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This text is the response to the nopretence action published in the Freedom Newspaper. It is a paragraph within a longer article on the Anarchist Conference 09. You can respond on our blog or to the newspaper itself:

‘…The feminist intervention

However all the buzz afterwards was around the interruption of the feedback by feminist group No Pretence. Seven of them entered masked up and showed a five minute film comparing sexism in the anarchist movement to that in mainstream society. The good humoured reception they got made this action seem like a planned part of the programme and there is a disquieting paternalism that this disruption was not challenged in the way we would expect others to be. It was certainly effective in that it has got the movement talking about feminism, see your local internet board for the latest. However what was problematic was No Pretences refusal to engage with the planning process of the conference. Also the selection of images of the anarchist movement was, in parts, deliberately misrepresentative but, most seriously, there was no constructive element of how the conference could or will in future be organised differently. We hope to have an article from No Pretence for next issue and invite comments from anyone else who can help fill the letters page…’

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10 Comments

  1. I think this statement from freedom kind of misses the point. As far as I understood it it wasnt so much a critique of the conference as a critique of the movement. So saying that no pretence didnt have any constructve input about the organising isnt very valid. It was using that arena as a place to bring gender issues to the fore. And used forceful means to highlight how the mere words of supposedly anti-sexist anarchists wasnt actually enough.

  2. Thanks for posting this. Its good to have a little focus on structure. 🙂

  3. ALL COMMENTS BELOW THIS ARE ON THE ARTICLE: “Shut the Fuck Up, or, How to act better in meetings”.

    It can be found in the links on the left.

  4. I found this to be a really interesting article, as a woman that has taken part in and facilitated meetings, I have noticed this problem of people and, in general, men who dominate the conversations and don’t leave enough space for other peoples ideas to come in. I have also had a similar experience of the “older hippy guy” who is not maybe so obvious in the domination of the meetings but manages to always apear wise and authorative in terms of swaying the group to a conclusion. I feel it is part of our patriarchal conditioning for a group to be more interested in the conclusions of an older man, rather than those of older or younger women.

    As a facilitator, I belive in the importance of taking responsibility for your behaviour in the group and that of the process of the group. I find the idea of guerilla facilitating, if used in the right way exciting and would be very supportive to me in the role of facilitator. I always try to bring up the issue of the groups responsibility to the process and if those with in the group call each other out for behaviour that is problamatic in some way then thats cool with me.

    I see that we have a lot of problems with consensus desision making in meetings. I dont believe that is because concensus is a bad proces. I believe it is more because of the lack of understanding on how concensus can be used. I have been to a lot of meetings where the majority of people don’t really know what consensus decision making is and it is not asked if they understand or explained (to any depth) by anyone within the meeting.

    Consensus decision making is a comlex form of decision making. It requires training and understanding from those participating within the group. And it requires responsibility from those within the group to the process of concensus itself.

    I do not believe that consensus desision making is always the best or most appropriate way of making decisions for every type of group, but when used well it is definately developmental for all those working in the group.

    We definately more dabate, discussion on when consensus works and doesnt work, more training, and more creation of new and imaginative ways of making decisions together and listening to each other.

    Well done to the author of the article for raising these points. And for anyone that notices themselves taking too much in meetings, why not stop dominating and shut the fuck up? You never know, you might just learn something!

  5. I’m a bit annoyed that I just read through Elleanor’s entire comment after reading a fairly interesting article. If I wanted to hear about how great she thinks L&S is I would have asked her, but instead I read her and other L&S commentors on indymedia and realize that they must spend more of their time trying to take apart genuine efforts people are making to create change than organising themselves. How annoying.

    I liked the article. In particular I liked the responsibility it calls for people to place upon themselves, or self-facilitation. I think people here are reluctant to properly facilitate meetings and I think a lot of that comes from people refraining from self-facilitation. I have sat in meetings in many other countries where non-white and non-males have much less dominance in meetings, and it’s obvious that the groups went through processes to ensure that everyone felt empowered and equally a part of the process.

    I agree that there are some problems with consensus, but I don’t think there are better options at the moment and within that framework we need to think about how to get people to shut the fuck up and let other people speak.

    • I’m sorry you found my post annoying.

      It wasn’t my intention to plug Liberty and Solidarity. I didn’t mention the group by name and only refered to my experiances within it in the last two paragraphs.

      However, i do think that, in the context of a discussion on how to avoid the domnation of meetings by men, it was legitimate to compare my experiances within L&S which uses the roberts procedure with my experiances in the rest of the anarchist movement, which typically uses some form of consensus.

      I agree with you that we need to get people to shut the fuck up and let other people speak but i disagree that this has to be within the framework of consesus.
      In fact i believe that a departure from consensus might make the task easier.

      One thing i did find good about the artical was its flagging up of “The tyranny of structurelessness” by Jo Freeman which i remember as a discussion document way back in my days with Reclaim the Streets (RTS). We all found the analysis to be very pertinent to the decision making processess within RTS and it was this essay which i would credit with beginning my gradual disillusionment with consesus. I would really encorage other people to read it.

      I checked Indymedia for the comments by other L&S members which you said concerned you and i can’t find them. I’m not sure it would be appropriate to derail this discussion by asking you to post a link though.

      Ellenor

      • Although I think the Shut the fuck Up article is useful in that it provides concrete answers to the point made again and again by certain individuals – yes, its a problem that no women speak, but what can i do about it? – I think Ellenor has raised an important point by questioning whether the structure of the meetings (rather than just people’s individual behaviour within the meetings) is the problem. Perhaps it would be a good idea to discuss ‘The tyranny of structurelessness’ next week… What do people think?

