How do we achieve community power?

How do we achieve community power? This is a key question for the survival of Groundswell. The success of the Groundswell project (program? school? movement?) will be measured in our ability to sustain not just ourselves, but each other.

In three years time, I want to be able to sit on a couch with people from Groundswell and cry. I hope to laugh, grieve and scheme with you all in the years ahead.

That's what it will take to for me to stick around. It's what gets me out of bed to go to school in the morning, and it's what would motivate me to build something together that lasts.

I dream of Groundswell — every student and staff member of this program — being able to access many different categories of power. Collaborative power. Emotional power. Obstructive power. Structural power.

God knows we need it.

I didn't go to school the day Mike Brown's murderer was acquitted. What was the point? I went to a vigil instead.

2014 will be remember as the year that the ongoing genocide of black people stopped having any trace of subtlety. Black men, black women (especially black trans women) are being murdered in staggering numbers by police, by vigilantes, by private security guards. There is seldom a breath of repercussion for those murders.

The Klu Klux Klan has made a re-emergence as an almost mainstream political voice. Every day there are more news stories of police officers in Ferguson and beyond who are part of the "ghost squad:" police officers who are secretly Klan members.

This all sounds like the shadowy youtube clips with creepy music talking about the lizard people illuminati. I wish this was a conspiracy theory I could laugh off.

We're not as distanced from this in Vancouver as we might like to believe. Anti-blackness remains a prominent force here (look up the destruction of Hogan's Alley). Besides, how can we distance our society from police violence when the Vancouver police are active agents in the ongoing genocide of indigenous people?

I feel like I should scrap this whole blog and write something more uplifting, just focusing on Groundswell and how incredible the people there are. I'd like to read that. I feel numb.

The new economy. Social enterprise. These buzzwords will remain play-tools of the capitalist class, unless they can truly transform the economy based not on white, middle class liberal values, but on values of need. The need as a black or indigenous person to not be killed by police. The need to be able to walk at night as a trans or cis woman without harassment or violence.

The alternative economy will be intersectional or it will be bullshit.

At 566 Powell St, there are Christmas lights, candles, ripped up Mandarin orange peels hanging from the ceiling. We might not be talking about projects today, but they're on our minds.

The safety and sensitivity of Groundswell, the friendships that deepen every time we sit down to eat together, these are buds of a gentle community power.

In five years, we could have a loosely organized network of community based organizations. Some of us will be upcycling materials. Some of us will be running alternative schools. Maybe Vancouver will look different. Maybe there will be a daylighted stream running through the city.

Hopefully we'll be making enough money from our projects to live on.

When we want to do something about housing, about gentrification, we will have the community power, trust and skills to do something tangible.

For me, Groundswell will be a success if we can get 300 of us up to Burnaby Mountain — or whatever the site of environmental resistance happens to be — at a day's notice. That's obstructive power.

We're not an overtly activist school. Or if we are, it's not in the way activism is commonly understood. While everyone who comes to Groundswell wants to see an alternative to capitalism as it currently runs, there are still a diversity of view points. I don't want that to ever change.

But I do want us to have a sense of urgency when it comes to the struggles of others. When the next Ferguson happens, how can we provide meaningful economic solidarity? We might look to the relationships of horizontal solidarity between revolutionary Latin America and Vancouver based groups in the 70s and 80s for inspiration.

Between the uprisings in Ferguson, Burnaby Mountain and New York, there is a revolutionary movement of marginalized people being built. We should know where we will we stand in relation to these movements.

As Gilad said to me, neither of us really care that deeply about the economy. We care about social things. The economy is just a tool we can use to try to create alternatives, try to create jobs, try to create power.

These connections we're building every week are beautiful and nourishing. In writing this blog, I'm not trying to push us harder than we can stretch. We often need to be gentle with ourselves, and if that means creating small, self-sustaining, interesting projects that's great.

I think it would be a good plan to put some thought towards Groundswell's Utopia though. Let's talk about forming all our projects into one umbrella co-op. Let's talk about how we're going to stop the cafe from being a gentrifying force. Let's talk about our visions for the space and for each other. That's what excites me.

- Sasha, Groundswell participant, Fall 2014

metaphors, mushrooms and movement

Hello!mushroom-58487_640 I feel really grateful and challenged to be writing this update in what our cohort has described as a space where we are shifting in energy towards more movement and creativity in our thinking.  We all acknowledged and were grateful that we waded through some months of heavy contemplation, unpacking, critiquing, and acknowledging a greater harsh reality that involves and affects us all in different ways.  I personally want to thank everyone who has been on this journey - even guest speakers - because every week I feel I am entering a most magical and loving place and also one in which I attempt to critically question being a settler on stolen land. What we have been now challenged to do as I understand it is more collaborative dreaming - needing to creatively imagine and act on ideas though projects that address deep and intersectional issues in our communities.  We expressed uplifting feelings, moving into this new cycle, yet are not discarding our heavy roots that keep us grounded. It seems we are entering a lucid state where we need to be awake and dreaming at the same time. Speaking of roots, we like metaphors!.. and I realized they really help me learn.  Related to that (bare with me) is a subtheme of our groups, our projects and ourselves mimicking nature - permaculture - and using nature as metaphor for understanding.  So here goes.. We have so many interconnecting skills in our group and one of those is a knowledge and respect for fungi; I've heard a lot about mushrooms specifically.  I only knew a little bit about fungus and mushrooms before I came to groundswell but wow - are they ever more amazing and such helpful teachers.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA This week when starting Reilly's class on networks and technology, we were discussing communities of practice and what defines them and what makes them healthy or unhealthy. One healthy community of practice tenant is if someone leaves, the work still continues.  This really resonated with me in my own journey into groundswell and now in the creation of a project.  I feel this idea means that we would set up projects in teams and groups in a way that everyone understands the overall meaning, messages, goals and how each voice matters.  Information, love and resources could be shared and organized in a way that if one person needs to do something else, the connection and movement outward (and inward) to others still remains strong.  The metaphor linking this idea in class was mycelium. After a little research (somehow I never took biology in school) I really began to understand it as a metaphor for the creative work we are attempting to do.  I learned that mycelium is a part of fungus that spreads out in different ecosystems and processes and distributes nutrients.  So it's not quite a mushroom but if combined it can fruit mushrooms.  It is even capable of existing in large mat-like structures under the roots of trees and is actually capable of killing whole forests and supporting new ones to grow.  I also learned that mycelium can be very tiny groups or enormous organisms that link across thousands of acres.  I also learned of a specific process called mycofiltration which is essentially the network filtering out certain elements/chemicals or parts, separating things and moving them along. In conclusion I am offering that using poetic elements and nature as metaphor is a creative way that we can dream up healthy groups and ideas as we move forward.  Like the mycelium, I see our role in groundswell is to digest information and then share it where we best think it could be used.  We could do this is tiny ways or in huge ways - both are necessary and needed.  We could take down entire ways of thinking or we could support one person in our community.  Fundamentally however, we are learning how we could all consider our work interconnected in groundswell.  Perhaps storytelling about how our projects interweave at the end will be a helpful process I will also go dream about :) -Kim mushroom snail

