June 27th, 2007

Day 3, part 2: They try to make us close the school, we say no! no! no!

The original plan for the follow-up to the Community Meeting was to take our action points to a meeting with the Board of Trustees and say that these are negotiating points! Listen to us! Or something along those lines. It was never fleshed out, and we gave them less than 24 hours warning that we wanted to do this, so it was something of a relief when the plan turned into us "releasing it to the community." We did, however, pull some strings through the Alumni Board and get the College President to show up for our release. As a potential ally, of all things.

I haven't really mentioned the Pres. yet, I think. Steve Lawry. Not a name that was beloved by recent Antioch grads, as he came in about 18 months ago heavy-handed, thin-skinned, and antagonistic towards the anarcho-libertarian aspects of Antioch culture, i.e., very, very free speech and getting trashed. He earned my ire when he moved to stop my beloved Record from appearing on the web, and took excessively strong steps against some perhaps dubious, but not dangerous quotes from the Question of the Week feature. In short, he was the cranky old white guy in suits yelling at the kids to behave...then threatening to call the cops. Not a good reputation to have with Antiochians. At any rate, at the first meeting on Friday, he came out firing. When one of the Board of Trustees members said that he was their point person for the College, he got asked if he'd asked anyone about the school closing. He said, essentially "Honestly, I had no idea this was on the table." He also dropped a fairly passionate speech about how, if the College was going to survive after its reopening, it would require its own, non-University Board of Trustees, as the system was just too broken right now. I whispered, then, to a friend next to me: "Who is this guy and when did he get on our side?" The Alumni Board had been going out of their way to make him feel like he could, and should be the President if the school stayed open. Steve was, if nothing else, doing his best to stay in everyone's good graces.

Back to the story...I went to the library, where our next meeting was supposed to be. Only it wasn't. A lot of us were sitting at computers, hastily typing in the notes from the breakout groups. A few conversations. Some were designing pledge cards. There were some brief meetings, calls for pizza, a couple beers...wait, no, this was the library. No beers. And that was about it.

It was somewhat baffling. Someone was already typing the notes from my meeting. I was expecting coordination. Nope, everything being done. A few people said that we might want to put together a press release. Seemed a good idea. I went along with that small group to talk over what we wanted to say. The problem, of course, was that we didn't know exactly what we wanted to say, because we didn't know exactly what we were. And to define what we were, well, that may have been something we didn't want to do. To get opinionated here: the CM group was comprised, at its core, of the younger generation of Antioch leaders. Problem was, they didn't want to be seen as leaders. No, they were facilitators. They wanted to aid the flow of conversations, not push them. Not have their own, away from anyone else, where decisions couldn't be seen. And these are all fine and noble goals, and important...but they're also seen as leaders. Our elected representatives. The people we were supposed to trust, and generally did. Hell, the first people of authority we met at Antioch at our orientation. That kind of thing. A social power. Likewise, the CM group had a large amount of social power from being the lower, grassroots organization. As I said earlier, the younger people weren't represented. So here we were. May as well speak, right?

A statement was eventually released Monday, but the CM group hasn't coalesced beyond anything temporary. I hope it will.

Time, of course, eventually ran out on these discussions on the nature of organizing and power. We'd promised information by 7:30, and it was about 7:30. The stuff was still being printed, and I wasn't directly involved, so I volunteered to head to the Stoop and Fishbowl and just let people know that it was coming soon. Along the way, I ran into someone who said that the Alumni were still eating in their tent behind Main Building, so we may as well distribute it there. I decided to stay as a human signpost - I'm tall enough - and guide people to the right place. I was there about 25 minutes, chatting with passers-by, including a fascinating townie who was curious as to what was happening.

I should, perhaps, have been there, to see what happened.

As I understand it, the CM group came and articulated the action points of the meeting. We had a Plan. Or rather, a combination of several different plans, but a Plan nonetheless. That's the Action Items document: http://antiochians.org/announcements/action-items-from-community-meeting. The next stage is when things got interesting. One of the printouts done in the library, it turns out, had been a pile of pledge cards. And a few days of the Alumni Board leaders saying that they were setting up a fund for certain things, and the pledge cards showing up, and an action plan...well, it was time for the money to be collected.

Take notes, gentle readers, on how to collect money at a dinner. First of all, have the money collecting people standing right behind the food table. If you want food, you have to look them in the eye. Second, free alcohol. Beer and wine, plenty of! Third, make it rain. Not so hard that people scatter. Just enough that leaving the tent is....uncomfortable. Now toss in a bunch of enthusiastic, intelligent young people who can make you proud to be an Antiochian, give them some pledge cards, have some speeches, and...bon, voila. You have an effective fundraising environment.

I walk in, "hey, what are we doing? Oh, distributing pledge cards? I can do that!" So I wander through the tables and give people some cards. Seems like that's mostly done, so I head towards the front. Hellllo, an open keg. Grab a glass of beer. Start wandering through the tables, calling "Pledge cards! Pledge cards!"  I see the President, with a slight comfortable smirk. I smirk back, hand him a card, and nod. Some people didn't get one. Some wanted extra, for their friends.Some just wanted to know where to write the checks. The Alumni Board's plan for the weekend, by the way, was to reach $40,000 in pledges. Meanwhile, the cards are coming to the front with pledges and checks, and are being read off, one by one.

So I'm wandering around with pledge cards in one hand, raised far above my head, waving them like raffle tickets. Beer in the other hand. Behind me, the echoes of the amounts were ringing. "One thousand dollars. Five hundred dollars. One thousand dollars cash. Five thousand dollars. A handful of bills. One hundred fifty dollars."

It just kept happening. To the mental image of my beer/pledge cards and wandering, add a slow, somewhat dumbstruck smile, that widened whenever I saw the equivalent look on another wandering pledge card youngster. We'd rocketed past $40K. The first count was at roughly $81K. That's not a good story, of course, the MCs declared. We needed $100K. A few minutes later...we had $100K. Kept coming in bits and pieces. There were urges for $200K. Not gonna happen, when pocketbooks were exhausted at $80K. The mic goes quiet for a few seconds. "Ladies and Gentlemen, the class of '67 has just pledged sixty-seven thousand dollars!"

When the dust settled, we had a little over $180,000. Combined with the auction held earlier that evening, and roughly $200,000 was pledged or raised in a few hours. When the goal for the entire weekend was $40,000, the end result, after all the alums headed home, was ten times that much. $400,000.

I was no longer on the verge of breaking down.