Catching up: I'm a bit tardy on this due to all my book-related traveling, but wanted to post my experiences at an engrossing and inspiring conference on Simple Living and the Rekindling of Public Life at the Sleeping Lady resort in Leavenworth WA. It drew people from North Carolina, Los Angeles, Denver, Minnesota and other geographic bases to talk about how public life is being eroded...by lack of time, by corporatization and commercialization, by consumerism and by an insidious usurpation of democracy among American institutions.
Here are some random notes from various presentations. I'll be linking to other postings as well; tech wizard and cohousing guru Raines Cohen was on hand, videotaping and collecting reports from others.
I conducted this workshop with about 20 participants.
We started by defining community, thinking of a time when everyone experienced community in their lives. We loved it when we lived in grad student housing at Stanford. People lived close together and shared everything, you could even hear your neighbors through the wall of the apartment! You could always borrow things like a bottle of wine or spice for dinner. The kids could play in a commons area, and there were always impromptu parties and potlucks going on.
I asked everyone in the group to turn to the person next to them and describe an experience that to them defined community.
Paul (my husband) and Stan King talked about bicycling and how being on a bike makes contact with people easier. Stan just finished riding from Olympia WA down to Los Angeles and had a wonderful time connecting with people along the way. There are a lot of homeless and carless folks out there using bikes as transportation, and Stan found instant acceptance and fellowship with them. It was somewhat ironic, because when he'd told people about his plans to ride, they said wasn't he worried about being assaulted or robbed, or hit by a car? Instead Stan found a society unconcerned about People Who Matter, or even being a Person Who Mattered. All that mattered was he was there and accepted immediately as an equal and brethren.
I told the group that for me, the heart of community is being able to be totally yourself. Stan's experience certainly reflected that.
Jef Hall noted that too often, we throw water on somebody's fire. We say, Oh that won't work. Or that can't be done. So people's confidence tends to erode.
I noted how Robert Lane, author of The Loss of Happiness in Market Democracies, talks about a kind of famine of warm relationships. This lack of a support network, or community, makes problems like unemployment, illness, depression, children's issues and so on all the more traumatic.
I asked each participant to say where they live and give a one-word core description of community. Here's the rundown:
Santa Clara, acceptance
Ashville, inspired relationships
Denver, shared values
Los Angeles, intimacy
Mukilteo, engagement and intensity
Yakima, warmth and affection
Seattle, safe debate
Seattle, people feeling safe
I then had Paul run off the list. None of us are experts but there couldn't be a better definition of community.
I then asked the group to consider barriers to community.
Norm Lee: I think it's fear, news always focuses on negative. We're taught don't trust strangers, that perpetuates itself with negatives in news.
Stan: Technology, often. I rode my bike from Olympia WA to LA, people were asking, How could you do that? Aren't you afraid of being attacked or robbed? Cars tend to encapsulate us and create barriers. When out and about, you make contact. Then there's iPods, computers, garage door openers. Tech can be positive, but we accept too much, and we need to evaluate technology. Tech reviews only discuss the best. Never look at whether we need these things at all. No voice that says community is a good thing.
Travel. It seems like you have to travel around the world these days. But going to Italy or Australia or wherever tends to invalidate your local area. It's like you're not happy here but 3000 miles away you'll be happy. Also a status thing, you're not valuable if you spend your vacation locally. You have to be somewhere else, doing exotic things.
Mobility. People will pick up and move because of job, not asking whether a sense of place is more valuable because of friends and community. A lot of areas are just passing through, like San Francisco.
Note: At this point Harriet Bullitt, owner of Sleeping Lady, dropped in to say hello. She was met with an impromptu, moving thank you.
Maureen Fleishman thanked Harriet for Sleeping Lady: She had come as a child to the compound and it literally saved her life. "I'm almost crying because it means so much to me. I just wanted to say thank you so much, you don't know how much this place means to so many people."
This is one reason Harriet saved Sleeping Lady from condo or mall development. She told the group that this kind of conference and discussion was just what she envisioned in putting together the resort 140 miles east of Seattle. "You're exactly what I had in mind," she said. "I'm happy you're all here and enjoying it so much."
