Affinity groups refer to small activist groups with typically five to twenty members fighting for a cause. They are autonomous, meaning that no bigger organization controls them or sets their agenda. Anyone can actually form an autonomous affinity group with their close friends, family members, neighbors, or co-workers. They can engage in activities, called “direct action,” that advance their beliefs.
Some of the activities that an affinity group typically engages in are rallies, road blockages, street theaters, tree sits, banner drops, or musical numbers in activist gatherings. They can also serve as backup for larger mass actions and other affinity groups. Some of these groups also do charitable work. An example is when medics form an affinity group to help feed street people and attend to their medical needs.
Affinity groups are effective because the members are passionate about their cause. And because they are autonomous, they can let their creativity soar without being dictated to by a formal organization that says what they can do and what they cannot do. Their creativity, independence, passion and idealism are the driving forces within an affinity group.
It also often happens that creative and artistic people make up an affinity group. As such, they can make their voices heard and noticed when they sing about their cause, make creative posters and artistic pieces. These types of actions help to drive home their message, or put up productions that showcase their talents and at the same time carry across a thoughtful message.
Affinity groups are loosely organized, with no formal hierarchy. All members treat one another as co-equals fighting for a common goal, much like comrades in a revolutionary group. But there are common roles found in most of these groups. Members can take on roles like that of a medical person, a legal observer, a media man, a traffic enforcer, and an “action elf” or “vibes watcher” — someone who generally looks after every member’s wellness by giving out water bottles, massaging backs, and cheering everyone on. Other members can provide jail support when someone in their group gets arrested. Interestingly, some members can even be the “arrest-ables” — those willing to spend some time in jail should they get picked up by the police.
Historically, affinity groups started in 19th-century in Spain. Spanish anarchists called grupos de afinidad were perhaps the first affinity groups ever. In the 1960s and 1970s, similar groups became very popular during the U.S. anti-war movement. They later became widespread on college campuses, carrying anti-war propaganda, or simply fighting for religious, gender, ethnic, and animal rights.