Encapsulating encapsulation

Encapsulation occurs when a movement organization develops an ideology or structure that interferes with efforts to recruit members or raise demands. …members may develop such strong cohesion among themselves that outsiders become unwelcome. In prolonged interaction, a group may develop an ideology that is internally coherent but virtually unintelligible to recruits and outsiders who do not share all of the members’ assumptions. Such groups are not uncommon in movements; they constitute the fringe of organizations that appears strange to outsiders. An encapsulated organization may find it easy to maintain its dedicated core of members, whose identities are linked to the group and who may have few outside contacts, but such groups have little chance of growing or increasing their influence. Most strikingly, they may lose interest in such things, contenting themselves with maintaining their encapsulated existence.

[Frederick D. Miller. The End of SDS and the Emergence of the Weatherman: Demise through Success. Jo Freeman and Victoria Johnson, editors. Waves of Protest: Social Movements Since the Sixties (Rowman and Littlefield, 1999)]

This quote comes from a rather good article on a blog called “Devoke the Apocalypse,” which is well worth a look.

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Ending Activism booklet (6 page pdf)

And apropos of nothing in particular, there’s another reason people leave social movement organisations – they get treated as ego-fodder by unconstrained egos with chronic avuncularitis.  Just sayin’.
Here’s a 6 page A4 booklet about the project to date; endact a4 booklet july 2012.

If people want to get involved in a possible second stage, they’re very welcome.  Email endingactivism@gmail.com

“Aggressively confrontational” or “beautifully confrontational” – either one will do, eh


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Reposting on “Power” – very much worth your time and attention

from here.

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..

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The desire for community – a two-edged sword

“Many radical political organizations founder on the desire for community. Too often people in groups working for social change take mutual friendship to be the goal of the group, and thus judge themselves wanting as a group when they do not achieve such commonality. Such a desire for community often channels energy away from the political goals of the group, and produces a clique atmosphere which keeps groups small and turns away potential members.”

~ Iris Marion Young
from “Justice and the Politics of Difference 1990

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Artist or activist? Both? Neither? An artist/activist reflects…

Ben Mellor, whose show “Everything We Need” is performed at the Royal Exchange Theatre on Thursday 28th, Friday 29th and Saturday 30th of June, talks to Manchester Climate Monthly writer Roisin Weintraub about myth, art and activism.

(a longer interview appears on manchesterclimatemonthly.net. This is just the “art and activism” question

I am personally very shy of titles, but do do you consider yourself an activist?
I’m also wary of labels, and I find the ‘activist’ moniker a particulary thorny one to lay claim to. I have been on actions and demos in the past but I haven’t been very active recently. I’ve personally become disenchanted with large scale ‘anti’ demos and direct actions (though I have great respect for people who do them) and more in favour of positive, localised, community building work like the Transition Movement. That said, I think that standing up for what we’re against needs to go hand in hand with working towards what we’re for. But paradoxically I’ve found that making artistic work about these issues has meant that often I’ve been too busy writing or rehearsing to take more of an ‘activist’ role. Then there is the question of whether art is a form of activism in itself, a question I’m still debating but haven’t yet found a definitive answer to. I think the problem with labels is that as soon as you apply them to yourself, if you find yourself not doing that particular thing at any time you can become too self-critical and start negating your worth as a person because you have tied your sense of worth to that label. I don’t generally describe myself as an activist, as I feel that there are people out there working far more tirelessly and who are far more committed and self-sacrificing to certain causes than I am. But as I’ve said, those unfavourable comparisons can become damaging, and I’d like to think that a diversity of tactics and approaches should mean that people are free to chart their own course and find their own definitions for what it means to take action.

Everything We Need, runs at the Royal Exchange Theatre 28 – 30 June
Written & Performed by Ben Mellor
Directed by Cheryl Martin
Designed by Sumit Sakar
Lighting Design by Jack Dale
Sound Design & Music by Dan Steele & Leonie Higgins
£10 Adults / £7 Concessions
0161 8339833

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“Positive experiences and actual wins” – another reader replies

Why do people get involved in (climate) activism? And how?
– Acknowledging there are issues and that they can make change
– Anger
– Threatened livelihood (e.g. Indigenous struggles)
– To meet like-minded people

– Local community (e.g. church, suburb, school, workplace, etc.)
– Public gatherings
– Direct conversations
– Relationships

Who stays involved and why?
– Those who have no choice (e.g. Indigenous struggles), although this is usually when it is supported by a larger local community
– Those who have trouble relinquishing control
– Those who are too stubborn to let failure after failure stop them
– Those who make it their ‘living’ (i.e. professionals working in NGO’s)
– Those who have had positive experiences and actual wins

Why do people stop being involved? Give as many reasons as you like!
– Burn out
– Lack of progression
– Inefficient, boring, pointless and unproductive meetings
– Lack of creativity in tactics
– Relationship break-ups
– Life
– Too much bureaucracy
– Personality clashes
– Failures

If you are no longer involved, what would it take for YOU to get involved again?
I am still involved

What are the barriers to becoming involved (or re-involved)?
– Hard to break into pre-existing social circles
– Not fitting the stereotype (true or otherwise)
– Life
– Different abilities
– Seeing the same mistakes being made over and over again
– Perceived lack of understanding (more precisely, an overtly large amount of ego-foddering by some of those involved)

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Questions about “who is in the room?”

At the June 15th launch, because it was quite intimate and informal, we were able to throw in questions that might not work in a bigger group. It really is up to the facilitators/convenors what they ask. We also threw it open to the floor (see second half).  If you were there and your memory is good, could you please let us know what we’ve forgotten!  If you’ve other suggestions, please comment! The idea of this is it can become a resource for people too nervous to “wing it” when doing a demographic survey…

Hands up if you have;

Been to climate camp
Done a fluffy FOE style action
Written to an MP or newspaper
Got a University degree
Live in fuel poverty
Taken a flight in the last year

Questions other people asked
Grew up in Manchester
Parents born in the UK
Organised a campaign

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