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25 June 2007 @ 06:04 pm
I am awakened at 7:20AM. Antioch security needs my tent to be moved. Main lawn, apparently, is not an option for tent placement. With the news media all over campus, this is understandable and something I'm not entirely willing to fight.  The reason for this set-up is a 9AM meeting, where the Board of Trustees and President of the College are going to report the state of the College to the Alumni. In short, this would be the first public statement by those who decided to shut down Antioch. Ten to twelve members of the BOT showed up, of the 22 who made the decision. Since their votes and arguments were private, we had no idea if these were all members staunchly opposed to the closing or those who stuck the knife in directly.

First, however, came a statement from the faculty, which has been widely disseminated - http://antiochians.org/faculty/faculty-statement/#respond. This was the first major gathering of Antiochians, and this was the first major statement of opposition to the closing which could win almost unanimous approval. I suspect there were few dry eyes in the meeting hall. From then on, I felt on the edge of breaking down at almost completely random speechifying. It was raw. There are dozens of major media reports on the meeting, so I feel very little need to recap much than my reaction to it. In typical Antioch "community meeting" fashion, the construction of the meeting - large audience focusing questions and statements on a few people - there was never going to be enough time to answer the questions, if the questions were even answerable. "How could you?!?" is simply not an answerable question, and the majority of questions came in that fashion.

However, between this meeting, and the brief snippets of the meeting I wandered into the nights before, I was putting together a framework of how the school could be killed in this fashion. The financial structure of the College in relation to the University was simply untenable. Instead of being disappointing, this was settling in my head in a way that would give me optimism. The problem was not that the College was trying its best and failing. It was being crippled. Which meant that if those structural problems could be fixed, then it would be possible to save the College and have it be financially healthy.

This was the point at which I realized it was entirely possible to save Antioch, and worth saving as well. I was never going to be simply an impartial observer, but this is the point in my story when I move from observer of a larger story to participant - even a crucial participant - in the story.

On a personal level, the meeting excited because I started finding my people. The two people* I decided to tag along with turned out to be exactly the right people for my intellectual curiosity to be sated. One of them had the idea of a meeting of former Community Managers, which they both were, and they were starting to gather people and space for the meeting. This one, I would not be kicked out of, despite my lack of being a Community Manager. This meeting was where the fun started.

*I am vaguely uncomfortable with using people's names, though I probably shouldn't be. I suppose it's that I haven't asked these people if they want to be mentioned as heroes.

Lunch was acquired, and then it was off to the Community Government room for the meeting. It was, by and large, former Community Managers from '92 or later. There was one CM from the 60's, and there were a few of we non-Community Managers (but still people who were engaged in the school politically, whether elected or not.) All in all, there were about 12-15 of us, though the group grew as the meeting continued. It started a bit poorly, with these strong personalities, no specific agenda, and no moderator. The CMs (shorthand I will use from now on despite the fact that many of us were not, they were a majority)  were also practiced organizers as well as opinionated individuals, and quickly decided to figure out an agenda and appoint a moderator to get to the task. The agenda became "What the hell is going on here and what the hell can we do about it?" which was probably roughly everyone's agenda, but we were finally forming a group to make something happen. This process should have been my first clue that something special was going on.

The form taken was that we would go around the room in a circle, and say a point or two about what we wanted to be discussed. Someone quickly decided to take notes of it on the white board. Those ideas were examined and collated. The action plan was to take these ideas to the different alumni decade meetings occurring in the next few years, and that they would provide the framework for initial discussion.

My role changes drastically here, and in saying so, I should also mention that my Day 0 post was, in some ways, a lie. Certainly, I am interested in the creation of narratives in an intellectual sense. But more importantly, in this case, I wanted to be a part of this narrative creation. I wanted my story to be one of the stories which got told. It won't just be "fascinating" to observe this. It'll be amazing to actually DO it. Theory, yes, but now I'm practicing.

I attached myself to the group of people who were taking the different discussion points and placing them into a coherent whole. At some point, I declared myself an able synthesizer and writer, and found myself in control of the keyboard. A few minutes with the document, a few minutes rewriting and reorganizing, a few minutes discussing things with other people involved in the process, and voila - an outline was created, printed, and disseminated.

We took this document to the various decade groups, two or three of us per group, and introduced them as the basic forms for discussion. I volunteered to go the 60's and 70's group. They weren't entirely interested in the document as a framework - but they were interested in talking. My partner in organizing and I went around to each group, listening, trying to understand. Others, from the Alumni Board and various ad hoc alumni groups, had their own statements to give to us. The collation of information we desired was happening.

After the decade groups, we re-convened in the CG office to plan, well, what the hell are we doing next? A member of the faculty was there and said what they were doing, and affirmed their support for our group. A member of the BOT dashed in, and declared that she was very impressed, and that there would be a meeting at her place in the near future for organizing her local alums. (It was reasonable to assume that she had voted against the closing, I thought.) A specific plan of action became clear - we had a meeting under complete control of the current CMs, part of this working group, and could set the agenda. We decided to avoid the traditional Community Meeting I mentioned above - with everyone trying to ask questions or make statements at once, and break out into working groups based on the three categories we had decided upon: Finance, Governance, and Communication.

Now, I'm feeling activated. This is not a meeting I cannot be part of, and get kicked out of. This is not a meeting of nothing but bitter recrimination. This is actually something happening. A plan.

And, I got to meet some amazing people, or connect with some others whom I'd barely known. The flaws of the opinionated Antiochian have been hammered out slightly with age, and the eloquence, intelligence, pragmatism and humor come to the foreground. There was occasional frustration, but no acrimony. There was, instead, signs of efficient, effective organizing. And, of course, friendliness. It was time for a social party, heading over to someone's house for a bonfire, veggie burgers, moonshine, impromptu concerts, old friends and new. It was not a blowout. Low key, friendly, almost sweet.

But after the disappointment of the first day, on a strictly personal level, things were looking up. My people were around. My skills were being used. And the plan was looking more and more feasible. I was still close to breaking down, but hadn't. Yet.