10 points of reflection

1. Bizaare is acceptable; abuse is not.

2. Your ability to engage doesn’t have to remain a constant

3. Never do on your own what you can do together with others.

4. Play the role that is helpful (Wear the hat)

5. Never overcommit and underdeliver – Always undercommit and overdeliver. (If you do overcommit and underdeliver, make sure to do the opposite next time around.)

6. Alleviation is in opposition to liberation; Charity is in opposition to
solidarity

7. Skills are to be utilised on tap not on top.

8. Understanding comes from standing under, not standing over.

9. Hold your agenda lightly.

10. A victory won at the expense of anarchist organising is a loss.


1. Bizaare is acceptable; abuse is not.
In an institution – or the bourgeois concept of community everyone is expendable. In a genuine community there is always someone you hate – you create a space for people that may be annoying, different, frustrating etc – ‘the other’. In our struggle no one is expendable; all people are special and can participate in decisions that impact on them. It is however important to hold people accountable for their actions and to have a clear distinction between what is bizarre and what is abuse. While bizaare behaviour (eg mental health, impairments, behaviours that don’t fit within the capitalist ideal of a productive body) are desirable and welcomed, abusive behaviour is not and has to be dealt with as a community. “People are always worth more than the worst thing they’ve done. Relationship is at the heart of community building – there is no other way to build a community world than for everybody to rebuild broken relationships with one another painstakingly one by one. This task must be approached with great sincerity and sensitivity

2. Self-care is ultra-important. Your ability to engage doesn’t have to remain a constant – It’s not All or Nothing.
Solid folks, ‘quiet’ people (whatever term you use for good organisers) often find themselves known by a ton of people in their area as someone open, genuine, compassionate and giving of their time. It’s a beautiful thing to experience and offers a glimpse of what’s a healthy society should involve (ie: being grounded, responsible to a base – the opposite of being irresponsibly/wild). I’m often accused of knowing everyone in my entire locality and also always being able to give everyone time and conversation. Often I’m asked – how do I not burn out?

Although lifestyle in itself is not revolutionary; the task of ‘building a better world’ begins with changing ourselves; It not only makes it easier for us to believe that we can change, it also makes it easier for others to believe they can change too; every risk we take adds to a culture which allows others to risk.

The following piece of advice (From the Waiters Union) has stayed with me for a long time – that our ability to engage with others  doesn’t have to be all or nothing – it doesn’t have to remain a constant until you destroy yourself and have to hide in your room for a week or become frustrated and angry (although suffering is guaranteed). Before you do anything related to organising or community work – keep this little number in your head :

To what degree can I be vulnerable, to reach out to people, where if it is not reciprocated or appreciated, will not destroy me (ie – make me bitter, tested, resentful etc).

On a good day I can go the depths with lots of people – engage with their suffering etc. Some times I can listen deeply but disclose nothing – other times I only have energy for a brief chat – sometimes I don’t have enough energy to even give a ‘g’day’ and have to walk around the block to avoid people because i’m dealing with my own shit. What can I risk today? Choose your degree of vulnerability – this is a marathon not a sprint.

“One cannot be deeply responsive to the world without being saddened very often. (Fromm)”

In Dave Andrew’s ‘First Aid Kid’ he has put together an organisers ‘pain scale’.
SCALE OF PAIN                       IMPACT OF PAIN
Level one                                        Disturbing
Level two                                        Distressing
Level Three                                    Devastating

Accordingly, he’s also listed an ’emergency plan for acute pain’
Step One                  Run
Step Two                  Hide
Step Three               Die
Step Four                 Rise
Step Five                  Try again

In an emergency, when the pain is acute, all of us need to be able to give ourselves permission to run and hide, for weeks, months, even years; to develop the capacity to die inside, yet stay alive, and rise to the challenge; to take heart and, when we are ready, to try again! However, it is my contention, we will only be able to deal with the acute pain we face in a crisis, if we learn to deal with the chronic pain we face constantly.

“Don’t be responsible for everything,  but be responsive to everyone.
Extend love unconditionally, but trust only conditionally.
Don’t have high expectations; have high hopes with low expectations.”

