Two Weeks in December

It’s been a busy couple of weeks, not particularly because of the holidays, although that did play a factor. There’s a general speed-up as everybody tries to catch up to the point where they can take a couple days off, really off. So, for me, it wasn’t just the holidays. It was work. It was recovering from the Destiny More-Than-Annual-Meeting. It was trying to keep all my other projects from sinking to the bottom — if not exactly afloat.

Get me off this Planetary Work Machine!

I did get the chance to attend a couple interesting lectures. On December 16 I caught Peter Lamborn Wilson’s annual Chaos Day lecture at the Living Theater. It was largely based on this essay, from Wilson’s blog Reality Sandwich.. Here’s a pretty good recap of the evening by Ulysses Lazarus, with Wilson’s highly recommended reading list at the end.

The thing that I keep coming back to is the long, long history of the debt economy. Indeed, the reason to invent money is debt. That is, to create an obligation that’s the opposite of gift — or as Wilson might say, the centrifugal distribution of resources. Instead, money encourages the concentration of resources–it’s a centripetal energy. Wilson encouraged people to read two things: Lewis Hyde’s The Gift. And Balzac, because he describes a society completely in the thrall to money. (As if this society is not.)

Then the next day, December 17, I attended what was really more a panel discussion (in spite of itself) on ‘Activism 2.0’ at the Change You Want to See Gallery in Williamsburg. Here’s the announcement. Probably the sexiest presentation was by Nathan Freitas from Students for a Free Tibet. It had all these glamorous elements. Satellite hookups from Mt. Everest basecamp. Infiltrating the mediascape of the Beijing Olympics. Intrigue. High-tech secrecy. Direct action. Concepts like ‘brand-hacking.’ There’s a William Gibson novel in there.

But what hit home for me during the evening was people reaffirming the power and relevancy of old school community organizing. At one point in the evening, I think it was either one of the co-hosts Beka Economopoulos or Noel Hidalgo asked the audience how many were community organizers in one form or another. I would say a scant quarter raised their hands, which is actually a pretty high percentage. Of course, this is where the quibbling starts on what is the difference between a community organizer and an activist. For me, the definition holds that is used where I work: leadership development and base building, particularly in marginalized communities.

We’re working now on how to “merge the netroots with the grassroots.” Certainly, the groups we fund operate with a very different sense of priorities, as well as access to equipment, than the folks at the gallery. A couple women who work for labor unions talked about how they have found ways of using tech as an organizing tool in working class communities. Eg., having kids print out emails for their mothers. But that’s something that requires more exploration.

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