Saturday, March 29, 2008

Midwest Social Forum: Facilitaton

This weekend at the Midwest Social Forum Teach-In, I have had the blessing of being one of the facilitators of the cohort groups and the LGBT organizing (both the Caucus and a workshop continuing the work of organizing the Queer Left started at the U.S. Social Forum last June). I count it as a blessing even though this weekend is reminding me just how mentally tiring it is to be a facilitator.

I remember sitting in workshops and caucuses and attributing all sorts of superhuman characteristics to the facilitators. I thought, for the most part, that they were uberly wise, hip, and so damn cool with their fancy lefty talk and their seemingly boundless grasp of the intricacies of politics, community building, power analysis, and vision. I still feel that way. Adrianne Maree Brown of the Ruckus Society ( is one of the star facilitators here this weekend as well as one of the plenary mavens. She makes facilitation look effortless. She has a commanding and relaxing presence. Which, of course, makes me feel like a complete sham when I leave the plenaries and walk into a room that I need to facilitate.

Facilitation is one part preparation and one part empathy and two parts prayer. This weekend, I have had a brilliant collection of engaged individuals from across the age, race, ability, class, gender, and sexual orientation spectrum. In my cohort group one young 14 year old woman, Devyon from Urban Underground (, blew me away with her transformation in one day around her engagement with the work at the teach in but also the analysis she has come up with around the work of her own group. Yesterday, she was a little shy and somewhat disengaged. After a single day of working with people with whom she would not normally engage, and, in her own words, people from ages groups with which she normally does not collaborate, she came to our cohort today with a cogent breakdown of her groups challenges and self defined solutions that, I believe, will move her group passed some of the places they have been stuck.

There is also Lisa, an environmental and development organizer from Bermuda, who yesterday walked into the cohort group with a list of challenges around how to more broadly engage folks from different racial and class backgrounds around her work in Bermuda, who today was able to articulate some clear strategies for bridging the divides that exist around her work and with the ability to say straight forwardly that she needs help and resources and clearly illuminated what those needs and resources would be.

It is those growth moments that, as a participant, I have not gotten to see in the past. As a facilitator, it is my job to listen, guide the conversation when necessary, and offer resources when appropriate, but the greatest gift is being able to have the space to observe the room, watch the dynamics of the interactions, and, in the case of the structure of this teach in, see some of the growth that has taken place as folks have moved through the processes and engaged more deeply with the themes as time and the agenda has progressed.

And, it was surprising and humbling to have, in several instances over the course of today, people with whom I have worked and facilitated this weekend tell me or repeat back to me or in a group insight or support that I was able to provide them and their work. The beauty of it is that each of those people are also people from whom I have taken away a perspective or insight that I will be able to apply to the organizing work that I do.

This entire weekend is a testament to the principles of popular education (bless you Paolo Freire, Highlander Center, Project South, and Pedagogy and Theater of the Oppressed). It is evident to me that the skills, know how, drive, stamina, vision, and power to drive real revolutionary change is present and accounted every generation....from the 14 year old black woman from Chicago to the 60+ year old Latina woman from Minneapolis. To be here and a part of this, though tiring, is a gift.

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