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Affinity Groups

Buddies, Quick Consensus,


Spokescouncils
Anaffinitygroupisasmallgroupofpeoplewhocometogethertoprepareforandtakedirect
action.Affinitygroupsareorganisedinanonhierarchicalandautonomousway,thereareno
leadersandeveryonehasanequalvoiceandresponsibility.Sometimes,thesegroupsareformed
justforoneaction,butoftentheyareongoinggroupsthatorganiseandtakepartinactionsovera
numberofyears.Affinitygroupsworkbestwhenpeoplehavesomethingincommon(the'affinity'bit).
Thisaffinitymightbewhereyoulive,theissuesyouwanttocampaignon,thetacticsyouwantto
useoraparticularskillyouhavetooffer(e.g.actionmedics),oramixtureofallofthese.
Affinitygroupshavealongandinterestinghistory.Theywereusedbytheanarchist
movementinSpaininthelate19thandearly20thcentury.Smallcirclesof
friendswouldcometogetherincafstodiscuss,planandcarryoutactions.
Laterthesegroupsformedlocalandregionalfederations,witheachgroup
retainingitsautonomy.
Thiswayoforganisingcollectiveactionwasdevelopedfurtherbyanti
nuclearactivistsinthe1970sintheUSandGermany,wherethousands
ofpeopletookactiontogether,organisedintosmallaffinitygroups.
Affinitygroupshavesincebeenusedaroundtheworldbypeace
activists,ecologists,anticapitalistsandmanyotherstoorganisefor
effectiveactionandcreatealternativesocialstructures.

Why work in affinity groups?


Therearemanyreasonstoworkinanaffinitygroup,bothintermsofwhatyoucanachieve
andhowyoudoit.Hereareafew:

Collective action, participation and


direct democracy:
Inagoodaffinitygroupeveryoneisequal.
Everyoneparticipatesinmakingdecisionsand
takingaction.Thisisnotjustaneffectivewayof
makingsurepeoplefeelcommittedtogetting
thingsdone,itisalsoputtingdemocracyinto
practice.

maybepartofwidercampaignsandnetworks,
butyouonlyneedtodependonyourselves.This
isespeciallythecaseifyouworkatbuildingup
skillswithinyouraffinitygroup,soyoucan
coveryourownneeds.

Effectiveness:
Affinitygroupsmakegooduseofresources.
Usually10groupsof10peoplecanachievemore
than100peopleactingonmass.Becauseaffinity
D.I.Y. activism and empowerment:
groupscanmakedecisionsautonomouslyon
Anotherimportantaspectofaffinitygroupsis
actions,theycanreactquicklyandcreativelyif
theirautonomyallimportantdecisionsare
thesituationchanges.Thisalsoprovidesan
madewithinthegroupevenifyouare
elementofuncertaintyfortheauthorities.Many
participatingwithothersinalargeraction.By
workingcloselywithasmallgroupofpeopleyou actionscanactuallybepulledoffeffectivelywith
canworkoutwhat'simportantforyou,andthen justafewpeopleifthisisthecasethenit
allowsothergroupstocomebackanddoit
gooutandmakeithappen.Youraffinitygroup
againthenextday!
www.seedsforchange.org.uk

2010

Safety, support and sustainability:


Havingagroupofpeoplelookingoutforone
anotherbefore,duringandafteranactionor
duringalongandtiringcampaignisauseful
waytomakesureeveryoneiscaredfor.Stress,
policerepression,doubt,fearandcampaign
setbacksarealldealtwithmuchmoreeasilyas
partofagroupthanonyourown.Also,planning
actionsinsmallgroupsmakesitmuchmore
likelytheywillhappenwithoutyouraction
targetfindingoutaboutitfirst.Itismuchharder
foraninfiltratortowinthelongtermtrustofan
affinitygroupthantogatherinformationatbig
planningmeetingsfullofstrangers.Groups
knowntobetargetedbyinfiltratorshave

includedPlaneStupidin2008andCampaign
AgainsttheArmsTradefrom1997to2003.
Planningactionsinasmallgroupalsoworksasa
meansofdamagelimitationifinformation
doesleakoutthenonlyafewpeopleare
compromised,not
hundreds.