On Pain and Growth

  On Pain and Growth, 2014, Sandra Diaz

It's been a couple of months since Groundswell started. On that very day, we were told about this blog and I even signed up to do it a few weeks from then. 
I was not expecting the intense feeling of being shaken that we all seem to have experienced at different points. I arrive home every class day with a full mind. I feel pulled in different directions as ideas that I have held are challenged or sustained by a new perspective. To quiet my mind I remind myself that it is ok to not have an answer... even to be wrong. This doesn't quiet my mind for too long, as all these ideas are there because we are tightly woven into a system that defines our every day and we are trying to have an impact on it. So instead of intellectualizing even more or summarizing passionate discussions that we have had on capitalism and colonialism, I decided to do what I do best and draw the uncomfortable but rewarding process that we are going through. I look forward to more of it as we begin the ideation portion of our classes. 

Sandra Diaz

Rooted in the garden is belonging to community

I like to multitask. I seem to get the most done when I’m working on many tasks at once. When I was asked to write a blog post for the art hives site, and also write about my experiences at a recent art therapy conference, and make a blog post for Groundswell, I sensed a multitasking opportunity. I was in the garden, preparing our community garden plot for the winter. As I was digging around, I encountered a lot of roots, some shallow and fine, and others spindly and deep. But nothing compared to what I discovered when trying to pull up the lemon balm. This plant was by far our most successful crop, and is HUGE. So, I couldn’t stand the thought of potentially leaving it behind. I started pulling, and digging, and pulling some more. It took a lot of sweating and a good 15 minutes to get this thing out of the ground. It had some deep roots!

Sarah blog photo

Did I mention I’m a weaver? I’m planning to weave all these stories together, just you wait.

I started thinking about all the communities I’m a part of, and my longtime search for community in general. I’ve been reluctant to put down roots, or fully commit to a community, and have always been someone who has a diverse group of friends, jobs and interests. There’s something about committing and focusing that enables you to actually be a part of the group in a real way, and finally be brave enough to enter the community you want to be a part of. I felt this when I decided to study art therapy. For the first time in my working life, I was on the path to pursuing something that really resonated. Then, last summer I studied community art at Concordia, and felt like I’d found another niche. Now, stepping into Groundswell, I’m going deeper with the work I want to be doing in the world and finding this amazing community in the process. Having the courage to step toward these spaces has made a big difference in my life.

So, roots...groundswell. Grounding. Going back to the roots. There’s something very important here for a bird like myself. Finding a place to ground the learning I’ve had so far feels very important. I was wondering if I’ve been moving away from art therapy, but I think what’s happening is that I’m finding a way to integrate parts of myself and my experience into a meaningful professional practice and fulfilling life. Working with our SWOT this week (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, all identified by your nearest and dearest) brought a lot of these seemingly diverse points and personality traits together in new ways.

In class this week, Gerry talked about chameleons not making good radicals. I’ve been trying to figure out a balance between fitting in with many different people, but also standing for what is important to me. Balancing the nurturing qualities of a therapist, and also advocating for creative rights in community feels like my life’s work. Our new classes, How Money Works and Ethics and Contemporary Capitalism, are definitely challenging for me to get my head around, but I’m excited about going into the experience with a beginners mind, remaining open to not knowing the answers and taking it all in.

That lemon balm in our garden developed strong roots in a short period of time. I feel that’s happened for me with Groundswell. Being part of a group of people who are committed to making change is very grounding and roots a lot of the ideas in my birdbrain. A lot of these ideas have gone very deep in a short period of time. I just need to find a way to embrace the chameleon, while keeping my true colours strong.

~ Sarah

Brain food digestion in process


It’s 11:00am on Thanksgiving Monday. I’m sprawled across my couch, semi-comatose, digesting ferociously. The morning’s low clouds have excused any serious activity so I’m cozying up with a mug of ginger tea and getting down to business. Tracy Chapman is turned down low in the kitchen. I’m wearing my thickest wool socks. Everything is in place for that post-feast marathon. Odds are, you can relate.

