My name is Dan, I have been doing activism for a while and have learned, studied and thought about how to organise more effectively. I worked to set up the Radical Think Tank but left the country when it was still in the early stages of development.
I have been in Sydney for the last couple of months soaking up the sun and the sea but my radicalism and revolutionary zeal remains. I spent some time in the vegan activist community, organising actions where we show the reality of meat, dairy and egg production to people by showing footage of factory farms and slaughterhouses on the streets and on trains.
During my time there it was clear that people wanted to increase participation in the actions so they could reach more people and spread the message in a more impactful way. I offered to run a workshop to share the ideas, research and knowledge that the Radical Think Tank promotes.
I ran the workshop at a fundraiser for Hart Acres Animal Haven, which was organised to provide space to house a new cow. The workshop was able to draw some more people to the event to raise some money for the sanctuary (please check them out if you want to donate).
In the workshop I shared some basic ideas, the key theme was that every action that vegan activist group does should have to goals 1) promoting the vegan ethic, 2) increasing participation in activism. I will run through a few of the ideas here to give you a flavour:
- Branding – in order to increase participation in activism the people doing it need to gain a reputation, not as a closed group of friends, but as a group, a movement who of people who are open, that people can join in with. This brand can resonate with vegans who will support it, and with the wider public who receive its positive message.
- Open Space Meetings – Open space meetings are an effective way to get people to participate in activism, to strategise, design actions and be empowered as activists. Open space meetings bring people into a space, who possibly have never done any activism before, get them talking about their concerns and their hopes, and then get them discussing possible actions in small groups, deciding on a course of action in a democratic manner. Open space meetings are effective as they create a sense of community, empowerment and ownership of the activism. It brings people into the group as an equal member, which creates sustained participation and enables the building of a movement. Not only this, but these kind of meetings also help keep the movement creative and innovative, open space meetings create an environment where the free sharing of ideas is possible and everyone are encouraged and empowered to participate. This is important, as to keep people interested and participating in your work, you need to be cool, fresh and creative. Research of the Radical Think Tank shows that feedback from meetings run this way leaves people feeling 80-90% empowered. Click here for some info on open space meeting design.
- Variety – it is very rare that the first bit of activism somebody does is direct and confrontational, rather people get inducted into these kinds of actions, they climb the commitment ladder. You can get people involved in your cause by asking them to sign a petition, do some leafleting, help with some printing, or something else. If people have many ways to engage with your group, join the community, and be empowered they may be doing direct actions in a month or two as they begin to feel more comfortable with campaigning. For this reason variety is key. A good activist group needs to have lots of ways which they engage with potential activists, demonstrations, open space meetings, educational and cultural events, brainstorming, leafleting, petitions, email updates, creative direct actions etc.
- Conditional Commitment – If you want to do an action that requires a certain amount of people to make a splash, then conditional commitment is an effective way to get the numbers. In the UK The UCL Rent Strike has made a massive impact. 120 students went on strike against cost and conditions of accommodation and successfully forced UCL to pay compensation. A critical factor in this action was the fact that people weren’t asked “will you go on strike”, which only had a 50% agreement, they instead asked “would you go on strike if 100 people will”, when this approach was used 78% of people agreed and the action was able to get enough people to go ahead. This is a really simple detail, but it is the difference between success and failure and shows why campaigning need to be intelligently and strategically designed. See here for more info on conditional commitment.
The key thing about this workshop was to split people up into groups, because people don’t want to be lectured to for ages, people learn by participating. So it was important to get people to participate, apply the ideas and experience strategic thinking. I split them into groups and gave them a question – in 6 months time you want to have 500 people on the streets showing footage of factory farms, how are you going to get there?
People split up into groups and had some awesome ideas including the aspiration to set up
location based mini cells for organising, but out of these discussions it was decided that there would be regular meetings for strategising and movement building. It is from these discussions that the proper planning and strategy can take place to get more activists.
I will be giving this workshop in Brisbane for animal activists there too, and will work with any and all radical campaigning groups who are fighting for justice. Get in touch with the Radical Think Tank if you want to chat.
I will sign off with a message I received from someone I have been organising with in Sydney and who attended the workshop:
“Hi Dan, thank you so much for trying to help out the Sydney scene during your travels. Now for the hard part…trying to get people out of their preconditioned mind set to make the necessary changes. Really wish you could stay….for the short time our paths crossed, I have to say you are a breath of fresh air. Thanks Dan, keep spreading the message.”