BECK index

Group Process

This chapter has been published in the book Nonviolent Action Handbook. For ordering information, please click here.

Affinity Groups
Consensus Decision-making
Overcoming Discrimination

Affinity Groups

An affinity group (AG) is usually composed of 5-20 people who have been brought together by some common experience. In addition to concerns for peace and justice, they may be from the same community, church, local peace group, have a similar political perspective, a common cause such as feminism, anarchism, nonviolence as a way of life, etc., or they may form out of a nonviolence training or to employ a similar tactic at a direct action. Affinity groups are the basic decision-making bodies of the action.

Affinity groups serve as a source of support and solidarity for their members. Feelings of being isolated or alienated from the movement, crowd, or the world in general can be alleviated through the friendship and trust which develops when an affinity group works, plays, and relates together over a period of time. Everyone participating in any action is encouraged to join or form an affinity group. Individuals can come to a nonviolence training on their own initiative and there find like-minded people who can then form an affinity group. Others may work in groups for weeks or longer, becoming a close-knit family of activists. Individuals may also join an already established affinity group for a particular action. By having these groups, it makes it much more difficult for outside provocateurs to go unnoticed.

The name of these units comes from the "grupos de affinidad" of the anarchist movement in Spain in the early part of the 20th century. Each affinity group is encouraged to choose a name for identification and may wish to have similar T-shirts or arm bands. The more affinity groups can meet and work together, the closer will be the personal relationships and the group cohesion and effectiveness. At least one group meeting is needed before the action, which may be after the nonviolence training, in order to discuss legal and jail preparation and allow time to explore everyone's questions, fears, reactions, emotions, and attitudes in depth. The more prepared affinity groups are before the action, the better it is likely to go.

Most affinity groups choose to operate with consensus decision-making in order to establish certain principles of unity for the group. For example, each affinity group should discuss and agree to the nonviolence discipline for the action. If there is a disagreement, a spokesperson for the group should contact the organizers of the action or the spokes-council in order to resolve it. Individuals who have difficulty consenting to the principles of a particular affinity group may find that they have more affinity with another group.

Christians do not quarrel with anyone,
do not attack anyone nor use violence against anyone;
on the contrary,
they themselves without murmuring bear violence;
but by this very relation to violence
they not only free themselves,
but also the world from external power.
Leo Tolstoy

Roles in the Affinity Group

Specific roles may be taken on by different members of each affinity group. Each role serves a function that is important to the whole group and the action. These roles may be rotated from time to time; e.g., the same person should not always be the spokesperson for the group.

* The spokesperson represents the decisions and concerns of the AG to the larger council of spokes, listens carefully and takes notes at the council meetings, and then reports back the council's decisions, proposals, and concerns to the group.

* The contact person maintains an up-to-date list of the AG members' names, addresses and phones, and communicates with the organizers of the action.

* The legal spokesperson communicates with the legal collective or with lawyers and those knowledgeable on the legal issues and attempts to find answers to AG members' legal questions and concerns. The legal spoke may also communicate legal strategies to and from other AG's legal spokes.

* The media spokesperson is responsible for meeting with the press and radio or TV reporters to give information according to the wishes of individual members of the AG. Media spokes may meet together as a media collective and coordinate publicity for an action, give out press releases, call a press conference, etc.

* Peacekeepers are responsible for watching the emotional tone of the action and when noticing persons getting upset should calmly approach and sensitively attempt to assist people in resolving their conflicts and concerns. At a demonstration peacekeepers may gently keep people informed as to the legal areas of protest and serve as a mediator between law enforcement officers and the protestors in keeping the demonstration orderly. If there is a counter-demonstration, peacekeepers may serve as buffers between the opposing protestors. If violence begins to break out, it is the responsibility of peacekeepers to intervene nonviolently and calm the situation. Actually in such an emergency every participant in a nonviolent action should act as a peacekeeper.

* A medic with basic skills and a first-aid kit can be helpful.

At the time of the action, the affinity group will be divided into two parts: those choosing to risk arrest and the others who serve as support people. Both are important functions essential to the action. In the case of those risking arrest the sacrifices are fairly obvious, but good support will enable the action to be successful and will encourage, instead of discourage, future actions.

