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Why You Should Start a Solidarity Network

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  • Dan Clore
    News & Views for Anarchists & Activists: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/smygo http://www.anarkismo.net/article/18696 Why You Should Start a Solidarity Network
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 3, 2011
      News & Views for Anarchists & Activists:

      Why You Should Start a Solidarity Network
      Thursday February 03, 2011 10:55author
      by John E Jacobsen
      The Seattle Solidarity Network

      A short overview of the benefits of a new organizing model coming out of
      Seattle, Washington. This article discusses the benefits of forming a
      Solidarity Network in your home town.

      People often accuse anarchists of being opposed to all forms of
      organization. Some of us are quick to point out, however, that it’s not
      all organization we are opposed to – just apparently the effective ones.

      When I first became interested in Anarchist politics, there weren't many
      groups for me to get involved with. All of the collectives I joined
      seemed to form, fall apart, and reform - always the same people
      reshuffling into new groups, disbanding, and starting over again. If
      they took part in any discernible action at all, it was normally because
      some other group had organized it.

      All over the U.S., in fact, the Anarchist organizations I had worked
      with could be summed up in one word - they were aimless.

      They had vague objectives. They had no discernable, immediate goals.
      Actually, if you asked most of them what they were doing, I'm not sure
      you could get a straight answer.

      Sound familiar?

      These are chronic issues in much of the Anarchist movement today, and if
      my experience is any indicator, you've probably run into similar problems.

      There is, however, a way to get around these issues: with perseverance
      and a little bit of elbow grease, you can start your own solidarity network.

      Although by no means does this model offer the only solutions to these
      common problems, the solidarity network model, nonetheless, does offer
      some practical insights and examples of how we can:

      1. Win fights against our bosses and landlords, 2. Attract new workers
      to our organizations, many of whom will have never even heard of
      Anarchism before, 3. Empower ourselves and our fellow workers, and 4.
      Establish a stable and positive presence in our community, off of which
      we may continue to grow in new directions.

      To Begin:
      The Seattle Solidarity Network, or SeaSol for short, started in 2008
      with only a handful of activists, from a variety of backgrounds. Some
      had experience in labor organizing, others in anti-summit work against
      the G8, and others still in various anti-war campaigns.

      In part, the intention of the first organizers was to build off of the
      great work of people who had come before them. The vision for SeaSol, in
      fact, might best be described as a blending of the "direct action
      casework" of the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty and the "solidarity
      unionism" of the Industrial Workers of the World.

      Since its founding, SeaSol has grown to encompass a membership of over
      100 people, and an organizing committee of 15. These fifteen organizers,
      moreover, can rely on a mobilizing list of 400 supporters to call out to
      actions when needed, of whom we can reliably count on perhaps 20 - 30
      people to turn out.

      Largely, SeaSol's growth can be attributed to its success rate. Out of
      25 fights SeaSol has taken on, we have won 22.

      Further still, SeaSol's success rate can be attributed to its organizing
      model - which brings us to the first reason to start a solidarity
      network in your home town:

      1. Winning Fights Against Bosses and Landlords:
      "Winning," a SeaSol organizer once said, "is like a drug." A very
      intoxicating and empowering drug.

      For those of us who have poured our hearts into a lot of "symbolic"
      anarchist projects - a lot of anti-police brutality work, anti-war
      organizing, anti-G8 campaigns, and so on - for those of us who have
      spent time around these campaigns, we have often felt extremely demoralized.

      We have felt this way because despite all the sacrifice, we never won
      anything. The campaigns never seemed to end after the enemy had conceded
      something; instead they always seemed to stop when people just became

      Because of this, the SeaSol model stresses that organizers should have
      both a good understanding of how to take on bosses and landlords (what
      tactics work, what don't), and also on how realistic winning a potential
      new campaign could be.

      We like to show this relationship – between our strength and our demands
      – in our “Winability” graph.

      In the graph, we can see that as our demands on a boss become greater,
      it becomes necessary for us to find more leverage to hurt them. So, the
      smaller the demand, the less leverage we need. The bigger the demand…
      you get the idea.

      You might think this sounds obvious, and to Anarchists it probably is.
      This graph is just a nerdy way of teaching people a concept Anarchists
      have always deeply appreciated – Direct Action.
      Even so, Anarchists could still learn a thing or two from SeaSol’s take
      on that old idea.

      Part of what makes SeaSol so effective is that we base our actions on
      our actual strength. If, for example, it was going to take us “5 units”
      of pressure to win a demand from a boss, but we could only reliably keep
      up “3 units,” we would decline to take on that fight.

      Of course, there is no way to quantify any of this, but you understand
      the concept.

      The idea, in a nutshell, is to make sure that we aren't ever spending
      time on fights we are not yet strong enough to win. By choosing fights
      carefully, we can focus our energy somewhere we can have a bigger
      impact. It is, after all, results that people most want to see.

      Once the fight is underway, SeaSol uses two basic principals to plan the
      campaign: escalation and sustainability.

      First, we brainstorm what tactics might be effective in the campaign,
      and we rate them from least to most powerful. We do this because we want
      to escalate as the fight goes on. “Its not the memory of what we did to
      them yesterday that will make the bosses give in,” explains a SeaSol
      organizer, “but the fear of what we will do to them tomorrow.”

