*THE FOLLOWING DOCUMENT IS AN EXCERPT FROM A TERM PAPER WRITTEN BY EMILY CARPENTER AND SPENCER MANN IN APRIL 2004 FOR “LOCAL & COMMUNITY ACTIVISM”, A COMMUNITY ORGANIZING COURSE TAUGHT BY ERIC SHRAGGE THROUGH CONCORDIA UNIVERSITY. LESSONS FOR MUCS Throughout much of the reading and discussion for the class Emily and I often found our minds wandering and would have to reread sentences or paragraphs or shake our focus back to the classroom. This was not the wandering of dull and heavy eyes or bored daydreams, it was a fast, passionate, and intense journey of creative and critical thought inspired by almost every paragraph in the reading and every concept from class. When learning from within the heart of a project and community as we were, nothing was abstract. Everything presented in readings and discussion was tangible, graspable, and sharp; cutting into the theory and practice of the McGill Urban Community Sustainment Project. We hope that this section of our paper will serve as a record of every time our minds leapt off the page or out of the classroom, in pursuit of a MUCS inspiration or epiphany. There were far too many of these creative leaps to retrace and present them all individually so we‘ve tried to organize these new thoughts into major lessons for MUCS grouped under the themes ORGANIZATIONAL STRUCTURE, FUNDING, DIVERSITY, POWER, and SOCIAL CHANGE. ORGANIZATIONAL STRUCTURE Since the first informal conversations that spawned the original MUCS Vision, the McGill Urban Community Sustainment Project has constantly struggled with how to organize people, resources, communication, power, and decision-making. Critical discussion and reflection on the MUCS organizational structure has been a continuous, almost day-to-day process involving many perspectives. The project‘s rapid evolution and steep learning curve over the year and a half since its conception has meant frequent redefinition of goals, members, and actions. In this constant rethinking and redefining process new perspectives and new models of organizing and action have had a refreshing and powerful influence. Our experience in SCPA 398: Community and Local Activism has exposed the MUCS project to a broad range of organizing structures presented in case studies and analysis of community movements. These case studies and analysis have brought a new approach and a new organizing vision to the MUCS project with implications for many aspects of the MUCS organizational structure. People The MUCS project began as campus-based student group with a vision for a co- operative and ecological residence for both students and Montreal citizens. The Project is now growing beyond the bounds of McGill University to include the participation of families, singles, couples, elders, community organizers, and practicing professionals as well as students and faculty from other Montreal Universities. This diverse group of people brings a broad range of needs and abilities to the MUCS Project and demands changes in the ways people meet, communicate, work, socialize, and support each other in MUCS. The current culture and practice of MUCS reinforces student participation in the project, but leaves our work and the community we are building inaccessible to non- students. For instance the timing, location, language, facilitation, and decision making practices in MUCS meetings exclude the participation of families because we do not provide childcare, elderly because meeting spaces are not handicap accessible, low- income people because we speak in middleclass language, Francophones because meetings are facilitated in English, and the NDG community in general because we meet far from NDG. In order to encourage and enable the involvement of everybody who is excited about the MUCS project and wants to join us in our work we need to think critically and carefully about the ‗invisible walls‘ in the MUCS Organizational structure. In her book Bridging the Class Divide and Other Lessons for Grassroots Organizing, Linda Stout identifies four invisible walls: the wall of language, the wall of assumptions of knowledge, the wall of simple logistics, and the wall of meeting format and organizational structure. Many different people already want to get involved in MUCS and it is our job to understand and tear down visible and invisible barriers to enable this diversity of people to build the MUCS project together. Communication The MUCS Project already uses many different methods of communication from email lists to potlucks to phone calls to general meetings to workshops and popular education. At times communication in MUCS is smooth and strong and at other times it is rough and unreliable. Different communication media are more effective for different purposes and for different groups of people, but in general some communication strategies work and some do not. Since the goal of MUCS is to begin building a strong community it is also important to be critical of media that communicate information, but weaken interpersonal bonds. Effective forms of communication in community organizing vary, but tend to emphasize the importance of direct person-to-person communication and the relationships it builds. Tactics such as door knocking, block meetings, and building off of other social gatherings and traditions are all effective means of bringing people together and creating interpersonal relationships and trust. Community organizing maintains this emphasis on the person-to-person even at larger scales and in support of different purposes. To spread awareness and information, community movements utilize direct communication through popular education workshops and forums. Power to bring about social change does not lie in internet petitions or boardroom meetings but in the power of people to mobilize people; ‗people vote with their feet‘. Resources Though a young organization, MUCS has already managed to gather a substantial resource base of allies, materials, space, and funding. Many of the Project‘s strongest resources lie outside of traditional organizational models and are currently poorly utilized. It is only as MUCS evolves away from corporate, government, and other conventional models that we begin to discover an alternative resource base and new organizational strength. For example, MUCS volunteers barter odd-jobs and minor repairs in exchange for the Project‘s office and meeting space in the McGill School of Environment. MUCS is also developing similar barter relationships to provide housing to summer volunteers and food to grassroots community allies. In this search for alternative resources we must find a balance between the strengths of other organizing models and the strengths of our own community and creativity. As Linda Stout explains in relation to the Piedmont Peace Project, ―We have taken pieces from other models when they worked for us, and we‘ve discarded pieces and replaced them when we could see they were not right for us.