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3 Ways Organizing With Friends Can Lead to Failure

Sitting among a group of college aged friends that all dress and talk in the same way is a recurring scene in activism and organizing groups around the world. In large part, organizing takes the form of a few people trying to rally their friends around a cause. These practices are counterproductive to creating welcoming organizing spaces.
Sitting among a group of college aged friends that all dress and talk in the same way is a recurring scene in activism and organizing groups around the world. In large part, organizing takes the form of a few people trying to rally their friends around a cause. These practices are counterproductive to creating welcoming organizing spaces.

I've been in all types: organizations that were started from friendships, groups of people that later became friends after working together (which is better), and most recently a group that I have a few friends in but most of the people I work with I just consider comrades. Meaning once in awhile we go out for beers after a meeting or action but socializing doesn't go much beyond that. The latter of the three works best to promote a healthy organizational culture. This article will examine the reasons as to how leaning on our friends to take a role in our organizations can become problematic.

1. Organizations that have a membership based around a group of friends are unwelcoming. In friend groups a culture develops: inside jokes happen and friends start to reflect each other's styles. Groups of friends tend to be homogeneous, belonging to a specific subculture. This is natural, because we want to be around people that validate our interests and beliefs. This means we often share the same tastes in music, sports, fashion, and so on. But our goal in creating broader social movements means that we not only have to look towards engaging people outside of our social sphere, but we also need to create welcoming spaces for people that we may have nothing in common with except the project that we're all interested in. It's incredibly difficult to create these spaces when organizations start as groups of friends. A newcomer interested in the project will quickly notice who is friends with who and who has influence over who. That new person will feel left out in realizing that influence in these friendships spills over and dominates the decision making process and power dynamics in the organization.

These types of organizations are identified with the social scene which its members make up. For example, there might be a group made up of solely of hipsters around the same age from a specific university, or solely of crust punks, or solely of diehard Seahawks fans. These groups are going to be unwelcoming to people who could never see themselves as being like those people.

2. Another problem is that friend drama spillover gets in the way of effective organizing. The health and culture of these friend/activist groups are very much linked to health of the friendships of the people involved. For example, friends date each other, they break up, and friends take sides. Organizing spaces that aren't dominated by friend groups are less susceptible to friend drama spillover because others in the group are likely not to stand for the distraction. There is also less of a possibility that this will cause the friends who are involved in the conflict to leave the organization because the organization is perceived to exist outside of the friend sphere of the people involved.

3. Many of our friends who consider themselves politically minded are just not as serious about organizing as we are. Oftentimes, attendance at meetings is more motivated by the social aspect than an actual desire to make revolution. The motivating force behind recruiting our friends is the idea that by adding bodies to our group will somehow make us more successful, and that by leaning on these people to attend our meetings it will increase our groups capacity and power. This line of reasoning doesn't work. A group filled with friends can often lead to unreliable members which puts pressure on the reliable organizers in the group to babysit. Babysitting leads to burnout, and burnout of the solid organizers within the group leads to group failure. It's better to put zero effort into retaining these unreliable people. A group of three reliable people will function better and accomplish more than a group of five with two or three "reliables" and the rest being flakes.

This isn't to say that people who have a lot going on in their life shouldn't be able to participate and be involved. Levels of involvement will always vary and we should make space for people with families, illness, or other reasons that leave them with minimal time to contribute. Unreliable people are something different altogether; they are the people who say they will do something and repeatedly don't follow through or require a phone call meeting reminder to even show up. It just so happens that often times these people happen to be the ones with the most time on their hands.

Why do friendship groups so often dominate our organizing? It's because they are the people that we have the most access to. Going out and doing real outreach and engaging people that we don't know and are different than us is scary at first. It takes work, so doing this in teams is a good way to alleviate some of this fear. The simplest thing we can do to change the friend activist group culture is to not lean on our friends to join our groups and actively seek out self-starting organizers who are interested in the projects we want to work on. Start with two or three people instead of five unreliables. You will have better results.

 link to feldbrandon.wordpress.com

homepage: homepage: http://feldbrandon.wordpress.com/2013/07/26/3-ways-organizing-with-friends-can-lead-to-failure/

This Is U.S.D.P. Grade AAA Propaganda: 28.Jul.2013 21:24


The information that follows is an official message of the United States Department of Propaganda:

Do NOT try to organize with your friends in small circles. You must organize in large groups so that our agents can infiltrate, based on economy of scale.

