Sunday, August 02, 2009

A little practical application

I spent the last three days, reunited with my friends at Laughing Horse Books, tabling the Western States Center's "Community Strategic Training Initiative" conference, an event that brings together broadly "progressive" community organizers from all over the western US for workshops and networking. It's always an odd weekend for me. It takes place at Reed College, site of my first, disastrous year of college (but a really beautiful site for that sort of thing), and the crowd is generally involved in a different set of struggles than I am. But it's a wonderfully diverse, and genuinely nice crowd, with lots of activists in from small cities in Idaho or Wyoming who are really eager to exchange ideas, so there are always great conversations in amid the bookselling. I brought along most of the Corvus catalog, including a dozen or so things that haven't even been added to the website yet, figuring (correctly) that most of the material would be unfamiliar and a little alien to most of the participants, but that I could start to gauge what sorts of materials were needed by that particular crowd.

In the end, I had a chance to introduce some new folks to the resource, and there are a number of educators that I hope to be able to provide with specialized material (on child labor, Chinese exclusion, etc.) for their teaching needs, and I got a couple of invitations to collaborate with groups. But the most fun I had all weekend came in the midst of a long talk between Laughing Horse collective members and Mala from Creative Collaborations, a start-up non-profit attempting to provide shared infrastructure, and some economies of scale, to other non-profits and collectives. We got talking about how to apply radical principles to the institutions we're building, and I was talking a bit about how I was trying to build Corvus on a theoretical basis that took into account the principles in the anarchist literature that's at the center of the catalog, and Mala tossed out a question about how mutualist economic theory would address some pay-scale questions.

As it happened, the question was a very familiar one about how to factor in talent, previous labor in education, the intensity of the labor performed, "affirmative" concerns about countering existing structures of privilege, etc. And I had just put together a pamphlet of Stephen Pearl Andrews' "The Labor Dollar," which, while I certainly didn't answer all the questions, certainly gave some very useful hints on how to elaborate them.

I'll talk more about what we came up with another time, probably both here and in LeftLiberty, where I'm starting to lay out a "new approximation," teasing out the present-day implications of a lot of the "good old stuff." But it seems worth marking the event, where the mad old Pantarch provided the key to opening up a very practical discussion on pay scales and institutional culture. If I didn't think there were lots more of those moments possible, in the relatively near term, I would probably just quit all of the work I do. But I believe that the theories that we have inherited are good for more than just low-intensity flamewars on this or that forum. Still, confirmations of that belief are relatively rare these days, so allow me to bask a bit in this one.

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