NYC is like Crack
“Your organizing style exhausts me,” GPaul complained, and my occasionally defensive nature did not put up a struggle. Even for me this event felt a bit like a bridge too far.
NYC proved intoxicating with its density and rapid possibilities. In February, we had announced a discussion of the income sharing communities in Virginia and the new Point A project. We announced it less than a week before the event, which was on a Tuesday night, and we did not even have a venue until 3 days before the event. Still 65 people came (Facebook predicted 60). Some powerful alliances were made. At first GPaul and i thought these new connections had been more fortunate for our friends at Catalyst Community and other community/ecovillage projects which had participated in the event than they had been for us. But we were wrong.
Elena and Beatrice and Teagan and Arrow and Andrew and Jaimi from the venue we presented at, the BUZ, all were huge helps especially in networking. And in the face of this support i convinced GPaul that we should immediately turn around and do it again in March, only bigger.
This time we would announce it two weeks in advance, we would run a Friday night program of Transparency Tools by Marta and Roberto, and then 6 hours of content midday on Saturday. Internally, we referred to this as a “mini communities conference”. At the time we announced we had 6 workshops and a panel discussion on the schedule. We also only had one confirmed presenter. And since all the content was either urban or NYC specific, unlike the February event, neither GPaul nor i could facilitate the material which we had proposed.
Then NYC decided we were interesting. Three days after we announced the event nearly 100 RSVPs plus 40 maybes on Facebook were telling us they were coming. What if they all come? What if more people than this come, because there is more promotion coming and it is still 10 days away? i started seeking more content, for an event that did not have a stable group of confirmed presenters for the initial proposal. We added a Bridges to Burners workshop and one on the Lessons from Occupy as it relates to intentional community.
“Do you have a lot of money?” started one person who i was directed to as a presenter on gentrification. When i confessed that we did not, they told me that there was nothing which could be done on gentrification without it. i realized that this person was failing as an activist. When you finish your conversation with an activist you feel like there is something that you can do to make the situation better. Dis-empowering messages are the purview of policy analysts and wonks. At the least, activists have stuff they want to try. Gentrification was especially vexing because i did not have any useful experience with it and we had no direct contacts to people working the issue. I was already feeling the crash of the NYC opiate high.
Fortunately, former Twin Oaks and Acorn visitor Eman agreed to present on gentrification and multiculturalism. She simply laughed at the notion that without money we were helpless to change things. Eman is an amazing story in herself. A long time NYC community organizer and fundraiser, she has lost both her legs in the past year to a blood clotting disorder. She agreed to give the “solutions half” of the popular workshop. To get her to these workshops required me carrying her up the several flights of stairs of this non ADA compliant venue.
A week before the event Facebook was saying that we had 125 participants confirmed and almost 100 maybes. I went and did a walk through of the space and then relaxed a bit. There were additional rooms for workshops and BUZ organizer Jaimi would give up his personal room as a child care space or spare workshop space. Even if we had 175 people, we were going to have enough space for 5 concurrent good sized workshops.
It is easy for me to write up workshop descriptions and put them up on a website. It is another thing to fill the 15 odd slots on for panel discussions and workshop facilitators with knowledgeable people who present reasonably well. And then there is this little thing that i am terribly disorganized.
At the initial panel discussion, Andrew, who was working sound, asked “How many chairs and mics should we set up?” and i realized i did not know the answer to the question. One speaker had confirmed, two were maybes and several others had not responded to my inquiries. And then some people who i invited surprised me and showed up to present. In the end, five very different and quite engaging people presented.
The audience (and organizers) loved their stories. These included avoiding unrelated persons occupancy restrictions by appearing to be a family. The way the authorities determine this is if you have all your toothbrushes in the bathroom and no interior locks between bedrooms.
I have never done crack. Thirty years ago when i tried cocaine and it did not have much of an effect. My girlfriend at the time posited:
You are coke are redundant. You already have a huge ego. You already think you are unstoppable. You are already arrogant and pushy and in a huge rush.
This observation perhaps saved me from an expensive habit. But the analogy with NYC lingers. NYC comes on powerfully. It gives you the illusion you can do anything. It changes your internal clock and everything starts to go faster. And then it dumps you out the other side, often not gently.
Only 80 people came to the final event (not counting the 25 who came to Transparency Tools the night before, which was the perfect size). We lost a couple hundred dollars. But despite this attendance let down, we were all pretty satisfied with the content. And we have new respect for this complex and occasionally deceptive city.
* Wikipedia article on the Reagan Administrations confession to the CIA trafficking crack and cocaine revealed after the Iran Contra Scandal.