Guide for Supporting Activism

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Format

wiki or online guide or pdf zine
needs to be easy to translate (use hypertext and plain language)
needs to have some basic versioning

Audience

Activists, people who are supporting activists, and people working in activist contexts.

You're an Activist Now

People become activists by accident. They're not usually prepared for the fallout and end up living in fear without any resources. We need to turn supporting activists into its own cause.

Introduction

  • Overview on being an activist v supporter (Are you at the center of the movement?)
  • Activists need support (can't handle the mission alone)
  • If you're a supporter, don't forget your friends and life outside this work. A big part of supporting activists is taking care of yourself.
  • This guide should help you work and live effectively in a stressful context.

As an activist you are responsible for certain things, but the supporters can take responsibility for others. Large activist organizations have systems and supervision. When you leap into an ad-hoc support group, you do not, and the people you are supporting do not.

Levels of support needed

  • Support for an activist
  • Support for a cause
  • Support for the supporters of activists
  • Triage for emergency situations
  • Support / someone actively thinking about potential threats

Intensity of the Work

  • Activism is very personal and emotion work
    • The activist may have personal stress in addition to situational stress.
    • In some ways, this work is about human suffering and the cycle of it.
  • There's a common misconception that you have to be strong all the time and it's weak to ask for help.
  • Because of the nature of this work, we need support to keep doing it and to be healthy.
  • Be willing to take feedback from your friends.
  • Work some weeks and take other weeks off.
  • Understand that your resources are limited.

Instant Networks

What would an instant network look like?

Counsel

Someone to talk about the horrible things that happen (e.g., trusted advocate, therapist, spiritual advisor)

Emergency Contacts

Could be a group of people in the network (IM and phone numbers); could be experts outside the situation (e.g., ACLU, other activist groups)

Friends of Friends

People outside the activist and supporters' group who can call a crises center or similar if they notice a change in behavior.

Supporting Roles

Types of support you can offer at different times. You can't be every role at once.

  • Answer replies or emails
  • Provide clean clothes
  • Help them shower and rest
  • Cook or provide food
  • Cleaning the work/living spaces
  • Operations - keep things moving
  • Provide shelter: suggestion to cycle every 2 weeks in US due to squatter laws
  • Looking into tax laws
  • Offering mental counsel
  • Being willing to do illegal stuff that is morally right
  • Blogging or running press/social media relations
  • Training other people in the group
  • Fundraising: criteria depends on the group and its region or location
    • Emergency fund
    • Medical fund
    • Rent and monthly bills
    • Bail and legal fees

Risks

Internal risks

  • Burnout: you cannot do this nonstop all the time; you need time to decompress
  • Trauma or mental illness
  • Need for privacy and security — tricky if you open your home
  • Impact of stress on decision-making
  • Traveling too much

External risks / attacks

  • Retribution - attacking supporters of activists
  • Infiltration
  • Technology
  • Security

Staying Productive

Negotiating leadership and group rules

  • Different options of modeling decisions and making plans as a group
  • Respect and trust are extremely important
  • Things to consider before things get tense: how to vote, how to document and share decisions, how to communicate history of the group, etc.
  • Don't be offended if an activist gives someone else a role you were expecting; they may be dealing with factors that are hard to explain under duress.
  • There are times when there will be no solution to a problem.
  • Need a vetting process with interviews for people
  • Trust only works 1 or 2 hops (degrees of separation)

Shift changes and role rotations

  • 2–8hr, sometimes with very specific tasks
  • Need to negotiate with the activist and/or leader of the supporting team (if there is a point person)
  • Need to have daily or weekly checkins to give feedback on the role and how the work is going.

Coping strategies and resources

  • Emergency contact list
  • Links to local laws
  • Links to clinics

Avoiding Burnout

Overview on how to deal with burnout and specific issues (as a supporter and a friend of a supporter)

Checklist for supporter / signs you might be in trouble

  • Are you stressed?
  • Is there something you could delegate?
  • Are you in a safe place? Do you need to change your location?
  • Do you need technical assistance?
  • Do other people consider you at risk?
  • Have you hung out with friends outside of the cause this week?

Checklist for a friend of a supporter

  • Does this person need 24 support?
  • Are they under a security threat?
  • Do they need a shower?
  • Do they need to rest?
  • Do they have work they can delegate?
  • Have they eaten in the last 4–6 hours?
  • Have they paid their bills this month?
  • Are they feeling stable in terms of finances and mental health?
  • Do they have a good support network?
  • Have they talked to people they care about recently (e.g., friends outside the cause, close family)?

Triage / When Things Go Wrong

What to do in case of emergency.

Attacks

  • Does this person need 24 hour support?

Abuse

  • What to do if someone in the group hurts you
  • Intervention: sometimes people become assholes.
  • If you've been raped or abused, go to the police.
  • The cause and activism are not the problem, but this behavior is not okay.

Crisis and Suicide

  • You might not immediately realize when someone needs help—and that someone could be you.
  • If someone kills themselves, know that it isn't the fault of anyone in the group. But be prepared to support each other and ask for support if you need it.
  • Reach out. People care.
  • There is a point where some people can no longer be helped. Don't take on more than you can. Talk to your community group and use the resources in the back of this guide.

How to Quit

  • You may reach a point where you don't want to do it anymore.
  • Don't just leave. Your group will need help finding a replacement or understanding what your tasks are so they can find a proper replacement.
  • Talk to your group and the activist you're supporting.
  • Know you haven't done anything wrong, but the reason needs to be communicated to the group so they can move forward (and potentially learn from your experience).

After the Action Ends

  • If your group is taking a break or is finished with a particular situation:
  • Check in every few months if you're not already friends. Make sure your group isn't under attack without you knowing it.
  • Establish habits for people who were activists.

Next Steps

  1. Talk to friends at large nonprofits and NGOs to see if they're willing to share some of their training and mental health expertise for a larger resource. T mentioned WWF, Doctors without Borders, Greenpeace, etc.
  2. Look into other models and frameworks for support (e.g., crisis helpline, customer service, hospital triage).
  3. Look at stats from WHO about how quickly people burnout and how to deal with it.