I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill Last Night
November 14, 2016 7:08 PM   Subscribe

I am apparently organizing some sort of neighborhood solidarity/anti-fascism meeting. I have literally no idea what I am doing and there's an overabundance of resources and uh I have anxiety so I am coming here for some hand-holding.

Basically, our neighborhood is both as at-risk as you can get for the sort of people being targeted right now and and excellent candidate for solidarity just because of the immense amount of diversity in walking distance.

I posted to a bunch of local neighborhood facebook groups to see if there's any existing organizations and while there are larger ones (a local politician is having antifascism/solidarity rallies but they get booked up real quick) and ones targeted toward particular groups, there's no general neighborhood one it seems. A bunch of people on one of my posts were interested in the idea, someone suggested some venues and I am apparently the one who will be trying to organize this.

I'm relatively confident of my ability to get a bunch of people into a location at a mutually-agreed-on time and place (thanks, IRL subsite!) but I have no idea what to do then. We're all scared, for ourselves, for our neighbors, we're restless to Help, and we're apparently pretty inexperienced. There's probably going to be some wide political swings (even Trump voters, with whom I have been having extended and occasionally fruitful conversations about neighborhood safety and so on!) and unless someone speaks up, I'm going to be leading the meeting. I have no idea what I am doing! I know plenty of the history and philosophy of organizing/solidarity/etc. but it's boots on the ground now and I am worried. I also have pretty intense personal politics and this is going to be about coalition building which I've maybe not invested a lot of time in.

Did I mention I have anxiety? Because that makes all this seem a lot more overwhelming.

Specific resources (i.e. i can google "how to organize a solidarity" meeting myself), do's-and-don'ts, personal stories, ideas for coping with being the lead on something like this with anxiety, literally anything that helps will be appreciated!
posted by griphus to Human Relations (7 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
I thought 8 Steps To Organize Against Trump — Starting Now by Jacob Plitman looked helpful, enough that I'm going to bring it with me to our own local "Let's do something but what?" meeting.
posted by lazuli at 7:31 PM on November 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

You'll do great, I'm sure!

I do a lot of event planning, and have done several work-related public speaking engagements this year (not usually my thing). When I have to do stuff like that (which makes my anxiety rise), the one thing that's always helped me has been to break everything down in a list, and then try to do just a little piece at a time. If you look at everything that needs to be done, it's easy to become so overwhelmed that you get paralyzed. But if you break down tasks into tiny, manageable pieces that you can work on one at a time, then it's a lot easier. I usually start with a huge list of to do items that will slowly get winnowed down and refined. I find that paper lists are easier to cross off/re-arrange than trying to do it on the computer, ymmv.

Could you arrange for a small group of the most interested and capable seeming people in those FB groups (less than 5 people is ideal, ime) to sit down and do brainstorming with you, and to help you develop an action plan and program for the event? People that could then be counted on to help you with pieces of the implementation? Not being afraid to ask for help is key, and when the load is spread among more people it's not so heavy a burden. Also, having more people provide ideas is almost always good.

When you do your action plan, start with your ultimate goal. What are you trying to accomplish? Is it to just show solidarity and encourage everyone to stand up for each other? Or is it to get some sort of tangible outcome, like a public endorsement from a local public figure or starting a call-in campaign to your representative? Agreeing on a goal and keeping it in mind will make it easier to make decisions, and will guide you as you develop your plan and to-do lists.

Don't forget to include some of the people you are showing solidarity with in the planning and execution of the event. If you can include some in the planning session would be ideal.

Thank you for doing this in support of marginalized groups. Best of luck!
posted by gemmy at 8:31 PM on November 14, 2016

I think keep it simple. At the meeting determine, with the feedback of attendees:

1) What your goals are.
2) What action or actions you will take as a group to achieve those goals
3) Who is responsible for the tasks that will feed into the next action

I am trying to do some big scary stuff lately, and while I was bemoaning my lack of leadership experience another activist told me "Eh, no one doing this leadership stuff has any idea what they are doing."

Another piece of advice I got from a more experienced organizer was to remember that other people in the room all care and want to do something - trust that we can all come together and figure it out.

