After a few conversations I’ve been having recently, and considering I haven’t written anything worth reading in a while I have been thinking about power dynamics and politics. This is probably gonna end up as a splurge, but…
In anarcho scenes there is always going to be a certain drive and energy (at meetings, and from certain people) at the start of a campaign that ends up being less than it could be if there was a concerted, equal effort from all fronts.. Anarchists are notoriously and infamously disorganised in some areas, yet one of the key tenets of anarchist politics is local and community organisation. It’s often hard to reconcile the two. In my experience, Norwich anarchists seem to argue less than factionalists in the London scene. But then again, the anarchist scene in Norwich consists of a very few crustie punks, students and enlightened individuals – in a small pond, it doesn’t pay to rip apart someone else’s politics with a serrated tongue.You can’t get away with it. Socialists are reputedly the platformists, the break-aways, the the pedants.. One hundred million divisions varying on how one interprets the wording of the 3rd International or platform 43.
Scenesters and politicos need to recognise these dynamics-they are failings and impediments to a functioning movement that actually achieves change for the better. People disagree. Standard. But those disagreements don’t need to be made personal, nor should they get in the way of meaningful collaboration and solidarity.
Of course there are alternatives to the approaches seen in meetings – democratic voting systems – you don’t like it, you abstain; consensus – wavy hands, you don’t like it, you pretend you do – but I have yet to see a way of discussing methods, tactics, ideas, whatever, in a way that effectively eradicates the inherent power play between and among individuals.
Advocates of consensus often centre a lot of their argument around the notion that consensus eliminates hierarchy – everyone is involved. But people who are new to the method will inevitably be intimidated by their lack of understanding of the way things work, and even as they become more comfortable with how it works, they may not necessarily feel able to voice their opinions. This happens especially if there are people who are more vocal in meetings because they have done more in preparation, or are more confident about speaking, or have simply been in the movement for longer, and therefore feel some kind of ‘core crew superiority complex’. In essence, there is always power in a group of people. Some people feel an entitlement because they have dedicated more time to working on something, and have been to every 4 hour meeting in a SOAS room throughout the process, and feel like they need some kind of recognition for their hard work (of course we do need to recognise hard work, but that doesn’t translate to lauding someone as better, nor valuing that contribution more highly than any other).
It is important to recognise the importance of everyone’s contribution, and this doesn’t always happen – people who can’t always devote all their time are often marginalised and made to feel less valuable. And this comes back to the class issue – middle class people tend to have more time on their hands to do these tasks – they don’t have to hold down a 10-hour-a-day, 6-day-a-week job for minimum wage on top of doing all the other things they have to do, and having a life. Cos that’s important too. And that further pushes people who aren’t middle class out. And then people complain about the ‘movement’ (especially the climate movement, although that is arguably non-existant right now – i would argue that it is simply dormant, having been subsumed into other things) being too white, too middle class, too.. whatever it is.
As well as all this, it is impressed upon people from the start of most consensus-based meetings that blocking an idea or disagreeing with something is considered incredibly rude. This in itself surely seeks to prevent disagreement with the prevalent ideas and dominant views of those in the meeting who would like to direct it – revealing once more the subsurface power dynamics. If we are not allowed to disagree with what the people who feel comfortable enough to speak say, then what is it that we are discussing? Is there any point at all in being at such a meeting?
The same questions and themes are apparent in public consultations about sustainability issues. I watched a video recently of a veteran sustainability planner in Canada having a somewhat hilarious rant about the failings of public consultations.. The crux of what she was saying is that in most cases, the overall ideas are set in stone (e.g. Southend airport – more on that later) but the nitty gritty minutae are up for discussion. This creates the illusion that the public participants have some control and voice in the matters they are discussing without actually impeding the developers’ plans. It is a task designed to foster compliance. It makes people more willing to accept their fate if they think they have played a part in changing or developing it. In the case of Southend or example, the developers (Easyjet and Stobart) had laid the foundations for a new runway before the planning permission had even been approved – before it had even gone to court. That’s how confident they were that they were going to obtain permission. It just goes to show how in the pockets of the corporations the local councils are – and that’s replicated everywhere, on every scale, every level of government.
It’s always going to be hard to address these issues. It’s not as if you can change things over night, nor change hard-wired human attitudes and habits. However, it is important that it is something that is recognised in the decision making process. Unfortunately another thing to add to a long list..