Sofia When walking the streets of Sofia with colleagues, as always I’ve been all eyes and ears to new experiences and amazing sights, but I have to admit, I’ve had trouble adapting to the cavalier way many of them approach street crossings. Unless there is a clear light with a red or green “walking man” symbol, they see a crosswalk and seem to be oblivious of the traffic, often neither looking right or left, but simply bolting into the street with the full expectation that cars will stop for them. Admittedly, I live in a city where the streets are “open season” on pedestrians and crossing can be a kill zone, so I’m always dragging a step or more behind colleagues as they brazenly jump into the street, and I tentatively hang back to see if I will have to pick up the pieces.
A journalist for a weekly paper, described as one of the few independent papers in Sofia, interviewed me at some link about community organizing and how it worked. The session was several parts questions and several parts a debate, as he tried to sort out whether ACORN’s organizing model might be adaptable to a Bulgarian context. Finally, as we neared the end of our session he rested his main skepticism of the “trust.” He was a young man, but the legacy of Communism he argued was pervasive and that it had destroyed the people’s ability to trust. He felt it would be impossible to have people join together in a membership organization such as ACORN because they would not trust each other. I was mystified, because of all of the principles that hold people together, I would not have rested an organizing program on trust, as the essential ingredient or glue. More profoundly, I was convinced that my friend needed to get out on the streets of the city more often. On any street corner, watching people, almost mindlessly, jump into the intersections as cars come speeding forward in all directions towards them is an amazing popular manifestation of trust.
Visiting with several environmental organizers and activists for dinner the night before I had also heard an equally powerful tactical adaptation of this kind of community recognition of trust. They had heard that a minister of government was seeking to meet with a banker about a development they opposed. They convened with a small, less than 50, group of associates that they called a “flashmob,” in the busy streets around the Parliament near where they had information this might be happening. The tactic they used was to break up in small groups and go back and forth across the streets, taking advantage of the pedestrian right-of-way so common to Bulgarians, and so crazy to me. They were 30 and 45 minutes late for their meeting with us, because they had so succeeded in creating a traffic jam in the area at rush hour that they were unable to break through it themselves.