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The anti-war affinity group "Collateral Damage". All seven were convicted on December 4, 2002 of 2nd Degree Criminal Trespass for occupying the office of Senator Wayne Allard in protest of the impending war in Iraq[1]

An affinity group is usually a small group of activists (usually from 3-20) who work together on direct action.

Affinity groups are organized in a non-hierarchical manner, usually using consensus decision making, and are often made up of trusted friends of a common ideology. They provide a method of organization that is flexible and decentralized.

Affinity groups can be based on a common ideology (eg. anarchism), a shared concern for a given issue (eg. anti-nuclear) or a common activity, role or skill (eg. black blocs). Affinity groups may have either open or closed membership, although the latter is far more common.



The origin of affinity groups dates back to 19th century Spain. It was the favourite way of organization by Spanish anarchists (grupos de afinidad), and had their base in the tertulias or in the local groups[2].

Affinity groups appeared again in the U.S. antiwar movement of the 1960s and 1970s. The term was used by Ben Morea and the group Black Mask. Later, anti-war activists on college campuses organized around their interests or backgrounds -- religious, gender, ethnic group, etc. They became popular in the 1970s in the anti-nuclear movement in the United States and Europe. The 30,000 person occupation and blockade of the Ruhr nuclear power station in Germany in 1969 was organized on the affinity group model.[3] [4] Today, the structure is used by many different activists: animal rights, environmental, anti-war, and anti-globalization, to name some examples.

The 1999 protests in Seattle which shut down the WTO Ministerial Conference of 1999 included coordinated organization by many clusters of affinity groups.[5]



By definition, affinity groups are autonomous. Co-ordinated effort and co-operation amongst several affinity groups, however, is often achieved by using a loose form of confederation.

  • Cluster: The cluster is the basic unit of organization amongst affinity groups. A cluster consists of several affinity groups and is organized in a non-hierarchical manner. A cluster can be permanent, but is more often an ad hoc grouping organized for one specific task or action. One can be organized around a shared goal (eg. blockading a particular road), a common ideology (e.g. the Quakers) or a place of origin.[6][7]
  • Spokescouncil: The spokescouncil is an aggregate of clusters and affinity groups. Each affinity group or cluster nominates one representative (often called a "spoke") to participate in the council. Spokescouncils are most often temporary bodies, committed to accomplishing one task or event.[8]


Affinity groups tend to be loosely organized, however there are some formal roles or positions that commonly occur. A given affinity group may have all, some or none of these positions. They may be permanent or temporary and the group may opt to take turns in these roles, or assign one role to one person.

  • Spoke: The individual charged with representing the affinity group at a spokescouncil or cluster meeting; roughly the same as a spokesman but without gender assumptions. Occasionally, the spoke will be granted a more general ambassadorial role by the affinity group.
  • Facilitator: A person or people who perform facilitation duties in consensus process of the group and also, to varying degrees, act as arbiter of internal conflicts.
  • Media contact: An individual who represents the group to the mass media. Often this individual is the same person as the Spoke.
  • Vibe watch: A person or people charged with monitoring the mood and feeling of the group. The reference is to vibrations in the colloquial emotional sense. In some affinity groups, the vibe watch is also charged with keeping the facilitator from using his or her role to favor any position or proposal.
  • Snap-decision facilitator: Also called "quick decision facilitator", this is a person charged with making decisions for the group in time-constrained or high-pressure situations. The position is rare and is almost always temporary (contrast with the pre-Imperial Roman concept of a temporary dictator).


  • Hauser, Luke Direct Action: An Historical Novel, (New York: GroundWork, 2003) 768pp. ISBN 0974019402


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