What are the values that unite us?

Sorry I’m a bit late. In my defense it’s 7:30pm as I begin writing this in California. Sorry also that my takeaways are less descriptions of specific conversations during the workshop on Wednesday, and more reflections based on my experience of the whole thing, and the experience of this incubator so far.

Take-away #1: We have everything we need, potentially

Based on the comments of those in the room, I got the strong sense that we have absolutely everything we need in terms of knowledge, relationships, access, widome and vision in order to expand the reach of CPA. Justin’s knowledge of charter schools, Kate’s understanding of working with small scale organizations, Juan Francisco’s business savvy and can-do attitude, Sheila’s wide creativity and hunger for more, Felipe’s pragmatist humility, Dr. Soul’s HVAC savvy and Yesica’s confidence and centering of minority vendors…over and over I kept thinking “Yes, we need that person. Yes, the answers to my question lie somewhere here.” The challenge as always becomes (always, eternally, inflexibly) that of time, commitment, and as I will highlight next, trust.

Take-away #2: Operating from a place of trust, collaboration, and urgent-patience is key

In my role working within the county of Los Angeles I am often baffled and saddened by the things that could get done, but don’t, because there is a fundamental lack of trust or lack of creativity for moving beyond ones’ funding requirements or strict job description. The tone we have set in this incubator is good so far, and I’m hopeful that it can continue the same way. It takes trust and a willingness to collaborate in order to truly learn what we need from each other. In economic terms (often more helpful for capturing concepts than actually running an economy, but I digress) it takes those elements to unleash each of our comparative advantage. I suppose comparative advantage might also be akin to our “edge”. But I digress. I think an urgent-patience, as in a sense that everything cannot or will not be known or clear when one might wish, and yet an urgency to creating movement and getting into action regardless, is also key. This I think was best said by Juan in the session in speaking about not waiting to have all the key players at the table to move.

Take-away #3: We need a collective conversation about our guiding values.

I enjoyed starting to hear the thoughts in the room about what guiding values we might be able to hold and claim as core to CPA as it expands. I find that it is often helpful to start somewhat complicated/complex group conversations around important issues by putting forward a proposal that others can then use a springboard off of which to react. In that spirit I offer the following as first draft proposals for guiding values  that would cover all CPA-affiliated co-ops. I’m sure if I look at these again tomorrow I will have different ideas about them myself, so please feel entirely free to rip them apart. I  would  genuinely be very interested in having incubator participants and CPA DC staff and members alike react:

The National Community Purchasing Alliance’s Guiding Values are:

  1. Equity – CPA believes in equity both in its procurement choices and its hiring and human resources management. This means prioritizing purchases from business with companies that are local and woman or minority owned and operated and Fair Chance employers. It also means being environmentally conscious given the unevenly distributed impacts of environmental degradation.
  • Cooperation and Relationality  – CPA is a cooperative because it believes that we can do infinitely more when united than when divided.  We believe in win-win-win solutions and an economy that works for everyone, and we believe that begins with grounding our work in building healthy public relationships with each other.
  • Anti-Racism – CPA stands in opposition to white supremacy and all of the insidious forms it takes. CPA staff and members are diverse and have suffered or benefited from white supremacy in different ways. As an organization we understand that white supremacy has functioned in part through divestment from communities of color, queer communities, and communities at the intersection of various oppressed identities. We seek to build relationship and to invest in those communities.
  • Plenty – CPA does not fall prey to a scarcity mentality that pits us all in a race to the bottom. We believe that there is an abundance of ideas, solutions, and ability for organizations and individuals to live and do well.
  • Power building – A portion of CPA’s profits are invested in local community organizing networks because CPA believes in using relationships and a solidarity economy to be a model and engine for the critical work of moving our world from what it is to what it should be through participatory political organizing.

__________________

Reflection Script

Thank you for the resonance and the questions this week.

I’m tempted to respond to the individual questions in detail but given they touched on such complex issues for me to express myself around, I’ll try to group them thematically.

Several of you asked about this idea of trust – why/how have we felt it in this incubator? How do we keep and grow it over time and as things evolve?


2For me, a few key components of why I feel a sense of trust in this group and practices I think important for keeping or growing that trust:


1. Showing up. I put *ALOT* of stock in the sheer fact of showing up, putting in the time. Ultimately time is our most valuable asset and so seeing people show up for weekly meetings and at the workshop is the first and largest reason I have for trusting that at the very least, for a plethora of reasons, these folks are people that are in a similar enough state of curiosity, commitment, and openness as I am. Sheila asked about what we could do to build on our current dose of trust in the future. I think visiting each other in our various locations over the course of the next couple of years of building and serving as fresh ears and eyes for problem solving, while also having our imagination expanded could help further build that trust. When I was part of the SEED group through Mennonite Central Committee we were a group of 10 individuals scattered across Colombia doing various accompaniment projects within communities and we were able to visit each location as a group once over the two years and learn from each others’ contexts. How feasible that is in terms of finances and time I’m not sure. I think being thoughtful about post-incubator what the relationships will look like, whether mentorship, peer-support or regular regathering, all could help continue to build on our trust.


