Social change doesn’t just happen. It’s a result of the continued and dedicated work of commited people striving for justice and peace in the face of adversity. The end result is reached by the continued work of groups of activists, discussions, training, reflection on previous experiences, planning, experimentation and learning from others, sharing best practice. Preperation for this work and for social change is key to it’s success. There have been numerous tried and testedsuccessful approaches to this and there are many more in progress. There is no definative recipe for success when engaging in action or campaigning for change, there are however numerous vital and helpful resources out there to aid and assist when looking at putting a successful plan together. Drawing on the experiences of of groups in the wider context can add depth and weight to any proposed plan of action and enhance your chances of success. At the heart of every campaign there lies the resourcefulness and commitment of the activists involved and the quality of the message with which they reach out, a message that may raise questions about the current state of play, stir people out of resignation about what is or may happen, attract support, or demand a decision that will affect either their or others lives. One of the central notions of campaigning is empowerment, a sense of how you can make things happen, especially when connected to like minded individuals. Together we stand!!!
There are many dramatic images that spring to mind when you hear the word ‘Activist’. This is one of the benefits of activism, the ability ot dramatise an issue is a key strength in campaining for change. It raises awareness of an issue that may otherwise have passed unoticed, however, this drama doesn’t just happen, it gestates within groups of activists, discussions….etc.
Within any group there will be a need for training, open discussions, group excercises, debate and empowerment of all involved. There are many issues that must be ironed out prior to any campaign lauch and must be done as effectively and as effitiently as possible before any public launch. I hope that this blog is of some help to any others out there who are involved in, or looking to start a group or join a group. Any information on here can be used and adapted to meet the needs of individuals looking for basic information.
First of all I’m guessing if you have got this far, you have a general interest in activism, campaigning, advocating for social change, and making some kind of change happen, or you may be looking at stopping something from happening!! Perhaps you are just interested in seeking out an alternative to current situations, hostililty and civil unrest and researching ways and means of beginning to address issues that are close to your heart. This may include deprivation, social exclusion, oppression, political ignorance or a number of other issues that are current…take your pick!!! People have different reasons for advocating for change and will look at different levels of involvement to raise awareness. Any support is better than none when engaging in any form of campaigning for change.
One thing that everone embarking on a course of action must be aware of is that there will always be differences in understanding within groups and these differences must be looked at and discussed openly before taking the next step, this kind of issue if not respovled can result in complete humiliation and disempowerment before even the first hurdle has been approached. Ways of approaching this within a group environment would be to provide an open platform for open debate and discussion at the earlieswt convenience of all group members. If this is not resolved this could severely influence the demands and negotiating strategy adopted by the group, which would affect the overall result of the campaign.
All campaigns should be based around theattitude that you are, on the whole, an expression of the future you want to create and your overall behaviour must always reflect your overall goal.
YOU ARE INVOKING FUNDAMENTAL VALUES THAT THENSELVES ARE A SOURCE OF STRENGTH FOR YOUR GROUP AND A POINT OF CANTACT FOR THOSE YOU WANT TO REACH!!!
Three principles that strengthened a campaign are…
1. You must foster trust and solidarity within participants in the campaign, they must always be put in touch with the sources of their own power to enable a unified act in any given situation. Many individuals do not realise their own assets or creativity, or how constructive they can be when trying something new. Asset map all members of your group and match them to their assets.
2. In relation to your adversary, your overall goal is to inhibit your adversary and any action that inhibits those you represent. Your aim is to undermine an oppressive institution or individual by breaking down their pillars of power. Rather than look at your adversary as an inanimate object, create possibilities for them to rethink their policies anf strategies.
3. In relation to those not already involved, create a quality of communication open for all bystanders or ‘outsiders’ This creates an open forum for any interested individuals to explore your policy, be transparent in all your actions and this creates a platform for potential allies to your cause to show their support, join, or indeed show their disdain, all are options for growth and renewed options for strength.
There is also a recognised mechanism for change to use against those in opposition…
1. Conversation: Some issues may be resolved in simple discussion, always give you opposition the option.
2. Coercion: Sometimes convincing your opposition that your views are right and a unified voice rather than a humble opinion can coerce your opposition to stand down and enter into productive discussion with your group.
3. Accomodation: Sometimes an adversary wil look for a way to accomodate your campaign, to make a consession without granting everything that you are actually campaigning for, this is a way of them being seen to be sympathetic without relinquishing any power beholding to them.
