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Gemma Copeland

Protocols

I’ve recently been working on a Membership Agreement for Evening Class. It’s an attempt to escape the tyranny of structurelessness, as well as to provide a guide for new members.

It’s been a rewarding exercise as it’s prompted us to think about and formalise some of the key principles that underpin everything we do, as well as making clear what forms of support we expect from each other. In some ways, these kinds of protocols can feel unnecessarily formal, but I feel like by having it all written down allows us to address how we treat each other more directly, forming the basis for a greater level of trust within the group.

This got me thinking about protocols more broadly, and what they mean for establishing and maintaining self-organised groups.

In Emergent Strategy, adrienne maree brown highlights the protocol set out by Asians 4 Black Lives, an intersectional ally group based in the Bay Area. There are so many aspects of this that feel important to me, but to draw out just a few:

It sets a framework for building trust, support and solidarity, both within the group and with a wider community. This comes across not only through the content but also in the tone of voice – it is calm and understanding, removing judgement and recognising that there is always an opportunity for growth, on both a personal and collective level.

It feels calm, slow and intentional, focused on long-term strategic change rather than short bursts of activity. It leaves space for plurality, highlighting that there is not one single answer or vision, but a multiplicity of different voices and attempts.

The conclusion particularly stands out to me:

We submit these principles and protocols with humility and openness. We don’t have it all figured out, but we are committed to taking a stand, and learning as we go. We will not wait to be perfect, because we believe the time is now and we would rather be held accountable for our mistakes than forgiven our inaction.

There is a clear sense of urgency and clarity here, but also the recognition of the inevitability of change. It demonstrates that a protocol is not a fixed set of rules, but something to be constantly questioned and renegotiated by its members.

This got me thinking about what Paul Soulellis has been writing about his idea of Urgentcraft. I strongly recommend reading the whole thing, but this particular section feels very important to me:

I love the contradiction here, that to better understand crisis, we may need to recognize the slowness of how conditions evolve, how power operates, the patience to build and fortify over time. Committing to maintenance as a form of urgency. And I think there’s something particularly queer about slowness these days, as a resistance to acceleration and the normative speeding up of things. Especially as it relates to network culture and our production and consumption of media.

I feel like a protocol is a group’s commitment to maintenance, to the practice of becoming. It is a collective attempt to sketch out the world we want to live in, to create the conditions in which we want to practice. It is an ongoing, slow process of resistance and negotiation, grounded in the insistence that another world is possible.

Finally, this brings me back to my favourite quote from Emergent Strategy:

There is such urgency in the multitude of crises we face, it can make it hard to remember that in fact it is urgency thinking (urgent constant unsustainable growth) that got us to this point, and that our potential success lies in doing deep, slow, intentional work.