Category Archives: our doomedness

Infiltration and environmental movements – what is to be done? #ExtinctionRebellion #climatebreakdown #spycops

The future is not written, but there are several excruciatingly safe bets about the years ahead.

  • atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide and methane will continue to rise
  • poor people will suffer the resultant impacts of #climatebreakdown hard and first
  • the state will try to suppress social movements which seek to do anything about rendering these first two bets less safe.

By “suppress” I mean at best ‘guide’ and ‘channel’ towards market- and elite- friendly ‘solutions’ that leave the broader architecture of global society (inequality, consumerism, authoritarianism,  rapacious disregard for other species and future generations etc.) unchanged.  At worst, the gloves will properly come off and the fine words of liberal democracy (freedoms of speech, assembly, information) will be replaced with (in the words of Steve Buscemi)   force majeure and enough AI and predator drones to make Black Mirror look like Love Island.

The infiltration of social movements and political parties by state and corporate actors (the line is fuzzy) straddles ‘suppress’ and ‘gloves-off’ .  In the following short (1) essay I first point to some sterling recent work on infiltration of social movements, political parties and so on in the United Kingdom. I then raise-only-to-dismiss various responses we could, in theory, undertake to make safe the bet that our lords and masters will respond as they always have. I make a couple of personal commitments before finally, laying out – with practical short and medium term steps-  what “we” can do about the certainty of infiltration and disruption efforts.

This is a first draft. I welcome all comments which are not troll-y or off-trolley. I am particularly interested in suggestions of fictional representations of the impacts on social movements of infiltration/disruption by state and/or corporate actors…

What does history tell us?

For yonks the two “core” references on how the British State dealt with dissent were Tony Bunyan’s The History and Practice of the Political Police in Britain and Bernard Porter’s Plots and Paranoia: A History of Political Espionage in Britain 1790-1988.  (I’ve not read the first – the second is brilliant, if inevitably incomplete). There was also fiction like “A Very British Coup” and the like to talk about how the state would respond to radicalism.

Since the exposing of Mark Kennedy in 2010, the revelations have come thicker and faster, thanks to the tireless work of activists, journalists and a whistleblower.  Two Guardian hacks wrote a very readable and thoughtful account, Undercover [review here]. Most recently, there is the crucial work of Connor Woodman.  The three must-reads are his recent blog on the whys, and hows of state infiltration, which is based on two reports he has produced

(There are many other excellent works, also on corporate spying – see Eveline Lubbers on this, but for now, let’s move on.)

Stupid things that we “could” do.

There are three stupid things we could do.

  • We could give up and stay home. This would doing the state’s work for it.
  • We could fail to react or under-react, shrugging our shoulders and failing to innovate, thinking that surveillance and its consequences are inevitable and inescapable.  This would doing the state’s work for it.
  • We could over-react, and treat all new people at meetings as guilty-till-proven innocent, demanding to visit their homes, see their birth certificates, meet their kids,  with a little waterboarding and acid-testing thrown in for the lulz. This would doing the state’s work for it.

Responding in the “right” ways…

Obviously we don’t want to under or over-react, but instead hit the ‘goldilocks’ point, of not too hot and not too cold, where we don’t do the state’s work for it and make the state have to work a little bit harder.

This involves understanding that surveillance and infiltration is not primarily about gathering evidence to put people on trial.

  • It’s about finding out who the leaders are (and there are always leaders, whether they are willing to acknowledge that and be accountable, or whether they hide behind the feeble rhetoric of horizontalism, hoping nobody has read Jo Freeman).
  • It’s about finding those leaders’ breaking points, tipping points, how they might be bought off or burnt out.
  • It’s about finding out which are the fragile relationships and connections within and between social movement groups, and about disrupting those relationships by fostering distrust and antipathy.
  • It’s about making it harder for new people to get involved, and harder for those involved to stay involved.

In short, the purpose of the forms of intelligence gathering (“elint” “sigint” “humint”) is to create and deepen distrust, and  to exploit informational and organisational bottlenecks, to demoralise people and decrease the momentum towards policy and cultural change which would piss off those who benefit from the status quo.

