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January 22, 1978

[JourneydeJenny email 04/23/08] "reflections on challenges"

Dear friends,

I write to you with a different kind of energy than my usual inspired enthusiasm. I have been struggling with a few layers of this puzzle we call grassroots activism, and today I woke up and realized that I shouldn’t fear my honesty with these challenges—they are a very real part of the world we are experiencing and it’s important to be transparent.

And so I share three challenges in this email:

  1. Human dynamics in non-hierarchical organizations; operating holistically in a world that pushes for disconnection
  2. Bringing awareness of oppression to people not seemingly directly affected
  3. Sharing many layers of my life with the 700+ people on this email list
Over the last few weeks, these experiences have led me to feel considerable confusion and grief about the state of our world. But even as I write, I feel uplifted: when the challenge is clear then a way through it can open. So, thanks for reading and I look forward to your feedback.

And, I am happy to announce that the Community Supported Activist program is going great! So far, more than 35 people have contributed a total of $2000 towards my work! This is certainly significant affirmation and fuel for carving out a role as a cross-pollinator in grassroots organizing. Thank you all! If you want to get on board, info is at the bottom of this email or on my blog.

On my blog are also reflections and updates about my slideshows, living as a CSA, recent events, nationwide connections, and more: http://journeydejenny.blogspot.com. In my next email, I will give you more specific project updates, but right now I think it will be insightful to delve into these intriguing complications of social change.

*!* Perspective about sharing layers of my life with the seven hundred people on this email list *!*

In Africa, it felt a lot easier to report on my experience as a cross-pollinator and share stories. Now that I’m back in Portland, I am finding intriguing nuances in this process. Here are a few, and my plan for approaching them:

(observation) Africa is “exotic” and everyone loves a travel story, but do people also want to hear about my “travels” across Portland? Almost every one of my friends and contacts is involved with a great social change project, so I wonder if the stories (on my blog) would get overwhelming. What do you think?

(observation #2) When I was in Africa I had one main audience: people back “home”. Now that I’m back and my work is more directly embedded in my community, I am writing about people on this list, people that I am actively working with. While I want to share my reflections on these projects, I also have to be sensitive about what I share. This gets tricky when I might have critical reflections, even though I still appreciate the person or group’s work. How can I honor people and still be real with my experiences?

(observation #3) Sharing personal reflections and keeping my “professional” edge. As many of you know, my work is my life and I am consciously blurring the traditional lines of personal-professional. Sometimes I am not sure how much to share about the ups and downs of carving out this “new” way of being. For example, this email has been quite a struggle—I want to be encouraging and share my successes, and I also want to be honest about the times of difficulty or feelings of stagnation.

(approaches) I am assuming people are on similar page of wanting change and believing in the grassroots. I hope that my emails/blogs can be a forum for open exploration of ideas. My approach for blogging will be to post short stories about ideas for organizing, and then see what evolves. I have reworked the “Index” of my blog so that people can go directly to various specific subjects: great organizing ideas; cross-pollination stories; personal reflections; important issues; or specific cities or countries.

I will continue to share my personal journey. Part of this “carving out new ways of living” is about sharing the real, human experience, and I have put my life out there for collective learning. I have to trust that you—my community—will appreciate this. Do you?

(conclusion) I have to remember that my path is not always clear but my vision is. My struggles are simply reflections of our greater collective struggles/opportunities: the road to holistic, integrated healthy communities is not straightforward or easy, but our intentions are strong. We must trust ourselves that baby steps in the right direction will bring us to a better place.

What I share from now on will also rest on your feedback. I need to hear what is valuable (or not) about this ongoing journey! Thank you for your comments!

*!* Human dynamics within non-hierarchical collective organizations; trying to operate holistically in a world that pushes for disconnection *!*

I am involved in a handful of organizations that are largely volunteer-run and collectively structured. And, I am acutely aware of some challenging human elements. Power dynamics and leadership roles are absolutely fascinating, and if we want to work in more collective structures or networks, we will have to learn how to approach the inevitable archetypal situations that arise.

There are so many roots of power: skill, time, knowledge, etc. People that are public speakers are often taken as the leader of a group; people that happen to be at a certain meeting tend to become involved in more aspects of an organization than they had anticipated; people that attend more meetings gain knowledge and therefore hold the power of information. It goes on an on, but the key here (assuming the goal is to function with collective control) is that we need to help each person learn to channel their power to include others and not hold it for themselves. We need to anticipate and acknowledge all forms of power. And power itself is not a bad thing—we all want to be emPOWERed to the fullest extent—but the differing ways to use power is what’s critical.

