Planning a Collective

The readings this time around are particularly slow going. I find I have a hard time with self-imposed deadlines, and I’m not sure if a project that involves reading a bunch of wrong and boring bullshit was the best venue in which to test my self-discipline. I’m also realizing that I have more responsibilities and less time than the syllabus currently allows, so going forward I’m going to give myself three weeks for each unit. That’s what seems to be happening organically anyway.

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What do I love more: that Forbes is giving me advice on passion or that a WordPress ad is contradicting it?

In the meantime I’m following the conventional (or, since I Googled it looking for a specific source and so rudely discovered, now unconventional) wisdom of following my passion in order to produce content. I want to talk about what the process of building a collective could look like. I spend much more time ruminating on this than amusing myself with bad sex ed content, although you probably wouldn’t know it. Bad sex ed content isn’t even amusing in and of itself; it’s depressing unless you envision an alternative. Here I was trying to build up a content base of criticism of bad content before properly propounding on the possible alternatives. I was sure to bludgeon everyone with the horrors of inaccurate information instead of inspire them to action.

This is a bad side-effect of my tendency to over-plan, to try to put everything in place before making a real move. I’ve only spoken of this project casually in conversation, dropped a few links here and there, waiting for the right time to lay out a proper vision, working on the assumption that that time will come after I’ve got it all planned out privately—you know, after I can be sure to ward off failure and rejection. That time would obviously be never. Excessive fear of failure may be a general foible of mine but it’s also a specific reaction to the extreme tendency of collectivist projects to nose-dive into flames.

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via ThinkJarCollective.com

With that in mind, it may be easier to talk about what I specifically do not envision for a collectivist project, and there are two possibilities that keep me awake at night. The first fail possibility is the common chaotic wreck of the disorganized left, (and if you’ve heard me complain about that recently, now you know why.) Leftist disorganization is so common a problem it’s more like a running gag, except that the end results are only funny in retrospect. I’ve watched disorganization turn to spectacular failure on at least a half dozen projects that I can specifically remember; there are many more that I’ve forgotten, either because the downfall was so swift it’s like it barely happened at all, or because the fiasco was so protracted I looked away and wiped it from my memory. I’ve thankfully only been directly involved in like 3 of these occurrences, but it’s been enough to establish a pattern.

The pattern goes: one or two or three people are really passionate about something. These people might be anarchists but they’re never operating in anarchist spaces (I’m sure they do, just not that I’ve seen). More often they’re general lefties in feminist or social justice spaces who have a passing familiarity with anarchist ideas like “DIY” but not enough to understand that it doesn’t mean “go in knowing nothing and just wing it!” Most of these projects have been in theater, which is a particularly brutal way to experience failure but also an illustrative one. When one or two or three people have a passion and need to convince other people to get on board, the passion is usually enough. But when it comes to organizing a successful project, the cracks show very clearly very early in the process.

Take the feminist collectivist attempt to put on a play (OK OK it was the Vagina Monologues) that began with the misunderstanding that if you had any prior experience with acting or directing it shouldn’t be utilized, because “no experts.” These one or two or three not-leaders not-decided we should cast the play collectively, without providing any ethical or aesthetic guidelines. There was another ad-hoc theater experience that began with the not-producer, not-director explaining that she didn’t believe in directing, because it was hierarchical. I’d read Theater of the Oppressed but still wasn’t catching her line of logic, so I asked her to lay it out by explaining who would be deciding on stage directions. “What are stage directions?” she replied. I explained, but she didn’t seem convinced they were necessary.

These projects were both blessedly limited in time and scope to the performance of the piece. One resulted in an okay performance and the other was a moderate disaster—again, pretty easy to gauge with theater—and although the processes for both were chaotic wrecks, the ultimate okayness or failure of each colored how the not-cast felt about the whole process. The moderate disaster left everyone frustrated and bitter and did more to fracture community than build it. With something like a sex ed collective, where the time and goals are both open-ended and money is more of a motive, the potential for disaster and the potential of that disaster to ruin relationships, fracture communities, and destroy finances are sky-high. I am trying to build enough of a knowledge base to avoid a “What are stage directions?” scenario and more so, to avoid a “Who gets what money and when?” scenario.

Of course you cannot build a collective by yourself, cannot make these decisions for a collective by yourself, or else you become the Director in the worst way.  You can only prepare to bring your own knowledge into a collective. I just want to make sure I know as much as possible about stage directions —uh, so to speak.

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A good-ass book on worker cooperatives you should totally read.

One of the things that I am learning is the amount of work and the extent of risk inherent in building a worker cooperative; again, the scope is exponentially greater than a theater performance in both time and goals. I am building a blog as the first step in letting people know this project might exist that they can get on board with, but I am also building the foundations for something I can begin as a solo project and later transform into a collective, if a solo launch is what ends up happening. Because it may very well be that people have the interest but not the capacity to build something from the ground-up with me. (If they do, the plans change according to collective desire, but we’re setting that possibility aside for now because obviously I can’t possibly address what the collective desires might be.)

This is where things get ethically tricky, where I need to ask not only, What can I build first by myself? but What should I build first by myself that does not benefit only myself but still provides directly for me and can be transitioned into a collective project that provides directly for multiple people? Put in more starkly economic terms, if I need to raise seed money myself for a future collective, how do I do that in a way that a) gets other people aware of and excited about the project and future collective collaboration and b) does not exploit (in Marxist terms) other people’s labor for my own benefit? I sometimes even wonder if someone in my position as a white cis woman should attempt to do this, but then I acknowledge that I have a clear financial need for self-employment and can only do my best to achieve that in an ethical way; self-denial is the surest way to avoid oppressing anyone but it’s also cowardly to choose martyrdom over earnest and well-researched attempts at community empowerment.

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Still working on #1

So, I am attempting to build this in a way that can be replicated by other, perhaps more oppressed individuals, in sharing the intellectual resources I gather with them. I am also laying out the first draft of my plans here for feedback before I go any further. Here are the steps I’m envisioning: Continue reading