We'll need people to work together to build a better world. Joining or starting a group is a way to share skills, pool resources, and build relationships. Hear from two MACC participants about their first time showing up to a new group.
Mentioned in this episode
- The Metropolitan Anarchist Coordinating Council is an organization based on the guiding principles of horizontalism, anti-oppression, mutual aid, direct democracy, and direct action.
- The No Platform Working Group is part of MACC that focuses on anti-fascist organizing. Bonus action item: download the plug in they created to report hate speech and join the fight online.
- Bluestockings is a volunteer-powered and collectively-owned radical bookstore, fair trade cafe, and activist center in the Lower East Side of Manhattan.
- Read Ejeris Dixon’s full essay, “Our Relationships Keep Us Alive.”
- Read “Friendship is a Root of Freedom” by Nick Montgomery and Carla Bergman for more on the power of relationships
- An affinity group is small crew that organizes together. CrimethInc defines an affinity group as “a circle of friends who understand themselves as an autonomous political force.” Read “How to Form an Affinity Group” for more.
Music for this episode
Rebel Steps 004 Join a team
Welcome to Rebel Steps. I’m your host, Liz
One of the things that’s appealing about donating, calling a senator, or buying fairtrade organic coffee is that it’s a solo task that takes about 5 minutes or a few extra dollars. A quick check off may feel good, but this type of engagement will only get us so far. We’ll need people to work together to build a better world. Joining or starting a group is a way to share skills, pool resources, and build relationships.
There’s a place for all sorts of organizations and work in the movement. Don’t feel boxed in by what you think is the most important or the best way to be an activist. The movement needs everyone — from caretakers to rabble rousers. We need all types of skills. Take a minute to figure out what you would enjoy doing.
Also consider what sort of organization most appeals to you. You can find groups dedicated to specific issues like prison abolish, reproductive justice, and environmental protection or to general political ideologies. Think of a few things you’re passionate about and seek out those groups aligned with your interests.
While some groups are open to all, others exist to support certain folks. For example, the Metropolitan Anarchist Coordinating Council’s Feminist group is exclusively open to women and gender-non-conforming folks. If you’re not sure the group is a good fit for you, always feel free to email a group in advance and check in.
If you already have politically active friends, asking them about their groups is also a great place to start. It will probably be easier and more fun to get involved if you have a friend already there.
Sarah: Hey, I’m Sarah.
Cait: My name is Cait.
Liz: Sarah and Cait are both involved with the Metropolitan Anarchist Coordinating Council also called by it’s acronym, MACC. I asked them both about their first experiences with the group.
Sarah: I decided to go to a MACC meeting because I was feeling aimless and hopeless after Trump’s election and was feeling very listless. So I heard about a group through a friend called MACC and I decided to go to a meeting with him. And when I walked in the room there was probably 70 people there. I found it really exciting but overwhelming and I was very glad that I had brought a friend.
Cait: I found MACC through a co-worker coming out of a more frustrating time in my life where I was working with some other groups and not feeling necessarily fulfilled. I was experiencing a lot of burnout and a lot of these spaces and just didn’t feel like I was necessarily making as much of an impact in fighting for the things I wanted to fight for. These groups weren’t necessarily talking about fighting against white supremacy, institutional racism, daily heteronormativity, ingrained patriarchy. You know they were talking about specific things they wanted to resist against regarding the Trump administration. And I think for me the fight is and was, you know at the time when I was in these groups, was just greater than that.
I still feel like the Trump administration is much more of an effect of longer standing issues rather than a cause. So for me you know those groups weren’t necessarily focusing on a lot of the broader issues.
Liz: I recommend checking out a couple organizations before settling into one. Going to a protest, film screening, or book discussion sponsored by that group can be a helpful first step.
To get involved, you’ll most likely need to go to a meeting. There are lots of different types of meetings and they all run slightly differently. Many groups have larger public meeting for connecting people and brainstorming ideas and smaller groups to focus on specific work.
Sarah is involved in smaller group within MACC that focuses on anti-fascist work called the No Platform Working Group. Sarah was interested in this project starting with her first MACC meeting.
Sarah: Right away they started talking about this project called No Platform for Fascism which is a project to de-platform fascists, white supremacists, white nationalists to ensure that they don’t have space online or in real life to spread their hateful messages and recruit new members to their movement. And it was something that I have been reading about a lot online but I hadn’t thought about how I could actually take a role in it. So at that time this project didn’t really have a form. So I kind of got in on the ground and just got together with a few other people who are excited about this idea and brainstormed about what we could actually be doing towards this goal.
Liz: The No Platform Working Group is coordinating on going campaign that’s included counter demos and press. One aspect of the campaign is a plug in that encourage people report hate speech on youtube. Videos on the plug-in have been reported over 10,000 times and many of these videos have been removed. It’s an innovative way to continue the anti-fascist struggle online. And it’s gotten a lot of attention, like articles in the New Yorker and Vice’s Motherboard. The no platform working group is an example of a small group of people creating an avenue more people to take action.
Sarah: The purpose of building the online tool is so that any individual can take action from home on their computer. However the project is fueled by those of us who are getting together to strategize about the direction we want to go. The technical improvements to make doing the research doing media outreach doing social media. So we do have closed meetings for those of us who are organizing that and that is because it does require trust when you’re dealing with these politically sensitive topics. But we still want to figure out ways to involve other people in work and get involved and potentially grow kind of a core of us that are doing the work.