‖ Decision Making The MUCS Vision was born from consensus and its strength and effectiveness is continually renewed by this same approach to discussion and decision making. So far consensus in the MUCS Project has been a clear goal and theory, but has operated informally in practice. The unstructured and relatively conflict-free consensus experience in MUCS has been possible due to the similar values and views of those involved in the project, the nature of decisions which had to be reached, and the practice of most proposals coming from a powerful and articulate leader after many hours of careful internal thought. As more diverse individuals and groups become involved in the MUCS Project and as the base of leadership and power is broadened, the consensus process will become more challenging and conflict will become deeper and more frequent. Transparent and carefully structured meetings and decision-making processes will be needed to guide the MUCS project through conflict and to ensure that MUCS remains accessible to a diversity of people and perspectives. As MUCS develops a framework for decision- making, the project should also learn from past community organizing models and weigh the strengths and weaknesses of consensus or voting as well as the benefits of heavy or light organizational structures. The following is a proposal for facilitation roles and a consensus decision making process based on the experiences of intentional communities, community organizations, and our discussions in class regarding what makes a good meeting: Facilitation Roles: GUIDE: It is the responsibility of the guide to familiarize themselves with the agenda before the meeting and to keep discussion and decision-making focused on agenda items throughout the meeting. The guide will also serve as the overall meeting timekeeper and will proactively intervene to bring issues to closure when discussions stretch on longer for longer than the time allotted. SHEPHERD: It is the responsibility of the Shepherd to pass the speaking turn at the meeting carefully and equitably around the MUCS group. This involves taking careful note of the nature of contributions from all participants and striving to maintain a diversity and equality of opportunity for discussion contribution for all participants. For example if participant W tends dominate the conversation at the expense of other participants, then the Shepherd may adopt an approach to speaking rights that privileges the contributions of other participants over those of participant W. The Shepherd may pass the space to speak around the circle through such means as: 1. Speakers Stack in which participants indicate their desire to speak and are placed on a speakers list to be called on in turn. 2. Go-around in which the turn to speak is passed circularly around the group with the option to pass. 3. Duck Duck Goose in which the Shepherd passes the turn to speak around the group at random or at their discretion. SCRIBE: It is the responsibility of the scribe to carefully note the details of discussion and decisions from the meeting and to post these notes in a public accessible place and email them to the group after the meeting. It is also the responsibility of the scribe to work out and record the official wording of MUCS proposals or decisions. Consensus Decision Making: 100% CONSENSUS: MUCS decisions are reached only after 100% consensus because we co-operatively hold serious responsibilities and it is important for all of us to solidly agree on decisions that are reached so that we feel good about the consequences of those decisions. 100% consensus also creates a formal space for any dissenting perspective to be fully communicated and explored by the group. 1. When a proposal is made at a meeting it is up to the GUIDE to call for consensus on the proposal. 2. Consensus hand signs can be used to quickly get a feel of feelings of the group. Signs may include: thumb up, palm up, palm down, thumb down, fist (meaning rephrase the question), get to the point, hurry up, and direct response. 3. Those that do not fully support the proposal, especially those with thumbs or palms down are asked to explain their position and feelings on the proposal and to propose a compromise or alternative. 4. After discussion the Guide again calls for consensus on one of the alternative proposals. 5. If these rounds of consensus and discussion stretch on for too long on one issue, the Guide should propose that the issue be revisited at the next meeting or in a space outside of meetings. 6. It is crucial that everyone participating in consensus is encouraged to block decisions that they do not agree with so that alternative ideas are given space for consideration. 