How to activate and engage activists by involving them in a community
How do you build rapport and friendship among your project volunteers? There are always questions about how to get to know the volunteers more. You ask yourself, “Is there something I should do to fill in the time between deadlines?” How can the project facilitator construct efforts to be fun and not like a job?
Rebel Hub Rotterdam contributed to the writing of this article during ‘’The International Rebel Assembly'' .
Importance of community building
Community building is absolutely essential to having a functioning, thriving activist movement. If members have strong emotional ties, feel comfortable, appreciated and included in the community, it becomes easier to collaborate and inspire each other to do more for the common goal of the movement. Activism requires continuous, hard work from everyone involved - having a strong community that provides members with good social experiences helps keep motivation for the common cause alive and vibrant.
Creating a safe and inviting environment
An open, friendly environment is the base of a functioning community. By always remembering to treat each other with respect, appreciation and care, we can create a space where new members feel welcome and invited to join and existing members feel appreciated, included and heard.
Open and Non-Violent Communication
Actively reflecting and working on how members communicate with each other is very necessary in an activist space. The practice of non-violent communication can be very helpful to make sure that conversations between members (in meetings or other community contexts) are held in a respectful manner that makes time for everyone’s thoughts and feelings. The basis of non violent communication is creating empathy and understanding between all people involved in a conversation. Reading up on this topic could be very helpful if you are trying to create a non-toxic, welcoming space with your activist group.
There are many small ways to influence the way your community communicates.Meetings are a core part of activist work and make up a big part of the time members spend together. So making sure meetings are well structured, so that you can get work done efficiently while also taking care that they remain creative, open spaces where everyone can feel heard and seen is very important and a balance that you should keep reflecting and working on. Starting meetings with a check-in round where every group member can say how they are feeling, how their day was and what they expect from the upcoming meeting is a simple practice used in many activist communities to ground the group at the beginning of the meeting and make everyone feel seen and emotionally involved. Next to that, the practice of using hand signs in meetings to structure the conversation can be helpful to make sure everyone can get their say while keeping communication efficient.
When conflicts arise in your group, make sure they are faced and mitigated head on and in a healthy manner,so that no unresolved bitterness will grow the group. This can be done by having a conflict resolution session that is mediated by someone neutral.
Open, structured communication is even more vital in online spaces, which can often become toxic due to the less direct social contact leading to frustration and misunderstandings. So using practices like non violent communication, check ins and hand signs to create a sense of human connection can be very helpful, especially in online meetings . Next to that, it’s good to keep an eye on avoiding long threads of discussion in a group chat to not overwhelm and annoy members who are not involved in the discussion.
Integrating new members
To grow and strengthen your community, it is important that new members are actively welcomed and invited into the group - talk to them, find out their motivations, make sure there are events for them to attend to get familiar with your movement. Once they are beginning to attend meetings or are otherwise getting involved, make sure there is a way in which they can contribute so that they are actively participating, learning how to work in your group and feeling useful to the movement.
One on one meetings, although they might seem unnecessary, are essential for team-building and making sure everyone on your team is on the same page as you, the director
It will allow for the members to bring up any specific questions or personal concerns they may have
It will even provide an opportunity for a professional friendship to blossom
Creating and communicating a strong, clear group identity can also really help to involve all members as they feel a stronger connection to the community and its ideals.
In order to ensure new members see and understand your group identity, it is useful to have an introductory talk and/or a welcome document in which the structure and goals/ideology of the group is explained clearly.
Community building practices
Hosting traditions and fun activities that promote community bonding can shift a group from a bunch of disengaged volunteers to friends.
Ice-breakers are an easy, fun way for members to get to know each other, if you are working with an entirely new group. Hosting these little games can create spontaneous human connections and make it easier to get to know each other as people and not just as collaborators.
The benefit to members getting to know each other is that it becomes less like a bunch of strangers with a common interest, and more like a bond between people working towards a common goal
As can be inferred, having a bond among your members will encourage volunteers to work more cohesively as a unit, rather than a bunch of different pieces working at their own pace
Like icebreakers, games are meant to bring a group of people together. There are several games that work in an online setting so location and international groups won’t be a problem.
- Game examples: Garctic Telephone
Having group chats to communicate about organisational work can make open, efficient collaboration a lot easier. There are many apps you can use - you can find a article on using chat apps for campaigning here. Next to that, it is also really good for community ties to have a group chat that is only community focused and is not used for action planning or organisation at all. Sending around memes, offering second hand clothes you want to get rid of, asking if somebody wants to join for a swim at the lake - this sort of constant communication between members as people, not activists can be really helpful to have members interact outside of meetings and create stronger community bonds.
Hosting community activities where members can meet each other without having to discuss work is vital to help them get to know and care about each other as people.
Having regular meetings in person
Cooking and having dinner together (another fun way to eat together is a potluck dinner, where everyone brings their favourite dish!)
Arts days - creating artwork for actions or just for fun - doing creative work together is a great way to bond
Regenerative activities like BBQs, hikes, chilling at a lake
Celebrating together - after a great action, a newspaper mention, or just somebody's birthday - make time to celebrate each other and your achievements
Shared traditions grow alongside a community. Whether it’s a community song, a dance routine, a snack you always bring or a game you play together - sharing this experience again and again will make you feel more at home with each other.
Not only are slogans fun, but they build an identity in the project
Everyone wants to be a part of a community that has an identity. Building that identity…
Ways to welcome new people
Ways to celebrate when we reach a certain goal
Base of operations
It is really helpful to have a base of operations. This can be a rented or squatted place, somebody's living room, a local community center, the library, the university, a bar or a specific park. Having a shared space makes it easier to have regular meetings, social events and to spontaneously meet up and find each other.
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Non Violent Communication : A simple guide from the Extinction Rebellion Regenerative Cultures Perspective
(Video) Marshall Rosenberg (2000) : Non Violent Conflict Resolution
(Book) Marshall B. Rosenberg (2005) : Non Violent Communication - A language of life
(Book) Carla Bergman and Nick Montgomery (2017) : Joyful Militancy : Building thriving resistance in toxic times
Engaging the Community in Your Project by Artscape
Team Effectiveness Conditions Framework by Community Organising Foundation
Collection: Community building for queer activists by ILGA-Europe Hub