In the Fight for Progress, Commit to Completion: 617 Forum

Holding each other accountable to follow through with commitments: one of the key differentiating points Julia and I stressed on our first meeting of 617 Forum (for the others, see here).

In that first November 2016 meeting of friends, hurting from the election but ready to get to work, we sought to create a space that coupled the desire to make a positive change with a focus on setting concrete plans to make it happen — and so, we asked each person in the group to set at least one commitment to achieve before the next meeting.

The group was enthusiastic about the idea of committing to completion, and this carried everyone out the door with a renewed sense of possibility. And yet, we quickly learned this can only take you so far. As we discovered in our second meeting in December, barely anyone had followed through on the commitments they’d set at the previous gathering.

If you’re leading a group of activists and civically engaged individuals, or are on your own personal journey, consider a few of our learnings:

  1. Consistency reinforces credibility and leads to accountability. We realized before our first gathering that consistent meetings would be important to maintain the momentum, credibility, and accountability of the Forum. Despite the heavy and unexpected rain on the day of our second meeting, we had a satisfying number of friends in attendance — enough to allow us to have an informative conversation. And we almost doubled attendance in our third meeting (and ran out of chairs!). With so many activities in our lives vying for our attention, committing to consistency and structure allows us to have a greater impact.
  2. Ambition is great, but don’t let it create paralysis. We had the best intentions to achieve all the commitments made in our first meeting (see them here). But we didn’t. Many of the commitments were too far outside our comfort level, required more time or resources than we had available, or did not make sense regionally.
  3. Making commitments that closely align with a lifestyle or a passion will increase completion. Although not everyone completed the original commitments, by the next meeting, everyone had achieved something that added value in the fight for progress. We experienced one of those cliché — but 100 percent valid — moments where everyone realized that to make a positive change in the world, we should start small, with our close communities, in ways that make sense individually. Progress, including us becoming activists, is incremental.
  4. Group commitments require a leader. Some commitments are more effective and fun if done as a group (protesting at your senator’s office, marching in the Women’s March, or registering people to vote). For these, it’s crucial to identify one or two people who will lead the planning, organizing, and inviting. We had great success in gathering a group of about 30 people at a coffee shop near the start of the Women’s March in San Francisco, and we managed to keep a group together for the entirety of the march. People showed up because they had a group to be accountable to — and they brought friends. Even more encouraging was that almost everyone was new to protesting: Safety in numbers made it easier to commit.
  5. Use the power of the network for big thinking. On our last meeting, I presented a personal project to the group that closely ties with the issues we’re addressing. I asked for help, advice, and brainstorm power. When you put together a group of individuals with diverse backgrounds and professional experiences — from education to marketing to consulting and more — the discussion will be rich. Everyone enthusiastically provided recommendations based on their expertise and bounced ideas off each other. The solutions we came up with were stronger because of it.

When striving for political and advocacy progress — an area in which many people aren’t comfortable — we’re realizing that it’s essential to build a strong framework that will allow us to accomplish our commitments and make tangible progress individually and as a group.

As 617 Forum continues meeting once a month to discuss the current state of politics, policies, and the plan to tackle these pressing needs, we will continue to learn from our experiences and build an even stronger community.

I’m curious to know what other activist groups out there have learned — and if you’re interested in starting 617 Forum in your city, reach out: