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Report from the January Gathering

by Carol Brouillet
Late January 1998, while the World Economic Forum met in Davos, Switzerland, about forty people gathered at Presentation Center outside of Los Gatos, California to examine strategies to transform the global economy. Those forty people included:

        On Friday people arrived, began to get to know one another and revitalize friendships. We had dinner together, then we formed a circle where we formally introduced ourselves and outlined the structure of the gathering. Tom Atlee facilitated and gave an overview of "Open Space." The laws of Open Space are quite Zenlike- "When it starts it starts. Whoever comes are the right people. Whatever happens is the only thing that could have happened. When it's finished; it's finished. The Law of Two Feet- If you are not learning or contributing, use them. Butterflies and Bumblebees are OK- people can move from group to group and cross-pollinate ideas- it's ok to be a butterfly and make space for a different sort of encounter. Tom explained simply that people were responsible for their own experience. Then Hank Monrobey and Bernard Lietaer gave a brief introduction to their understanding of money and their work.

        On Saturday morning Hank Monrobey presented for 3 hours. With at least ten people in the room who had written books on money or were writing books on money, people were not content to sit passively while he made his presentation. He sharply criticized local currencies because they did not permit or facilitate the formation of "capital," which is required by major enterprises, businesses, public works... He felt his strategy would create a more powerful engine to help communities gain greater control of their lives. He had spent a considerable amount of time in Switzerland and knew intimately how the Swiss W.I.R. worked. His system was rather complex and Hank was so glad to have an audience of knowledgeable people that he tended to jump around in his explanations and sidestep the details of the actual working of his model. He was barraged by questions and he had a difficult time responding to them. Tom Golden tried to clarify things a bit, but the model was complicated enough that few people really understood it.

        In the afternoon, Bernard Lietaer presented a very clear conceptual understanding of what was going on with the world monetary system and where we were at that moment in time. He used overheads which showed the growth of the speculative "cyber economy" and it's detachment from the "real" economy. He also mapped the growth of local currencies, and noted that this is the first time local currencies have flourished "before a crash." For many, Bernard's presentation was revelatory and transformative.

        Later we moved into Open Space where anyone could choose a topic of their choice and post it on the wall. We had different time slots available and there were 6 different spaces we could use, plus some people chose to go for a walk. We were fortunate to be in an old Spanish style building with a patio and two lounges. One of the lounges had an enormous hearth with a fire going in it and was the favorite place for sessions and late night conversations. There was an abundance of topics to choose from. Here's a sampling:

        The intimacy of the smaller groups allowed everyone to participate as much as they wanted to and helped move us out of the presenter/ passive listener mode.

        That night after dinner we tried something new. We formed a circle by giving one another neck massages until all were present. We then passed out 6 poker chips to each person. The poker chips represented 30 seconds of time. People had to pay a poker chip to speak- no chips- no talk! If anyone wanted to give you more chips- you could continue to speak.

        The first person to toss in a chip was Kevin Danaher who said that the men had been dominating the conversation for too long and it was time for the women to speak, he got up and offered his hat to the men and took up a collection of chips which he placed on the lap of a young woman. The women were outnumbered and greatly appreciated the gesture and chance to speak. Juliette Beck who was organizing against the M.A.I. in the Bay Area told us about her activities and detailed the M.A.I. for those who didn't know about it. The bank of chips was cooperatively shuttled down to women in need. There was much laughter as well. Sergio told a moving story about his father returning to a part of Russia that had been devastated by war, not finding the gold that had been buried there, but saved by the son of a man who owed his grandfather a favor. The storytelling began. There was much laughter as well. One woman started a story and sent it around the circle for each to add their piece; it beautifully came together as the story of our gathering. Bill Shireman's 8 year old daughter was seated in the middle of the room drawing, and she judiciously gave chips to speakers she liked as they spoke. It was fun and amazing to see the group mind at work. There was also an outpouring of appreciation for the gathering and the desire to continue as a group and meet again.

        Sunday, we broke up into our many small groups again. Michael Linton and Ernie Yacub made a presentation on "The Community Way." I suddenly realized that this model would work in Palo Alto and I was swept up with enthusiasm to try it. My original idea for the gathering had been to come up with a cooperative for the green, new paradigm businesses. I never expected the gift of a new model for local currencies, but I was delighted nevertheless!

        Sunday morning there was also a very highly charged meeting between Linton and Monrobey who confronted each others systems. The key question concerned the apparent inability of traditional community currency systems to generate capital or to lead to capital formation. They seem to be restricted to very small scale exchange networks that can't really produce significant economic change. While recognizing that this is the case at present, many were not sold on Monrobey's own model or the critique he made of local currencies. The bottom line on that turned on the "speculative" nature of his own proposals, on one hand, and Linton's proposal to involve larger businesses in community currencies through the Community Way model.

        That morning a discussion on the relation between the work against globalization and the work toward creation of sustainable local economies began. The integration of the two, the balancing of internal work/external work and the paradigmatic frame for a comprehensive activism began to emerge.

        Later that afternoon, we all came together for a closing ceremony. It was amazing to witness the initial conflicts and ego clashes and to see how they were resolved over the course of the weekend to be replaced by respect and cooperation.

        Monday I took people to the airport and had lunch with Tom Greco and one of the organizers for the Local Currency Conference scheduled for February. The rain and the worst flooding in Palo Alto in 100 years upset a few plans. But people met despite the rain, new relationships formed. Collaborations were explored which were a direct result of the gathering.

        In February many of us got together again at the Local Currency Conference or afterwards. In March we met again when Michael Linton visited from Canada to help launch the Community Way locally and Elisabet Sahtouris came down to speak at a lunch that Sergio had organized. We went to hear Jerry Mander speak at The Center for the Evolution of Culture. I asked him about local currencies and he enthusiastically endorsed them.

        Clearly Michael Linton's Community Way idea is the one that has swept the Northern Californian contingent. Fortunately we can support one another rather easily. I think Hal and Norie and those others who live far away find distance a bit more isolating.

        Late August when Norie was passing through, we had a delightful reunion at my house with many from the January Gathering. We had a great circle plus hot apple pie and ice cream.

        Our goals and purpose are quite clear, we realize that there are many strategies towards reaching them. What I have learned is that process is as important as purpose- that we need to move away from hierarchical structures and organizations towards cooperative participatory ones- especially in our "conferences."

        I hope this gives you an idea of what our gathering was like and how it has helped us to create a community of kindred spirits who are able to learn from one another and support one another on many levels. I hope you will be able to join us in the 1999 January Gathering. Except we must rename it the "February Gathering" as Presentation Center is undergoing renovation in January, so February is when I've been able to book it.

        Since March the Y2K problem has catalyzed greater energy towards the opportunity and need for social transformation. Tom Atlee's website (www.co-intelligence.org/Y2K.html) has inspired a great book- Awakening- The Upside of Y2K. Hazel Henderson & her husband are also working on this (check out www.publicinterestpolling.com/. & www.hazelhenderson.com). The need for viable alternative models to the old system seems more pressing than ever as the global economy looms shakier than ever.

        There are many projects now that are in the gestation phase. Our Gatherings will evolve and grow, as needed. There will be time for presentations which can be recorded, videotaped, and broadcasted at the next Gathering, but even more time for Open Space, the chance to network, share our pieces of the puzzle, and nurture the relationships which sustain us spiritually, and help us with our work. The butterfly metaphor is so apt to this transformational process. We see the caterpillar of brutal capitalism failing as we struggle to connect and create the butterfly of a new economy that is sustainable, just, good for humanity and all lifeforms on this dear planet.

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