Spoke Council Organizing with Affinity Groups
The Portland Action Lab organizes our direct actions using a spokes council. A spokes council is a structured similar to the spokes of a wheel. It is designed to combine large group participation with small group discussion and consensus process. Each support committee of affinity group selects a “spoke” to sit with the other spokes in a circle in the middle of the meeting space, with the rest of the spokes group sitting right behind them so they are available for consultation and discussion. Affinity groups (see below) are involved in carrying out the action during the day. Support committees include legal, media, logistics, training, research, national, process, outreach, march and medic. They provide the support needed by affinity groups and take care of work that needs to happen for the action as a whole. Members of affinity groups are also often involved in the work of the support committees.
Below you can find more information on affinity groups, but our direct action resource page has information on facilitation and consensus, and though not used for action planning the Occupy Wall Street and Occupy Portland spokes council models can give you good information on how to facilitate this type of organizing structure.
What are Affinity Groups?
Organize in clusters! Form a group with your friends! Be loud! Look exiting! Have fun! What is an affinity group?
An affinity group (AG) is a group of people who have an affinity for each other, know each others strengths and weaknesses, support each other, and do (or intend to do) political/campaign work together. Most of us will have had some childhood/formative experience of being part of a group whether informally, as in a group of kids that are the same age and live in the same street, suburb or town, or formally, as in being involved in a sports team. However, affinity groups differ from these for numerous reasons, as explained below, (hierarchy, trust, responsibility to each other etc).
The concept of affinity groups has a long history. They developed as an organizing structure during the Spanish Civil war and have been used with amazing success over the last thirty years of feminist, anti-nuclear, environmental and social justice movements around the world. They were first used as a structure for a large scale nonviolent blockade during the 30,000 strong occupation of the Ruhr nuclear power station in Germany in 1969, and then in the United States occupations / blockades of the Seabrook nuclear power station in 1971 when thousands were arrested and again many times in the highly successful US anti-nuclear movement during the 1970’s and 1980’s. More recently, they have been used constructively in the mass protest actions that shutdown the WTO in Seattle. Affinity groups were used to organize our previous action, N17: Occupy the Banks [hyperlink]. Different affinity groups went to different banks to “occupy the bank” through civil disobedience, participated in different activities during the march (such as the Clarmy – or clown army) or were involved in the bridge action in the morning.
We don’t have to use the word “affinity group” – blockade teams, action groups, cells, action collectives, etc. have all been used to describe the same concept. It would be best to find the most relevant name depending on when and where the structure is used. Also, each affinity group can choose their own name.
With whom do I form an an affinity group?
The simple answer to this is the people that you know, and that feel the same way about the issue(s) in question. They could be people you see in a training, work with, go out with, or live with. The point to stress however, is that you have something in common other than the issue that is bringing you all together, and that you trust them and they trust you.
An important aspect to being part of an affinity group is to get to know where each other is at regarding the campaign or issue. This can involve having a meal together, and you all discussing it after you have eaten, or doing some form of activist related training together, like attending a nonviolence, conflict resolution or facilitation workshop, developing de-arresting strategies if needed, working out how to deal with certain police tactics.
You should all have a shared idea of what you want individually and collectively from the action/organizing, how it will conceivably go, what support you will need from others, and what you can offer others. It helps if you have agreement on certain basic things: how active, how spiritual, how nonviolent, how touchy-feely, how spiky, how willing to risk arrest, when you’ll bail-out, your overall political perspective etc. But then again, you may all just work together at a job, play music or hike together etc.
Within an affinity group, there are a whole range of different roles that it’s members can perform. A lot of these roles will be determined by the aim or reason for existence of the AG.
The aim at the end of the day is to look after yourself and each other, have fun, and work towards a maximum degree of constructive social change.
- * The above is adapted from Starhawk (more at http://www.starhawk.org/activism/trainer-resources/affinitygroups.html)