How do I work out the best use of my activist time?
January 22, 2017 3:20 PM   Subscribe

I'm involved with a smallish political organisation which has recently expanded somewhat. In the year I've been involved with it in a coordinating role, objectively speaking, I've spent most of my time settling disputes originating from personality clashes and attempting to develop internal structures in order for things to work properly with the new larger numbers. In terms of tangible action I feel like I've done nothing. How do I work out if this is the best use of my time?

I understand that organising is often difficult and unrewarding work. The problem is that I don't feel like my efforts are having any positive effect. Activist capacity in the party is an issue, as is money. Plus due to the sudden increase in size it doesn't yet have the appropriate internal structures, leading to lots of duplication of work, miscommunication, misunderstandings, reinventing the wheel...

Last year I volunteered for a different organisation doing something akin to supporting prisoners. I raised a good sum of money for them over about 6 months - this was clearly a good use of my time and abilities and created tangible benefit for people. I know that it's not entirely a fair comparison, but with the current stuff I've been knocking my pan in for double the time and double the hours and I've not achieved anything besides resolve a few fights!

Now I'm considering stepping down, but I can't work out if these issues - not enough people/time/money, dealing with fragile egos, time-consuming organisational logistics tasks - are just part and parcel of organising and will be the case everywhere, and I'd be better sticking with it. My leaving would also leave others in the lurch (see above r.e not enough people).

I got involved because I felt that having decent, radical people in local politics could have a huge impact on my city, but at the same time the party was not only fighting elections but would also support other campaigns, get involved in community action etc. I feel like I'm not getting to do much of either of those things because all my available time is taken up with pointless bullshit or tedious but necessary internal logistics.

On the other hand, lots of the people involved are excellent and inspiring, and the potential for winning radical local representatives, supporting community action and making a genuine impact in local communities are definitely there.

So my question is this - how do you choose how to use your time wisely? How do you evaluate campaigns, parties or movements to decide which one to throw your weight behind?

Also - I know it looks as if the issue is that I take on crap, unfulfilling tasks in lieu of refusing them in favour of arranging inspiring actions. I do do this, and would appreciate learning how you learned not to do this. But there is also a genuine issue of trying to work out at which point organisational dysfunction overwhelms any impact a person's limited time might have.
posted by Lluvia to Law & Government (4 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
settling disputes originating from personality clashes
That's 'lateral aggression'; the termite-queen of volunteer orgs.

You learn how to not take on the crap tasks by ... not taking on the crap tasks. The way to do this and to justify it to yourself, is to have a clear and direct focus on what you do want to do, and do that. And be proud of yourself for doing it.
posted by Thella at 5:33 PM on January 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

This sounds like standard operating procedure for tiny new chaotic organizations. You might be happier with a group that's a bit more organizationally mature.

Look for a group that has already developed the kind of organizational infrastructure you're currently struggling with (roles and responsibilities, accountability, conflict resolution, etc.)

You can ask about these things before getting involved. Definitely look at it like an interview. If you don't like the answers you get, you have a random internet person's permission to pass.
posted by ottereroticist at 6:30 PM on January 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

This would also drive me crazy. I'm working on joining established groups with established internal policies, or new groups that recognize the importance of establishing policies and make that a priority. It's possible that non-policy-established groups might do good work (eventually!) but they're not a good fit for me.
posted by lazuli at 7:22 PM on January 22, 2017

Leave this group. It's difficult to change culture with a skunkworks, so unless you and the leadership are in sync about the organization's culture and discipline, you're just going to bang your head against the wall. Toxic environments, uncorrected, rarely produce great results.

I raised a good sum of money for them over about 6 months - this was clearly a good use of my time and abilities and created tangible benefit for people.

And you're also maybe in the wrong role organizationally. If you are good at , and like, development and fundraising, then that is perhaps your best place in the movement, rather than administrative structure-building.
posted by Miko at 5:56 AM on January 23, 2017

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