Rhode Island – Pennsylvania Sharing Economy Tour report

On October 3, after our meeting with the New Bedford judges, I followed Lisa Conlan and Edgar Cahn down to Providence Rhode Island. By the way, it was extra nice to reconnect with Lisa, who used to be Co-Chair, then Interim Co-Director of TimeBanks USA with me (2011) and who I haven’t seen since then! And always great to connect with Edgar (father of timebanking, founder of TimeBanks USA and overall brilliant guy).

First stop was the beautiful shop opened recently by Laurie Tapozada, New HOPE Time Exchange member whom I’d gotten to know when she helped plan the 2011 TimeBanks USA Conference. She’s great and her store is wonderful! She stocks items made by local artisans, from paintings to natural cosmetics (I bought a bunch for wearing onstage, the only time I wear makeup so I tend to have a lot of 10-year-old makeup around) to dog treats to delicious homemade habanero jelly. Yum! (the jelly, not the dog treats – although I admit I didn’t try them)… All really affordable.

We enjoyed some snacks and had a gathering of 8 people who chatted about the ways timebanking can create ecological sustainability and inclusive communities. We were joined by some people who run a really great organization called Step Up, and we all shared some common visions of how we can shift the way work is funded in order to get funding more directly to those who need it, people doing work in their own communities to lift them out of ‘poverty’ and into self-determination and self-sufficiency through cooperation. Edgar is conducting some research as a Fellow with the Kettering Foundation, so he had some very specific questions for the group regarding how timebanking can be a force for real democracy. One way we discussed was by simply engaging people to create their own future, through using timebanking to conduct projects in their communities, meet the needs THEY identify (rather than the needs a service system dictates), be valued for their assets, etc. And more explicitly political activities like getting people out to vote, engaging people on local issues, etc.

October 4 I headed to NYC where I played a show in Brooklyn at Branded Saloon. Afterward I accidentally smashed my phone by shutting it in my trunk lid as I packed my gear – so sorry I don’t have pix from Rhode Island or Brooklyn!IMG953915

IMG953928The next day we held a full-day training for experienced timebankers. Really interesting. We had over 30 people from timebanks in six different states. We started by hearing about them, where they are in their progress, and what they wanted to get out of the day’s gathering. Then we gave overviews of the global picture, and Marie Goodwin and Joel Bartlett shared the story of the creation of the new Mid-Atlantic Regional TimeBanks group. This group has formed to create a peer support network for the multitude of timebanks popping up in the region. Very exciting!

We went on to do the visioning exercise I’ve been doing with lots of timebankers, creating a hypothetical mission statement, identifying who would need to be involved in order to reach our goals, then brainstorming how we would use timebanking to IMG953919IMG953920create circuits of resource sharing and exchange to meet those goals. This was a really fascinating version of this game – with the more experienced group of timebankers we saw a lot of issues and technical considerations arise that I don’t see that often. For example, one participant questioned how we could be offering timebank hours to participants in the very beginning, because they wouldn’t yet have value. I (along with several others in the group) made the point that they gain value with each participant, and in fact that’s the only way they can gain value. And the only way a timebank can begin, by recognizing the value that each new participant’s assets bring to the table.
We wrapped up that exercise and took requests for topics for the afternoon’s breakout sessions. Over lunch we narrowed them down to 4 groups: Funding without compromising (Julie Fagan facilitated), Building Partnerships and working on Health and Wellness (Lisa Conlan and Kathy Perlow facilitated), Membership Engagement and Leadership Development (I facilitated), and Creating Software that Serves TimeBanks (Chris Gray facilitated). The breakout conversations were rich and fruitful. Here are the notes from the report-backs:

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As we have at many of these gatherings, we closed out with the question of “how can we support each other better?” and got a lot of good answers. The notes from the gathering are here.

The next day was a beginning timebanking training in Media PA. Here we had 16 people from 8 different timebanks and soon-to-be timebanks. This day was a very pleasant surprise for me. I was expecting more nuts-and-bolts and introductory level discussion, which is great in its own right. But even better is a deep, rich, enlightening exploration of the dynamics of power, race and class. There were a number of people in the room who share my passion about community justice and drug policy issues. The participants this day had such great insight and shared it with abandon.