7. It is crucial that those blocking decisions propose alternatives. FUNDING Many of the conservative shifts in community organizing over the last four decades can be strongly linked to funding. Direct Action organizing work in the 60s and 70s was able to maintain a broad critical analysis and work to challenge fundamental power structures at a large scale because of the flexibility of funding available in that era. As funders began to limit support for advocacy and organizing work in the 80s and instead prioritized service provision, a similar shift occurred in the practice of community groups. Today there is less funding available, less flexibility in the limited support that does exist, and overall funding priorities that favor Community Economic Development (CED) and community service. These trends in funding and community organizing practice illustrate the powerful pressures that funding can exert on social movements. As the MUCS Project becomes increasingly dependent on a larger funding base and as the Project begins to raise funds for the long-term construction of the MUCS building we must think critically about the pressures that come with each funding source. MUCS is currently engaged in organizational fundraising – personnel costs, operating budget, and events – as well as realizational fundraising – the down payment necessary to finance a mortgage to construct or purchase and renovate the MUCS building. Soliciting Funds Government: Governmental funding is available at the national, provincial, and municipal level and is distributed through many different programs. Several government funding programs that are being considered by MUCS include: Co-operative Economic Development funds, SHQ social or co-operative housing funds, funding through environment programs, and the CMHC seed money and demonstration project funding. Main issues to consider with these sources of funding are: competition with other social housing projects, financial support limited to construction budgets, financial support limited to ecological aspects of the project, and hierarchical organizational framework necessitated by federal incorporation as a co-operative. Foundations: The mission and work of the MUCS project fulfills the criteria of many social and ecological foundations. However the research and analysis of prospective foundations has not progressed beyond basic information on mandate and type of funding available. Private Donations: MUCS is already in contact with several wealthy individuals who have indicated an interest in the project. Concerns with private donations include: the source of the donor‘s wealth (e.g. Shell), the true intentions and motivations of the donor, financial dependence on an individual, and strings that may come attached to the funding. Corporate Donations: The largest pool of funding available for the MUCS Project appears to be the support of corporate donations for environmental or community-based development initiatives. Members of the MUCS Project have already voiced major concerns with corporate financing including the source of the money, the strings that come attached to the money, and implicit support of oppressive and destructive corporate behavior. Institutional Support: Since the birth of the MUCS Project, McGill University has been discussed as a potential source of major financial support. Concerns with institutional support also revolve around the pressures or strings that may come attached to the funding and the long-term relationship of control or dependence that may result from a single donation. Student Support: Several university movements and projects have relied on financial support generated through a student referendum. A successful student referendum could provide a long-term, stable base of funding for the MUCS Project and could also help to increase student awareness of our goals and work. The main issue with a student referendum is increasing the already heavy load of student debt. Co-operative Donations: One of the brilliant innovations and strengths of housing co-operatives is that co-ops can and often do act as sources of funding for the creation of new co-ops. Once a housing co-op has paid off its mortgage, operating expenses become quite low and the co-op can choose to drop rent to almost nothing, or to maintain a modest rent for the purpose of accumulating capital. This capital is collectively controlled by the co-op and represents a grassroots accumulation of financial resources. Though the resources that one co-op offers may not be substantial, when many co-ops pool these resources they can be a substantial source of financial support. The major concerns with co-operative funding are competition with other co-ops as well as the fact that co-ops may exert funding pressure just like corporations or individuals. Barter Housing: The Co-op Genereux is a 15 person housing intentional community in the Plateau that was created to allow people to live and learn through many aspects of the MUCS Project in their day to day lives. The Co-op Genereux remains a strong center of action and learning for the MUCS Project and has maintained close ties to the larger project. MUCS frequently uses the co-op as a meeting and gathering space and over the summer at least one MUCS volunteer will barter their work for MUCS in exchange for free room and board at the co-op. Food: Through the Project‘s relationship to the Co-op Genereux MUCS has also developed a relationship to the Food Liberation Army (FLA). The FLA is a loose collective of students and members of the Montreal community who practice urban food harvesting through dumpster-diving and donations. MUCS and the FLA have collaborated in the past around specific events and in the future MUCS hopes to develop stronger ties to the FLA. Learning: One of the most effective barter strategies employed by MUCS has been in the form of academic design work through McGill. The MUCS Project builds relationships with professors and administrators and develops pathways for students to earn credit for engaging in academic MUCS design work. This strategy has allowed over 80 students and faculty to contribute to the MUCS vision and design. Experience: Learning and evolution are central principles of the MUCS Vision. The unique and challenging work of MUCS as well as this focus on learning has led MUCS to take the time to work with people to develop individual capacities and skills. In this way every volunteer experience with MUCS is guaranteed to be a valuable learning experience and not just busy work. Strong interpersonal relationships and efforts to build community now