autonomous futures

Final thoughts: burnout and sustainable activism
May 8, 2008, 12:08 pm
Filed under: reflective log

I’ve been trying to figure out my final thoughts on this course for awhile now, with nothing really coming to me. Then, I rediscovered a piece of writing by Tooker Gomberg and it became quite obvious. Tooker was a well-known Canadian eco activist. In 2004 he succumbed to depression and ended his life by jumping off a bridge in Halifax, Nova Scotia. He left his partner Angela a note saying he’d “lost his chutzpah.” A couple years before he wrote the following piece as a private exercise with his therapist as he battled burnout. You can read the whole thing here.

…But I am writing to you about activism. Amory Lovins, the great energy efficiency guru, once called me a Hyper-Activist. I guess that’s what I was. I lived, breathed and focused on activism. It kept me thinking, inspired, interested and alive.

But it also allowed me to ignore other things in life that now, suddenly, I realize. This makes me sad and despondent. I used to enjoy cooking, but stopped. I always liked kids, but never really thought about having kids. Changing the world was more important, and having a kid would interfere.

…I neglected my heart, and how I was feeling about things. Now that I’m in crisis, I don’t really have the language to connect with people. The silence is easier than trying to explain what I’m going through, or to relate to other people’s issues or problems.

So what advice can I offer? Stay rounded. Do the activism, but don’t overdo it. If you burn out or tumble into depression, you’ll become no good to anyone, especially yourself. When you’re in this state, nothing seems worthwhile and there’s nothing to look forward to.

It’s honourable to work to change the world, but do it in balance with other things. Explore and embrace the things you love to do. Don’t drop hobbies or enjoyments. Be sure to hike and dance and sing. Keeping your spirit alive and healthy is fundamental.

…But in the end, when burnout finally caught up with me, it was mega. It must have been because of the accumulation of decades of stress and avoidance. And now I find myself in a dark and confusing labyrinth, trying to feel my way back to sanity and calm.

So take this warning seriously. If you start slipping, notice yourself losing enthusiasm and becoming deeply disenchanted, take a break and talk to a friend about it. Don’t ignore it.

The world needs all the concerned people it can get. If you can stay in the struggle for the long haul, you can make a real positive contribution and live to witness the next victory!

I am nowhere near the place that Tooker must have been, but this semester I’ve caught a glimpse of what it could be like. Somewhere between discovering that my hair was falling out, hurting my hand and hearing more bad news about my younger brother’s injuries, everything caught up with me and things stopped making sense. I felt irrationally depressed and I couldn’t shake it. I couldn’t get motivated. It became difficult to get up in the morning. When I did get up, I felt overwhelming guilt if I wasn’t working on all of the things I should have been doing. And what was the point in struggling with these things anyway? The planet is going to shit and nothing is changing…

Also like Tooker, I haven’t really known how to talk about it. I feel weak and embarassed. I should just be getting on with things, but it’s like my brain and body have gone on strike. I was committed to organising trainings, meetings, articles and actions and I didn’t know how to admit that it was too much. The doctor wasn’t much help, and I didn’t have the language to tell him what was going on anyway.

This has been a different lesson in self-management than I expected to learn. I have never paid much attention to things like activist trauma (perhaps a good topic to include in next year’s course?). I really thought I was immune to this stuff. Whilst always nodding sympathetically at any mention of mental health concerns, I truly didn’t think I was prone to them myself.

So what do I do now? I’m still slogging through the remainder of my ‘to do’ list, trying desperately not to take on anything else. I’ve passed on the responsibility for checking a couple of email accounts and organising the agenda at a big Forest meeting. If I ever get through writing papers, my partner and I would like to escape Edinburgh for awhile. There’s also a wall in the Forest I’ve wanted to paint for almost a year and this is the closest I’ve gotten to writing in my journal in nearly two years.

A big question is how the MA course fits in. I never intended to do it at this pace, and as a result I haven’t done a good job of balancing things. Hopefully I’ve learned from the mistakes, but I don’t know if it’s realistic to think I can keep it up like this. Maybe I’ll put it on hold until I can afford to do it without working at the same time or until I can afford to move to Leeds.

For now I’m trying to take Tooker’s advice and I’m working on saying no to things. I think I should go take a walk in the sunshine and mail this assignment.


Minutes from Glasgow gathering
April 21, 2008, 3:16 pm
Filed under: implementation

Minutes have been prepared and sent out. Here are the key decisions:

(Find full minutes attached)

That the mass action group can begin research and reccying, and will bring
proposals about their role and remit to the next gathering in May (in
advance of the meeting)

Postgraduate student from York University requests permission to carry out
research at the camp, on the basis that he won’t record discussions or
meetings without explicit permission from participants.