What might be surprising is the fact that I didn’t carve into an enormous dinner during the weekend. This year I’m bracketing my Thanksgiving with a trip to Seattle last weekend and one to Salt Spring Island next Friday. This weekend is a quiet interlude for me. What has me couch-bound is not a Thanksgiving meal but the enormous task of churning through Groundswell’s intellectual feast. The lectures and workshops in week five once again packed my mind and body with ideas to tease apart, mull over, integrate and absorb. I’m stuffed!

A single blog post can’t possibly give full justice to the depth and breadth of the material we covered last week. Each day filled pages of my notebook and hours of my thoughts. Monday’s full day anti-oppression workshop with Kalamity Hildebrant left me inspired and exhausted. I have such gratitude for their deft facilitation and the willingness of my fellow Groundswellians to compassionately hold each other accountable as we navigate and deconstruct systems of social oppression. Tuesday’s presentation by Itai Bavlion on growing up as a Kibbutznic enlivened my ability to imagine alternative modes of community social organization—‘juicy’ and otherwise. Again, I left feeling shaken out of my default understanding of what is possible and all the richer for it. Liz Lougheed Green’s practical advice that afternoon served as a perfect compliment to the morning’s conversation. Her wise suggestions regarding financing and organizational branding grounded my lofty ideas with pragmatic insight into the functioning of alternative-businesses in Vancouver. I’m continually amazed by the generosity of guests such as Liz to speak frankly about their rich personal experiences as social entrepreneurs. Wednesday evening’s presentation by Christina Ladhe and Violet Rose Pharaoh from East Van Roaster’s seamlessly continued these conversations. Their willingness to engage with the complex and muddy process of creating socially just business alternatives revealed an admirable bravery. It wasn’t just the delicious potluck spread that left me feeling warm and content as I biked home that night.

Although summarizing this week’s lessons and anecdotes is impossible, two themes appear to weave through my experience of the week’s conversations. First is a feeling of fullness that comes from hearing about the diverse work occurring in our communities. Second is a feeling of gratitude for the trusting willingness my fellow students and the wider Groundswell community to engage with challenging ideas, narratives, identities and social systems. A perfect Thanksgiving combination. I’ll be making sandwiches from these leftovers for weeks. But for now, please excuse me while I pull up this blanket and dim the lights. I think I need to sleep this one off. The Groundswell feast starts again tomorrow.

Giving thanks,

Groundswell on!

Deconstructing Oppression: One Turkey (or Tofurkey) Dinner at a Time

family dinnerFor many of us the dreaded family dinner is a battle. Like holding your breathe under water you suppress the beliefs and opinions that we have endlessly pondered over, that we have researched, and that we have discussed. Pushing them down into a deep crevasse, we sandwich these notions that we hold so highly somewhere between our large intestine and our right kidney; never to be digested and left to wither like a preserved bog man and maybe excavated during your daughter's wedding 25 to 30 years down the road. In my experience family dinners, especially those celebrating colonial holidays such as Thanksgiving, follow a fairly reliable performance that goes something like this:

Opening Scene - Said family is sitting around a table heaped with food (including a number of items that I cannot consume). Around the table we go expressing those things we are thankful for, which generally has to do with the stuffing (I heard it was delicious). The gratitude train reaches me and I'm still stumped, but respond with:

Me: (almost awkwardly long pause and an attempt to stumble through something that resembles gratitude about friends and family, which I am grateful for, and perhaps even the stuffing, which smells good...) “I seem to have an emotional blockage about this word gratitude, I don't know if I can answer this.”

One member of family: “Wait, you can do that?”

Me: “But I would like to acknowledge the land that we are on...”

Another member of the family: (Cutting me off in what was certainly was an attempt to change the subject before I got to something “touchy”) “Yes, we live in a beautiful country, Canada, and a have a wonderful house and I am so thankful for that.”

Me: “Actually, I was hoping to acknowledge that we are on the traditional unceeded lands of the Coast Salish Peoples. Land that was stolen and no treaties have been signed. I think that it is especially important to acknowledge this on Thanksgiving due to the colonial history of this holiday.”

All Family: (silently staring)

Me: (talking a bit faster and starting to sweat) “I participated in this anti-oppression workshop on Monday in class and happen to have a handout on the Coast Salish People and their traditional territories. It even has a map. Would you like to see?”

All Family: (silently staring)

Me: (talking even faster and dabbing my forehead with a napkin) “We also mapped out our privilege. That might be a fun thing to do after dinner. You know, some families play board games, we can deconstruct systems of oppression, hahaha ha haaa h...”

speak truthThis is generally the point where shit hits the fan (sometimes literally) and my entire family spends the next 2 to 4 hours yelling, interrupting, debating, coercing, questioning, and denying while my 4 year old niece, having been at the ready with her wooden spoon, facilitates the conversation, by trying to pass around a talking stick (bless her heart). In the end our stomachs ache from cramming too much food too quickly, our heads hurt from the general volume at the table, and our brains are fried from thinking around and around in circles of sexism, racism, prison systems, the rights of the disabled, gender roles, and finally, exhausted, finishing right back where we started with the genocide of the First Nations in Canada. The table is a mess, since I have been ripping my napkin into tiny bits and my sisters have polished off 3 bottles of wine and are now cracking open the tequila. We are sweaty, drunk, angry, exhausted, and currently don't really like each other, but we made it through.

I take a breathe and a sip of water. After a few seconds of stillness it hits me; I have an answer for the big G question. I am grateful that my family went through this process with me. Deconstructing oppression is exhausting and leaves everyone feeling uncomfortable. My family could have ignored me, patronized me or denied me the right to express myself (I realize that they also could have listened intently, seen my point of view and changed the way they interact with the world, but who are we kidding). Instead, my family engaged in the conversation and they did this for me.