SomerecentexamplesofaffinitygroupstakingdirectactionintheUK.

Twocoalfiredpowerstationshavebeenblockadedfordaysbygroupsmaking
themselvesathomeontopofchimneysandaroundtheconveyorbelts.

Numerousopencastcoalmineshavebeenstoppedfromworkingbypeoplesittingon
topofthemachinery.

Destitutepeoplehavebeenfedbyaffinitygroupswhoretrieveandcookediblefood
frombinsatthebackofshops.

Thousandsofgeneticallymodifiedcropshavebeenpulledupandfieldsdecontaminated.

Guerillagardeninghascreatedgreenspacesinbuiltupandrundownareas.

Bombfactoriesandmilitaryhardwarelikefighterjetshavebeendecommissioned.

Putting it into practice


Achievingalloftheabovewithanaffinitygrouptakestimeandenergy.Ifyouaregoingtobe
abletosupporteachotheryouneedtotalkaboutyourneeds,hopes,fearsandmotivations.Hereare
somemoreideasabouthowtomakeaffinitygroupswork.

Getting started
Finding some friends
Thisisoftenthedifficultbit!Findingfriendsto
hangoutwithisonething,findingfriendsto
takeactionwithissomethingelseentirely.The
idealsituationmaybetohavepeopleyoulike,
wholivelocally,whohaveasimilaramountof
timetotakeactiononthesameissuesusingthe
sametactics.However,evenifyoursituation
isn'tthisperfect,thisdoesn'tneedtostopyou
fromdoinganythingatall.
Pg.2/8

Organisingandparticipatingineventscanbea
goodwayoffindinglocalpeoplewhofeel
stronglyenoughtotakeactiononyourissue.
Thiscouldbeameeting,orsomethingmore
informallikeafilmnightwithopportunitiesfor
chattingafterwards.Alternatively,lookfor
peoplefromyourareawhohaveturnedupto
regionalornationalgatherings,andarrangeto
meetupafterwards.

Affinity Groups

Ifyouareconsideringformingalongterm
group,workouthowmuchcommongroundyou
havegotwiththepeoplethatyoufind.Doyou
havejustenoughincommontoworktogether
ononeaction?Mightyouworktogether
occasionallyoveralongperiod?Orhaveyou
foundagroupofpeopleyoucansticktothrough
thickandthin?Thisislikelytochangeovertime
youmaywellwanttostartbydoingafew
lowerriskactionstogether,andthenworkmore
closelytogetherifthingsgowell.
Hereareafewfactorsyoumightwanttothink
abouttohelpyoudecidewhetherthere'senough
'affinity'there:

Individuals'attitudestotakingactions
whicharepublicorcovert,accountable
ornonaccountable.

Personaldefinitionsandbeliefsaround
violenceandnonviolence.

Attitudestodoingactsofcriminal
damage.

Wherepeoplestandonusingthe
mainstreammedia.

Gettingtogetherwithpeoplewhoshareasimilar
approachtotheseissueswillcreateenergyand
enthusiasmthroughyoursharedaimsanduseof
tactics,andwillhelpyouavoidconflictlateron.

Building your affinity group


Affinitygroupsarebasedonmutualsupportandtrustwhichtakessome
worktobuild.Whetheryouarebuildingalongtermgroup,orareanad
hocaffinitygroupthathascometogetherjustbeforeanaction,alwaystry
torunthroughallthestepsbelow.Thetimeyou'llbeabletospendonthis
willofcoursevary,buttrytohaveatleastacoupleofhourstoprepare
togetherfortheactionandhalfanhourfordebriefingaftertheaction.

1. Getting to know each other


Thisisvitalifyouwanttobuildtrust.Getto
knowabouteachothers'experiences,worries,
hopes,limitationsandmotivations.Knowing
eachotherbetterwillmakeitpossibletogive
eachothertherightkindofsupportinstressful
situations.Itneedn'tbetooformaleithergoing
forbikerides,eatingtogether,orgoingtothe
pubwitheachotherallhelp.

Longterm:Isthisan
openorclosedaffinity
group(i.e.cannewpeoplejointhegroup)?How
dowemakedecisions?Whatdoweeachexpect
fromthegroup?