4. Disintegration: This is when an adversary loses so much legitimacy during early stages of campaign that they have little or no capacity to renew or reinstate themselves in the face of the people power stacked against them. Hence they disintegrate.
All approaches are equally valid and none should be undermined in their value. all should be explored and discussed within your group seting as a build up to your campaign. Your adversary will decide which plan of action would be best suited in being who they are.
I would firmly advocate for a set and comprehensive training package for every member old and new within your group setting. This will ensure that all your members are unified and have a full understanding of the aims and directives of your group. Training should include analysis of issues,envisioning alternatives, action planning, evaluation of actions, and numerous other group specific requirements. This will increase the impact of your group and help them to function better in action and also to cope better with the risks and problems that they may encounter along the way. It also helps to expand your horizons by creating a free space for those involved in your group to bring their own valuable input to the training seeions which allows the training to become presonalised and more specific to your group. This promotes a safe place to test out and develop new ideas or to analyse and evaluate personal experiences. Training sssions also provide and support individuals with a common understanding of the use of specific tried and tested actions relevant to their campaign.
ALWAYS MAKE SURE THAT YOU MAKE ALL RELEVANT RESOURCES AVAILABLE DURING TRAINING SESSIONS TO SUPPORT YOUR GROUP!!!
Trainers should have good group process skills and an awareness of group dynamics. It is the role of the trainer to make sure everyone participates and feels able to share insights and experiences. A full understanding of the campaign and it’s overall direction and end game. If the trainer identifies that there are those among the group who have limited or no experience, they may use case studies and excercises to enhance group learning. And above all the trainer must be sensitive to the needs and styles of the group.
Potential topics for discussion within the training session could be based on ther history and philosophy and practice that supports the current issues that are the aims of the groups drive and also the same of their adversary. Strategy development, decision making, roles within the group both before and after action, legal and media work and how it can be used to the advantage of your group.
Most groups of individuals come together for a specific cause or with a specific theme. This can range from friendships and beliefs to being forced together by oppressive policies and procedures. Even an individual stand may rely on the support from an external or autonomous group to begin their journey and support them in their initial first stages. This could result in a future coalition that may benfit all those involved and add a more diverse and powerful voice to your group. Strong groups will remain together, work well together and strengthen each other individually which inevitably gives your movement strength. Groups can come together for numerous reasons, what is important is that they are fully understanding of the aims and objectives of each others overall aims and objectives.
STRENGTHENING A GROUP
There should be a major importance attached to a group and the way it functions as a collective and, it’s public functioning and it’s attitudes. This in itself can be a never ending source of conflict. Resource in setting up and recognising early stage strategies can by found by researching ‘COGS LADDER’ avaluable resource.
There are balances to be struck within your group environment between those who want to get out there and take immediate action and those who want to have total clarity before taking action. This is a regular occurance in groups and must be discussed fully prior to any action or argument of a case in public. Also there should be a full and open discussion as to who the group are trying to reach and the forms of action that should be considered, how the group function and organise themselves. Every group has to find it’s own way and overall direction. If teh group has a lot of energy and initiative, sub groups may be set up to carry out specific roles and actions, this will reduce the risk of inner conflict and also reduce the risk of the group being pulled in different directions. All this needs to be recognised as a source of strength rather than a block to creativity.
Your group must always be formally adverse to attrcting new members and making them feel welcome, also open enough to encourage new members to contribute. This raises issues of cultural diversity, oppresive behaviours, class, race and gender dynamics and of power within the group. These issues must be dealt with appropriately within a supportive atmosphere.
To summarise effectively a commitment to the campaign must at all times take priority to other issues arising, however, this in itself includes a full and comprehensive understanding and clear cut pathway for all those who may request membership at any level of connection with the group and it’s cause. Always be aware that some forms of activism are more effective in specific situations than others and choose your proposed route carefully and as a collective. Respect all members views and incorporate them into your directive. Regularily check in with all current members as to their welfare and focus and always remain transparent in all aspects of your campaign in order to enhance your membership and public support.
THIS IS A GENERAL GUIDE TO SETTING UP A FOUNDATION FOR YOUR GROUP I HOPE THIS IS HELPFUL AND WISH YOU ALL THE BEST ON YOUR CAMPAIGNS WHATEVER THEIR AIMS AND OBJECTIVES. IF IT IS AIMED AT CIVIL AND SOCIAL CHANGE FOR THE BETTER THEN YOU HAVE MY BEST WISHES AND SUPPORT.