Back on the discussion, I mentioned how the growth of right wing fundamentalists had happened because they lured people in with the promise of community. But it's not the same because community is accepting people no matter what, and there are strings attached to right wing community.
Other barriers to community:
Garages (snout house, pig snout), automatic doors. This tIes in with no patios, no porches.
Look at Portland city repair: Take back public intersections. When groups came in and painted designs on intersections, the city said, What are you doing?! This is public property! So city repair said; Of course! We're the public! Now the city works with them and has created place for homeless out of found materials, let them stay there.
Fear came up several times, the media scaring everybody, older people not willing to go out because of what they see on TV.
Malls: A parent of two teenagers noted the kids go there because there's no other place, especially in winter. As a parent you think it's OK because it's safe.
John de Graaf: What it's like in Europe. Text messaging, iPods, technology is more a concern than time management. Things are not open as long, not because of any religious thing but they understand long hours of employees keep them from gathering. They call working off-hours "unsocial hours."
People walk and bicycle much much more. Transportation systems are amazing, go more places.
John noted how small towns in Europe are very vibrant places, you'll come into a little tiny place but it has lots of amenities. In small town America everything seems boarded up.
So now it came time to talk about solutions.
I talked about the Phinney Ecovillage. We lived in CA and noticed we missed our invisible community of running into people we know, saying hi on the street or at a movie, going into a restaurant and having them know your order before you sit down. I also mentioned Hanover, now Oakland, ecovillage, to build community in an existing neighborhood. They have a calendar on the Internet, with hard copy in restaurants. It's interesting because Oakland Ecovillage has totally relaxed atititude, not all full of committees and regulations. People often ask what's an ecovillage, and it can be a broad range of things (see the What's An Ecovillage? link on our Phinney site).
So we formed Phinney Ecovillage, which we call ecovillage lite. We're all living there anyway, it's not an intentional community, we're here and not gonna move, but can we have benefits of Ecovillage? We formed lots of small groups, started a group on global warming the week after Al Gore's film came out, struck while the iron was hot, and we've got a small neighborhood grant. We're working with a neighborhood independent bookstore, Santoro's Books, to have a discussion group, not like a regular book group where everyone sneers at you and you get revenge by the book you choose. So we gather monthly and talk about what we're reading at Santoro's Subversive Salon.
Our whole goal is community, to talk about our lives. Slowing down for low-carbon living.
We have a group we like to call "Home Alone," meets once a week at lunchtime. It's people who work at home and need a break. We get together at Mae's Cafe. We have such good discussions we renamed it the Phinney Think Tank.
So we've got a Climate Action Now group, a Subversive Salon and a Think Tank. We also get together for movies like, recently, Electile Dysfunction, about voter fraud, and we've shown Harold & Maude and The Castle and other films that tilt at empire-mentality.
What other strategies?
One person mentioned her all-electric car, the ZENN (Zero Emission, No Noise), imported from France by way of Toronto. It's great for the majority of trips you make (10 to 20 miles) in a car. (Later Ed Begley Jr. talked about the electric cars he's had since the 1970s.)
You need a sense of activism. Paul and I talked about our battle against the Woodland Park Zoo parking garage (we're always careful to note it's the garage, not the zoo, that we oppose. We love the Zoo!) Building a parking garage at a time when people are discouraging car-centric, greenhouse-gas facilities. Plus it will lose the city money at a time the mayor is asking taxpayers to pay about the same amount annually to fill potholes.
Norm Lee: Volunteering, giving of yourselves is very important, and you contribute to and help build community at the same time.
In Ellensburg one participant noted they have a weekly Silent Vigil for Peace, which kids have ridiculed as Virgins for Peace. "They don't know V words, so they made fun of us." There have been some negatives, one participant is a psychologist and has lost clients. But the group also gets credit for their persistence and integrity. The local theater wouldn't show Fahrenheit 9/11 because they said no one would come. "So we showed it ourselves and got 180 people out."
It was time to break up and go to lunch, with talks following.
Slow Life Slow Food voluntary simplicity Cecile Andrews Take Back Your Time green lifestyle Slow Is Beautiful simple living Sleeping Lady Harriet Bullitt