Groundswell is Work

by Chris: Photo by Zack Embree,

Last night, Groundswell was on display. We were a part of the Ashoka event at the Living the New Economy conference on Granville Island, and Gilad, Reilly, Amanda, Uffe and Chanel spoke in different ways about what Groundswell was, how it conceived of education, and why it was important to have a space for something beyond ‘business as usual’. At the end of the night, the facilitator described the discussion as ‘magical’, and there was a palpable sense of excitement that the world was moving places.

The night before, Groundswell was mired in the muck. We were on—by my count—hour 3 or 4 of our attempt to agree to a decision-making model for our group. Facilitated by Neelam and Chanel, the session made a circuitous, digression-filled advance toward finally ending in agreement, by consensus, on our model. There was a joyous round of applause, the steam finally escaping out from the intense conversations we had been having. It was noted, however, that not everyone had been present to be a party to this decision, calling into question the ‘consensus’ we had reached, and so our model was adopted only for a trial period. The book was not closed on the subject.

I find it wonderful to think about these two events, happening so close in time to each other. Groundswell on the stage; Groundswell constructing its foundation. When I heard Gilad and the others speak at the Ashoka event, I was excited, joking that I wanted to join up again, anew. And yet, even in the somewhat monotonous late-night work on our decision-making model, I still felt excitement beneath my drooping eyes, possibly even more so. Last night’s Ashoka event gave me some insight into why this might be.

After the formal session, I asked Reilly for her thoughts as to why Groundswell seemed to resonate with so many people. She had noted earlier, and I had found myself, an excitement about our school, as if the words had struck a chord that had just been waiting to be strummed. I’m paraphrasing Reilly’s response, but it touched on the fact that many of those who hear about Groundswell are realizing that ideas and critiques about our world need to find real traction in not just our actions, but our labor, our work, our many economies of exchange. It is real, difficult, serious work.

Photograph by Julien Thomas,

Groundswell struck the chord for me, personally, from day one, because it was upfront with the work involved, and the realities of needing employment, making compromises, and working through our insurmountable ambiguities (one of the foremost of these being that we are conducting our actions on land that does not in the first place even belong to us).

I guess what made the hard process of consensus building exciting for me, then, was how labor- intensive it was, how stubbornly honest it was at the work involved. There were many moments where we could have ‘short-handed’ our way to a decision. Previous to our last session, we had come close to a decision and were debating ‘powering through’ to the end. One person spoke up and noted that some people had left, we were all getting tired, and that ‘powering through’ was not the way we could make this decision. It was frustrating, but it was the right thing to do. Everyday I’m more convinced that I can trust our group to do the right thing regardless if it is fun or efficient.

The Ashoka event was great, the speeches powerful and genuine. But what gave it force and what, in my mind, gives Groundswell its potential, is the work underneath it all, the labor. The Muck. Without these, a presentation is just words, and an attempt toward a new economy is just a footnote to the story of the world.

Last night, our panel was asked if they could provide ‘homework’ to the audience, concrete things that they could do tomorrow to contribute to the logic Groundswell was working within. There were many wonderful suggestions. Gilad (who still insists that his English is poor, and wouldn’t we all be so lucky to have our frustrations with language result in such soulful aphorisms) offered a suggestion I had heard from him in the past, which was to begin to have “real relationships to your dreams”, a phrase that I think gets at what Groundswell is asking us to do every day. The final statement on the subject was made by a fellow Groundsweller and friend. She said that if she could suggest one thing, it would simply be to speak the truth. To conduct yourself honestly, and say what you mean in all spaces.

Like reaching consensus with your peers, or ‘changing the world’, it seems like such a simple idea. But it takes a lot of labor. And I for one find that very exciting.