Element Descriptor

Groups with the same words in their names may have very different perspectives on the causes of the problems they are both campaigning on, different styles of working, and different end goals. Add to that there is a competition for the attention of the media and the support of “The Public”, and often personal grudges, well, expect problems. Not admitting or preparing for those problems is one of the quickest ways to catastrophe, besides Business as Usual capitalism.

Level descriptors

You can identify some of the basic patterns of friends, frenemy and enemy between groups on ‘the same side’, and are able to defuse some of the day-to-day flashpoints. You can look upon your OWN group and position with the perspective of others.You can spot and explain all the patterns of tension between groups, their frame wars, their points of overlap and turmoil. You can get them to get along when it matters, with a certain amount of guile and negotiation.You can spot tensions and potential tensions between multiple groups working on very different aspects of “the same problem”, the likely flashpoints, teh different positions which will be staked out, the slurs that will be thrown. You might even be able to help resolve those conflicts before they burn everyone to a crispYou can do everything an expert can, but across languages and activist cultures.

Element Overview Essay

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Social movement organisation exists usually always in relation with other social movement organisations, which are tackling the same issue or related issue, which are bigger, smaller, newer or older, more institutionalised, less institutionalised, have the same frame, you know, “information deficit”, “reform the system educate leaders” “mobilise the public”, or “smash the state and replace it with our state.” Of course, that’s the hidden subtext. Or “oh fuck,  it’s all too complicated but I do know that if I have a protest in the field and smoke some weed and maybe get arrested, then I’ll be displaying my virtue.” You know, not to be pejorative or anything. No, no, not at all. Okay. 

So these groups exist in dynamic tension with each other. And there is collaboration and cooperation. But of course, there’s also competition, and jealousy and rivalry. And the causes of this is that of course, each group thinks that, more or less, if everyone will like them, the world would be a much better place. Some of the groups believe that they have the life and the truth because some 19th century guy sat in the British Library, and they are the suppositories – I use the word advisedly – of his perspective. 

And so there will be jealousies about other groups recruiting more members or, “better” members, getting their names in the newspapers. getting the attention of leaders and having meetings with them being used as a figleaf for often because that’s why else would a senior politician meet with a citizens group when they could be sticking the snout in the trough and talking to people with the real money. 

Now, the cooperation comes when you know there is a common enemy, and you can all agree to a nice three word slogan. But then even within that, of course, there are going to be enormous tensions as groups struggle for primacy, and various underhanded dick moves about holding endless meetings, both endless in their length of an individual meeting and the number of them till enough of the less available less committed people withdraw. Then you can stack the umbrella body with your people, hold a quick meeting, take a vote, call it a democratic mandate, and then use the umbrella group to try and funnel people into your particular brand. Of course, this is an entirely theoretical, entirely hypothetical, this would never actually happen in real life, stop the war. 

So the causes jealousy, envy, believing that you are the way in the light in the truth, the consequences are that groups spend famously more time fighting each other splitting each other forming, quote, circular firing squads, unquote. 

And the real hard work of challenging power and of movement building and of making a set of civil society organisations that are tuned Numerous two well connected to independently minded to resist is not done. “The only group we hate more than the People’s Judean  Front”…

Which brings us to what do you do about it? It’s fine to sit there and to know about it, but what are you gonna do about it? Well, obviously, forewarned is to a certain sound forearmed. And you can. 

And I would advocate this: decline to be actively involved in any big umbrella group, because they are, they’re always going to be individual groups trying to take over and you spend all your time stopping them and none of your time doing the stuff that you came to do. Think of it as not really much better than the useless consultation the politicians want to drag you into in the endless advisory panels. This is just the sort of activist equivalent. 

How else are we going to collaborate and coordinate? Well, we’re gonna have looser relationships, looser convening. And if the media keep insisting on one person, one organisation being the spokesperson, well media’s gonna media to channel my inner Taylor Swift  You just get on with the real world stuff doing your stuff. 

The next thing to say is to expose  it, expose it and comment on it as it is happening and to educate other people who are a bit more naive. Now, when you do this, you will probably be accused of being “sectarian.” Sectarian is one of those wonderful words that only ever applies to other people and pointing out the tawdry power games. It’s not sectarian, it’s a service to the movement and for the wider public. So don’t let anyone bully you into silence with the smear sectarian. 

And finally, get on with making sure that your group is as good as it can be, and that it actively supports or passively supports other groups that are trying to do good stuff without worrying too much about the big set piece things which are full of brittle, brittle egos of individuals and institutions, organisations. 

And as ever, good luck.

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