Recent Changes Camp in Portland, OR

We’re making final preparations and packing bags this week for RecentChangesCamp in Portland at the end of this week. The conference, with a sub-theme of Building Communities Worth Having, seeks to connect tech tools like wiki and community organizing activists/activities. We’re running it in Open Space and posting our proceedings here. There’s still time to register (it’s a free, community event!) if you’d like to join us.

I’ll be running up to Seattle to visit with a number of friends and colleagues there, next week. Might be light blogging for the next couple weeks.

Food Security Summit

Reporting today from Day Two of the Rockford and Four Rivers Regional Food Security Summit, the latest in a line of events that dates back to the original summit that was convened in Open Space by the Chicago Community Trust in November, 2001.

More than 60 people, ordinary citizens that is, have gathered here at Rockford College, raised and discussed more than 30 issues, including land use, farming and gardening, food pantries, organics, community education, marketing, school lunches, fair trade, among many others.

We are using a weblog to post all of the proceedings and will be experimenting with that as a platform for sustained community action. There’s a lot of life in this circle. Maybe it’s all the organic food. Whatever the explanation, meetings like this give me hope for the future.

The Undividing Life

Wendy Morris called this week, out of the blue. I love calls like this. We talked for 2 hours and made more connections than I can count. Friends, colleagues, teachers, clients, work, practice… overlaps everywhere.

We covered a lot of ground talking about the potential for connecting foundations and their grantees — neighborhood, youth and arts organizations — in ongoing Community open space, supported by training so that folks could keep it going without us. Who might want to make to this connecting and capacity-building in Chicago?

Today I checked out her website and found that it’s quite the work of art: the undivided life. Hoping we’ll yet find a way to work together, undividing community.

Hmmm… I might just make “undividing community” my working theme this year. Thanks, Wendy!

Building Communities Worth Having

You are invited to Building Communities Worth Having, and Open Space Conference, February 3-5 in Portland Oregon. Friends and colleagues Ted Ernst and Brandon Saunders are co-convening this event, and have asked me to facilitate. I’m glad to be along for the ride with them. If you’re anywhere involved in “The Movement” (place-based, cyber-space and/or face-to-face) for building a better world, we’d be glad to have you join us!

It’s being co-sponsored by IBESI, OSDL, ICANNWiki, SocialText

UPDATE: new sponsor… ATLASSIAN

Cultivating Grassroots

Chris Macrae has an interesting (and complex) web of blogs on sustainability, grassroots, value, trust-flows, globalization and more. This is an interesting entry point: Searching 30000 Grassroots Projects for Humanity by 2010.

Some of the projects listed are not what I would expect in a list of “grassroots”, but maybe the definition is up for review, toward a marriage of corporate and community activity. I guess my own definition still revolves around local, individual responsibility and action, driven and directed by personal passion rather than organizational strategy. Even if organized strategies do emerge.

Grameen Bank would be an example of local, personal initiative snowballing to the level of global organization. Their core work is still driven by and grounded in personal responsibility for local lending and administration. I’m less clear about whether the activities of private citizen and former president Bill Clinton qualify as grassroots efforts, even as I suspect they do much good. And what of experiments like Is there a minimum threshold for initiative?

Catalytic Communities is something that absolutely qualifies as a genuine, and effective, grassroots effort. Let’s not forget that they still need a few dozen supporters by Saturday, 31-December to pledge $10 per month to cover core funding for 2006. Please join us in pledging, if you can.


Small Change Feeds/Needs Global Community — Now Offers Free Trip

What a deal. Pledge $10 a month to support a fantastic community program, and if 199 others do the same, you could win a free trip to Rio. Doing good doesn’t get much better than this. What’s more, 133 people have already signed up, so only 66 more needed — but the deadline is NOW — December 31st!

The goal is to raise core funding for Catalytic Communities, founded by my friend Theresa Williamson, to serve some of the poorest parts of Rio and replicate their successes around the world. It’s as simple as $10 a month!

CatComm is developing, inspiring and empowering a global network of communities to generate and share solutions. CatComm connects communities through spaces both physical and virtual. The “Casa” model networking hub in Rio de Janeiro offers a space for face-to-face events and Web access for community leaders across that metro region. A Community Solutions Database and other online tools make searchable, detailed, community-generated solutions to everyday challenges available across languages and borders.

Join us, if you can, in supporting this good work — and if we reach 200 pledges, you might get to go see it for yourself, in Rio. This is SmallChangeNews at it’s best.

Please do link to this, and spread it around, if you can!


