From March 20-24, twenty-one diverse social leaders converged for the second annual Tipping Point Network Intergenerational Mini-Jam in Nevada City, CA. Participants ranged from ages 21-72, and were inter-faith, cross-class, inter-partisan, multi-ethnic, and of varied gender expressions. Born out of the Tipping Point Network (TPN), which was founded in 2006 and is now a community of 60+ servant-leaders working in diverse sectors to help "tip" the balance towards a sustainable future, this mini-Jam combined the insights and distinctions that have emerged from our years of TPN gatherings and conversations, with the YES! Jam methodology and skill set. The response was fantastic.
"To say that I was inspired by our collective wisdom and individual efforts is an understatement. I truly believe that this gathering will exponentially create connections and advancements that will benefit this planet for many years to come."
-- Reinette Senum, Mayor, Nevada City, CA
One of the Jam facilitators, Joseph McCormick, is founder of the Transpartisan Alliance. A former national Georgia-based Republican spokesperson and activist, Joseph has become one of the foremost leaders in the work to end what he terms the "civil war in American politics" and build win-win solutions starting from the grassroots. His efforts have catalyzed unprecedented partnerships between organizations like Moveon.org, the Christian Coalition, Utne Institute, and Freedom Works (organizational leaders of the "tea party" movement). Joseph believes that by creating space for authentic dialogue and listening, we may be able to move from a violent win-lose political context to a robust win-win democracy. His insights on the highest values of the "left" and the "right", and what each might be able to bring to a political "upwising" and the healing of America, were profoundly provocative. He brought several transpartisan and/or Republican participants to an otherwise predominantly progressive group, and this diversity added enormously to the richness and depth of the conversations shared.
In the middle of the Jam, congress passed the Health Care Reform bill, and one participant came to me elated, eager to share the good news with all the other participants. I told her that it was important for her to know that this would not be good news to everyone. A look of disappointment came across her face, as she said, "how could it not be good news that 32 million more people are going to have coverage?!" I knew then that if I asked her not to talk about it, and we ignored this highly significant topic because we didn't all agree, then we would have lost a precious opportunity for authenticity and learning. But how best to approach the sensitive matter? Joseph had a solution.
The next morning, after setting some context, we formed a line in the room. At one end were people who were thrilled that health care reform had passed. At the other end were people who were horrified. In the middle were people who didn't care. We took three people from each end of the spectrum, and asked if they would be willing to engage in a transpartisan dialogue. They agreed. So first one cluster sat in the center and shared why they felt so excited about this for ten minutes, with everyone else listening. Then the other cluster sat in the middle and shared why they were disappointed, or scared, by it. Then each cluster shared what they had heard the other group say, then got to check and see if they were accurate. This was followed by a circle go-around, in which all attendees shared how the process was for them. We didn't debate about health care legislation, but rather talked about what interpartisan dialogue felt like, and what this process evoked for us. The reality was that it turned out, we had a lot more in common in terms of core values than any of us had realized. I doubt that anyone's mind was changed that day. But some piece of demonization of the "other" broke down, and participant evaluations showed that this was a key piece of learning for many of the Jam participants.
"The transpartisan exercise was exceptional and awakened new neural pathways. As a result of the Jam, I will be more comfortable interacting with people I don't normally interact with. There were so many amazing people here. Thank you for an absolutely awesome job of shifting things on the fly, and holding the focus and intention of our time together."
-- Ben Mates, Director, The Robert Hemingway Foundation, Salt Lake City, UT
"I am still holding the incredible experience of transpartisan work on health care that we did - I saw and felt how my own work can be expanded in a simple yet profound way. Each of the facilitators gave me something unique... a powerful experience of communion - with myself, with community and with God."
-- Dorothy Henderson, Head of School, The Woolman Semester, Sierra Friends Center, Nevada City, CA
The evaluations were overwhelmingly positive, with 95% of participants saying that they believe the Jam will lead them to be more conscious and confident in their life and work, and 100% saying they would want to come back if a similar program were offered again. As well, 95% of participants felt that the gathering deepened their perspective on life, their work, and the world, and 100% felt that the program allowed them to show up and be present with themselves and with others. The biggest constructive feedback we received was that some participants felt the program did a great job connecting and facilitating learning, but could be stronger on building. The depth of relationships, and the strength of the participants, led to a hunger for moving into action together. Some participants felt that we could have spent less time mapping the field, and talking about big system breakdowns and breakthroughs, and more time sharing what we are doing, what we are struggling with, and how we can collaborate. The facilitators are eager to incorporate this feedback as we refine future programs.
We are planning another TPN Mini-Jam, also in Nevada City, CA, in the spring of 2011. Stay tuned for more information as the program details are confirmed and the invitation goes out.
"The Mini-Jam nourished my hands, my heart and my mind. These gatherings are crucial to creating the social change we seek."
-- Amanda Kathryn Roman, Director, Citizens in Charge Foundation, Washington, DC
"The TPN Mini-Jam changed my life on so many levels. It showed me... (ways) my work fits into the bigger picture. It gave me a renewed sense of hope and optimism in the abundance of possibilities. The facilitators did a great job in creating / adapting to group expressions."
-- Cheryl Honey, Founder, Community Weaving, Long Beach, WA
For more information on Ocean Robbins and his work, check out his website.