Lessons from activism #1

Here are some lessons from activism which have been sent in by some of our members.  It would be good to read these and think through them before our next soup seminar on Thursday 23rd July.  They have been made anonymous for the safety and security of our members.

The stories will be updated as more are sent in.

  • My perspective is from being around activism from a young age – my parents were both activists in London from the late sixties through to the noughties. We had meetings at our home regularly – so much so that we used to play games as kids where we would hand out agendas and take minutes, print pamphlets etc. My impression of those days is that decision making was very hierarchical – the ‘troops’ were expected to vote for things occasionally and the rest of the time follow the party line. Heavily influenced by Soviet style communism and such like. Nowadays the scene in activist circles is much more progressive, there is a genuine commitment to non-hierarchical decision making and involvement of those traditionally sidelined. It’s easy to be disheartened that the revolution isn’t happening this week – and overlook the real progress that’s been made. Now it’s standard practice to have a safe space policy, to actively seek to include all voices, to watch out for power dynamics and work to try to flatten them. It’s not the answer to everything, but it does maximise the power of the group and ensure that it doesn’t become self-serving but carries on focusing on the real issues of the members.


  • I think I had two things to say when we went round the circle. The first was about what little I’ve learnt from being involved with pragmatic mutual aid organisations. Active groups that are horizontally-organised, autonomous, and have a shared understanding of a goal they seek to work towards have been profoundly successful in allowing people to identify, parse, and articulate their own needs. If groups create spaces where individuals feel free and empowered to subsequently find ways to meet those needs, then those spaces draw others, and also retain people who seek to empower others as they themselves were empowered; this has beneficial consequences for group sustainability. There are risks in this approach: that groups may be amorphous, may be coerced by particularly charismatic figures, or may allow people to pursue needs that contradict each other. But there are benefits too: creating a notional space where people are free to seek out shared co-operative strategies for meeting needs (educational, I guess, in the context you’re talking about) that cannot be met in the choking miasma of late capitalism’s socioeconomic clusterfuck is a strategy of redemption and about reclaiming a sense of human idealism. The second thing I said when we went round the circle was the importance of challenging Capital’s lie about “it’s always been this way, and it always has to be this way”. Educational Hegemony wants you to think that its way of doing this is the only way of doing things: this is one of the many ways it seeks to brook no alternatives, to allow no space even for other ways of learning to be conceived. But in Sheffield (as is the case in several industrial cities) there is a strong heritage of working class autodidacticism, in Friendly Societies, Free Schools, Mechanics Institutes, continuing right through to the later c.20th when despite the Conservative’s best efforts to gut the Ad Ed system, there still survived the proud traditions of WEAs and Continuing Education (both within and without the walls of the academe). If you seek other ways of learning, of other means of knowledge creation and dissemination beyond the horrorshow of the contemporary neoliberal HE sweatshop, there are other traditions to draw from that expose the claim that ‘this kind of learning is the only learning there can be’ as yet another dirty great fib.

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