Online activism and local groups

Stop taking the peace

As the UK adjusts to life under lockdown and social distancing measures to combat the spread of COVID-19, local groups and campaigners are taking their work online. Things are difficult right now, but alongside the anxiety and fear there are local and national networks of people connecting, supporting and caring for each other. Meaningful change needs strong communities, and the strong relationships and solidarity of our local groups and networks can help us. 

With arms companies and governments forces to recognise that war and militarism cannot protect us from the real threats we face and redeploying troops and resources towards public health, this is also a moment of deep transition and change. Nothing will be the same afterwards, and social justice campaigners need to help shape the conversation about what comes next. 

London CAAT are one of the groups who have taken their meetings online. They have even held an online day of action, shifting their vigil for Yemen online. Long-time campaigner and London CAAT member Ian Pocock says:

For obvious reasons, we couldn’t hold our vigil for Yemen at the UK Trade and Investment Defence and Security Organisation, so we held an online day of action (as well as partaking in the Europe-wide day of action). We asked people to post about the devastating effect of the war on the Yemeni people and the UK’s complicity in it. 

The vigil got a lot of traction with many people posting messages highlighting the ongoing crisis in the country and calling on the UK government to stop fuelling the war with arms sales to the Saudi-led coalition. Thank you to all those who took action.”

The Edinburgh CAAT group have also taken their work online, using meetings to connect, support each other, and shift their plans to respond to the crisis. Group member David Somerville said:

“CAAT Edinburgh’s core team met online recently and we decided our priority – after checking everyone is ok – is to re-imagine our local campaign focus. We decided to start with inviting our local supporters to an informal meet-up on Zoom. We’ll share good practice tips to make this fun and engaging as we realise that such Virtual Meetings are very different to face-to-face ones and need careful preparation! Once we’ve met in our Zoom Room and familiarised ourselves with new ways we’ll plot and plan a more open public meeting to advocate for a campaign objective which supports a #JustRecovery.

Interested in taking your meetings online? CAAT can help! We are producing a quick-start guide to holding group meetings online. We will also be organising some UK wide calls with campaigners, to help us connect and share experience and insight as we take our campaigns online. Check for details!

Thinking of taking your meeting online? Here are our top tips for great online meetings!

1. Know what tech your participants have – what are people using? What do they have access to already? Ask them to download the specific video call app you will be using ahead of the meeting and remind them they will need camera and mic access to participate! Point them to any troubleshooting guidance before the call and encourage them to familiarise themselves with the technology ahead of time.

2. Practice, practice, practice! As with everything in life, practice makes (almost) perfect – ask colleagues, friends or family to test the session with you and offer constructive feedback.

3. Prepare, prepare, prepare! This is key. Arguably, a lot more prep is needed for online training than in-person due to the added element of (often unpredictable) technology. You need to ensure all the different tech and tools you are using work, and are up to date at the point you run the session. 

4. Think about accessibility! How accessible is this event? It can be harder to make online spaces accessible and inclusive but do your best. Who is being left out? Whose voices are the loudest? Who is more comfortable in the space? Who is uncomfortable? What power dynamics are at play and how can you navigate these as the facilitator?

5. Breaks, breaks, breaks! Breaks are vital anyway, but especially when we are having to look at a screen.  Where possible, consider including activities that allow participants to look away from the screen for short periods of time – maybe an activity can be done on paper and then shared in a breakout group when the session reconvenes?

6. Ask people to put away phones and other distractions! – Multi-tasking is tempting – we know – but encourage people to stay focused and ‘in the room’.

7. Have a co-facilitator: Facilitation can be hard work and harder still when balancing the challenges of an online space. Have a co-facilitator if possible to help deliver some of the content but, most of all, to be responsible for troubleshooting any tech issues during the call.

8. Appoint participant roles where appropriate to share the load! Identify what roles need covering ahead of the meeting, such as note-taker, timekeeper, vibe-watcher and then get people to volunteer. Often we can designate these tasks to colleagues but if you are organising as a grassroots group, ensuring all the work doesn’t fall on the same person/ people is key. 

9. Include opportunities to be interactive! Bring in other skills/tools! Can you bring in games? Virtual whiteboard? Videos? Music? All of this is possible online and can help to include people with different learning styles and needs in the group. Find ways for people to actively contribute so that they aren’t just listening but are also taking part.

10. Be kind to yourself! Running online meetings and workshops is a challenge – a new one for many folks at the moment – and so we are learning as we go. Accept that there will be mistakes, technical hiccups, and moments where things could have been smoother but it is all part of the learning process.

This article was originally published in CAAT News – you can read the whole magazine online here.

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