Basics of organising #2 – Evaluating issues

Community housing protestThere are basic tools and principles to community organising, but they are not templates. They must be evaluated and adapted to meet the needs of your local situation. The success of your organising drive will not depend upon this article – only your hard work and dedication to organising will make changes happen.

 

Evaluating issues

Just because you think it is an issue it does not make it an issue.

Just because you think it is not an issue it does not mean it is not an issue.

When you find what appears to be an issue, three questions must be asked:

• Can people be mobilised around this?

• Is it specific?

• Can something be done to change this situation?

If people cannot be mobilised around an issue, then you do not have an issue. A good way to ‘test’ an issue is to call several friends or family members, talk about the situation and then ask would they be interested in getting a few people together to talk about what can be done? Or bring it up at the ‘any other business’ of your community organisation’s meeting to see what kind of reaction you get.

Issues must be made specific before anything can be done: there is a big difference between a concern and an issue. You can’t do anything about concerns, but you can win issues! Bad housing is a concern. The block of flats on Goldman Street with no heating, broken front door, owned by absentee landlord Mr Smith, is an issue and can be organised on. Healthcare is a concern. The fact that the local pharmacy will not sell cheap generic drugs is an issue. When people say that the ‘community is rundown’, that is a concern. But you can make it into an issue by getting them to define what they mean by ‘rundown’. It could mean there are potholes in the streets, that a streetlight is broken, or that there is a lot of vandalism or anti-social behaviour. To be something that an organisation can work on, the concern must be translated into a specific issue.

Can something be done or changed? Your local organisation on its own may not be able to take on the packaging industry but it can organise a community litter-pick or make sure the local council provides enough bins or a regular street sweeping service. You must make sure the issues your organisation takes on are not beyond the scope and power of your organisation and that you can realistically expect to win or change something about the issue.

A couple of other points about issues: If you are going to attack an issue which looks like it will take a long time to win, then you have to set up and celebrate intermediate victories.

• ‘The issue is really moving now, we have been offered a meeting with the head of housing.’

• ‘The council have agreed to give us 10 new bins for the area. We are rolling now!’

Also, in a long organising drive, make sure you have plenty of alternative targets. You cannot ask people to picket an enemy every Saturday for six months. You must look for alternate targets. Does the enemy sit on a board of directors of some agency or business? Then visit that agency or business and ask associates there to call your enemy and come to a meeting. Does the enemy belong to any clubs or organisations or a church? The same type of visit can be made. One group even went to the home of a mayor in the suburb where their enemy lived and asked the mayor to give our enemy a call to come to a meeting. The enemy’s associates are usually willing to make these phone calls because they want to get out of the controversy.

In a long organising drive there have to be alternative targets so people do not get bored and so the enemy has pressure coming from a variety of sources at the same time.

Remember the two sentences at the head of this section. Organisations have organised on some very strange issues, have won and built the organisation. Some examples of these issues: shopping trolleys, bells on ice cream trucks, toilet paper at the school. None of these is earth shaking, but they were won, a constituency was built and the organisation moved on to bigger issues.

This text was originally published by National Training and Information Centre, USA 1985 and written by Shel Trapp. Large sections have been edited or otherwise omitted.

What anarchists think #4 – Organisation

Anarchist organisationWhat is ‘organisation’? It’s a vast subject so let’s think about one kind of organisation relevant to anarchists, the ‘revolutionary organisation’. Each kind of organisation has its own purpose enabling people to accomplish what they cannot individually, harnessing energy and resources in productive ways.

However, organisations are not pure rational constructs. They have their own culture, often obscured by formal structures. Strip away the theoretical organisation of states, corporations and political parties and you reveal the hierarchy, authority, fear and greed that is true organisation in a capitalist society. Because of this some anarchists reject not only the ‘ordering’ imposed on our minds by capitalist society but all forms of organisation. We at the Heckler recognise the problems of organisation but accept that it is necessary for achieving a libertarian society. What is important is to build organisations that are a practical example of anarchist-communist ideas.

 

Determination and solidarity

To create effective organisations we must know our own and other’s minds, therefore there must be a high degree of communication and sharing. We must set about creating aspiration, setting achievable targets, celebrating success, rededicating ourselves again and again to the reasons why we have formed or participate in the organisation. And because organisation is a mutual, sharing activity these things cannot be contained within one mind or merely thought but acted out and given a tangible existence through words and actions. At the same time, we must remain individuals, capable of independent and objective appraisal, not cogs in some vast machine.

