Sunday, June 1, 2008

Carla's Two Cents on Working with the USFS This Year

Carla's response was to an ongoing discussion of how to work with the forest service at the gathering in Wyoming this summer. Because she raised some really wonderful points, she's given me permission to repost this here for all ya'll.

********Begin Carla's Two Cents**************

Good points.

I would especially like to address the concept of "a daily meet at front gate." I, too, saw in Secretary Rey's letter a commitment that the USDA/FS will meet daily with gatherers, and that is a good thing--but this was not confined to front gate, nor should it be. There is a big difference between "a daily meet at front gate," and gatherers being available daily at the gate to meet and greet the ICT for an initial briefing as they walk into the site together for a sit-down in a place more accessible to the folks at the heart of the gathering.

What I heard voiced in the conference call was some folks' idea that "Shanti Sena" (not exactly sure who all that might be) should meet the ICT at the front gate every day as they arrive. While I have no problem with the idea of interface at the front gate, and see some definite reasons why it is a good idea, I would caution folks to remember that front gate is usually far away from the center of the gathering. As such, it offers limited opportunity for the wide participation that is vital for robust operational discussions.

I am absolutely opposed to "a daily meeting"-- as defined by a open discussion to resolve operational issues-- happening at front gate, as this would de facto exclude many people. I also disagree with Sailor that the ICT could use folks at the front gate to transmit information to those inside. Regardless of how inconvenient it might be for them to walk into the site, or how many other "more important" things they have to do, in my opinion it is far more important to re-start the long-gone practice of the guys in charge meeting in some sort of accessible council process with gatherers.

I would invite folks at this juncture to think into the years ahead, and to look at this gathering as the first step in creating a new dynamic between the USDA/FS and the gathering. What happens at this gathering will matter very much in terms of establishing communication patterns and practices that may endure for many years. Yes, the gathering is flexible in nature, and change is inevitable in any case. But inertia is a powerful force, as are expectations.

If something that is not well thought out gets established this year--say, for example, a practice of folks meeting at the front gate with ICT and LEOs to hash thing out--it may last for many years and be difficult to change down the line. The reason this matters--think ahead, folks--is that, regardless of the personal intentions of individual gatherers and USDA/FA personnel this year, different people will be at the front gate in years to come. If problems arise at the front gate (or the back gate, or anywhere on the periphery of the gathering) due to the nature of individual personalities--and I am sure they will--there will be little effective process in place to absorb and deal with it.

We all know what I am talking about. Any peripheral spot, camp, or outpost can be too easily dominated by one or two personalities. If meeting daily at front gate stops at the front gate and goes no further, and that becomes the norm, think about the disastrous possibilities for the coming years.

That is why any discussion of operational, safety, or logistical issues must take place in the center somewhere. In any circle in the center, council process can happen that has many voices. Collective wisdom is shared, personal agendas and idiosyncrasies less dominant.

This does not mean such discussions cannot take place also in other areas. It makes sense for the ICT to meet with CALM at CALM, for example, to speak about emergency evacuation procedures, or at Front Gate about traffic and parking problems. But unless that information is also shared at the Co-op circle (or Main Circle, or other larger, focalizing forum by whatever name folks choose to call it), there can be serious problems. I am thinking of the last Wyoming gathering, when some CALM folks agreed--in good faith, no doubt--on certain emergency evacuation plans with the ICT and did not share that at large with other folks, largely because there was no identifiable process for doing so. They also had HAM radios, and had exclusive communication with the ICT. This led to confusion and conflict down the line. I personally was kicked in the shins by a wingnut with a HAM radio who thought she was doing the right thing by doing what the FS was telling her to do. When I asked her to consider listening also to what gatherers were saying about other options, she turned to violence. This could have been avoided by the simple sharing of information ahead of time.

I realize there is reluctance to expose the ICT to our council process, which is often chaotic and can sometimes be verbally abusive. These problems have arisen, I believe, due to the legal conflicts of recent years. Many folks did not feel they could council in the open without risk of being seen as a "leader" of some sort, being targeted for prosecution under the permit regulations, and perhaps going to prison. Unfortunately, some of our most experienced and articulate councilors/counselors stopped coming and modeling appropriate council process out of this fear. The result has been that many folks don't know what appropriate council behavior and process is.

We have a great opportunity this year to restore the functionality of our council process, especially in respect to communications with the ICT. If many people commit to being at these circles, and if participation is robust, I have every confidence that relationships will take a positive turn. Yes, there will probably be folks unclear on the process who want to yell at or argue with the ICT about wearing guns, or rehash issues from the past ad nauseum. Good facilitation and good Shanti Sena-ing can help with that.

What I have in mind is a focused, respectful process whereby it is agreed upon at initial sit-down that this is a business and not a heartsong type council, and that some sort of personal self-restraint is called for in terms of staying on focus, no one person dominating the conversation or speaking for more than 2-3 minutes at a time, and refraining from aggressive language.

I'm also thinking that agreeing upon a facilitator and an initial agenda would be an excellent way to begin. Facilitation can rotate, and agendas be changed or added to, as necessary.

I also think it would be helpful if individual folks in the circle would intervene with someone being disruptive and take them off to the side to let them vent. to explain to them what is trying to be accomplished. and to ask that they observe the flow of the circle and respect the vibe that is happening when they return to the circle.

We used to do this all the time, folks. We just need to remember how to do it, and that it can be done. We all need to take responsibility for it.

As for the ICT, I would ask that they be patient and not leave the circle if there is a bit of disruption, to wait and see how it is dealt with before deciding it is somehow "dangerous" to them. I guarantee that their safety will be assured within any council process, and that they will learn a lot about how well we deal with difficult situations when they arise--without force, and without violence.

As for the proper forum itself, I think everyone knows that I favor a Co-operations Council process. Main Council may just be too big and unwieldy at this point, and once again, many folks have lacked the modeling necessary to learn how to council effectively. Certainly, as has been traditionally done, anything that effects the whole--that is, any "agreements" such as Operating and Rehab plans--need to be taken to Main Council for discussion. Co-op Council (or, as formerly named, Operations Council) does not co-opt Main Council, but can be much more appropriate and efficient when discussing such things as where to put the parking lot or the need for additional protection of the springs.

But certainly, Operations Council (I am also in favor of a return to that term) should happen in a place where most gatherers could easily come if they wished to. Time and place need to be regularly established, and ample notification made.

So that's it for my viewpoint. Discussion welcome.


ezazcanbe said...

Very well put. In fact, so well put I can't think of any criticisms. I do however feel that as any plan played out there would be 'adjustments' and clarifications. Thanks to you both !

Anonymous said...

a facilitator, an agenda, an open process, modeling leadership behavior, all basic reasonable things -- except in the midst of it all its kinda like a hot shower in the woods...nice, worth trying, but hard to find...

let's post signs at places like front gate, info, trail heads, etc. where folks can plug in and help support such processes