Shared Analysis and Rigorous Experiments


(Alison Lin leading a workshop during the meeting in June 2018 in Virginia)

In February of this year, the leaders of Wye River left a three-day in-person convening with greater clarity on their “shared North Star” and how the notion of “Radical Hope” would fuel them to get there.

The leaders, all from different organizations, better understood how they each played a significant part in the work of creating social transformation; as well as how they all represent a small fractal of radical hope.

The next steps were to first, figure out how each organization worked to center marginalized communities so that we can come to greater understanding around how this impacts our work together. And second, delve into the rigorous experiments each organization had designed and continue to build our ability to put our vision into practice.  

The group decided they would meet in-person again in early June, which gave them four months to work with. During this time period, the leaders became proactive about defining what centering marginalized communities meant to them, and how the idea related to their strategies. They also implemented and documented the results of the experiments they designed during the February meeting.   

Although the group is representative of organizations that work in different arenas, from climate change and reproductive justice, to workers rights and voting rights, they all share the value of centering marginalized communities.

But the question remained: what does this value look like in practice?  

They began to conduct a series of one-on-one calls with members from the STP team, answering specific questions about how their organization defined “marginalized,” how they planned on navigating the hurdles to working with these communities, and the grand question of, ‘what does ultimate success look like?’

The groups had different definitions of what marginalized meant. The words, “interdependent,” “most impacted,” or “closest to the problem,” emerged from the conversations. The talks brought about a bevy of notes and complex illustrations of answers, much of which would be further addressed during the meeting in June.

(Notes from the conversation during the June Meeting)


Simultaneously, leading up to the June meeting, the groups took time to conduct experiments within their organizations. Each group committed to designing and implementing a series of rigorous experiments that would help them address complex issues their organizations were grappling with.   


(Mehrdad Azemun, National Field Director for People’s Action)
(Mehrdad Azemun, National Field Director for People’s Action)


For example, Mehrdad Azemun, National Field Director for People’s Action, posed this question to his organization, “How can People’s Action live out our expressed value of Spaciousness?”

His hypothesis, “If every other Monday, all staff have a spacious day with no standing calls as Big Picture days then as an organization we will be living into our value of spaciousness.”

And another example was brought forth by the Membership Lab Team at Jobs With Justice (JwJ),  “How might we sustain JwJ given shifts in the 21st Century Labor Movement?”

The goal of this experiment: gaining clarity around how non-activist people/organic leaders frame their top concerns in their own words.

In order to carry out these experiments, the groups were getting one-on-one coaching from the STP team and working individually. And then they would share their results collectively, and coach each other on refining each other’s experiments; this was done on the shared Experiment calls leading up to the June meeting.

(Canadian Geese at Airlie Conference Center in Virginia)
(Canadian Geese at the Airlie Conference Center in Virginia)

In June of 2018, the group arrived at the two-day convening in Virginia, where they were given a full schedule of activities and discussions, during which they’d evolve their experiments and the principle of “centering marginalized communities.”

But before any of that, the group took a moment to go on a meditation walk.

People were asked to take a mindful stroll through the beautiful red clay laden grounds of the Airlie Conference Center, and enjoy the southern sun glistening off of the pond on a spring day. The aim of this walk was to remind the leaders that while preparing for the future, it’s important to be grounded in the now. And what better way to be reminded of how important “the now” is, than to spend some time in our ever-changing environment?

After the walk came the discussions.

The question of how these organizations were individually, and as a collective, working on centering what was once referred to as “marginalized communities,” (or “those most impacted,” or “front line communities,” or “those closest to the issue”) was discussed as a group in a very complex dialog; you can hear all about that conversation here.

In the end, Wye River leaders saw that the term Relationality–how everything is interconnected and interdependent– best described what they had in mind.

Facilitators saw the best way to deepen Wye River leaders’ understanding of the term Relationality was to simply draw it.

(Assorted visual representations of Relationality)
(Assorted visual representations of Relationality)

The visual representations allowed for common understanding, and further grounded the group in a shared definition to an integral part of this work. Since the concept of Relationality is a constant priority underlying the efforts of the organizations within the Wye River team, it was imperative that all members were on the same page with how it’s defined and what it looks like in action.

