but if that's what people always expect, then expect never to grow, never to have any real economic meaning, finding less credible reasons to challenge (for those who live for that sort of thing) - and becoming more and more unapproachable. Well done Chilli! And I especially like the title to this post!

Chilli Sauce
Feb 14 2015 21:17
Webby wrote:
Chilli, not sure what you're getting at - I did read that article but don't see how it particularly relates to me? Or am I being a dumbass???

The puns, Webby. The puns!!!

Noah Fence
Feb 14 2015 21:21

I'll look tomorrow - I'm working too hard and my brain is running at about 5% capacity.

Noah Fence
Feb 14 2015 21:40
Chilli Sauce wrote:
Webby wrote:
Chilli, not sure what you're getting at - I did read that article but don't see how it particularly relates to me? Or am I being a dumbass???

The puns, Webby. The puns!!!

Couldn't resist a look before the day draws to a close. This wanker's behavior really tears at the fabric of our society. If he doesn't pull himself together and pay up he should prepare to be hanged. We can't let him stitch up our comrades like this. Don't let him off the hook.

Chilli Sauce
Feb 14 2015 22:03

String him up, I say wink

boomerang
Feb 15 2015 16:45

Good stuff here! So good, I'm going to print it out as a double-sided, 8-point font leaflet and hand it out at the next rally.

br0wne
Feb 20 2015 21:12

I'm one of the ones who's been to a few events and meetings and never come back. Partly because I get hardly any time to attend meetings and I live a bit further out from the city. But also there's a lot to do with the points above.

I don't know personally many radicals, other than a few cp types and liberals who I tend to avoid talking politics with nowadays.

when I've managed to get non-radical friends interested and we've gone to an event there's always been the same issues. Lateness, weak chairs (with respect) and scope too far out of the context of the meeting.

As someone pretty much non involved in the movement at the moment, I particularly get frustrated with the endless "what is anarchism" conversation. Designed to get people and non members up to speed which is fine, but in my experience non radicals really don't give a fuck about what anarchism is, they care about and are capable of talking about issues and don't want to feel like they are going back to school.

Anyway, no replies, just my own thoughts and a general endorsement of the above.

Chilli Sauce
Feb 21 2015 14:44
Quote:
I particularly get frustrated with the endless "what is anarchism" conversation. Designed to get people and non members up to speed which is fine, but in my experience non radicals really don't give a fuck about what anarchism is, they care about and are capable of talking about issues and don't want to feel like they are going back to school.

YES!!!

boomerang
Feb 21 2015 15:35
br0wne wrote:
As someone pretty much non involved in the movement at the moment, I particularly get frustrated with the endless "what is anarchism" conversation. Designed to get people and non members up to speed which is fine, but in my experience non radicals really don't give a fuck about what anarchism is, they care about and are capable of talking about issues and don't want to feel like they are going back to school.

I also think this is a really good point. And this is coming from someone who thinks those "what is anarchism" conversations/workshops are very important. But keep that separate from the meetings! People go to meetings to plan actions, and I'd be annoyed if I was ambushed by that kind of thing. I'd rather get an invite to a workshop, which I can choose to attend or not, or have someone bring it up as an informal discussion while we're just hanging out.