We cannot control you effectively unless you organize in large clusters.

End of official message of the United States Department of Propaganda (U.S.D.P.)

Thank you for not thinking!

I liked this article 29.Jul.2013 11:25


@Blues - you don't organize with anyone, that's frankly obvious by the amount of paranoia you constantly exhibit on PIMC. You're too scared of your own shadow to go out there and do outreach, as this author explains, "Going out and doing real outreach and engaging people that we don't know and are different than us is scary", and @Blues is too preoccupied with assuming everyone who has different beliefs is a federal agent. So please @Blues, save your advice.

There's pros and cons to different structural organizing, this author pointed out some valid concerns of organizing in small groups of friends.

"Organizing" has always struck me as a social activity with strangers or other activists. Friends are already organized in the sense that they're a support community, usually leadership models/traditions are defined, and trust bonds are already established. I think it's disingenuous to call yourself an "organizer" if all you're doing is palling around with your close friends, you're probably an "activist" and not an "organizer." I'll better define the circle of friends below...

I think of at least 3 different roles that people can take in political movements: "Activist", "Organizer", and "Advocate".

- Activists, by definition, are people who are engaged in "activities" to further a movement or work on a specific cause. In basic terms I think of these as the people who donate time, they show up to events, they pass out literature, they get people to sign petitions, they basically do the ground work. Activists do not necessarily have to work with groups, and I've been in cliques where there are 25 Activists, but no Organizers.

- Organizers are the people expanding political movements by identifying and empowering people to become activists, some organizers also work on promoting activists to becoming Organizers. Good Organizers are recognized by their capacity to be concerned with organizational structure, asking questions like: can we facilitate a meeting more smoothly next time? How can we identify problems within our circle, talk about them, and solve them, in an equitable manner? How are people feeling when we come together as a big group? I've also been a part of groups where it's a dozen Organizers and zero Activists: this was awful.

- Advocates are people who support an issue or movement but for one reason or another are not interested in Activism. The perfect example of an Advocate is a reoccurring sustaining donor: they'll give money (but they won't give time), they'll talk highly of the work people are doing, but don't ask them to show up to rally because that's not their scene. Advocates can easily become activists, but if you push them too hard you will guilt them into not participating any more (i.e., "Show up to our next rally!" | "Why didn't you show up to the rally, we needed you there!"). Really passionate Activists don't get along with Advocates, so it's important to either separate them or have an Organizer explain to an Activist how this all works. An easy way to transform advocates into Activists is to get them to come to friendly social activities and get them inspired by Activists they meet.

You can be both an Activist and an Organizer at the same time. It is important to distinguish between the two because of the different ways they approach people: an Activist just wants to educate a stranger, an Organizer wants to get their contact information. Activists want to go outside of City Hall, Organizers want to have a potluck afterwards.

The criticism that the OP suggested is genuine, because it's confusing these roles: within your circle of 5 friends, 2 might be activists, 2 might be advocates, 1 might be disinterested (but going along just for social reasons) and you might be an organizer (or there might be no organizer at all). If you compel people into something they're not interested in then they will become your weakest link and eventually need the "baby sitting" that burns people out. Plus, friends tend to create an exclusive culture that is not welcoming to outsiders, so their capability to introduce new people is limited.

However; there is a great advantage to doing political work with friends: you're less vulnerable to outside infiltration by either government agents or psychopaths. When I think of a "circle of friends" I think of the ideal "Affinity Group" - a group that exists to join larger movements on their own whim, to their own conditions and ability, and who do so completely autonomously or semi-autonomously. Affinity Groups are extremely useful because they have more capabilities than a alone Activist, and they're usually willing to take bigger risks because they have stronger trust.