What I will do in the next three months

Here’s a public commitment to do some specific things (nothing like sticking your head in a noose to stop yourself, er, hanging around). I’ve collected a bunch of articles and books about infiltration/surveillance of social movements, because I am presenting a paper about the usefulness (or otherwise) of fictional representations of infiltration/disruption at an academic conference in April.  I commit to blogging about the papers as I read them, and blogging about the novels/movies I will be write about in  the paper. I commit to making a youtube video about infiltration, its consequences and what to do. And, obvs, I will put the paper up somewhere not behind a paywall.

What is to be done? How? Short and medium term actions

Finally, in this short essay, I want to lay out some things that individuals and groups can do in the short to medium term (1 to 6 months).  And, yes, I am also going to bang on about the urgent need to challenge the pathologies of social “mobilisation” organisations, one of my favourite hobby horses.

A few banalities first.  We must realise that

  • while there is such a thing as healthy paranoia, paranoia can be fostered as a weapon used against you.
  • people of colour and women have been on the sharp end of this stuff, and their experiences (and resistances) have much to teach us all.  These people must not be wiped out of the history they so often are (COINTELPRO vs Nixon’s “Enemies List” for example).  See, for example, the experience of the Mangrove Nine.  By all means enjoy fictional representations, but you know, usually the work of black folks, and black women especially, mysteriously gets forgotten.
  • it’s necessary to identify and cultivate academics and researchers who are working or have worked on this stuff.  Their work can be turned into comics, youtubes, short speeches (but for Gaia’s sake, give them credit!). For example, Connor Woodman’s blog could be printed off, illustrated and copies given to new activists.
  • it’s necessary to support activists doing further research (Undercover Research Group) with time, praise and cash.
  • it’s necessary to educate yourself on what to do if you suspect someone is either an agent, an informer, an agent provocateur.

 

Depathologising the “movement”

There is much more to be said on this subject (I am a bit of a bore).  But I think the discussion about infiltration could be used as a springboard to talking about the need to reshape our social movement organisations and  “activist”cultures so they are both resistant to infiltration (2) and less easily affected/damaged by it, and are able to grow, learn, organise and win in ways that previous waves of activity (as opposed to action) have not.

So, finally, around this question of refusing to recommitting the pathologies, some don’ts.

  • Don’t accept the smugosphere
  • Don’t accept organisations where it is always the same person (of whatever gender/age/ethnicity etc) chairing, and no effort is made to cultivate new facilitators by giving them portions of a meeting to facilitate.
  • Don’t accept meetings which don’t include agenda points along the lines of “how do we learn from past mistakes in activism?” and “how do we better connect with and support other groups working on related issues in this town/city?” and “how do we ensure that people who get involved in our group have the opportunity to learn new skills, knowledge and relationships, while sharing their own as they wish?”
  • Don’t go riding on the emotacycle; even if you have leathers and a helmet, you’ll get hurt.

emotacycle

  • Don’t accept leaders, whether announced or unannounced, without transparency. Accept leadership, if it is transformational collaborative and working hard to render itself unable to be co-opted or repressed…)

The job therefore is to be “realistic” while demanding the impossible

The job is to create resilience within individuals and BETWEEN individuals and groups (resilience rightly understood), so that connections are made, sustained and spread, more than can be broken by the behaviour of disruptors, infiltrators and agents provocateur.

Easy-peasy. Should be done well before the waters close over our heads…

 

Footnotes

(1) I intend to expand on it, as part of a broader project aimed at explaining how western social movement (as distinct from mobilisation)  organisations don’t have to repeat previous mistakes, unless we want to, but that not repeating requires active and difficult continual choices). The future is not written and all that…

(2) I suppose I could go off on some immune system analogies here, but that is possibly not helpful

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Hope, false hope, stupid hope and #climatechange: From Paris to Extinction (Rebellion)

Here’s the tl:dr – The Paris Agreement and Extinction Rebellion are two sides (or symptoms) of the same coin, i.e. the suspension of critical faculties by people who know better but are in desperate search of reasons to be hopeful about our grim meathook future….

Back in 2015 I wrote a piece about the Paris Agreement called Why the hype over Paris and #COP21? Politics, Psychology and Money.  I predicted that within two or three years the whole thing would begin to run into the sand. It was not the most risky oracling that I ever did.

I said that there were three reasons people who ought to have known better were hyping the wretched thing. While these intersected and overlapped, I subdivided them into psychology, money and politics.

