There are a set of (hopelessly optimistic?) assumptions underpinning the toolkit.
We assume that most people who come to a meeting, or sign up to a newsletter, are genuinely interested in being “part” of the group’s effort to make the world a better place.
(Yes, they overestimate their availability, their skills, their interest. After all, we’re all human, full of mysteries-to-ourselves, contradictions, inconsistencies.)
We assume that most social movement organisations genuinely do want to have new people come in, stick around, contribute to the group’s.
(Yes, there are some that have decayed or actually-never-became-functional, that act as petty fiefdoms and friendship networks/cliques. These awful organisations, not really interested in developing new capacities and connections, but in maintaining a petty status quo, do exist. But they are not/need not be the majority.
We assume – on the basis of decades of observation and participation – that many groups lack the absorptive capacity to keep the new people they attract for any length of time. They lack the skills of project management, mentorship, of enabling legitimate peripheral participation.
We assume that among the reasons so many groups go up like a rocket and down like a stick are the following
- a lack of any achievable short-medium term goals and a ‘theory of change’/mechanism to get there
- a lack of ability to have strategic discussions about what the skills, knowledge and relationships needed to achieve those goals are
- a lack of ability to conduct an audit of what the group currently has
- a lack of ability to create a viable plan for closing absolute gaps and single points of failure, meaning a group is unable to become “resilient” (awful bloody word. Trojan horse for neoliberalism).
The Toolkit is, in part, a way of making it easier for groups (and to a much lesser extent individuals(1)) to cope with these lacks, to overcome them.
There are other reasons for failure – issues going away (the road does or doesn’t get built. The war does or doesn’t happen), co-optation, repression, key individuals (yuck) screwing up. The Toolkit can’t do much about issues going away, but for the rest, used in the right way, we assume it can make a contribution.
(1) We do no believe that individuals are units of social change. Yes, there are brave, smart people, but we ain’t holding out for a hero, we don’t need another hero. What Noam said –
“The way things change is because lots of people are working all the time, and they’re working in their communities or their workplace or wherever they happen to be, and they’re building up the basis for popular movements. “
“In the history books, there’s a couple of leaders, you know, George Washington or Martin Luther King, or whatever, and I don’t want to say that those people are unimportant. Martin Luther King was certainly important, but he was not the Civil Rights Movement. Martin Luther King can appear in the history books ‘cause lots of people whose names you will never know, and whose names are all forgotten and who may have been killed and so on were working down in the South.”