Without clear some kind of structure, I find work hard. With no to-do lists or deadlines, it’s only the headache from a dearth of caffeine which gets me out of bed before midday. Without a required output, I am liable to waste my afternoons away on Facebook.
It’s way too easy for activist groups to end up as cliques: people meet through some kind of political activity – on a protest, perhaps. They drift into a friendship group. Gradually they spend more and more of their time going for drinks together and less and less of their time recruiting new people. Soon, you find radical activism full of affinity groups of chums, with too few entry points and no new recruits.
I know loads of awesome activists, who spend nearly all of their waking lives organising against the powerful, and yet who have never once knocked on a door and spoken to the stranger behind it about what matters in their life. Of course, it’s entirely possible to canvass without a party rosette (though you can’t get the full electoral register, which makes it harder). But there is much more of an immediate drive to do so if your aim is to win a vote. And door-knocking is vital, I think, for three reasons.
In an election, your success is mathematically measurable. If you make a mistake, you find out pretty quickly: polling day is an inescapable deadline. If you get something right, it’s easy to tell. All too often when I’ve been involved in other kinds of campaigns, it’s been incredibly hard to know if what we were doing was working. It is entirely possible I’ve spent years following plans that were never going to work. Of course, that doesn’t mean I was wrong to do that thing – some of the most important contributions are almost impossible to measure. But it’s sometimes nice to get speedy feedback. Even if you believe the aim of electing someone is futile, learning how to mobilise your local community around the issues you care about is helpful, surely?
Local councillors go to a formal meeting a couple of times a month or so. But the rest of the time, they are basically paid to organise their community. They usually aren’t paid well enough to be full time, but having someone in your activist group with any salary to organise in your area is pretty damned useful. Without it, energy soon saps as people are dragged into busy lives and monthly rent requirements.
Too much of modern activism involves talking about one issue as though it is the only and the most important one. Political parties, by their nature, end up discussing and engaging in policy on the whole range of issues. They bring together activists who are passionate and knowledgable about different things. The result is that it’s hard not to begin to think about the systems behind what you’re all campaigning on and the potential strategies for overcoming them.