Per my message last week, I just attended the New Work, New Culture Conference in Detroit this last weekend. Now, this was organized by folks from the Boggs Center, so the overall orientation of the conference was one of activism against the “occupation” of Detroit.
I don’t know the number of attendees at this point, but it was a gym packed with people, many from Detroit but also many who traveled in from other states and even some international attendees. The speakers (not chosen by Frithjof) were pretty disparate; some of them didn’t know each other and/or weren’t very familiar with or to the Detroit group or Frithjof’s immediate cohorts. There were enough people there I think unfamiliar enough with New Work basics that just explaining what it is was a daunting task. Frithjof’s spiel focused on “most people don’t like their jobs, and certainly the unemployed or precariously employed don’t like the system… we can do better!” while Blair Evans of Incite-Focus Detroit provided the really amazing illustration of how community production through a fab lab can work (the video for both of these things as well as the other presentations should be up at some point). Small group discussions went over topics covering various ways of “getting off the grid,” e.g. community farming, generating electricity through home-grown means, aquaponics, time banking, acquiring funding for these various types of projects, etc.
However, a good chunk of the conference seemed more to have to do with community organizing, and much of that wasn’t so much providing information on how to do it as actually providing a pep talk, i.e. doing the organizing as if we were the community. To me, this was somewhat confusing and misplaced: New Work is an umbrella of ideas, not itself an organization. Various community efforts can find inspiration and guidance from New Work, but New Work is not like the Green Party or some other organization that needs to sit down and as a group to come up with a mission statement and sketch out its values and all of that. The problems with work are so widespread among different populations that very different looking solutions are needed to attack each of them, and overall, the focus needs to be on getting these programs going and solving real problems by whatever means, some of them involving government, and industry, and grants whenever these are available, though in many the most pressing cases no such help is forthcoming, so the solution does have to look more like communities making their own way by their collective bootstraps, as will largely be the case with Detroit.
Unsurprisingly, most folks involved in helping the unemployed or running community gardens or the like are self-proclaimed radical leftists, and so the message that the economic powers that be should best be fought by actually competing against them (by giving people the means of supporting themselves in a community without having to purchase so much from corporations) I think may have been unexpected. A difficulty in explaining New Work to a wider audience is convincing them that these technologies and techniques pioneered largely by hippies are possible to bring into the mainstream, i.e. without having to live in a commune or become an ascetic, and likewise (per my post that made Thoreau stand in for all anti-technologists, which I realize is not a great depiction of Thoreau, but nonetheless describes quite a few people who idolize him) some of the folks present were clearly not used to the idea of actually promoting technology, where its use is actually dictated people the community members designing it, who can insert their environmental ethics into the process (e.g. in deciding what materials are involved, the downstream and upstream costs).
I certainly left with a lot of names of folks to try to interview for Frithjof’s YouTube Channel, so as to display the diversity of focus and viewpoints among the range of leaders who showed up. For from seeing Frithjof’s particular vision as the end statement of the project, I’m eager to document other people’s takes on how to best react to the hopefully by now uncontroversial observation that the current job system is terrible. Given the ubiquity of the problem, there should be no excuse for any portion of this non-movement to say “those people don’t have the right values and so can’t be part of this.” Promoting New Work is like promoting democracy when democracy was a new idea. Again, particular efforts to do something in a particular city should be highly focused in setting out their goals, but advocates of New Work in general need to keep from getting bogged down by the details of specific proposals, elements of some particular vision, or philosophical points. Maybe you don’t believe in the poverty of desire, maybe you emphasize entrepreneurship and someone else sees that as anathema to New Work. Maybe some want to focus on pushing the government to implement strategies to permit alternate work strategies, and others see any government action as a fundamental abuse of power. All we need to agree on at this point is recognition of the job system as legitimately problematic and that solutions really are realistically possible within our lifetime. That’s a hard enough sell to the unconvinced!