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The Challenge of Nurturing Self-Organized Y2K Responses

In our efforts to organize community responses to Y2K, we may be tempted to try to form centralized coordination or service centers to meet diverse needs and get things rolling in a coherent direction.

Ultimately, I don't think we're going to be able to deal with this centrally -- at least if we want to do it sanely. Y2K ultimately touches everyone and every organization. Most issues of that sort are dealt with by governments. Governments have trouble handling all their citizens -- just look at the crazy bureaucracies around taxes. They haven't got it right after centuries of trying. If Y2K becomes a major crisis that the government has to handle, it will almost certainly resort to force (military), simply because it can't cope with major complexity and chaos without suppressing it.

Grassroots efforts will do no better at centralization. For a grassroots response to succeed, we can't think in terms of establishing central locations that answer people's questions or get all the innumerable actions done. Any such efforts will get overwhelmed and fail. What we need are many centers of responsibility and activity. Self-proclaimed centers can create resources -- information, stories, networking facilities, sample scripts/models/plans, compiled know-how, dialogue spaces, etc. -- which people can use to self-organize individually and in manageably-sized groups.

There aren't clear blueprints of how to do this. There are many scattered examples of movements and self-organization. But nothing tells us how to self-organize a national/global movement of this scope, capable of accelerating from zero to sixty in the tiny amount of time we have available. The challenge is unprecedented, so we are still evolving our ability to bootstrap our collective self-reliance.

Below are a few examples of what we are already doing, or are on the verge of doing. Together, they suggest we are well on our way. At the very least, they clearly point the direction we need to go.

1) Larry Victor, Paul Glover, myself and others have created broad visions which can inspire people with a larger story of what they're doing. People can pick and choose elements of these visions to include in their own personal and collective visions. Over time, new visions will show up and interact with existing ones, giving birth to yet more visions, many of which will be more compelling and do-able than the original ones.

2) Ian Wells, Larry Victor, the Cassandra Project, myself and others have created lists of things people can do to make a difference in their lives, communities and larger societies regarding Y2K. People can pick and choose elements of these to include in their personal and collective to-do lists and projects. Over time, new lists get made (and made available) which are more concise and/or useful, made of items more fully tested in the real world. Over time, as everyone's understanding increases, the lists people choose and make will become increasingly appropriate to their diverse circumstances.

3) The Cassandra Project, Bill Dale, Cynthia Beal, and others have created listservs and Q&A forums in which people can share problems, know-how and perspectives on Y2K. These accelerate the evolution of our collective understanding. As the speed and volume of it all picks up, we'll grow increasingly frustrated with the limitations of these media, and will probably see a rapid evolution in our ability to generate and share practical wisdom on a broad scale.

4) The Cassandra Project, I and many other web sites have compiled vast amounts of information and links/references to other information sources. People can choose the sources of information that they trust to deliver the particular relevance they're looking for. As this collective information base grows, new people will show up to index or summarize it more effectively, or to select and order new arrays of information to accommodate new needs. We might say our collective memory will grow ever-more sophisticated.

5) Napa Valley (CA) created a Y2K web site to meet its own needs. Then along came Newport (OR), wanting to create its own Y2K web site. They expropriated the Napa Valley site to satisfy Newport's Y2K-introduction needs (by explicitly linking to it at the very beginning of the Newport site) and then went on to fill the rest of the Newport site with local news and activities. This now stands as a model for how a local group can whip together a sophisticated site overnight -- not having to re-invent the wheel, but being able to choose from a selection of ready-made wheels. (And I am spreading this model around by mentioning it here, encouraging others to use its self-organizing potential.)

6) Newport went on to list all the towns in their county, creating a page where Y2K groups in each town can identify themselves and link to other town residents through a county-wide page brought to them by the Newport Y2K group.

7) Montgomery County (TX) had a similar, but different idea. In addition to its local preparedness site, it provided a page listing all the counties in Texas. Now it highlights (provides web/email links for) any counties that have a local Y2K group, and encourages any site visitor to start such a group in their county if it isn't highlighted, referring them to materials they can use to get started. So suddenly we find ourselves in possession of a model for how a single group can stimulate the formation of groups all over its state. Montgomery's and Newport's innovations hint at a vision of how entire states could self-organize from the grassroots up. (Does anyone want to take on the job of finding people in each state to start this dynamic rolling? How would one go about doing that?)

8) I and others provide Y2K activists with political analysis and political campaign instructions to help them engage their leaders in creating the conditions necessary for community survival and resilience through the Y2K era into the next century. We encourage them to encourage others to participate in these campaigns.

9) I have provided a writeup of how people can think about (and use) their personal connections in ways that greatly magnify their ability to influence the unfolding of the Y2K crisis. Since no central agency can possibly contact all the groups, organizations, leaders and bureaucrats needed to deal with this crisis, we can give The People what they need to do all the contacting. Suddenly, instead of us early-birds trying and failing to make all the necessary contacts, we have thousands of people working on the project!

10) There is more we could do to help people self-organize. Locally, I think we could offer open space conferences, future search conferences and other gatherings in which people could together work out the understandings and plans appropriate to the complex realities in which they live. On a broader scale, I think we could organize "proxy dialogues" -- expertly facilitated conversations among articulate representatives of diverse perspectives (who are proxies for broader populations who share their perspectives). In well-facilitated proxy dialogues, the proxies often stumble into consensus or shared insight, much to the surprise of everyone involved (except the facilitators). If videos or reports of these dialogues are distributed widely, they can stimulate rapid learning by members of the public who share those diverse perspectives, thus raising the level of dialogue throughout the society. (This sort of thing is dealt with more fully on the Co-Intelligence Institute web site.)

If we succeed at this -- if we can facilitate a self-organized, community-oriented, grassroots movement toward resilience, a movement that leads its leaders ("If the people lead, the leaders will follow") -- we will have achieved not only our collective survival and resilience, but a further evolution of our democracy into a form that will not erode so readily. We will have generated a higher level of collective intelligence.

So when you try to organize locally, imagine in your mind's eye all the people of your area doing whatever is needed because they have been helped to do those things. And then imagine other people helping them do those things. Try to think of what you can do that will generate the most self-organized activity and the most results with the least effort on your part. Not because you're lazy, but because you want to nurture the self-reliance of your community. The less energy leaders have to put in -- and the more wisdom they use (in place of effort) -- the more the people will end up doing (and say they did) it themselves, day after day, year after year, into their shared, co-created, sustainable future.

That would certainly be a different world to live in!

See also: Thoughts about Community Preparedness Plans, Requirements, and Self-organization by Doug Carmichael, Harlan Smith, Ian Wells and Tom Atlee