Those risking arrest should consider the following:

* Discuss possible tactics before the action, coordinate with other AGs, make or revise decisions during the action.

* Discuss legal options and strategies, attempt to reach consensus on solidarity issues, such as not paying bail, not signing a cite release, not paying fines, not accepting probation, etc., as well as discussing who will plead not guilty and go to trial.

* Make personal preparations, set time commitments, clear outstanding warrants (such as unpaid traffic tickets) to avoid additional charges and to avoid complicating jail solidarity.

Support people may serve in the following ways:

Before the action:

* List all members of the group and the personal needs of each person who may be arrested:

-name, address, key phone numbers, and birth-date.

-expected legal strategy (e.g. plea, noncooperation)

-health and medical requirements (contact lenses).

-a lawyer, if the person wants one.

-telephone calls to relatives, employers, friends.

-child care responsibilities.

-household chores (feeding pets, watering plants).

-bills to be paid.

-deadline by which bail may need to be paid.

-personal possessions to be left behind (car keys, vehicle license number, wallet, etc.) Mark with AG name or personal name.

* Make sure the group has enough resources for the action: food, money, vehicles, people filling different roles, telephone access. Discuss possible emergencies.

* Handle car keys and house keys, glasses, contact lens supplies, prescription medications, paperback books, cash, etc.

* Provide hugs and quality time to discuss the decision to risk arrest and arrange when you can be called collect from jail.

* Give your name, information, and how long you will be available for support work to central support or the jail collective.

At the time of the action:

* Provide transportation to the action site, water, food, hugs, and cheers.

* Be ready to receive hugs, last minute unloading of possessions, and information as to where those arrested are likely to be taken.

* Know the boundaries of arrest and non-arrest areas.

* Serve as a legal observer during the arrest situation by taking pictures, video, or notes for possible use as evidence in court.

After the arrest:

* Notify people as requested by the one arrested.

* Provide jail support as requested (bring medications, lens supplies, books, money for commissary account, visitation).

* Send letters and newspaper clippings.

* Keep action organizers updated as to the status of individuals.

* Attend and bring friends to court arraignment and trial to show public support for the action.

* Pay emergency bail if requested.

When people are released from jail:

* Provide hugs and kisses, decent munchies, transportation home, and quality time to discuss the experience.

Consensus Decision-making

Consensus is a decision-making process that reflects commitment to the right of every person to influence decisions that affect them. Consensus comes to us through the Quakers, but it has been used by tribal cultures since prehistory. The Six Nations of the Iroquois, for example, use their own form of consensus government to this day. Children also use an informal consensus process as they make up games, choose roles, and play together.

Consensus is a creative process. It is a process for synthesizing the ideas and concerns of all group members. Unlike voting, it is not an adversary, win/lose method. With consensus, we do not have to choose between two alternatives. Instead we can create a third, a fourth or more as we see that problems may have many possible solutions. Those who hold views different from ours do not become opponents; instead, their views can be seen as giving us a fresh and valuable perspective. As we work to meet their concerns, our proposals may be strengthened. When we use consensus, we encourage each person's active participation, and we listen carefully to what each person says.

Consensus is not the same as a vote. It does not necessarily mean total agreement. Consensus does not mean that everyone thinks that the decision made is necessarily the best one possible, or even that they are sure it will work. What it does mean is that in coming to that decision, no one felt that their position on the matter was misunderstood or that it was not given a proper hearing. It also means that the final decision does not violate anyone's fundamental moral values; for if it did, they would be obligated to block consensus or leave the group.

During discussion the issues will tend to emerge into a proposal for the group to implement. Once the proposal has been formulated, clarifying questions may precede the discussion as to its merits. The procedure is that discussion must focus on the proposal before the group until it has been withdrawn or gained consent. During the discussion concerns and modifications may be raised which may amend the proposal. Such friendly amendments must be acceptable to the originator of the proposal. If people decide that the proposal is not appropriate, it may be withdrawn or dropped. After adequate discussion, the facilitator may begin to test for consensus by asking if there are any concerns or reservations. If there are none, then silence or the twinkling of fingers or nodding of heads may indicate consensus. If anyone feels any qualms about it, it is their responsibility to voice them so that they can be heard by the group and discussed. Often reservations may lead to modifications of the proposal so that it is still acceptable to everyone. If a substantial number of people have reservations, then the proposal is usually dropped.