Actionplanning:Howdowereactif...(e.g.the
policeintervene,someonegetsviolent)?Howdo
weacttowardspeopleweencounterduring
actions(bystanders,thepolice,company
directors)?Howopportunisticarewe(e.g.What
2. Working out a basic agreement
Eachaffinitygroupneedsanagreementforhow dowedoiftheplanwastoholdupbanners
outsidesomeoffice,butthenthereisthechance
thegroupoperates,howdecisionsaremade,
toactuallygetinsidethebuilding?Howwould
whatitdoesandhowitwillreactincertain
situations.Dependingonhowlongyouarelikely thataffectthegroup?)Whathappensifsomeone
reallyfeelstheneedtoleave?
toworktogetherfor,thiscouldrequirealong
timetoworkout.It'simportanttogetitright
3. Planning
thougheveryoneneedstobewillingandable
Aftercomingtoabasicagreement,it'stimeto
tokeeptothisagreement.Talkingaboutthings
makeplans.Foralongtermgroup,thismight
inadvancemakesitpossibleforthegroup
meancreatingacampaignstrategy,forashort
memberstotrusteachother'sreactions,evenin
termgroupitmightjustbeoneaction.Either
theheatofastressfulmoment.It'simportantto
way,makesureeveryoneisfullyinvolvedinthe
communicateagreementstonewgroup
process.Startwithyouraims,andworkouthow
membersandensuretheyagreeandrespect
muchtimeandenergyyoucanrealistically
them.
devotetoachievingthem.Doyourresearch,pick
yourtargets,anddecidewhichtacticswillbe
mosteffective.
www.seedsforchange.org.uk

Pg.3/8

4. Take action and support each


other
Takingactiontogetherisoneofthebestwaysof
gettingtoknoweachother.Remembertokeep
checkingthateveryoneisOK,andmakesure
youarekeepingtotheagreementsyoumade.
Organiseyourselvesintopairsor'buddies'for
bettersupport,andpractisemakingquick
consensusdecisions(seebelow).

aren'talwaysdonebythesamepeople,andso
thatskillsareshared.

5. Debrief and evaluate


Maketimetoreflectonyouractionorcampaign
alltogether.Checkinonhoweveryonefeels,
andwhethertheyaregettingwhattheyneed
fromthegroup.Thinkaboutwhathasworked
andwhy,andapplytheselessonstothefuture.
Taketimetocelebrateyoursuccessesandto
Inalongertermcampaign,watchoutforpeople enjoyeachother'scompanyaspeopleaswellas
whotakeontoomuchandmaybeatriskof
asactivists.Beforeyouractionhappens,seta
burningout.Becarefultoshareouttaskssothey timeanddateforthedebrief.

Keeping it going
Affinity group skills
Ifpeoplearetostayhappyandproductiveinanaffinitygroup,it'sworththinkingaboutthe
followingskillsandhowyoucansharethemwitheachother.

Goodmeetingandgroupworkskills:Goodmeetingsthatmakeeveryonefeelvaluedand
involvedwillhelpbuildtrust,commitmentandenthusiasminthegroup.Thegroupasa
wholehasaresponsibilitytolearnaboutconsensus(orwhateverdecisionmakingprocessthe
grouphaschosen),howtofacilitatemeetingsandhowtoresolveconflicts.Ithelpsif
individualsbalanceacommitmenttothegroupwithanopenandhonestacknowledgement
oftheirownneedsandfeelings.

Strategyandplanning:Planningacampaignoranactiontakesskillsandknowledge.Itis
crucialthattheseskillsaresharedifeveryoneistoparticipateasanequal.

Sharingouttasks:Again,makingsurethattasksaresharedoutfairlywithinthegroup
ensuresnoonepersonisoverloadedandatriskofburningout.Ithelpseveryonelearnnew
skillsandfeelempowered.

Common problems in affinity groups (and how to deal with them)


Long term sustainability
Itcansometimesbedifficultto
stayinspiredandenergised,and
toavoidburnoutwithinthe
group,especiallyifyou
experiencesetbacksor
severallesssuccessful
actions,orgetintoalong
termhabitofoverworking.