On psychology –

Firstly, climate change is bloody depressing, and if you’ve chosen – or are paid – to think about it, it exacts a toll. You get grumpy, demoralised, angry, whatever. And mostly you get the hope kicked out of you year after year after year. The UNFCCC process has been one of repeated let-downs, since the first COP in Berlin in early 1995. You have to go all the way back to the Rio Conference to get any stirring words about large-scale ambition and equity. (e.g. article 2)

On the money –

Secondly, financial – lots of the non-governmental organisations that are usually more critical of this have pretty delicate finances of late, and if you’re reliant on guilty middle-class people sending in direct debits, you have to frame your critiques ‘just so’. NGOs are in the business of monetising hope. They need to keep middle-class people signing the direct debits. Thus “world leaders just need to be held to account, and combined with some New Technology, everything will be okay” is an acceptable message to send out in the aftermath of COP21, whereas “this agreement is too little, too late – middle class lifestyles like yours have caused the problem and have to go for us to have any chance whatsoever of avoiding total apocalypse” is … not. People on the receiving end of the second message are less likely to renew their direct debit donations.

On the politics – well, it was about not wanting to lose momentum –

They on some level know that there will be a counter-attack from the denialists and the fossil-lobby, so they want to talk the Paris agreement up, building its credibility.

More recently, applying the same knowledge of history, the same personal experiences of how things turn out in social mobilisation organisations, I’ve written a fair bit about Extinction Rebellion.  There was this one, and this one and this one. (By the way, I think outfits like Extinction Rebellion should be called social mobilisation organisations rather than social movement organisations, unless they happen to stick around for a few years and do actual movement-building, as opposed to repeated mobilisations).

The response has been, basically, underwhelming. The major strand that doesn’t try to engage with the (friendly) critique but instead say “critiques not welcome, you should get on board and cheerlead” or “hmmph, you just want to be the leader” or “prediction is ridiculous.”  None of this is surprising, but it is kind of like the Lewis Law  (“Comments on any article about feminism justify feminism.” .)

So, if your response to the rest of this article is along the lines of “have you even tried to get involved/been to a meeting?” [fwiw, yes, yes] or “cheerlead, don’t lead and shut up“, then please save your time and my bandwidth and keep your useless response to yourself, ‘kay?  If you think I am wrong and you can say WHY I am wrong without changing the subject/resorting to ad hominems, then by all means, engage.

The Ominous Parallels between Paris and Extinction Rebellion

  • Come after a long history of failure which is then ignored (leading to a high likelihood of history repeating – or at least rhyming) (The UNFCCC process has been staggering on since 1991.  Climate activism has a similar provenance.)
  • Hyped by people who ought to know (and I suspect DO) know better, but can’t afford to voice their concerns for psychological and social reasons – and the chilling effect of what happens to other people when they voice concerns is part of that).
  • Has the function of allowing people to take a hearty suck on the Hopium pipe
  • If criticised, the response of proponents reverts pretty quickly to brittle defensiveness and straw-manning/subject changing, with a bizarre reading of past failures as success.. Rather than engaging in an understanding of the critique, the “this is the only game in town” line is trotted out.
  • Focus on voluntary action/voluntarism. Paris is just the old Japanese “pledge and review” warmed over. Extinction Rebellion is just the RTS/Climate Camp critique of formal NGOs dialled up to 11, with higher numbers compensating for less of a core experienced group [meanwhile, Reclaim the Power, a Climate Camp successor organisation presumably has its nose well out of joint re Extinction Rebellion’s media profile). Voluntarism relies on social pressures. Social pressures are not uniform over time, space or class.  There is a real problem with free-riding and accountability.  In the honeymoon phase, this is glossed over, but the chickens do eventually come home to headlessly roost…

 

What is to be done?

I have written endlessly about how things could be done differently as well as making videos about it  (see also videos new person’s experience of meetings and newbie in a parallel universe) . And these ideas are applauded and then ignored. I am not alone in this of course.  But if you are going to comment on this with a “well, where are your concrete ideas” then don’t bother, because you haven’t bothered to do any research.

  • Er, actually engage with the substance of critiques of Extinction Rebellion
  • Understand that throwing around words like “decentralisation” and “holocracy” doesn’t actually add up to anything new at all. It’s new whining in old bottles, basically.
  • Understand that the information deficit model, and the hope deficit model, have been tried before, and that they quickly become opportunities for (self-appointed and unaccountable) leaders to indulge in a little light/heavy ego-foddering.
  • Understand that busyness is its own reward but also its own punishment, and that activity and action are not the same thing.
  • Understand that its very unlikely indeed that Extinction Rebellion and other social mobilisation organisations will be immune to the problems of incompetent/malicious leaders, overcommitment by followers (and lunchoutism), burnout, co-optation and repression, and that “hoping” it will be different is not, in fact, a strategy. Hope is not a strategy.  Building up false and unrealistic hopes is actually irresponsible, and dangerous.