also make MUCS work enjoyable and valuable on a social level. Services: Over the last year the MUCS Project has survived and thrived because of a strong reciprocal service relationship with the McGill School of Environment. In exchange for meeting and office space as well as access to computers, printers, a photocopier, and a fax machine, MUCS volunteers have winterized the MSE building, collected one sided paper for printing, and volunteered in phonathons to thank MSE donors. Generating Funds Benefit Shows: In an effort to generate our own organizational funds the MUCS Project has hosted MUCS JAMS (benefit shows at local Montreal clubs.) The success of MUCS JAMS has been limited so far because of limited preparation and outreach for the event. However, if MUCS works more closely with musically passionate and connected people in the future and invests more time in preparation, MUCS JAMS could become a significant portion of operational fundraising. Teaching/Consulting/Contracting: As the MUCS Project continues to build a unique base of expertise in sustainable design, ecological construction, and community building, MUCS staff and volunteers may begin to support themselves by teaching these skills to others. The MUCS Baking Collective: Over the summer MUCS will be working to develop a collective food gathering and baking business. This collective enterprise will connect many different food related groups around McGill and Montreal to generate baked goods to sell to McGill students and to cook prepared meals for grassroots community groups that are working with MUCS. DIVERSITY When we introduce the MUCS Project to someone new, the Project‘s goal of building a demographically diverse community usually elicits one of two responses. Some people automatically say, ―Yes, of course, that makes perfect sense,‖ and many say, ―Sounds like a nice idea, but why on earth would normal people want to live with college students?‖ MUCS believes not only that strong personal connections between very different groups of people are possible, but that they are necessary to the creation of a sustainable community. The attached ―diversity web‖ outlines our reasons for diversity within MUCS, what we hope that diversity will create, what we must do to support and allow for it, and what potential problems and challenges we see coming from it. The web is purposefully left incomplete because we know that there are many pieces of it that we have not yet thought of. POWER A goal of the MUCS project is to create a space free from oppression. This leads directly to a need for recognition, redistribution, and confrontation of power—between people within MUCS, and between MUCS and larger exterior forces. Without an ongoing discussion about the realities and implications of unequal power distribution, oppression will remain silently present in a community. Learning Power The first step, then, is to recognize and learn power; to gather the resources needed to start a discussion about it. MUCS will offer its community several mechanisms for learning and discussing power, including a resource center and library, popular education workshops and forums, and public space available for community needs. Personal relationships that grow between the diverse people living, working, or meeting in the space will allow for conversations about power and oppression in a very present, very real sense. Living and working together will necessitate that we bridge barriers of language and that we address the power dynamics that are inherent in using English, academic, or middle-class language. It will push us to raise our own awareness of power imbalances on all scales. As we question notions of power and distribution, we will be driven to make use of other mechanisms that MUCS can provide for the redistribution and confrontation of power. Taking Power By living and working together, we begin to redistribute power and take it for ourselves. By sharing our own experiences of power and oppression, we can move past them, learn from them, build upon them or around them. By sharing tasks and chores equitably, we take power over the maintenance of the system in which we live. By learning new tasks from one another, we gain the power to do things we could not have otherwise done; we also gain the power to teach. By making personal connections to one another, we begin to find a collective voice. Challenging Power Moving beyond the MUCS community to a societal scale, challenging existing oppressive systems, is the act of speaking out with that collective voice. The network of real, caring connections between individuals and organizations that are part of the MUCS community create the capacity to mobilize people and bring them together around political and social issues. The collective energy and diversity of ideas present in MUCS create the desire and possibility for building alternatives at a larger scale. The existence and endurance of MUCS itself proves that alternatives are possible. To create a place free of oppression, the MUCS Project aims to offer the mechanisms needed for people to move towards reconnection, understanding, mobilization, and change. Power Imbalance Problems of power imbalance will unavoidably arise within the MUCS community. The people currently involved in planning and developing MUCS are already facing issues of power imbalance in several places—particularly between core members who have more time and energy to devote to the project and more peripheral members who do not, but who are still dedicated to it and certainly deserve a voice in decision-making. It is easy for primary control over the project‘s direction to be taken by those who have more time to give, more experience, a stronger sense of ownership of the project, or who are simply more outspoken and confident of their ideas than other members. Even at its early stage, it is necessary for MUCS to find ways to deal with power imbalances in a participatory, sustainable way. As the MUCS organization and community grows and diversifies, we expect to see power imbalances emerge between groups that