Aside from getting on the same page around one key term and principle, the two-day meeting also allowed leaders to discuss the work they’re doing in their organizations, giving more insight to the diverse ways people are approaching building power to shift the political culture of this nation.

While folding pipe cleaners and toying with the items on the desk, people discussed the experiments they’ve already conducted within their organizations, and brainstormed on experiments they’re looking to conduct in the months before the next meeting, which is in December of 2018.

(Members of the Wye River Network reflecting on next steps at the meeting in Virginia)


These activities, from the walking meditation to laying the groundwork for political shifts in America, all speak to overall purpose of the network: bringing organizations together to build the necessary power to shape the future of the country towards justice– thus reaching their collective North Star.

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A Network Conversation on Relationality (Recap of the June 2018 meeting)

This video recaps one of the many conversations that took place at the Wye River meeting at the Airlie Conference Center in Virginia on June 4th and 5th, 2018. This portion of the meeting hinged on the concept of what was originally referred to as marginalized communities, but as the dialog evolved, we soon to came to realize the term didn’t specify the targeted demographic. Instead, the terms “most impacted” or “closest to the problem/ solution” became the words of choice. This is how the group got to that point.

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The Fractals of Radical Hope

Last February, Social Transformation Project invited me to attend a “Wye River” meeting in Oakland as a storyteller, present to take notes and photos of the experience. The goal of the meeting was to bring together organizations who all work to better society in order to align around a “North Star” that guides them as they unify and move forward. There were ten attendees, representing APEN, Jobs With Justice,, People’s Action, and Forward Together.

As I entered Nile Hall in Oakland’s Preservation Park, I saw the words, “Radical Hope,” written in bold letters on a whiteboard in the back of the room and encased in a glowing yellow image of the sun, the brightest star in the sky. It felt like a powerful combination of words, thought provoking and esoteric. It sounded like candy to my optimistic side, and was a bit jarring to the little pessimist that owns real estate in the back of my mind.

After a brief introduction, the attendees were asked to approach the board that read “Radical Hope,” as well as the other white boards in the room, and ask questions, leave comments, and explain to each other how the concepts applied to their work. We spent much of the next two days working together in an effort to further understand what Radical Hope, and all that it entails, meant to this group.

Beyond the “Radical Hope” board in the back of the room, there were a series of other whiteboards, with words like “Hearts & Minds — Narrative + Big Vision” and “Marginalized Communities at the Center,” written at the top of them. “Co-Governance,” another term I was unfamiliar with, was written atop another board. “Redistribution of Wealth,” words I’m all too familiar with and still waiting to see enacted, were jotted on another flip chart.

In the center of the room, there was a stuffed-animal squid resting atop a large cardboard box, which also had squid-like features, complete with spread tentacles that were labeled with language that represented elements of white supremacy. The attendees scribbled notes on the squid, and eventually added another box, labeled, “Heteronormative patriarchy,” to prop the squid up higher, in order to show that these two forms of oppressive mind-states are intertwined.

The words and concepts on the boards were the result of notes taken from previous discussions the collective held, dating back to their last in-person meeting in June 2017. Though they had all talked a number of times before this meeting, I wasn’t the only one scratching my head at the concept of “Radical Hope.”

During a follow up phone call, Kalpana Krishnamurthy, Senior Policy Director at Forward Together, told me that she found the Radical Hope discussion a bit obscure. However, she did find immense value in the potential of the gathering.

“It was amazing to spend two days in a room to talk about big picture framework and issues, as well as gritty campaign work,” said Krishnamurthy. She applauded the work done on multiple levels, saying, “we went from telescope to microscope.” And she found that doing that, in a place where there were people from a cross-section of movements, was beneficial to all involved.

As I took photos and notes of the attendees’ conversations, as they perused the boards and objects, I thought to myself, “What if school was like this?” Active engagement. Cross-collaboration with other students. Objects standing as tangible metaphors for large concepts that might be hard to grasp in word form. What if school was about working on the root causes of the problems in society? And what if students laughed and enjoyed the work they did in class, as much as the attendees of this workshop did, whilst working to save the world. How much better would the future of education be? Hell, how much better would the future be?

