Affinity Groups

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 A street action will only ever be as effective as we all make it. The more prepared we come, the more we can achieve on the day. One good way of preparing for action is to create affinity groups which are planning to work together on the streets and have talked about the event together beforehand.

WHAT IS AN AFFINITY GROUP?

NOTE: This is one particular view of the idea of an “affinity group”, and how it can be applied in a street action, based on a text by Shaun Ewald (http://shawnewald.info/aia/).

An affinity group is a small group of 5 to 20 people who work together autonomously on direct action or other projects. You can form an affinity group with your friends, people from your community, workplace or organisation. Affinity groups challenge top-down decision-making and organising, and empower those involved to take creative direct action. Affinity groups allow people to “be” the action they want to see by giving complete freedom and decision-making power to the affinity group. Affinity groups are by nature decentralised and non-hierarchical -two important principles of anarchist organising and action. In big demo scenarios like the Carnival Against Capitalism, affinity groups usually aim to stay together thought the day.

The affinity group model was first used by anarchists in Spain in the late 19th and early 20th century, and was re-introduced to radical direct action by anti-nuclear activists during the 1970s, who used decentralised direct action to blockade roads, occupy spaces and disrupt “business as usual” for the nuclear and war makers of the US. Affinity groups have a long and interesting past, owing much to the anarchists and workers of Spain and the anarchists and radicals today who use affinity groups, non-hierarchical structures, and consensus decision making in direct action and organising

HOW TO START AN AFFINITY GROUP

An affinity group could be a relationship among people that lasts for years among a group of friends and activists, or it could be a week long relationship based around a single action. Either way, it is important to join an affinity group that is best suited to you, your interests and comfort levels. If you are forming an affinity group in your city or town, find friends or fellow activists who have similar issue interests, and thus would want to go to similar actions. Also, look for people who would be willing to use similar tactics – if you want to do relatively high risk actions someone who does not want to be in that situation may not want to be in the affinity group. That person could do media or medic work, but it may not be best if they are completely uncomfortable around certain tactics of direct action.

WHAT AN AFFINITY GROUP CAN DO

Anything! They are essentially a way for you to be more effective during whatever action you want to take. They can be used for mass or smaller scale actions. Affinity groups can be used to drop a banner, blockade a road, provide back-up for other affinity groups, do street theatre, block traffic riding bikes, organise a tree sit, change the message on a massive billboard, play music in a radical marching band or sing in a revolutionary choir, etc.

There can also be affinity groups who take on certain tasks in an action. For instance, there could be an affinity group made up of street medics, or an affinity group who brings food and water to people on the streets. What makes affinity groups so effective for actions is that they can remain creative and independent and plan out their own action without an organisation or person dictating to them what can and can’t be done. Thus, there are an endless amount of possibilities for what affinity groups can do.

AFFINITY GROUP ROLES

There are many roles that one could possibly fill in a group and each affinity group and action will be different. Some group might plan to work together during a street action and some groups might want to have their own members in ‘support roles’. Roles that might present be useful in affinity groups include:

Medical : An affinity group may want to have someone who is a trained street medic who can deal with any medical or health issues during the action.

Legal observer: If there are not already legal observers for an action, it may be important to have people not involved in the action taking notes on police conduct and possible violations of activists rights.

Media: If you are doing an action which plans to draw media you might want someone to deal with the media, send out a press release etc.

Arrestables: If you are planning a potentially arrestable action, you need to know who is up for getting arrested in advance.

‘Buddies’: Especially if your group is planning on doing an arrestable action the arrestables might want a ‘support person’ who stays with them until the time of arrest. If it’s a lock-on action a buddy might be the one providing water and general well being/comfort support. Often affinity groups have ‘buddy pairs’ within them, who look after each other. This can be especially important in an unpredictable scenario such as a police charge when a group can unintentionally split up.

Arrest support: If someone in your affinity group gets arrested, make sure that someone is doing arrest support for them. This might include talking to the solicitor, picking them up from the police station once released etc.

MORE ABOUT ‘BUDDIES’

An affinity group should establish their limits – arrestable, non-arrestable, support, medics, legal – for example, as discussed above. But the ‘buddy system’ is the most important.

Let’s assume we have an affinity group of 12. That’s a good size. It means you are close and planning what you intend to provide, to act, to defend, whatever. In mass actions the affinity group should stick together no matter what. But the most important thing is the buddy system. You agree to be with your buddy, that whatever happens you stick with your buddy. If they go to the toilet, you stand outside. If they want to go to a shop to get supplies, you go with them. If your plan is to do some recce, you go together. If your buddy is under threat of being nicked, you stay with them and make the de-arrest, even if it means you go down too.
Your buddy will look out for you. You look out for them. It’s best that you know and trust each other.

A buddy system forms pairs inside the larger affinity group. So even if the affinity group is broken up, whatever happens, you stick with your buddy. There will be the two of you and your chances of getting through any potential situation is vastly increased because there are four eyes instead of two. Its always a good idea to have someone dedicated to you – maybe you have only arranged this the night before – but working as a buddy pair gives you much better chances. Its about trust and confidence. These are are our most important strengths. Because being on your own in problematic situations, you can make mistakes, which could lead to unpleasantness. Being in a buddy pair means you have a second opinion. Should we follow the crowd? Should we dodge down a side street? Should we stick with the sound system? Where are the cops? Is there a kettle forming? Sticking to your buddy gives both of you more power to think, act, react. No-one should ever be on their own. The buddy method works!

Be creative and remember: direct action gets the goods