The answer to that, of course, is "as best as we can." So here I go.
Where Friday started with an outpouring of rage and grief, then settled into a process, Saturday was like a slow, meandering walk up a hill at the start. First up, the official Alumni meeting and brunch. Some of the same ol' same ol'. "What are we doing? We should do this!" mixed with election results and awards. The primary point of interest, to me, was that the Alumni Board seemed to be entirely willing to work with the CM group in terms of our focus points for organizing. That is, instead of duplicating effort, or ignoring the (mostly) kids, they respected and trusted our efforts. A lot was being invested in this community meeting. That's a phrase I've been involved with before, and rarely has it turned out well. In fact, I was once briefly recruited for a CM collective, but was so embittered by various Community Meetings that I decided that if I ran, it would be on a non-Community Meeting platform. However, there was no other time when we could get so much of the Reunion together, and especially when we could set the agenda to be healthy and proactive. Plus, by this point, we had decided fairly definitively on having smaller breakout groups, which generally made such meetings work. I wasn't worried. But I was still, occasionally on the verge of breaking down. One person said to me that they had gone to the Glen for a good cry. Didn't seem a half-bad idea, but no time. Had to go to meetings. Had to organize. Had to facilitate a breakout...did I really volunteer for that?
Keep the momentum going. Off to the faculty press conference. This, happily, is documented and <a href="http://blip.tv/file/280445/">already online.</a> I highly recommend watching this, because the faculty, more than any other group, is really the anchor that Antioch College is built upon. They connect the students and administration, they're smart and personally invested in the situation, and used to dealing with some sort of public.
You can catch me with a question roughly half an hour into it (not that the other questions aren't important, but if I can't self-aggrandize on a blog, where can I?) At a certain point I took off to prepare for the big meeting. Changed my shirt. I brought one collared t-shirt to wear in case I wanted to be slightly more "respectable." I didn't know I'd be wearing it essentially three days straight. Shave? Why not - and this time with a mirror. Bathing...out of the question. Staying in a tent for three days, not much you can do. Good thing it's Antioch.
I arrive to find the Community Meeting being planned chaotically but effectively. The breakout groups have been organized - and hey, they're under the outline I drew up. Er. Well. I pick my pet issue and stake my turf (creation of a narrative history). There could be some problems at the start - the Community Managers want volunteers from various groups to describe what they've been doing to come up, take the mic, and spit their rhymes. That can take a while. Alumni Board, Faculty, Union staff, current students, non-union staff, the Board of Trustees, townies. Things looked briefly like there would be a bit too much storytelling, or too many questions, but amazingly, did not get bogged down. The breakups happened. Some initial problems - too many groups in Kelly Hall so concentration was hard. But hey - they moved. And things got down to business.
I've never officially facilitated a meeting before. But, informally, I've taken such roles before, so I wasn't terribly concerned. 10-15 people showed up, multigenerationally, from a current student to faculty to early 60's alums. The goal, as I explained, was twofold. First to explain parts of recent history that older alums weren't around for, such as the Renewal Plan, and second to get a group to help write a coherent, total history. With only a little more than an hour, getting those two halves of the same whole on the same page was going to be difficult, especially because some people were very hungry to have the recent history questions answered.
But things actually went smoothly. There were a few hiccups and frustrations, of course, but after answering initial questions, a basic plan went into place. Write and research the history, with documentation. Put it on the web, with a wiki and a FAQ and all that good stuff. Create a writer's group for everyone interested in using their pen for saving Antioch. Boom boom boom. That's what I said, with a bit of a joke, when called upon to announce my group's conclusions to the meeting.
There were probably 300 people, at least, in the room. It was the largest group I'd ever spoken publicly in front of. It was also, despite the brevity and my relative unimportance as one facilitator of 12, the most important speech I'd ever given. I think I did just fine, of course, but I have an old public speaking problem where eventually my body demonstrates the problems of nervousness though my mind doesn't: I start shaking.
If there was a time for the impending breakdown I'd been expecting the past few times, this was it. But it didn't happen. The groups all had their plans. Their facilitators had simple, effective action points. The whole thing was collected for distribution to the community in a few hours. Bizarrely, my outline was still intact, which I felt a few moments of pride over, but it mostly gave way to shock. The shock came from the Antioch community surprising me in such an extraordinary fashion: I expected bitterness. I expected infighting. I expected different groups staking out claims in turf wars. I expected some people to be on the BOT's side, and some people to be simply depressed. I did not expect efficient, effective organizing. I did not expect a detailed plan. I did not expect to be thinking "Oh my, we have a chance. Everything is fitting together." And I certainly did not expect to feel such activation from a Community Meeting.
After the facilitators had given their presentations, an older alum came up to give a speech. It was short and sweet. He announced his history at the college a bit. He pledged a good chunk of money. And he declared that, if we wanted a slogan, he had one: "Be ashamed to let it die." That could have caused the breakdown. Instead, it triggered an amazing wave of energy that would manifest itself shortly in most stunning fashion.
And yes, that's a cliffhanger.