Anarchist Feelz Circle Retrospective
From Emotional Anarchism
We ran what we called an Anarchist Feelz Circle for the better part of a year in our community of activists. To do so we started with a very small Signal messenger group with people we trusted to be in it. At the start it was only about 6 people. Over time we added more people though. I hosted all of them in my living room and was largely the driving force behind them though there was a lot of support around their existence. We just did 3 P’s every-time and while it was mostly the same people every week it did change a bit from week-to-week.
The community was very sweet and brought a lot of positivity to the space. People would bring snacks, sometimes even home-made baked goods and drinks to share with each other in the center of the circle. It inspired an incredible amount of good-will and solidarity and gave us great opportunities to really deepen our knowledge of each other’s internal lives. The conversations from the circles informed the ways that we interacted with each other more sensitively outside of the circle as well which really broadened our love.
A not entirely anticipated positive result of this was realizing how much of the same struggles we share without really realizing it. We all face the constant pressing anger and sadness of living, loving, and fighting in the militarized borderlands. But we also all share a deep gratitude for the unique landscape of activism and creative joy that this repressive environment engenders in our networks. Even amongst struggles that were more specific to a couple of members than all of us, we often found that two people had a similar difficulty and could support each other in working through it and being accountable. For a light-hearted example, a small group of people were concerned about not finishing creative projects and were able to discuss strategies for finishing and checkin with each others projects. Similarly, a reoccuring thread was that either through just sharing about problems, or from the feedback that others facing similar problems give, after the feelz circle genuine shifts occurred in people’s perspectives that allowed them to get out of ruts and test new solutions.
This phenomena of both caring about each other’s internal struggles and supporting each other in that quiet war, reveals the interdependence of our struggles overall. As love implies a web and connection, so does struggle. Together we are far more able to work through it because we are often struggling in the same problem space.
Aside from just shared struggles, we made a big emphasis around our joys, hopes, and excitements as well. It’s easy to get lost in the darkness when you’re on the frontlines of social struggles. That’s why it’s all the more important to cultivate the light-hearted joy that we all dream of for everyone. As Emma Goldman said, “If there’s not dancing, then it’s not my revolution.” So our feelz circles were constantly punctuated not just by vulnerable tears, but also my toothy grins and belly-laughs.
I can personally say that I felt so much closer to the people that share space in those circles with me and it was very helpful to me feeling less alienated in my mental health struggles. It also helped me cultivate clearer priorities. A common thread that helped me a lot was the ample discussion about the sense of obligation that comes with ever-increasing severity of threats to justice. Many of us felt simultaneously burnt out and guilty that we weren’t doing more. Through discussion on this I think the obvious solutions became pretty clear and in time we stopped revisiting these themes as our thoughts and feelings on them collectively deepened.
Another thing that I think worked really well was having clear opening and closings for the circle so that people could both drop into the deep sharing space but also put a ribbon on it when it was time to leave.
There were a few problems with how we did things. Some were structural and some were more interpersonal.
Many of the structural problems had to do with time management. For example, we failed to just initially set a day and time and instead tried to find the best time for everyone each fortnight. This wasted lots of energy and removed any sense of stability from the circles. Additionally, while all members of the group were very conscientious about not taking too much time, nonetheless the structured encouraged the circles to go on far too long. While deep emotional space is healing, a body can only handle so much of it at a time. Our circles were often running more than 2 hours long with bountiful space for feedback and sharing. In a sense, people’s enthusiasm was very beautiful as we would go deeply into exchange about people’s issues. But it just took too long.
In terms of the interpersonal side of things there were a number of different complexities we ran into. From early days people started asking me questions about things like “What if the thing I really need to talk about involves someone who may or may not be in that circle or our broader friend group?” Rather than making hard rules around this I and others opted to create general guidelines around this and trust each other to try to balance the many variables at play and feel the vibe.
