by Tom Atlee
Every now and then someone suggests that we should do more block parties, potlucks and boogying and less obsessing about Y2K. While I'm not the partying type, I do think I see a trend poking a delicate sprout above the confusion of Y2K organizing. For those of us who have been pushing boulders up the hill, only to have them roll back down, I'm wondering if it may be time to park our boulders to the side and say: "That's it. It's time to party!" Perhaps the stomping of many feet will flatten the hill we were trying to climb. Perhaps a few dozen relaxed conversations on the street will open new avenues for hope...
Two emails I received this week reminded of last year's breakthrough article, "The Year 2000: Social Chaos or Social Transformation" in which John L. Petersen, Margaret Wheatley, and Myron Kellner-Rogers wrote: "There's an interesting lesson here about involvement that comes from the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. Just a few weeks prior the bombing, agencies from all over the city conducted an emergency preparedness drill as part of normal civil defense practice. They did not prepare themselves for a bomb blast, but they did work together on other disaster scenarios. The most significant accomplishment of the drill was to create an invisible infrastructure of trusting relationships. When the bomb went off, that infrastructure displayed itself as an essential resource--people could work together easily, even in the face of horror. Many lives were saved and systems were restored at an unprecedented rate because people from all over the community worked together so well."
I was also reminded of the following from Margaret Wheatley's "The Amazing Grace of Y2K": "... Y2K community preparedness efforts .... become successful not because they know how Y2K will materialize, but because they create the relationships, trust and good thinking that enable them to deal with whatever happens. One learning shines forth: we don't need to predict the future in order to prepare for it. The most important benefit gained from looking at alternative scenarios, drawing system maps, or auditing community resources, is the relationships we develop. Prepared communities are those that have developed open, trusting relationships, not those who have just stored away physical necessities. Whatever planning tools are used, they must include new levels of invitation and participation, welcoming in those from whom we've been estranged, or those we've disliked, discounted, or ignored. We can walk into the unknown with far less fear and more capacity if we walk there together."
It is odd to think of parties as "planning tools" and "Y2K community preparedness efforts" but the following emails suggest that maybe that's an emerging lesson. As the feminist revolutionary Emma Goldman said many years ago: "If I can't dance, I don't want to be part of your revolution."
Date: Mon, 14 Jun 1999 05:10:09 +0000
From: John Steiner <email@example.com>
Subject: Going with the Flow--The Tao of Summer Y2K Organizing
During the last six months we have had several meetings in
neighborhood of about of about 20 families regarding preparation for
Y2K. The same six or eight folks kept showing up. A neighbor, and now a
good friend of mine, suggested at one point we forget about Y2K as the
reason for the meetings. Y2K, he said at this point divides rather
unites. Given such a wide range of opinion and the general national
perspective, he pointed out that it has very little juice to bring
people out of their homes to meet. Besides, at this stage because
everyone knows about Y2K, people are going to do what they are going to
Instead, he thought, wouldn't it be better and easier just
to have a
series of neighborhood/block parties. As people get to know each other,
he reasoned, then if any real disruptions happen down the line, or if
the climate of opinion changes by mid fall to winter, we would have a
basis of acquaintance and developing friendships to do whatever needed
to be done.
For a month I resisted, for all the good reasons that a fanatical
organizer might offer. However, given the evidence, I finally came
We have a list that the city put out five years ago of everyone
larger block--65 families--their names, address, and phone numbers. We
went around with a very simple questionnaire (names of all of those in
the household/ages of the kids/phone/email/profession or work in the
world/ and hobbies, skills, and interests. We told our neighbors that we
were neighbors and not solicitors, and we were here to update and add to
our neighborhood list and to let people know we were having a party the
following week and would put out a flyer with the details. In some
cases, depending on people's time, I asked lightly what they were doing
about Y2K and mentioned our motivations.
I was astonished at the response. People were grateful for
what we were
doing. They lit up. They wanted to come. They wanted to help. In many
cases they mentioned parties they had gone to last summer or five years
ago. A woman, who had died of cancer, several years ago, had taken
responsibility for an annual party down the block. No one had picked up
We put a brief flyer in everyone's mail box on Wednesday just
post person had come. We could have put up some signs in the
neighborhood on the day of the event as a reminder. Next time! We were
lucky on the weather. Yesterday afternoon, Sunday, between 5-8, about 50
adults and perhaps 20 kids showed up. We had asked the Community
Relations Department of our police force to send an officer to talk
about the Neighborhood Watch program that Boulder has. He came and spoke
for a few minutes, handed out literature, and thanked us for doing a lot
of their work. First, however, his new police car became a huge
attraction for the kids. He showed them around, allowed them to talk
over his PA, "arrested," and handcuffed them, and answered questions.
