Thorough organization is crucial to the success of nonviolent struggle in any context. Gandhi, for example, emphasized this. However, the importance of good organization has not always been recognized and this accounts for the failure of some nonviolent struggles in the past.

Given the variety of organizational models available, your strategic plan should identify the organizational framework – including the decision-making structure and process – that your strategy will utilize.

If your campaign starts as a small or localized one, then it may be initially feasible for everyone involved in the campaign to be part of the decision-making structure and for it to function as an affinity group as described below. Historically, this has been the experience of many local action groups.

If your campaign is intended to expand to deal with a more substantial problem then, as part of your strategy, greater thought will need to be given to how it evolves organizationally. Given the magnitude of some problems, such as the ongoing threat of war and the climate catastrophe, many groups will choose to focus on one aspect of either of these issues and to act on it locally. This will make the organization simpler.

However, for those who aspire to develop a strategy that entails a fully coordinated response to particular global challenges, more sophisticated organizational models are necessary.

In this context, while local communities, independent community organizations (such as trade unions and religious bodies) and collectives (groups of people appointed to perform specific functions on behalf of a larger organization) will each have a role to play in many nonviolent struggles, the major organizational and decision-making unit would often still be the affinity group. Why is this?

It is because decentralization is important as a means of creating the political consciousness necessary for people to realize their responsibilities and to facilitate their involvement in making and implementing the decisions that affect their lives. It is also important because it builds the capacity of a diverse range of individuals and groups to function when the struggle is experiencing repression that adversely impacts on some of these individuals and groups (which is a particular problem in countries living under a repressive regime).

So how might this organizational model be achieved? And what principles should guide the formation of any new structures?

The fundamental principle is that each person or group should have the opportunity to influence decisions on any issue in direct proportion to their ‘legitimate material interest’ in the outcome. Moreover, these new structures should satisfy the needs of each individual, including their needs for self-esteem, participation, and control. The empirical evidence and the research suggest that this organizational model should be based on small groups of people (such as affinity groups and collectives) as well as community organizations (including trade unions and religious assemblies). These should be firmly rooted in local communities that are part of wider identity groups. In turn, if the context of the particular struggle requires it, these groups and communities should be part of local, regional, and international networks.

Identity groups are racial, religious, ethnic, cultural or class groups that display high levels of social cohesion because of shared values, attitudes and beliefs. They are more relevant than nation-states because they command greater loyalty than do artificially integrated states. Within these identity groups, local communities would be important elements of the nonviolent struggle. Citizens’ councils – perhaps modeled on the workers’ soviets formed during the Russian revolutions of 1905 and 1917 – could be organized. But there are many possibilities. These include collectives (like those self-managing organizations developed by anarchists during the Spanish Revolution), communes, ‘church base communities’ (like those in Central/South America), and various forms of tribal organization. The relevant model would be determined by local circumstances.

In turn, community organizations would be important because a major part of any large-scale nonviolent struggle would be conducted through the independent organizations and institutions of society. Community groups such as trade unions, worker cooperatives, professional associations, cultural organizations, and religious bodies would all provide forums for planning and organizing components of the struggle and would be major vehicles of it. The importance of community organizations to nonviolent struggle has been demonstrated repeatedly. And the failure to engage them often accounts for a struggle’s failure.

Nevertheless, within these local communities and organizations, smaller groups of people, such as affinity groups and collectives, would be necessary; most of the detailed planning, preparation and organization of any nonviolent struggle would occur at this level. These smaller groups are also important because they would provide the basis for every person being able to resist ‘in an organized manner as a member of a group’.

An affinity group usually consists of between five and thirteen people; it is characterized by relationships built on common interests, face-to-face contact, mutual respect and consensus decision-making – conditions that prevail among friends. The importance of the affinity group derives partly from the intimacy of the relationships it allows; people feel needed, included and accepted. In essence, an affinity group is created by its members in order to perform a range of political task and personal support functions. For this reason, the affinity group accepts responsibility for deciding its membership – it is not open to everyone – and it usually functions in accordance with a set of agreements. A typical set of agreements – which members may be asked to sign – would include:

(i) a statement of commitment to the nonviolence principles of the group;

(ii) a statement of commitment to participate in the nonviolent actions of the group;

(iii) a set of behavioral guidelines, including agreements to respect and support each other, to use inclusive language and to deal with conflict within the group;

(iv) a set of group process guidelines, including agreements about sharing leadership roles and using some form of consensus decision-making; and

(v) agreements about how the group will balance the intellectual, emotional and spiritual aspects of its time together.

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