The only way to get out of the mess we’re in: Take Back The Community; paxis and the Paulo Freire two-step of action & reflection; Saul Alinsky’s cut the issue then set specific, immediate & realizable actions; turn the Eeyores and Naysayers “on” buttons...
The only way to get out of the mess we’re in: Take Back The Community; paxis and the Paulo Freire two-step of action & reflection; Saul Alinsky’s cut the issue then set specific, immediate & realizable actions; turn the Eeyores and Naysayers “on” buttons on; organizing can be for good or for evil; aiming for the four keys to happiness: connection, action, learning & giving; the power of autonomy in community leadership & followership
song lyrics & chords, transcript and references at www.SomethingDifferentThisWayComes.ca
by Heather McLeod in Thunder Bay, Ontario
Welcome to the Paolo Friere Two step edition of Something Different This Way Comes. Oh yes - we’ll be dancing before we’re done. I’m Heather McLeod
I said at the end of last week’s edition, the All Bring Our All edition, that I want to find my hive. Ben & Sam talk about hive mind - I think they are referencing memes or minecraft or -I don’t really know. But as a bee-keeper, hive mind to me means a really strong, connected, autonomous community. And yeah - how do I get to be a part of that - that is the question I kept returning to as I thought about what to share with you this week.
So I knew just whose brain I want to pick on this one: The woman from whom I learned the phrase: What Good Looks Like - Which is the theme of this season of Something DIfferent This Way Comes. A woman with decades of experience and insight into community development or community organizing, building healthier hive minds - whatever you want to call my topic today. Plus she has some impressive academic credentials to boot.
Dr. Fay Martin has worked as a community organizer since the sixties, straight after graduating with her masters in Social Work she and my Dad Norman were hired by Frontier College and sent to Newfoundland. There they lived and worked as organizers in two communities that were adjusting to the great resettlement when people living in out ports were moved, communities combined and reshuffled and very deeply challenged.
A few years later, after moving to Toronto just in time to have me then my sister, she and my Dad founded a company called CommonAct, which was intended to offer the kind of support to grass-roots organizers that they wished they had had when they worked in the field. This was the early seventies. And after a bit they added to their team Michael Fay. Mom and Mike actually did quite a bit of work together up here in Northwestern Ontario consulting with and training grass-roots change agents not just here but all over the province. Including several indigenous groups and communities. And they kept doing that when Mom and Dad divorced. And Mike and his wife divorced. And Mom and Mike got together - still in the early seventies. A busy time
Anyway, I guess you could say that community organizing is the soup I was steeped in growing up.In the later seventies Mom brought a community organizing perspective to a more conventional social work career when we moved out to Alberta, though she and Michael always had an oar in something, helping make things happen in so many ways no matter where we lived.
When we were teenagers, she was working with kids our age who were being ‘aged out’ of the child welfare system, creating a community called PARC. We were back in Toronto then. When she retired from salaried work, she founded and continues to be active in a not-for-profit called Places for People which creates affordable housing in the rural county where she lives, Haliburton County, down in Cottage Country. I will include a link to their website on my page for this episode atwww.SomethingDifferentThisWayComes.ca Check it out - they do great stuff.
So Haliburton County is where I called her, through my fancy online recording studio, to have this conversation. Though my sound at my end in particular was not great in this recording - I do apologize.
When community organizing is done well, it’s invisible. A community together achieves their goal feeling like they’re in charge of what’s happening: a strong sense of agency and community action that leads to solving a bigger problem. And if you ask them they will say a bunch of us got together and made this happen, and might recognize the role the organizer played as a guide or mentor (for example in how to talk to the media) or supporter. When it is well done, people accomplish the goal they set out to accomplish and see it as their own accomplishment. The sense of agency is the key. The job is about listening and responding, not imposing in any way. First you find an issue that brings a group of people together, a big issue that is overwhelming, they don’t know where to start. You focus on action, and discourage describing or bemoaning the problem - the Eeyores and the Naysayers need to find their “on” button. If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem. You want to create the conditions under which everyone can find a way to solve the problem about which they feel strongly.
Among that group of people you will find a diversity of skills and perspectives. So the second thing the Organizer needs to do is what Alinsky called cutting the issue.
Who are you referencing?
In the 60s & 70s there was kind of a push pull between community organizing and community development. Community organizing was kind of an American thing and the big thinker was Saul Alinksy - a Russian Jew of an entrepreneurial working class family, very smart man. His methodology became very influential in the United States. His approach was to get the leaders of community organizations and manipulating them into taking action that solves whatever the problem that this community that these organizations serve feels strongly about.