People started trickling in after 5. By 6 we had a pretty full
out doors on a quiet, side street. Many stayed until 7:30 and slowly
drifted off. All had a good time. It was a surprisingly successful
event. People came from up and down the block. Pockets of neighbors here
and there had known each other. Lots of interchange took place.
It was a potluck and a barbecue, with name tags, including
and people checking out, correcting, and adding to the list. It was an
effortless effort. We've decided to throw another party toward the end
of July, and then again around Labor Day. We've thought of a variety of
things we could do and play together, including Y2K preparations.
I had maybe half a dozen talks on Y2K ranging from one with
scientist who believes, since it is in the self interest of all
organizations to be prepared, that all will be well, to a psychologist
and housewife, who is planning to move into a rural area with another
family because of her concerns. They were easy exchanges which we can
deepen over time. No one was selling anything! No one was trying to
convince anyone of anything!
Mostly I was interested in getting to know my neighbors, who
what they do, what they care about. I even found a retired, (at 40 to
have kids) former legislative aide, to help do some local organizing for
Bill Bradley. One mom, whom I had met on my canvassing, and I talked
about how to help our local school on some concerns that are up, which
we found we shared. Etc.
Lots of fun, good organizing, and perhaps the basics of Y2K
prep--getting to know our neighbors.
We are going to approach various civic organizations in town
local media to suggest to them they do and help us do similar events
throughout the county.
Many thanks to our neighbor, Terry Stuart.
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Date: Thu, 3 Jun 1999 17:26:10 -0400
From: Seth D. Carmichael <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: MILLENNIUM MEAL POTLUCK & Y2K COMMUNITY CONVERSATION
The Millennium Meal Project and the Y2K Youth Action Network
Invite you to be both a host and a guest at a:
MILLENNIUM MEAL POTLUCK & Y2K COMMUNITY CONVERSATION
to be held on
Wednesday, June 9, 1999
In the Gallery at
Capitol Hill's historic
7th Street and North Carolina Avenue SE
One Block From Eastern Market Metro
Please wear whatever feels festive to you, and in the spirit
of sharing with
your neighbor, bring something to add to the feast. Come whenever you can
6:00-7:00 Nibbling and Networking
7:00-8:00 Briefings, updates, ideas, discussion (and maybe some surprise
8:00-9:00 A Millennium Meal provided by many & a role-playing game about
9:00-10:00 Music and dancing
The Millennium Meal is about establishing an annual global
next January lst, when the people of the world can take time off to connect
by "breaking bread" together, sharing so that everyone has something to eat
that day. And everyone feels included.
The Community Conversation is a rapid response to President
last week for Americans to hold town meetings demonstrating, "that we can
and must work together, promoting partnerships so that the Y2K problem is
the last headache of the 20th century, not the first crisis of the 21st
This event will kick off a 90 day summer campaign for community
contingency planning in the District of Columbia for the start of the
2000's, a time that promises to be pivotal for us all. It's not what might
go wrong, but how we deal with it that counts-and attitude is everything.
So please come, share a meal, share your thoughts, learn the latest facts,
figures, prognostications and Y2K jokes. Call 202-544-8505, or 800-401-2011
for more information. And please pass this along to others whom you know are
interested in planning for a year 2000 that we can all look forward to. SEE
e-mail email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
_ _ _ _ _ _
INVITATION TO THE FIRST ANNUAL WORLD BLOCK PARTY
(please copy and distribute)
The idea: One day a year when the whole world stops whatever
they were doing
and comes together as a community. When: Saturday, August 7th, at 10 AM.
Where: your home town, community park, or street. What: food, music,
dancing, yard and barter sales, contests, gossip, sports...anything that
will fit into a city block or country field....
If you want to have a party in your community, please contact
members or neighborhood organizations. We will provide a web site, in as
many languages as we can, with suggestions, ideas and contacts.
If you live in the country, your local grange, church, school
dance halls are sources of networking and experienced community party
givers. It would be good to arrange for some indoor space, in case of heat
or rain. In larger cities, one block often contains enough apartments that
they could host a party together, but smaller cities may want combine three
or more blocks or square miles. The point is try get to know your neighbors,
at least the ones who want be known....
The best thing about doing it all at the same time, is that
have scheduling conflicts (we hope). We can party around events too late to
reschedule, and hope it will be on the world's calendars in 2000 and
beyond. For those communities for whom this is a sabbath day and for whom
this event would be sacrilegious, perhaps Sunday could be their party day,
or another date close by. But getting the date on all calendars as soon as
possible should prevent conflicts.....
We already have the unbridled enthusiasm of two city y2k style
committees, in Grants Pass and Arcata. We need more groups to sign on, so
that people will know it is real and not just a wild dream.
Please contact us at: email@example.com or World Block Party,
106 NW "F"
St., PMB #398, Grants Pass, Oregon, USA 97526.
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