Monday, 9 April 2007

Dazed and Confused!

Dear Tide turners,

Easter Monday and Carl and I abandoned the delights of the Cotswolds to go to Reading to prepare to blockade Aldermaston. We had debated this, at some length: was it going to be worth it? What would we actually achieve? Was it better to pick a campaign and stick with it? were we going to Aldermaston simply because it was there as a campaign and did we believe in it any more than say, climate change, or anti-consumerism or anti-capitalism? The ideological supermarket is open 24 hours, after all.

We had assumed that we’d find a tight group of seasoned protesters with precision organisation. What instead fetched up in Reading was a very small group of people indeed. We went through some training, which was similar in some ways to the Tide Turners sessions, but more chaotic. We were told of the importance of forming and affinity group: something that we were aware we didn’t have, but given no chance to form one. At no point was the impression of precision organisation given. More random chaos with all protesters deciding what they wanted to do and how. Many protesters seemed to have a few issues with working in groups and deciding on common policies and, apart from anything, there didn’t seem to be any common policies and no-one seemed to have a clear idea of what was going to happen. Or at least they didn’t tell us. On the plus side we were given some very interesting information about the progress of the nuclear project in Britain and some details about how convoys of nuclear material move around, etc.

We had powerful conflicting feelings about all this: to be brutally honest I think we wanted to be impressed and made to feel secure. On the other hand, why should we need others’ guarantees? We wanted to join an organised group who were focussed on achieving things, but there was a strong emphasis on individual decisions and the individual within groups. What also became apparent was that there were admirable and switched-on people doing dedicated research and observation of Aldermaston and their strong work was not reflected in the publicity and wider awareness of the issues. For example, they made that the official secrets act in the UK made it harder to find out information about nuclear material and dangers to public health than in the US, where government strictures on sensitive information are less tight.

The whole experience made us reflect on the further learning we had to do around this issue, and the issue of protesting in general: does process have to reflect content? What is the problem with organisation? Can we find an ‘affinity group’ which is prepared to act, or not act, to some effect? How can people be mobilised in large numbers? Is it necessary to cultivate media relations? Is it ok to doubt the wisdom of actions which appear to merely amuse/annoy passing motorists and not have perhaps much effect on the fearsome development of nuclear weaponry in this country?

Comments very welcome: anyone else had doubts? anyone else been Dazed and Confused?



Carl Reynolds said...

Sorry I don't understand the bit about - 'does process have to reflect content?'. Can you elaborate Zaria?

kathryn said...

on your last question... absolutely! If our actions just annoy/amuse passting motorists, we are alienating the ordinary folk while achieving precisely nothing. Surely the reason we go on actions should be because we want to change something? Not because we want to do something that will make public pressure for change decrease rather than increase.

Are we all just daunted by the size of the site and can't get our heads round organised action?

Interesting your dazing experience was at Aldermaston. I was at the Greenpeace protest there last year, and despite a delightful walk through the British countryside at 7am (though too fast, not accounting for the legs of us smaller people), I felt pretty disempowered by the event. When my little group met a couple of police on horseback, instead of discussing what we might do, the 'leader' declared that if we wanted to turn back, we could, but he was heading off into the bushes. Somewhere sense prevailed (I think it was with the police rather than us) and they let us carry on walking round the fence.

Later at the convening point we were told to hurry our food as we were going to do a mass poster posting action. Gee how exciting. And what an impact that's going to have. Some poor bugger will spend two hours cutting them off, half an hour after we've gone. It might have been worth it had we felt anything special as a result, but I just felt bossed around and bored.

Are we just daunted by the size of the site, and can't get our head round organising action that will lead to action?

Zaria said...

So, does process have to reflect content? discuss:

It is logical and useful to create a relationship between what you are protesting about/standing for and how you organise the protest and/or the communication/education. For example, you cannot order people to participate in democracy and you cannot force them to be empowered.

The hyper-democratic, sensitive and tolerant culture which has grown up around certain areas of protest is reflected in their organisational and educational processes: groups, consensus, discussion, reflection, etc. all very good. These are the kinds of things that we do in TTT, no?

The nuclear industry, however, has no time for such things, and neither does the police. If we are going to do useful and effective protesting (this is the content part) can we cling to our cuddly processes?

I think we wanted to be organised and feel empowered also by following a well-thought-through plan. Personally, I would have felt fine to turn up, be shown some military-style maps, be offered a choice of roles and a few minutes to decide, and then be commanded thereon. At least a coherent game-plan and maybe some useful achievement might have been possible.

Does this make sense? Kathryn's experience may contradict what I've just said, and I can understand it happening...

further thought/comments really really appreciated.


DD said...

I don't imagine that what I will say here is anything that you don't already know, but when I am grappling with some issue I sometimes like to hear The Obvious. It helps me to shake off the dust and doubts. So I don't mean to sound pedantic, -- just wondered if this would help?

A Buddhist saying goes 'There is no such thing as disappointment, only unmet expectations'.

I think a common thread running through the Aldermaston stories is that the experience didn't turn out as you'd hoped. And by that I guess that you'd hoped the event could have been more organised, left you feeling more empowered or inspired, and connected with the other protesters. But it didn't (by the sounds of it). But what did you learn, what did you take away from that experience?