I've modeled my organizing after a "community building model", where I bring existing circles of diverse people together to share friends or "ambassadors". I reach out across different groups of Activists to create stronger communities, and I do this by becoming friends with the Organizers. For example, because I am a military veteran, I spent a long time introducing military veterans to radical cultures here in Portland; like the environmental, anti-globalization, anarchist, and anti-fascist communities. I further tried to take members of those radical communities and introduce them to my militant communities. By becoming friends with the Organizers of other communities, I can approach them and say, "Hey, I have a friend who is really interested in X, Y, and Z, do you want to have coffee or beer with them?" Really advanced and well organized communities respond well to this, because the organizers easily identify where within the group they can fit, they'll know the right people to introduce them to, and they'll be interested in empowering them. This model has brought me tremendous personal success: I've brought together members of the Tea Party and Occupy Portland, the Young Republicans and the Democratic party, to talk about issues and build commonalities or "points of unity." This is critically important in social change, especially to resolve larger social issues that seem too taboo. Last month at a rally I put together, I witnessed a conversation from the Tea Party and a person from Occupy both compromising that they want an economic system free of exploitation, and they want a government held accountable for lies. I was very pleased by this.

Ignoring Fidelity and Blues usual bs .... 29.Jul.2013 13:28


This is your problem:
"Sitting among a group of college aged friends that all dress and talk in the same way is a recurring scene in activism and organizing groups around the world."

It is easy for scammers to mimic and imitate a group that is "dressing and talking the same why". After the gain acceptance and blend in,

BTW: what college do you go to? Moony Ashram University? I know of no one in town in or out of college who acts like the "borg".

And Fidelity is full of shit: there is no commonality between teafags and progressive politics. It's an old Libertard trick to get validity/acceptance from the left while trying to hijack it. The only silver lining is anarchist/liberal/progressive readers have bailed from indy so they're not even reading that shit.

God, indy is so depressing now.

hahaha 29.Jul.2013 15:28


"there is no commonality between teafags and progressive politics"

Nor is there any commonality between your homophobia and progressive politics.

I like how you complain about Indymedia being depressing, while contributing nothing constructive to the conversation. Good job perpetuating something you dislike.

Finally,what the author was referring to here is groups like the ISO, Students for Unity, Progressive PSU, and the other half dozen political student groups that I've come across over the years at PSU. Groups that basically repeat their same organizational mistakes year after year, there was even a lecture about this 3-4 years ago at PSU, about how student groups fundamentally need to change their model because they're just a bunch of "cliques" and not establishing organizations. I know the Portland ISO took direction on this at the time and divide between two groups, a student group and a political group to keep an established structure. If you haven't seen this, it's because you're living in that bubble, or you're not trying to organize with college students.

Right and left better get it together ... 30.Jul.2013 10:07

Jody Paulson

because neither one of them can fight big money alone.

Divide and conquer. Making Banksters money for hundreds of years.

This Article Said Nothing To Me 31.Jul.2013 00:31


I have, in the past, been involved in many various kinds of "organizing." From hitchhiking from Connecticut to Washington DC with small circles of close friends, to writing the charter and becoming the president of a non-profit corporation that mostly promoted health foods. There's two kinds of people: some protest with small circles of friends and, some protest under the leadership of organizers (usually in larger and much easier to infiltrate groups). Infiltration is always pervasive, of course. It's the primary American industry. Go to Walmart and look up at all the cameras sometime. But even that is not the biggest potential problem with large organized groups The biggest problem is that they often come to be dominated by egotistical blowhards. That said, I have nothing against folks who want to be organized by organizers, since it's their lives, and they should do what they feel most comfortable with.

As far as working with "right-wingers," I don't really understand them, but I don't mind them, as long as they're not neocons or "libertarians" (austerians, really). Who knows how they got that way? Who am I to judge them if they really believe in all their weird stuff?

Not much will happen until the apathetic over-washed masses can no longer afford to put food on their families. Lately, I limit my physical activism to protesting each 100% phony electronic machine "election" by holding up signs that say "Please Do Not Vote" and "Get Simple Score Voting Now!" The Democrip and Rebloodlicans always move away from my corner, but that's okay.

And a few even spit on me. I call that progress.