Gemmy's ideas are great.
posted by bunderful at 8:34 PM on November 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

Here my experience.
1. Have an agenda and ground rules and stick to them. Make it the first order of business to go over thm and ask people to agree.
2. Let people talk. Unless they are rambling or provoking, then shut then down. If you're not comfortable doing that have someone who will. A principal, pastor or mediator. Someone with experience in doing it effectively and calmly.
3. Invite local officials, your county rep or whatever or their staffers. Send them the agenda and ground rules at least a week ahead of time.
4. Have immediate action items. The easiest one is to ask people to call their representatives. Have flyers with the info prepared. Have some slides showing how effective it is to do so.
5. It sounds like you want to keep the group alive and move forward. Schedule time to discuss this, have an Easley or PowerPoint so note suggestions then have the group vote in them. Stick to a small number maybe 2 short term and 2 long term more amorphous ones. Like the short terms ones could be a local resolution adopting tolerance or 25 people confirmed to call their reps on a given date.
6. Ask for volunteer to work on the group's goals, a somewhat formal leadership group.
7. Schedule another meeting that day.
8. Establish a process for the group to formally endorse actions, at the beginning this should be widely inclusive
9. Have a sign in sheet and a way to follow up and communicate with members. Set a limit on the types and amounts of emails or calls and keep it short.
10. Get a Facebook page going.
11. Don't be afraid to stick to your guns regard ing the types of action the group will eagage in. Have clear rules.

This is a good way to
posted by fshgrl at 8:46 PM on November 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

My suggestions for an agenda are:

1. Relationship Building (organizing is just a fancy word for relationship building. Ask people to share something about themselves. What are they fearful about? What are they hopeful about? What are three values they hold most dear? You could ask people to break up into pairs and then bring people back together and have people introduce the other person they met... This could take 20-30 minutes depending on how many people are there
2. Do some community asset mapping. Bring a bunch of post-it notes and ask people to write down some of the important and positive institutions and people in the neighborhood (churches, businesses, people). Also ask people to write down the issues they see (broken playground equipment, drug use in the park, no good grocery store). Put them on a wall and see what patterns and themes emerge. Another 20-30 minutes
3. Then ask people to think about how they can engage the strengths to build a stronger sense of community and safety. Break people into small groups for brainstorming and have people report out.
4. Write the suggestions on big pieces of sticky papers and do some voting to see which ideas have the most enthusiasm behind them. Maybe choose 2-4 to actually pursue.
5. Come up with some next steps to move those ideas forward, delegate responsibilities for moving those ideas forward, set deadlines for making progress, set a time (two weeks later) for the next meeting.
posted by brookeb at 9:20 PM on November 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

Congrats on doing this! In my experience with local community groups, getting people committed to attending is the hardest part and you've achieved that. The initial steps are pretty much like planning any other meeting. How many are you expecting and for how long? Does the planned space have adequate seating and ventilation? Do you need an audio system? Water? Coffee? Space for children? Pens? Notepaper? Tissues for emotional moments? Is there someone who can commit to co-leading* that night?

"Recent public discussions helped us all recognize the need for solidarity, organized outreach and community safety" is the theme. For a first meeting of a cross-party group, specific political words such as "Fascism" and HRC or DJT's names are never said in accusation by you and are redirected if said by others---at this stage, the goal is community solidarity. Keep the meeting moving in a positive way and do not get caught up in post-election talk---especially if the meeting is only for 1-2 hrs.

Develop a brief intro and flexible agenda around the solidarity, organized outreach and community safety theme. For the first meeting, focus on who's there/contact info, common purpose and some quickly achievable goals. Maybe plan an intro/breakout/reconvene agenda. After establishing common theme and purpose in the intro, use 5-10 minutes to determine what goals are of interest (be flexible but you should have some ideas based on pre-meeting conversations); then breakout into subgroups* for focused discussion, and then reconvene at the end to finalize a few specific goals to investigate/achieve before the next meeting and set the next meeting date. Email minutes/goals/leader contact info a few days afterwards to all who ever expressed interest (including those who couldn't make the meeting); may be a "happy holidays" progress note in the interim, and definitely a reminder email a few days in advance of the next meeting.

Let emerging leaders lead--you concentrate on coordination and delegation, esp if you want to step back after a few months. As your group develops its priorities, recognize your group can't be all things to all people and direct to other groups as needed--keeping focused may be the hardest part. As will knowing if/when you yourself need to step back if/when another leader emerges or if the group chooses a direction that is not your personal priority.