are more privileged and those that are less privileged with respect to race, gender, economic situation, or education. Once the MUCS community is up and running, power imbalances may arise between permanent members of the community (such as families or elders) and more transient members (such as students). Up until now, the MUCS organization has been small enough and its members have been close enough to one another that we have not implemented any formal structures to manage power imbalances. Informal, personal conversations have been sufficient to address the problems that have come up and to implement solutions. These conversations have lead to changes in the way we conduct meetings—how often they are held, who facilitates them, and things as simple as where different people sit around the table. They have led to changes in the way we speak and present ideas to one another and very profound, positive changes in the way that we understand the relationships we each have with the organization and with each other. As MUCS grows and more people take on active roles, interpersonal complications and power issues will grow as well. MUCS will need to maintain a flexible and responsive structure so that it can develop in a more formal way the mechanisms needed to effectively balance power dynamics between its members. SOCIAL CHANGE Spence and I have had countless conversations about social change that branched off of class discussion or reading, and almost every one ended with one of us saying, ―So this is why we need MUCS.‖ Not only have we taken lessons from class back to the MUCS project to improve and strengthen it, but we have also seen so many ways that the MUCS project, or aspects of it, can improve and strengthen a movement for social change. Through critiques of past methods and tactics, we have been able to identify pitfalls to avoid and strengths to build off of. In March, six members of the MUCS Project went to New York to visit a hundred- person cooperative community, Ganas, on Staten Island. Among the many lessons we got from the trip was this bit of wisdom from a man named Eric: ―The first thing to recognize is that you will fail. You‘ll plant a nice community garden, and you won‘t want anyone to over-water the plants, but just accept it now—someone will, and your plants will die, and there‘s nothing you can do about it. Your plants are already dead, and you haven‘t even planted them yet. You might as well accept it now.‖ Somehow, this isn‘t a disheartening statement. I think that we all believe, on some level, that Eric is right; on another level I think that we all believe he is wrong, or we wouldn‘t still be here. We have the idealism to think we can succeed, but we have the realism to know that we can‘t do it alone. This section of our paper outlines a critique of approaches to social change that we discussed in class, and the aspects of MUCS that strive to improve upon that critique. The four approaches discussed are Alinsky-style organizing, the direct action movement of the 60s & 70s, Community Economic Development, and Professionalism and Community Service. Alinsky-Style Organizing Weaknesses: · Short-term, limited vision · Power imbalance between organizer and community ignored or not addressed · Patriarchal leadership maintained oppressive systems · Pragmatic approach to change MUCS Solutions: · MUCS believes people can and will commit to solving long-term and deep-rooted problems when working from within a supportive community. · MUCS creates long-term interdependence and connections that will endure beyond immediate issues. · MUCS believes that true solutions can only be built on foundations that deal with issues of oppression ad power imbalances. · Through increased self-sufficiency MUCS will break many bonds of dependence on the global capitalist system, enabling the MUCS community to be more radical, more idealistic, and less pragmatic. Direct Action Organizing (60s & 70s) Weaknesses: · Symbolic or simplified target · Limited recognition of importance of immediate needs · Lack of coherent or unified ideology MUCS Solutions: · MUCS believes that systemic change is necessary and that symbolic, simplified targets are not effective means for change. · MUCS will mobilize through community, meeting members‘ basic needs and allowing a lasting and personal connection to issues. · MUCS will reveal that personal discontent and local problems are caused by systemic problems and will provide alternatives that address systemic problems. · Interacting with MUCS will be a continuous process of political education. · Decision-making processes in MUCS will be founded on direct representation. Community Economic Development Weaknesses: · Doesn‘t challenge fundamental power structures · Vision is easily lost · Reinforces marginal economic niche and relationship to larger economic system · Reduces solutions and change to an economic bottom line · Power imbalances ignored or not fully addressed MUCS Solutions: · MUCS uses cooperative economic development to create a space that actively challenges power structures. · MUCS provides more complete self-sufficiency by enabling people to take control of other aspects of living that are usually unaddressed by CED. · MUCS will create new niches and relationships, not reinforce old ones. · Sustainable change in MUCS can only be realized through holistic actions that emphasize social, economic, and ecological interconnections. Professionalization and Community Service (80s & 90s) Weaknesses: · Focus limited to building new opportunities through social rights · Highly state-dependent · Partnership and consensus weakens possibility for change · Practice based on representative democracy · Professional client-focused relationships MUCS Solutions: · MUCS creates a complete set of alternative opportunities that are protected and enhanced by interpersonal relationships in the community. · Consensus in MUCS will be a powerful tool for forward action because all members of the community have already expressed similar core values.
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