Somesignsofburnout

Tips:Debriefthoroughly,learn
frommistakes,socialiseandshare
workloadsandskills.Berealisticaboutwhatyou
takeon.Taketimetocelebrateyoursuccesses,
nomatterhowsmall.Lookafteryourselfand
encourageeveryoneelsetodothesame.Above
all,supporteachotherthroughstressfultimes
andwatchoutforsignsthatpeoplemaybe
sufferingfromburnout.Ifyouareworriedabout
Pg.4/8

emotional & physical fatigue

lingering illnesses

lack of energy & motivation

feeling disempowered, hopeless


& angry

unable to maintain relationships

forgetfulness & poor concentration

someone,bereadytoeasetheirworkloadevenif
itmeansyougetlessdoneasagroup.Where
possibletrytomakesurethatpeoplecantake
timeawayfromyourcampaignwithoutlosing
theirsocialnetworkatthesametime,byhaving
socialtimethatisnotconnectedtomeetingsor
actions,forinstance.

Affinity Groups

New members
Somegroupsstrugglewiththeissueofattracting
newmembersandmakingthemfeelincluded
whilstnot'wateringdown'theoriginalethosof
thegroup.Iftheethosandmethodsofworking
aren'tcleartonewmembersfromthestartitcan
leadtoproblemslater.

Failure to reach agreement


Itmaysimplybethatthegroupdoesn'thave
enoughcommonground,andyoudon'thave
enoughaffinitytoworktogether.Occasionally,
splittingupmightbethemostempoweringand
effectivecourseofaction.Alternatively,itmay
bethatminordisagreementsandpersonalissues
areblindingyoutothecommongroundyoudo
Tips:Beexplicitfromthestartaboutthe
have.Ifthereiscommonground,splittingthe
'groundrules'or'vision'forthegroup,makethese
groupandstartingatthebeginningagainis
cleartoallnewmembersandensurethereis
likelytowastetimeandemotionalenergy.
opportunityfordiscussionandcollective
Tips:Gobackandremindyourselveswhataims
understandingarounddifficultissues.For
example,thegroup'scommitmentto
andideasyoushareandseewhereyoucango
nonviolence,orabeliefindoing,ornot
fromthere.Remindyourselvesofthe
doing,economicdamageonactions.
thingsyouhaveachievedbyworking
together.Askyourselveswhether
thestickingpointsare
Informal hierarchies
disagreementsaboutimportant
Theseoftenarisebecausesome
principles,orifpersonal
peopleareseenashavingmore
agendasandpersonality
experienceandskills.
clashesarecreepingintoyour
Sometimes,theproblemisa
meetings.Lookfortrainingin
smallnumberofpeoplehaving
consensusdecisionmaking.
accesstomoreinformationthantheothers.
Insomegroupsit'saquestionofpersonality
Mass actions
moreconfidentpeoplecandominate,making
othersfeelundervalued.Therearealsoissues
Joiningamassactioncanposeaproblemofhow
thatarisewhensomepeopleareseenasmore
tomaintainyourgroup'sautonomy.Itcanbe
committedthanothers,perhapsbecausethey
difficulttoplanandactindependently,and
alwaysturnuptomeetingsandactions.Thisis
reportonyourownactions.Thisisoftencaused
oftenthecaseregardlessofthereasonswhy
byrelyingtoomuchontheoverallorganisersfor
othersdon'tturnup,manyofwhichhave
informationandinfrastructure.Forexample,
nothingtodowithlackofcommitmente.g.
groupsoftenexpectalegalsupportsystemtobe
childcareresponsibilities,afulltimejob,health
setupforthemtouse,orahandfulofmedia
issues,orsimplyamoresustainableattitudeto
spokespeopletodoalltheinterviews.
takingaction!Thecreationofa'core'ofpeople
Tips:Organiseorattendskillshares,sothatthe
whoalwaysturnupoftenleadstoinformal
groupisabletocoverallitsownneedsforthe
decisionmakingoutsideofmeetingsandbefore
wholeaction(groupworkskills,mediaskills,
youknowityou'vegotacommitteeanda
firstaidskills,legalknowledgeetc.)Participate
membership.
inmassactionsthathavescopeforyoutoplan
Tips:Inmeetingsusegoodfacilitationwithan yourownrole.Forinstance,amassblockade
emphasisonallowingeveryonetoparticipate.
mightinvolveseveralaffinitygroupstakingona
Varyyourmeetingtimessoitisn'talwaysthe
differententranceoraccessroad,andco
samepeoplewhocan'tgo,andmakesurethat
ordinatingabouttimes,butdecidingwithintheir
peoplewhomissonemeetingstillgettoldabout groupswhereandhowtheywillformtheir
thenextone!Evenifsomeonehasmisseda
blockade.Alternatively,affinitygroupsmight
meeting,theremaystillbewaysforthemtotake takeresponsibilityforparticularroles,suchas
ontasksinpreparationfortheaction.Rotate
legalsupport,firstaidorprovidingfood.
jobsandrolesandbuildinskillsharingtoyour
worktobuildupeveryone'sconfidenceand
respectforeachother.