What then is the purpose of ‘revolutionary organisation’? Can it be described? Given that the need for revolution already exists, a revolutionary organisation must increase the demand for it.
It must increase the measurable ‘weight’ or ‘force’ of the resources joined to demand revolution. The structure must increase the ability of the organisation to perpetuate itself while its ends remain unrealised.

It must be flexible, be able to absorb or deflect change or challenges to it, have the ability to change or cease as circumstances dictate and the self-knowledge to initiate change when change is required. High levels of positive communication, mutual respect and celebration, shared aspirations and solidarity all describe the revolutionary organisation.

 

Creating a revolutionary structure

Anarchists in a free society will be self-ordering and society will be self-regulating.  The organisations we construct will arise out of the needs of the moment, filtered by our knowledge and perceptions. Organisations, whether free associations, collectives, federations, communes or ‘families’ will be fluid and flexible but retain the ability to persist. They will be responsive to individual and social need. They will have a structure and culture matching the needs, beliefs and purpose of members. They will not have the super-ordered, monolithic or divergent cultures of competition, fragmentation, subordination or conflict that exist within organisations today.

Creating organisations that have a revolutionary structure is an act of revolution itself. The more we do it, successfully, the better we will be at making the revolution and the closer we will be to achieving revolution.

Working as an organisation can make our interventions in the class struggle stronger and our ideas clearer than they could be alone, and though we still have a long and hard road to travel, ever increasing co-ordination is unmistakably the way forward.

A powerful revolutionary organisation will not come about by people simply agreeing with each other. Only through the dynamics of working together can we achieve the unity of activity and theory necessary to bring about a free and equal society.

“Anarchism is organisation, organisation and more organisation.” Errico Malatesta

Freedom, equality and community – The manifesto of Hereford Solidarity League

HSL manifestoIn the run-up to the 2010 general election, Hereford Solidarity League – the Heckler’s now defunct former publishers – released a manifesto to rival that of the authoritarian parties fighting for power.

The Hereford Heckler stands by much of what was written then and we republish it here due to the relevance it still has and as part of the general election debate.

Hereford Solidarity League was formed in 2007 with the vision of highlighting and dealing with problems faced by working class people in the county. In this document we hope to expand on our basic principles, and to offer positive solutions to some of the issues dealt with. Unlike political parties we are not asking for your vote, but have decided that the run-up to the general election is a good time to offer our alternative.

The long-term aim of the Hereford Solidarity League is to build a society based on the principles of freedom, equality and community. By this we mean a society where every individual is free to do as they please as long as that doesn’t infringe on the freedoms of others. By equality we mean a classless society, where everybody is treated as equals regardless of colour, race, gender or sexuality, and where nobody is in a position of authority over anybody else. We believe that this can be brought about by building solidarity among working class people, and through taking collective action in our communities to deal with the everyday problems that we face.

 

Health

All healthcare should be freely available for everyone. We believe that this is a solid principle, and one that the NHS was founded on. But due to privatisation and the ever-influential capitalist values of business, this principle is threatened. Problems such as a lack of beds or hospitals refusing to invest in medication deemed ‘too expensive’ can be linked to this.

Hospitals and surgeries should be controlled by healthcare workers and patients’ groups, not politicians or businessmen. We must reopen our old village and community hospitals. Our existing hospitals should be equipped with all the very latest medicines and technologies required to do the job. In the 21st century, where we are surrounded by vast wealth, no one should be suffering because the necessary medication is too expensive; no one should die because the nearest suitably equipped hospital is over 70 miles away.

Prescriptions should be free for all. Hospital parking charges must be scrapped. The health service should be run for the benefit of the people not as a money-making business.

 

Education

Currently the education system in Britain is organised to teach our children to be good little workers. But we are faced with a dilemma: do we give our children the freedom to become intelligent and well-rounded individuals or do we teach them the skills they need to survive in the world of work? Until capitalism is abolished, reform of the system can only be limited.

What we are certain of is that a ‘one-size’ education system doesn’t fit all. This rigid system contributes towards the lack of interest some pupils feel towards learning. Not everyone will be good at maths, not everyone responds well to the extreme structure of school; this doesn’t make them thick.