 

In essence, this: we can accept that past social movements were shit on some things. For example, suffragettes and race (as well as class, but let’s stick to race for now).

“The racial split became glaringly obvious in 1913, when the white organizers of a major suffragist parade in Washington ordered black participants to march in the rear.”

That’s okay if it’s safely a century  ago –  we can wag our fingers and shake our heads. If it’s more recent, and we are more culpable, well...

 

What might have been, but wasn’t

How it could have been

  • (Starting on time instead of fifteen minutes late)
  • Having someone clearly identified as welcome/way of making sure people who don’t know anyone know where to come to etc.
  • Having a note taker

 

Introductions Pairwise.

“Sit with someone you don’t know. You are going to find out their name and what, for them “success” (either individually or for the group) would mean in 6 months’ time?”

Then do that, with everyone introducing someone else.  Get the definitions of success written up on flipcharts, divided into personal, group, movement, broader public, other actors.

“Thanks everyone for coming.  This meeting has four aims. Firstly, everyone who is here gets to meet and talk to everyone else.

Secondly, we start to think about what success would look like in six/12 months across five categories – individual, the group, the wider “movement”, the general public and in relation to other actors (local government, regional government, national government).

Thirdly, we will come up with lists of resources – and resource gaps – that we need to achieve those

Finally, it will try to look at specific next steps if there are ‘urgent’, short term things that need to be discussed/decided.

“We’re going to do a lot of small group work, in twos or threes for two reasons. First, because that helps you meet other people. Second because if we stay as one big group, about a quarter or a third of the people will dominate.

“First, briefly, to get ourselves in the “mood”,  we will work in small groups – ideally threes, to  look at what has gone well so far, and what hasn’t gone well/what has been problematic.  We will feed back on that.”

[Feedback on positives and negatives, but keep this relatively short]

“Now on your own for a couple of minutes, reflect on what it would take to for you to be MORE enthused, MORE engaged than you are now, in activity x and this group six months from now.  Would it be new skills, new knowledge, new relationships? Something more? Something else?  We’ll report back on those, if you want, but you are also allowed to keep your own success criteria to yourself – just say ‘pass’.”

[report back, brief discussion, but move on before getting bogged down]

“Next, in different small groups (introduce yourselves to anyone you don’t know), we’re getting into the key questions. There’s flipcharts, please write down short and clear sentences

  • Six months from now, what does “success” look like for this group? 
  • Six months from now, how has it helped a wider movement of groups and individuals to communicate and co-ordinate with each other? Bring in your experiences so far – how can we amplify the good, minimise the bad?
  • Six months from now, how has it engaged with broader publics, both face-to-face but also via the internet and other activities?  Bring in your experiences so far – how can we amplify the good, minimise the bad?

We don’t have time today to talk in any detail about relations to the local government, regional government, national and international government, but there’s a flipchart over here for you to put your thoughts on.  We are going to need another meeting for that, though, since not everyone here knows enough to have a meaningful discussion.”

 

[Give groups fifteen to twenty minutes to do this]

“Now we’re going to hear back from each group.  When your group reports back, please only say things that the other groups haven’t.   We will then have an unprioritized list of success metrics for the next six months, and some sense of what we all agree on.”

 

“Okay, now we’ll have a ten minute break.  If there are things that you think we HAVE to discuss today, please put them up – in a succinct sentence – on this flipchart.  We’ll discuss them straight after the break in case anyone has to go.”

 

After break

Firstly, discussion of “urgent” decisions (upcoming events, need for different promo materials)

NB Urgent meaning major opportunities will be missed/demoralisation if something cocks up.  Urgent does not mean “the thing I am currently most interested in talking about.”

[this will probably take longer than it should, and you need to either get decisions quickly or defer them/delegate them]

Secondly, “Right, so, now we’ve identified what success would look like at the “within the group”, broader movement and “facing the public” levels, let’s split into three groups, based on that – whichever you’re most interested in – , to look at what resources are needed to achieve each of those.”