Relatedly, as the circle developed, as is to be expected, there also developed interpersonal conflict between members of the circle itself unrelated to the circles. In combination with losing momentum after a break when most of us were gone, this was kind of the death knell of this circle. As the friendship of two members dissolved, no one wanted to make decisions cutting out either individual but nonetheless complex relationships and allegiances existed. This type of complex interpersonal conflict was beyond the capacities of our circle to resolve as we lack clear and effective conflict mediation infrastructure. So rather than the circle ever explicitly acknowledging the underlying conflicts, it partially dissolved in favor of not being able to deal with it. This was not the fault of any one member of the group, rather the fault of our own limited language and structures for dealing with these types of problems in our radical spaces more generally.
We also did not get far enough along to try any of the more in depth circle models such as council or clearness committee though we have run many of them unrelated to this particular feelz circle.
Another weakness was that the circles largely depended on my bottom lining every part of them. Eventually people did start facilitating them instead of me, but I did all the meta-organizing for them including things like keeping them running, scheduling, reminding people, handling issues, etc. This responsibility should be distributed or rotating though in many cases, it just works best to have the one dedicated person absorb most maintenance and bottom-lining responsibilities. But for me it felt awkward at times because I didn’t ever want to pressure or annoy people so I would try to read the vibe and ultimately stopped organizing for them when I felt dedication had dwindled.
In order to solve time issues we have decided that either: 1) Feelz circles should have a limited number of members (such as 5) 2) If circles get too big there should be two different circles even if randomly assigned day of 3) A time for the entire circle could be set and have the facilitator or someone else do time-checks during the circle (this has pros and cons). We personally lean towards just having more, smaller, and tighter knit circles and then if a community space wants to run an open group using some sort of format closer to how AA meetings are run with a limited time where not everyone speaks. Additionally all feelz circles should have a set time and day even if the location rotates.
Time issues could also have been alleviated by eliminating the option for feedback after each share for each P. Combining this with a general awareness of time makes 3 P’s really easy to deploy in a short period of time. This quick and dirty version can just be done on the fly as needed after a protest or something like that. We additionally started considering other quick and dirty models such as Roses and Thorns which is just a good and bad things go around.
To deal with interpersonal issues it is ideal to have a more stable small group of members than a complex larger group at least for this format of ultra-high intimacy sharing. That also increases the safety and trust of the circle in general. It has the unfortunate by-product of possibly generating clique-ishness but that is a risk that comes with any form of bonding and should just be dealt with explicitly. People shouldn’t refuse to connect in order to prevent out-group dynamics, we just need to encourage out-group friendliness and have many overlapping social networks.
Additionally, developing conflict mediation infrastructure is important though, in my experience, extremely labor intensive. Really, people who do this work for the community should be compensated in some way no matter how averse we are to transactional services.
With regard to the difficult question of how to discuss issues with people in the circle or network in circle, we tried to just trust people to do their best. This worked okay but I think having more meta-discussions and clearer agreements (even if not strict rules) would be helpful about alleviating some of this stress. The fact that many of us have problems with people we care deeply about should not prevent us from discussing them, but at the same time a real delicacy is required to not sew distrust and malevolent intentions especially around issues of social capital and the like.
Ongoing and Future Experiments
As there is now an anarchist space in our community some members are starting different open groups around topics such as substance abuse support and recovery, sexual assualt recovery, and neurodivergence solidarity. There is a lot of wisdom around about how to run these types of group and every different autonomous experiment has it’s own eccentricities. The importance for these projects will be keeping them running even if they have low attendance at times and also dealing with the delicacy of people having a lot of active triggers. Nonetheless, replacing things like AA with radical political community support is obviously far superior.
We have begun to gradually introduce various mutual-aid practices into our different events in a very low lift form of circle process. For example, at a recent community potluck we hosted at the end we gathered everyone up and did a single quick go around. The prompt was: name, prounouns, would you rather have no knees or no elbows (and why), and do you have any requests, offerings, or announcements. This was very easy and quick (and pretty funny) and actually spurred a bunch of nice collaborations. This is the stepping stone we are introducing as part of the path towards building up more intentional mutual-aid infrastructure and circles both in intimate tight small settings and in our open community spaces. This process will likely run concurrently with more small feelz circles.