Reconnecting, Perhaps, with the Radical Left

Reconnecting, Perhaps, with the Radical Left November 16, 2014

Somehow Melinda got sent an invite to the Tacoma Free Skool’s first organizing meeting. Since unschooling does not give our girls much social life, we went. Melinda also needed to report back to other homeschoolers on whether it looked like it might be a good resource.

So, after looking at their first informational pamphlet, I said to a redhaired young woman, whose name turned out to be SAM, “I bet it would be dumb to ask who’s in charge here.”

She replied, “Well, yeah, we’re sort of all in charge.”

I said, “It’s nice to run into people who have even heard of Kropotkin.”

Melinda had thought we’d be there for only an hour. Stayed for three, during which I made a deal with Onaim (sp?), partner in the Nearsighted Narwhal, the new bookstore where we were meeting—it reminds me greatly of the Communist bookstore that was in a small mall off Telegraph in Berkeley—for him to carry my books on consignment. Also found out about some open-mike poetry readings. Bella (age 12) also, entirely on her own, made a deal with him to carry her art; I didn’t even eavesdrop.

So, the actual organizing meeting happened last, after Melinda and the girls had worked on crafts stuff. There was, of course, a lot of young idealism: resisting the oppressive establishment; how to conduct this experiment on a totally nonmonetary basis; offering and taking classes as a fair exchange. I wrote on their survey-of-resources questionnaire, “Our leaders are bit trusted servants; they do not govern. The wise ones also avoid burnout.”

So I mentioned a poetry workshop, and showing kids and adults how to use MuseScore to compose music, and put a lot of ideas for other possible classes on the bulletin board. One young man is involved in the Seattle Free University. I mentioned I had been involved with the free universities in San Francisco in the 1970s. It was one such class, through the NROOGD’s Orpheus Free U, from which Alta and I recruited the members for our first outer-court study group, which evolved into the Spiral Dance coven.

Melinda says they were looking at me as a grandfather who had answers for them. I didn’t notice. Oy veh. Maybe I have a few. Mainly like an AA sponsor, warning them where the major potholes are, because I’ve already been down that path, but still letting them learn for themselves. I’ve spent a lot of time in my life throwing energy into lost causes. I don’t have such energy now. Earning enough money to survive and getting my revelation of gnosis down on paper—no. No, into memory—are the top priorities. If it’s good for the girls, reason enough to go.

I suppose the crucial concept here is “fair energy exchange,” lack of which is what burns out volunteers and leaders. I can’t count how many burnt-out High Priestesses I’ve know (hi, Janey). That’s a practical consequence of the necessary Craft Law that forbids taking money for initiations, necessary because it has kept the Craft from being corrupted, as the New Age movement was, and why those who do charge anyway are pariahs.

I’m guessing I’ll be posting updates on this. We’ll see.

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  • Robert Mathiesen

    Melinda was probably right about how they looked at you. And you do have answers, or at least words of experience about what not to do. Be sure to let them know right away — I say this as one oldster to another — that you can’t come close to matching their energy levels, and remind them frequently. Teach them how to husband the resource that you are for them, and not to break the pitcher by going to the well too often. Every young group can benefit from the friendship of older people who’ve been there before them. What harms such a group is moving an older person into a leadership position. That said, go for it, Aidan.

    • aidanakelly

      I’m not bloody likely to go for leadership. I seriously know to say, “If I’m giving you X amount of my time and energy, what do you give me in exchange? It has to be enough not to make my life harder, or I’ll just walk away.”

      • Robert Mathiesen

        I’m glad to hear it. Best wishes! You are a great resource in very many ways.

  • beaux

    Please, I ask of you Aidan and with much with respect, to not judge us harshly simply because we are “young” or “far left”. Our ideals are not new, and we are very aware they have imperfections, but everything is a learning experience. We are growing everyday while we experiment and test the limits of autonomy and decentralization, and try to inspire others to liberate themselves from the educational pedagogy.

    This project was started by a person who desires to redefine education, and the way we all see learning. This person (who had absolutely no idea where to start, who to talk to, or what to even say to anyone who was interested, or worse those who challenge their idea or dismiss it) has a dream and keeps on going to lengths to achieve it. Because of that they have been able to find people who were are the same path and working towards a common goal, and I am delighted to be a part of this project.

    We want to develop a system of learning that is non-hierarchical, that is volunteer organized, and consensus based, as these values are core part of all Free Skool Projects. There is no leader, there is no boss. We are all equally teachers and learners.

    We see the value in learning without separation of age, and that is why we were excited to see you participating and showing interest in TFS, and when you reveled you line of work and history with FreeU, it certainly made us want to connect further. Everyone’s experiences can change lives

    Nobody should participate in free skool unless they truly desire to share their skills with others, or for their own intrinsic value. What you get from free skool is what you give, and being a community volunteer organized network, it is only as good as the people involved want it to be. This is about building self reliance yes, but also building a support network and taking care of each other so that we may be more independent. With that being said, should you care to teach a class or participate in one, ask not “What can i get from this?” but rather “what can i give?


    • Deborah Bender

      Dear Beaux, it’s been a while since you posted your comment, so I hope you will see this reply or someone will flag it for you.

      Experimenting is good, but if other people have made similar experiments, you can save time and trouble by learning from their mistakes and making more original mistakes yourselves. In that spirit, I would like to share some of what I learned from helping start up two egalitarian, cooperative groups that were organized on exactly the principles you list. One was very successful for a few years and then disbanded without conflict. One has been going for more than twenty-five years with some rough patches along the way. I offer a prediction, advice, and a warning.

      The prediction: by the time your school is a year old, most of the people involved in it will fall into two groups: people who are participating for the immediate benefits they get from it, and people who do that and are also thinking about and planning for the future of the school.

      My advice:
      1. You need both kinds of participants to be successful.
      2. You may think that you can make a school in which every person is equally a leader and every person takes equal responsibility, but you cannot. Some people are going to care about the school more than others. Some will be willing and able to do more work than others.
      3. Carefully observe the people who are thinking about the future. Some of them will work hard, keep their promises, get along with others, have common sense, and not care very much about getting credit or being the center of attention. Others will lack at least one of those virtues; they will coast, lie, lack follow through, have poor judgement, insist on being the boss, or generate a lot of interpersonal drama.
      4. The people who are thinking about the future of the group and who have all five virtues make good leaders. Let these people be in charge of some things. When decisions have to be made, give their opinions extra weight.

      My warning: if you ignore this advice, the school will not fulfill your goals and it will not last very long.