For the past few months a small group of people have been gathering in an upstairs apartment in the heart of Lake City sharing meals and having conversations about what an alternative future full of possibility might look like. Sunday night, we came up with the answer. The next thing we are going to do is write a vision statement, a mission statement, an identity statement, and then a strategic plan. After we have all of that written down, we will give ourselves a name and then launch our website, Facebook, twitter, and instagram profiles.
The challenge for community building is this: While visions, plans, and committed top leadership are important, even essential, no clear vision, nor detailed plan, nor committed group leaders have the power to bring this image of the future into existence without the continued engagement and involvement of citizens. In most cases, citizen engagement ends when the plan is in place. The implementation is put in the hands of the professionals. In concept, the master plan provides some parameters for development and the use of space, but in real life it usually is a call to let the arguing begin. For all its utility, it rarely builds interdependence or strengthens the social fabric of a place.
What brings a fresh future into being is citizens who are willing to self-organize. An alternative future needs the investment of citizens - leaders not in top positions - who are willing to pay the economic and emotional price that creating something really new requires.
Therefore, the challenge for every community is not so much to have a vision of what it wants to become, or a plan, or specific timetables. The real challenge is to discover and create the means for engaging citizens that brings a new possibility into being. To state it more precisely, what gives power to communal possibility is the imagination and authorship of citizens led through a process of engagement. This is an organic and relational process. This is what creates a structure of belonging. This is more critical than the vision and the plan.
~ Peter Block from Community: The Structure of Belonging
Peter Blocks words were our central text Sunday night. Personally, I gave up on strategic plans, vision and mission statements a long time, at least in so far as trusting their ability to actually create healthy change or sustain vitality. Yet, there is a shadow side of me that can and will give into the temptation to think that these elements will in fact do the very things I know they will not. In attempting to create something new, the inevitability of being faced with the question, "What's the vision? What's the plan?" is a reality. It will happen. It already has happened by different types of people with various kinds of connections to our community, and my first response is the sinking feeling of not knowing and feeling of inadequacy that goes with not knowing. And yet, I try to answer the question anyway.
Block's words give me courage. In fact the book from which I pulled the quote above is, in it's entirety, a game changer for me. He says things that I have known and longed for intuitively for a long time. He wants to focus on gifts, on possibility, on accountability, and on collaborative wisdom from the ground up. The social structures that I am a part of and to some degree support by virtue of my participation in them are more interested in limiting possibility. This move is probably not intentional, but anxiety and the felt need to relieve it are often so dominant and subconscious, that well intentioned people sabotage the very thing they want to create or that someone else is trying to create.
I am grateful that this new community I am a part of convening is willing to take the risk to not know where this is going to end up. This community is willing to be present, to offer their selves and the gifts each of them bring to the creation of an alternative possibility. Of course we have hunches, but we are choosing to lean into the uncertainties that are actually more real than a vision or strategic plan could mask.