Community Development was more of a Canadian construct. The thinker there was Paolo Friere who was Chilean. His focus was finding the Generative Theme - the thing that a group of people cared about. You start by helping people to name their world in their words. His idea was that downtrodden people are downtrodden because their world is defined to them and they accept that. And it puts them in an oppressed position (his word) and keeps them there. Once they rename their world to reflect their values, it would become clear to them what good would look like, and they could work towards achieving it, step by step.
Community Organizing is a very sequential business, it is not a magic bullet, it can have moments of drama but mostly it’s just quiet empowering work where the whole is much greater than the sum of its parts.
When Michael and I worked together, he brought Alinsky and I brought Friere and our work was a melding of the two. Paolo Friere - who published in 1961 - he is having a comeback. People are rediscovering his work Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Alinsky’s major work was called: I thought it was Reveille for Radicals which was published in 1946, three years after I was born. But it was Rules for Radicals, published in 1971. The Tea Party in the pre Trump Days did an amendment of those called Rules for Patriots to great effect. You could say those strategies put Trump into power. These things are still alive and well and working in our community. And that’s because the strategies that organizers put to work are effective. But they can be used for good or evil.
Heather: I think of groups that have been organized, harnessed to support an agenda that I don’t think is actually in their interest. I am thinking of Intel groups and the Tea Party and Trump’s stolen election people. They’ve been pulled in. I think it’s important to clarify exactly what I am doing here. Do we want to be part of a group? I am thinking of Rutger Bregman in Humankind and the science into how people become soldiers despite their innate reluctance to be violent but gelling them so tightly to their comrades that they will do anything to walk in step with and defend those colleagues. That is something I am seeing being used to terrifying effect to undermine our broader society.
Dr. Fay Martin: I agree. I would go back to what Friere talks about: to ask oppressed people to name the world in their terms because often people don’t act in their own best interest because they misunderstand how the systems work. And there is lots and lots of investment in helping us misunderstand. We get spin all the time. They’re trying to get us to see the world the way they want us to see it in order to do what they want us to do. Friere - who is really into empowerment - would work to name the world in a way that resonates with their interests. It’s not a quick deal. You’re unpacking how the systems work.
Alinsky’s thing was Follow The Money. If you follow the money you’ll find out whose interest is really being advanced. The problem is those who move from have-not to haves probably then protect what they now have and turn and oppress have-nots in their turn. So you don’t change the system, just change who benefits in that system.
Whereas Friere is about empowerment and so he would believe that you are empowered when you name your world, thinking very carefully about words like: worker; mother; neighbour; leader; follower. We throw these words around as if everybody knows what it means. But when you think about it you don’t know what it really means, and what it really means is really important. He worked with illiterate peasants so that made a lot of sense to them. But I would say that in our time most people are politically illiterate in that they don’t understand how power operates in their daily life. So helping them figure that out and question the way things are named…
Here’s an example from my volunteer life around housing. That word housing means two things: a roof over your head; and the very best way to increase your wealth. When you have one word that means both of those things and we don’t question what we mean when we use that word in a particular context, we go astray really easily. Freire would ask: what do we mean by affordable housing, and work with a small group until they are clear on what they mean by that phrase until they can see what they need to do in order to achieve their goal.
How has support for community development changed since you started in the 60s?
The Sixties was a time of unrest particularly among young people. They were a significant population - the boomers. They were feeling their oats -hadn’t gone through the depression or the war. They had ideas about what the world should be like. There was a lot of student unrest. So the system - a variation on the Devil finds work for idle hands - decided to let these young people have some money to make their communities what they wanted it to be. Basically where 2-3 people came together, you wrote a grant and you got some money. Not a lot, but you didn’t need a lot. So you fixed substandard housing, built daycares, did projects of immediate value.
But then the system got a little bit worried that people might get carried away with this and they began to institutionalize it. You could get money, but you had to report on this, that & the other outcomes. Then you are using your skills not necessarily for what the people want, but for what the government funded you to do.
Heather: And also you have this administrative and compliance burden
Dr. Fay: You weren’t a free agent. Before you were working for the community. Now you are working for the government, on behalf of the community, but your boss was the government. So there was fighting in the field about whether you could do real community development if you were paid by the government. And we were part of that. We were poor! There was one year where we made $4,000 in a full year and we had 3 kids! There was a point where we had to choose between poverty and working for the community.
And then the whole community organizing thing became institutionalized. Now there are mandated service tables for social service, the justice system, poverty reduction etc. So what drum beat do these groups march to? Not the one of the people around the table. They are not mechanisms for change. They are a means to talk about what is needed, but hardly ever develop actions to address the need. It becomes a bitch and moan session. Are they in a position to do anything about what they know needs to be done? No. When I sat around those tables with an ED hat on I was much more constrained in terms of what I could say or do than once I was no longer a waged person, I was just a citizen. Then I was a force to be contended with, if I could elbow my way in. I could say things and do things that nobody else could do because nobody is your boss. So for me that was going back to being the kind of community development worker in the old days who either weren’t paid by anybody important or you were but disregarded that. You kind of redefined what the power relationship was: “Don’t worry - we’ll get there & you’ll be happy with it” & you redefine it to them. Do I sound manipulative? Yes I do and yes I am and I think that’s a really good skill to bring to bear. It is doing until them what they did unto us.
