Paris The first ever meeting of ACORN related organizers in Europe is at the midway point and continues to produce real work and encouraging plans and programs for the future. For many of you that’s just blah, blah, blah, good luck and who cares, so let me share a couple of tricks our French organization is trying to teach me, some with more ease than others. Who knows what will take, but the process itself is interesting and educational.
We always say that for organizing and actions to work well, it’s also important that they be fun. Sitting in our office in Aubervilliers, there was a children’s game of some kind next to where I had perched my laptop for a minute trying to catch up on email in other time zones after the first day of meetings with the Alliance organizing staff about organizing drive mechanics. It was obviously some kind of children’s toy, and since we were sharing the space with some other organizations, I just assumed that it was something someone had left to occupy their kids when they were trying to get something done. When Solene Compingt, the Alliance staff director, came in, I jokingly asked her what was up with this thing. It had four different colors and was obviously a game that eliminated choices between the players. She explained that they had bought it for their Parisian staff. There had been three organizers on the Paris team, all hired at the same time, all equal, so sometimes, not unusually, they had some challenges being able to make decisions. In a poignant, but good spirited way, Solene had broken through the problem by getting them the game, so that they could play it and – with tongue in cheek – make a decision based on whoever won. Ingenious!
In making the agenda for the meeting with the Alliance team, especially Adrien Roux, I had not clearly understood something called “Open Forum,” which I thought was just a bridge introduction to the workshops, many of which were listed, and that we had reviewed in several revisions back and forth. When the national coordinator in Britain had suggested another topic after the drafts were out, Adrien had simply said, no problem, we’ll deal with it in the “open forum” and take suggestions on additional workshops. Oh, OK, I’d thought, whatever, we’ll add it later, and away we go.
Here’s what I learned from this French twist on the workshops. None of the workshops were set. The ones we had listed, were only suggestions. When we got to that space in the meeting during the afternoon, Adrien passed out a sheet of paper to the more than 20 organizers in the room and asked them to suggest a workshop they were interested in and willing to take responsibility. Adrien had drawn six columns on the white board with the time slots and everyone was given a sticky substance to fix their sheet on the board where they wanted. There was confusion, because all of the participants who were not French were game, but clueless about the process, nonetheless we marched with the program. Then everyone had to write their names on the sheets to indicate which workshops were the ones which they wanted to attend. In truth Adrien kept his thumb on the scale, even when claiming this was totally participatory, because he wrote separate sheets on some of the workshops, where we had previous agreement, and posted them up on the board as well.
It felt like chaos and verged on anarchy, and it took time, by my reckoning almost an hour from start to finish to sort out the workshops and get them started, though by brother Adrien, swore it was only thirty minutes. The actual workshops though went reasonably well in terms of content, and in truth there were some that would never have happened on our previous agenda, particularly on more sensitive issues like affiliation of allied organizations to the Alliance without this process. The downside is that the workshop leaders were interested, though not necessarily prepared which does impact the productivity of the workshop in the exchange for the participatory process. Additionally, in my old school system, the workshops are heavily weighted to organizational priorities and content that we’re trying to move forward. Some of that might happen in an “open forum” system, and some might not.
Nonetheless, even if some old dogs don’t adopt new tricks as their own, that doesn’t mean we don’t pay attention and try to learn a thing for two along the way.