Session 3: From an affinity group to an activist organization: maintaining community


As a small group of activists formalizes their work in organizational terms, and grows in regard of persons and resources involved, difficulties arise from that growth. In particular, ways of doing that were tied to friendships among the small group of activists no longer apply. In this session, organizational mechanisms of care, communication, and decision-making used by Sea Watch are explored critically, to learn and inherit useful mechanisms of continually structuring a growing community of care.

Let’s Learn Together

Step 1: Introduce ourselves

Step 2: Care on the ship (2 hours)

Explain (1) the buddy system, (2) psychological briefings, (3) knowledge/skill sharing among crew, (4) the cleaning routine and other work of ship maintenance, and (5) care for the guests. Guide a discussion for each, asking participants to connect these mechanisms to their experiences.

(1) The buddy system: Each member of the crew of 22 is paired up with another person (of their choice or random, decided prior to pairing up among and by specific crew members) for the duration of the mission, to check on daily on each other in terms of psychological well-being, especially regarding how they are dealing with stress.

(2) Psychological pre-briefing and de-briefing: Before each mission, the entire crew meets for the first time, joined by an external psychologist, who facilitates their introduction to each other and tackles the topic of stress related to their care work. After the mission, the crew meets again in plenum to share reflections and feelings that came out of what happened during the mission.

(3) Skill sharing: Whereas skills that are vital to performing search and rescue are systematically trained on board within a strict schedule, other skills related to the maintenance of the ship, seamanship, and skills of interest to particular crew members are scheduled upon demand when ship is underway and not engaged in search and rescue. The ones related to the ship contribute to the equalizing effect among the crew composed of professional seafarers, non-professional seafarers, and persons with no/little prior experience on the sea.

(4) Morning cleaning and maintenance jobs: Crew vacuums, mops, and scrubs the common spaces, to maintain the working routine as much as to maintain tidiness. Based on their function on the ship, crew members belong to one of the three β€œdepartments” (deck, engine room, bridge) and are given maintenance jobs by the person responsible for the department when appropriate and necessary. Maintaining the ship in the good shape is seen as a prerequisite for being able to sail and undertake effective missions.

(5) Guest care: After a rescue, crew participates in cooking, handing out food, watches, crowd mood observing, and other tasks distributed and coordinated by the so-called Guest Coordinator. Every crew member enters into relationships with guests according to own capacities and guidelines set by the Guest Coordinator (for example: do not give a blanket to a person if you cannot give it to everyone, unless there is a specific valid case for it). There is a crew member (Cultural Mediator) who does the work of preparing referrals with and for the guests, so that they have access to adequate and professional care once on the land.

Step 3: Modes of communicating, knowing, aligning, strategizing, choosing action, (re)acting, coordinating, overseeing, intervening, questioning, collaborating (2 hours)

Explain (1) the weekly teleconference call, (2) the morning meeting on Sea Watch 3, (3) the Mission Support group. Guide a discussion for each, asking participants to connect these mechanisms to their experiences.

(1) The weekly teleconference call, so-called Monday telco: The decision-making body of the organization, where all its formal members have a voice and voting rights. Decisions made are ones that belong to the β€˜greater picture” level, whereas operational questions get delegated to departments. Teleconference is facilitated/moderated by the Organization Coordinator, who has no voting rights.

(2) The Mission Support group: Is one of such departments to which specific decision-making is delegated. What happens during a mission affects not only the ship and Logistics but also departments such as Media and Advocacy. The MSG includes representatives from relevant departments and decides autonomously on mission relevant issues. Like the Monday telco, it has a coordinator.

(3) The morning meeting: Every morning on the ship, the entire crew (except 2 persons on watch at that moment) meets in a mess room. Captain, the chief engineer, and the bosun give updates concerning the mission and the ship. Any crew member can add on and/or take a word on any issue of interest to the whole crew.

(4) Discourse: Online platform where everyone who has participated in SW missions, shipyard times, or is otherwise volunteering or working for SW, and the organization members, have a voice. There is no decision-making power.

Step 4: Compost (2 hours)

Ask participants to design mechanisms of sharing information and acting upon it that integrate care, for an organization of a given and changing size. Guide them working in small groups. Discuss the results.