Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Occupy Opportunity

Ma'ikwe and I are traveling to Ann Arbor MI this weekend, to participate in the annual Institute hosted by the North American Students of Cooperation (NASCO). This will mark the 15th consecutive Institute that I've been part of the teaching faculty, and is one of the highlights on my event calendar. More than 300 students from across the US and Canada will convene at the Michigan Student Union (on the campus of the University of Michigan) for 48 hours of stimulation, education, and camaraderie. This collection represents the cream of student co-ops—those more excited about their first taste of group living than the chance for cheap housing—and gives me an opening to talk with the next generation of cooperators about the amazing possibilities in front of them after graduation.

Turn Back O Man
For many years I was partnered with my dear friend, Ann Shrader. She and I were two of the original four people at Sandhill Farm back in 1974, and we lived together there for 25 years, until she departed for Virginia in 1999. When Annie was a child, she and her siblings misheard (perhaps only partially with innocence) the opening line of the traditional Christian hymn:

Turn back, O man
Forswear thy foolish ways
Old now is earth
And none can count her days

(You may recall this hymn as it enjoyed a significant boost in popularity when featured in the Broadway hit musical Godspell in 1971.) Annie preferred to interpret the first line as "Turn back old man," which was, naturally enough, irresistible fodder for teasing for father, Bud—the nearest available old man, then in his 50s. This was so humorous (to teens, mind you) that "Bud" became
transmogrified (as opposed to transubstantiated) to "Turn Back," and that moniker stuck to the point that it was one of the most common ways she referred to her father ever after. (With stories like this, you can begin to see why people think fate is fickle.)

I told you this story because I'm now that old man (more or less), and the NASCO Institute staff decided this year to make room for new voices among the faculty, and Ma'ikwe and I have been asked to offer only a single workshop: together we'll be giving an Overview of the North American Communities Movement, and how student co-ops fit into the picture. This is down precipitously from a high water mark where Ma'ikwe and I conducted a combined eight workshops, and for the first time ever I won't be offering a single process workshop. We've been turned back, at least temporarily.

However—continuing the theme of fate's fickleness—even as one door closes, another opens. Realizing that we'd have an uncommon amount of time on our hands this coming weekend (only one workshop), Ma'ikwe had the inspiration to see if there was an Occupy Ann Arbor (there was) and then asked them if they'd be interested in some process training (they were!). As our NASCO workshop isn't until Sunday morning, this nicely fills a void in our Saturday afternoon.

Talk in the Park
Now, instead of sitting around drinking coffee at the Institute bookstore (where Community Bookshelf will be set up) waiting for students to drift in for chance conversations, Saturday afternoon we'll be in Liberty Plaza (a quarter-acre downtown park on the corner of Liberty and Division) talking about consensus and the delicacy of functioning cooperatively as a group unified in protest.

I'm glad for the chance to get up close and personal with the folks inspired to be on the streets following Occupy Wall Street, and it'll be fun to attempt to adapt consensus principles to the exigencies of in-the-street protesting (protecting the thoughtful and inclusive deliberation that is the bedrock of consensus while at the same time being able to handle the occasional need for prompt response in the face of rapidly changes circumstances, such as police intervention).

I have no idea what kind of turn out we'll get, and I'm also wondering about the weather
. We're talking November in Michigan, meeting in an outdoor concrete plaza that will be in the shade by 3 pm. Hmm. Ma'ikwe's and my ideas (and rhetoric) had better be warm. Of course, no one promised that changing the culture was going to be a walk in the park. The closest we'll get on Saturday is a talk in the park, but at least we'll have an oar in the water.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hey laird, it's Bucket.

PLEASE get this video taped and put on the web. Also, let me know if you happen to be in Maui and want to give workshops here!