Affinity groups – small groups with folks who know each other, trust each other and take high-risk action together – don’t just form spontaneously or quickly. Getting it wrong can land lots of people in more trouble than they were bargaining on.
|Able to take part in straightforward and accountable non-violent direct action without putting yourself or others at risk through any actions and inaction||Able to take part in complicated accountable non-violent direct action in conditions of uncertainty without putting yourself or others at risk||Able to take part in a complex fast moving direct action, perhaps coordinating with other affinity groups, where the aims are ambitious and the risks are also high.||Able to plan and implement campaigns that involve the use of NVDA as a tactic that “works” – achieving stated aims without demobilising and dis-empowering new and established activists through burnout, futile battles|
Element Overview Essay
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The reason affinity group formation is generally so haphazard, is that people don’t really understand what an affinity group is. It’s not a friendship network. It’s not a bunch of warm bodies who happen to be available on any given day. It’s a group with the members who have an affinity with each other, that has been built up, over time through experience through discussion, etc.
The consequences of affinity group formation and maintenance being done badly is the whole concept which is a useful one gets devalued. And people assume that an affinity group can just be magic together after a couple of emails and with a couple of exhortations. But an affinity group has to be able to function under conditions of high stress with limited time, either sticking to an existing plan, or modifying it and staying within the capacities and limitations and vulnerabilities physical, legal, moral, spiritual, economic, of its members as per previous agreements,
The fixes are to take the meaning of affinity group seriously, it is more than just a sexy slogan and to do the long, slow, hard work and have people join affinity groups only when they’re up for it. And here we might quote the Rosemary Randall thing from her novel Transgression. (see review by Sarah Irving here)
Clara wanted desperately to be one of the groups who would occupy the power station itself or at least be one of those who locked on to the gates outside. She could not accept that the groups undertaking these tasks had been preparing for months and that she lacked the experience to take part.
“They’re really tight groups, you can’t just join at the last minute, you’d hold them up, you’d get hurt…”
“So it’s a hierarchy.”
“No, it’s about preparation and experience.”
“You mean exclusion.” She could hear the unfairness in her voice but disappointment made her continue. “You pretend that there’s this flat structure but actually there are people at hte centre like you and people on the fringe like me.”
(Randall, 2020: 63)