Schools should be free of religion. They should be structured in a more informal way with an emphasis on learning not discipline. University education should be free for all.

 

Crime & Prevention

Capitalism by its very nature breeds crime. The greed that exists in society will always result in people committing crime for personal gain. Until we replace the competitive system of capitalism with cooperation, crime will exist.

We believe that to truly eliminate crime we have to get rid of the social conditions that create it, not just punish criminals once they have broken the law. Our reliance on the police to sort things out for us often does more harm than good. Strong, close-knit communities are less likely to suffer from anti-social crime, and are more able to take care of themselves, removing the need for a police force altogether.

In Hereford, as in many places, a high percentage of crime is a result of drug abuse. We believe all drugs should be legalised to allow those with addictions to be treated as people with serious illnesses not as criminals.

 

Environment

The human race is facing an uncertain future due to destruction of the planet. This is a direct result of a global capitalist system that will go to any length to create ‘economic growth’. While we clearly need to deal with environmental issues, for many people this is not a priority. We cannot expect people with housing or other social issues to worry about climate change.

By working towards a future without capitalism we can deal with both people’s day-to-day problems and environmental destruction that threatens us all.

 

Immigration

We believe people should have the freedom to live wherever they choose. But some people have no such freedoms and are forced to leave friends and family to escape intolerable conditions. Where necessary, we must support such people if they choose to make this country their home.

However, Britain—like any other small country—can only sustain so many people. At certain times, immigration may need to be discouraged but instead of closing our borders we should be dealing with the reasons why people leave their home countries in the first place. Immigrants leave to find new jobs because of poverty; they flee wars like those in Iraq and Afghanistan in search of safety; they seek refuge from persecution and dictatorships to live a freer life.

We must protest against the part our own government plays in creating these problems abroad. We must end all wars and we must support foreign revolutionary movements that are fighting for improvements in their standards of living and therefore reducing the need to emigrate.

 

War

We are opposed to all wars. It is working class man and women who are sent away to fight against other working class men and women, just like themselves. Many pay with their lives.
Wars between nations will never benefit our class. The only winners are the ruling elite: the governments who have gained control over new lands and new resources; the multinational companies that make millions upon millions through selling weapons to foreign governments.

We support the withdrawal of the all armed forces around the world from all current conflicts.

 

Work

Many businesses in today’s society serve no social purpose—call centres, for example—while many other necessary services are under-staffed, like hospitals. We want to see a future where work is focused on the actual needs of society not on what can make a bigger profit.

We believe that it is communities that should decide what is produced with the resources we own; production should not be based on the whims of individual ‘entrepreneurs’. This work must then be managed by all staff involved in it, not company directors.

In the here and now we support workers fighting back to improve their conditions and attempts to make their workplaces more democratic.

 

Housing

Housing is a necessity and is one of the most fundamental human needs. The current housing system works on the basis of profit and greed. Landlords, property developers and local authorities hold back empty houses, drive up rents and house prices and force vulnerable people to live in sub-standard housing. Why is it some working class families have to suffer shabby, overcrowded accommodation while other smaller families can live in large houses with unused rooms just because they are rich? We believe all housing should be allocated according to need not wealth.

In Herefordshire we have over 5,000 people waiting for social housing whilst nearly 2,500 properties lie empty across the county. The situation is similar across the rest of the country.

We support squatting as an option for immediate self-housing. We oppose the Edgar Street Grid development; we want to see its funds redirected towards the priority building of affordable housing to buy and rent in the county.

 

Class

We believe that there is still a class divide in the world today. Class is defined by the amount of power and money you have and the job you do. We believe that society is roughly divided into two classes: the working class and the ruling class. There is also a ‘grey area’, the middle class, which tends to have more in common with one of the two other classes.

We view the ruling class as social parasites: those that take a lot but give very little. A great contrast to the working class that takes very little but produces a lot.

Society is organised for the benefit of the rich and powerful, but it is our class that is the most numerous and without our consent they achieve nothing. We believe that if working class people realise the strength we have when we act together then we can rid ourselves of these parasites and run the world for our benefit and not theirs.

We’ve had enough of the ruling class controlling our lives, and exploiting us for their own financial gain. We believe in freedom and equality, and this can only be achieved by removing the power of the ruling class.

Our ultimate goal, through revolution, is to abolish the class system altogether and create a society of true equality.

 

Voting

Whether you do it or not, voting in elections will never bring about effective change; ticking a box once every four* years does not constitute a real democratic system.

