Leaping the Gap
Some of us have the vision of a number of small, local meet-ups for Caucus99ers, with the possibility later of a centralized once-a-year gathering.
We want to realize this vision for a number of reasons. First, we want to maintain our connections. We feel that a community that wants to last probably should not depend on the Internet alone, or at least that it would be more sensible not to put all our eggs in this one (albeit capacious) basket. For one thing, the loss of net neutrality might hit us hard. No-one denies the value of the space JtC and others have built here, but we feel the need for, well, back-up. Hard copy. As someone who spent years working in a library, I really like the ideas of back-up and hard copy.
Secondly, if we ever want to take any actions, you can't beat IRL connections. The relationship between online discussion and action in the real world is complicated. Most of the time, the former doesn't result in the latter. It's obvious, to anybody who's ever tried to organize anything, that the road from talk to action is always fraught and full of difficulty, but as someone who's organized both online and offline, my experience is that engendering offline action through online discussion seems to have a lower success rate even than the norm. I'm putting it as precisely here as I can because if the only action you require of people is online action, often online discussion can do quite well. For instance, if you want to invent a website named caucus99percent, online discussion will work fine.
It's leaping the gap from digital to organic that seems to present the additional difficulty. This is a more complicated issue than I want to go into here, since this essay isn't an academic treatise on the relationship between digital and organic interaction, and occasionally, as with flashmobs, online talk creates offline action very quickly. Occupy, too, used the Internet quite efficiently in organizing their specific actions. However--and this is important--the Occupy movement did not invent itself through online discussions alone. Stories of how the movement came to be differ, but they all agree on one thing: Adbusters and the Anonymous video alone did not get people into Zuccotti park. People talking face-to-face and organizing in real space with each other (apparently for hours) did.
I'm not suggesting that we invent a new Occupy movement. I do want to end up where I believe the Occupy movement should have ended up: a network of small, local communities across the country. By "communities" I do not mean communes, though a physical space reliably dedicated to the community is, IMO, highly desirable. I'm imagining a persistent, connected, local presence of truth-tellers which could potentially provide a toolbox for active consciences in their area. I envision these communities as being dedicated to the notion of independence from the dying system, psychologically, culturally, and physically, as much as possible. Ideally, the communities would both be independent and sustainable themselves, and spread ideas and toolkits for increased independence and sustainability to their mainstream neighbors when needed.
That's my dream. It may not appeal to everybody (or anybody). Or we may not be able to accomplish it.
But even if we want caucus99percent to never be anything more than what it currently is--a lifeboat for those drowning in propaganda and a brutalizing groupthink that sears the mind--we should strongly consider building an organic network to mirror our digital network. Because we don't know what the powers that be will do in regard to the internet, or when. If we want to be able to continue to have these discussions, back-up is advisable.
Hanging out and making friends in person might seem like an awfully small and trivial tool with which to accomplish any goal--but if that's true, why are the powers-that-be so intent on discouraging us from doing so?
And even if we accomplished nothing at all except more friendship in our lives, is that really so small or trivial?
I'm not a Christian, but I was one once, and stories from the Bible are part of my personal internal library. I've been thinking a lot about the story of the loaves and the fishes lately. It's a story of meeting a goal that looks impossible with resources that look so inadequate the effort seems pointless.
For those of you that don't know the story, it goes like this: Jesus tries to get some privacy with his disciples after they hear about John the Baptist's beheading. They go out to the country. But a huge crowd follows them. So Jesus, despite having wanted some quiet, does some teaching and healing instead. But when night falls, they are presented with the problem of having thousands of people sitting in a desert with no apparent food nearby. The disciples tell Jesus "Send them away. There's nothing for them to eat." Jesus says (rather annoyingly), "You feed them." They say, "We don't have enough money to feed them!" He says "What do you have?"
What they had was five loaves and two fishes.
Jesus takes the food, blesses it, and sets it before the crowd. The Bible says that all ate and were satisfied and they gathered something like twelve baskets of leftover food afterward. Most Christians since have taken that to mean that Jesus magicked five loaves and two fishes into enough food for five thousand people (and more).
But as with so many stories of Jesus' miracles, there is an alternative explanation.
Other scholars propose that each person in the crowd was hiding a little something. Half a piece of bread. A piece of fruit. They were each afraid to bring out their food, for fear of it being snatched away from them. So what Jesus actually did, in this reading, is, through an act of honest generosity, inspire people to make fearless acts of generosity themselves, setting their little bits of food before the crowd. And it turned out to be more than enough to feed them all.
I consider the second interpretation to actually be far more miraculous than the first. It's one of the things that gives me the strength to keep trying again, because the lesson is not to give up because you see that your own resources are inadequate. You are not just you. You can, if you choose, also become part of a we, and nobody has any idea what the resources of that we will be until it's formed.
This is pretty heavy talk, when all I want to do is establish a bunch of persistent local Meet-ups, which could be nothing more than people hanging out over drinks and chips. But I thought it would be better if I opened my mind to you all and let you into my thinking.
Even if we establish Meet-ups that last, we might not accomplish anything other than friendship and a welcome relief, on a regular basis, from the blitzkrieg of propaganda raining down on us. We might accomplish nothing more than to make it more difficult for the powers-that-be to arbitrarily cut us off from each other by fucking around with the Internet. But I think that that alone would be a worthwhile goal. And if we found we could do more, wouldn't that be worth finding out?
Over the next two or three weeks, I'll be getting my house furnished enough that there will no longer be stacks of books on the floor and unpacked boxes of china in the middle of the living room. Once that's done, I'm going to start organizing the first Florida Meetup. In the meantime, anybody who's willing to start a Meetup in their own town please message me. And I hope everybody reading this will share their responses, because I could use greater input.