In this article, you will learn how joining a protest with an affinity group can help make everyone feel safe. We will discuss how you can form an affinity group, what to do during a protest action, and how to keep together your group over longer periods of time.
Not to be confused with: protest blocks (article not created yet)
You can easily feel lost in the crowd at a protest, so it is nice to have some people you know and trust around you. This is especially the case for inexperienced activists or people taking part in civil disobedience actions. Forming affinity groups and pairing up buddies can make people feel much safer.
“You are just in a big crowd. You know that people are probably nice. I mean, they're fighting for the same thing as you. But it can be overwhelming and you can easily feel alone in the actions. So I definitely think that the buddy system and the affinity system are super valuable. But also to keep it democratic, because if you need to take decisions on a big scale, like in a big group, it's very hard to do that. So I think also in terms of logistics, it's much, much easier to have affinity groups for them to like take decisions and then someone is designated to go to a bigger group” — Remke, member of Extinction Rebellion (not their real name)
What is an affinity group?
A small group of about 8-12 people who join an action together.
Usually, you meet up before the action (for example, for dinner, or to draw some banners) so that you can get to know each other.
Sometimes affinity groups stay together for longer periods and join multiple actions. However, often, the people who are available to join vary, so you might join a different group or welcome others to join yours.
You look after one another and make sure everyone is doing well.
Within these groups, people can take up specific roles, such as representative (for decision making) or wellbeing facilitator.
Beforehand, you make agreements within your group under what circumstances you want to stay at an action, and when to leave. For example, you can decide you do not want to be arrested, so you leave as a group as soon as the police order people to leave.
If one or more members of your group get arrested, you immediately report this to arrestee support. One or more members of your affinity group can wait outside the police station for people to be released to give them hugs, food and mental support. This might not always be possible (e.g. if you all get arrested), so at civil disobedience actions it is important to have arrestee support as well (more about that later)
Extinction Rebellion has created a guide on group exercises with role plays and discussion to practise with your affinity group, wellbeing team, friends, anyone!
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Related articles on the Activist Handbook website:
Affinity Groups for Non-Violent Direct Action by Nicola Paris (2019, CC BY-NC-SA)
Affinity Groups: Care for Yourself and Others by the Holistic Security Manual (no date, CC BY-SA 4.0)
PDF: Affinity groups (author and date unknown, found via Organizing for Power)
Steps to organise affinity groups by Destructables (2021)
Affinity groups by Center for Applied Nonviolence (no date)
Affinity groups by Activist Rights Australia
Work from the following sources was reused in this article:
- Regenerative Culture in Extinction Rebellion by Joppe Hoekstra (2021): Quotes and other parts were reused (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 licence)