Thanks to Noah for a great day at CommunityNext yesterday. For a "kid" (from my perspective, because I met him a couple of years back when he was still in college, I believe), he did a pretty decent job of putting on a conference in a short amount of time. Everything seemed to go smoothly and people were engaged and happy. That is, truly, the goal of any conference. I'm pretty sure the highlight for the day for nearly everyone there was Jeff and Jake from Threadless. Their no-bull delivery of how they turned a passion/hobby into a sustainable business they can be proud of was pretty amazing. I felt the collective sigh of relief from the community-respect centric camp as they talked. There were many 'dangerous' quotes and presentations throughout the day, the ones I know that the commenters who have arrived here over the last couple of posts are expressing their distaste for. I spent more than half of the day cringing. The audience, I guestimated, was more than half filled with people who were asking the question, "How can I use community to make money?" Now, I spoke to the other 40% after my talk and at the after party and it gives me alot of hope to see such a passionate, strong group. I think I'm going to organize a day at Citizen Space where that camp of people can gather and talk about the issues, trade experiences and record them somewhere live for others who can't make it.
We were incredibly fortunate to have Elisa Camahort come down to Citizen Space on Thursday for a more 'private' summit (someone else was paying for lunch, etc.) and she blew us all away with her Blogher experiences. Then, after seeing Jake and Jeff and then Ted and crew from Dogster talk about similar experiences (the parts where online communities can get tricky and grey areas arise), I started thinking about how powerful it would be to get everyone together in a room to trade experiences. Perhaps even set down some rough "guidelines" - not in the dangerous, "If you do this, you will get rich" way, but in the "If you are lucky enough to have people give a damn about what you are building, sometimes awkward situations arise, so how have others dealt with them so you don't make too many early-on mistakes?" kind of way.
Most likely this will happen when I return from my upcoming London/Paris/Austin/Las Vegas whirlwind.
I still plan to continue to post over at the Future of Communities blog as well, but I really think the conversation needs to happen at a more grassroots level. I think the reason I still feel a little reticent about it has to do with my overall struggle with all of this subject matter. Namely: How the hell do I balance my desire to stay grassroots and true to my own message with starting to be part of these conferences and organizations that promote a level of community engagement that I rail against? Do I REALLY see my presence there as helpful? As the 'voice of reason' or some other unlikely bull? Or am I merely a token female/rogue?
Quick history of feminism comparison to what I'm trying to say (excuse me if it's weak, I'm recalling it from my studies from over 10 years ago and my own way of understanding it):
So, within the larger arena of gender politics, there are two quite oppositional 'camps' of feminism (although there are dozens): Radical Feminism and Liberal Feminism.
Radical feminists say that men and women are NOT the same, that we need to work to validate 'feminine' stuff like emotion, feeling, family, connection, etc. Radical feminists would say that the core issue is not that women and men need to be equal, but that masculine characteristics have been long celebrated and validated, which is both harmful and limiting to our human experience. In this viewpoint, 'soft sciences and human relationships' would be celebrated as much as the 'facts and hard science'. 'Girly Stuff' would not be an insult.
Liberal feminists say that men and women are equal and are both capable of the same damn things. Liberal feminism was strong in the 80's and very much apparent in movies like Working Girl. Liberal feminists would say that the core issue is that men have artificially created the 'glass ceiling' and we, as women, need to be stronger and work a little harder until we gain the respect and can be seen as equals while men are educated and see that the addition to women in the workplace doesn't change anything. Liberal feminists often work at a policy level.
The vote was won through a Liberal feminist argument. Affirmative action was a victory of the Liberal feminist movement. Meanwhile, Girl Power, Blogher type organizations and woman-focused events like the Lilith Fair are more into the camp of the Radical feminist movement.
Liberal feminist = policy level Radical feminist = grassroots level
Both have made a world of difference. Both are necessary to lead to change. However, the more visible of the two, I believe, is Liberal feminism. It works WITH current paradigms to create a shift. The most famous feminists in history have been more Liberal feminists. And the more grassroots Radical feminism? Well, it seems to be incredibly susceptible to commercialization because it tends to gather women successfully.
Still...I see a political climate, created by the proliferation of self-publishing, where the grassroots can start to really kick ass.
So...what the hell does this mean for what I'm struggling with? Glad you asked. ;)
Well, by being part of organizations that proclaim their 'authority' over Community or otherwise vulnerable terms (because, as a 'community mark', they are not strongly defined or policed), or speaking at a conference that promises to inform paying delegates of how they can 'Build, Grow, Monetize' ('cause, really, that seems to be what they want), I feel really, really queasy while feeling like, well, maybe if I play along with the rules of the system, dress the part, speak the part and insert myself in that 'authoritative' position, then I'll be able to make a difference....if I just make my message more comfortable...more pallatible...
Many of the commenters on this blog over the last week have expressed alot of concern towards my approach and the growing visibility of it. I know that many of those commenters have been part of this grassroots effort to can the bull for many more years than I have and deserve to be up on that stage more than I do. Many of them have also been very vocal about how they don't think that is a good use of their energy.
Public? Yes. Changing anything? No. Reifying the status quo? Probably.
Do we just lend power to those already in power by continuing to play by their rules? By wanting to be in that 'club', getting their respect, do we actually do anyone any good? I don't know. I know that all angles are necessary for change. And I don't know what 'side' I belong on...but I do know that this struggle is the best thing I have to offer anyone.
Personally, I think I have loads to learn from the Threadless approach to awesomeness.