The Affinity Group and Non-Violence By Nelia Sargent

 The Affinity Group and Non-Violence

By Nelia Sargent

 Wally Nelson’s praise for the affinity group structure still rings in my ears.  A beloved family friend and guiding light to me from age five onwards, and aman of deep integrity, he spoke from more than seventy years of profound nonviolent action. Wally believed his decades of nonviolent witness against war and for civil rights would have been far more effective within the affinity group structure. 

The affinity group is a brilliant, unique contribution to our nonviolent movements.  We must guard it with care. Its structure is powerful. The beauty and strength of the affinity group is its small, decentralized unit that can function autonomously or collectively with many others. Affinity groups built trust based in our collective agreement on our method—non-violence—to reach our goal of stopping nuclear power. Affinity groups defused both intentional provocateurs and the unplanned, random acts of violence that can erupt amid the anonymous masses of large protests.

The affinity group was the core of the Clamshell’s decentralized decisionmaking structure.  Ninety-six local organizing groups, most of which consisted of many affinity groups, met weekly throughout New England at the height of organizing between actions. Each local group worked autonomously. They also sent representatives to the Clamshell coordinating committee who would convey decisions made by the locals that affected the Clamshell’s direction and actions. My favorite part of coordinating committee meetings was the sharing of inspired, creative grassroots actions from all around New England.

Communication was very important. In addition to the coordinating committee, Clamshell had a variety of committees such as labor, the Clamshell Alliance News, safe alternative energy, training, and so forth. Various members of local groups from around New England would participate in them and report back to their local. 

Although the media focused on our escalating numbers for mass civil disobedience, my earnest opinion is that large civil disobedience actions, though newsworthy, played a small role in our overall strategy. A wide variety of actions on many fronts and in many forms arose in response to the political context of that time. Ultimately we won many of these campaigns.  The nonviolent code of conduct, adhered to by some as a pragmatic tactic, by others as a profound life commitment, guided our creativity in actions framed under our founding statement.  Nonviolent preparation or training, usually eight hours, was required for participation in all civil disobedience.

I believe the “Clam magic” that happened when events unfolded in a serendipitously inspired way, was rooted in the depth of the commitment of all Clams to the discipline of non-violence. The essence of Clamshell for me was the variety of our creative nonviolent actions and the diversity of our nonviolent witness drawing on lessons learned from many generations and struggles.

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