George Floyd’s death, riots and worldwide protests –
The time may seem ripe for you to start up an organization where you live, just to make Life in Bim Better. Or Black Bajan Lives Matter, to locally address police brutality.
All worthy causes, to be sure.
And yet during my short time on earth, I’ve seen exactly one million & one of these grassroots attempts start up and fail, right here in Barbados.
I’m listing the key takeaways from the mistakes made by your still-living forefathers and mothers, in a step by step guide of all the things you ought NOT to do if you truly want to start a SUCCESSFUL and sustainable grassroots movement.
1. DO NOT Ignore Motives
Nobody’s getting paid by this initiative, so take a moment to look around and consider who’s sitting beside you at your meeting table – the people “you started with”.
Why’s He doing this ? Why’s She doing this ? It will be important to bear your compañeros’ motives in mind as you move along, because their motives might be what make or break your baby as the months go by.
Also, DON’T ignore the fact that…
2. Some Are Only In It For The Limelight
And they will f*ck you up.
You know the type – this baby movement of yours is a really just a stepping stone for them to eventually segue towards a run for political office. Or, they’re really just interested in etching their name in the history books as the so called goddaddies or godmummies of this or that issue in Barbados.
They appear interested in and passionate about your cause, but one sure way to tell this type – they’re more interested in being seen to be doing things than they are in actually doing things. Maybe they seem eager to snap up all available travel opportunities? Or, any public speaking engagements? And maybe somehow they always seem to happen to have a copy of their personal & professional bio printed on hand for any occasion?
But if you really really want to be sure a person fits this type, measure them by their work ethic – if they always show up to take all the credit when the dirty donkey work’s done, then you got yourself a winner winner chicken dinner.
Of course they aren’t the only ones you should be wary of.
DON’T overlook the fact that…
3. Some Are Only In It For The Passion
I mean, truly in it for the feels of the cause.
But they will also fuck you up. Why ? Because people in activist circles tend not to have small egos. Their passion for the issues sometimes blinds them in their decision-making.
How to tell this type ?
All of a sudden one day when things appear to be going well with the movement, you’ll find yourself caught up in an endless argument. Or bottomless email thread.
Back and forth, unto eternity about how the movement should proceed. And when someone finally raises their hand to ask “What were we arguing about again ?” – you realise that the entire argument took place between two people (two too-passionate Johnnies, blinded by their egos), and hinged on where to place one particular punctuation mark, in an official document.
Trust me. The too-passionate type will torpedo your entire effort just to satisfy their ego re what they think is right.
“Before you were, I was” is their mentality.
Apart from personality types, DON’T lose sight of the fact that…
4. Movements Often Try to Get Too Big, Too Fast
“Still here with who I started with” said Drake, and for once he knew wtf he was talking bout.
Sure having “a team” seems exciting, and all of a sudden you’re planning grand schmancy initiatives you couldn’t have dreamed of planning a month ago. But more people means more people to keep track of, and more people to satisfy when it comes to decision-making.
Sexy initiatives are just that – sexy – but they aren’t what will sustain your movement in the long run. STRUCTURE WILL. And the less people you have on board in your earliest stages, the easier it will be to maintain structure.
On this note, DON’T be blind. Watch out for…
5. People Bringing in People
“Oh! Yknow who would be a good person for this group ?! Bob!!”
No he fcking wouldn’t.
Does he have any legitimate reason to be connected to the cause, other than being tied in some way to a founding member ? No, right ? Then live without him. There may be more scope for bringing in Bob later, when you have more structure.
Start small, and build out. Realistically your max number of people at startup should be 3.
2 people is even better.
Your Day 1(s) – and even you – may get in mind that it’s a good fcking idea to bring in friends, family members, spouses, work colleagues etc. at this point, because many hands make light work or some such reasoning, but resist this urge.
Having a couple of people who WORK PRODUCTIVELY TOGETHER is key. Including new people who aren’t into the cause just fcks up your working dynamics.
And last, but surely not least, DON’T forget to…
6. Beware of Great Idea Syndrome
“You! That’s a real good idea, yuh! Somebody write that down for later!”
If you’re currently doing this all during your meetings, it’s a sure sign that your movement is shit-outta control and bout to be lost way in the ether in a few short months.
Endless Ideas = Feels
People can ride high on good feels, and bright ideas. When the movement is new, everyone will be happy just to feel as though you’re on the brink of greatness. But you haven’t reached ‘greatness’ yet. If you truly want to be great, you should be FOCUSED IN THE BEGINNING ON STRUCTURE AND PRACTICALITIES. It’s good to have ideas but these need to be managed within the limited confines of what you’ve currently set out to be doing (1 or 2 short term goals within a long term plan). The more dreary your day to day building a movement seems, the better at this point.
When people get over their idea high and ideas don’t start translating into realities for one reason or another, they start returning to their regular daily lives. The thing that butters their bread. And all you’re left with is a notepad full of ideas you wrote down, that no one is going to remember in a year.
You can increase your number of goals/initiatives at a time when you’re able to increase organizational capacity – which is also something that should be included in your long term organizational plan.
Human nature is human nature. Big, visible causes attract all types of people, but DON’T be distracted. Choose 1-2 people whose motives you trust, plan & build by baby steps and go forth. DON’T let your project die on the operating table, like so many hopeful projects that became distant memories and passed unrecorded,into Bajan history.
“You! You remember that one time that (big national event happened)?”
“Yeah boy! Whatever come of that !?”
Follow the DON’T steps in this guide, and DON’T ever let that forgotten, motionless, once-upon-a-time big thing become you or your movement.