As I become more aware of systematic oppression I find myself becoming incredibly sensitive to it. The slightest hint of sexism and I'm crying; classism makes me want to tear my hair out and don't even get me started on heterosexism. I realize more and more how vital emotional safety is to me how important it is to it is to be surrounded by loving, caring individuals. Individuals that are critical of the society and systems we find ourselves part of. Individuals that realize how their judgements of me not shaving my armpits or eating out of a dumpster effect me.

Fostering these relationships takes time and oh so much work. Unfortunately my family, like many,  does not get together in a healing circle and share their feelings, so is seems the only available venue is the dinner table. So next time you wreck Thanksgiving dinner by addressing the migrant workers that are enslaved to grow the peach cobbler your eating or the horrendous conditions that your turkey had to live in before being brutally slaughtered, scrap the anger and the guilt. Instead remind yourself to be grateful that you can have these discussions. That your family is taking the baby steps towards deconstructing oppression whether they realize it or not.

Flexing My Creative Muscles - A look back at what brought me to Groundswell

This week's post by Spencer takes us several weeks back to the summer, before Groundswell's Fall Session began.  Spencer contemplates the journey his critical mind is taking, rediscovering creativity and taking action. A few months ago, my partner at the time and I were spending a Friday night in and wanted to watch a movie. Neither of us keeps up much with pop culture, and we struggled to pick a film. She suggested Ratatouille, a childhood favourite. I had no other ideas, so a decision was made.
We settled into the couch and watched as Reny, an anthropomorphic rat, escapes the filthy existence of his species to become an elite Parisian chef. I made it about halfway before falling asleep. 

The next morning, my partner asked me what I thought of the film. Having a bit of fun, I set about ruining it for her by exposing how one of her favourite childhood films perpetuates everything that's wrong with the world. Reny's upward mobility really only justifies the continued exploitation of all the other rats. They just aren't as talented as he is, and in any case don't appreciate the finer things in life. The rodent protagonist deserves his new life cooking Paris's finest food, and they deserve theirs picking through the city's trash. And the strong-willed feminist character? Well, she chills the fuck out as soon as the writers put a man in her life.
Later that day, I started thinking about how easily that critique came to me. I could deconstruct that movie for sport before my morning coffee. But could I create a different story, one more true to my values? That's a lot harder.

                 Superman needs to hit the squat rack.

Like many progressives, I think my creative capacities are underdeveloped compared to my critical ones. Sometimes I feel like that dude at the gym with the massive upper body and the stick-thin legs. If I want to help build up an economy that reflects my values, I'm going to need a more balanced physique.
For me, that has meant pushing myself toward greater openness. When I encounter a new initiative, I've been trying to ask "what can this contribute?" before I ask "what can go wrong?" I've been picking up books on solidarity economics, fair trade and social enterprise rather than reading yet another attack on capitalism.
But here's what I'm not saying: that the lack of a positive vision ever invalidates critique. Too often, people will say "that critic should offer solutions" when "their critique makes me uncomfortable" would really be more honest. I have no desire pull any punches, and I certainly don't want to pervert the argument above to shelter myself from other people's feedback.
And providing an alternative is not always the criticizer's responsibility. Don't ask migrant labourers to re-write Canadian immigration policy before listening when they say, for example, that the Canadian state has created "modern day slavery." Don't ask theUnist'ot'en for a blueprint of a clean-energy economy before respecting the "no" they've given to pipelines crossing their territory.  
And I'm definitely not saying that critique isn't important. It's just right now, I'm more interested in flexing my creative muscles. Leanne Simpson writes 'we have debated whether Audre Lourde's "the master's tools can dismantle the master's house." I am interested in a different question. I am not so concerned with how we dismantle the master's house... But I am very concerned with how we (re)build our own house, our own homes.'(1) Our contexts are quite different, but it really resonates.
That's why I'll be joining up with Groundswell Grassroots Economic Alternatives this fall, a training network for young people starting alternatives-to-business. I'm hoping to meet some folks interested in collaborating on an enterprise that's working towards economic transformation. What sort of enterprise, you ask? Well I've got ideas, but I'm not settling on anything yet.

That's not me, but it could be.
While I'm at it, I'll be working part-time with Shift Urban Cargo Delivery, an inspiring worker-coop that does last-mile goods delivery on cargo trikes. Yep, I'm getting paid to ride a tricycle (and de-carbonize our transportation system, and further the collective ownership of workplaces).
Of course, it might not work out. My enterprise might fail, I might not meet the right people, I might run out of money, I might discover how horribly misguided this whole plan was to begin with, etc. These are risks I'll have to take, but this work is too important to delay. Bring it on.

1. Leanne Simpson, Dancing On Our Turtle's Back, 32


Read it on Spencer's blog here: http://yougotabetteridea.blogspot.ca/2014/08/flexing-my-creative-muscles.html


This is me jumping out of my comfort zone

I have half an hour to write this blog.  I work best with a deadline so lets see how this goes. comfort zone

Just read Kim’s post (first of the year) and that may have been a mistake.  Now I feel like my random ramblings are not going to measure up.  I can’t write like that.  Why did I volunteer to write the second week blog?  Oh yeah, cause I DID NOT WANT TO.

This class has a greater purpose for me, for all of us I am sure.  I am here to better mine and my daughter’s life while simultaneously changing the world (or at least my small corner with my unique set of talents and passions).  Accomplishing this in 8 short months is going to require me leaving my comfort zone repeatedly.  So when there was a blank spot on week 2 blog sign up and I DID NOT WANT TO WRITE I jumped out of my comfort zone.

It’s Monday night of week three and I promised Paola that I would get the blog to her tonight so now I don't have time to write the post... then obsess over it...and change it for the next few weeks before feeling confident; and that is not comfortable.