Harold Pinter: Upon Us All

Some days ago, I received from my friend Tim Reeves a copy of the speech delivered by Harold Pinter on the occasion of his recent receipt of the Nobel Literature Prize. Pinter is a famous british playwriter, born in London of jewish descent, and has long been a human rights activist. His biography and a bit of his speech…

…As a citizen I must ask: What is true? What is false? Truth in drama is forever elusive. You never quite find it but the search for it is compulsive. The search is clearly what drives the endeavour. The search is your task. More often than not you stumble upon the truth in the dark, colliding with it or just glimpsing an image or a shape which seems to correspond to the truth, often without realising that you have done so…

…I have often been asked how my plays come about. I cannot say… Most of the plays are engendered by a line, a word or an image. The given word is often shortly followed by the image… The first line of The Homecoming is ‘What have you done with the scissors?’ The first line of Old Times is ‘Dark.’ In each case I had no further information…

…A writer’s life is a highly vulnerable, almost naked activity. We don’t have to weep about that. The writer makes his choice and is stuck with it. But it is true to say that you are open to all the winds, some of them icy indeed. You are out on your own, out on a limb. You find no shelter, no protection – unless you lie – in which case of course you have constructed your own protection and, it could be argued, become a politician…

…I believe that despite the enormous odds which exist, unflinching, unswerving, fierce intellectual determination, as citizens, to define the real truth of our lives and our societies is a crucial obligation which devolves upon us all. It is in fact mandatory…

What have you done? Dark. Truth. Obligation. No further information. 2006. Is Upon Us…


Virtual Disaster Relief

This from Dina

I’ve been taking turns manning the virtual call centre we have set up using Skype… What amazes me though, is that I can volunteer my time, sitting in my living room at home in Mumbai India, and be of use to help those seeking information about their loved ones who are missing on that other side of the world.

via Chris


New Social Models

Dave Pollard posting some guiding principles for Next-Society Models. Among a nice round list of 11 principle characteristics, I especially like his suggestion that new social models should be replicable but not necessarily scalable:

If the model only works in special rare circumstances, it’s probably not a very useful model. But there is some evidence that small is beautiful, and some of the best models in the world just don’t scale. In that case, don’t make ’em bigger, just make more of ’em. The Waldorf schools might never scale to a centralized global system, but they seem to work very well as a replicable, tweakable model.

Was surprised to see that Dave had eluded the net of my blogroll. That’s been fixed, under Blogs. See also a whole new blogroll section called Gifts. Many of the things listed there are indeed replicable, if not scalable. Remarkable, as well.

How To Help

I’ve been thinking a lot about how to help. And reading many people and pieces that point in various ways to the problems caused (or just not solved) by the provision of services. Meanwhile, the service providers are screaming that only they know how to do it right. It seems that little people taking direct care of other little people in need, in all their messy and creative little ways, is confusing for professionals following Plans and Procedures. I hope David Brin is right about the coming Age of Amateurs, when we will all reclaim our right, responsibility and regular practice of providing for ourselves, and each other, things like grief counseling and disaster support.

When the floods came to NOLA, I suggested to my mom that she ask around for friends of friends who might need help. Within just a few hours, two different neighbors happened to mention having people down there. It turns out that one of them had already given to the Red Cross. She’s got a brother-in-law down in NOLA, but the conditioned response was to give to the anonymous agency rather than give to family. I’d like to see us reclaim for ourselves our own abilities to do good. Not buy or hire or lend or deliver good. To actually do it, feel it, see it happening, for ourselves and others.

Mulling too many pieces of community research, policy debate and current events to link it all here, but this from Ram Dass via Chris and Nipun sums it well:

As chaos increases – and there’s a lot of inertia in the system that seems to suggest that is the direction we’re going in – it behooves us to prepare ourselves to ride the changes. If, in the face of uncertainty, people are busy holding onto something, the fear increases, then the contraction increases, and prejudice increases. The question is, what are you adding to the system to shift the balance? What you’re adding is yourself, and what yourself has to be is somebody who can handle uncertainty and chaos without contracting… I’ve gotten over the feeling of being somebody special… I help people as a work on myself and I work on myself to help people.

What more can I say? How can I help?

Deschooling Society

When 9.11 happened, I treated it like any other moment of Open Space, any other gathering of attention in which nobody knew what would happen and everybody wanted it to go well. I looked for ways that I, myself just one little individual, but in a web of other good folk, could learn and contribute to the good. One result was that I pulled out a training program that had been in the drawer for four years, untried, and within a year offered that program on four continents.

