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Mind the Gap News October 5, 2005

Posted by Winter in the adventures of mind the gap.
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All in all, we’ve had a pretty productive couple of weeks. Our membership is becoming increasingly European: we now have a German, an Icelandic and, from today, a Finnish member. Last week Naiades and I finally got round to emailing local women’s groups. So far, we’ve received very positive replies from Swansea Women’s Centre and Amnesty Wales – let the networking commence. I hope some of the others will respond. Almost all of the promised zine material has now been collected and I’d like to start uploading some of the articles to the blog in the next week or two.

Last week’s meeting went quite well. We discussed possible actions centred on the November campaign to stop violence against women. We decided that a reclaim the night march would be too much for us to organise here in Cardiff and, anyway, 8 people carrying banners would look rather silly. So, we settled on a consciousness raising poster campaign. With help from our new graphic designer member (hurrah!) we’re going to try and put together some striking posters which put responsibility back into the hands of the community. The posters will really be aimed at men, who are not in themselves violent, but are disinclined to think about these issues if they can possibly avoid it. Then we want to get them up all over Cardiff and distribute fact sheets about violence against women. We’re also going to hold an event on the 25th which will hopefully include a speaker, a video and, if I get my way, a T-shirt project.

We have the first feminist discussion night this Thursday. Originally, we intended to have it in the students’ union, but after some thought we’ve moved it to the Friends Quaker meeting house in Cardiff town centre. On the one hand, we want to make people from the wider community feel more comfortable about attending meetings and, on the other hand, I feel anxious about holding public meetings in the union. We don’t know whose coming, and if a non-student did any damage we could be in big trouble because they’re not really supposed to be there in the first place. I don’t know how it’s going to work out there, but we’ll give it a try for the autumn and find out.

One question, which bothers me, is how do we get members to take more collective responsibility for the group? At the moment, Naiades and I do most of the work, but in the act of doing that work we take the responsibility away from the others and perhaps institute an implicit, though unintentional, hierarchy. However, if we didn’t do the work, I have a feeling that there wouldn’t be a feminist group in Cardiff! Is this way it always happens? You end up with a few people running around like crazy trying to keep up with everything while the others say “What’s happening, when is it happening or why isn’t it happening?” They don’t entirely appreciate that they could be making it happen themselves. When we first began, we had this rather naïve fantasy that people would naturally take up roles in the group and even take over from us after a while. The important thing was to get a group up and running, after which it could look after itself. This is not what has happened…yet.

At the last meeting, I tried to do away with the word “committee” from our constitution because it sounds terribly formal and hierarchical. It’s actually just a hangover from our time as a student union society and we’ve never got round to getting rid of it. I feel that the idea of a committee may be part of the problem. But other members disagreed with me, saying we need some kind of central organising force…and a democracy is a democracy. I’ve compromised by calling these central organiser people “coordinators”. It sounds slightly less power crazed…I think. Nobody even think about suggesting “facilitator.” Liz goes nuts – she hates that word because it’s meaningless management jargon (“So is coordinator!” “Oh shut up!”). Perhaps there is a little bit of anarchist left in me, because I wish we could just be a happy collective with everyone taking equal responsibility for the groups activities, but I don’t’ think its going to happen for some time.

Suggestions and advice on this matter very welcome!

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Comments»

1. Emma - October 5, 2005

I’m not sure that there is such a thing as a happy collective! In my (limited) experience, people often feel very uncertain about roles within a collective, because there is no one with the authority and responsibility of co-ordinating the work. Having experienced the slow-decision making and power struggles of collectives, I am a huge fan of hierarchies.

I don’t know why hierarchies per se have such a close association with patriarchy. It often seemed to me that a hierarchy would have been more inclusive than a collective, because a hierarchy relies so much less on an individual’s own ability to put themselves forward, and creates boundaries for paricipation that most people find helpful.

Plus, I always assumed that everyone wanted to be in charge of everything (like I do). Actually, I think most people are really happy to NOT be in charge!

2. Winter - October 7, 2005

I expect you’re right on all counts emma and I think we were a bit naive when we first started. I don’t mind being one of the coordinators, but I do think we have to find ways of getting the others to take up more positive roles. At some point we -the founders of the group – will move on and it will be a terrible shame if the group dissolves just because we leave.

3. Melinda Casino - October 10, 2005

“Having experienced the slow-decision making and power struggles of collectives, I am a huge fan of hierarchies.”

Emma – this is a really intriguing statement. Have you blogged about this on gendergeek? Boy would I love to read you expand what is already expressed in your comment (either here, or at gendergeek)…

4. Emma - October 11, 2005

I haven’t blogged about it, no. Although you’ve made me think about it!

5. Susan Francis - October 14, 2005

Hi,

I’ve just caught up with your site after it was linked on The F Word.

It’s not just feminist/student groups, in fact the mainly-student feminist groups I was in in the late 70s might have had wider participation (the anti-hierarchy thing was big in those days), but everything else I’ve been involved with since has the same feature.

Assorted peace groups, Friends of the Earth, Amnesty International, residents’ associations: you get the same small group doing the committee/activist jobs year after year. In some cases, people stay in the same role for ever and in others they swop round. Most people who join, do little more than pay their subs; most people who attend meetings or write letters are unwilling to move up to a staff or name-in-the-leaflets level, and most of the people who are particularly active are doing 3 or more other things too. I think this is a feature of the couch potato society, or even more general, and sorry, I don’t know how to fix it.

Then the people who do the work, because otherwise it won’t get done, burn out and the thing falls apart. Don’t worry, it’ll be back in another incarnation.

I don’t mean to be a downer here. Good luck trying to get people to join in.

6. Winter - October 15, 2005

It’s ok. Thanks for your perspective. I do think we have to get a little more realistic in this respect. What we need to do, I think, is extend the number of active members and perhaps accept that many of the others will not become heavily involved. It’s almost a consumer mentality. People seem to want to “consume” rather than produce their politics along with everything else. We have exactly the same probelm in my LGB group.


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