We support collective, direct action as a way of making real, positive change. Strong communities working together have a bigger voice than an individual shouting alone, and by direct participation in decision-making, the need for ‘representatives’ or politicians is removed altogether.

Organising ourselves without leadership is a core principle of Hereford Solidarity League. Why vote for people to represent you when you can cut out the middleman and speak for yourself?

 

So what can YOU do?

The overriding principle behind what we stand for is direct action. Direct action means taking responsibility for the problems that you face and sorting things out for yourself—often getting together with other people—rather than relying others to do it for you.

We believe that the policies we have outlined and the anarchist society we have tried to describe cannot be created by a small number of people, but that it must be formed by the involvement of everyone … that means you.

If you agree with what we have said then we encourage you to take action yourself. Start a campaign for or against a particular issue, or get involved in one that already exists. Get together with workmates or join your union to improve conditions at work. If there are problems in your neighbourhood, join your community association or start an action group.

Organising strong community ties is just the starting point in achieving a society where all are free and equal, one where all resources are held in common, owned by no one and managed by everyone. We work towards a world of peace where every man and woman gives what they are able to and receives all that they need, and one where no one has any greater or lesser power than the next person. This world must be created by us all.

 

*Since this was first published in 2010, the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 provides that general elections now take place every five years.

Basics of organising #1 – Researching the issues

Researching the issuesThere are basic tools and principles to community organising, but they are not templates. They must be evaluated and adapted to meet the needs of your local situation. The success of your organising drive will not depend upon this article – only your hard work and dedication to organising will make changes happen.

 

Researching the issues: Door-knocking

We go out into the community knocking on doors to find out what the community is thinking and feeling. What do people feel or think about the community? What do they want to see changed? Improved? Most organisations have found that door-knocking is the best technique to obtain that input.

When you are door-knocking, you are basically either ‘fishing’ or ‘pushing’, or some combination of the two. When door-knocking you have about 30 seconds to identify yourself, state your purpose and convince the person behind the door that you are not a debt collector, selling bibles or casing their home for a break-in. Recognising this, you must immediately identify yourself and try to mention some organisation which the people will know.

“Hello, I’m _____ and I work with the [local community action/campaign group etc.]. We are talking with people in the area to get their ideas on how the community can be improved.”

 

Fishing — This is when you are attempting to find an issue. After the introduction, you might say something like:

“If you could change one thing in the community, what would it be?”

“What do you think should be done to improve the community?”

If this gets no specific response, you might suggest something you have seen in the area.

“I noticed the house on the corner is boarded up, do you know who owns it?”

This should shift the discussion to a specific and what might be done about it. When fishing, you will usually get general responses such as:

“The neighbourhood is run down.”

“The neighbourhood is so dirty.”

“The neighbourhood isn’t like it used to be.”

Your job is to make these general responses into something specific by asking questions:

“What do you mean by dirty?”

“Can you point to one specific spot that is particularly dirty?”

Once you get a specific issue, then you ask:

“Would you be willing to come to a meeting about the empty house on the corner?”

Depending upon how strongly you think the person feels about the issue, you may even ask if the meeting could be held in his or her home next Tuesday (depending on space and the numbers expected). If the person agrees to hold the meeting, then you will probably stop fishing and start pushing when you move to the next door.

 

Pushing — This differs from fishing in that not only do you have an issue already, you have a date, time, and place for the meeting. After the introduction:

“A lot of the neighbours are complaining about the empty house on the comer. We are getting together next Tuesday at 7:30 above the pub on the corner. This is a good time to get something done about the house once and for all. Will you be able to come?”

If there is interest, repeat the date, time and place, give a flyer and ask if there is anyone else they can talk with about the meeting. If there seems little interest:

“Well, there will be time to discuss other issues. What would you like to see something done something about?”

The trick is to get people out and discussing their concerns with other neighbours.

 

Hints

• You may want to ask for a phone number. This depends on how comfortable the person feels with you. It can be a threat to some people.

• If you take notes in front of people, tell them what you are doing so they do not think you are taking notes about the make of their TV. “I’m making a note that you brought up the problem with the rats so I don’t forget it.”

A good method is to carry little cards in your pocket, and as you are walking to the next house merely write down the address and the issue.

