A river that needs crossing political and tech blogs - On the political side, there is arrogance and ignorance, on the geek side there is naivety and over- complexity

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Entries with tag affinity group .

Grassroots media - Building affinity

DRAFT

In the last few posts I have looked at a failed organising strategy realmedia gathering, outlined a positive way out of this failer, the focused unconfrunce. But for wider understanding I think the content so far is lacking some background, lets look at an old post http://hamishcampbell.com/en/home/-/blogs/the-21st-centery here I outline how we ACTURLY organise alternatives rather than how we pretend/think/do, this is important for a good outcome.

Grassroots as it's very nature is small, we grow from this smallness like grass, savannah and wide plans, we have loots of entwined grass's making up the whole. From this distributed and federated ecosystem we compete with the monolithic traditional corporate media.

The link above highlights the ways we organise, only 3 have rarely good outcomes:

Open affinity group

Opaque affinity group

Invisible affinity group

The top is the best, the bottom for its limitations still works, the top is the hardiest to hold in place, the middle the longest lived, the bottom the easy fast/transitory root to social change.

With this understanding in mind, how are the all important affinity groups formed?

The Laboratory of Insurrectionary Imagination http://www.labofii.net/ spend most of their time forming such groups

Good squats form them, most successful direct action grows them like weeds.

The can come from workshops like LOII which lead to direct action, or from repeated direct actions. They can come from long term working relationships, affinity springs from people interacting around and in places of action, try to do something together and you will know who you have affinity with.

How would we use this knowledge to kick start the (re)growth of alt-media?

* We don’t organises speaker events with top down platform speakers – this is deadening.

* We don’t organise passive workshops were knowledge is thought one to many.

You seed events, with questions and processes then grow DIY

What we do do is get people to do practical things together were ever possible, most useful outcome happen from chopping vegetables in the kitchen than at a big hall event.

We have go rounds at the beginning, middle and end of every workshop were feasible. This is to bring confidence, but most impotently to allow each other to hear each's voice/sense and sensibility repeatedly over the weekend.

The practical workshops are were the afererty is formed into connections then networks.

Cross fertilisation is needed for grassroots growth this like pixie dust can be liberally sprinkled by thouse who have an art (hart) for it over the weekend.

The weekend will plant seeds, some will grow some will fall on fallow ground, the ones that sprout should be watered with publiserty, conections and funding.

The event should be rinesed and repeted in different areas/diffrent groupings and lifestyes etc.

The whole organic network is then held together by a the 4 open on the web. Do not fall into the trap of failbook at this point.

This is the first time I have seen tredtional media talking about this http://www.forbes.com/sites/stevedenning/2015/01/26/why-do-managers-hate-agile/

Organise the 21st Century

Lets look at how we acturly organise.

Garssroots alternative streams (and mainstream river with more complexity) can be split into a number of streams

* The horizontals

* The verticals

In the horizontals the organising is actually pretty opaque – lets look at the tributary’s

Organic consensus – this is rare and generally fleeting, a working example is the rainbow gathering, generally as the project settles into place organic consensus is replace with one of the bellow organising strategys. The organic nature comes form shared myths and traditions.

Bureaucratic consensus – common but this tends to be only a surface layer obscuring the actual working practices which would be one of the others. It leads to ossification, see late climate camp process as an example of this. A current project is looking likely the “edge fund”.

Opaque affinity group – the is a group of people who are doing it but you don’t know how or how to take on a role. A lot of alternative are actually run like this, middle/late climatecamp is an example.

Invisible affinity group – the thing just appears as if by magic – lovely as far as it takes you. Given time this will burn out and morph into one of the other forms. Early Climatecamp is a good example of this as is early Indymedia

Open affinity group – the is hope in this hard to sustain one an example would be the tech group at Balcoby anty fracking camp. These are hard/tiring to keep open “naturally” falling into a different strategy.

Then the verticals are more in the open

Democratic centralism (SWP etc) top down and corrupt, good for the nasty crew at the centre that can last a long time by draining new blood from the alternative. Big noise and little effect.

Bureaucratic democracy (NUJ) good as far as it goes but endless meetings and heavy use of cross subsidy to sustain the sluggish process, problematically reactionary dues to glacial adaptation to changes around it.

