You have to be five kinds of nerd to get this one. But some ideas just won’t leave you alone…
(Screenshot from Time Management For Anarchists: The Movie by Jim Munroe)
Our ability to plan, process information, and manage projects is one of the few limiting reagents on activism that is almost entirely up to us. It costs very little money to get organized, it’s really more about skills and follow-through. And yet many Greens are **awful** at this.
Now, one could turn the nose up at “productivity culture” as a symptom of neo-liberalism’s agenda to monetize and extract value from every available minute, not to mention the decomposition of the institutional workforce into a rabble of self-managing perma-lancers and “independent contractors”. Activism has a long and storied tradition of resisting “productivity” directly: through sabotage, the work slowdown or work-to-rule, because higher productivity often meant more rope for corporations to hang us.
And, of course, many popular notions of activism and counterculture arise from memories of the Yippies and Slacker Nation and don’t-harsh-my-vibe-man, and while those stereotypes chafe modern activists (especially those who never identified with such cliches to begin with), I suspect the anti-corporate spirit we inherited (at least in part) from those forbearers has failed to discriminate between ways of working that shackle our time and hearts, and ways of working that allow us to focus our time and energy with intention.
One might think the Green Party (and when I say Green Party, I’m speaking exclusively about the GP *I* work with in NYC and New York State, though I suspect there are commonalities across the country) would be pretty organized because we run elections, right? I’ve noticed a few things about electoral campaigns, though:
- They’re inherently short term: Elections have a beginning, middle and end built into them, all under a year. That’s a far different project than, say, “How Do We Increase GP Enrolment in Brooklyn Over The Next Five Years?”, or even making sure that administrative knowledge and skills for keeping a local running are available outside of the minds of one or two Greens.
- They have an inherent hierarchy: The candidate and campaign manager rule. It’s a lot easier to have group cohesion when there is a singular vision and set of goals to rally around. Campaigns have varying degrees of consensus in their operations, but in reality it’s the candidate’s ass on the line.
- They tend toward crisis-driven management: The mark of a good campaign team is how far ahead it can plan (and carry out those plans), but the campaign season is full of the unexpected. That goes double for third party, insurgent candidates. Scandals among the opposition, lack of money, windfalls of money, variations in volunteerism, hot-and-cold press coverage — all these normal elements of the election season encourage reactive, ad-hoc decision making that privilege quick turnaround over long-term consequences (see #1).
- We are crap at making one electoral campaign build toward the next: It’s difficult, due to the time between campaigns, but Greens are just awful at taking the lessons, skills, and resources acquired during one election cycle and making them available to the next. A lot can happen between election years –key people burn out or move on, for instance– which is why it’s essential that the knowledge of those key individuals be passed on in a reliable way.
The fact is, there will be no “mass movement” or social change without the ability to plan and carry out initiatives over time, with ever-increasing scale and complexity. We can thank the DIY movement for injecting some semblance of project management into our community, the apex being Jim Munroe’s excellent Time Management For Anarchists. But that focuses on individual self-management and, while that is essential, we need to think more about how to stay organized as teams.
There are two invaluable lessons from TMFA, however, that apply across the board and should remove any scepticism about “getting organized”. I offer them here as an appetizer of what’s to come.
When you develop a habit of writing down stuff, and refering to it often enough, you’ll find out an amazing thing: you can let it all go. You can forget about missing appointments, not getting stuff done, and have your brain back to think about creative, interesting stuff. If you’re worrying that you’ll forget to get copies done before some event, then you’re not able to think about what images you’d like to put on the flyer, what projects you want to work on next, whatever. (emphasis added)
Some of the things that will make it onto your to-do list need to be broken down to be approached both logistically and psychologically, because big tasks can really intimidate you. So you have to break ’em down. “Make a short movie” for instance. You might want to give it its own page in your agenda book, and think through what you would have to do for this. Write a script. Send it out to the people you want to be in it. Find locations. Schedule a day for shooting. (emphasis added)
These two ideas –collecting information in one reliable place **outside of our brains** to free up our minds for higher thinking, and breaking down tasks into physical, concrete actions– are the key principles behind one of productivity culture’s hottest systems, Getting Things Done. And that’s what we’ll tackle in the next chapter: “Whose Next Actions? OUR NEXT ACTIONS!”