A sandbox we can all play in: bridging networks and inviting gym-churches to the table

The three relational meetings I am in the process of setting up are with the lead organizer of the IAF affiliate in LA, the director of the local PICO affiliate and a community leader he thinks I should talk to, and an entrepreneurial church-planting pastor whose congregation are becoming part-owners of a gym where church will also be held. I have met all three of these men before, and indeed had a regular one on one with two of them previously so this one on one is a reintroduction, of sorts, and an opportunity to both learn how and if they have done thinking around community purchasing, as well as whet their appetite for doing so.

In thinking about what story I want to tell, I have landed on wanting to share the story of attending Eastern Mennonite University and doing research on our institutional investments in the context of leading a student boycott, sanctions and divestment group. I want to share how I felt the invisible-made-visible complicity in an economy of death every time I passed the Caterpillar construction equipment on-campus knowing the impact of that company in the lives of Palestinians I had met and protested with. I want to share the inverse feeling of liberation I felt in planning a positive investment campaign buying hand-made keffiyeh’s from the Hebron women’s cooperative and how those seminal experiences birthed my passion for organizing our purchasing power as intentionally as we do our people power.

The biggest risk I anticipate taking, which directly overlaps with modeling vulnerability is in admitting where I am on this journey of exploring CPA, which is to say, I am still learning. As so often the case in my life, I am the newcomer here in Los Angeles and I must risk being told that any knowledgeable local would know what I am suggesting has already been done, is impossible, or is already in process. My inclination to do all of my research before speaking with people (not my typical approach, but for some reason my temptation in this endeavor) will have to give way to trusting I am coherent, trustworthy and intelligent enough to communicate the nuanced idea that while I am not entirely an expert, nor able to commit all of my time to becoming one, I can nevertheless provide the energy, guidance, and savvy to move this proposal forward while learning and respecting the necessary local context. In many ways this is the nuanced agreement I have had to make with every community and every employer that has ever trusted me with their time and work.

I have started with these three in part because there is already enough of an existing relationship that I feel I can be somewhat vulnerable, but also because there is so much I am genuinely curious about.

For the two leaders of broad-based organizations I am curious which of their members they might suggest I approach. I am curious if they might be inspired enough by the model to allow me to invite their organizing staff in as message multipliers and initial scouts for interested institutions. I am curious whether they are aware of any similar ventures having previously occurred. I am deeply curious whether they will see this as an opportunity to bridge whatever differences they may have and work together, and who they recommend I reach out to beyond their direct membership.

With the new gym-owner-pastor I am most curious about how he and his community decided to move forward with that model, and how they are aiming to live out Kingdom economics while helping run what I assume is a for-profit space.

I’m actually far less concerned than I have sometimes been about the relational versus transactional dynamic for the simple reason that at this point I’m approaching CPA similar to any campaign I imagined myself organizing with the IAF, which is to say, I’m waiting to see if it is genuinely within the self-interest of the community. I’m agitating to see if leaders who may be intrigued are also willing to actually support the idea. I cannot start a cooperative alone, and my professional, personal, and emotional well-being do not in any way depend on whether or not CPA LA gets established. This was a very hard lesson I learned as an organizer “You cannot want it more than the leaders”. I have not forgotten that lesson. I listed in my first week what I have to gain from this venture, but I don’t have much to lose which releases me from the concern that I would get overly transactional in my initial relational meetings.

The people who I know with whom meeting is a joy are those who I know are coming: 1) with their own energy and excitement 2) having thought through why they are meeting with me specifically 3) with a clear ask or question for me to consider 4) who truly listen to me and project a sense that they care about me as a person in the midst of their passion for the topic at hand. This human-touch combined with thoughtful approach make for the best meetings, and is the balance I will aim to emulate.
___

Ending with this exerpt from Mary Oliver, my forever inspiration:

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

(Excerpt from “Wild Geese”, offered in the spirit of offering up this time and community to the wild harsh and exciting call of our greatest imaginations)

_______

Week 2 RS:
 
Thank you all for your engaging questions, thoughts and support! I heard the sense of detachment really resonating with several of you, as well as the organizing universal of never caring more than the leaders. I daresay if I didn’t have a stable job with good benefits, sound mental and physical health and a deep sense of my innate worth, the detachment would likely be more difficult. I struggled most with this concept as an organizer in large part because I was being paid (not a lot, certainly, but as compared to a volunteering it was a raise!) and measuring my professional success and aptitude by what I produced. The question to dig into for me, then, is how to maintain this detachment (which I agree is helpful and healthy right now) if and when my personal well being, career, etc is more at stake?