Public meetings are great for connecting with new people, and unfortunately they’re also great for attracting law enforcement and other infiltrators. Leading up to the inauguration protests and J20 demonstrations, DC activists were surveilled with secret cameras at their meetings with one such video leading to an arrest. Informants and infiltrators will sometimes very directly try and make a conversation go in a questionable direction in order entrap folks. Brandon Darby the FBI informant is the best example of this. So we know surveillance happens, from both the state and the right. I don’t want to scare anyone away, but let’s take a minute to appreciate the risk before moving on. If someone you don’t know approaches you about something shady, say very clearly “I would never do that, that’s illegal.”
No matter how welcoming and open a meeting is, you may come away not feeling super plugged in. It will likely take more than one meeting to feel like you’re part of an organization. Keep in mind that a lot of activist organizations are powered by volunteers.
Sarah: I think when I was new to organizing I didn’t realize how much work it actually takes to orient new people to groups. And now that I am more experienced on the other side of things I realize that when folks are new to a group having those conversations about what the group does and how it’s structured and making sure to add the person to the right listservs and reach out to them about the meetings. It is a lot of work and it’s important and it’s valuable but if you’re new don’t be discouraged if you know you put your name down for a listserv and you don’t get that email right away. You may have to be a bit persistent. And that is because this is all volunteer work. People have their lives and they’re doing the best that they can. So please be patient and understanding and know that your enthusiasm is valued. And there is a place for you in this work. Even if it doesn’t go smoothly as you had hoped.
Liz: Like I talked about in our first episode, often the best way to contribute is to step up and be an organizes. Here’s cait again.
Cait: It does take a level of being unafraid and doing it yourself which can be very intimidating from the start. Especially if you are like an introverted person which I very much am. You kind of do have to go into groups with a bit of confidence and fearlessness. You know you have to ask people to add you to different loops into different groups and you have to ask questions you really do have to like do a little bit of work to figure out what you want to do and where you want to fit.
Liz: I asked Sarah about her first experiences organizing and she talked about her time at Bluestockings, where she was a volunteer for four years. Bluestockings describes itself as a “volunteer-powered and collectively-owned radical bookstore, fair trade cafe, and activist center”
Sarah: At Blue Stockings you work a shift because it is a bookstore so you have to run the cash register the cafe help out customers. And so for my first couple shifts I was so excited and eager to get started. And I would ask my effectively shift supervisor what should I do. Because I thought that was the way to help was just to ask what am I supposed to do. And he would ask me well what do you want to do. And at the time I felt so frustrated and confused because I wanted to help the project and I didn’t know how and after thinking about it for a while and getting to know the space a bit better. I realized that it was a place where I could take my own initiative.
So I started to invest more time in projects that I was enthusiastic about that I thought I can make better. I learned more about book management book ordering. I found out what the project needed and was able to take action on things like our finances making volunteer orientations better and so building those experiences made me feel more confident in taking on new things.
Be aware of imposter syndrome. Give yourself a few meetings to get acclimated if needed, but eventually you’re going to need to take on that organizer role. And when you do, it may feel weird or uncomfortable. Just know that’s part of the ballgame and it’s nothing to be ashamed of. If you feel like you’ve committed to something out of your depth, reach out to friends and other members of the group for guidance. They’ll be more than willing to share their wisdom.
Lastly, remember that the success of your group is not about how big its events are or how much press it gets. Intentionally creating a supportive community is a radical political act in and of itself. It’s easy to feel isolated in our current culture. The solutions offered by society are often money and achievement. By banding together, you’re taking an important step to alleviate the alienation you and your friends may feel. As you move forward with your work, don’t get hung up on the angry protesting or bureaucratic processes. Take time to connect with new friends, find ways to support each other, and welcome newcomers to the crew.
Sarah: In terms of the relationships that I’ve built through my organizing most of my closest friends are people that I’ve met through political organizing. And that is because connecting on our beliefs can be the deepest part of ourselves and be the most fulfilling foundation of our relationship. So that is one of the really wonderful benefits to being politically active with a group is building relationships with others and building a community that shares what you want to see in the world and we’ll have your back if something goes wrong for you and will support you and that you can collaborate with political projects.
Earlier this year, Ejeris Dixon of the organization Vision Change Win wrote an essay on the importance of activist relationships. She writes, “Without shifting our focus to repairing our relationships, our movements will rot from the inside out” she goes on to say, “ I desire compassion over destruction and connection over celebrity. In these times, it’s our relationships that will keep us together and will keep us alive. I feel firmly that this year, it’s not about the size of our mobilizations, or how strategic our campaigns are, but the strength of our relationships.” For more information on groups in New York or how to find a group near you, check out the notes for this episode at RebelSteps.com. You’ve been listening to Rebel Steps I’m your host liz, Believe in yourself, trust one another, and get organized.
This episode was written, edited, and produced by Amy and myself. Music for the this episode was kindly gifted to us by Tutlie & Square Peg Round Hole and also includes a few songs that I created. Special thanks to our interviewees, Cait and Sarah and their organizations.
“One of the really wonderful benefits to being politically active with a group is building relationships and building a community that shares what you want to see in the world.” - Sarah Twitter | Facebook | Instagram (Story)