I’ve recently been working on a Membership Agreement for Evening Class. It’s an attempt to escape the tyranny of structurelessness, as well as to provide a guide for new members.
It’s been a rewarding exercise as it’s prompted us to think about and formalise some of the key principles that underpin everything we do, as well as making clear what forms of support we expect from each other. In some ways, these kinds of protocols can feel unnecessarily formal, but I feel like by having it all written down allows us to address how we treat each other more directly, forming the basis for a greater level of trust within the group.
This got me thinking about protocols more broadly, and what they mean for establishing and maintaining self-organised groups.
One of my favourite quotes from Bianca Elzenbaumer of Brave New Alps comes from her 2014 thesis, Designing Economic Cultures:
Aiming to produce critically-engaged content whilst practicing in conventional ways underestimates the substantial potential designers have to contribute to social change not only through the content of their work, but also through their ways of doing and being.
The origin of the word radical is from the root: fundamental, structural. The way that we practice, support ourselves and collaborate with each other hugely impacts the work that we make. If we want to enable radical change, we need to begin by questioning the entire structure of our work.
I think that forming a worker cooperative is one way of prefiguring an alternative vision of the future of work. It recognises that we exist within capitalism, that we need to sustain ourselves within this system, but it also offers an alternative model of working: one based on solidarity, interdependence, self-determination and sustainability, rather than profit, growth and individual success.
I’ve just finished reading Mrs Dalloway, which has me thinking a lot about time. (It was originally called The Hours, after all.) It’s such a wonderful book: Woolf effortlessly changes tempo, switches between the inner dialogue of different characters, moves from describing a fleeting present moment in great detail to remembering events long since passed.
It was particularly interesting to read this in our current context of lockdown. There seems to be a general consensus that time is very weird right now. March was endless while April and May have passed by incredibly quickly. There are ongoing jokes on Twitter about people struggling to remember what day it is, and questioning why we have days of the week at all.