Looking back at the last week; I remember driving to Groundswell Monday morning and I was struck with this overwhelming sense of gratitude.  That my MONDAY consisted of getting to go to this amazing space with this group of amazing people and I get to create an amazing business to do amazing things.  (No time to thesaurus amazing synonyms)

We started half hour early that day and more rush of gratitude as Spencer brought the promised french press for coffee. Then Gilad shared his timeline.  I don't think it is possible to watch someone be vulnerable telling their authentic story and not fall in love with the beauty in them.  And so I felt myself fall in love with each member of my small group as they shared their own timelines.  I saw a piece of myself in them.  But maybe even more important I saw a piece of my daughter in them.  That spark of beauty and uniqueness that we all posses and alter along our life path.  It is a truth that I found with the birth of my daughter.  We are all worthy of love simply for existing.

The was a lot of great things covered the second week.  Theory of change, Gilad’s interpretation of “Little house on the periphery” and how our education system works. We ended Tuesday with a spiral of learning.  After that lesson, I gave myself permission to get stuck and feel uncomfortable with my project, with new and old material and even in relationships and so I took myself up on that offer.  I spent the rest of the week feeling kinda bad for no reason I have yet to pinpoint. I think I just wanted to get to the deeper learning and first I must pass through all the “seasons” of learning.  So I moved on to fall and winter knowing that monday morning would bring a new spring.  And since I am writing this on Monday...spoiler alert….it did.



written by Jubilee, Groundswell participant

Every Revolution Starts in a Cafe

It was Monday, 9am and day one of Groundswell. After frantically juggling my morning chores (which consist of a number of feedings: feeding the cat, feeding the dog, feeding the chickens, feeding the worm compost and maybe even getting around to feeding myself), I hopped on my bike and headed North. It seems like there is never enough time to get ready for these things, even if you are one of the keeners, like myself, who after applying way back in March, then had 6 months to “prepare.” 6 months to wait. 6 months to sit with my worries, doubts and far too much excitement to handle.powell green light I made it as far as 1st Ave before hitting a red light, both literally and figuratively: “What the hell am I doing?” Eventually the light turned green and the pack of cyclists that had formed behind me pressed me forward. It felt good heading to the Downtown Eastside first thing in the morning; just like old times at the Neighbourhood House. Arriving late, I stumbled into an already well-formed, however oblong, circle. Class had started and I had made it. Only time will tell if I made a huge mistake.

I found a seat near the front of the room, which was open to interpretation seeing as it was a circle. I had been in the Groundswell space before and felt uncomfortable with the fancy aesthetics in this part of town: a sure sign of gentrification. But then a cockroach crawled across my shoe and I felt a bit more comfortable. “Hi little guy, or girl or no preferred gender,” I thought to the little creature. This just as we made our way around the circle introducing ourselves by telling a story about our name, how we were feeling and our preferred pronoun.

It was nice to be in an educational space which dealt with our emotions first thing and where the majority of participants either identified as she/her or they/them. Patriarchy in institutional education...not in this space. It was relieving to see how many of my Groundswell comrades shared my simultaneous feelings of anxiety and excitement, doubt mixed with trust. They seemed like a rad bunch.

Most of the morning blew by in a flurry of housekeeping and mingling until our first guest speaker, Lauralei (Raven-Wing), arrived. A First Nations elder from the Cree nation and a medicine woman, she bravely faced the group; and, in a refreshingly frank and open way, she answered any questions we had. She touched on topics ranging from colonization to the gender spectrum. The latter she termed “genderful.” Already I was starting to feel a bit more settled. Phew...

Forming groups, we discussed questions we had about the neighbourhood in which we would be spending so much of our time for the next 8 months. My group, neglecting our assigned task, spent our time brainstorming the ways in which this space, our space, could become a hub for the community. Popcorn style:

cafe feet

People's Phone Community                         Potlucks          Bathrooms               Harm Reduction                            Free/Cheap Coffee     Tent City Support               Free School              Clothing Rack             Office Space      Inclusivity            Library   Free Store

I was starting to get excited. But it wasn't until the day had ended and I was chatting with Gilad that I heard the sentence that settled my troubled mind: “every revolution starts in a cafe,” he said.  Now I was seeing all the possibilities of the space, the Groundswell team and our community at large. Not too shabby for my first day. Finishing up this post, I saved it to a new folder I created on my computer entitled “Groundswell.” Shit's real now.

written by Groundswell participant Kim Del Valle Garcia


Sweet Summer Swell! Now it's back to school, and work (but not as usual, of course)

Fall Session starts next week, but first let's see what the summer had in store for Groundswell and the alternatives-to-business seeking community.  Kevin Elliot, a participant from Groundswell's first year and editor of the Agorian, a soon-to-be launched online magazine, has been in touch with the team at Groundswell over the summer and sums up the excitement and swell we've been creating.  Are you part of the groundswell yet?  Kevin Elliot

“Not business as usual” never before sounded so counter-intuitively promising. The excitement Groundswell fosters in the community through its summer events is in anticipation of contributing to a new way of thinking about doing business and what it means to live together.

Groundswell is making a splash in the city’s burgeoning “new economy” movement after wrapping up our inaugural year last spring and since growing in unexpected ways.

A summer of buzz has helped us refine the program and spread its message, and people are coming out and noticing.

“We hosted a community discussion forum at Café Deux Soleils and an inadvertent scheduling conflict pushed it to a Saturday night,” explains Groundswell’s operations coordinator, Paola Qualizza. “But the fact that every table was occupied and people stayed after hours – on a Saturday night in summer – speaks directly to the fervour for social and economic change around which Groundswell is mobilizing.”

As we emerge from the infancy of our launch year, Groundswell is ballooning into a continually growing community itself.