The conversation around the objects in the room — from the “Radical Hope” board to the cardboard robot — were just a fraction of the larger conversation that took place during the two-day session and served as a portion of the overall dialog that has been happening since this incarnation of the Wye River group was convened.

I overheard comments like, “As an academic, I love talking about it, but having to go back to my org tomorrow, it’s hard.” And someone else said, “But the world is burning, we don’t have time to figure this out.” There were points made that helped me understand concepts a little better, like, “ecological sustainability is at the center of co-governance.”

And then there were points that made me want to put my camera down in order to free-up both of my hands so I could applaud. “You don’t like robots? Have you seen what corporations are doing?” one guy said to a trio of other attendees. I laughed and kept taking photos.

Along with applying and analyzing the significance of concepts and objects, attendees spent time getting to know one another. They shared meals and went on a walk. They found time to collectively sing a pop song from the 1980s. They did group exercises that involved stretching, and another that was all about breathing on one common accord.

They went through the exercise of creating Emergent Learning Maps, in which attendees had to present their organization’s insights, ground truths, hypothesis and experiments in a quad chart, and allow other attendees to constructively critique their work. Someone mentioned how this practice is something that has been going on in collective strategizing circles for eons, and that they had learned it from the Zapatistas.

On the second day, the group discussed the concept of fractals, which is a geometric figure in which similar patterns manifest on all scales.

During the morning warm-up exercise, the facilitator cited Adrienne Maree Brown’s book, Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds, where she writes about “fractal change” and how a person’s individual growth can lead to larger societal change.

I could easily see that the work of the organizations at the Wye River North Star Experiment Meeting could be looked at as a form of fractal change. Within their individual organizations, they have small teams that work to address root issues that are present in society. And those small teams are just replicas of the larger organization. Furthermore, the actual work being done at the Wye River meeting — the need to find commonalities across movements and the efforts to break down the steps in the audacious task of saving the world — is just a fractal of the larger narrative that is, or at least should be going on, given the current state of politics, healthcare, the economy and the world in general.

Lastly, the individuals themselves, just as complex as any other human beings, are each a small example of growth, constant betterment and manifestation of good intentions in order to be the change they want to see in the world. They, themselves, are fractals of the work.

Unifying these complex people in order to save the world can be an overwhelming task, so having a North Star, some sun rays, or just some form of guiding light can be useful. The Wye River group’s tagline, “A long term home for visioning, strategizing, experimenting and muscle building, grounded in rigor and inspired by radical hope,” serves as such.

The hope is that this group of organizations can grow. The aim is to include more people, more movements, and be more focused on achieving one goal at a time, all in effort to move toward liberation of all oppressed people.

Again, this work isn’t simple. I saw the disagreements about concepts, miscommunications about goals and intentions, and the need for further clarification. Flights were delayed and some people had to leave early. There were people stepping out in order to take phone calls, and others responding to as many emails as possible during breaks in-between the sessions. The world doesn’t stop in order for you to find solutions to its problems.

I personally had to leave 15 minutes early each day in order to pick-up my daughter from childcare. But when I got to her, I felt better about the world, knowing that there are groups of people working in order to make it a better place for her. I was exhausted from spending the better part of two days taking notes, photos, and trying to process it all. But I felt more optimistic about the future of the world she will live in.

Before I left to get her on the final day of the convening, the attendees developed a 2018 roadmap. They made plans for future meetings, phone calls and experiments. They then traced outlines of their hands, and inside the lines they wrote down what they’ll leave the convening with.

In one last act of solidarity, they collectively created a poem: a letter to their old friend, “Radical Hope.”

Dear Radical Hope,

How are you? I miss you. I wish that I felt more connected to you.

But I see you coming like I see spring, if you’re recovered from that beating we gave you, and took a big, deep breath.

I’m still not over that Santa Claus thing, but I’m going to continue to believe in you. Because I feel us getting closer to you.

By practicing love, joy, and hope. I imagine a year from now we will all be changed because, breathing and blinking, you’ve transformed not only me but spread to others. We’re feeling more connected. I know where to find you when times are hard. Just have to look for the joy in all the small things that unleash our creativity, lady bugs and wildfires. It means trying and failing, and keeping our eyes on the prize.

Radical hope, I’m looking forward to seeing you again soon.

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