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:
- 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.
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.
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.