*if appropriate, pre-select specific people to lead initial breakout discussions on goals such as social media/spreading the word, immediate safety measures on line and real world, and reach out to other groups/politicians etc while you meander around and collect thoughts. Hopefully folks will emerge who can help achieve productive goals** rapidly so the group will feel progress was made and then longer term goals can assessed in early 2017***. For the reconvene, find a note taker for who is doing what by when- pick some one from the crowd that night if need be. You yourself can organize these into minutes or other docs later if a documentor/communicator doesn't emerge.

**e.g., a website/facebook with tips as well a group contact info, a meet-n-greet for more general bonding, a presentation around safety/communication, calls to gov't reps, calls to connect to other groups/local schools, and tentative goals/timeline for next year based on the first meeting feedback***

***does the group want to stay local and focused with individual and community oriented activities? Increase influence in local politics? Or try to groom a candidate or two or more?
posted by beaning at 9:44 PM on November 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

Ok, so. This means you've been asked to be an organizer.

If I were funnier, I would write something like "migrantology's rip-roaring guide to good-time meetings." And you would get some amusing tidbits on getting shit done, framed in an agreeable tone.

Instead you get...whatever this is.

Let me give you the tl;dr right here: Have "asks." This meeting will be useless if it does not include asks. Asks are concrete actions you are soliciting help for. Come up with them before the meeting, in consultation with a few other community members. When new ideas come up, those are good too. But you must have actions that are not more meetings.

I realize you may only be facilitating a single meeting, but the project of solidarity/anti-fascism is bigger than a single meeting. So I am going to continue to write for the project moving forward.

Major principle #1: This meeting already has a purpose. The meeting's purpose is to spin off projects for the neighbors to work together. It is not a "central committee," but a magic production machine that structures and unleashes creativity and collective strength.
Major principle #2: We are all in a long-term project. Fascism survived the atom bomb, and it's going to survive a while longer in its current growth medium.
Major principle #3: Leadership in this capacity concerns developing the conditions for solidarity to arise. This will fundamentally involve real people, in person, working together towards a goal.
Major principle #4: The hardest work will be completely invisible. I'm sorry. You won't get credit for it.
Major principle #5: Your group must create positive change. This means you must communicate a vision of something positive you are working towards, that does not currently exist. You must make a new thing. You must have conditions under which you can win, not only not-lose.

I was trained under a combination of transformative organizing and Midwest Academy. The Midwest Academy folks liked to talk about "organization model" as central: the raison d'etre of the organization, who makes up its members, its geographic basis/foundation, and where the money comes from.

I think a better starting point is actually the steps of organizational/cultural change. The fundamental reason I bring up "cultural change" for a community meeting a community meeting is actually an emergent organization. People in the area are scared but want to come together. That already covers the Midwest Academy basics, at least provisionally. (Raison d'etre: "we are terrified"; membership: the neighbors; geographical basis: the neighborhood; money: none.) Right now, that emergent organization is disjoined and moving in different directions, because it doesn't really know what to do.

What it needs is a structure that puts all that energy to making shit happen.

In other words, the process is one of getting as many people as possible pointed in the same direction, working together. I am doing this off the top of my head now, so it will be necessarily imperfect.

*A mini-guide to a solidarity project based in a cultural-change organizing:*

There are consistent steps. I've ended up with 9, but it could be 7 if you like that number better, or I could inflate it to 10.

#1) Respond to, or develop a real feeling of urgency.

You have this one covered. Well, not you. Anyway, it's covered.

#2) Build your core coalition.

This is necessary before the meeting. You need teammates--folks who are already on board with the project, with whom you've talked and strategized before the meeting. You must be working with folks you can trust, because (immediately) they are going to save your ass if the meeting starts to get out of hand, and because (longer term) you need to have an implicit understanding that you will support one another even when you disagree. Y'all can argue in a room, but if a decision gets made, even when it's totally the wrong decision, everyone is working on it once you step out of that room.

In context of this meeting, you are going to rely on your coalition to have concrete, if tentative, projects for people to join at the end of meeting #1.

