"I don't need networking, I need people who are going to do shit." That was Alexis speaking, a friend and long-term activist organizer in Charlottesville, VA. I'd voiced my concern that cooperatives and collectives tend to come together around one or two highly motivated individuals, and that this ends up creating dysfunctional power dynamics down the road. "That's a 3rd or 4th tier problem," he said. "One of the cornerstone radio stations of the Pacifica network is incredibly dysfunctional, but they're why you have alternative news radio. A dysfunctional organization is better than no organization."
I reluctantly agreed, but I wasn't willing to leave it at that. What would it take for a group to come together, all of whom are motivated, responsible, and "doing shit" to for an organization? "You need a social network, otherwise people drift off when they find partners and want to have kids. That's what Kat (Kinkade - founder of Twin Oaks Community) pointed out. The only problem is you need a social network to create a social network."
"And there's the problem of economics," said Sue, co-founder of Little Flower Catholic Worker. "When people are busy getting their needs met they don't have time to do all these cool activist projects, let alone build the social network."
These two factors seem to form the crux of the problem, which, in my mind, all boils down to basic human needs, both material and social. Providing for these needs through systems and structures, organizations and institutions, that are based on a deep understanding of sustainability and justice, is both what alternative movements should be doing and what they need to be doing to grow.
And to accomplish this, yes, we need people who are going to do shit, and, I believe we need the networking, or, as my friend Jenny calls it, cross-pollinating. "It'd be great if y'all are going to start some kind of communal household that will also be a hub for the social network." Indeed, and not just for the purposes of socializing, but for bringing people together from different networks, organizations, and communities to help identify potential relationships both material and social.
Back in Portland, during a meeting I helped organize on fostering the emergence of alternative economies, Rebecca, Portland State University professor and avid anti-racism advocate, said "look, we just identified at least half a dozen organizations without even trying. I'm sure there are dozens more. Is anyone going around to these organizations and asking them what they need and what they can offer?" "Huh, no," was the cynical reply. "Why not?" "Most people involved in alternative organizations aren't interested in that stuff. They just want to focus on their group, either because their in it for the image, or the social life, or because they just want to make sure their group stays afloat."
Still, I though, someone should be asking those questions: what do you need? What can you offer? I'll be that someone. To me, this strikes at the essence of cross-pollinating, which, once Jenny articulated the concept to me last Fall, is what I realized I just do without thinking about it.
But I do agree with Alexis, we need people who are going to "do shit." If we are going to have the kind of social network and base of resources we need to grow the movement we need more nodes, we need more places for people to get involved, more places from which both relationships and projects can emerge. I'll be one of those people and I'll help create those places.
For me (not necessarily for anyone else), this is where my balance is, with my head in the clouds and my feet planted firmly in the earth, the merging of dirt and dreams. This is the work that has finally allowed me to understand the concept of having a "calling." This is the work that viscerally, I know I have to do. I've made my choice, and now I have no choice, and it is a great feeling.