~~Portland Cross-Pollination Project!~~

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April 03, 2008

Reflections on my slideshows

Wow, what fun it’s been to share my stories and reflections from my journey last year. It seems like most people who have attended a slideshow have been quite interested in my stories and intrigued with my recognition of the flaws of activism and ideas for cross-pollination.

The fun part for me is that each slideshow is an experiment in sharing these ideas, and each time the experiment gets refined (I’ve done seven of them recently). Now, I am seeing some of the emerging patterns as well as a few next steps:
*At each show there is usually someone to brightens up by the end and announces, “I am a cross-pollinator, too!” We’re finding each other and discovering a common experience that for many has not yet been named or recognized as an important role in the ecosystem of social change. Now, there is a word/name (though not the only one!), a shared understanding, and a community with which to draw peer support and guidance from. Fun!

*An idea that usually intrigues: that non-profits are not necessarily the vehicles for widespread social change, and that aid institutions and many international NGOs may be creating many more problems than they solve. (read my other blog entries or come to a show for the explanation!)

*Everyone loves a good story! And when that story is packed with lessons for effective organizing or tools and ideas for specific circumstances, it’s worth it to listen! I am so happy to be a channel for great stories from groups near and far. For a listing of story options in my shows, click here.

*The desire for coordinated efforts is strongly felt. We all seek efficiency, so it’s good to hear about efforts for coordination, like the World Social Forum or the cross-pollination project.

*The deeper historical and political context is not generally active in people’s daily thoughts, so the subject is more difficult to bring up and it generally takes longer to soak in. In some of my slideshows, I share my perspective on some of the overarching and root forces that have shaped our current systems today. These include colonialization, multinational corporate/government conglomerations and the power dynamics between the global “North” and “South”. I explain how these forces shaped Africa (since my show is about my trip there), and how they have also shaped our lives here (we in working/middle/upper class North America are both the colonizers and the colonized). Some people take these ideas to be sweeping generalizations, others hear them as deep context beyond immediate grasp, but I do think these are critical factors to take into serious consideration when we try to confront injustice today (whether on people or the planet).

*A movement? It was at the World Social Forum and then in South Africa that I finally experienced what a “social movement” could really feel like. And I think it really is a feeling, the feeling that you experience when you are part of a group of people that you may or may not know, whose numbers or boundaries are beyond specific measure, and who are standing up in public space for what they believe in. Maybe the issue is specific, maybe it’s general, but it’s something that affects and is being addressed by many people. Maybe efforts are being coordinated, but social movements are not generally led by any one organization, like a non-profit or NGO.

So, I challenge the group: do we have any social movements in Portland? What would it look like? What would it be about?

For me, it feels exciting to think about the energy that is generated by an effort beyond boundaries – this is where real and broadspread change takes place! The public sphere is where our societal norms get formed and firmed.

*Next steps. Yay! People want to know what we do now! After I share one of my personal next steps with the Cross Pollination Project in Portland, people often have ideas for other ways to create channels of cross-issue and cross-sector learning and action. One idea that comes up at almost every show is a monthly gathering in which groups can each share (in 3 minutes) their purpose, strategy and needs, and then have time for networking. Another idea is to have a hub, a place where people can go to for information on who is doing what and how to plug in. People have suggested a website, a hotline, or even an office space for networking. This would be great for newcomers to Portland, newcomers to social change, or folks wanting to coordinate among efforts.

I have also thought about some of these ideas, and I have my antennae out scanning for the people, place and technology that feels like it could create something successfully, (truly connecting some of disconnected pieces of Portland’s culture of change).

On the other hand, right now I am hesitating to institute any of them on my own because I am so weary of creating “yet another” website, listserv or meeting. I wonder why it’s so much more attractive to start something new rather than embody and evolve the structures already created. I like to point out that everyone in the room got there through “the network”, so let’s trust that our information and efforts will continue to connect. While I do advocate for creating new links between groups and ideas, I encourage more “random”, on-the-ground, direct and personal sharing, rather than new institutions or hierarchically organized settings.

I am very conscious that I have my own Journey de Jenny website, listserve and project. Sometimes I wonder if these things are the very “new institutions” that I am seeking to avoid, but I tend to see them as my personal vehicles to directly connect with and among the people and groups that I am personally familiar with. My goal is to be a channel of links as they make sense, not to bring everyone together under one umbrella. I invite any comments or perspective on this.

And on that note, another next step that has occurred to me is to expand the experience of my slideshow into more of a guided conversation or workshop for changemakers. Each of the sections of the slideshow are filled with juicy bits to ponder, and I think the effectiveness and fun will occur more when we take the time for discussion and personal application of the ideas to each of our work.

If you’re wondering more about what I actually say in each show, I have various groupings of ideas that I pick and choose from to adapt to each situation. Click here for subjects and here for stories!

IF YOU HAVE ATTENDED A SHOW, PLEASE POST A COMMENT!!!! Any and all feedback is highly encouraged!! Thank you!

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