If a single person or a small percentage of the whole group still have reservations unresolved by the discussion, then they have the following choices:

* Non-support ­ "I don't like it, but I can live with it."

* Standing aside ­ "I personally won't do this; but I won't stop others from doing it, and I'll stay in the group."

* Blocking ­ "I cannot allow the group to do this, because I believe it would be morally wrong to do so. I'm going to stay in the group and try to persuade you this is wrong." Consensus has been blocked, and the proposal is dropped.

* Withdrawing ­ "I no longer share the values and unifying principles of this group. Therefore I am leaving the group." (In the rare case where a person may try to block a group from fulfilling its main objectives, the other members of the group could decide to withdraw themselves from that person who apparently is an agent provocateur.)

In the case of a block, the proposal is dropped or re-worked to satisfy the persons who are blocking. In the larger sense in direct action protests we are saying to our society, "You do not have our consent to perpetrate these wrongs. We believe it is morally wrong and are acting to block nonviolently those wrongs from occurring."

When there are people not supporting or standing aside, it is referred to as a luke-warm consensus, which is like a luke-warm drink or a luke-warm bath in that it may be better than nothing but hardly ideal.

Thus the proposal goes through a synthesis process in which everyone has a chance to express feelings and concerns. Consensus is based on the belief that people can talk peacefully about their differences and reach a mutually satisfactory position. When consensus is used well, it empowers individuals, because the process constantly affirms the value of each person's rare experience. It often brings out our best insights and encourages our sense of responsibility.

Once a decision is made, it is important to make sure that how it is going to implemented has also been decided. What the decision is may be repeated and recorded in the notes of the meeting.

Review of Consensus Procedure:

* Problem stated: What are we talking about?

* Question clarified: What needs to be decided?

* Discussion: What are all the views?

* Proposal made: What action will the group take?

* Proposal discussed: clarifying questions, good points, concerns.

* Proposal modified by friendly amendments or withdrawn.

* Test for consensus:

* Restate proposal.

* Call for concerns and objections.

* Attempt to synthesize objections into the proposal.

* If decision is blocked, proposal is dropped.

* If consensus is reached, show visual or verbal agreement.

* Assign tasks to implement the decision.

Roles in a Consensus Meeting

* The facilitator or co-facilitators help the group define decisions that need to be made, prioritize the agenda, make sure the necessary roles are filled, call on people to speak in turn while encouraging reticent speakers, may suggest ways to discuss issues by items or with techniques such as brain-storming, small group discussion, go-rounds where everyone speaks, etc., and generally keep the meeting focused and moving through the decision-making stages. The facilitator should remain neutral on the topics discussed. If the person who is facilitating wishes to enter the discussion it should be clear they are temporarily dropping the role of facilitator. The facilitator should make sure that proposals are clearly understood by restating them and calling for clarifying questions prior to discussion. The facilitator should call on people in order unless someone hasn't spoken at all while others have spoken several times; or when someone has a process question or suggestion, they may raise both hands and be called on immediately.

* The timekeeper warns the group halfway through and at the end of each time period allotted to agenda items. At the end of the time period, the group may decide to allot more time or go on to the next agenda item.

* The note-taker records minutes, taking special care to write down each decision the group makes and to note who is responsible for carrying it out. They may also take on the responsibility of sending out the minutes to the members after the meeting.

* The vibes-watcher has been referred to as having an underview of the meeting. Vibes-watchers observe the body language, the undercurrent of feelings and tension, and at appropriate moments may recommend that the group pause to breathe deeply or stretch or take a break or sing a song, or even acknowledge their feelings. A song or non-competitive game can be used as a "light and lively" to help the group relax and refresh.