3. Never do on your own what you can do together with others.

4. Play the role that is helpful

5. Never overcommit and underdeliver – Always undercommit and overdeliver.

It is a natural urge when you’re part of a movement to be eager to please; often we can feel pressure (real or imaginary) to commit to something (which we know we can bail on later on). I think it’s imperative that collectives incorporate the above as organisational culture to avoid this. This sort of things can destroy people and lead to complete demoralisation and resentment.

There are several useful suggestions to help foster this type of behaviour in organisations. An obvious one is not to allow alcohol at meetings, which leads to all sorts of drivel being spouted. Process is also ultra-important, for example, reading out a previous meetings actions and then holding someone accountable for things they committed to but didn’t do opens up the behaviour. Another simple suggestion; a diary can be the tool that turns a complete spoon of an organiser into a solid one. We are all guilty of doing this at one time or another; the problem is when it becomes a pattern – it’s the type of difficult behaviour that can demoralise/demobilise an organisation more than any snitch ever could. It also ruins your reputation as a solid person in the community, and people will learn that you simply are not reliable. The way to train yourself out of this type of behaviour is simple- If you are called out on the above, then there is a frank way to resolve the situation -if you do overcommit and underdeliver, make sure to do the opposite next time around.

6. Charity is in opposition to solidarity; alleviation is in opposition to liberation

The food not bombs chapter I was part of is a good example – it was focussed so much on just serving food that it left out the ‘not bombs’ part – people thought it was just another food van charity that didn’t serve meat (often called hare krishnas). It failed to break out of charity and alleviation by ignoring the political dimensions of what food not bombs was meant to be (ie: sharing a non-commodified meal and highlighting the gross waste under capitalist society). Our work should be prefigurative, otherwise we are simply providing another service or acting like an NGO. .

7. Use specialised skills on tap not on top.
Whether you’re a social worker, a builder, a community-development worker, an IT guru etc – the specialised skills you’ve learnt don’t give you the right to dominate or direct groups and social movements. The saying ‘on tap not on top’ hints at how you should be engaging with people if you want to assist with your skills. Occupy was a good example, where people who were part of an activist training organisation ironically felt the need to tell everyone what to do and dominate discussions. It’s not a good way to build confidence and self-organisation. We want movements that are self-organised and non-hierarchical (ie: delegates are accountable to an empowered base through rotation and assembly-forms of organising). We want organisations that are accountable to themselves and can resist being demobilised from above or used as springboards for career politicians. For this to happen we can’t have specialists who feel like they are only accountable to themselves. This ties in well with the ‘don’t do things on your own if you can do them together’ line (each one teach one).

8. Understanding comes from standing under, not standing over.
(To the point of principles rather than labels). It’s all to easy to reduce someone to an ideological label (racist, sexist, redneck, lifestylist etc) – and sometimes, probably more often than not, this is justified. But we should always strive to understand someone’s position by approaching their comments from below, not from above through pre-set Ideologies and dogmas. This quote also points towards the necessity of creating the space necessary to really understand someone – not treating them as trophies (objects) to win to our cause or Ideology. There will never be a ‘coherent’ left and we will always be dealing with real complex people – full of contradictions and private pains.

People are always worth more than the worse thing they’ve done. Compassion comes from  understanding that we’re all damaged but need to find a way out of this mess together.

“The top down ideology follows this line: If we meet people’s needs it is not so much to help them win but to help us win them over. Although this may promote encounters with people they subvert the possibility of developing [integral] relationships of mutual acceptance and respect.”
– D. Andrews

“Nothing unified & revolutionary will be formed until each section of the exploited will have made its own autonomous power felt…It is important to realise that the possibility of another kind of society doesn’t come from somewhere out there, from good ideas dropping to reality, but from really struggles that exist in the present.”
– Reigniting the Struggle

“What we need is a way of conceiving the world and acting in it that produces a useful critique, poses appealing alternative visions and modes of doing in a way that connects to peoples’ lived experiences and simultaneously offers a real challenge to the social order. that will lay the groundwork for future relevant forms of organising, across industries, across neighbourhoods.”