This is all dependent on getting someone to bottom-line, and whatever those people's interests are. Some off-the-cuff possibilities:

  • An anti-raid project, up to and including development of sanctuary projects and areas, legal prep, help with moving if DACA folks need it, communications extended UK folks who do anti-raid work there, documentation procedures to record deportations, civil disobedience when raids happen, etc.

  • Community honor guards, that every week or every day accompany or protect vulnerable people or sites (kids of color on the way to school, mosques, etc). That is mostly a spectacle project, so ideally you would have recognizeable outfits etc.

  • Collective child-care, both for its relationship building and for its labor-freeing characteristics

    But it's really open here. The point is: these are prepped ahead of time.

    #3) Formulate the vision.
    #4) Communicate/consolidate the vision

    Taking these together. You do both #3 and #4 at the beginning of the meeting. The comment above from beaning is a good start. Let people talk around this, but always make sure that it is actionable. The point of the meeting is to have an ask. The vision should lead to asks. You have some in your pocket. If one ask turns out not to work as the meeting unfolds, that's ok. Another will work. Asking for volunteers and having them invent new projects is a consolidation of the vision. That's a buy-in moment. It's awesome.

    Note that some of the projects will flame out. Again, that's ok. The overall project is a cultural change in the emergent organization of the community, not a vanguard moment.

    #5) Short-term wins

    Your meeting is done at this point. I strongly, strongly disagree with the comment above that suggests you can reconvene in 2017. Loss of momentum will continue to atomize the neighbors. This is a moment where things can come together, but it doesn't last indefinitely. It probably won't last past Christmas without...wins.

    "Wins" is just organizer speak for accomplishments. By the time meeting #3 rolls around (sorry, this ain't a one-off), you should have accomplishments, not just "we made a phone tree" but an actual thing in the world that people can verify. Posters, marches, that honor guard, a visit or training from another organizer, that child-care collective operating. Something.

    And that win has to be a clear step towards something more: e.g. now that we have child care, these moms and dads are going to go do X on Tuesday. The honor guard will continue indefinitely, and we're hoping to add Thursday mornings. Whatever. Quick wins.

    Personally, if you want to hand off the facilitating and leadership, the point at which you try to get wins is ideal. It means that you have both a nascent group of leaders (who are invested in the particular thing they're doing) and it's easier to get new leaders involved when things look accomplishable.

    #6) Remove hurdles to ongoing community and collective projects
    #7) Encourage ownership over the vision by supporting extensions to it

    We're long past the meeting now. But the next steps are about, first, working to remove the obstacles from participation and from growing the projects. This is really, really boring. But it needs to be done. Calling the utility company, doing basic accounting, figuring out child care for Sam, asking around why something isn't accelerating as fast as it could.

    I pair "removing hurdles" with extending the vision because in practice the two are usually treated at once. This is where you realize that if we have our meetings on Monday night instead of Tuesday, we'll enable more and different participation because we're no longer conflicting with PTA (or whatever). But it's also fundamentally about saying "yes" as much as possible. "What if we X?" is a wonderful thing to hear, as long as the speaker is moderately focused. High-agency is the goal: "That would be great! What would it take for you to make X happen?" And then you do that.

    #8) Keep going. Keep fucking going.
    #9) Institutionalize it.

    This is so hard sometimes, because newness wears off and people become a little bit numbed and want to go on vacation and some others move away and probably a bunch of people are getting deported.

    Step 8 is just about leadership and dedication to a goal. I dunno whatelse there is. But the work of a cultural change project is really long. And Step 9 is about those long-term wins. Remember that vision at the beginning? Institutionalizing cultural change is not treating those earlier projects as the goal, but as manifestations of the change.

    Do the projects still align with the vision? The answer is usually: kind of. So here it is the shared vision that re-organizes the projects, because the shared vision is institutionalized as shared values. Why do we provide housing for the homeless in winter? Because it reflects our shared values in our local communities. But many homeless shelters began as somebody's project (often a priest's). You win when "of course we have homeless shelters" is the response. That's a long way off.


    Ok, mini-guide is over for tonight. I suppose I write to help folks have a little bit clearer picture of how to make things happen over a broader movement. Dark times require a lot of work. I dunno. I hope it helps, even a little.

    DM me if you'd like access to a digital copy of the Midwest Academy manual, which covers way different stuff than this.

    And remember: asks. Have asks.

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