2. Financial transparency. This is a strange one and (like all things in a capitalist world that relate to money) a potentially awkward one. I think being clear that participants in the incubator are receiving a $1500 stipend if they complete the incubator is important. I think getting to look at CPA’s budget openly and know that questions around money are welcome is important. I think when the time comes for Felipe and the CPA team to decide how to invest grant funding for future potential CPAs comes it will be important for the continued trust and health of this thought-community to understand what and why those decisions are made. Sex and money are the two areas that by virtue of holding such taboos and being connected to such visceral needs also (to my mind) require radical transparency/honesty if we are going to learn to trust each other.

3. Sharing the personal reasons for how we engage and approach the public world. Understanding at least some of the underlying stories, heroes, reasons we bring into this work is so critical to fostering trust. Then intro videos were huge in setting that tone. The genuine desire I see in our weekly calls to get to know each other is also key.

I’m sure there are more, but those are the top 3 that occur to me. I don’t think trust is a feeling you have, I think much like love, it’s more of a practice and a gift. By weekly writing my truth to you all I am showing you trust, and so you will trust me more, and vice versa. I’ve been watching Battlestar Galactica a lot recently and in one scene the General is asked, when sending out a character who used to be part of enemy ranks off on a sensitive mission for his side, “How do you know she won’t betray you?” and he answers “I don’t. That’s trust.” And I believe that too.

ANYWAYS.

Several of you really resonated with urgent-patience as well. I chuckle because I feel like I cheated — paradox is always so appealing. To me what this means is to feel the sense of urgency about taking the next small step, the next 1 on 1, the next research item, the next blog post, whatever keeping momentum means, while also holding a deep sense of patience with the process. Patience doesn’t mean waiting to me, it means listening. It means being realistic about what is possible in this very moment, and hopeful that that possibility can grow and build without dying. It means being anchored deeply enough in your own core purpose to be open to it taking different forms as the opportunity/need/power/community arises and demands.

Felipe — I’ll end by not answer your three questions that agitated me the most:

4. What might going deeper look like for you?

5. What’s holding you back to committing to a place?
(you mentioned a move may be on your horizon in 1-3 years?)

6. In thinking about the rest of your life — do you want to be more of a boomer or a sticker?

Felipe’s question 🙂

I won’t answer them because they’re each overly long posts of their own. I will say I take issue with Wendell Berry’s sharp distinction, helpful as it might be for illuminating his idea. I would argue my parents were neither boomers nor stickers. Nor are many itinerant artists, prophets, refugees, and a variety of other groups. That being said, I will continue to wrestle with these questions, and hope you ask me again sometime.

5 thoughts on “What are the values that unite us?”

  1. Jessica – Thank you for attending the convening. I loved that I felt your presence even though you were thousands of miles away.

    Yes, operating from a place of trust, collaboration, and urgent-patience is key. I specifically love the concept of urgent-patience. I find that often times, information paralysis plagues our movement. Is there anything causing paralysis for you? Where are you feeling the resistance to take the next step?

    Thank you for taking a stab at the values. I love the idea behind it. What do you think about also adding the other concept of “equity” as in “ownership” since CPA also provides equity to the members? I’m currently flying back to Denver and dealing with some turbulence, so I can’t think of what that sentence could be, but I’ll think about it and get back to you.

    Again, thank you for being there!

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  2. Dear Jessica — Kudos again for an excellent post. A couple lines stuck out to me: “We have everything we need…” and then you wrote “potentially”. Then your feelings of being “baffled” and “saddened” also struck . me.

    1. What is the trusted tone that has been set so far in this Incubator workshop? What’s your insight about what can create this tone and culture?

    2. Whats your role in continuing to deepen the tone, trust, spirit of collaboration through the next 3 weeks and beyond?

    3. Wha is it that your leadership edge can bring to fostering this culture and space for CPA (or other)?

    4. What might going deeper look like for you?

    I may be off base with this last question, but a comment you have made in a couple of our conversations is around how you’ve only ever spend 2-4 years in a place (and how you feel like you’re always hopping around).

    5. What’s holding you back to committing to a place?
    (you mentioned a move may be on your horizon in 1-3 years?)

    Given that you brought up Wendell Berry in an earlier post / comment; and I think many of us in our generation and in our culture today wrestle with similar questions, I thought I’d share the below excerpt from a lecture he gave that continues to shape my thinking on this question and perhaps there is a nugget for you.