No. 43 – rats

No. 44 – hates the organisation

No. 45 – promised info on an underhand councillor

When you get back home, you can see what follow-up you must do. Also, the next time you go to the area you can take your cards so you have a point of reference to begin talking with people.

• If you promise information to people, make sure you get it to them.

• If you are asked a question for which you don’t know the answer, don’t be afraid to admit you don’t know. Honesty is better than making a fool of yourself.

• If you are met with hostility, don’t get into an argument. You won’t win anyway, and you will merely turn the person off to your organisation. Simply offer thanks for the time and move on.

• Dress in an acceptable way for the community.

• Do not wear badges other than an organisation button; the person behind the door may not support your particular concern.

• Remember, you are an intrusion into the life of the person behind the door.

 

Researching the issues: Questionnaires

A less intrusive method of finding out people’s concerns (albeit one with a lower response rate) is a questionnaire. This can be posted door to door around a neighbourhood and could ask questions like:

“What issues affect you and your family?”

“What would make your neighbourhood a better place to live in?”

“If you could change one thing about your city, what would it be and why?”

Also ask for a name and address or some other form of contact. Without the pressure of a stranger on the doorstep, the resident may give a more honest and detailed answer. These can then be posted back to your organisation or an arrangement could be made with the local shop or pub to have them dropped into there and collected regularly by you.

 

This text was originally published by National Training and Information Centre, USA 1985 and written by Shel Trapp. Large sections have been edited or otherwise omitted.

What anarchists think #3 – Class consciousness

Workers of the world uniteThe aim of anarchism is to obtain a free and equal society. For anarchists now the biggest problem is how to achieve the transformation from the present capitalist world to an anarchist one. Anarchists are a tiny minority throughout the globe but we believe that an anarchist society will be to the benefit of all humanity. Since we think that anarchism is objectively in the interest of all, many people question the emphasis on class struggle to achieve a revolution. Here we will try to explain the anarchist-communist analysis of class and the need for class consciousness amongst the working class if anarchist ideas are to triumph.

Much confusion is caused by the concept of class. This is not the place to examine the myriad economic, sociological and psychological definitions, all of which have important insights to offer in the analysis of present society. Instead we will concentrate on the anarchist-communist political definition which holds that the working class, for want of a better term, includes the vast majority of the world’s population who are oppressed and exploited by a tiny minority of rulers, the boss class, who order them about and live off the produce of their labour. These are not precise terms and it is not to label individuals as belonging to one class or the other, nor should it be. Class is a collective entity and can only exist in the context of a social whole.

We identify the working class as the prime agent in changing society because of its numerical and productive collective strength and the obvious fact that those poorer and more oppressed have more to gain and less to lose in overthrowing capitalism and are therefore more likely to do so. However to gain that result what we describe as the working class must recognise themselves for what they are and how they stand in relation to the bosses.

 

Consciousness and the individual

For anarchists the implication of this is that the revolution cannot be carried out on behalf of the working class by an ‘enlightened’ minority acting in its name. This does not imply, as many well meaning anarchist ‘educationalists’ proclaim, that the vast majority of individuals must become convinced of anarchist politics before we can act to implement anarchism. Class consciousness is not a product of individual commitment but an ideological transformation effecting every aspect of social interaction.

To bring this sense of class consciousness into being, anarchists must simultaneously work to break down the ideological domination of capitalist ideas, and struggle as part of our class against capitalism in practice. The first of these we do by spreading anarchist ideas and by exposing the false values of liberalism, democracy, labourism etc. for what they are, excuses to justify the rule and privilege of a small elite.

Anarchism in turn gains from this by learning from the experience of the working class from which all anarchist theory ultimately derives – the concept of anarchists advocating workers’ councils is a good example of this. Participation in the class struggle comes naturally to anarchists as we are not only struggling against our own oppression but recognise that as one aspect of a whole oppressive system, which generates solidarity with others in the same position.

This natural desire to fight back has the added good of showing the rest of our class what anarchism is really about rather than the lies and myths spread by the media.  These two strands of anarchist activity are entwined as better ideas make us more effective in action and involvement in struggle leads to better ideas.

The class consciousness we wish to create must be such that it not only stands opposed to the present system but must be capable of controlling those who will use the class struggle to achieve power for themselves. To this end an emerging class consciousness must manifest itself as more than an vague feeling amongst our class but express itself in organisation on libertarian principles not least in a coherent and united anarchist movement.