This most recent weekend was one filled with learning and community, leaving me feeling both smarter and more connected to Washington DC than I was before. It made me realize, or remember, that learning from one-another is one of the most vital components of community; where we are connected by our common ideas, ideals and aspirations; where we realize that all of us know so much more than any of us. On Friday night I attended the opening night of the Social Justice Camp, an unconference bringing together the grassroots social justice community in DC and emphasizing the importance of arts in bringing about social change. Friday was an Ignite-style event, with a dozen speakers giving short presentations on their work. It was great to hear more about the work of homeless advocates, food security organizers and social change muralists. It had a nice feel to the event, as unconferences always do, of everyone being on the same level, there to share and learn, without a divide between presenters and audience.
This feeling continued on Saturday night at the first Columbia Heights Arts Salon. This was an event for local artists in the Columbia Heights area of DC, hosted in four local homes. A series of house parties combined with showcases for local talents - with houses dedicated to performance, visual art, photography and digital installations. K performed to open the evening, the first time she's performed solo in two years. The fact that she felt encouraged and inspired to create and present a work in five days is testiment to the platform this sort of event creates. The event was put on my the newly-formed Columbia Heights Arts Foundation (CHARTS), which you can find out more about here. K and I are going to try and get involved and see how we can help them as we're really inspired by their vision of building community through the arts.
Then on Sunday it was K's birthday which we celebrated at a tea party for about 16 at which everyone presented/taught something. The variety of things I learnt that afternoon was amazing: drama games, canvas stretching, the scale of the universe, productivity techinques, how to draw a superhero, speak Russian and wear a corset. Everyone had something to share, a passion or a skill, a professional competance or a hobby. We all have things to share, but rarely are we invited to share them. Everyone came away from the experience inspired and uplifted - having maintained our attention for almost six hours and enjoyed every moment of it. This is a really different way of learning from what we get in our institutions - peer-to-peer, relaxed, and human.
This is what community looks like. It is open, vulnerable and participatory, based on common values and able to support its members to share and grow. Experiencing community like this, inside a room, with our shared energy strong and perceptible, is like a jolt of electricity - it animates and inspires. But elements of this community are also found online, and social media has given us a platform to replicate many of these features.
The people I feel most connected to online are those I actively share with and learn from. Twitter, in particular, has given me access to a set of peers who share my values and are looking to collaboratively learn how best to use these tools to affect social change. It is only through trial and error that this learning will take place, and the more we share the faster we can learn. This is why I was part of launching the monthly #4Change twitter chats. This is what inspired the estalishment of sQuareOne (now called the Vibewire Enterprise Hub) in Sydney. The creation of spaces where peer-learning happens.
As my friend Morgan puts it, We Operate Best Together. And we learn, build and grow best together too.