“the Bear River Sessions”


Jan Slakov

Dear Renaissance Network subscribers,   July 8

The "Bear River Sessions" are now over.(A note about the name: We thought of
calling these the "Bear River Sessions" as we chuckled over how, from a
certain perspective, our effort ressembles that of the corporate elites we
object to: a small elite meets with a hard-to-pin down agenda in some
obscure and delightful place and tries to formulate a global strategy!)

I said I would write up a report on the retreat/workshop for the rn list and
now is really the first chance I am getting to make good on my commitment.

I realize if I were you, I would not want to read a mere report from a
meeting someone else had had, even if it were a meeting I would have liked
to attend.

With this in mind, I will keep the actual report short and put most of my
effort into summarizing how we got to where we are now.

Shortly before he left Ireland, Richard wrote a message describing how he
ended up trying to go beyond merely sounding the alarm to actually "building
a fire truck". Here are some excerpts:

Date: Sat, 6 Jun 1998 17:26:57 +0100
From: •••@••.••• (Richard K. Moore)
Subject: about cadre, consensus, and community

Dear cadre friends,

I'd like to share a few reflections about cadre, where we came from, and
what we've been up to.

Phase one, understanding globalization:
There was a time, up until the beginning of this year, when most of my time
was spent on the cyberjournal list...  There I was able to focus on analysis
of `the system', relate that to passing news events, and develop a dialog
with the diverse subscribers that followed the list.

For me, and for many list members, the list _process was highly productive.

Over a period of two years, my understanding of politics, globalization,
world events, etc. increased immeasurably.  I published many articles in
magazines and the level of discourse on the cyberjournal list became quite
respectable.  This whole process culminated in the decision by Carolyn
[Ballard] & me to write a book on globalization.  I took the main ideas that
had been developed during this period and put them into a `summation
outline', which
I dubbed "rkm's model of the world".

Phase two, understanding revolution:
The question had kept arising on the list... "If everything is so bad, then
what's your _solution?"  I tended to dismiss such questions, saying "Just
because I've noticed a fire doesn't mean I own a fire truck."  But then,
finally, I turned the list's attention to the question of political change,
visions of better systems, etc.  We looked at third parties, electoral
systems, models of democracy, ideas for better worlds, and in particular we
looked at various political movements of the past and examined what made
them succeed or fail.

We had our `list process' down to a science by this time, and while it took
two years to investigate `globalization', it took only a few months to
investigate `revolution'.  This led to _another summation outline, "rkm's
model of revolution and democracy", and it led Carolyn and me to expand our
book to be "Globalization and the Revolutionary Imperative".

Phase three, moving from theory to action:

There was nothing left but to move from theory to action.  Cyberjournal
taught me to write, but how was I to learn to `act'?  It seems to me one
learns action by doing it, not talking about it, and so I put out an appeal
for collaborators in _action.   Several people responded, and so began
another group process, one quite different from the one on cyberjournal.

My first vision for our group was that we would be a `consensus team'.  I
_assumed that everyone understood and agreed with the "models" that had
been published, and that this gave us a solid basis of consensus.  If we
could also agree on the goals and process for our `action group', then we'd
have _general consensus, and could act as a coherent team, all `reading
from the same book' as they say.

Phase four, learning from action:
As we near the time for our retreat, there is a natural slacking in our
energy, a downing of tools, we are beginning to turn our attention to some
of our other projects.  At the same time we've developed personal bonds and
relationships with one another that are still too `hot' and `recent' for us
to fully understand what they mean to us.  We may be _overrating or
_underrating our relationships right now, it's hard to tell yet, and the
retreat will be a wonderful `consummation', so to speak, of our net

We need to put some perspective on what we've been doing.  In the terms
that are familiar to me from my time in industry, I'd say that we `signed
up for a project', we became a `project team', and we've been `pursuing
that project', which will culminate in the retreat.

The `project' to which I refer had the following goal: `to host an
activists workshop and launch a coalition movement for systemic change'.
At the retreat we will have a chance to review our experience on this
project, see how much we can learn from it, and discuss what we as
individuals, or in mutual collaboration, might do next.  But _that project
will be over.  We can do "Workshop 2.0" if we want, but that would be a
_new project.

I must inform you that the _first attempt to build a personal computer
_failed, as did the _second, and the _third.  And no one felt we didn't
earn our salaries on the failed attempts!  It all went into the pot of
`industry learning', and eventually personal computers became a reality.  I
feel more confident that a _coalition is possible and necessary than I ever
did about personal computers.

The fact is that we kept working together rain or shine, did our best as a
team, still have respect for one another, and learned a lot about what's
going on out there in `activist land'.  I count the whole endeavor as a
rip-roaring success and can't wait to celebrate with you all.  Knowing how
to work with people has got to be one of the most important skills if any
of us someday are to contribute to a real coaltion movement.

The issue of consensus:
We no longer _have consensus within cadre and I don't think we _need it any
more.  I think the `community' idea is a better working model than a
`consensus team', and that might have been true from the beginning as well.
But you simply cannot learn without making mistakes!  [cf. the "mistake
wheel of the rn list posting of 5/6/98]

yours in revolution,

There are two threads in Richard's message above which touched the workshop
profoundly: the issue of mistakes and what we choose to learn from them and
the issue of consensus.

Meeting there, most of us for the first time face to face, we could speak of
our disappointments and moments of doubt in the context of our overall
commitment to carry on with our work together. 