“You have ten minutes to come up with the list of resources required.  We will then spend five minutes on each level collectively, throwing out names of individuals and groups with those skills/knowledge/relationships/resources.”

[ten minutes followed by report backs.

Conclusion

“So, to recap, we’ve covered a lot of ground.  You’ve met everyone else in the room, thought about what ‘success’ would look like six months from now at the individual, group, movement, broader public levels.  We have NOT talked about the position that the group might take towards other actors such as the local government.

“We will type up all these minutes and put an account – without any individuals name attached to any points [e.g. Chatham House rule], and posted on the website.  When we hold these sorts of meetings in future, we will make sure to make it easier for those who can’t physically come to have some input too.”

 

And….

#Lessonsforme. Don’t agree to facilitate after a meeting has started.  You don’t have the status or cool to cope, so  keep your fucking ego in a box and don’t imagine you are able to salvage a fucked situation. You DESERVE to be punished if you try.

 

12 years a slave to the rhetoric

[Update 13 Jan 2019: hmm, this blog has been put somewhere on facebook and had some click throughs. Could someone share the link in the comments? Curious to see what/if any comments. ALSO, this latest post on this site may be of interest- “Infiltration and environmental movements – what is to be done?“]

 

It’s twelve years since the first climate camp, in the UK. Twelve years since that outfit decided to camp its way into a trap of its own devising. This year, the IPCC released a report saying we’ve got 12 years to have completed a transformation of our energy systems/economies, or else you can kiss goodbye to the Holocene (and of course, the IPCC is a small-c conservative body: the reality is far worse).

Anyway, we’ve also seen, this year, in the last 12 weeks or so, the giddy rise of “Extinction Rebellion” (hereafter ER). The people I’ve spoken to, who have memories going back to 2011 or 2006, compare it to Occupy or to Transition Towns respectively. The words “flash in the pan” get used by others; me, I prefer “Up like a rocket, down like a stick.” But we’re so short on hope these days, that people are willing to suspend their critical faculties, and chide anyone who keeps them. So it goes.

Fwiw, I think there are huge dangers to the millenarian rhetoric (see Jonathan Atkinson’s points in this), the naivete about the British state and the work that would be needed to keep it vaguely honest and,  besides the clunky Overton window, ignorance about the basics of social movements literature (though much of that is worth ignoring, of course).

So what will happen? Well, prediction is a mug’s game of course. Call me a mug.

On the way up, ER will – I suspect – effectively be inadvertently chugging for Friends of the Earth and other culpable/complicit/comedic organisations. These beneficiaries of ER’s work will get invited onto the airwaves to give the “reasonable” (i.e. craven eco-modernist) viewpoint, while being asked to distance themselves from the “irresponsible” “eco-loons” of ER (who understand – and are willing to say – just how much trouble we are in).

er trajectory-page001

If (I think when) ER peaks/implodes, then on its way down, some erstwhile ERors will pass through those very groups, on their way “out” of activism. Some may stick around, but not many – their mindset, experiences etc will simply not a good fit for those organisations, that eschew millenarian thinking. Others will try to create new organisations, some of which will survive.

This time it’s different

Of course, as investors will tell you, the four most expensive words in the English language are “this time it’s different”. It may be that the words of the scientists cut through, and that the “12 years” meme gets more traction with Jane Public. If the UK hosts the 2020 COP, that will sustain the wave for a bit (the opportunity for a good emote on home turf), and the Met will be grateful for all the overtime. But

a) fear sends people into inaction more easily than action. Or into religious salvation narratives.

b) ER will need to play a blinder, and from the (limited) evidence I’ve seen, I don’t think it has the capacity to do that, or even the awareness that it lacks the capacity. It has a few repertoires, that it is imprinting on (it’s early days of course, things may change!). Most organisations stick to those initial repertoires, and if people want to use others, they have to form different organisations, with all the costs that that entails (exit, voice and loyalty and all that).  Meanwhile, the effectiveness (both internal and external) of the small set of repertoires, well, it has a half-life, a shelf-life.  Externally, opponents learn how to counter it, internally, it stops giving the same ‘buzz’ and effervescent/bonding affect/effect.

Of course, I hope I’m wrong, and there are things that could be done to make this trajectory less likely , but probably won’t be.

Ehre heads. On the (f)utility of theory

Short post but hopefully not a shitpost.

Went to a thing recently.  There was a good ‘sweeping overview’ history of the twentieth century around Keynesianism/neoliberalism (though it undersold the importance of ICT and containerisation for my taste).