I left the agenda completely open, with some general ideas of what we’d do and a decision to let it be shaped during the opening introductions and discussion. This worked really well.

media3photoAs usual, we began with the yarn game. One of the women who came in a little late was inspired by how quickly shattered were her pre-conceived notions of who was in the room, informed by perceptions of people’s race and class. We reflected on how a safety net was formed by the densely woven connections made through mutually beneficial exchanges, how we were able to meet everyone’s stated needs within our own group, how essential it is for everyone to receive as well as to give.media4photo

Then I showed the basic timebank/project slide show that I’ve used a number of times. I was going to skip over some of the nuts and bolts slides but was asked to go through them. During this portion participants shared their own perspectives on the core values of timebanking – assets, reciprocity, redefining work, community and respect. An enlightening discussion arose when I paraphrased Jen Moore, former staffer at TimeBanks USA, who used to say that respect meant ‘meeting people where they are.’ One of the participants felt that implied a power dynamic, that the speaker of the phrase is assuming a higher position than the person they’re meeting. Others felt that that connotation wasn’t present. Some of us felt that this perspective instructs us to appeal to already-present motivations in people rather than assuming everyone cares about building community or reforming our economy. I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions, and I feel grateful to have heard that perspective so I know that this phrase can be taken that way. I’ll think more about if and how I use it.

Participants took a keen interest in the youth court model and other restorative justice possibilities.

media1photoAfter lunch we did the visioning exercise I’ve described above (mission statement, who to engage, how to apply timebanking toward that mission). The mission we identified was engaging everyone in our community through re-skilling and developing a health cooperative (I always take the first three ideas offered and cobble them together – for better or worse, but I think it can generally work). Unsurprisingly for a group so connected with ideas of inclusion and equitable distribution of power, this group readily identified all kinds of participants we should engage. The exercise gave us an opportunity to discuss how we stage projects through a process over time, working from the simple and small to the large and complex. I like to do this exercise with everyone because it’s a good opportunity to see timebanking as a tool to meet virtually any goal and to connect seemingly disparate efforts.

This went for awhile with really rich discussion and a lot of questions about the nuts and bolts of how we’d make it work. Then we had time for a quick version of the really fun exercise of pitching our ideas to specific audiences. In this exercise I stick a label with a role written on it (homeless veteran, single parent, mayor, probation officer, high school student, nosy neighbor, etc) onto each person’s forehead – so they can’t see what role they’re in. Then they pair up and each person speaks to the other to try to convince them, in the role they’re assigned, to participate in the timebank project. At the end each person guesses what role they were assigned, in order to media2photosee if the speaker tailored their talk to give enough clues. This day most of the participants guessed, and it seemed they all had a pretty good time.

We ended the day with a round-robin of next steps. Here are the notes and photos from the day, and we’ll continuing to support each other around the region, and moving forward on more mutual support structures.

We’ve also decided to hold a gathering of regional support people on the West Coast this spring. We’ll be looking for ways to raise money to fly people out for this. And we expect it to be tons of fun, and very fruitful!

Speaking of fun and fruitful – the next 2 days I spent in Allentown with the great Kathy Perlow of the Lehigh Valley Community Exchange, the hospital-based timebank that’s provided us so much inspiration. We spent time documenting some of their efforts on http://buildftw.org – especially the Neighbor to Neighbor Care Teams, which we’re currently beginning to replicate in Dane County. And we’ll be posting more over the coming weeks so stay tuned.

Then I parked my car at Marie Goodwin’s and got on a plane to Istanbul, where I am as I’m writing this. The trip is off to a great start! The in-flight movie choices included one about David Bowie, my all-time favorite. What a treat. As if it wasn’t already enough that I’ll be in Istanbul for my first time, meeting the lovely Aysegul, Meltem and Filiz whom I’ve only known through Skype and email, and spending time with a couple of my heroes, Charles Eisenstein and Deborah Frieze, among many other wonderful people I’ll know soon.

That’s more than enough for now…

Will share about Turkey (WONDERFUL so far) soon.