The book-writing, workshop orgnaizing and coalition-building projects are
all projects that Richard initiated and invited us to help him with. Richard
acknowledged that his style is one of "jumping in the deep end and seeing
what bites" ... and we are grateful that so far we haven't yet run into
man-eating sharks! But the waters have not always been ideal swimming and it
was good to spend some time "looking" before launching into a whole new "leap".

A Buddhist friend urges us to develop what he sees as the "fundamental human
qualities": gentleness, fearlessness and intelligence. His emphasis on these
qualities resonates for me and I think they were manifested in the workshop
and, in particular,  in how we dealt with the "mistakes" we have shared over
the past few months. 

It took "fearlessness" for Richard to dare to build a "fire truck"... and
for those of us who have been trying to help him to tell him of the times
when we felt fearlessness was slipping over into folly.

It took gentleness, real caring, to choose to continue in collaboration
despite these moments of doubt and pain. It takes gentleness and caring for
us to see the value in each of our beings, even though our backgrounds,
priorities and styles are so different.

As for intelligence, well, as individuals we all brought no small measure of
critical thinking and creative insight to the workshop. But did we have, as
a group, the intelligence to identify and commit to a strategy for bringing
about real and positive change? 

Rather than make this posting exasperatingly long, I will put the discussion
of this issue (and that of deciding to proceed in the absence of the kind of
tight consensus Richard envisioned at first) in a separate message.

In the mean time, those of you who are curious will want to read on to find
out more about who "we" were.

Here, then is a list of who actually attended the retreat:

The retreat ended up being divided into two or even three parts: Richard and
I were the only ones there for both parts.

Richard: with his mind so gifted for seeing how systems work, a gift he
first used to make his way in the world of computers (starting in the '60s)
and is using now to see how politics works. Richard, with his tendency to
"blurt" or to "jump in the deep end", his sometimes overwhelming and
intimidating need to control. All this made bearable by his ability to learn
and change, to trust others and then loosen his grip on control... And what
is more than bearable, what inspires people and earns him real devotion is
his selflessness; coming all this way to lead a workshop with a handful of
people is not something Richard did to boost his ego!

me (Jan): home-schooling mother, making ends meet with the help of my former
husband and substitute teaching, translating jobs and helping out with farm
chores. While this lifestyle is pretty busy, it also affords me time for
reflection (esp. walks in the woods) and activism. 

Carolyn Ballard and her partner Frank C, White, Jr. were with us for the
first 3 days of the workshop.

Carolyn: has sensed the hollowness of "the American Dream" and been eager to
find an alternative to corporate hegemony for most of her adult life. When
she first found Richard's cyberjournal she was a graduate student but, since
then,  has had to take a job to make ends meet. It has not been easy for her
to find time for the writing she loves and has a real gift for. Coming up to
Canada from South Carolina (and making alternative arrangements for her son
and the five dogs they share the house with) would have been impossible
without Frank's offer to do the trip together.

Frank: "by name and by nature", as he said! Frank was a delightful surprise:
I would have assumed he would be mainly "Carolyn's partner", sort of "along
for the ride". But no, Frank also wants to help revitalize democracy and has
plenty of experience from his work in corporate America to bring to the
table. Did I say "corporate America"??! Indeed. (Of course, Richard also is
no stranger to "corporate America".) Frank said he would likely end up
playing the role of "devil's advocate", given that he is not comfortable
with much of Richard's analysis of the rise of corporate power. But his role
was actually much broader and more supportive than that.

Robbie Bays, Martin Willison, Bruna Nota and Ian Russell attended the second
part of the workshop. (Carolyn and Frank had to go home early. Luckily the
emergency was not as upsetting as we had first imagined.)

Robbie Bays: He's the manager of the Oakdene Centre (in Bear River) where we
met, the one who met my tentative inquiries about finding a home for the
workshop with unabashed enthusiasm. Robbie's enthusiasm and energy are being
lavished on the Oakdene Centre and the community it serves. To give you some
idea of what the community gets out of the deal, here is a partial list of
projects Robbie is helping with: hosting a Cuban band, all youth (with the
local community now collecting items for the kids to take back with them
when they go home); another youth project for this fall: hosting a
"Katimavik" (alternative to cadets & militarism) team which will help build
a wheelchair accessible path from the centre to the river, help shore up the
banks of the river (using oxen to haul the boulders); also insulating the
Oakdene Centre and installing a solar heating system...

Martin Willison: Biology and Environmental Studies professor; he delights in
the diversity and beauty of all life forms, not just human. This in no way
limits his capacity for relating to and being of use to humans: he is a
teacher by vocation, not just profession (I learned a lot just reflecting on
how he deals with mosquitoes!) and through his deep commitment to seeking
the truth, regardless of who speaks it, he has a way of bringing
reconciliation and appreciativeness to human interactions.

Bruna Nota: She has the energy and generosity to be one of Canada's leading
peace activists AND to still get around to rinsing out the plastic bags in
the evening! Bruna raised her children as a single mother, making a living
helping companies such as GE (yes!) democratize its workplace. Now she has
been helping WILPF (the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom)
set up its constitution  and work relationships and she helped us too.

Ian Russell is Bruna's partner, not so in awe of Bruna's competence and
presence as to agree uncritically with everything she does or says. (It was
delightful to see  Bruna, whom I had already met and admire so much, with
Ian.) Ian came to the retreat/workshop hoping to better understand the issue
of corporate power and explore ways of acting usefully _and effectively to
bring it under control. And underlying this preoccupation with the politics
of now is a wanting to explore the more perennial question of happiness and
optimizing the quality of life.

all the best, Jan