What are Affinity Groups?

C. Daw
C. Daw
Some anti-war groups can be considered affinity groups.
Some anti-war groups can be considered affinity groups.

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.

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Discussion Comments


@Fa5t3r - Affinity groups also include things like book clubs or hobby groups. They aren't just for activists. So it's definitely possible to find one in your neighborhood that is specifically what you're looking for without founding one yourself.

I find the library is a very good place to start, as they usually have a community board or calender somewhere where groups can advertise this kind of thing.


@umbra21 - I think it's mostly done through word of mouth or social networking. Affinity groups are usually quite small, so they only really have a core group of members that do a lot of organizing. It might have been that you've been to protests organized by an affinity group without actually joining the group itself.

I would suggest that anyone who wants to join an affinity group might just as well found one as try to find one where they will fit in. It's essentially a group of friends or peers who are passionate about a single cause.


I joined a few affinity groups when I was in college but I guess I haven't really been involved in any since then. I do volunteer and occasionally go to protests if I believe in the cause, but they are usually large scale events run by a national organization.

I'm not even sure how I would find out about affinity groups these days since I'm sure they can't really afford to put out expensive advertising.

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    • Some anti-war groups can be considered affinity groups.
      Some anti-war groups can be considered affinity groups.