As I watch New Orleans unfolding (or getting soggy and collapsing) I find a similar sort of activation rising. McKnight, quoted yesterday, leads me to Ivan Illich, who has been sitting in my drawer, so to speak for at least four years, probably since I met Chris Corrigan about that long ago. This morning, Wikipedia offers this intro to Illich:

Universal education through schooling is not feasible. It would be no more feasible if it were attempted by means of alternative institutions built on the style of present schools. Neither new attitudes of teachers toward their pupils nor the proliferation of educational hardware or software (in classroom or bedroom), nor finally the attempt to expand the pedagogue’s responsibility until it engulfs his pupils’ lifetimes will deliver universal education. The current search for new educational funnels must be reversed into the search for their institutional inverse: educational webs which heighten the opportunity for each one to transform each moment of his living into one of learning, sharing, and caring. More Illich…

This starts to sound a lot like my own roots in Outward Bound founded by another radical educator, Kurt Hahn. Funny that I was visiting several of the old (and original) Outward Bound schools this summer in the UK. And not surprising that when, a couple days ago, I pencilled out my first draft outline of how I might do more to teach and support relearning in/of community, it too looked rather Outward Boundy. My notes on that, forthcoming under the working title of Ready for Anything, is really a list of webs. Imagine that.

The Careless Society

The events in New Orleans — weather, community, government and media — have me re-reading John McKnight’s Careless Society: Community and It’s Counterfeits

Service systems can never be reformed so that they will “produce” [or even “deliver”] care. Care is the consenting commitment of citizens to one another. Care cannot be produced, provided, managed, organized, administered, or commodified. Care is the only thing a system cannot produce. Every institutional effort to replace the real thing is a counterfeit.

Care is, indeed, the manifestation of a community. The community is the site for the relationships of citizens. And it is at this site the the primary work of a caring society must occur. If that site is invaded, co-opted, overwhelmed, an dominated by service-producing institutions, then the work of the ocmmunity will fail. And that failure is manifest in families collapsing, schools failing, violence spreading, medical systems spinning out of control, justice systems becoming overwhelmed, prisons burgeoning, and human services degenerating.

New Orleans under water sounds like a fast-forward version of this loss of care. And the scary thing about it, the nagging sensation that permeates our watching, is that we know that our own communities of care have also been decimated by institutionalization, professionalization, monetization into “services” of what used to be simple, powerful community practice.

We used to know things, in the places where we live. Now we might not even know many of the people. In this way, many many of us are living below sea level. McKnight’s response? Asset-Based Community Development.

UPDATE: via The Independent

… Although a government exercise last year predicted the course of the disaster, Mr Bush drastically cut back spending on city defences. Work on strengthening vital levees needed to keep out flood water stopped for the first time in 37 years.

What else, if not “careless?”

What FEMA Just Can’t Buy

Earlier this morning I read a story about a New Orleans father who injured his hand when he used it to break a window in his house, to get on the roof with his family. The story describes his wife’s blood pressure meds being “all stuck together” after the rains. I’ve been in the wilderness. I know that shit happens, and problems escalate. But I just can’t imagine having no better way to break a window and keep medicine dry. What’s more, these folks got stuck in town because he thought he didn’t have room in his car for everyone he needed to take, and he’d heard the police were arresting people. The story doesn’t say arresting for what.

Here’s an entirely different response:

Eighteen-year-old Jabbor Gibson jumped aboard the bus as it sat abandoned on a street in New Orleans and took control. The teen packed it full of complete strangers (100 or more) and drove to Houston. He beat thousands of evacuees slated to arrive there. “It’s better than being in New Orleans,” said fellow passenger Albert McClaud, “we want to be somewhere where we’re safe.”

“I just took the bus and drove all the way here…seven hours straight,’ Gibson admitted. “I hadn’t ever drove a bus.
I dont care if I get blamed for it ,” Gibson said, “as long as I saved my people.”

They say he might be in big trouble. I sure hope not. FEMA can never buy effectiveness like this kid, and won’t ever be able to pull enough of the other folks off of their roofs into hospitals.

The Beginning of the End?

Already it seems to me that New Orleans must someday be called the beginning of the end.

The city of almost one half million people is among the poorest in the nation. I can’t remember if it was 25% or 30% living below the poverty line, compared to 17% in Chicago and 9% nationally. Clearly we have not been able to eliminate poverty in how many years of government initiatives in this direction. So how could we ever wipe out its implications in the 2-3 days warning before the storm?

Everywhere we look, people are criticizing FEMA, but the primary response is supposed to be directed by state and local governments. And on a practical level, even in the poorest places, evacuation and relief must come from local associations. Where are the church buses? If they all got out of town full-up with people, that would be perfect, but I suspect not.

RFK Jr. and some others have decried 44% federal cuts in flood management and prevention funding in the last few years, and of course the National Guard is already quite busy in Iraq. People have been questioning those decisions for the last 3-4 years, and rightly so. It would be better to have had the funding and people committed to this scene, already knowing 4 years ago that this was one of the 3 top disaster potentials in the whole country.

