Activists Enthusiastically Gather for Pachamama Alliance Community Days in Rochester

June 03, 2016 | By Mylie Thompson


The following is a guest post that was written in collaboration by the following Rochester, New York Pachamama Alliance Community Core Team members: Joyce Herman, Padme Livingstone, Sue Staropoli, and Tony Perri.

Strengthening Community in Rochester

On Saturday, day 1, the Rochester Pachamama Alliance Community explored what it means to be in community by using the Co-Active Leadership model created by Karen and Henry Kimsey-House. Co-Active Leadership is a tool that defines a leader as someone who takes responsibility for their world while providing a multi-dimensional platform that allows everyone to show up as leaders. Co-Active Leadership provides an understanding, that removes us from separation, from the individual position and moves us to the collective, collaborative connection with each other and Earth.

On Sunday, day 2, the Pachamama Alliance Community invited the larger (activist) community to a day to explore how to build on the existing collaboration, including Co-Active Leadership. Representatives from groups like the Rochester People’s Climate Coalition, Citizens Climate Lobby, National Organization for Women and M.K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence, are just some examples of who attend this day.

What follows is some of what happened on the Community Days and the response from the Rochester Pachamama Alliance Community and the members of the larger community.
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Reflections from Joyce

On a gorgeous Sunday afternoon at the height of Rochester’s world-famous lilac season, more than 50 people heeded our Pachamama Alliance Community’s call to “Rochester’s passionate, dedicated and visionary activists” to explore how we could work together to make a just and sustainable world.

Our dedicated Pachamama Alliance Community Core Team of a dozen people were thrilled that the Pachamama Alliance’s San Francisco, California office offered to send a community engagement team across the country to support our leadership. From the beginning, Jason Bayless and Rogér Knoren from Pachamama Alliance made it clear that this would be a joint endeavor, and that they wanted to share leadership, engage our collective expertise about our local community, and tap our wisdom about activism. On Saturday, Susann Brown, Padme Livingstone and Sue Staropoli joined Jason and Rogér in leading, as did Joyce Herman, Tim McGowan, and Sue Staropoli on Sunday.

I don’t think any of us had ever previously experienced the level of generosity and collaboration on a project that the Pachamama Alliance office and, specifically Jason and Rogér, offered us. Their unwavering dedication to integrity and transparency broke open all the previous paradigms we had worked with, even in relatively well-functioning organizations. These are two men who indeed model operating with an evolutionary consciousness!

We decided that we could best take advantage of their generosity and wisdom by having a day devoted to our Core Team, and another partial day where we would bring together community activists, some of whom were familiar with Pachamama Alliance, and some who were not.

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Our Core Team’s bonding with Rogér and Jason began with a potluck supper on Friday night, including a sacred space grounding ceremony and candle lighting that acknowledged the beginning of Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath.

On Saturday the Core Team took extensive time to introduce ourselves to Rogér and Jason. We reviewed the plan we set three years ago—and were pleased to see how much we had accomplished that we had envisioned. We learned and practiced the Co-Active Leadership Five Ways to Lead, an extended brainstorming process, and used a decision-making worksheet to learn a decision-making model, called the Advice Process.

For Sunday, our invitation to the activists acknowledged two things:

  1. Given the current state of our country and of electoral politics, it is clearer than ever that it will take collective grassroots actions to make significant change.
  2. To do that, we will need to hone our leadership skills, including working collaboratively.

We promised the activists they would:

  1. Learn a model of collective leadership
  2. Brainstorm how we can grow a critical mass of engaged people in our area
  3. Explore and celebrate the possibilities of connection, wisdom, and fun

From the evaluations we gave to participants, it appears that we succeeded in those goals. (The brainstorming focus shifted somewhat, as is to be expected when the process is as open-ended as we planned it to be).

Amidst our excitement and joyous anticipation of the wider community event on day two, we faced what I (Joyce) saw as a significant challenge. Given the devastating, profound disparities in the Rochester community based on race, an all white team, however deeply dedicated to justice, did not, by its very composition, reflect our personal or organizational commitments to social justice.

Despite reaching out to diverse groups since I became involved with Pachamama Alliance, our Core Team and our audiences have been mostly white. My night-long internal struggle on the eve of our Sunday program became a spiritual crisis that forced me to dig deep emotionally and face again the grief about the disparities and the separation by race in our community. Despite many close personal relationships that crossed the divide, my inability to bridge the separation in a Pachamama Alliance context was especially painful since my work of the past several decades involved working to eliminate racism, among other oppressions.

Acknowledging that “collaboration” between people of the global majority and white people has usually been experienced by people of color as domination by white people brought into sharp focus the need to examine my/our leadership styles. I believe the Co-Active Leadership model, in conjunction with deeper explorations of how our identities shape our leadership styles and affect others, holds great promise.