Halfway through I scrawled to a colleague “Five quid says he says nothing/has nothing to say about ‘what is to be done?’. ” I later added ‘hundred’ and then ‘thousand’ between the five and the quid.

Safe bets.

Yes, Paris is dead/worthless. Apparently small nations might be able to do something by appealing to local ‘patriotism’  and ‘honour’  (in German, that’s Ehre) around carbon emissions reductions.

(They haven’t, and, um, free-rider, but never mind).

My actual question would be – How can you give a forty five minute lecture about the future – and specifically ‘the breakdown of systems’ – without mentioning environmental degradation and pressures even once?  Why is that a good and productive thing to sit through.

Answers on a postcard to the usual place

Anthroposcenic  Anthropological gits and shiggles. #moraledrain #oldfartclimateadvice

IMO, we need a new word:  The Anthroposcene.

Defined as: the space (scene) where everyone who uses the word  Anthropocene unself-consciously (without finger-wavy ‘air quotes’) gathers to exchange book recommendations, memes, attention, credibility etc.

And where everyone who has just woken up – thanks perhaps to the IPCC’s 1.5 degrees report – to the fierce urgency of …. 30 years ago, when climate change first got some public attention.

The Anthroposcene is, of course, full of scenesters, all of them believing that they’re the cool kids, and everyone else is a pale copy, hipsters, wannabes, drones and followers.  Each has their own take on how we get here, on what has to happen next, what will happen next  While busily chasing grants, clicks, bums on seats, and whatever else passes for metrics in these imperial days.

“What’s my scene?” indeed

Sigh.

Right, enough tossing off word salad.  On with the show.: Anthropological gits and shiggles.

In the temporary absence of she who knows better, she who must be obeyed, I seem to have recidivized into a filthy and tawdry habit, which after momentary ‘pleasure’ leaves me feeling hollow and sordid.  I refer, of course, to … attending meetings.

This week I went to three, count ’em THREE, when old me, better me, wiser  would have steered well clear. I even paid good scarce money to attend one of them. Still, I’m not completely beyond redemption, at least I had the good sense to walk (not flounce) out of all three, before the end.

Two of these meetings purported to be about network building.  Er, no, not really.  One I had higher hopes for, but these were dashed fairly quickly.

Did I learn anything? Yeah, very little bits and pieces, but nothing that was worth the time drain, and, to be brutally honest, the MORALE drain.  I lay in bed this morning, next to/under cats, rather than walking around the park with a backpack full of books, which makes me feels good, and is slowly getting rid of lard.  Why? Because the week’s worth of accumulated despair that even our so-called progressive/radical/democratic/radical/artsy people  can’t break free from stale repertoires which we KNOW, from endless bitter experience, DON’T WORK.  The full force of the state will come down on us all soon, especially if the Extinction Rebellion crew get their wish and a climate-state of emergency is declared.  The window for doing things differently is already small enough, and yet we seem unwilling, or – scarier still – unable to see how to do things differently.

Specifics, I suppose, are demanded of me.  So I will do it as mostly a series of ‘don’t’s.  Yeah, yeah, I know you’re supposed to frame your suggestions positively, but life is too short etc etc.  These are from the three meetings.

  • DON’T imagine that giving people name badges and asking them to say where they are from is in any meaningful way discharging your responsibilities, as organisers, to facilitate the formation of loose connections. Seriously.
  • Round tables are such a cliché.  I realise I wrote about this years ago [footnote 1], but don’t assume that round tables make discussions easier.  And just because there are round tables, doesn’t mean that you’re not actually sat in rows, being ego-fodder. The host/organisers of your event will want to blather on about themselves. That first 20/25 minutes that they do that will set the (wrong) tone for the day.  Seriously.
  • Maybe learn from the plea of People of Colour activists who ask white activists not to centre themselves and their emotional needs.  And take that into our own meetings?
  • You want a network, you believe in democracy, activism, networks.  Great. Don’t tell me (for 25 minutes). Show me.  Get us DOING it.  There will be time enough for your  organisational ego-needs to be met later. And if there isn’t, well so what?
  • Don’t have us on the tables answering the questions that YOU set.  Find ways of finding out what the people in the room want to discuss. It’s not rocket science. It’s open space.
  • Don’t put the “how do we build a movement”  stuff at the end of the day, when everyone is tired,  bored, having to leave. If it’s the most important thing of the day, then is should be threaded through the day, and should be headlining, no?

