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Activism: Peace: NVCD: Affinity Groups

Affinity groups (ags) are self-sufficient support units of 5 to 15 people who work together towards a common goal. Whether or not you are planning to do civil disobedience, it is important to either form an affinity group or join an already existing one. Affinity groups serve as a source of support and solidarity for their members. Feelings of being isolated from the movement, the crowd, or the world in general can be alleviated through the familiarity and trust which develops when an affinity group works and acts together. By generating this familiarity the affinity group structure reduces the possibility of infiltration by outside provocateurs. Affinity groups also provide a small space where consensus process can work best, ensuring that everyone gets a chance to discuss their participation in the action.

Affinity groups will form the basic decision-making bodies of the action. As long as they remain within the nonviolent action guidelines and have attended a nonviolence preparation, affinity groups are encouraged to develop any form of participation they choose. (If you do not plan to adhere to the action guidelines, please do not come.)

Every affinity group must decide within itself how it will make decisions and what it wants to do. The group will decide what role it wants to play in the action and what legal stance it will take. If a new person asks to join an affinity group, s/he should find out what the group believes in and what they plan to do, to decide if s/he will be comfortable with the group. Some groups ask that all members share a commitment to a particular politics or religious orientation. Others are formed by people with some shared background, for instance, gardeners or students. Others, which might have formed only to do a particular action, may have less sweeping agreements or similarities.

A group cannot hope to reach decisions without having some base of agreement. Once a base is agreed upon, working out the details of specific issues and actions is not as difficult as one might expect, providing that there is a willingness to go along with a good idea, even if it is someone else's.

It is far better to form an affinity group well in advance of an action, for example, from people you work with or a circle of friends. Affinity groups are often formed during a nonviolence preparation, so attending one as soon as possible is a good idea. You will need to meet with your group several times before the action to get to know each other, to discuss the goals of the action, and to decide upon the role your affinity group will play. Your affinity group will be expected to send a spokesperson to the final scenario meeting to communicate with other ags about the shape of the action.

After the action, it is very important for affinity groups to meet at least once, to evaluate and share experiences. It's the only way to learn how to carry on the work of nonviolent direct action better next time. Some affinity groups may only be together for one action, but many ags stay together and work on other actions in the future.

Some Decisions Affinity Groups Will Need to Make for This Action

  • Will your group participate in both the Peace Walk and the action at Lockheed in Santa Cruz?
  • What will your group do at Lockheed? (See "Site and Scenario" section.)
  • What are your group's specific goals for this action and what kind of tone do you want your activities to have?
  • How much time can your group commit to the Lockheed action?
  • Where will your group stay in Santa Cruz?
  • What will your group do if arrests do not take place or if people are released immediately after their arrest?
  • Will your group participate in certain jail solidarity agreements; i.e., refusing to pay bail or to sign citations? (See "Noncooperation" section.)
  • Who will do civil disobedience and who will do support? Can any support people risk arrest if needed?
  • How will you meet the transportation, financial, and other practical needs of the group?

Roles Within the Affinity Group

  • Facilitator(s), vibeswatchers, etc. (See "Consensus" section.)
  • Spokesperson: to communicate ag decisions to other ags in spokescouncil meetings and to attend organizing meetings before the action.
  • Media spokesperson: represents your ag to the media. Be sure to tell reporters you are speaking only for your group.
  • Contact person: receives information for the group.
  • Medic: know medical needs of group members and brings supplies.
All these roles except contact person and medic should be rotated to share skills, information, and influence.


It can be hard for you to decide whether or not to do civil disobedience or support, especially since legal consequences are usually unknown before an action. It is important to emphasize that both roles are crucial to the success of the action and either choice will be encouraged. An affinity group needs to have both kinds of people in it, although it is possible for an ag with mainly "cders" (people who are going to do civil disobedience, or "c.d.") to cluster with an ag with mainly support people. We expect those who are considering doing support to go through a nonviolence preparation as well as those who are doing c.d. In making the decision, you can consider how each role will affect your family, job, and other commitments, as well as your legal status (i.e., being on probation or being a non-US citizen). You can also consider the goals of the action, and how many people are needed to do c.d. in order to meet those goals.

Support responsibilities include:

Before An Action

  • Help the affinity group decide upon and initiate their action, provide physical and moral support, and share in the excitement and sense of determination.
  • Know the people in your group by name and description.
  • Make a confidential list with the following information:
    • name of arrestee
    • how arrestee plans to noncooperate
    • special medical information
    • who arrestee would like contacted and when
  • Hold money for emergencies and i.d. for J. Does in case they decide to give their names.
  • Arrange to take care of arrestee's cars, personal belongings, etc.
  • Communicate with support people from other ags about how to handle support responsibilities during and after the action.

During The Action

  • Provide transportation to the action for cders, and carry food and water.
  • If you can be present at arrest, besides cheering for cders, act as a legal observer by doing the following:
    • write down arrestees' names and time and nature of arrest
    • note the activity of the person being arrested, and their treatment by the arresting officer
    • write down the badge number, if possible, or description of any arresting officer and who they arrest
    • keep track of who is noncooperating
    • relay this information to core legal support for the action.
  • Keep in touch with arrestees for as long as possible, trying to get description of arrest procedures, etc., for others.
  • Be ready to follow police wagons or buses to police stations or jails.

After Action/During Jail Time

Based on past actions, it is unlikely that people will be kept in jail for any length of time. However, it is important to discuss the possibility with cders, and to be on hand while they are in police custody.
  • Try to arrange for someone to be near a prearranged phone most of the time so that calls from jail may be received.
  • Be there when your cders are released for hugs, transportation, and good food.
  • Be present during arraignments, and be sure to keep accurate notes regarding future court dates and charges.
  • Try to find some way to be a go-between for ag members who are not jailed together.
  • If someone is jailed for a long period, fulfill previous agreements made about informing job supervisors, doing childcare, feeding pets, etc.

Support Clusters

As the lists above show, support people have a lot of responsibilities. Working with support people from other ags can ease the load and ensure good communication. In an ongoing action such as this one, support people need to set up support procedures with each other before the action. After the action, support people can rotate specific tasks; i.e, transportation from jail, keeping the support phones operating, sharing legal information, etc. Support people have the responsibility to prevent unfounded rumors about arrest procedures or legal charges from circulating.
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