This post is based on a recent strategy review. In the interests of openness and letting people know where we’re coming from and what to expect from us, we’re posting this up. Obviously, there are some bits of the review that do have to remain private for reasons of diplomacy and also, security. We hope you’ll understand:)
Dave – the editor
The two of us behind The Stirrer, Grassroots Alternatives and The Avon Heckler have been living in Keynsham near Bristol for almost three months now. We’re slowly starting to get our feet under the table when it comes to activism. This post is us taking a step back to look at what we’ve been doing and working out where we go from this point. There have been some positives but also a few negatives as well. We need to assess what does work and focus more on that while identifying what’s not working and seeing if it can be rectified or whether we simply abandon a particular way of operating and move onto something else.
With all of the three blogs we run, it’s getting harder to build and maintain a decent audience. With The Avon Heckler, there was an initial rush of interest which has tailed off. Grassroots Alternatives and its predecessor, Alternative Estuary have always underperformed, despite what appears to be an enthusiastic reception given to the papers when we hand them out at various events. Even The Stirrer which has had posts go viral in the past is starting to struggle a bit.
Now, it may just be be that we’re not very popular:) Given that we can be a bit outspoken, we know that we have rubbed a fair few people up the wrong way over the years and maybe that’s starting to catch up with us. However, given that our main way of promoting our blog posts is via social media, the issue could very well be with how this is (or in our case isn’t) working for us. On Facebook, the reach of both The Stirrer and the Alternative Estuary pages has been slowly shrinking for some time. Twitter has in the past been good for us but The Stirrer account is starting to experience problems in being picked up by our followers. For whatever reason, across our social media accounts, we’re slowly being throttled by the algorithms into oblivion. Whether that’s because we’re the ‘wrong type’ of activists or simply down to technical issues is unclear. We suspect that it is because we’re the ‘wrong type’ of activist.
The question is this – how much effort should we put into boosting our social media profile in the hope that it will be reflected in an increase in readership for our blogs? Whatever happens, the blogs are staying albeit we may have to accept lower audience figure than we would like. We could spend more time on social media in a bid to raise our profile but, that would come at the expense of devoting time to other activities. Also, if we are intentionally being throttled on social media, as many other activists are, is there any point in wasting time on trying to boost our social media profile when the algorithms are programmed against us? Should we be looking at a return to analogue, if only to get ahead of the curve when a growing number of activists face getting thrown off the Net? The answer to that is definite yes. Should we also be looking to get further stuck into grassroots community projects that actually get s**t done? Again, the answer to that is a resounding yes.
With the stickers and some occasional postering, we’ve already started to experiment with various analogue ways of getting a message across. This started when we were back in Thurrock and is continuing now we’re in Keynsham. Obviously because they’re analogue, there’s no mechanism available to tell how well (or not) they’re being received! That was something that in the pre-Internet days, we just accepted. There are the papers as well. Currently, we have the inaugural issue of Grassroots Alternatives which is getting a reasonably good reception, albeit not one that’s translating into hits on the blog. In the past, Stirrer papers have been produced specifically for a number of protests where they were very well received. You can view them here. Producing targeted editions of The Stirrer in the future is an option we’re keeping open. As for The Avon Heckler, while we don’t plan to bring out a paper on a regular basis, there is always scope for ‘special editions’ should a local issue merit it and we can get help with the distribution. Also, there’s always the option of leaflets and flyers to get the word out.
With the Grassroots Alternatives papers, we’re experimenting with a number of ways of getting them distributed. This ranges from getting them into selected venues such as re-fill shops, alternative galleries/cinemas and the like through to handing them out on protests and at festivals. What is becoming clear is that once every few weeks, there will be an event where we can hand out the Grassroots Alternatives papers and use that as a chance to talk to people and network. An approach which is slowly starting to reap dividends.
That’s the propaganda side of what we do covered.
We have to be more than mere propagandists. We have to put our money where our mouths are. We have to put our principles about working to build community solidarity into action. We have to get stuck into practical activity that not only makes a visible difference, but also helps to build a sense of community pride and cohesion. This is what our politics are supposed to be about – working in our neighbourhoods on practical projects to show that it’s possible for people to start to take control of what happens in their communities. Doing this forms the base we build from to go onto more wide ranging forms of radical change. To that end, the two of us behind this project have already got involved in a number of local, grassroots projects in Keynsham and, time and energy permitting, hope to get involved in some more.
Then there’s working with other groups. As moving to Keynsham is in effect a new start for us, we need to question our attitude about applying purity tests to other groups. In the past, there have been times when we’ve probably gone over the top in applying them which has not helped with building alliances. When we attended the Community Eco Festival in Keynsham on Saturday 15.10, we had conversations with a pretty wide range of people. One thing that came out in a couple of the conversations was that if we broadly agree with the aims of a campaign group, we’re not going to quibble about some of their positions out on the fringes being at odds with how we see things. It’s not all or nothing with us.
However, those of you who know us well will realise that when it comes to working with other groups, we do have some red lines that will not be crossed. Rather than re-hash them here, we’ll refer you to this post: Where the f**k do we go from here? 9.10.22. On reading this, we’re pretty sure you’ll be able to work out what those red lines are and who they apply to:)
Like many of our previous strategy reviews, this is just a snapshot in time. Events happen, circumstances change and a carefully crafted strategy ends up being pretty much irrelevant. This particular one should be seen as nothing more than a guide for the near future based on where we are at the time of writing. If we’re operating in a completely different way in three months time, that will be because shit happened and we had to respond accordingly!