Oh, there’s more, but I already wasted enough time and energy GOING to these wretched things, and more again writing this blog post. And none of us is going to live forever.  A decade might even be a push, if it all unravels as quickly as it might.

So, in the very very unlikely event that I ever drag my sorry fat arse to another “network creation” event, here are 10 predictions which I will turn into a checklist and then blog against.

  1. They will give us name badges and ask us to point on a map where we came from today. This won’t be used in any meaningful way (i.e. facilitating connections between hyper-local people), but will give the all-important appearance of giving a damn.
  2. There will be round tables that we are sat at, as if this is somehow inherently democratic.
  3. The day will start with an overlong explanation of why we’re here (we know) and an advert for the host organisation and/or the venue owners. This will suck (up) at least 30 of the first, crucial, 30 minutes
  4. There will be a q and a after that, but no opportunity to discuss among ourselves our questions/thoughts, so the q and a will be dominated by usual suspects.
  5. We will be asked to respond as tables to questions set by the organisers.
  6. There will be a video-vox pop booth, a honeypot for narcissists, and an opportunity for the organisers to show how cool and democratic they are.
  7. There will be minimal (zero) attempt to effectively connect attendees on the basis of their stated needs and current abilities (no skill/knowledge swap shop, for instance).
  8. The ‘how do we build a network?’ question will be raised, but only given any time at the very end, when some have left (physically or mentally) and everyone is tired/looking at their watches. It will not, therefore, be anywhere near as effective as it could have been, but some flipcharts will be filled with different coloured scrawls, which looks good in a blog post about the event, so that’s alright then
  9. Integrating people who can’t physically be there will not be done in any meaningful sense (or any sense whatsoever), despite there being, you know, information technologies that would make this possible.
  10. If you raise concerns/complaints about this, you’ll be disregarded as pathologically negative and negatively pathological, or something. Who cares, frankly.

 

 

Footnotes

  1. From here:

In the Bad Old Days of Industrial Capitalism, where nature was not respected, venerated and Valued, then we would have been sat in rows, listening to the various big cheeses at the front telling us that while there were some problems, everything would be alright as long as the current system was refined and tweaked.

badolddaysIn the New Collaborative Days of post-Industrial Capitalism, where nature is most definitely being Valued, we sit… at round tables, with some of us having therefore to twist around on our seats to listen to the various big cheeses at the front telling us that while there are some problems, everything will be alright as long as the current system is refined and tweaked.

We have swapped a system that was at least honest about who talked and who listened for one which is uncomfortable for some, who have to pretzel themselves in order to fit, but with the same underlying result.

Will #ExtinctionRebellion end up as #chugging for Friends of the Earth?

So, sitting with two very clever friends this morning, spit-balling ideas of where the whole Extinction Rebelliion thing might go, this came up:

It’s possible that Extinction Rebellion, if it keeps the same set of repertoires (blocking roads, disrupting meetings etc), may end up not moving beyond the students and retired who seem (I have not been at the London stuff) to be making up a fairly heft wodge of its demographic.  The biographical availability here is ability to get arrested without huge immediate financial/career risks.

So, in this scenario, where ER’s repertoires and prospective participants stay the same, the following could possibly happen: ER puts the issue of climate breakdown squarely on the political agenda (where it should have been since, oooh, 1988).  A lot of busy/unavailable guilty liberals who let their direct debits to Friends of the Earth and/or Greenpeace lapse during the Global Financial Crisis say to themselves “Gee, yeah, end of human civ. Kinda puts the whole school fees for Tarquin and Cressida into context. But I can’t afford – in any sense – to get a criminal record. And who has the time for interminable activist-y meetings? So, um, I’ll give some money.”

And who would they give money to? Probably FoE/Greenpeace and the rest of the reformist gang that ER has so far only gently chided.  Thus, ER’s efforts may end up reinforcing the mainstream groups, being particularly spikey chuggers (for non-UK people: chugger is a contraction of ‘charity mugger’ – street solicitation for direct debits)

UNLESS (and it’s a big unless), ER morphs or creates offshoots to harness the other (non-financial) energies and potentialities of those middle-class types, this seems to me a likely outcome (but icbw).  There are some straws in the wind that suggest this morphing might be attempted.  Whether it is possible or not, well, that remains to be seen.