And yet, if there is a failure in the whole scheme, it must be on the evacuation side. The buildings were always going to get creamed, but the people should have been out. Everyone is blaming the federal government, but much of what needed to happen is simply beyond the reach of government. And will be more and more beyond reach in the coming years.

House Speaker Dennis Hastert has already suggested that New Orleans not be rebuilt. I can’t ever remember agreeing with the man, until now. What he says makes some sense. We have limits, physical and economic. Period. Even if we manage to clean it up and rebuild, it’s still 8 or more feet below sea level and still sitting in the path of massive storms. This is the 6th in 100 years. It’ll go down again and again. This time or next time, no matter, one of these days we’re simply not going to have the money to rebuild.

We’re not going to have the money to do a lot of things at the federal level in the coming years. We’re going to lose our grip on drug and other healthcare costs, the value of the dollar, the price of oil, the solvency of social security, the rate of immigration, the ravages of a rising sea and shifting tectonic plates. If 9-11 made it all to clear that we are actually part of the rest of the world, Katrina (if not already Iraq) will teach us that we are not in control of much of it.

The only solution must be an active cultivation of individual, personal and direct responsibility and contribution. Everybody pays attention. Everybody helps out. Everybody is responsible for getting and keeping themselves out of danger. And everything that the federal government does is gravy.

And to be clear, I don’t see this as a step back, but a step forward for us all, albeit a long and difficult one to make. Or maybe it’s a very short one. What can you do? Who do you know? Everybody knows somebody down that way. Six degrees of separation might mean that we’ve all got a one-in-six chance of being the ones on the front line. And there are going to be more than six shots fired.

We’re all in this together. And last I checked, despite the wobbling, we are still a democracy, which means we are the federal government. All of us. Let’s get it in session! …and get it in gear! This end must be our beginning.

How to Help in New Orleans

This from the Philanthropic Enterprise email discussion group today…

The Mennonite Disaster Service is highly recommended by the American Friends Service Committee as being the best, most experienced disaster relief organization dealing with housing, the very needy, and US situatins. The web site is They are viewed as being much less constrained by institutional barriers than the other charities, and far more able to get to the truly destitute who do not trust readily.

That said, I still like the idea of friends helping friends of friends. If there’s no admin cost involved, person-to-person, then there’s no need for tax deductibility. Just give, you know, the old fashioned way, without a receipt. Here, for instance, is the campaign for my friend Rose Vines. Her house is a few blocks from the wet side of the picture in the last post.

Report from New Orleans

This e-mail from a New Orleans pathologist comes via a friend of mine, via family and collegial connections, and paints a pretty real picture:

Aug. 31, 2005

Thanks to all of you who have sent your notes of concern and your prayers. I am writing this note on Tuesday at 2 p.m.. I wanted to update all of you as to the situation here. I don’t know how much information you are getting but I am certain it is more than we are getting. Be advised that almost everything I am telling you is from direct observation or rumor from reasonable sources. They are allowing limited internet access, so I hope to send this dispatch today.

Read more… View WWL-TV slideshow… An public blog for news and photos… Give money for my friend Rose Vines who works for Sister Helen Prejean (yes, of dead man walking, death penalty opposition fame)… both evacuated safely but with only the clothes on their backs. Rose lives two blocks to the left in this picture, one of two main breaks…

Seems like everybody ought to have friends of friends of friends in the area. Seems like a ton of ‘aid’ could just go through these personal channels. Hope so.

Praxis and Now

In a remarkable recent thread of email discussion, hosted by Lenore Ealy, a number of brilliant and passionate folk have been working the landscape of progressive, green, fundamentalist, liberal, conservative, feudal, enlightenment and other bits of polarity, mostly acknowledging the awful muddiness these terms have become.

In the midst of this, two one-liners popped out:

Chris Corrigan asked (if) how all the naming, mapping and remapping can lead to a “Praxis of Care.” What a fine phrase this is. Passion bounded by responsibility, run through the poetry mill.

To which David Brin eventually offered, “The real axis is between past and future.” The only polarity that matters; it certainly cuts through the mud on the map.

If the past is gone and the future ain’t quite here, then the healing (wholing) practice must be Now?

Community Networking Conference

Originally posted to sCNN – the smallChangeNewsNetwork

Michael Maranda, CHICAGO: Greetings to all on the planning committee for the 7th Community Networking Conference, scheduled for the end of April, 2005.

Although not quite 2 months remain before we convene “Open Space Austin” we feel that this is the right time for this event. We have much to do as leaders, visionaries, activists and advocates in the field of Community ICT, and now is the time to get to it.

A draft of the vision that has emerged is available here on the wiki. Questions and comments are welcome!

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