* Spokes-councils may be held during an action in which several affinity groups participate. Each AG sends a spokesperson to the council for overall decision-making. If the spokes have been empowered to make a decision for their group, the council may then make a consensus decision for the whole action. Or proposals may go from the council back to the affinity groups for ratification. If all the AGs consent and send back spokes saying so, then consensus is reached. At spokescouncil meetings usually only spokes are allowed to speak, but interested members of AGs may sit behind the circle of spokes and pass notes or whisper to their spoke. This is sometimes referred to as the jail model spokescouncil.

Meeting Procedure

* Connect by sitting down, singing, breathing together, praying or meditating, etc.

* Choose a facilitator, note-taker, timekeeper, and vibes-watcher.

* Introductions or basic check-ins of how people are feeling.

* Collect items for the agenda; set times, prioritize; or review agenda.

* Go through agenda as agreed upon, taking breaks as appropriate.

* Collect names, addresses, and phones if needed.

* Set a date, time, and place for the next meeting.

* Announcements.

* Evaluate meeting.

* Closing circle.

Attitudes and Behaviors which Help Consensus

* Responsibility - Participants are responsible for voicing their opinions, participating in the discussion, and implementing the agreements.

* Self-discipline - Refrain from talking too much, repeating what has already been said, or interrupting. Listen carefully and think before speaking. Allow pauses after each person speaks.

* Respect - Respect everyone and trust them to make responsible contributions.

* Cooperation - Look for areas of agreement for common ground and build on them. Avoid competitive right/wrong, win/lose thinking.

* Struggle - Use clear means of disagreement, not put-downs. Use disagreements and arguments to grow and change. Work hard to build unity in the group, but not at the expense of members.

Overcoming Discrimination

Hidden Assumptions and Attitudes:

1. The assumption that the dominant group represents humanity as a whole: for example, that "man" refers to all people, that pink band-aids are flesh-colored.

2. The assumption that we all share common experiences, resources, and interests. Women's experience is different from men's, blacks' from that of whites', working-class people's from middle-class people's. Society's institutions treat us differently and we grow up with different expectations and opportunities. We do not have the same access to money and time or to resources such as transportation and emotional support. We have different responsibilities and different limitations. As we work together, we need to bear this in mind.

3. The assumption that discrimination does not hurt the dominant group. Restrictive sex roles hurt men as well as women. Racism hurts us all. Both divide us as potential friends and allies.

4. The assumption that education on these issues should be carried out by the oppressed-that people of color should educate white people, that women should raise the consciousness of men. Yet no one can raise someone else's consciousness-that is a task we each must take for ourselves. Because change benefits us all, it is up to each of us to learn about and raise issues other than our own.

5. The assumption that the values, symbols, and world-view of the dominant culture are universal.

6. The assumption that people from different groups and lifestyles should try to look and act like members of the dominant group, or should fit the stereotypes to make dominant group members feel comfortable.

7. The assumption that these issues of liberation and survival are side issues that distract from the real work and can be conveniently set aside whenever they make people uncomfortable.

Ways We Can Work for Change:

1. Raise the issues of racism, sexism, classism, heterosexism, ageism, discrimination against the disabled, etc. Speak up about them. Make them our concern.

2. Join together with people of our own sex, class, or race to share experiences, frustrations, pain, and develop common understandings. Make time for consciousness raising.

3. Educate ourselves about people who are different from us. Read the writings of people of color, working-class people, women, etc. Learn the history of Africa, the Americas, Polynesia, Asia. Learn other languages.

4. Tell our own personal histories to each other. Recognize that we are all ethnic, that we are rich in the diversity of our heritages and life experiences.

5. Realize that third-world people face daily threats which are more immediate than what we experience in a wealthy country.

6. Understand that many peace and justice issues affect third-world communities in special ways. For example:

Nuclear programs are dependent on uranium mined in southern Africa and on native lands in the U.S., Canada, Australia, etc.

Military intervention is planned to prevent self-determination throughout the third world.

Military recruiting is targeted at areas of high unemployment. With few jobs available, African-Americans and Latinos often have little choice but to enlist.

The massive transfer of resources to the military in recent budgets has particularly hurt the poor.

The massive expenditures for arms worldwide take funds and resources needed for economic development.

7. Learn and act upon issues of special concern to third-world communities. Integrate the concerns of these communities in your approach to peace issues.

