I asked someone else I met in a temporary political organising space about the unsustainability of political organising that I had noticed. I won’t comment on much but while reading it I was struck by the fact that there seems to be no pool of knowledge for long term organising that we can trust. Political organisers these days are often young and starting from scratch and suspicious of older authoritarian leftist organisations.
So I wonder if there is useful knowledge on organising that we could draw from somewhere, perhaps from outside the usual political circles or in other countries? I think its important that we draw knowledge from successes, rather than copying previous movements that may have been romanticised but that didn’t succeed in their aims.
1. A lot of people seem to burn out after being involved in political organising for a relatively short time. What do you think it is it about the way we organise that makes this happen?
I think there are a number of reasons for this, firstly, thinking in a broad sense:
a) Sometimes activism can be very exciting, when things move up a gear from more conventional and subdued lobbying (letter-writing etc). So you might become wrapped up in the excitement and corresponding social scene, then it could hit you one day that you’ve got tired and maybe neglected other aspects of your life.
b) There seems to be a certain point of political awareness when you notice that every aspect of your life is in some way political and requires thought. Everywhere you look there are causes that demand your attention and suddenly the world’s problems can seem so vast, interconnected and complex that you may feel overwhelmed or exhausted by trying to decipher it all. (There can be a strong emphasis on personal lifestyle choices, which perhaps adds to the all-encompassing nature of ‘activism’).
To come up with other ideas I would need to clarify the ‘we’ in the question. There seem to be some marked differences between student organising, trade union organising, radical-greens, party politics etc. But I have been close to lots of people who have been involved in almost all of these types of activism at the same time, so I guess we’re talking about radical anti-capitalists, working towards social, environmental and economic justice, locally and internationally, by whatever means necessary.
2. I’ve been thinking recently about how so much energy goes into quite temporary projects and convergences, while little goes into long term organisations. Do you think we need lasting organisations and if so, how can we get around people’s fear of bureaucratisation?
Perhaps a lot of energy does go into long-term projects but it is less noticeable? I’m thinking about networks of housing cooperatives, radical media, food growing projects… etc. And there are more visible networks with a long term view, eg trade unions, radical parties, radical NGO’s eg Greenpeace,…But I guess you’re thinking about groups that are more radical than that?
In which case, I agree, there seems to be something missing at the moment in the UK.
There have been attempts that have achieved some success, eg The Social Centre Network and Indymedia.
Maybe more bureaucratic projects are less exciting and can require more dedication than people can afford to give (due to economic circumstances perhaps). Perhaps people don’t feel empowered or knowledgeable enough to set things up. Before I started setting up a Housing Co-op I had no experience of buying a house and it was a daunting prospect – maybe it takes a rare sort of optimism to battle through bureaucracy?
Perhaps there are significant physical/economic constraints (e.g. it’s hard to find affordable/accessible meeting rooms). The digital side of organising always seems to cause some headaches as well. The argument of volunteers vs paid workers often causes divisions. Maybe short-term campaigns have enough spark to just deal with these things in a way that is fine at the time but not quite sustainable.