      The process of mapping out a fight in this way is helpful not only
      because it allows us see just how much support we will have to mobilize
      - its helpful also because it allows us to see if our initial plans are

      2. Attract new workers:
      There are undoubtedly a lot of reasons people may choose to join an
      organization. How friendly people are, how inclusive the group is,
      whether or not they agree with the principles of the group - all of
      these are important considerations for people.

      Unfortunately, they are often the only considerations many anarchist
      organizers have when starting new groups. But there’s another
      consideration we should take into account – people may also want to know
      what your organization is doing.

      The fact of the matter is that its hard to attract most people to your
      organization with great ideas and inclusiveness alone. People really
      want to see things get done.

      Its also hard to retain people if there isn't a sense that progress is
      being made - if there isn't some sort of momentum. People tend to burn
      out pretty quickly in groups where there is not a lot getting done. And
      who can blame them?

      One of the reasons SeaSol has had more sustained growth than any other
      Anarchist organization in the Northwest over the last two years is that
      it offers something practical and concrete to people: mutual support,
      community, and a real, practical defense against your boss and landlord.

      What’s more, the retention of new members has also been helped along by
      our momentum: there is always enough work to go around.

      No matter how involved someone wants to get initially, we can always
      find space for them to come lend a hand. When we attract new people
      through our ongoing fights and new campaigns, we are increasing our
      capacity, which means we can take on more fights, thus attracting yet
      more people.

      3. Empower ourselves and others:
      “Empowerment” is a term bandied about a lot in radical circles. “We need
      to empower them and empower them…” It can, at times, be used so often it
      becomes meaningless.
      It is also used quite often in circumstances where, quite frankly,
      nothing of the sort is happening.

      In SeaSol, however, we see it very concretely every day.

      The process by which we accomplish the goals of our organization –
      winning fights against bosses and landlords – involves a lot of formal
      training. People need to learn how we make mobilizing calls. They need
      to learn how to conduct a meeting with a potential new fight, and they
      need to learn how to get a picket line together.

      To these ends, we have a lot of one on ones, and we have a lot of group

      But people don’t really learn how to organize by hearing a talk or by
      attending trainings. What’s most important about the education people
      get with the Seattle Solidarity Network is that they are given a space
      in which they can put ideas into action. Any worker that has a few spare
      hours every week has a place to come and learn the art and science of
      people power.
      There is more to empowerment, however, than just learning new skills.

      Even if the people involved in SeaSol are not ready to become full on
      organizers, the experience of taking on a boss and winning can still be
      a very radicalizing experience. It increases not just our power, but our
      confidence in ourselves.

      The campaigns we conduct concretely show us all the real class divisions
      rife in our society, with workers on one side, and the bosses,
      landlords, cops and courts on the other. Arguably, the fights we conduct
      are able to reach many people in a way that our extensive libraries cannot.

      4. Establish a stable and positive presence in our community, off of
      which we can grow in new directions:
      Starting a new political group is hard. Getting a group of people
      together to start any new group is hard. You need to find new ground
      rules, set new boundaries, find a space to meet, and just get a feeling
      for how you’re going to work with each other. This takes a lot of work.

      Arguably, then, it’s a problem when groups are constantly falling apart.
      Unfortunately, that’s exactly the state of the Anarchist movement today.

      If you are interested in avoiding a lot of the redundant, and frankly
      unnecessary work of constantly forming new groups, the Solidarity
      Network model has some advantages.

      First, there is never any shortage of workers being screwed over by
      their bosses or landlords. As long as organizers are dedicated to
      fighting back, your work is cut out for you.

      Secondly, the longer you’re around, the easier it is to build a bigger
      and more inclusive community. It just makes sense. If you’re around for
      years, and are engaged in work that is important to your community,
      people are going to know about you. If you’re around for all of two
      months, no one is going to get a chance to get in contact with you.

      In the end, the Solidarity Network is just a beginning to something we
      all hope will be something much broader, and more encompassing.

      With a larger network - and the community of struggle it builds – new
      possibilities become apparent to us. People have pitched ideas about the
      Seattle Solidarity Network taking on fights around police brutality,
      around violence against the LGBTQ community, or even around a case of
      sexual violence at a local high school.

      These are all legitimate fights we may well be capable of dealing with.
      The point is, this model offers the chance to build a foundation for
      greater things down the line.

      SeaSol provides us with the people power we need to start building a
      movement, and as the network grows, new possibilities will present
      themselves to us.

      If you are interested in starting a Solidarity Network in your hometown,
      feel free to get in contact: (206) 350-8650, or email at info@...

      Dan Clore

      New book: _Weird Words: A Lovecraftian Lexicon_:
      My collected fiction: _The Unspeakable and Others_
      Lord Weÿrdgliffe & Necronomicon Page:
      News & Views for Anarchists & Activists:

      Skipper: Professor, will you tell these people who is
      in charge on this island?
      Professor: Why, no one.
      Skipper: No one?
      Thurston Howell III: No one? Good heavens, this is anarchy!
      -- _Gilligan's Island_, episode #6, "President Gilligan"
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