8. Develop working relationships with all groups involved with social change, including African-American, Latino, Asian, and native groups. In planning for events form coalitions early, which include as many groups as possible.

9. Do not force your agenda on other organizations.

Overcoming Masculine Oppression

Many of the problems found in anti-war groups are those of domination within the movement. People join a social change movement in order to alleviate an external problem. Too often we are confronted with the same kind of behavior we find in our daily lives. We are all too often stifled by heavy-handed authority-parents or spouse at home, teachers at school, bosses at work.

People want not only to be accepted in these groups but also to make a contribution and be active participants. In order to work successfully to change things, we must also pay attention to our own behavior. More often than not, men are the ones dominating group activity. Such behavior is therefore termed a "masculine behavior pattern" not because women never act that way, but because it is generally men who do it.

Specific ways we can be responsible in groups:

* Not interrupting people who are speaking. We can even leave space after each speaker, counting to five before speaking.

* Becoming a good listener. Good listening is as important as good speaking. It is important not to withdraw when not speaking; good listening is active participation.

* Getting and giving support. We can help each other be aware of and point out patterns of domination, as well as affirm each other as we move away from those ways. It is important that men support and challenge each other, rather than asking women to do so. This will also allow women more space to break out of their own conditioned role of looking after men's needs while ignoring their own.

* Not giving answers and solutions. We can give our opinions in a manner which says we believe our ideas valuable, but not more important than others' ideas.

* Relaxing. The group will do fine without our anxiety attacks.

* Not speaking on every subject. We need not share every idea we have, at least not with the whole group.

* Not putting others down. We need to check ourselves when we are about to attack or "one-up" another. We can ask ourselves, "Why am I doing this? What am I feeling? What do I need?"

Common problems to be aware of:

* Hogging the show. Talking too much, too long and too loud.

* Problem solver. Continually giving the answer or solution before others have had much chance to contribute.

* Speaking in capital letters. Giving one's own solutions or opinions as the final word on the subject, often aggravated by tone of voice and body posture.

* Defensiveness. Responding to every contrary opinion as though it were a personal attack.

* Nit-picking. Pointing out minor flaws in statements of others and stating the exception to every generality.

* Restating. Especially what has just been said by a non-dominant person.

* Attention seeking. Using all sorts of dramatics to get the spotlight.

* Task and content focus. To the exclusion of nurturing individuals or the group through attention to process and form.

* Put-downs and one-upmanship. "I used to believe that, but now ..." or "How can you possibly say that?"

* Negativism. Finding something wrong or problematical in everything.

* Focus transfer. Transferring the focus of the discussion to one's own pet raps.

* Residual office holder. Hanging on to formal powerful positions.

* Self-listening. Formulating a response after the first few sentences, not listening to anything from that point on and leaping in at the first pause.

* Inflexibility and dogmatism. Taking a last stand for one's position on even minor items.

* Avoiding feelings. Intellectualizing, withdrawing into passivity or making jokes when it's time to share personal feelings.

* Condescension and paternalism. "Now, do any women have anything to add?"

* Being "on the make." Using sexuality to manipulate people.

* Seeking attention and support from women while competing with men.

* Running the show. Continually taking charge of tasks before others have a chance to volunteer.

* Pack-ratitis. Protectively storing key group information for one's own use and benefit.

* Speaking for others. "A lot of us think that we should ..." or "What so-and-so really meant was ..."

The full wealth of knowledge and skill is severely limited by such behavior. Women and men who don't feel comfortable participating in a competitive atmosphere are, in effect, cut off from the interchange of experience and ideas.

If sexism and domineering egotism is not ended within social-change groups, it is not a movement for real social change. The movement would flounder amidst divisiveness, and sex oppression would go on. Thus we must work to free women and men from oppressive sex role conditioning and from subtle as well as blatant forms of male supremacy.

Do not do to others what you would not want them to do to you.
Hate is never conquered by hate;
hate is conquered by love.
This is an eternal law.

This chapter has been published in the book Nonviolent Action Handbook. For ordering information, please click here.

Liberation from Seven Deadly -Isms
Group Process
Creative Actions
Legal Process

BEST FOR ALL: How We Can Save the World

BECK index