Thoughts on alt organising from 2007

This isn’t a statement of truth more a way to help look at a recurring problem, and to help active participants to mediate the problem to a better outcome.

It is to do with the sort of people who get involved at each stage of an alt-project’s development. This is of course a generalization as people do fall into more than one grouping and shift between groupings during the project. Written from 10 years of direct practical experiences of the many different alt-groups that share the same dynamics.

First to look at the terms used:

Getting things done people

Are more interested in things happening than the process, though their process, as far as it goes, tends to be good otherwise they wouldn’t “get things done”.

Working people

Are the unsung heroes who do much of the work but receive little recognition. They are the “sustaining” core of any alt/project.

Bureaucrats

I am using the term in the positive sense to mean those who create and can work in structures. They solidify the project and thus sustain it, but when caught up with the “theorists” (who they are attracted to) and the “life stylist” groupings, they can institutionalize the dysfunctions as much as the original function.

Theorists

Are a troubled “category” in alt-projects. The “consensus decision making process” tends to marginalize them as nobody has a “larger say” than anybody else. So their input, whether good or bad, tends to be submerged into “lifestyles”. Theorists who have come through any of the first 3 categories should defiantly be listened to with positive (but critical) ear. However this rarely happens as, as with the sort of “critical input” you are reading now, they have a tendency to come across as unfriendly to the majority of the project at stage 7 (the gathering) when these voices are most needed.

Life stylists

Grow out of the “hangers on” and are drawn to any open successful alt-project. At their best they “metamorphose” into one of the other categories and sustain the project. A sustainable alt-project has a clear and open way of facilitating this transformation. (or on the other side/more regularly is a functional closed project which also helps to keep the lifestyle drain to a minimum)

Project time line

1) “Getting it done” sort of people with inner drive start a project.

2) Soon mixed with “working people” and the few “bureaucrats”.

3) “Getting it done” people start to specialize into parallel projects. The weight of the project starts to fall onto the “working people” and increasingly the “bureaucrats”. We start to see “theorists” coming out of the first 3 categories and coming in from outside. “Hangers on” start to gather and a pronounced “lifestyle” side to the project begins to emerge.

4) The “getting it done” people start to burn out or move completely onto other projects. The “bureaucrats” start to be central to sustaining the project supported by the “working people’. The “lifestylists” start to form into groups around the “theorists”, and the “working people” are drawn into these groups.

5) The project is at its height but also starting to decay. Hopefully it can stay at this plateau for a period. The core project is the bureaucrats supported by the “working people” who are not fully caught up in “lifestyle” groupings. The lifestyle groups hopefully give as much energy as they take, but they are starting to exclude new “working” and “getting it done” people until the project starts to become dysfunctional.

6) The few remaining “getting it done” people with the longstanding “bureaucrats” and “working people” start to react against the decay, which sparks a debate amongst the “theorists” and “lifestylists” which generally paralyses any affective action to rejuvenate the project. The “bureaucrats” and “getting it done” people, alongside the majority of groups, call for a gathering to attempt to rejuvenate the project.

7) The gathering suffers from “the tyranny of structurelessness”, leading to a renewal of good will, but the consensus of the gathering exclude the “getting it done” and long term “bureaucrats” as they feel they cannot impose their view on the group. The consensus is created by the “life stylists” and “theorists” who have no or little experience of “getting things done”. Thus generally achieves little and refuse to even see the root causes of the project decay.

This process repeats itself with more or less success for a time depending on the particular nature of the project. For only practical action will keep the “bureaucrats”, “working people” and the now distant “getting it done people” engaged.

One of the parallel projects started by the “getting it done” people then draws the “working people” and “bureaucrats” that haven’t burned out into a new cycle. The burn-outs return to mainstream organizing/life.

This has been an attempt to give people a glimpse into the churning activist world, and help them make informed decisions on how sustainable to get involved – I hope it helps in small ways.

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