It’s ironic because on this “break” from being the organizer, paid staff, I had been eager to explore being a leader and allowing myself the freedom I had in college to drive action. In college it was my personal passion for solidarity and Palestinian rights that drove action at the university level. While it wasn’t my identity as a Palestinian, it was my identity as someone who had just been living there, who had friends personally impacted, and as a Christian whose values were in deep conflict with the complicity I saw. I say ironic because I have come to see that my status as the eternal outsider, particularly in a country (and world) in which oppression is largely the fatal mixing of white supremacy, capitalism and patriarchy, makes it necessary for me to take on the position of organizer regardless of that being my official position or not. That is to say, given what we have learned about positionality and my maturing in understanding where I stand in the current of history, I see that the task of agitating, catalyzing, and observing what is truly linked with the community’s self-interest must be core to all I do, as organizer or leader. Paul asked “If we think too deeply, it would freeze us in acting. What parameters do we put on not being complicit?” I think we name our complicity as honestly as we can, we surround ourselves as best we can with others that share our values and will make disentangling ourselves from the easy ties of complicity less painful, and we do the continual work of effort, grace, effort, grace, that trying to live well in this world requires. Even as I write this I know I’m circling around a dynamic learning I don’t quite have the right language for – so thank you for your patience.
 
Felipe asked if what I was looking for were co-conspirators – yes. Definitely. I’m looking for energy, knowledge, deep local knowledge and excitement at the adventure and opportunity of it all. You also asked if coming without all the answers is as much a strength as a risk. Yes. I think it depends what piece of the conversation, what part of the timeline we’re operating within. At this point I can certainly see it as both. Looking forward to continuing this dialogue with you all.

6 thoughts on “A sandbox we can all play in: bridging networks and inviting gym-churches to the table”

  1. Jessica, I certainly resonate with your Mennonite experiences and appreciate your approach to the CPA in LA idea. I really appreciate your comment that you can’t want it more than the leaders. This is a very hard lesson for me to internalize and it’s helpful to be reminded of it. I also really appreciate your comment that you can’t do this work alone. This is true, but sometimes hard for me to accept :). Thanks for this post!

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  2. Jessica, great to read your post. I also am speaking to an organization that other organizations are affiliated with as members, so the questions you laid out are ones that will be very useful for me to draw upon. So, thank you!
    I also really appreciated your description of how removing yourself from the outcome, frees you to have less trepidation about your meetings. That is such a great point. I will remind myself of this if I feel myself tensing up before my meetings. Detachment from outcome. Yes! Your post also caused me to recognize that since two of my meetings are with people I’ve never met and never heard of, I need to not worry about trying to get to some of the spend issues. That might come, but then again it might not. And that’s okay.
    It seems that you have a good appreciation of the delicacy of coming in as a relative newcomer. And you have figured out that it can also serve you in this and other instances. The folks you meet with can share their past experience with you and not be put off that you don’t know these things already. I suspect you are prepared with a list of follow-up questions if they tell you this has already been tried before – why do they think it didn’t work before? why did the previous effort get started? do those conditions still exist? who else should I meet with to learn more about what was tried before? does anything seem different to them about the CPA model?
    I also appreciate your listing of the qualities of the people for whom meeting is a joy.
    I look forward to hearing what you learn from your meetings. Thanks for a great post.

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  3. Jessica,

    I really enjoyed reading your post. I truly believe that there is so much power when the invisible is made visible. I’m wondering if there are opportunities to plant the seed with leaders to make the invisible visible.

    I also really appreciated the reminder to detach ourselves from the outcome. How will you measure interest? Will you leave the door open and expect them to reach out to you? Or will you do another follow up meeting before you leave it up to them?

    I can’t wait to hear about the church-gym initiative. I am also curious as to why they chose to go with that model. I wonder if the congregation will grow because of it? I wonder if those who were already part of the congregation will get a discount at the gym.

    Thank you!

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  4. Jessica,
    This statement encapsulates so much wisdom… I can’t thank you enough for stating the obvious — but more often than not — I want things more than the leaders do….
    “I’m waiting to see if it is genuinely within the self-interest of the community. I’m agitating to see if leaders who may be intrigued are also willing to actually support the idea. I cannot start a cooperative alone…”

    this makes me wonder a little bit about CPA — have I been to entrepreneur-driven? Does CPA allow a model to organize something where the entrepreneur/organizer gets to drive with a bunch of their self interest?
    It’s essential for the leaders to really own this idea and run with it — they’re the essential building blocks — but my sense is that a linchpin in the model might be the organizer that has enough self interest that they’re willing to weave it all together.

    I’m excited to find out. I love your detachment and how much you’re leaning into the fundamentals of organizing to do these relational meetings. I’m excited to see what groundwork / opportunities you’re able to stir up as you make these first meetings happen.

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  5. Is it really a risk to admit you’re still learning? Or might that be part of the strength?
    Might you be more powerful & effective because you’re bringing this model to LA, but you don’t have to claim credit / you can dis-associate with all the unappealing parts?

    Is part of what you’re looking for in these initial meetings a co-conspirator that you can start relating to around a lot of this locally? Somebody to help build this with you in LA?

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  6. Like the others, I am super impressed by the deep reflection and thoughts in this post. One thing I wonder is how you determine when to act and on what to act. Your example of the caterpillar action is powerful. It seems the very structure of our world, especially our capitalist and political world, make us complicit in so many things. If we think too deeply, it would freeze us in acting. What parameters do we put on not being complicit? How do we find the right action points that will make the most difference. Part of the answer I know is in your organizing principles. Are there others?

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