My congratulations to the organizers of the third annual Orange County Progressive summit.
I’m sure something was accomplished there, though one never knows for sure what. I’ll go into that later. Some of this will undoubtedly sound “negative” to some. Please read the whole thing before passing judgment.
For material strongly related to this rant, you might want to click on “organizing” or “communication” in the “categories” list to the right, and scroll down to read my posts from a couple of years ago. I’d like to avoid repeating myself.
Anyone who knows me knows that I’ve pulled WAAAY BACK from organizing much of anything in recent years. That was so I could have the luxury of sitting on the sidelines and picking at what others are doing. I spent enough time trying to do things myself, and hearing from the can’t-do-so-I’ll-bitch crowd, and thought they were having much more fun than I. My turn now.
So let’s start with the title, and what this Summit was supposed to be about.
The word “summit” implies that it’s a meeting at the highest level, like Reagan meeting Gorbachev, or the Council of Elrond. A meeting of only the chief executives, or whatever, of each organization represented. It clearly was not that, seeing the size of the crowd, which was somewhere in the 200+ range. It was open to the public, and advertised to the public. Each attendee was left to decide for him/herself whether s/he was someone who should be there.
Many of the orgs represented there, including my own, have very fluid, ill-defined “leadership”, so that presents something of a problem right there. Some of the faces I recognized were definitely not of the “leadership” variety, but I’m not going there. Pic related.
Maybe the intention was to emphasize that “leadership” is up to all of us. I’ve been known to bring up that theme myself, but it doesn’t apply in all cases to everyone.
Ok, maybe the title of the Summit was just a misnomer, and it was really meant to be something to proselytize to the public.
If that were the case, then its success was limited. If you count the attendees, some were organizers of the event itself, some were there to table for their own orgs. If you subtract all these, the remainder are potentially new faces. Looking around, with my past experience in this milieu, there were plenty of old faces even in that remainder. There might have been 40 people or so who were not already involved in one of the attending orgs.
So it was neither a meeting of top leaders to strategize, nor a public education event. What was it? Both?
Well, let’s talk about what each is, and see if we can figure it out.
A TRUE SUMMIT CONFERENCE
This would be invitation-only, including the most active and influential people. In the interest of transparency, others might be there as observers, but they would be expected to stfu and let the adults talk. The talk would probably treat subjects like:
– what each of them has learned about strategy & tactics
– who has what resources that might be called upon in support of each other, and when …and how they might be applied
– how they might communicate on a regular basis between conferences
– agreeing to disagree on certain items and excluding them from the conversation to avoid …wasting time
– advertise as widely as possible
– have tables for various orgs where …newbies can be introduced to each one
– demand nothing of the participants …beyond listening and collecting handouts …(During the event, that is. There will …naturally be exhortations to do …something when they get home.)
(Some of you might remember the “Evening of Music and Progressive Politics” in Midway City in 1998. This is what that was, without the workshops. Just tabling, entertainment, and speakers. Pretty successful, for what it was.)
There are good reasons for separating the two kinds of meetings:
(2) Experienced activists usually don’t need basic introductions to issues. If they haven’t picked this stuff up from the usual “progressive” media, they’ve run into people who specialize in issues other than their own in other venues without calling a big conference for such a purpose. If they are ignorant about a particular issue, they probably choose to remain so to conserve bandwidth.
(3) Likewise, vets can look up other local orgs on the web if they want to, and probably are on multiple mailing lists. They don’t need to see a table of literature to be aware of someone’s existence.
Let’s take a chronological walk, and see what I saw there.
Daniel Shad’s opening remarks explained the purpose: that he felt alone as a “progressive”, and wanted to see who else was out there. Well, he must have seen something, and he deserves some praise for putting this together. So only the choir
was really present for this event, with maybe some rare exceptions. The choir, it must be remembered, includes some people that you wouldn’t want in EVERY meeting.
Christine Chavez followed, telling stories of her grandfather, and touched on some recurring problems of organizing:
– When trying to work in coalition, there will always be people saying: “What does this …have to do with what I care about?” (A much bigger problem, to me, is the limited time …and attention each person has.)
– Problems with delegating work and taking new people into an org: She suggested …“diversity” as a solution. (Sounds more like a goal than a tactical solution to me.)
– Keeping people active after a “victory” or setback occurs: She suggested maintaining …optimism as a solution. (Again, more a goal than a tactical solution)
Generally, just a “rally” kind of speech to get us thinking and hopeful. Not bad.
Good workshop, for a first try
The mixture of “summit” and “public” features was apparent in the one workshop I went to. It sounded quite suitable for a “summit” kind of thing: “Power Mapping in the OC”,
presented by some people from CAIR. It was a strategic thing, about finding out whom you need to influence to get something done. (They can be forgiven for titling it “the OC”,
as no one did before the TV show. CAIR has done some really effective work.)
So the general plan was to present an issue that came up a while back, tell how they approached it strategically, and then break up into small groups and let people talk through how they would approach a hypothetical issue to influence decision-makers and reach a resolution.
