We are constantly guessing when and what type of events we should be organizing in order to spark the new communities movement. This time we clearly guessed right.
We had about 70 people at this quickly organized event. We crowded the Keep with enthusiastic and chatty folks. Many were experienced community people but for most of the group this was relatively new stuff.
Lovely food and engaging conversation were had. After GPaul did a wild and woolly version of open space technology, we broke into working groups talking about:
- Community as an Agent for Healing
- Addressing Sexual Assault in Community
- Starting Community Businesses
- Starting EcoVillages
I was in the healing discussion group which was held in part in an empty Jacuzzi tub.
It was a lovely warm up for our content in NYC this coming weekend, the Community Matchmaking (see Facebook Invite) event. Here is the evolving program for that event, being held at the Brooklyn Free School.
All photos by Dragon
There were a few moments in planning for the upcoming PANYC trip that it looked like we were going to have very little space for luggage. “Let’s all travel light,” I suggested. “I can pack less than you,” Triple Threat said in that reckless manner she has. Except she can’t.
My current plan is to bring nothing.
Yes, I will have the one change of clothes on my back and carry a cell phone charger and toothbrush in my pocket- but I can do a week long trip in another city without a backpack or suitcase. In fact it is almost my preference.
You might say “But don’t you want a change of clothes?” Sure, that would be nice, and I have lots of generous friends (as almost everyone does) who are willing to put up with my slightly strange behavior so I will tell stories and do their dishes. Many of them feel good about sharing their stuff- no one ever asks, so they don’t get a chance to show up in this way. A few years back I made a New Years resolution to travel without luggage, though I could not pull it off consistently. But in a pinch, no problem.
Trip never had a chance.
“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.
i hate mission statements. The business press is clear that i am a fool in this believe because virtually everything written about mission statements harps on how important they are, how they help direct and guide people in the company, how you can’t really succeed unless you have a carefully crafted mission statement.
i have been involved with well meaning board members who drafted or recrafted mission statements. i have been involved with dozens of organizations (both for profit and non profit) which have mission statements. i have never once seen a mission statement used to solve a problem or direct a decision. As best i can tell, they get written (often by too many people) and then they get ignored. They are, as best i can tell, a complete waste of time.
But people love them, including clever people who i like and work with. When we started talking about forming a new urban high achievement oriented community – which is currently called Point A – there was a call for a mission statement. i just let go of my resistance and helped make it happen.
Point A – Mission and Commitment
To create a community that:
- Inspires and supports high achievement by the community and its members.
- Propagates itself by spinning off new communities.
- Balances the success of the community with the mandate to radically transform and improve the world.
High achievement means significantly contributing to constructive, extroverted, endeavors. Bringing out the new world that lives in our hearts and making a post-revolutionary paradise for ourselves is not enough. We seek change towards greater humanity and sustainability not just in our lives but in the lives of everyone. The commitment is to be a force pushing for positive change in the world.
High achievement requires high communication. Effective decision systems are of necessity rich/high bandwidth communication environments. On the personal relationship development side we will need to agree on some tool kit which could be transparency tools or landmark or something which MBAs use that we dont know about. The commitment is to be in a dynamic conversation about the needs and desires of both the individuals and the group and be committed to action and experiments which fill those needs and desires.
Communiversity: Incubating new communities requires an openness to people outside the residential collective and a willingness to teach and mentor them and learn from them. This part of the project could specialize in assisting with launching economic engines for groups. Modeling successful resource and money management will thus be a high value. The commitment is to look for allies who want to start innovative communities and figure out how we can mutually reach the goals.
Responsibility for more than our footprint. We propose that the community improve the world, and to do so the community must be successful in its mission which will require intelligent tradeoffs.. We recognize our obligation to be advancing improvements which have great leverage. Sharing systems, libraries, labor banks, sustainable manufacturing, clean energy production, worker coops and gift based economic models all likely have a role in this. The commitment is to do an analysis of impact and accessibility and figure out which of these systems makes the most sense to deploy first and what the plan is for likely future systems implementation.
This is clearly not the crowd to do a reality show with. Perhaps 15 of the 19 people assembled thought the values or impact of a reality television production crew filming was not worth whatever we might get paid.
This group of prospective urban communards were also into living with children and somehow under this topic pets got snuck into the conversation, lots of dog and cat lovers in this group as well.
We did spend several minutes talking about governance models including:
- Dictatorship of the proletariat
- Responsible Anarchy
- Self selected troika
The dictatorship of the proletariat was a joking Marx reference. The self selecting troika was poking fun at Rez, GPaul and myself as initial organizers. We did not really have anyone advocating for democracy, as in voting systems. There is some level of broad cultural agreement between these participants that consensus was the way to go. Many had experienced C. T. Butler’s conventional consensus. I pitched my favorite pieces of sociocracy (quick reaction rounds and the desirability candidate selection models) which basically includes consensus. But really, for an item as powerful as decision making the group seemed broadly satisfied with some flavor of everyone agrees or stands aside plus advanced communication tools.
We worked for 5 hours, touched on a myriad of topics from food to income engines to community projects and space needs and group fun. We broke within minutes of our agreed completion time. Most people seemed quite satisfied with the meeting, and research and networking next steps were agreed on before our next planned February meeting.
And as is often the case at these meetings some of the most important conversations took place after the meeting. Jas talked about his work on climate disruption and we ran fantasies of a Point A incarnation that was running multiple styles of campaigns on sustainable electricity generation and carbon abatement. The advantage of selecting climate disruption as the issue (“climate change” is way out, in that it is a deceptively soothing name for a jarring problem) is there are so many handles to grab it with. Everything from cargo bikes, to urban wind and solar stations, to working on broader campaigns against specific dirty facilities or in favor of a carbon tax.
And while this talk was exciting and inspiring, the most important of all perhaps was with Steve at 4 AM. He wants to start scouting. I talked about Can Masdeu in Barcelona, where they searched for a year until they finally found an abandoned hospital, which they squatted and still control now a decade later. Steve and i were in agreement that we wanted to come through the front door (be legal and present as we are) but Steve and i both started getting excited about an abandoned hospital in DC which is right near a metro station.
Zero net carbon footprint low cost housing anyone?
[Edited by Judy Youngquest]