Recently I've been working with a new (for me) group process method called 'Appreciative Inquiry' and it would suggest that you pause and assess -- OK, this is the situation. Maybe something has gone awry or maybe you've had an unexpected windfall that will help you reach higher goals. This is what we've got, what is the best we can aim towards given the circumstances.

Maybe that would be -- just do this protest and get out of here, and from now, find a different way of channeling my activist energy. As Zaria wrote, 'the ideological store is open 24 hours a day' (clever, I like that).

Also, another thread that these NVDA share is that you went along to something you believe in, but you are not part of a larger organised group. Do I understand that correctly? And if yes, that stands to reason that a lot of the other participants were there because of similar reasons.

Remember from the TTT examples, and you know of other cases I'm sure: Fruitful, effective campaigns that bring about change usually are long-term projects, peopled by a core of die-hards, (and some die out, and are replaced with new energy) and are organised organised organised (choreographed almost).

And so that's the blah-blah Obvious, what do I think? I think it's certainly worth going out and participating in these actions.

Otherwise you have no way of doing a personal assessment -- how do you know what works for you (feels comfortable), or what you'd like to grow towards, or what you'd like to stay away from.

A month ago, I was down at Old Baily with a friend of mine who works on 'Honour-based crime' and we were asking passer-byers to sign a petition and it has been years since I asked people (and strangers to boot!) to sign a petition. What was really interesting for me was reflecting back on the past experiences, who I was, who I was approaching, the context, etc. And my feelings about the whole thing now. This is not the space to go into all those feelings, but in brief, I would say -- It was a good experience, a touchstone kind of moment of personal assessment. And while I'm not certain about the efficacy of Diana's petitions, I know that I grew and felt a bit stronger after that experience.

And really in the end, isn't that what it's all about? If we can change and empower ourselves we can create conditions that will help other people do the same for themselves.

Or no?

big love. See you Saturday.

kathryn said...

yep, Zaria, I'd be happy to be told what to do. A coherent game plan and some useful achievement would be wonderful. Some of the most empowering things I have ever done have required me to follow very clear rules/roles.

But I wonder; while I doubt like you that the police and nuclear industry have any interest in being as hyper-democratic as our world, how many conversations with their world have actually taken place? We make assumptions about their communication patterns, while I for one have never tried broaching them . (Not sure that this would bring about nuclear change though, except in mutual perceptions!)

My mother was a member of CND for years, while my father worked for the Central Electricity Generating Board (CEGB), which became Nuclear Electric... where he stayed for several years. He is at least as sensitive as my mother!

Rachel said...

This is really interesting dialogue, so much to take in, and I can relate to alot of the points raised.

I quite often feel like many of the protests/action I go on have become 'part of the system' and those at military/nuclear base camps especially. When I was a child my parents were active anti-nuclear campaigners and i remember sleeping in caravans on watch and sometimes being woken in the night to go and blockade gates to prevent sites from being used as nuclear bases (such as greenham but there were many smaller and lesser known sites as well) Is it just sentimental memories that make that seem like it had an affect and today we have none? i feel like the methods which worked then are now as much a part of the system as the camps and the war mongers. It feels like we need a new approach, something that they wont see coming but what? but how?

Carl Reynolds said...

I agree that this is becoming complex. It strikes me that one thread is - does this form of protest work (ie blockading, demos etc)? I think they do, but my critique is personal and systemic.

Personal because I want to understand how I fit and what encourages or hinders me. And systemic because the 'protest system' needs to make it clear to people like me how I can fit it, how I join and what I am supposed to be achieving; both on the event and over time as an accumulation.

At the event, I want to know how what I and my group does connects to what other groups are doing - is there an overview? For example if five hundred people are coming to a blockade and the represent 400 in affinity groups (say 50 of these) and 100 unaffiliated souls; then I'd suggest that a rep from each affinity group (and the ones that are formed from the unaffiliated) come together to share their actions and co-ordinate them. In other words we co-operate, rather than randomly operate.

As one interested in the balance between the collective need and individual need, it feels as thought the movement is too orientated towards the individualistic libertarian slant, rather than the co-operative slant.

OK. I feel like I've said something and have more to say, but don't want to go on and on. Saturday is about Strategy and Campaigning; so let's talk about it there.

Helen Dymond said...

Sorry, having been tied up with other stuff I've come to this debate a month later than every one else!
It's sad that Carl's experience has led him to believe that 'the movement is too orientated towards the individualistic libertarian slant'.I thought a 'movement' was - by definition - something that moved forward and developed collectively.The dialogue awakenened my sense of frustration with local Green Party meetings where leadership is thought to be inimical to 'democracy'.I'm not suggesting one shouldn't reflect on process and one's role within the collective. But I really don't see how being organized into an effective movement,or reaching a consensus/compromise position with others in order to be able to act, can be be thought of as a betrayal of demcratic principles. Surely the more important points is that its a method that has been proven to work. As Starhawk says about facilitation, Webs of Power, p.176),"Pushing our own agenda would not only be an abuse of power-among, it would be ineffective and likely cause resentment rather than inspire respect."