Career Hierarchy – most trade unions and the labour party, conservative and sluggish, can be captured by functioning opaque/invisible affinity groups and then used for their own ends – an example the new labour project.

Generally the way things are on the river surface bears little relation to the undercurrents bellow the surface. Almost all organising that achieves social change is by opaque or invisible affinity groups. The more permanent static alt infrastructure is Democratic centralism or Bureaucratic democracy. The parts that merge into the mainstream river are career Hierarchy.

We live in turbulent times, enjoy your ride on the choppy river.

Where are we - an example of what works

An example of what works.

At Balcome the anti-fracking camp last summer we built a “visible affinity group” to do the power and tech for the camp. This was successful in providing working off grid energy for the camp of more than 200 people for 2 months.

However it wasn’t with out problems and did fail to build on this success when the time came to reproduce this open working model at the next camps over the winter.

How we made it work, a time line:

* Clear the space of the dysfunction by imposing open working practice's.

* This opens the space for functional working which has been excluded by the dysfunctional pushy minority.

* Open working practices nurtures talent and energy the space growers and blossoms, good shit happens.

* A tiny minority of seriously dysfunctional individuals will actively try and destroy this flowering, some emotional violence will inshuew in process of excluding them.

* The wider camp will become used to a working tech space and normality will settle back into place, at its best this is rinsed and repeated for each part of the camp.

* People will start to forget the open processes as artificial, constant vigilances is needed here to keep openness relevant and in place.

* As the camp is packed down a open meeting will bring this amnesia to the surface as everyone has an equal voice and the focus (affinity) that created the flowering will be trampled under the widening of the groups members.

In the horizontal alt the are only two successful working practices, most organising happens by “invisible affinity groups” climate camp and RTS are examples of this. Rarely “open affinity groups” are also successful, examples would be early Indymedia and this tech at Blacome.

I love affinity group organising

A ruff DRAFT

I love affinity group organising, its a very effective way of getting good stuff done. Lets look at the highs and lows of a few such inspiring groups.

First 2 years climatecamp were affinity group organised (manifested), it worked very well, the was no “democracy”. Process grew and smoothed this in-till the project “ossified” into the naive mess that you see in the film “just do it”, it went down hill when bureaucratic consensuses process brought a highrahcky into existences run by people who had no idea how to do real/horizontal things.

The first few years of London hackspace were afferently group organised (hacked), it was a exceptional frendly and open space, with few fundemental problems. Only later has it started to fall into the arms of “bureaucracy” which some naive people might call democracy. The common space, decision making and creativity are now “ossified” and the trolls are breeding and dispoling the decision making e-mail list.

In both cases the transition came about because of the limitations of affinity group organising – that small close nit groups, while nimbale/very effective move on. The resulting spaces are then filled with less imaginative/creative/lovely people who leave the space open to trolls and blind ego wankers.

Affinity group organising is the best we have for anerkist/libertarian/horizontal ideas about life, but the is no working horizontal process for passing on responsibility to new affinity groups – thus they are annual flowers, they fade and die too soon to be a real alternative to traditional society. What can we do about this?

The same happened to UK indymedia, though that was also different in some ways.

Balcombe - anarchist and conservative

(DRAFT)

Interesting to think about the things you are involved with and the things you do. Important to understand am not talking about the sciences or polatics of fracking here, am lifting the lid to see what I can see under the hood of both camps.

I had been staying in the Balcombe Protection Camp (BPC) for a week and was walking back from spending a few hours at the climate camp (RCP) along the beautiful bridal way, this seamed to sum up my feelings about the two camps. "#Balcombe protection camp is conservative and anarchic #reclaimpower is anarchist and conservative, thoughts on #frackoff camping”.

In the BPC we had a dysfunctionally colourful collection of disparate groups with the stongist being different “conservative' voices. But the overall process was arcnerkic in a creative way. Then at RTP we had a very functional mono-culture over all young and progressive lead by a affinity group of ex-arnercists who now largely work for NGO's.

Why would I call both camps conservative? Looking at the ongoing power struggles of BPC it becomes easy to see that the strongest voices are thoughs who have the lest progressive agenda’s – underlining it all are the squirearchy, they have the hands and fingers on the money, media and web sites. Then the is there natural allies’s the disempowerd working class who control the welcome centre and share responsibility for the money. Added to this you have the family history of occupy who some how fill this country space...

