May 10, 2009

Avoiding Burnout - Start Your Own Group

No choice for me during my time participating in this movement has been more challenging and also more liberating than deciding to leave NY911Truth to found TruthMove with Max. For that reason I would like to share some thoughts about why group affiliation is so compelling and also why we must, under certain conditions, strike out on our own to promote what we consider most important in the manner we consider most responsible.

While I may dismiss the 'big tent' strategy, it's very important not to understate the significance of group affiliation in a counter-cultural social movement. Very few of us are able to do this alone. For that reason it can be particularly draining to face leaving a group to which we have dedicated a great deal of time. And yet at some point our priorities should exceed our sense of loyalty. This is after all not simply a personal hobby but an international social movement for transparency and justice.

From the moment we first arrived it was apparent that NY911Truth was having problems. Max and I, with the encouragement of Nick Levis, tried to help others in the group to focus on well founded facts, specific goals, promotional innovation, and responsible street action techniques. We came in trying to change things for the better, and looking back I'd say it's no surprise that we met some resistance.

9/11 truth groups are not merely activist meetups but also provide outgroup support. As our concern is met with a lot of distrust, anger, and ridicule from much of the public and even our friends and family, it is very important for us to have others in our lives that support our point of view and welcome our continued investment of time and energy. Unfortunately, along with the emotional benefits of that support comes an increasing sense of group loyalty that can become stifling if it exceeds our commitment to movement progress.

This is what we saw happening in NY911Truth. While it had become startlingly apparent to Max and I that Les Jamieson was dishonest and incompetent, many in the group were impervious to our concerns. Loyalty to the group leader seemed to preclude any logical critique of his methods. Our concerns were generally met with anger and paranoia or pessimism about the potential for change.

We started to talk about the possibility of founding a new group. There seemed to be many benefits to doing so, and yet the costs would also he high. We would be giving up our support group. We would be sacrificing use of the church in which meetings were held, some of them hosted by us. Street action would be far more challenging. And we'd have to develop and pay for a whole new set of promotional tools.

While it might be intimidating to go at it alone, or hopefully with a couple other people who agree with your concerns, and the rewards may seem distant and uncertain, I want to emphasize how rewarding it can be to do what you think is best for this movement and also that it's not as challenging as you might think.

First of all, while you might miss some of your peers, escaping from those who you feel have been stifling the groups progress can provide a good deal of motivation. It's a lot easier to maintain your enthusiasm when planning and action don't always involve some kind of fundamental compromise. No more entrenched authority figures. No more guy who always wants to monologue during group discussion. No more flyers with poorly founded information. No more covering for that guy who always makes the group look bad during street action.

Second, there are many online resources that make it easier than ever to discuss strategy, develop promotional materials, and coordinate group activities. In past decades planning had to happen over the phone or in person. With the advent of the internet we now have free resources that allow you to have group discussions, design promotional materials, create basic websites, and organize group activities. Appreciating the challenge people in the past faced to achieve their political goals, we should be encouraged by how much easier it has become.

Third, good promotion doesn't cost much. As I mentioned above, you can set up a free website with little knowledge of the web design. With that in place, spreading the word in the movement is as easy as posting to related forums and 9/11 truth group sites. You can have thousands of full color glossy flyers or tens of thousands of black and white leaflets printed up for only $100. And making a banner sign has always been more about time and inspiration than about the expense.

Finally, I'd like to suggest, based on my experience with TruthMove, that just a couple of thoughtful and concerned people can really have as big an impact as a much larger group of those with less focus or unity. We got started with just two people and together created an educational website, informative flyers, and a big banner sign. And with only a few more participants we have reached tens of thousands of people and certainly opened some of their eyes. It can be really surprising just how much a group of people can get done when they start out on the same page.

So rather than feeling burnt out by a group that seems incapable of adapting to new ideas or stifled by continuous disagreement, consider starting your own. It's not as challenging as you might have thought and it can be both beneficial to the movement and inspiring to others.

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