“It is exciting to see new projects emerge, but what is most interesting about Groundswell is to see what happens when we start putting them together, creating a supportive network and community,” says co-founder Matt Hern.

We are excited about continuing to promote the core idea in the program, which remains our commitment to building towards a sustainable society that functions outside of strictly for-profit mentalities.

The feedback on this core idea has been overwhelmingly positive. “The variety of people we have reached through our open houses all summer is indicative of the desire for changing the status quo,” says Qualizza. “It is not just about doing something innovative, but about finding the right people for our program to make meaningful change in their lives and ours.

“That is why the quality of participants is so important to us – it is about people willing to take a different path in life to stay true to themselves.”

Emma ClaireThis is the momentum that Groundswell is seizing upon to enter our second year, in the hopes of building a sustained community as our alumni grows. “I am mostly excited to see how the community we have developed here will change into something new while staying strong and vital,” remarks first-year participant, Claire Gendron. “Not only are our projects just starting, but the mutual support we will provide for each other is also just beginning.”

Kevin Elliot

Ice Cream Social

What's next?  Check out Groundswell's Ice Cream Social on Wednesday, September 3rd to meet the new Fall cohort and enjoy some final sweet summer scoops with the Groundswell Community.

This Saturday Night: It's Not Business As Usual

This is an invitation to action. Join us at Cafe Deux Soleils on Saturday, July 26th at 8:00 pm for an evening of great ideas about transforming the economy, and a path forward to make those ideas a reality.

july 26 logo

We all feel it: that wellspring of energy for major change to the current economic system. It's welling up between us, and the tidal waves of development rushing towards our neighbourhoods. Right now, as tides are shifting around us, we need to come together and define that change as we see it and need it to be.  Then we need a plan for action. That's what Groundswell is all about.

We're figuring out what real change - change that is substantial, not superficial - to the economic system looks like, and then working with young people to make it happen. We know the current economy is the product of all our collective actions, and we're working on ways to shift those actions in favour of greater justice, love and solidarity.

Adding fuel to the conversation:

Geoff Mann is an SFU professor & author of Disassembly Required: A Field Guide to Actually Existing Capitalism.  He will refer to the final chapter of this book and start a conversation on demonetizing our personal relationships and practicing an practical anti-capitalist ethic in our daily life.

Gilad Babchuk is a Groundswell facilitator and co-founder.  Drawing on his experiences establishing alternative schools in Israel and working with social innovation internationally, Gilad will provide inspiring examples of alternative social innovation initiatives happening world wide.

Reilly Yeo is a Groundswell facilitator with a decade of non-profit experience including Managing Director at Open Media.  She will start the discussion on media democracy and it's growing relevance in our changing economy - for better or worst.

Click here to RSVP!

Our Graduating Gala

[slideshow_deploy id='578'] On May 15th, Groundswell marked a serious milestone - the graduation of our first amazing cohort. While Groundswell can't be defined by a list of projects – what's distinct about Groundswell is the community that is greater than the sum of its parts – we invite you to check out the many diverse enterprises of our inaugural group:

The Agorian: a Vancouver-based online magazine about ideas for a livable world.

Andrea Woodhouse: an intuitive healing practice to identify and overcome challenges in your life.

An Invitation to Move: a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing creative programming to youth.

The Plant Collective: a workers co-op whose focus is on providing the resources needed for the cultivation, maintenance + preservation of plants + fungi for food, medicine making, bioremediation + art.

ReThread: a production company that facilitates and coordinates arts & local environment based activities to foster dialogue, build community, and increase connection to people and place.

Rise: a non-profit dedicated to empowering young women to take control of their own well-being, through summer camps and after school programs.

Sira Food & Health: a East Vancouver-based company specializing in ecologically friendly cosmetic and cleaning products.

SuperModels: is a podcast that shares stories of empowered young people who are building innovative and radical projects and livelihoods that dare to push for personal and social change.

Surrey Youth Space: A youth-driven, cost-free, arts-based centre for youth empowerment and engagement in Surrey.

Tessa Yoga: a yoga practice focusing on non-judgmental teaching, and bringing yoga into new places and aspects of life.

Witches Union* Hall: a project that uses mutual aid to create media and space(s) dedicated to education, skill sharing, cultural events, critical dialogue and organizing within a community based on similar values and spiritual practices.

The Wood Shop: a workers' cooperative that makes quality products out of upcycled wood at a reasonable price.

We're now welcoming young people to apply for next year's cohort – find out how.

~Thank you so much to Zack Embree once again for the amazing photos <3


Finances have feelings too

by Annah My brain is changing.

Numbers telling stories?

Ethics and Values suggested through zeros and ones?

Finances have feelings too it seems.

Welcome to the Matrix, or more appropriately, Microsoft Excel.

We are deep into financial planning, and will be for a total of 5 weeks. Let me tell you, it is no cakewalk. We’re not in Alternia anymore. It’s time for real talk, brass tacks, none of that slippery stuff. This is where we get to find out how little we are able to pay ourselves in the first year. It’s where we get real about the monetary risks we’re willing to take for our newborn project babies.

Financial planning hurts sometimes. When putting an organization into purely monetized terms, we miss out on accounting for certain non-monetized costs and benefits. We are faced again with what the economy has not been able to account for. Is there a monetary value that can be placed on feeling good? To feel good is to smile and chat with strangers. It’s being present over dinner with friends and family. It means existing in the moment of time that is happening right this very second!

I know it’s totally cheesy, but this shit is important and systems for such things are simply not in place during this process. I’m attempting to jam some life-balance into this because there is absolutely nothing wrong with going to bed at a decent hour and eating three casually paced and well chewed meals a day.