An idea becomes an ideology when the following takes place:

1 The end is all important – the idea is the only thing that really matters
2. the means are implemented without restriction. The methods ar eevaluated only interms of the maximum effectiveness and efficiency of means for realizing the end
3. the cental idea distorts crucial values. Notions such as truth and justice are slowly but surely coopted, perverted and ministerpreted as means to and end.
4. the grand cause creates great conflict. Any friend who is less than enthusiastic about our cause is considered an enemy in the end and in the meantime any enemy of an enemy is considered a friend.
5. the end justifies the means – people are expected to continually and uncritically adjust to all the requirements of anyh means deemed necessary to achieve the desired end even to the extent of collaborating in the destruction of our own individual and collective lives for the good of the cause.

“We need to always remember that…those who love community destroy community; only those who love people can create community. Love is a sacrificial concern for the welfare of others. It is a concern that is not self-righteous but self forgetful in its concern for the welfare of others. It is not masochistic, but is willing to make significant sactifices spontaneously to ensure the welfare of others which it seeks. Love always works towards mutuality; yet love requires sacrifice in order to create the possibility of reciprocity.
Is it not the case that the ideologues of various political tendencies are often the most passionate but the least able to relate to people?”

9. Hold your Agenda lightly
As organised revolutionaries we (should be) brimming with ideas and excitement. A result of this is that we can sometimes get overly attached to projects that we want to create (eg: an action plan, a piece of text etc), to the point where we experience offence, anger, frustration etc if things don’t go exactly how we want. It’s easy to imagine the perfect project or action by ourselves and then try and push for this to happen. Being organised in a group isn’t easy though. In reality we’re always dealing with complexity – whether in people or ideas, and things don’t always go the way we want. ‘Holding our agenda lightly’ means having a mature predisposition towards being flexible and open-ended in the ideas we put foward, in a way where we value the collective process over the ‘end result’, and aren’t destroyed if our individual plan doesn’t go ahead exactly how we want it to.

10. A victory won at the expense of anarchist organising is a loss.

A loss through anarchist organising is worth more in terms of experience gained than winning through methods that take power out of your hands. For example, organising as equals in a housing block/workplace, forming an open assembly or network that then takes action to win a demand and which creates ongoing dialogue and relationship, is worth much more -even if it fails- than calling up the RTA or tackling things as an individual through lawyers or appealing to an ombudsman.

Reflecting on an example of my own is an action that Brisbane Solidarity Network (BSN) was involved in kickstarting. Basically there was a 2 month process of meeting with a tenant who had contacted BSN over a slumlord. To set the scene, this place was a boarding house that marketed to people in vulnerable situations (eg: homelessness, sickness etc). They charged an insane $175 per week for a single room with no windows, the shared bathroom and kitchen was decrepid and tenants were monitored via surveillance camera. There was a rule board full of rediculous rules, for example you were not allowed to openly discuss sex, gates were locked at 9pm so if you came home late you had to climb a fence (a previous tenant had told us he was given the boot for this reason) etc. This particular tenant that contacted us had left the tenancy but the slumlord kept the bond, stating that because the tenant had raised the bond money through a charity she shouldn’t be able to have it back. Upon meeting with her (two BSN’ers) a couple of times over coffee and sharing stories over dodgy landlords, which became political very quickly, we arranged for an inspection of the property. 3 folks from BSN went to the boarding house, the landlord who was at the property barked at the tenant about not really being happy with visitors coming. We talked with a few other tenants about what we were about and suddenly 6 people had surrounded us and were eager to share stories of the landlord continually screwing them over. This was in itself a really good experience and BSN still has connection with one of these tenants, who was to some extent politicised by the process. Also, BSN had a discussion day about this issue in victoria park, and i shit you not, we met someone who walked past that used to live in the boarding house and he was stoked and started chatting about his shit experience there.

Anyway, we gradually got more tenants on side with the idea of supporting the tenant in question to do a delivery demand (basically getting as many people as possible as a show of solidarity to support the tenant in collectively delivering to the landlord a letter listing the grievance, the demand and when action will be esculated if not resolved). The process of writing refining the letter collectively in itself was a useful process, and a politicising one at that, as it was through that process that we discussed the nature of the landlord/tenant relationship, moving to the idea that even though this landlord in particular happened to be someone with an abusive personality and enjoyed dominating the tenants and overtly breaking tenancy law, the issue isn’t the landlords personality its their existence as a class. Bigger political questions like private property, the development of landlordism, hierarchy, State power etc also inevitably came up, and I feel the discussion added further clarity to everyone’s ideas. Also useful politically was the idea that law and rights don’t exist just because they are decree’d from above on a piece of paper – they were won through struggle and have to be maintained through struggle and a nourishing, resistant culture that doesn’t let authority take an inch back. Ringing true the statement ‘Laws are iron chains for the poor but cobwebs for the rich. I’m reminded by rudolf rocker’s quote:

