Portland Action Lab, Affinity Group, and Spokescouncil FAQ

The Basics:

We emerged from Occupy Portland’s N17: Occupy the Banks, part of an Occupy Wall Street national day of action. Inspired by the success of that action, we chose to continue working together as the Action Lab within the Occupy Portland movement. We organize as a spokes council of community organizations, affinity groups, and interested individuals eager to bring coordinated direct action to Portland and beyond. Interested groups and individuals are welcome to join us.


What is an affinity group and how do I start one?

An affinity group (sometimes abbreviated AG) is a small group of activists (usually from 3-20) who work together on direct actions. Affinity groups are organized in a non-hierarchical manner, usually using consensus decision making, and are often – but not always – made up friends. They provide a method of organization that is flexible and decentralized.

Affinity groups can be based on a common ideology (e.g., anarchism, pacifism) or a shared concern for a given issue (e.g., against banks that support coal, anti-foreclosures, or against predatory lending). Affinity groups may have either open or closed membership.

If you want to start one we’ve got a few ideas for you:

  • Lobby your friends. Let them know this is going to be a huge day of action against the big corporate banks they’ve been pissed at for years – if they’ve ever considered civil disobedience or direct action, ask them “if not now, when?”
  • Go to a training and find others looking to organize. Grab some tea or some beer and start getting to know each other!
  • Review the basics on planning direct actions. Check out some great resources on planning actions.

What is the spokescouncil?

A Spokescouncil is a structure that has been used widely by democratic movements since the Spanish Revolution, and is frequently used for larger, coordinated, multi-target actions. A Spokescouncil is structured similar to the spokes of a wheel. It is designed to combine large group participation with more efficient small group discussion.

How does the spokescouncil work?

Each committee and each affinity group selects a spokesperson (aka “spoke”) at each meeting to sit with the other Spokes in a circle in the middle of the meeting space, with the rest of the spokes group sitting right behind them so they are available for consultation and discussion.

The committees provide a variety of forms of support for the affinity groups, and the affinity groups let the spokescouncil know what their needs are.

When is the next spokescouncil meeting?

The next meetings of the spokescouncil will be determined shortly.

What are the committees and how do I reach them if I want to get involved?

  1. Local Outreach and Intake: outreach@portlandactionlab.org / (503) 567-6895
  2. Internal Processes and administration: process@portlandactionlab.org
  3. Mainstream & Independent Media: media@portlandactionlab.org / (971) 258-0087
  4. Legal: legal@portlandactionlab.org
  5. Affinity Group Coordination: tactical@portlandactionlab.org
  6. Events: events@portlandactionlab.org
  7. March/Rally: march@portlandactionlab.org
  8. Medic Support: medic@portlandactionlab.org
  9. National Outreach: national@portlandactionlab.org
  10. Art: art@portlandactionlab.org
  11. Research: research@portlandactionlab.org

Is there any special etiquette for participation at spokescouncil meetings?

How nice of you to ask! Just because there are a lot of us and we have a lot to accomplish in a short period of time and want to use our time efficiently to focus on crucial issues, we ask that everyone adhere to the following guidelines:

  • Bring paper a pen/pencil: they are even more important at spokescouncil meetings then regular ones as we rely on passing notes a lot during meetings.
  • Please ask/whisper/scribble a question to someone in your committee before taking the time of the whole group if there is a chance your a co-committee members may know the answer.
  • Anything that is a minor question or a non-contentious suggestion for a spoke should NOT be handled at meetings, but instead after meetings or by email, etc.
  • Make a name tag for yourself and bring it to the meeting if you can.
  • Think about what you might want to help with before you get to the meeting so you can plug in quickly.
  • Please use the process we’ve agreed upon: work with your committee and its spokesperson to raise questions/proposals/concerns by passing notes, especially during crunch time and in big meetings.

 Other FAQs

Action guidelines / Nonviolent Civil Disobedience:

We have no interest in preaching about the morality of what is or isn’t violence, or what tactics are best. We only ask that if you are using the name “Portland Action Lab, ” etc. that you do not engage in any damage to property or violence. If you want to use these tactics, might we politely suggest doing an action any other day of the year?

What is the level of coordination with AGs we are expecting?

It’s ultimately up to affinity groups how much they want to coordinate. At the very least we ask they check in with the logistics committee to avoid targeting someone else’s target! The spokescouncil is working to provide resources like police and media liaisons, medics and legal observers for as many actions as possible and hopefully supplies such as signs and lockdown devices. Actions that wish to will be visited by a public march can also coordinate with the tactical / communications committee.