I was deeply grateful for how our leadership team and Jason and Rogér were able to hear me, trust me and support ongoing explorations and conversations at the local and national level. I am hopeful and excited about what comes next!

The following is a sampling from participants’ anonymous evaluations:

Evaluation Question: What did I gain from today?

“Empowerment through the recognition that being who I most deeply am changes everything, including the transformative causes I care so much about.”

“I learned about the Co-Active Leadership model. It was very, very useful. I felt myself safe and comfortable with these people. I got a different and new view and focus on the world, people, community.”

“Knowledge, power, and renewed HOPE (with a heart around it).”

“The realization that I’m not alone—the power of the group gave me hope and gratitude for what is to come.”

“Inspiration from knowing how many groups are working locally to create attention to the systems, structures and symptoms of separation.”

“A definition of leadership methods I have applied in the past. Being able to name these styles causes a greater awareness of them and increases their potential.”

“I gained a sense that there are a lot of like-minded people seeking connection. Collaboration is essential! Different perspectives on leadership were really helpful for my organization and personal life.”

“I found the exercise on different forms of leadership to be helpful. It put these models into concrete, measurable, named terms, so I can call on them in the future.”

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Reflections from Sue

My heart is full as I reflect on 2 days of deep connection, learning and growing together. What started as a Community Day for our Core Team of 12 turned into a 2-day experience which included 55 local activists on day 2!

Leadership is most often a word we associate with someone up front who leads others in one direction. Spending a weekend with Jason and Rogér from the Pachamama Alliance opened my eyes to the many forms leadership can take—and how I have a choice in how I will be a leader in every situation (beyond my usual default patterns). These new concepts (“Co-active Leadership”) were the cornerstone of the skills we learned during our 2 days. So many people, after learning this model of leadership, spoke of how helpful this will be in their organizations and personal life. It was freeing and powerful for us to grow together (as a Core Team and a local community of activists) as we learned together, and brainstormed (with another “deep listening” tool) how we can stay connected and work more collaboratively. Changing the world is UP TO US, and can only come within community. What a weekend of community-building at many levels!

On a recent Pachamama Alliance global call, Pachamama Alliance Co-founder Lynne Twist said that the core message of the Pachamama Alliance is connectedness (vs. our illusion of separation) and ally building. These two days were a powerful experience of both of those aspects of our mission.

I am so moved and grateful for this gift that will enrich my life as a member of our Pachamama Alliance Rochester Community, within our local community of activists, as a global citizen, and in my personal life.

Reflections from Padme

I had arrived on both Saturday and Sunday with some skepticism, mixed with a generous serving of hope for a rewarding day for all. I was unsure how fellow participants from the larger community would receive the revolutionary information that I already understood from our team’s preparation work with Jason and Rogér. As each training day went on, I became conscious of my own shift as well as the groups’. For me, having two days to practice the Co-Active Leadership exercise deepened my understanding of its use. I realized I can check in with a fresh approach to how I am showing up in my life at any time during the day when I feel stuck or resistant to what’s happening in my life: Is my response from shadow or self-care? Is this my default? Is it working? What choices do I have?

I additionally noticed that in the wider groups on Saturday and Sunday, as we followed the guidance for each exercise that people quieted down, and simply did the practice. It seemed to me that there was a general happiness in the room afterward, by the excited chatter that followed each session. From group and personal sharing, it became obvious to me that people were “getting it.” I noticed how often I was smiling from what was going on.

The evaluation forms that I read expressed some surprise and delight to have new information and language about leadership, default styles, and new skills/tools to work with, regarding Co-Active Leadership specifically. Considering the room on Sunday was filled with people representing many different activist groups from the area, many of whom who had likely attended many trainings and workshops throughout their activist lives, the fact that the Co-Active Leadership was received so well speaks to how open and happy people were that they came. The feedback from the evaluation forms at the end of both sessions often expressed delight and gratitude for the learning and stretching in unexpectedly new and hopeful ways of seeing and experiencing personal default leadership styles and the possibilities for exploring new forms of leadership intentionally.

My skepticism disappeared completely as I experienced the openness to this new and revolutionary information in our Core Team and the larger group of activist folks who showed up on Sunday.

A whole new spring of hopefulness has been opened for the way forward within me. There’s also joy for the immediacy of our contribution to our community. And overarching it all is a deep sense of gratitude for Pachamama Alliance, and the generous gift of bringing Jason and Rogér here to seed their patience, love, wisdom, courage, and joy in the work. Lastly, and certainly not least, for me finding out what a fertile soil we have here in Rochester for having more of the kind of community I have dreamed and dreamed and dreamed.

Reflections from Tony

What an amazing experience this weekend was. Appreciation to Jason and Rogér to gather with us and bring their wealth of experience. The leadership principles presented to us were done in a clear and understanding manner. I look forward to using them, not only in my Pachamama Alliance endeavors, but in all my work. And it was such a joy to meet others in our community who are working to save our planet.

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