One thing that is clear in financial planning is that you can almost smell the burnout radiating off of some of these financial plans. In the case of The Plant Collective, we are essentially not paying ourselves for the first year (did we forget?), and are meanwhile absorbing the costs in labor to provide a community service. Big mistake already, back to the drawing board. Spending the time it takes to figure out how a social purpose organization can thrive and sustain in the long run is good for everybody.

Another guest speaker capped off the end of the week: Irwin Oostindie. This guy is essentially the cultural curator of my North Van teenage experience; he was the guy setting up all ages punk shows outside of Seylynn Hall in protest of their inaccessible rental costs in the late 80s, and was the co-founder and core organizer of Under the Volcano Festival. Not that I was alive when any of this began, but I most definitely reaped the benefits.

Irwin was also the executive director at W2, a community media arts space in the Woodwards building in the DTES. As you can see this guy likes to get things done. We fast-tracked through his life as a community organizer, picking up lessons along the way. We spoke of his experiences with other organizers and peers. My favorite Irwin tip was his point on parasitism, which was described as the process of leaching resources off of larger corporations for a benefit to your own organization. If we can agree that all money must be dirty by now, then what’s the difference? Clean that shit up and serve it to some nice folks.

The Wood Shop Says Hello to You

Chris, Ben and Andrew are making serious progress with their wood upcycling business, the Wood Shop. In this video, they consider the connection between disassembling pallets - material representations of moving across borders, being superfluous and yet necessary, useful objects being treated as waste, products of an unsustainable relationship to the things that we own - and disassembling capitalism.

Pride and Prejudice and Groundswell

2014-01-06 12.05.44by Kevin

Exposing our hearts to the world is an intimidating experience, so the thought of branding our project ideas initiates a crucial and decidedly precarious leap of faith in our journeys at Groundswell. Impressions are everything.

This last point was an important lesson as well for Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice; his own self-branding as a misanthropic and prideful aristocrat did him no favours in his courting of the head-straight Ms. Bennet.

How is this narrative from arguably one of the English-speaking world’s greatest romances relevant for our week in Groundswell? If anything, branding is nothing but romantic. Revealing vulnerabilities and asserting, even advertising, the core features of our projects, and by extension, ourselves, is a lesson not to be taken lightly and hinges highly on the development of reputations. Attracting others and convincing them to pay attention is at the essence of any courtship, one that involves meticulous and strategic planning. Without a strong reputation and market presence, our projects might as well have as great a chance of succeeding as Darcy’s courtship from novel’s beginning.

Thus foreshadows the menagerie of emotions that defined our experiences the last several days at Groundswell as we focused on the basics of how to catalyze an image for our projects. Reilly Yeo presented the basics of Website Creation 101, as our deliverables for the following two weeks included the construction of websites for our brands and a social-media presence.

As participants worked to create that flawless online identity, it quickly grew apparent that desire for that perfect sense of creating and establishing character and uniqueness comes with the same costs as romance, the anxiety of inadvertently misrepresenting your brand, creating a false impression, or even presenting an unflattering or ineffective visual gaffe.

IMG_0080Anxiety abound, we tackled the collective mood of vulnerable fear the following Wednesday evening with a group brainstorming session facilitated by Groundswell participant Annah Mackay. The task: ideate some branding taglines for everyone’s project. It was yet another bonding opportunity for us Groundswellians and an important reminder that we are in this together. Each project reputation, ultimately, contributes to the Groundswell reputation as a whole.

In fact, moulding reputations together is the first step in putting yourself out there, so to speak. It was Darcy’s tactful and shameless contribution to salvaging the reputation of the Bennet family that ultimately won over Elizabeth’s heart, by whom he grew “properly humbled.” Humility, perhaps, will await us all if we engage in the courage of not only creating our brands, but sharing them and acknowledging our flaws and owning our images and identities in all their beauty.

Courage, Crises and Camaraderie: Tales from the World of Groundswell

JP's partner, Katherine, in the Groundswell cafe space

by JP

The second term is in full flight and the attrition rate has levelled off. The previous weeks had been challenging as we tested our assumptions and crafted our grand visions, for ourselves and our projects. To put ones highest values and aspirations, out to the world, is a difficult thing at the best of times. Throw in 20 peers who's opinions you greatly respect, a 2 minute time limit and a barrage of Q & A and you start to question your sanity. As it turns out, this is completely normal and to be expected. A quick informal pole revealed that the average mini breakdown rate is about 1 per week. Furthermore, there is a significant amount of on-line literature on “how to not go crazy as an entrepreneur”, go figure! But through crises we develop courage. If we were in the lull of winter last week, this week provided the first harbingers of spring.

When it came time to present our Mission and Vision statements Monday morning, I was nothing short of blown away. The clarity and concise nature of each presentation was a  demonstration of how much progress we have made over the semester. There was a distinct confidence present. That dreaded question of “What is your project?”, that felt so heavy last week, now feels like an opportunity rather than a burden. Everyone is eager to talk about how their projects are taking shape, share resources and empathize with the inevitable challenges that arise through this process. There is a sense of shared ownership. There is a responsibility to the group, not just our individual projects. A great testament to the culture of co-operation, that has been skillfully developed here at Groundswell.

So with clear visions and new enthusiasm, we tackled this weeks task. Find a vessel for our project. Corporation, Non-Profit, Co-op, Private or Public? This really felt like business school and was very grounding. Moving from the ethereal nature of visions and values, to the hard practical realities of the business world, provided some stark contrast. Once we broke off into small groups for the afternoon and had a chance to talk things through with our assigned facilitators, things started to make sense. “Keep it simple!” was the takeaway message for this task. The rest of Tuesday was spent  working on our projects with enthusiasm and diligence.