In the climatecamp (RTP) we have a odd mixture of old school lifestay anarchists and new professionals moving up the NGO pole. The meetings are slick, and all the decisions are made before the camp starts – this works very well as a one off and with funding might continue. Though am not shore if the few remaining “anarchists” will continue with this? Excelent actions, soughted pro tredtional media team, food, power, tolits and grhate legal backup. What more do you need? yes... that is a Q. a few peopule were asking...

My second comment a few days latter “Came back from #Protest #Fracking with the feeling of a Brothel of media prostitutes and corporate (media) cock suckers. Where is the balance of the (alt) contemporary media today?” both camps are hungry for traditional media coverage, the seams to be little belief or understanding left for alt-media or even social media.

A reply from Richard Hering “Where is the alt media? You could start here and watch all the videos http://grassroots.visionon.tv/fracking and if you want the latest, embed the player in your blog or site...” is like a cry in the dark and is ignored by both camps.

So neither is very progressive, but both have space for much more progressive input, you can turn up at both camps and as long as you are not relying on centralised resources you can have a big impact so both are relatively open as progressive spaces. In this seance they are both still temporary autonomous zones in the old anarchic speak.

I would like to make alt-media really work at such spaces. Todo this you would need:

1) a sorted team of people (3 would be a start)

2) own solar power and basic equipment

3) a big tent/small markey/carport

4) a budgit for transport and expesise 

Then turn up and make things happen – we did this very successfully at Kingsnorth Climatecamp.

ClimateCamp Media

The Ratcliffe Swoop prosecutions caused a backlash against activist media that reverberated around the Edinburgh climate camp. We were not present at the Ratcliife Swoop, and played no part in the gathering of video there. When we saw footage posted of identifiable activists doing criminal damage, we were astonished, as throughout the history of video activism this has been an absolute "no no", without the express consent of the activists pictured. We immediately took this material down from visionOntv accounts where it had been posted, and told the Ratclifffe media team why we did so. Regrettably the footage was later re-posted by the producers to accounts outside of our control.  Having said that, as of writing, we have been unable to find out any details of the prosecutions and exactly which footage was used.

But as a response I (perhaps naively) thought it might be helpful to try to do consensus/affinity group process with activist film at the Edinburgh climate camp. To kick this off, we showed a sneak preview of END:CIV on the Saturday to a crowd of around 50-70 people which sparked off a good and respectful debate about aesthetic of activist film and the old spiky/fluffy debate about effective action. People came away challenged and thoughtful.

The next day after the action on the RBS HQ we showed the rough edit of it to get feedback and make sure it was OK to put out. It was enthusiastically received but there was also a very forceful verbal attack of “you must do this” “do it now, or you are endangering activists” and a refusal to answer simple questions about “why” in exchanges with one person. Finally, after some bad feeling, I found out that she had seen an “object for causing criminal damage” being held by one person in the film. OK, that is a genuine issue, so I agreed to look at it again. I asked her to show me where it was in the film but instead she rushed off to tell everyone that climatecamptv had refused to remove the “weapon” and that we were putting out films that were endangering activists. This led later to many different groups and individuals coming along to have their say over the next day about how the film should made.

See later where this led.

I had watched the film 3 times during editing for legals, and had shown it to to a number of other trusted people. After we had packed up the screening we looked at the “object” on the video and found it to be a plastic horn not an “object to cause criminal damage” at all. Humm... a storm in a teacup you would think, but read on.

Let's briefly go through it - the film of the action had a few legal issues.

* The pushing on the bridge (possibly assault) leading to the earlier dressing-up sections (unmasked) being possibly incriminating of this possible assault.

* We had no video of the breaking of windows (criminal damage) thus this was less of an issue in the film. Nor did we have film of any identifiable possible perpetrators.

* There was one additional shot which could potentially have been "creatively" used by police to prosecute an activist.

* The bridge-pushing was problematic as all the activists were unmasked, with all the FIT team on the roof and 3-4 corporate media TV/photo actively filming. Many photos/images would be available so on the one hand it was clearly done in the open, and therefore accountable. On the other, if they were charged, our video would likely be used in the prosecution, both for and against the activists. It's an issue we face many times and it unless we know otherwise we have to have to err on the side of caution. Without the opportunity to ask them whether they were accountable thus OK to show it or not, we decided to blur this section – rendering the need to blur the early stuff irrelevant as we now had no incriminating video of this “crowd” action.