    6. In thinking about the rest of your life — do you want to be more of a boomer or a sticker?

    https://www.neh.gov/about/awards/jefferson-lecture/wendell-e-berry-biography
    (Click the part that says “Lecture Text” to read the full thing… below is an excerpt that has stuck with me describing “Boomers” and “stickers”)

    The economic hardship of my family and of many others, a century ago, was caused by a monopoly, the American Tobacco Company, which had eliminated all competitors and thus was able to reduce as it pleased the prices it paid to farmers. The American Tobacco Company was the work of James B. Duke of Durham, North Carolina, and New York City, who, disregarding any other consideration, followed a capitalist logic to absolute control of his industry and, incidentally, of the economic fate of thousands of families such as my own.

    My effort to make sense of this memory and its encompassing history has depended on a pair of terms used by my teacher, Wallace Stegner. He thought rightly that we Americans, by inclination at least, have been divided into two kinds: “boomers” and “stickers.” Boomers, he said, are “those who pillage and run,” who want “to make a killing and end up on Easy Street,” whereas stickers are “those who settle, and love the life they have made and the place they have made it in.”2 “Boomer” names a kind of person and a kind of ambition that is the major theme, so far, of the history of the European races in our country. “Sticker” names a kind of person and also a desire that is, so far, a minor theme of that history, but a theme persistent enough to remain significant and to offer, still, a significant hope.

    The boomer is motivated by greed, the desire for money, property, and therefore power. James B. Duke was a boomer, if we can extend the definition to include pillage in absentia. He went, or sent, wherever the getting was good, and he got as much as he could take.

    Stickers on the contrary are motivated by affection, by such love for a place and its life that they want to preserve it and remain in it. Of my grandfather I need to say only that he shared in the virtues and the faults of his kind and time, one of his virtues being that he was a sticker. He belonged to a family who had come to Kentucky from Virginia, and who intended to go no farther. He was the third in his paternal line to live in the neighborhood of our little town of Port Royal, and he was the second to own the farm where he was born in 1864 and where he died in 1946.

    We have one memory of him that seems, more than any other, to identify him as a sticker. He owned his farm, having bought out the other heirs, for more than fifty years. About forty of those years were in hard times, and he lived almost continuously in the distress of debt. Whatever has happened in what economists call “the economy,” it is generally true that the land economy has been discounted or ignored. My grandfather lived his life in an economic shadow. In an urbanizing and industrializing age, he was the wrong kind of man. In one of his difficult years he plowed a field on the lower part of a long slope and planted it in corn. While the soil was exposed, a heavy rain fell and the field was seriously eroded. This was heartbreak for my grandfather, and he devoted the rest of his life, first to healing the scars and then to his obligation of care. In keeping with the sticker’s commitment, he neither left behind the damage he had done nor forgot about it, but stayed to repair it, insofar as soil loss can be repaired. My father, I think, had his father’s error in mind when he would speak of farmers attempting, always uselessly if not tragically, “to plow their way out of debt.” From that time, my grandfather and my father were soil conservationists, a commitment that they handed on to my brother and to me.

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  3. Jessica, I love the “urgent-patience” perspective! As one who has little patience with institutions and processes, it is humbling to remember that we can hold both – to express urgency and still exercise patience. Thank you also for the list of guiding values that you proposed. Without such clarity and ability to articulate our principles, I find it is easy to get lost (I work in a profession that got so lost, someone wrote a book about it called Unfaithful Angels – ouch!). How might we begin to share these principles? Do you envision integrating them in to relational meetings? To a public platform?

    Also, is there something we can do together as a group and/or one-on-one to further build trust? I tend to be fairly trusting (not always wise), so I am interested in your thoughts on what you have found helpful in your own experiences of building trust with others.

    Much gratitude to you for your quick mind and ability to say what is true for you – that is part of what helps me trust, too.

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  4. Hi Jessica! I admire how thoughtful you have been in acting on your takeaways, not only in starting the intropost slack channel, but also in drafting values for others to react to! Writing them shows vulnerability, dedication, and “urgent-patience!” (Can’t overstate the power and relevance of this concept that others have already celebrated!) I noticed that you indicated trust, collaboration, and urgent-patience are key to this work. I see collaboration with “cooperation” among the values you drafted; how do you build trust from the values? Where do you see urgent-patience reflected?

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  5. Dear Jessica,

    I love how you’ve taken the time to lay out your idea of how we should be working to achieve the greater goal, in particular when it comes to values. We can disagree on the how and that’s fine, but we can’t disagree on the why, and I think you’ve communicated that and lead us to think about it beautifully.

    My reflection fodder question for you is: Given what you’ve e mentioned a kit having everything we need,
    Potentially, how can you unlock that potential? What will it require from you and also require that you invoke in others?

    I too, have faced disappointment when I see people more committed to their comfort than their mission (akin to what you described at your job). But to create an impact in such an environment and make sure it doesn’t get to you, it requires that you be clear on what can be done, by when, and what it will require from you.

    In this case, what is that for you?

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