“The president-elect is the most dangerous man in America. The question now, for which there is as yet no answer, is: Who will stand up to him?” — Michael A. Cohen, Boston Globe columnist, December 8, 2016
The answer is, we the people will. Not Cohen’s list of politicians and leaders who have been benefiting from the corrupt system that put Trump in power. The post inauguration chaos could take America and the world into uncharted territory so organizing an exact strategy on how to transform America into a sustainable post capitalist society will take imagination.
Be aware of groups seeking to hijack the movement for their own benefit. You can become disheartened when you spend energy supporting an organization only to discover that the group claiming they are the “vanguard to revolution” or well financed reform organization is more interested in its own advancement than in transforming society. We will see lots of these groups seeking your participation as the crisis grows more dire. But there are some things we can now do to prepare.
Forming Affinity Groups is one important suggestion no matter what strategies are adopted. An Affinity Group often has five to 10 participants that trust one another and are organized around shared interests. They may meet every week or once a month and some get together to share activities several times a week. It is possible to find inspiration from meeting with your group. The conversations can nurture that imagination we so need in these dark times.
An Affinity group could prepare for protests together or organize support for community gardens or form a Food Not Bombs chapter. The longer the group works together the more trust and strength it will have. Many affinity groups are organized in a non-hierarchical manner, often using a consensus decision making process, and are frequently made up of trusted friends. Affinity groups can provide a method of organization that is both flexible and decentralized.
The Affinity Group structure is very valuable in organizing nonviolent direct actions and protests. This was the process often used in nonviolent direct actions against the US War on Vietnam and even more so in the 1970s by anti-nuclear activists. Possibly the most successful example using the Affinity Group model was the shutting down of the World Trade Organization Summit in Seattle in November of 1999.
Groups of Affinity Groups can be formed into what activists call Clusters. For example in the effort to stop the Seabrook Nuclear Power Station in New Hampshire Clusters were formed around geographic locations such as a Boston Cluster, a North Shore Cluster and so on. Any decision made at the Cluster level was to be agreed to by all the participants of all the member Affinity Groups but there was often flexibility unless there was strong opposition.
For the main actions, groups of Clusters would meet at a Spokes Council to adopt or reject the proposals supported by the Affinity Groups and introduced to the Spokes Council by the Clusters. At first this can be challenging but if all involved seek to come to consensus on clear simply articulated proposals that affect the major goals and objectives of the effort it can work. Where this process fails is when large groups try to come to consensus on every little policy. We saw this problem often during Occupy. Detailed discussions like that are better kept at the Affinity Group level and even then only to seek inspiration and trust in the group.
In preparation for the blockade of the World Trade Organization Summit in Seattle a coalition formed called the Direct Action Network (DAN). Activist published a “Common Agreements”. No matter what your view on non-violence you were asked to honor this agreement for the time of the action. The Common Agreements were ”Refrain from violence, physical or verbal; not to carry weapons, not to bring or use illegal drugs or alcohol, and not to destroy property”.
Nonviolent Direct Action Preparations were really important in the success of the blockade. Author and activist Star Hawk wrote of the preparations saying “In the weeks and days before the blockade, thousands of people were given nonviolence training — a three hour course that combined the history and philosophy of nonviolence with real life practice through role plays in staying calm in tense situations, using nonviolent tactics, responding to brutality, and making decisions together. Thousands also went through a second-level training in jail preparation, solidarity strategies and tactics and legal aspects. As well, there were first aid trainings, trainings in blockade tactics, street theater, meeting facilitation, and other skills.”
One possible reason the direct actions to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline at Standing Rock have been successful is that the Native American elders had a common agreement worded much like that used during the WTO protests in Seattle and that they asked everyone interested in participating to take a three hour Nonviolent Direct Action Preparation.
There are several resources to help organize a Nonviolent Direct Action Preparation in your community. One is “Preparation for Nonviolent Action” posted on the Vernal Project website. The War Resisters website also posts “Nonviolence Training: Nonviolent Action Preparation 4 – 5 + hour agenda.” There may be experience facilitators in your community that can help but you can also organize your own preparations.
If thousands of concerned people dedicated ourselves to forming Affinity Groups and organizing Nonviolent Direct Action Preparations it could provide a solid foundation for opposing whatever the future has in store. Your Affinity Group can help provide mutual aid such as food, water, electricity, housing, healthcare and education to your community or it could also form the bases of nonviolent resistance to whatever government and corporate policies are introduced that could threaten our community.
No matter what the post inauguration chaos brings I believe we need to be prepared for a long struggle. Don’t mourn, organize!
Food Not Bombs co-founder Keith McHenry is the author of several books on this subject including “Hungry For Peace” and “ The Anarchist Cookbook.” He helped start Food Not Bombs in 1980 in Boston. Today there are over 1,000 groups in over 65 countries.