10 ideal attributes of Alinsky’s activist

Typical Alinsky trainee activist
Pic (cc) Alyssa A Miller

Saul Alinsky’s list of ideal attributes of the organiser/activist

  • Curiosity
  • Irreverence
  • Imagination
  • A sense of humour
I’d look for these first four characteristics in just about anyone; campaigners, teachers, artists and especially friends. And then I’d place “sense of humour” at the top and “irreverence” absolutely at number two. That’s a healthy attitude to life. Here’s the rest of the list:
  • A bit of a blurred vision of a better world
  • An organised personality
  • A well-integrated political schizoid
  • Ego
  • A free and open mind, and political relativity
  • The ability to constantly reinvent the new from the old
Any others come to mind?

Landscapes of activism: mapping engagement

Long Snake City
Photo (cc) James Bridle.

Many organisations measure engagement by their target audience in two dimensions, up and down a ladder. Example:

  1. Subscribing to a newsletter
  2. Opening a newsletter
  3. Clicking a link
  4. etc.

But here’s the thing, clicking a link is super-easy, so easy in fact, modern campaigns have bred a new breed of “slacktivists”, finger always by the mousebutton. Or so the argument runs.

Amy Sample Ward tells us we should stop beating ourselves up about this; a) slacktivism has been around a lot longer than the internet and b) it’s actually a sign we’re doing a lot of things right. We want people to click the Facebook Like button, the problem is, we’re neither ambitious or smart enough to ask them to do more than that in an effective manner.

Here’s the interesting part, until we start comprehending the landscape of engagement better, we have little chance of creating better real world interventions. So ditch the ladder and go get yourself a map:

First, the ladder of engagement (refer to the slides if you want to have a visual on the steps here). Let’s take for example the fact that the American Red Cross raised $34 million dollars from the text to donate campaign after the earthquakes last year in Haiti. I want to point out two aspects of the way the engagement ladder doesn’t necessarily work as one step to the next:

  • On one side, that’s a lot of people that went from bystanders to donors. But how many of them are being encouraged to continue moving up and how many of them were even bystanders of ARC vs the news of the earthquake?
  • On the other, how many people in this room are aware of ARC? You don’t have to respond but consider how many of you may have donated. It isn’t about whether you gave money or not, because I imagine you may have instead retweeted or shared a link or post on facebook.

I think that the engagement ladder needs to change to not show a raising level of engagement but instead operate more as a map, showing where someone may have entered from and where they can go next. They might start out as a creator but still have low engagement (not something that really matches our traditional engagement ladder view) and never get to the donation stage, for example.

We know we have the tools to do this, the question is, do campaigns have the smarts and the willingness to invest in management overhead to step back and spend time on the analysis to go with them. If not there’s very little point in stepping down off that ladder.

Twestival Local: Community Building, Globally

If scholars of the industrial revolution are to be believed, around about 1800, for the first time, humanity probably had in its grasp all it needed to work a 20 hour week and kick back, relax the rest of the time. We had machines, automation and specialisation. Obviously things have not progressed quite like that these past 200 years, though some content we should now re-examine that concept and give it a proper going over. Either way, ever increasing (socio)technological advancements over the past couple of centuries have led to Clay Shirky’s elegantly monikered ‘cognitive surplus’. That surplus is the time left over after we are finished butchering, baking and candlestick making. From the 1950s until the turn of the millenium we put that suplus into TV. Now we have the internet. Wikipedia, Facebook, Flickr and Twitter. William Gibson’s unevenly distributed future, today; some of us have more of that time than others, but most of us in the western world have a considerable chunk of time to spend. And despite the neigh-sayers dismissing clicktivists, maybe Twitter and the tools of tomorrow really are finding a role in making the world a better place.

That’s the thing about Twitter, it helps distribute the future. But one has to want that future. Of course many come online and stay in their cultural ghettos, hanging off the words of Wossy or Kanye and broadcasting their meal choice, inebriation level or the football score, whatever, I’m not interested in being condescending here. My point is this, millions more Twitters are putting that cognitive surplus to an altogether more ghetto busting use. Exhibit A: belated happy tenth birthday Wikipedia and your 15,000 strong army of English language regular editors. Exhibit B: #UKUncut, sniping the parts other campaigns can’t reach and yes, I am about to make my point any moment now, exhibit C: Twestival, the likes of which was simply not possible ten years ago. @amanda tells the story better than I could, it’s her story to tell after all, I have just a couple of observations below.

For me, Twestival is not simply a fundraiser, but a platform, a methodology for doing what so many of us in the world of online campaigning find so hard, turning online activity, sentiment and intention, into real world relationships, action and okay yes, raising some funds. And the legacy of Twestival Local 2011 I hope will be long term sustainable connections in communities all over the planet.

Can we change the world on the web? I don’t know, but I do know we can meet and introduce fellow world changers online, switch off the power button once in a while and then go to it. Right now Twestival is organising, or more to the point, facilitating the organising, of hundreds of events around the world on March 24th. Thousand of  people who live in the neighbourhoods (online and off) that have never made eye contact are planning parties, bbqs and get-togethers because that cognitive surplus has overflowed into one glorious pot. Twestival. And I am am unbelieveably excited to be part of the the global management team. What’s more, I’d love to hear your ideas on how we continue building on Twestival’s great work and make March 24th 2011 the ultimate day of online / offline local community building, in whatever shape that looks like where you’re at.