Stop scattergunning, be hospitable and expect tides

Name: Janne Winther

Climate activist (4 years)

Socio-economic entrepreneur with Acter (2 years)

Located in: Aarhus, Denmark

Hi there,

Here are my top three organizing tricks and a brief explanation below for each of them. These tricks have helped me (us) build successful campaigns for a number of climate and environmental policies locally such as a ban on investments in fossil companies, an internal CO2 price / CO2-budget on public procurements, and a national climate law for a 70% reduction of emissions in 2030. Currently we campaign for our city council to give up a 105 hectare expansion of the local harbor that would increase emissions as well as contaminate the local waters with heavy metals. Okay, here are the tricks.

1. Stop the scattergun technique. A “the-more-the-better” thinking is useless. You will burn out yourself and your co-activists sooner or later and with the risk of leaving no real impact in your ashes. You and your group are most likely working with few resources both in terms of finances, time, and people involved. A big part of your activism is carried out by volunteers who dedicate themselves and their priceless free time to your shared cause. Activism whether for environment, abortion rights, or liveable wages is systems-oriented. It is a big system you are trying to mold. It demands that you work strategically with your resources. Strategy means that you define clear and specific goals, target the people who can deliver on your goal, build a clear plan of how to convince your target to deliver on your goal and finally decide on tactics and practicalities. You will likely realize that it is better to take time to build a solid campaign in a broad coalition that targets particular decision makers than just posting amok on social media and firing away with talks and public events. For further resources on strategy you can look up the SMART goal model, read more from researcher Hahrie Han about successful movements, the book “Tools for grassroots activists” from Patagonia, or the book “Rules for Revolutionaries” by Bond & Exley.

2. Be a hospitable and equal space for learning. Activism is tough work and you need endurance. You need courage to confront and face authorities. You need creativity and stamina to answer the tough questions of building strong strategies. You might be one of these energetic, indignant, and defiant types, but not everyone is. You need to make your organization one where people can thrive. This means they must be able to bring their entire person into the work, they must feel safe about asking questions, learning at their own pace, and taking on new tasks. It is totally okay to make big asks (actually that is thrilling) and to expect that people invest time and energy, but they also need to get something back. You can open up the conversation about this in your group, that is what motivates them, but for a start you need to make people feel welcome and safe from the first instance.

Specific methods to do this could be:

  • Make sure to welcome people the minute they step in your door (or call or text you). This is basic; be a good host, smile, welcome, offer them something to drink, let them know where the toilet is, and what is on the program.

  • Use a check in question to initiate all meetings eg “what is present with you?” to encourage people to bring their full person into your work

  • Use pronouns.

  • Talk openly about resources especially when your are short on them

  • Invite people to connect 1:1 with you and other organizers if they want to resolve insecurities

  • Incorporate social activities in your work eg eating together after a meeting

  • Have a conversation about values in your organization and revisit them frequently, introduce newcomers to them, use them to guide decisions

For more resources you can look up “psychological safety” online, read about TEAL organizations e.g. from the book “Reinventing Organizations” by Frederic Laloux.

3. Expect tides. Linearity is an alien concept and fits poorly with human life. It does nothing good for our planet and neither for our mental health. Nothing in life is linear. Nature works in seasons that repeat. Circularity is a better expectation to go for. This means that you should expect tides in your activist work. High tides are where you attract lots of people, funding, execute projects and move the needle on your goals. Low tides are where you focus more inwards on your organization, your methods, reflect and learn. You have to value the outward results as highly as the more subjective and inward ones. Learning, building methods and processes are crucial for you to continue being relevant. If you can work around this you are also much more likely to be able to build a healthy and safe environment in your organization. This is a great conversation to spark in your group. I can recommend the book “Doughnut Economics” by Kate Raworth as well as the writing and newsletter from Yung Pueblo.

Do you want to discuss these tricks or share your own? Join our working group in Acter Community on Activists organizing right here.

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