  6. With all due respect: I feel this writers approach is not illuminating.

    This article criticises the behaviour of men within meetings. Throughout the article, the decision making process of these meeting is assumed to be consensus. One thing that the article completely fails to address is the effect of consensus decision making on the problems the writer identifies.

    Having been knocking around the anarchist movement for some 13 years and sat through innumerable meetings my honest opinion is that consensus is a contributing cause.

    People who like consensus will very often state that the problems it encounters are due to groups implementing it badly but never explain why it is implemented badly so often.

    Consensus is an extremely difficult meeting structure to run and to understand. The very complexity of the process in likely to put many people off contributing or, particularly so, volunteering as facilitators. If you are already concerned that your contribution might not be taken seriously, the addition concern that it might be inappropriate in the process is only likely to add to your reticence.

    The emphasis which consensus places on reaching agreement is also a real disincentive to voicing disagreement. The costs to the process of expressing disagreement, and therefore the social pressure against speaking up are too high: no-one want to be the person who stalls the process. Sometimes i watch things get passed by a consensus based group and i wonder how many people actually agreed with it and how many are keeping quiet because they disagree but not enough to block.

    These might seem like quite technical reservations but the ability of a meeting to actually come to a decision is the most basic pre requisite for democracy. As the writer himself touches on: the alternative is that decisions are made on the hoof by whoever is working on the project day to day. This is fuel to the fire of informal hierarchy.

    What is interesting about the article is that the lack of consideration of the decision making process is matched by an extreme focus on individual behaviour. “Shutting the Fuck Up” and calling others out on their behaviour is put forward as the solution. Structure of meetings is mentioned once but only in the context of a “process meeting” which can be used for erm, calling people out on their behaviour. Self reflection is also given emphasis.

    The limitations of this approach are evident in the writers own observations that when people are called out on their behaviour, they still tend to repeat it.

    For me this suggests that setting up structure to discourage the behaviour you don’t want to see should be given priority.

    The writer says that patriarchy depends on domination, claiming authority and belligerence.
    Why do men find it so easy to dominate and claim authority in consensus meetings? In my opinion the structure, or more often the lack of structure, in these meetings encourages it. If authority is not clearly and democratically apportioned then it will be there for the claiming.

    This is not addressed in the article. Instead the responsibility rests with individual participants to police their contribution in order to mitigate against the structural problems. This is, at best a distraction from more concrete approaches and at worse a source of new difficulties. I find the suggestion of “guerrilla facilitation” particularly problematic. Does he have any idea how undermining that would be to experience as a facilitator? How will you encourage women to step up to this role if undermining of the facilitator is accepted?

    I think a lot of the problem is that consensus is treated as a liberatory thing in and of itself, rather than as simply a tool for making decisions and its limitations are therefore not considered or recognised.

    The organisation I am now a member of see’s a great deal less of the behaviours described in this article despite having a numerical dominance by men and I think a large part of this is that we have given up on consensus in favour of the classic Roberts procedure which, in my opinion, is much harder to dominate by individuals.

    A friend of mine commented that the formation of this particular organisation is the result of working class members of the anarchist movement losing patience with being patronised. Although the comment was made flippantly there is sadly a lot of truth in it and consensus is a large part of this. What could be more patronising, after all, than being told you will find something liberatory and empowering when you can experience for yourself that the opposite is the case? This is certainly my experience and you could just as easily substitute “female” for “working class.”

    • what is the ‘classic Roberts procedure?
      i’ve never even heard of it!

      • The Roberts procedure is the default meeting structure for most meetings not consensus. It basically goes:

        1. Someone makes a proposal
        2. Someone seconds it
        3. Everyone discusses the proposal.
        4. People can suggest amendments to the proposal
        5. vote on the proposal.

        Compared to consesus the process has relative simplicity and the rules are more explicit and obvious which allows people to participate with confidence at an earlier stage. It is also much easier to explain to a new person what is going on. Many people find that the process becomes clear to them simply by watching it play out a couple of times.

        People occassionally need some explanation or assistance with phrasing their ideas as specific proposals, particularly if they have not had a lot of formal education. It is generally fairly easy to teach this however and certainly much easier than training someone to take part confidently in consesus.

        Likewise, it is much less daunting to chair a roberts meeting than facilitate a consesus meeting: again this is because the rules are clear and explicit and therefore applying them is less nuanced and easier to learn.

        In my opinion the simplicity and explicitness of the rules makes it much easier to run a meeting inclusively as people are less likley to be able to exploit their greater knowledge of the process.

        Other advantages for a group of simple and explict process is that meetings run faster through non contraversial items. This leaves more time to deal with more difficult subjects properly. Or if there are no contraversial issues: to socialise with new members and welcome people into the group.

        It also allows more business to be got through which means that the group has more capacity for activity or, more liklely, that more of a groups activity can be decided in a meeting democratically rather than by whatever informal hierarchies may have built up.

        People also tend to find it empowering in itself to be part of a group that is capable of coming to decisions quickly and easily. This builds confidence taht the group will be able to achieve other things as well. This makes to meetings feel less like a talking shop and more like somewhere women can see the point of going.

        In my opinion the increased focus and disipline of the roberts meetings also discorages the arrogance and time stealing tactics that men are often able to get away with and which the writer identifies.


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