www.seedsforchange.org.uk

Pg.5/8

Other ways of making direct action happen


Buddying up
Evenwithinaffinitygroupsthereareextrasupportsystemsyoucanuse.Buddyingupisone,
andhasspecialrelevancetolargeraffinitygroups.Itmeansagreeinginsmall
groups(generally24)tolookoutforeachotherswellbeing.Buddyingshould
meanyouareneveraloneontheaction,you'relesslikelytogetlost,andhave
someonetoleavethescenewithifyouneedtostopforanyreasons.
Buddiesshouldbepreparedto:

Knowiftheirbuddyhasanyparticular
(e.g.medical)needs.

Checkthattheirbuddyisstillwiththem
wheneveragroupismovingaround.

MakesuretheirbuddyisphysicallyOK,
andfindfood/drink/warm
clothing/medicalattentioniftheyarent.

Keepaneyeontheirbuddy'semotional
state,andtrytocalmthemdown/
comfortthemwhennecessary.

Leavewith
theirbuddyif
theywanttogo,foranyreason.

Providesupportiftheirbuddygets
arrested.Thiscouldmeanpassingon
theirdetailstoalegalsupportperson,or
arrangingforsomeonetomeetthem
whentheygetoutofthepolicestation.

Gethelpiftheirbuddyisgettinghurt
thiscouldbecallinganambulance,
findingafirstaideroraskingsomeone
withacameratorecordthesituation.

Thismightmakeitallseemratherformalanddifficulttomaintain.Inrealityitisntitsjustaway
ofmakingsurenoonegetsforgottenintheconfusionofanaction,andeveryonehasafriendtolook
outforthem.

Quick consensus decision making


Consensusdecisionmakingisasystemofreachingdecisionsthatiswidelyregardedasoneofthe
mostparticipatoryandempoweringprocessesavailabletoactivistgroups.However,itcantaketime,
andoften,inanaction,timeisexactlywhatyouhaven'tgot.Ifthepolicearethreateningarrestat
anymoment,oryoumayhavespiedanopportunitythatyouneedtotakequicklyormissaltogether,
youmayonlyhavesecondstodecidewhattodo.
Quickconsensusisawayofmakingcollectivedecisionsinsituationswheretimeisverylimited.It
aimstofindasolutionthateveryonecansupport.Thesedecisionsmightnotbeperfect,butatleast
everyonehadthechancetoagreeordisagree,andeveryonebearsequalresponsibilityifthingsgo
wellorbadly.

Blocks, stand asides and friendly amendments

A block is a veto it kills the proposal dead. Everyone has the right to do this. In
quick consensus blocks usually happen for two reasons: 1) a proposal will split the
group, usually because some people have an ethical objection to it, or because it
might endanger someone's safety or 2) the group is failing to make a decision. If a
proposal is blocked, you need a new one! Some groups insist that in quick consensus
you must have a counter proposal before you can block.

A stand aside is agreeing to disagree. It allows the proposal to go ahead in the


group's name, but those that choose to stand aside take no part in that particular
action.

A friendly amendment enhances a proposal. It's not a new idea, but a way of
making an existing one more effective.

