Tuesday, 15 February 2011

On volunteering

I haven't been back to my voluntary group in about 6 months. I'm still on their text and emailing list, and get regular doses of guilt through my phone and computer though.

The first time I pitched up for a meeting (at a venerable East London anarchist bookshop, naturally) I was a bit nervous. New people, didn't know the score, or what to expect.

What struck me at first was that they were mostly pretty young. Yet seemed much more switched on, political, knowledgeable, passionate and self-assured than I was at that age.

Things took a looooong time to discuss. People went around and around, back and forth, and through every detail, but then I realised it was because it was the democratic principle of giving everyone a say, and equal weight and consideration - it was the direct opposite to everything I'd ever experienced in my working life (and in my education).

I came to appreciate this way of doing things very much. Discussion, debate, then consensus - who'd have thought it? Instead of commandments from on high. Or people pretending to listen and take what you said on board, but really just trying to force through a preconceived agenda. They weren't polite (though they weren't rude) they were trying to find the right course of action so they weren't afraid to disagree with each other.

It was so the opposite to what I experienced at work it made me feel quite emotional. Because most of us are so strait-jacketed, so used to hierarchy that we don't even feel that it's there most of the time.

Another thing that struck me was their energy, their ideas, their ACTION. They didn't wait around to be told, they seized the day. I turned up thinking "I want to help." And realised I'd brought a lifetime's indoctrination in with me - I just wanted to be told what to do. Which is a bit too, well, passive an attitude for an activist.

I ended up ducking out of it recently though, because the more you go, the more you take on and feel like you should do. It's never-ending. And very knackering, on top of a full-time job. (I realised after a while that most people worked part-time or were students.) That's the trouble with volunteering. And the flaw in the plan to replace paid jobs with volunteers.


  1. Oh Eddie! How I love you!
    "But that's part of your job, isn't it. You get paid for that."