Step outside for a moment…

Occupy London was in court last week. The court found against them and, subject to appeal, the City of London can proceed to evict. The occupation is illegal.

I can’t help feeling that the power of the Occupy movement is tied into that very illegality. In a way I’m glad the court ruled as it did. I’m not glad that the individuals involved have had all their hard work in marshalling and presenting a case dismissed (read one perspective on the Occupy London site). I’m not glad that the encampment outside St. Pauls won’t be there to continue the outreach, education and activism it’s been doing so well. I’m certainly not glad that in the near future activists may be involved in a potentially traumatic eviction. But I am glad that Occupy still occupies the ground outside of the law. Occupy has set itself against the system. The law is part of that system.

It seems to me that there is plenty of organisations that fill the role’s that lawful activism can fill, and with some obvious success. But there is this other role – refusing to allow our activism to be framed in terms of legal and illegal, and instead doing what is right, just and necessary. That seems to be the role that Occupy should stand for, and hold out for.

All this got me thinking of facilitation. Is the same true? Do we all too often try to fit our values, our state of mind as facilitators into roles that the mainstream frame for us? Do we need to occupy ground well outside of the norms of mainstream facilitation-lore? There are certainly folk trying their hardest to create new spaces and explore new roles away from these norms – many of them referred to elsewhere on this blog : Viv McWaters, Johnnie Moore, Chris Corrigan to name a few.

When Rhizome met as a co-op back in November we spent a good while talking about our work. We reiterated that we saw ourselves as radical, but, in honour of our diversity as a collective of facilitators, we consciously refused to define that in any one dimension. We spoke of radical politics, radical process, and radical relationships within Rhizome and without. We also spoke of doing work that was radical for the groups we work with, whatever that may be for them. Seems to me that it’s about standing for the roles that are less comfortable, that are not filled elsewhere, in the mainstream.

We’ve been consciously trying to design our work with that in mind. I felt we were doing that well when Maria and I sat down to plan our recent facilitation training with the staff team at 38 Degrees. From the outset we let them know that we wanted to work with them on shared attitudes, values, and states of mind rather than facilitation technique, tools and skills. Our designing process had real energy and excitement – we tried to be intuitive and innovative. On the day we threw them into learning by doing right from the start with a series games that gave them the choice to compete or to share facilitation and co-operate. Out of their individual and diverse experiences of the same activities we were able to open conversations about their margins and mainstreams and those of the supporter groups they meet with. It felt like we were at least in the region of a radical approach to working with this group – getting to the root of what it means to be facilitating rather than do facilitation. It wasn’t perfect – there were some tools and approaches that at least some of the group would have liked to explore in more depth, for example, but it felt like there was some good learning happening. I know there was for Maria and I.

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