My metaphor is that community organizing is like parenting. You do the best you can and then they launch into the world and how good a job you did is judged by how good they turned out. That was my Father’s benediction to me: I did the best I could for 18 years and now it’s time to see how good a job I did. Community organizing is just a start. First you prepare the ground, then you sow the seed, then you do what you can to ensure the seed germinates but at some point you walk away and someone else reaps that crop.
Heather: The farmer is too top-town to be an invisible force. Maybe it would be more like listening to the ground in order to be a good gardener. More listening and supporting, back to being invisible.
Dr. Fay Martin. You absolutely are a facilitator from beneath. Sometimes a facilitator just ensures everyone has their chance to talk. But I’m talking about getting the right people around the table, helping them understand what they can offer to that table. But a good farmer doesn’t own his land, he nurtures his land. He understands that the crop he grows he didn’t grow, a whole lot of other things combined to grow that crop. He did his part, but its the crop the Earth brought forth. The indigenous people really have a handle on this - you work with nature. You do not think you can be the boss of nature. I think the same thing with people - you have to work with them, you cannot be the boss. You can’t win them all, some do better than others, but your job is to create the conditions under which the people in your community work together to make the world the place they want it to be. A better place.
Heather: You’re supporting autonomy of a community, people collaborating and individually feeling they have a place, are valuable,need to do their part and raise their voice.
Dr. Fay Martin: Different kinds of leadership and followership. Good leaders are crucial. Good followers are crucial too. We don’t teach good followership very often. Autonomy is the important word. A follower would say - I think if I do it a little differently it will be more useful. And a good leader says: go for it. It is autonomy, agency, collaboration. What were the four keys to happiness - they were amazing: connecting, acting, learning, giving. All of them are what you nurture in the community.
To talk about community - it is a community of interest. It could be geographic. Any group of people who share a concern that’s crucial enough to them that they want to do something about it. It is elastic. It probably changes over time because it will become clearer to them where they are going and how they want to get there.
Heather: I think it is important to distinguish between communities that only have an idea in common, and those that also share a space. I think that is a black hole right now - that First Nations are shouting at us to notice; Hello! Have you noticed where you are standing, who your neighbour is? I feel like it is a settler thing, that we have been trained not to root ourselves, to be ready to pick up and move to where we are wanted as workers; when in fact great resilience can be found in rooting to your place and the people around you.
Dr. Fay Martin: Invite your Nature, your physical Nature to have a chair around your table. There is this concept Gemeinschaft & Geschellschaft. Gemeinschaft is a group of people you know intimately and geschellschaft is like a city, a big group of people that you don’t know intimately. And I think change needs to be gemeinschaft change.
Heather: I think of a story you tell about someone with a strategy to move unemployment or jobs around strategically that had steam coming out of your ears
Fay: It was a government group that was figuring out how to get people to move wherever the work needs them. Which is a way to destroy community. And that movement where employers can move you around as you work - look at the OPP, the RCMP, that is a strategy to keep their people from getting too connected to their community. They say that will impede them doing their work but what they mean is that will impede them doing their work the way the organization wants them to do their work. This is a strategy that has been in play for decades to the diminishment of our well being.
I want to put Friere in here again. So Alinsky said when a group of people has figured out what the goal is, every step towards that goal needs to be an action that is specific, immediate and realizable. And there is real truth to that, that is one of the things that I live by.
But Friere said Human Beings can reflect on their actions and change their understanding of the world based on that. He said that is a two-step: act on your reflections, and then reflect on your actions, then act based on that reflection, before reflecting again. I have used that effectively in personal counseling - when a person is stuck I say are you stuck in action or are you stuck in reflection? If you’re stuck in reflection, take an action. It doesn’t have to be the right action, it can be any action, but then you can figure out what the next action needs to be. And you can do the same thing when stuck in action. Slow down, figure out what you really want to do. He called it praxis: reflecting on action and acting on reflection. That’s what builds community, when they do that individually and also collectively or collaboratively.
If you have say 10 people who share a goal, why each of them has that goal is going to differ & in that disparity is strength. Coming to a common understanding of where the overlaps are among everybody’s perspectives builds very strong community. It also feels very good to do that kind of cognitive work. And then you take a collaborative action.
And then you bring those 10 minds again to thinking about what we did and what progress we gained towards our larger goal. So the 10 people who sit around a table after an action are slightly different than the 10 people who sat around it before the action. Because there is individual change as well as group change.
