Tuesday, 22 September 2015

On Collectives (the most complex poly relationship of all.)

The post below is an excerpt from an old online diary => 'stone femme shoes' March 24, 2009.


it's been an interesting week...which reminds me of the curse 'may you live in interesting times'. for around 25 years i've been working with collectives - to varying degrees and in different situations.

it has been an experience that has had me in tears, angry to the point of combustion but it has also been one of the most amazing loving and learning experiences in my life. because collective working is having a relationship - a complex poly relationship.

in my work there has always been a tension between doing things for my own solitary ends and being part of a community. constantly working to find a balance where i am neither isolated nor giving so much of myself away that i have nothing left.

feminist/lesbian groups and political organising in the '80's were my first experience of collective working. i had come from a working class background where there was certainly a 'pack' mentality - but heirarchy ruled.  the thing i found confusing about open collective processes in the '80's was that there was a statement of equality but to me as the outsider there seemed to be a very clear and yet unspoken flow of power in the group - as most of the members already seemed to have agreed what the social rules were - and those who didn't fit were some how less empowered within the collective.

in the late '80's and through the '90's i worked mostly with the same group of artists/musicians/social miss-fits/bohemians/politcal activists in several incarnations of community arts collectives. the group in its various forms had the ethos of the political and trans-formative power of creativity - as sort of situationist based theory- and messy but always fairly exciting/fun/some times effectively disruptive activity. constant events/open creative groups/workshops/inexplicable happenings....based in and often dominated by our struggle to keep open community resource buildings.
this was one of the most luxuriously creative times of my life, to be surrounded by constant creative activity was amazing.

what was frustrating was the difficult notion of community, at times working long hours to keep open buildings which were only sporadically occupied, dealing with the boom and bust cycle of the 'communities' energy and the difficulties of what was a cultural ghetto. protective, caring, creative…but struggling to negotiate the gap between subculture and some sort of more engaged political activity. The collective both approached the political realities of living with no jobs and no money while stumbling in our ability to reach a wider social group – some of this being about access to resources, some about being so centred in our own world view and privilege.

In the late ‘90’s I moved to Sydney and began a helter-skelter ride with the autonomous political scene, particularly reclaim the streets, the chaotic sexy queer scene and the burgeoning ‘no borders’ movement. Particularly within reclaim the streets I learned a great deal about strategic planning – when the NSW police force are the main people who you have to outwit, you are dealing with motorways full of traffic and crowds of up to 5,000 people you learn to think fast, let the crowd think for themselves and just plan the logistics around the wild card.

Of course it gets tiring having detectives who follow you everywhere in these public gatherings who don’t believe that collective organising means no one is the boss….and who listen to your every word in case you are telling other people what to do.

But I suppose what I loved most about those times were when I could distinctly FEEL the power shifting and being shared within the group. It was a feeling so tangible, like a ball being passed, the sensation of being in balance with other people who knew what they were doing, and who trusted the other people around them was an incredible feeling. I also learned a hell of a lot about letting go – that people have different ways of working, that with a core group of maybe 10-14, a plugged in mid group of around 200 and a wider free floating group of around 2,000 – 5,000 – its IMPOSSIBLE to control. At some point you HAVE to trust the group and that there are other networks you know nothing about that are just getting on with it – without any input what-so-ever from you.

All the queer collectives I worked with setting up events/festivals/gigs/demonstrations/occupations/ again struggled with issues of inclusion/ghetto/classism/racism/sexism….all those isms manifesting within our microcosm.

Particularly within ‘no borders’ people were pushed up against and hopefully through the limits of their own worlds.
Trying to communicate across different languages/cultures and realising that the world does not begin and end with our own little way of doing things is a continuing challenge.

Currently for the past 5 years I’ve been here – europa – bouncing back and forth between Serbia and London. Still mostly working with collectives, still mostly deep in the autonomist world – tho with a lesser relationship over the last 18 months, and far deeper in the queer world than I have ever lived. No matter how much temptation, opportunity and capacity there is for going it alone, I am still a person IN LOVE with community, some one who has a need to work with other people and feel ‘part of’.

This last week has seen some fighting with in the Beograd collective – but the amazing thing is i've been having a relationship with these people for FIVE years now – and its come to the point where we seem to be able to talk things through…..some how and really god bloody knows how….we have figured out how to communicate with each other.
We know how to spot a power struggle within the group – how to see when some one is presenting their own crap in the group – and hell we learned to love each other anyway.

In other groups I am involved in the result has not been so happy, in part it may be about culture. Me….i never lived in the 'straight' world…but some people have a little power in that world and struggle for more. It’s sad to watch people who declare that ‘collectives don’t work’ and are unable to see past their own massive egos –but it’s also a reminder. For me work must have roots, community is a living thing – we create it. I never want to live apart from that…I want to keep fighting against creating my own personal ghetto.