Process Budget of £750

The Caravan Group will fundraise and generate income, which will be added
to the Climate Camp’s funds. The net cost to the Climate Camp at any point
in time will not exceed 1200.

Networking budget will be 7050 until they present a coherent strategy.
Networking will not be allowed to spend more than 40% of available Camp

Contract with the Activist Tat Collective (see minutes for full text).

Biofuels Group to be given provisional budget of £500 pending detailed

media with Mick Fuzz
April 15, 2008, 11:52 am
Filed under: reflective log

Today we learned how to post (embedded) videos! Like this:

[ ?posts_id=181332&dest=-1]

link to original file

– go to blip tv
– click share, embed with wordpress
– write link to original, highlight it
– go to blip tv, click files and links, cut and paaste the .mov file

This was a really good session, but like most of the sessions, it’s really hard to get into this stuff with so little time. Especially when people are coming in with such different levels of experience. Still, I feel like slightly less of a techno-dolt than I did this morning.

Climate Camp gathering evaluation forms
April 13, 2008, 7:15 pm
Filed under: implementation

The results are in. I just finished collating the evaluation forms from the gathering and here they are:

Evaluation Forms – National Climate Camp Gathering, April 5-6 2008 Glasgow

What did you enjoy most about this gathering?
1 party – yes!, the kids, food, meetings
2 Discussion and consensus decision-making very empowering, exciting to meet people who have been on direct action
3 the party!!, I sorted out what I am going to organise and now know what I’m going away and doing
4 Parties are fun. Dangerous, but fun. Both more and less parties. Less in number but more in volume.
5 Loadsa food, pretty chilled vibe, great party, good dancing
6 kids space time, starting to get my head around what we need to do to make the camp happen, working group meetings, food!
7 social networking
8 Saturday morning
9 Really nice welcome, good food, good kids space, mostly really good and friendly facilitation, really good social on Saturday night
10 The party on Saturday – top venue and music, the lovely organised facilitation team
11 Welcoming, spacious, fun, we accomplished stuff, kids were well looked after
12 the beautiful venue
13 site handover and working group time
14 nice venue, amazing food, stuck to time limits more or less, brilliant music at the party
15 company, party the venue, space, warmth, excellent food
16 Excellent venue, good agenda plan, good bar and party
17 Consensus, meeting people, seeing Glasgow, party

What did you enjoy least?
1 the bus
2 feeling tired!
3 the afternoon of DOOM and never ending meetings (Sat.) – have mercy!
4 Floors are rubbish beds.
5 Got tired out
6 missing my train on the way here, Saturday afternoon discussion of mass action group
7 Saturday afternoon was a complete waste of air. Lots of aimless talking. Poorly facilitated/managed – need a facilitation group. Lack of quiet sleep space – music till 3am.
8 Finance in the big group never a good idea.
9 I would get rid of this box
10 The meetings were long and not diverse models. We should not plan meetings to run past 5.30m – only go past 6pm if essential. It’s too much for people.
11 frustration of long tiring discussions, lack of cake!
12 no outside area connected to the space
13 venue – lack of daylight/break out space
14 hearing the same people speak in meetings and repeating thigns over and over, group contract was not stuck to!
15 Unfortunate process – clarification failures
17 A few more open space sessions rather than open discussions as some of them allowed people to get over critical.

For each of the following statements please mark which is the most appropriate description:

I understood the issues being discussed.
– strongly agree: 12
– agree: 4
– disagree: 1
– strongly disagree:

I felt able to contribute.
– strongly agree: 8
– agree: 8
– disagree: 1
– strongly disagree:

The facilitators did a good job.
– strongly agree: 10

– agree: 6
– disagree: 1
– strongly disagree:

What could we have done better?
1 welcoming, in a broader sense, to newcomers (ie: where we are, how we work, name round, etc)
3 quicker decisions = less repetition of points
4 A display on the wall of agenda for reference (maybe you had one, must didn’t see it)
5 Some lovely Zapatista coffee and salt and pepper!
6 Working group meetings could have been scheduled better (ie: which were meeting after lunch, which before, which parallel, etc)
7 It is not fair on hosts to have to manage facilitation! More beer at the bar!
8 Small side group for ALL finance questions.
9 Perhaps 2am curfew on noise (dj), less stairs (tehehe)
10 We could have planned to stop at 5.30pm. We could have broken out more.
11 More cake and get Westons Cider!
14 Even though I knew it would be loud and partying on Saturday night – would have been better if music could have been a little lower after say 2am? Just because the wall was so thin. Being an organiser meant that I had to sleep here but am now knackered from 2 sleepless nights.
15 Facilitators (emphasis on WE)

Any other comments?
1 We don’t want to lose the enthusiasm we’ve worked so hard to attract
3 Good venue
5 Get evaluation forms done before everyone is walking out the door
6 Really great – thanks so much!
7 Event was clearly put on by hard working committed people who did a great job. Facilitation was a problem that the camp gatherings need to deal with.
8 Most excellent!
9 Thank you for a really lovely gathering
10 We thought there was a trip for Monday, but we don’t seem to be going now. Scotland did really really well to take such good care of us. Thanks!
14 Facilitators’ job made harder because only provided with info 15 minutes beforehand. Good work me and you! We should do this again sometime!
16 Thank you!

