All over Australia, local communities are acting to protect their homes, livelihoods and neighbourhoods from environmentally disastrous infrastructure projects and development. From organising neighbourhood meetings to participating in non-violent direct actions like pickets or machinery lock-ons, fighting for the right to have a say in the decisions that directly affect our lives can be an exhausting journey. This journey not only affects us as individuals, but as members of families, friendship groups, community groups and neighbourhoods facing the same challenges.
As is often the case for local groups taking action against bureaucrats, corporations and external decision makers, the process can be long-winded. The stress of the proposed plans and progress on these, as well as a general sense of powerlessness, can cause relationships within the affected community to break down over minor misunderstandings, disagreements about strategies, and underlying unresolved conflict. These breakdowns in relationships not only affect our health and sense of belonging, but can also compromise good group-based organisation for effective action. Under the pressure of threats to our local environment and quality of life it is not surprising that relationships and overall community well-being might be affected.
The good news is a well informed and prepared neighbourhood community can help itself to strengthen its bonds and be unified in its approach when the crunch begins. There are lots of things we can do as individuals to care for ourselves as members of communities; self care is featured heavily in this blog so please explore these pages to get some ideas- better yet, have a conversation with your fellow activists and swap tips!
For communities as a whole, here are some ideas that might be worth pondering before the going gets tough in a local campaign:
- Rostering. Whether its on the picket-line, organising meetings, cooking, doing childcare or social media- the labour of campaigning and direct action should ideally be spread evenly between willing participants. Rostering can also apply to activists taking extended breaks – this creates structure around rest and recuperation and gently combats martyrdom.
- Non-Violent Direct Action training. NVDA training not only increases the likelihood of successful and media worthy action, but increasing predictability decreases the likelihood that community activists will be psychologically traumatised by events such as police violence. In line with NVDA, check out these tips by Melbourne Street Medic Collective.
- Make space for sharing. This can be as simple as starting meetings with a brief ‘how is everyone doing’ to more extended check-ins with folks using a buddy system or small group facilitation techniques. A community is not just a local population, its real people with real lives, hopes and fears. The bonds that hold communities together are the bonds of resistance.
- Debrief. After any event of major significance make sure everyone gets a chance to talk it out. Talking in a group or with another person helps people process events and happenings, even if they were only a witness.
- Conflict resolution. Up-skilling community members as mediators or contracting the services of an external facilitator can be a genius move for communities facing internal conflict and relationship breakdowns. Conflict within local communities is normal, expected and manageable! Resolving conflict within groups working on campaigns improves retention and helps us work more collaboratively for maximum creativity and efficiency.
- Celebrate! Positive re-enforcement goes a long way for folks who are in it for the long run, celebration is an activist skill.
What approaches have you found successful in caring for your community? How has this care contributed to successful neighbourhood organising? Please share your tips!