A photo from our long-table dinner co-hosted with Ashoka Canada

As always, the week ends with Wednesday night community time, speaker and potluck. Community time started with Annah, Emma and Claire sharing a candid look at some specific challenges and pivots that they have been dealing with over the past couple weeks. Sometimes we have to make ourselves vulnerable in order to move forward and this was another shining example. We also got the opportunity to meet and chat with the new cafe manager, Amanda Kai. She gave us a little glimpse of what our beloved classroom will soon be transforming into, as well as the values and principles she will be bringing to the project. The speaker for the evening was Jennifer Johnstone, President and CEO of the Central City Foundation. She spoke openly about capital investment and the specific qualities her organization looks for when deciding how to allocate funding. It's always a pleasure and privilege to have such well respected and accomplished members of the community come and share their insights and experience.

And finally, the potluck. The most telling indicator of how we are collectively coping with the trials and tribulations of Groundswell. When we are on top of things it's all salads and homemade delicacies. When things get tough it turns into a desert buffet with pies, pastries and assorted sweets as far as the eye can see. This week, a well balanced spread is further evidence that we are succeeding in complimenting each others talents and helping each other overcome our shortcomings.

A great potluck lesson indeed!

Storytelling for Groundswell

by Chris, co-producer at Lazarus Upcycle, with help from Emma Storytelling was at the forefront of discussion this week, from Amanda’s presentation on marketing and branding, ie. how the story of your project will be told to stakeholders and customers, and Charles Tsai’s workshop on the crafting of narrative for crowd-funding campaigns, to our focus in community time on recruitment for next year, and what kind of stories will get what kinds of new groundswellers.

It made me want to communicate in the sort of narrative I enjoy the most: poem.

We sit on stolen land wondering, where the voice is coming from where authority is vested the place from which our stories may be rightly told What kind of people are we? Whose stories sneeze out our mouths, into a world of arrow-like precision targeted markets, bulls-eyes             in china shops? It does not exist; it cannot hold my business has only cold bare facts the story must cleanly unfold.

But what kind of brand sears into the problem?

We do not know (Are we there yet?) But continue to crawl toward projects             launching into the stratosphere holding on tight, enjoying the ride,


Can the story be a question,      Do our tongues know the words? Can we ask together,      Must the voices yield to the sanitized world?

This search: finding ground for the unclean story. Progress muddled and path never ending; weary, I’m looking. Hands outstretched Mouths open

We’re reaching.

Come by the week of August 18th

Missed the last Info & Experience Open House on August 11?  
We are opening the doors and welcoming prospective students into the space all next week!
Monday, Aug 18th: 4:30 - 5:30pm
Tuesday, Aug 19th: 12:30 - 3:30pm
Wednesday, Aug 20th: 10:30 - 2:00pm
...at our café space, 566 Powell St.
If you can't make it during these hours, please email paola@groundswellcommunity.ca to schedule a visit.

Come if you're interested in applying, checking us out, learning more, volunteering and/or just wondering what we're up to. All welcome.

Hypothesizing, interviewing, networking, listening, researching and ... starting over

by Groundswell participant Andrea So far we have been hypothesizing, interviewing, networking, listening, researching and taking all of that back into our business canvas and starting over. Many of the projects – my own included – have morphed into a cousin of the original idea. Hopefully not unlike the many drafts that uncover when we place an oil canvas under the x-rays.

We opened up the space with our weekly presentations. I never fail to be impressed how much people are managing to achieve in such short time. Contacts are made, direction is steered and corrected and you can see each of us growing through-out it all.

Image: Judy Merell

This last Monday we all showed up ready to be pointed into a new landmark. Yet Gilad and Alice stopped us in our tracks and began story time again. Alice shared a vision framework and her own visioning process. Gilad went mythical on us as he shared the story of Moses guiding the newly-made-freeman into the desert that came before the Promised Land. As he illustrated the importance of choosing the right path… not the fastest (40 years wandering around?) but the one that actually gets you where you want to be. For those who just gained freedom it was to imagine how one would behave other than as a slave. A question that probably hadn´t been pondered in generations. It was this question and not really the search for the Promised Land that took them so long to figure out. More likely once they did figure it out they stopped right where they were, realizing they had already arrived to promised land.

Hence, for each of our projects that original vision must prevail. However far we wonder, however much we change, that should be our north star. And so the landmark for the week was revealed, not pointed as it must come from within us, but beckoned on. Knowing that, like Moses himself, many of our projects might never come to see the vision fully realized… how can we make sure we remain explorers and not wanderers?

The answer is to come next Monday as we all unveil our visions and probably measure how far we may have morphed from them!

Image: Hachette

Tuesday morning cradled our vision process as we brainstormed how our projects could look in the bigger picture as a group. Poking and probing on and on as we usually do. Then Tuesday evening was the meeting of the Groundswell Book club as we finished our exploration of The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin. Although it wasn’t planned we could not have chosen a more appropriate topic. A fascinating book on its own and stubbornly intriguing if one reads between the lines. We walked and talk along the vision of an egalitarian non proprietarian world, its counterpart and their inescapable imperfection.

Wednesday was Groundswell Thanksgiving day of shorts. As myself and Irina had been planning a dinner to thank our guest-speakers and other contributors for all of their efforts. It is in times like this that Groundswell flourishes. As some people showed up early to help out and others started arriving with mouth-watering food also our guest started to arrive and the evening thrived. I overheard talk about graduation themes and had a chance to see Melanie S. one of the participant´s of the pilot project. To close the evening with a golden buckle (as we say in Spanish) Russell opened an interview to our new facilitator Alice that morphed into a group sharing process peeling one more layer away in the heart of our GS group.