Contributed by expert organizer (and all around fun person) Roy Mitchell
RURAL ORGANIZING is DIFFERENT
I had an idea.
I’ve organized events before, but never done this before. I have faith it’s something I can do in these times when we feel we need to bear witness to this time in history.
If you are like me, with the impending winter and the genocide going on in Gaza among similar other tragedies, what can we do to stay sane. Living in a rural area can be isolating in the winter and what I need especially because of the winter, because of what’s happening now, is community. I could pick up a book and take a break from Tic Tok videos. That’s not going to happen. But I do I know I want to do some deep thinking about this. I know it would be good to do some of that thinking with people.
The RURAL REALITIES of a LISTENING GROUP
Sure it would be nice to all meet up somewhere, and if possible, it might work for you, but there is a little bit of magic in doing it on-line. No driving. In rural areas distances can be far and with winter here, the one public place – the library is limited by it’s distance and hours. There may be people in the community who can not drive or be able to leave their home (childcare, work, health, mobility, money), but can dedicate on hour of their time to listening.
Keep the meetings to one hour – at most ½ listening and ½ talking with the most important thing being the listening. Your group can decide what works best for them and there might be a natural break that falls at a convenient place – I would say the most important thing to prioritize is the listening and keep it to an hour.
The book I’m suggesting is 10 hours audio which might seem like a long commitment to a world where people can have other things to do. I suggest that you ask the group to commit to three sessions and after that you can decide how you want to proceed. I’d suggest that you do four or five sessions and then give people a week or two to finish listening and have a final gathering where they can discuss the book after having listened to it in its entirety. This final gathering can also be a time where people want to suggest another book.
Two or more.
A friend contacted me about the Ceasefire Now! Gatherings being organized across Canada and what we could do if anything. We decided on a place, time, vibe and when we were going there we asked each other about how many people we expected to show up – we agreed that we were happy that we were going to be there and anymore would be great. Then we admitted that maybe three more would be a success. 25-30 people showed up.
I tell myself that the best number of people is enough to have a dinner party. You can have a dinner party with an intimate crowd of four – anything above that is gravy.
We didn’t focus on social media. Activism in rural areas is not easy and Facebook is a hellscape, Instagram is limited and no one uses X formerly Twitter. It takes a lot of time to monitor the post, engage and guide the discussion. Checking for likes, numbers, shares is anxiety inducing. Social media is useful, but mental health is a priority. Also, there might be people who are supportive but don’t want to be vocal on social media because they don’t want certain people to see that they are onside.
We have been finding email to be a great organizing tool. There have been three recent events that required us to mobilize and we used email. It was amazing. We asked people to share the call-to-action email with people who they knew and would support us. One of the most effective ways to mobilize people is to make it personal – and emails work on that level. And when people show up who aren’t on the list, they are added. The group is clear that only one or two people will have the emails – and all things will be sent out BCC – to avoid the hell that is reply all and long unnecessary replies.
Use zoom – it’s the most accessible. I saw that the book I wanted to read was on Youtube. You can play videos on Youtube, or if you’re tech savvy, you can use an app like ClipGrab to convert the youtube to an Mp3. The file can be broken up into pieces, chapters, etc. I have edited on sound editing program (I use Audacity – it’s free and there are lots of tutorials on YouTube.)
I always make sure to tell the people to make sure they are in a room with the least hard surfaces – that causes echos and diminishes the sound quality. Another trick is to wear headphones because without them, you’ll get feedback.
FACTS OVER FEELINGS
We all come to this disgusted by the hate that is causing the murders of people, we are gathering to listen and there will be no room to debate whether or not this is a genocide, what’s anti-semetism and what isn’t. We can all acknowledge the the feelings we have about this run deep – but the purpose of this is not to centre ourselves, but to learn and understand. I’m all about structure, so if your group decides to focus on feelings, it’s your group. I would urge you though to focus on an hour long listening with the focus on learning and understanding.
I’ll let you know how it goes. I have one person committed to it, so I’m feeling good about it.
Let me know if you decide to follow through with something like this.
100 Years’ War on Palestine (2020) by Rashid Khalidi
This book is available on Youtube
Here’s a link to the book’s Wikipedia Page.
*If you'd like to connect with Roy, his email is email@example.com