Some of the solutions may be in organizational structure: creating redundancies, support systems, checks and balances, affirmation and feedback loops, councils, meeting protocol, etc. Within the communities of TLC Farm, City Repair and around Portland I think we have discovered a number of really creative approaches to organization/human coordination.

But there’s another layer: personal “baggage” or life experiences that people can bring into a group. Here, we can see each person as a microcosm of larger issues, and thus acknowledge that helping to hold or heal this person’s issues are part of the healing of the world. Especially in the work of sustainability, we want to integrate all aspects of our lives into our understanding of the challenges and therefore solutions. But sometimes someone’s personal issues are just not appropriate for the group, and the challenge here is either to find a way to involve that person so that they can contribute their skills but not be distracted by their “baggage”, or to ask them to leave. Tricky stuff, when a community effort wants to be inclusive. And tricky stuff, when we all have “baggage” to some degree.

I have seen these dynamics in almost every grassroots-oriented group that I have ever met. Recognizing and finding creative solutions to these patterns is critical for our work, at any scale or location in the world.

That’s why I have spent a significant part of my last month involved in addressing these dynamics. I want to share more about my specific experience, but I think its best if I wait until some of the issues are resolved. I am learning a lot!! Thank you for your support, and if you are interested in exploring some of these issues with me, please contact me! I am looking for shared experiences, reflective learning and sage wisdom.

p.s. These are only some of the many nuanced human dynamics in grassroots organizing. We also have to examine institutional racism, classism, etc., and so much more.

*!* Weaving awareness and action regarding oppression into the lives of people not seemingly directly affected *!*

With almost every moment of my day (eating a meal, getting on the internet, riding my bike, moving about town meeting with various groups) I am acutely aware of my privilege. I am acutely aware that so many events during my day rest on the exploitation of others. I am aware that my white skin doesn’t draw attention, that I am able to walk into any kind of office or business and receive warm greetings and respect. I am aware that parts of my cell phone or computer are made in sweatshops, possibly in China, and that China is currently inflicting violence on Tibetans and shipping arms to Zimbabwe.

I am aware that most people that I interact with each day have the privilege of choosing whether or not to engage with these (and many more) contradictions. I can decide when it’s convenient to sign a petition or call an embassy, or if I can deal with some heavier societal issues on any particular day.

And I am aware that TLC Farm and City Repair are still predominantly “white” organizations—and I don’t mean just skin color—I mean that we as communities still exist in a sort of privilege where we can choose what we take part in or work on. I don’t blame us for how we’ve evolved, but I am eager to widen our spectrum. I am actively searching for accessible ways to link with more matters of social justice, find direct connections between these issues and our everyday lives, and offer some steps or solutions. For example, at the Farm, visitors can easily witness permaculture gardens and community living, but I also see opportunities for connecting with some local issues that most people don’t know what to do about (like police racial profiling, unjust development in North Portland, declining immigrant rights, prison industrial complex, etc.). Changing these things are all part of a sustainable society, just as much as wildlife preservation and local, organic food. They are inextricably linked.

Also, because I have stayed in close contact with friends in Zimbabwe, I am also acutely aware of American privilege and relative freedom, as well as our choice to “get involved” in other places. For many people, what’s happening in Zimbabwe right now is just another country in turmoil… the same human story of corruption and abuse of power, far away from here. But for me, that “far away” place feels like it’s around the corner, that the earth is small, that we are all human and therefore connected.

OK, so I care about Zimbabwe… what am I supposed to do now? I can read about it, talk about it, and try to call or email my friends in Zim with messages of love and strength. But what can I do to stop Mugabe from rampaging his country? I don’t know. And, so, I feel helpless, hopeless. Too small in a world out of control.


When I shared these challenges and feelings with my buddy Brenna, she said that she’s been in similar places before and came to a new understanding:

“I realized I didn’t act out of hope but out of love.”

Yup, that’s it. That’s what keeps me going. I love people and this beautiful place way too much to give up. It’s ok that sometimes this work feels extremely challenging – we are indeed in challenging times. But the key is to embrace challenges as opportunities for learning something deeper about the world, and then apply these insights into our work for change.

And so: onward ho!

in solidarity,



Community Supported Activism:

Fueling community organizing in the spirit of community resourcefulness!

Thank you to the 35 people have contributed $2000 so far, fueling my work until June! For a detailed explanation: http://journeydejenny.blogspot.com/2008/03/community-supported-activism.html

If you appreciate what I do, a contribution of $25-250 (or more) will keep it going. You can make a paypal donation from my blog, send a check to me at 11640 SW Boones Ferry Road, or meet me at a slideshow or event! And, if you want to make a larger, tax-deductible donation, ask me how.

Thank you for considering a contribution
towards creative, locally-powered grassroots organizing!


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