It is kind of like raising Children. Once you raise them it is out of your hands but what they have is a whole bunch of skills to act and reflect in life. They know how to set goals and they know how to act to achieve those goals and reflect on the consequences of their actions and move ever closer to their goals. Goals that may change, or at least grow clearer, over time.
Heather: I feel like you’re saying that we as a community have failed to learn some important life skills that could be helpful right now. Do you think this is a time for community development, that it could be powerful in getting us through this crisis?
Dr. Fay Martin: Absolutely. I think it is crucial. I can’t see any other way to get out of the mess that we’re in. You know the Take Back the Night movement in Feminism? I think we are in a Take Back the Community stage of development in society. Take back the community. A community that understands that they have a shared destiny and everyone has a part to play in making that hte best possible destiny and how to achieve that is a work of constant change. But that process is what makes us human, it affirms our humanity every single day and it builds out community every single day. I give you Margaret Mead: Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that every has. I think she is bang on. Bang on.
And I think we have no forgotten how to do that, I think we have been trained not to do that. I think there are many elements in our culture that actively discourage community. I think we have an obligation to say: what does good look like? I get sick & tired of people who just say what’s wrong with what is. Put your idea of a solution on the table, then we can talk. Tell me what good looks like, and if it’s like my idea of what good looks like then we have a conversation to be had, and there is probably a third person that you could think of that might well join that conversation. And that’s how community grows.
The only way to get out of the mess that we are in is to build our communities Dr. Fay Martin, my Mom
Oats & Beans & Barley Grow, Oats & Beans & Barley Grow
Do you or I or anyone Know, how Oats & Beans & Barley grow
That was the song that sprung to mind when Mom was comparing community work to farming
We don’t really know how a seed grows. How it knows how to grow. How it photosynthesizes light into calories other creatures can eat. How we can be made of elements that have not changed since the Big Bang: Hydrogen, Carbon Silicon. We are all made of stars, unchanging elements and yet we grow. No one knows how, really, but life is and life grows. And we know how to help makes things grow, too. How to raise our children, nourish our community, garden and farm and nurture
So Mom summed up the four keys to happiness that Paul Berger talked about a couple of weeks ago in the The Places You’ll Go edition of this podcast - and said that about sums up What Good Looks Like when it comes to nourishing a sustainable and sustaining community.
So I took that seed and nourished it until it grew up to be this song for you - debuted right here right now, hot off the press
The Paulo Friere Two-Step
a Connecting, G Acting, a Learning & D Giving
G These are my four keys to C happiness
G These are the Four doors to C feeling blessed
And we’ll build a community
Renew the E wild
We’ll G root and grow and C heal
Adult and E child
d min Now in G my back C yard
Yes d now in my G back a yard
G C E
Let’s dance the Paulo a Friere G
Yes the Paulo C Friere E
Yes you re a -flect then act
Then you re- G flect on that act
And act again C E
Then you re- a flect, then act
And re- G flect on that act
And act C again
It’s a two step!
There you have it - The Paulo Friere two step song and the Paolo Freire two step edition of Something Different This Way Comes. I hope you enjoyed my conversation with Dr. Fay Martin, my Mom, what a lot she shared in there, so much to think about.
If you found it entertaining, if you found it informative or inspiring and you would be happy to treat me to a coffee if you bumped into me in a coffee shop. Please consider becoming a patron of Something Different This Way Comes, Just go towww.SomethingDifferentThisWayComes.calook for the Go Fund Me Button, and know that I will thank you on the podcast webpage and share with you all the expenses that your donation will help cover
Because this podcast is entirely independent. No sponsors, no advertising, no one writing or composing or editing or interviewing except me. But it you can’t pitch in right now that’s fine too, don’t worry about it. Give it a good review, recommend it to a friend, follow it so you’re sure not to miss an episode any of those things make such a difference and are so appreciated.
Join me again next Tuesday!
Considering the psychology of change - honour vs. dignity cultures, the kindness paradox; how to unlock capital, human and $: universal basic income, justice systems, no skin in the game loans & truly supporting micro-businesses, multigenerational pl...
Stewarding the land, honouring our ecosystems: imagine, intercept, invest, integrate, innovate, infrastructure. Conversation with city planner Thora Cartlidge. Revitalize the East End - the opportunity and economy of investing in historic neighbourho...
Imagining story-telling industries, mechanics and touch stones in the Kindness Economy. With a scientifically-sound genesis story to start, some classic Joni Mitchell, a reboot of marketing, journalism, academia and accountability, plus a new-born tu...
It’s really about people and the planet; Why go forth with pride, compassion and joy; How to help intergenerational, interdisciplinary, inclusive communities thrive; Celebrating the Thunder Bay trifecta; Slowing down & building our shared legacy; The nor...