Pg.6/8

Affinity Groups

The Quick Consensus process


1. Appointafacilitator.Forthesakeofspeedyoucould
dothisinadvance,buttrynottoalwaysusethesame
person.Thefacilitatorbrieflyclarifiesthesituation,
andthetimeavailabletotalk.Wevebeengiven2
minutestomoveorwe'llallbearrested.Ithinkwe
shouldmakethedecisioninoneminute.
2. Ifthere'stime,thegroupbrieflydiscussesthe
situation.Itisuptothefacilitatortojudgehowlong
togivetothis,orwhethertoskipthisstagealtogether.
3. Thefacilitatorasksforproposals.Yeah,Ipropose
welinkarmsandsitdown.Theremaybetimetotake
friendlyamendments,e.g.Let'ssitdowninacircle
andlinkarmswe'llbestrongerthatway.
4. Thefacilitatorrestatestheproposalandtestsfor
consensus.OK,it'sproposedthatwesitintheroad
andlinkarms.Anyblocks?.Ifthereare,youneeda
newproposalatthisstage.Anystandasides?
Yeah,IlllosemyjobifImarrestedIllwatchfrom
thesideandactasalegalobserver.Everyoneelse
agree?Chorusofagreement.

Facilitator summarises
the situation and clarifies
the decision that needs
to be made
Proposal
Any Blocks?
No

Any Stand
Asides?

Yes
Counter
proposal

Any
Amendments?
Agreement?

5. Makesureeveryoneknowswhoisdoingwhatand
thengetonanddoit!

Making it work
Firstofall,asharedknowledgeofthequick
consensusprocessisessential.Taketimeto
practicethisitdoesgeteasierthemoreoften
youdoit.

Italsohelpsifthefacilitatorisabletosummarise
whathasbeensaid,andasksquestionstocheck
whenthingsaren'tcleargoodcommunication
isvitalifquickconsensusistowork.

Appointafacilitatorwhoyoutrusttoremain
neutral.Thisdoesn'tmeanthefacilitatorcan't
expressanyopinionstheyareinthesame
situationaseveryoneelseandhavetherightto
participate.However,theyshouldnot
steerthediscussiontosuittheirown
agenda,orjumpintomakeproposals
beforeanyoneelsehashadachance.If
thereistimefordiscussion,bealertto
signsofdisagreementitisimportant
toreachfullagreementonanimportant
decision.

Italsohelpstohavethoughtthroughthekinds
ofsituationsthatmightarise,andhowyouwant
torespondtothembeforehand.Ifyoualready
knowhowpeoplefeelabout
gettingarrestedormakinglast
minutechangesofplan,this
shouldaffecttheproposals
youmake.Thisiswherethe
workyoudidcreatinga
groupagreementandtalking
abouteachother's
concernspaysoff.

www.seedsforchange.org.uk

Pg.7/8

Spokescouncils
Affinitygroupscancometogetherformass
actionsandcoordinatetheiractivitiesviaa
spokescouncil.Eachgroupsendsarepresentative
(oftencalledaspoke)tothespokescouncil
meeting,whereissuessuchastactics,
overarchingactionguidelinesandlogisticsare
discussed.Whatthespokeisempoweredtodois
uptotheiraffinitygroup.Spokesmayneedto
consultwiththeirgroupbeforediscussingor

agreeingoncertainsubjects.Thespokescouncil
doesnottakeawaytheautonomyofeach
individualgroupconsensusoneachproposal
hastobeachievednotonlywithineachgroup
butalsoamongallgroupstogether.Duringan
actionaspokescouncilcanbeconvenedto
discussimmediateissuesthatariseoutof
unexpectedsituations.

A final reflection
Affinitygroups,buddies,quickconsensusdecisionmakingandspokescouncilshaveone
thingincommon.Theyallofferaliberatingwayoforganisingantihierarchical,participatory,
supportive,directlydemocratic,empowering,sustainable,creative...Liberatingbecauseyouworkas
equals,andliberatingbecauseofthethingsyoucanachievetogether.Thisisallaboutcreatinga
worldwherewedon'tneedleadersandlaws.It'saboutdirectdemocracy.Ifyoualsouseaffinity
organisingtoplanandcarryouteffectivedirectaction,you'llbeagoodstepalongthewayto
creatingabetterworld,insideandoutsideofyourgroup.

Pg.8/8

www.seedsforchange.org.uk