Anyway, we agreed that it was time to strike the iron, the day came for action, we had over 30 supporters show up and.. the tenant didn’t show up. We heard from a friend of hers later that she had a hectic situation come up, which happens all the time when youre in crisis mode, in a vulnerable situation and already marginalised. After this she moved interstate into a friends place and the organising initiative ended. Now from one angle this  organising drive was a loss – the demand wasn’t ceded, but on the other hand the organising process was an empowering one, a form of collective education where people learnt a new way to deal with grievances rather than roll over and take it. Obviously this could go further if a demand was won, as the aim is to show people that direct action and solidarity, organising together collectively through assemblies rather than top down hierarchies, unnacountable representatives and bureaucracy not only can win demands, but creates a process of counter-power that has the potential to grow into a culture of working class resistance and forms of self-organisation that can’t be demobilised from above and which asserts itself to take more and more control back over life – a step towards democratising the work/housing relationship as a whole from the bottom up.

The key is the process of collective struggle, which has to be constantly reinvigorated and built on. So if for example a Solidarity Network type organisation became such a thorn in the side of  landlords that the local government offered them the chance to offer ‘Solidarity Network seals of approval’ to landlords to avoid collective fights, then they’d presumably reject it as leading away from collective struggle. We aren’t trying to build victories per say, though our methods should lead to victories (see: how to build a solidarity network), we are trying to build a culture of resistance, a culture where people are empowered to run society and take control of their lives, a culture where top-down organisations that take power out of the peoples hands cannot use grassroots struggles as springboards into political careers, electioneering and party politics that demobilise/disempower people from above and sell them out down the river due to the necessity of compromise and mediation that it creates.

NOTES ON BURN OUT:

It takes energy, drive, and will to do the transformative organizer’s  job over a lifetime. Even for the most dedicated it is a constant struggle. Organizing is hard, stressful work, with long, irregular, and unpredictable hours. It requires an organizer  able to deal constantly with the political, class, racial, gender, cultural, and personal contradictions among the diverse people with whom she works daily. The new organizer dreams of an idyllic organization, only to discover that there are many tensions among the members that have to be addressed, and the organizer’s role as group builder is stressful. Even those who love to work with others (and organizer is the ultimate “social” job) have days when the weight of organizational life  makes them want to be alone.

Many of the best organizers work full-time in factories, offices, schools, and hospitals, doing forty hours or more a week on their “regular job” while they organize coworkers during breaks and lunches. Then they go to the office of their primary movement organization where they carry out unionorganizing drives, campaigns to protect abortion clinics, and demonstrations to defend immigrants facing deportation.

Burnout is a real concern. So is going through the motions, quitting on the work without realizing you are doing it. To survive and succeed, each organizer must cultivate an  ever-evolving tactical plan to ground himself-to sustain and nourish himself as a long-distance runner. Perhaps the most important requirement is to feel grounded in the purpose of your life, the meaning and significance you attach to your choices, your self-identity. You must know why you are an organizer and why self-care is not self-cultivation but a necessary part of the life of an organizer who wants his work to make a difference.

As each organizer explores and builds her path to selfcare and healing, she undertakes a lifelong study of her own body, mind, and spirit. What are my limits, what makes me  sick, what is toxic to me, where do I need healing? What nourishes me, heals me, sustains me, rejuvenates me? Transformative organizers develop a deep understanding that answering these questions is essential for their viability over the long haul. There are people who “burn themselves out” and blame “the movement.” Upon further examination, one often finds that either their organization or the person’s own practice was  not guided by a plan for long-term viability. With room for rest and reflection, a constant exposure to the injustices of the system, and perhaps building a more sustainable  organization, “burn out” need not be a fatal condition.

The possibility of ruptures within the gladiatorial desert of indifference.
Intelligence often rationalises the unjustifyable

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