Sometimes, looking at things from a sideways angle is helpful...

Sunday, 1 January 2012

Camaraderie - the personal and the political

In the left wing circles I move in at the moment, 'comrade' appears to be a term with a lot of meaning. I draw parallels quite often with trans circles, where I call people 'brother', 'sister', 'sibling' - the people that are more than friends to me, the people with whom I blend the personal and the political, the people who are involved in my life and my activism. It feels to me like 'comrade' serves the same duty in these left-wing circles - identifying a term that's something 'more' than friendship. Kieran described comrades as "a group of friends such as ours who have gone through struggle together, both personal and political, the bonds between that group are stronger than that of friendship. i think comrade reflects the strength of those ties" and I think with that, he was spot on.

What creates a successful group of activists then? It's sharing the personal and the political, I think. It's about eating together, and drinking together and fighting together. It's about the fact that your comrades are people you would do anything for in an instant, whether to further your cause, or meet their needs. Forming this in a group is important, and shouldn't be left to chance. For me, it came down to chance. It came down to a friend seeing me putting myself in a bad situation, and then rescuing me from it, it came down to comrades sitting beside me as I did some of the hardest stuff I've ever done. It came down to luck, that the circles I move in have built this, at least to some extent.

It's not something activist circles should leave to luck, however. The kind of bonds that enable you to survive in a kettle, or that mean that your group stays together on a protest, keeping pace with the slowest, are the kind that are built over shared cooking, over spending time together without a definitive activist goal. Some team-building exercises might seem pathetic, but what they teach the group is that it's stronger together than apart, and that it needs to stick together to succeed.

Activist burnout can be a huge problem in activism circles, especially those that are intense, that are time limited, where there's no clear line between the personal and the political or where there aren't supportive bonds between people. It's those bonds that allow a campaign to keep working when people are burnt out, when it all feels hopeless, and when everyone's tired and lonely. It's those bonds that keep people in an occupation when all they want is a bed and a good night of sleep. It's those bonds that get people to the next meeting, the next protest, after a horrific kettle experience, and it's those bonds that, when one person breaks, stop the whole group from running out of energy, but re-energise.

I don't think there is a way of overstating the importance of maintaining friendships and relationships in activism circles. If you go out and do one thing today, reach out to a fellow activist, and ask them how they are. Build links, because you're going to need them.

What can you do to foster camaraderie in your campaigns?

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