The other potentially incriminating shot was removed, at the request of the individual filmed.

After running it past the affinity group made up of CCTV/visionontv crew and some trusted legal support we left it to a volunteer to polish the final edit for showing that evening before putting out to the web. In my experience you can never run a film past an audience too many times before it's finished from both a legal and an aesthetic point of view.

The day of action was very busy, and we were all running around filming. While we were out and about a number of people came in to look at the earlier action video being edited and asked the editor to make changes – he responede to their requests and made a lot of changes to hide and obscure many details throughout the film.

When we saw the film in the evening just before the screening we were shocked. Editing a film by committee is always a disaster and the film was now an incoherent and sinister mess making climatecamp look like a bunch of criminals. We now had a film we couldn't put out. This wasn't our volunteer editor's fault, it was a problem with the process we had begun but were not around to control. To top this, at the end of the day the editor had found the people who were at the front of the bridge-push and they had made it clear that they were unhappy being blurred out as it was the best thing they had done in ages. They were willing to be accountable for their actions, so we didn't need to thus put any obscuring in the finished film.

We now had to re-do the film from an earlier version. It was dark and we were late for the nightly screening, we had one computer to gather all the films up and convert then to the right format and re-edit this film – we decided it wasn't possible to screen the action film and concentrated on showing the other 9 finished but less exciting films we had ready. We started the screening with non-action films to cries of "we want to see the action". So an old version of the action film was rush-encoded and was ready half-way through the screening. Unfortunately this contained the ptoentially incriminating shot we had earlier taken out, and was screened to about 40 climatecampers. NOT good. Another person had a very solid go at us...

What did we learn from this?

Should protesters never trust any video/photo on an action OR should they trust video activists as THEY know what they are doing?

For me, not trusting experienced video activists leads to the very real danger that through bureaucratisation it pushes the working affinity group structure underground and renders it ineffective – the option of bureaucratic/consensus process isn't an option with film which is at its best a skilled creative story-based process.

But now we have to deal with the rumour mill which quickly churned around the "weapon" / plastic horn issue. Rumour has more power than truth when there isn't a functioning media. I heard the misinformation that we had put out footage of window-smashing weapons three times while leaving the camp to get home. And that's why I wrote this post as this rumour could distort the very real pro/anti-media debate in activism which needs to happen in a constructive way.

On the subject of social media and underground/wannabe mainstream film-makers/photographers, there are very real dangers that is the subject of another post.

How we create a better, just, world with the people that are currently in the world rather than some theoretical people or class

Some NOTES

It seems to me that after living through two explosions of protest DIY creativity, the CJB/anti roads movement and the climate camp are the examples am thinking about here. The are some lessons to learn. Both of these movements were “affinity group” driven at their core, that is a smallish groups (or interlocking groups) of friends – trust networks. They then built out into much wider community’s and movements.

Both were successful as long as this core – renewed itself – and rapidly fell apart when the core did not. In the case of the climatecamp the was a failed conhuse attempt to continue the organising in a open – bureaucratic - consensuses based way. Were the CJB flowed into the more political focused anti-globalisation movement – which burned out in the violence of summit hoping before becoming bogged down in the hierarchical infighting of the social forum movement.

Some thoughts:

1) the is an instinct for bureaucratic and hierarchical organising which is to strong to resist if the isn't a core healthy affinity group in place. Any successful group is likely to end like this if we take the second point into account.

2) Activist culture and affinity group forming has a strong (possibly necessary) tendency to exclusivity by lifestylism. This will exclude much of the diversity that is necessary for real sustainable changing community – be it in age, class, background, gender etc.

3) This puts a very real limit on the possibility of grassroots alternatives with the real people and cultures we are working with now.

4) the flow and use of the digital process may have a way round this by activity streams, self tagging and profiles – but this would have the cost of universal surveillances and transparent working practices – so would be a brave group of radical people to take this path in the face of possible state and corporate repression.

Where are we? Within its limits affinity group organising is fertile ground, but we need to build things out beyond these limits if we want a more humane society based on this grassroots organising. Current people, cultures and working practices do not do this yet ideas for changing this?

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