Better Together

January 15, 2016

“We understand feminism not just as an idea, but a practice: a way of organizing that is collaborative and horizontal, with consensus-based decision making.” Art+Feminism Core Organizing Principles

Why use the techniques of feminist organizing? How do you approach a group from a non-herarchical frame of mind? Isn’t it kind of scary not knowing who has the ~most~ amount of power?

In order to forge a new path, feminist activists have long been assembling using a different set of principles. 

In The Five Fold Path of Productive Meetings, author Starhawk writes of learning to love the meeting, which makes up the core of any group. The meeting, as she sees it, provides an opportunity to laugh together, to share sorrow with each other, as well as to brainstorm, discuss and plan. Essentially, Starhawk envisions a redefining of productivity that includes the emotions of those attending the meeting.

Similarly, Audre Lorde also saw the emotional as inherently empowering. In her 1978 essay Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power, Lorde describes the erotic as a resource, on that lies “in a deeply female and spiritual plane, firmly rooted in the power of our unexpressed or unrecognized feelings.” While the erotic is derived from non-rational knowledge, that doesn’t necessarily mean it should be excluded from the workplace. Because the erotic unconsciously governs our actions, the acknowledgment of our deeper desires can actually be a productive strategy.

This type of work demands more from each individual. Starhawk puts it bluntly: communication is far more complex in collaborative groups and networks than in hierarchies. Lorde points out that once one begins to live “erotically,” indifference is no longer a satisfactory state of being. But the reward is notable. Group members feel a stronger connection with each other and greater contentment in their work. Additionally, each team member will ideally feel more powerful investment in their work which will likely lead to a better product. The following are some tips for successful feminist organizing:

“Know the rules and when to use them”: There are many types of processes, ones for brainstorming and others for decision making. Each method works best in different conditions and time constraints. Make sure your process fits your goal.

“Working by consensus”: A common misconception is that working by consensus means that each member of the group must agree with each other. Successful consensus working gives members the opportunity to agree, disagree or abstain. Ask not if everyone in the group agrees on the decision being made, but if everyone can live with it.

“Right People”: Just because the group is run by consensus doesn’t mean every member of the team needs to be at every meeting. Seeing that only key people are in the room will cut down on communication confusion and make things run more smoothly.

“Checking for enthusiasm”: Checking for enthusiasm from group members ensures there is energy and support for group projects. Consider instating a vibes-watcher whose role is to keep alert for the emotional needs of the group by tracking body language and mood.

-Emily Gaynor, Art+Feminism editorial fellow