Feedback from 17 out of 80 isn’t ideal, but about par for the course. Most comments are in line with how I felt things went. For example, there were problems with facilitation on Saturday afternoon, but this was mainly due to not receiving proposals in advance and the stress of having to organise and logistics and all the facilitation.

It turns out we know how to throw a good party but not when to turn the volume down!

A couple more thoughts on the gathering
April 13, 2008, 12:41 pm
Filed under: reflective log

I would really like to put together some sort of Scottish ‘how to organise a gathering’ document from this experience.

For example: We must have checked out almost every possibly suitable venue in Glasgow. We know how much time to set aside for agenda planning, how many meal coordinators are needed to avoid anyone going crazy, and what time time to turn the music off to prevent folks from getting cranky. We spent loads of time trying to sort out entertainment when everyone was more than happy with a few people playing records. Trying to plan an action for the day after the gathering is not a good idea – it won’t happen unless the recky and organising is being done by people not involved in other aspects of the gathering. Don’t buy bread – you can skip everything you need in a couple of hours and save at least £100. Parents will love you forever if you make the kids space a priority. Et cetera.

We need to get this stuff on paper and collate it while it’s still fresh in everyone’s mind. Hopefully this blog will be a good start.

I am still feeling frustrated by how the facilitation worked out. It wasn’t horrible by any means, but I feel like we would have done so much better if we were given the information and support that we asked for. It seems like people have taken this problem on board, but it’s something that comes up at almost every gathering, every camp, and so on. I watched the core person in the meeting team spectacularly burnout last year at the camp and it wasn’t very nice. No one seems to notice the countless, thankless hours put in arranging facilitators, trainings, meetings and agendas, but everyone is there to jump on you when they think you haven’t handled an emergency spokescouncil properly. Every so often some kind soul will speak up and remind us that it’s everyone’s job to facilitate, people nod their heads in agreement, and then it’s promptly forgotten when the next contentious point is raised.

On a positive note, I am really proud of how well the kitchen coped. We transported people and food between venues, on different sides of the city, for five meals, feeding about 80 people at a time, and each meal was tasty and pretty much on schedule. The quantities of food I ordered worked out almost perfectly and donations far surpassed the bills. Five Edinburgh people even signed up to help with central kitchen coordination for the camp – we have a functioning working group!

Money from the gathering
April 11, 2008, 10:30 am
Filed under: implementation

Most of the bills are paid and it looks like we made clost to £700 at the gathering – much better than initially fearing that we might not break even!! The bar was responsible for a lot of this, but managing to get our entire deposit back helped too. Maybe we will finally get a proper marquee…

Glasgow gathering reflections
April 10, 2008, 7:13 pm
Filed under: reflective log

Ten top tips:

1. You can cook for 80 without proper use of your good hand so long as you recruit enough people to chop. Also needed is someone to carry the heavy pots between venues.

2. Transporting food between venues, on the other side of the city, is ridiculous. Never agree to take on a gathering until you know you have secured a venue which allows for meetings and cooking to happen in the same place!

3. A venue with computers and printing facilities is a good thing. Especially if most of the organisers live in another city and no one seems to live nearby.

4. Remember to print evaluation forms before 10pm on Saturday night. Easyinternet cafes are horrible and expensive.

5. Do not get drunk Saturday night in an effort to relieve stress. It will only make things worse in the morning – especially when you need to be up to facilitate!

6. Tighten deadlines for proposed agenda items. Don’t allow a closed group to finally hand you the information needed to facilitate a large, contentious session 20 minutes before it starts.

7. Likewise, you can’t always accommodate last minute agenda additions. Can the facilitation team go on strike?

8. The group organising the gathering should not have to take on all the logistics as well as agenda and facilitation. When no one outwith the group answers your plea for facilitators, contact the process group and don’t just accept that it means you’ll have to do it yourself.

9. Listen to people who tell you what a great job you’ve been doing. Stop worrying about what could have gone better.

10. Always buy more beer and more coffee than you think you’ll need.