The opening was a small mistake, adapted to a “summit” kind of thing. They asked each participant to introduce him/herself. In a much smaller gathering, of people used to such meetings, this would be a three-minute thing. With 40 people in the room who weren’t very time-conscious, it took more like 15 precious minutes.
There was a flaw in the presentation right from the start, but neither I nor the CAIR people might have forseen it. As their issue example, they played the video about the Yorba Linda rally and harassment that I’ve mentioned elsewhere:
It was only a six-minute video, and many of us had seen it before. The presenters must have figured it was the easiest way to explain quickly what their issue example was.
Something about some of the people attending was not so easy. The video, and its story, were NEW TO MOST OF THEM. At the risk of making a digression, I found this out by asking for a show of hands. The presenter asked for comments soon after the video, and most of them were fixated on the events portrayed in the video, rather than how anyone would approach it strategically. This took up quite a bit of time.
I think they were expecting a much smaller workshop. When we were asked to break into groups of five or six, it was rather crowded and chaotic. The one person in my breakout group who knew what he was talking about got interrupted a lot, and I couldn’t even sort out what were valid, relevant remarks and what weren’t. I had to go. There might have been quite valuable stuff toward the end, but I had been in the same chair for about an hour, and that’s my limit.
So, if nothing else, some people got introduced to CAIR and the Yorba Linda thing who didn’t know about it before. That’s a good thing.
I also got reminded of Mudge’s Law, which, along with Tucker’s Law, is a corollary to Murphy’s Law:
There’s always someone who just doesn’t get the purpose of the conversation/ presentation/meeting, and will derail it at the first opportunity.
Pretty good, especially the serving, which simply meant plates spread out on a few tables so people didn’t have to stand in line. We had been exhorted to sit with people we didn’t know, and I tried that. As soon as I sat down, people I knew came up to me, of course. A penalty of being known. I hadn’t been missing much from those I didn’t know. Found
myself sitting next to a “moderate” Democrat. A constant streak of talk emanating therefrom meant that there was no polite way to break into it, if I had wanted to.
There was our Green table to be minded as soon as I was through eating.
Later that day, another law came into play. Maybe this is Mudge’s Second Law:
Whatever you least expect will happen.
In this case, it was someone who chose a quiet time when I was alone at the Green table to accuse me of something so preposterous I thought it was a trick question, a bad choice of wording, or anything other than what I was hearing.
The Grand Inquisitor continued, with little prompting, to tell at some length the wrongs done by the other party in a messy divorce. I had misplaced the rat’s ass I might have given. The story has been familiar to me for more than a year now, and it involves some vague acquaintances with whom I’ve had close to zero dealings over the years, always
Leaving dissatisfied, my accuser then tattled on me to the nearest occupied table, where they smiled and nodded ’til it was over. They already knew this person.
You might have read my earlier post about “Whom I don’t know“, in which is stated Mudge’s Third Law:
When something is open to the public, there will be some of the public that one could do without.
The concluding speaker was Jim Hightower, who needs no introduction for most of us. He’s an entertaining speaker, always there with the aphorisms and fables.
Spoke of a hardware store that gave extensive advice and had the motto: “Together we can do it yourself.”
This was probably the best model for what a good summit followed by a semi-public event might be. The vets would organize and then teach workshops to the noobs. Wish we all had time for such a thing.
Described how the early progressive movement was cultural. They held dances at the union halls, hosted Chautauquas & such, since educating the farmers & workers was a
large requirement for organizing.
This would definitely be worthy work for us if we could gather resources for it. Don’t we wish.
Observed that King didn’t say, “I have a position paper!”
–It’s important to present a dream to seize people’s imaginations.
That’s certainly a point worth remembering. Know your audience, how much they can absorb, and what buzzwords and images will be effective. The rulers are far ahead of us on this.
“Anyone who thinks you can’t herd cats doesn’t know how to use a can opener.”
Didn’t really say what the can opener was in his analogy, but at some point mentioned what he thought should be a unifying theme for all progressives: corporate money in politics. Not
a bad idea, but changing this requires some clear definitions. Some of the orgs present in the room were non-profit corporations. Lots of
the money we think of as “corporate” comes from super-rich individuals with no corporate name attached. In any case, he mentioned something scheduled (Oct. 25th, was it?) when
all the “progressive” media would spend a week on that one issue. Googling has turned up nothing for me about this, and I don’t know how it would reach anyone who’s not already in the habit of following “progressive” media.
No mention of Oct 6th, when an attempt will be made to create our own Tahrir Square. I guess he thinks that’s not unifying enough?
I didn’t stick around for the happy hour that followed. Drinking isn’t my thing, nor is hanging around drunks. I like clear heads. They were represented there, and could be found if one looked hard enough.
I suppose the serendipity of what one might run across at such a gathering is its real purpose, and I’m glad it happened. I’m especially glad someone else is doing it.