Friday, June 24, 2011

we cannot live, except thus mutually; or, reflections on PAPA Fest

It's a little strange being back in civilization.

For the past week, I've been out in the middle-of-nowhere PA, helping to organize and participate in PAPA Fest.

It's a little hard to explain our little festival. When people ask, I call it an "arts and music and learning festival," but that's just a part of it. When the organizers met in the fall to start planning, we went through a ton of drafts of vision and mission statements because we had so many different ideas. To give you a feel, here's what we came up with as a vision statement:

"PAPA Festival seeks to continue to be a national volunteer-run, donation-based event that gathers a dynamic group of Christians and others to form a little village where we celebrate, support, and empower one another. Motivated by the Spirit of God, we foster the development of DIY, earth-sustaining, and relationship-building skills that we take home to create a more compassionate and just world."

Yeah. That's long and complicated. And perhaps a little (a little, you say?) idealistic. But that is our vision. We're volunteer-run: no one gets paid. We're donation-based: we ask for about $20 per adult for admission, but if you can't pay that, we'll let you in, and if you want to give more, we'll take it.

We're Christians, most of us. And that's certainly a connecting point for us. Most of us are on the fringes, in our lifestyles, our theology, our politics, whatever, and we feel disconnected or alienated from the church as it exists in the US and from our society. We had people who weren't Christians who came, and while it was a very explicitly Christian festival (we had morning liturgy and afternoon and evening daily prayer), I hope that they felt welcome.

The festival originally came out of a couple of intentional communities, like the simple way in Philly and the Camden Houses (where I lived for a year), but we've broadened quite a bit since then. Most of us who organized the festival are not formally connected to a community. And although we say we're a "convergence of communities and movements," we're also a convergence of individuals.

We're not monolithic, and that's what I love. We come from a broad swath of lifestyles and theological backgrounds. If you looked around at our little village, you'd see big families and you'd see single people, old people (the oldest participant was 81) and young (we had about 80 kids in our Children's Village). A lot of people who come try to live "off the grid," but a lot of us also come from cities and are just trying to make our lives a little more sustainable.

We had a group of folks come from New Jerusalem, an addiction recovery community in Philadelphia. We had anarcho-primitivists. We had people who live in intentional communities and people who were coming out of the intentional community movement. We had people who were white, black, Asian, Mexican. We had people like me, who live a relatively normal life but try to push back at the dominant, oppressive culture in small ways. There was a photographer there who was covering the festival, and she said that she'd covered a Neo-Pagan gathering a few weeks before that seemed similar. I said we should connect with them. I think we'd find more common ground than not.

Mainly, we're a weird bunch of folks.

One of the biggest things we try to do is to build from the ground up. The festival switches places every time. In 2006, it was in Tennessee. In 2008, it was in Illinois. This year, it was in PA. We built a stage and a chapel in two days. We had composting toilets (our "Pootown") and asked people to bring their own dishes and silverware to minimize waste. We had communal recycling and compost bins. We wanted to be easy on the earth, because (as my friend Joy's t-shirt says), it belongs to our great-grandchildren and we should handle it unselfishly.

It's a learning festival in a lot of ways. During the day, we have "learning workshops" and "skill shares." I went to a learning workshop on Christianity and Feminism and one on militarism and pacifism, and to a skill share on permaculture. But there were many more. A lot of them had to do with living in community, but not all. My friend Lauren (whom I met there and whom I now consider a friend) led a workshop called "Queering the Beloved Community," trying to provide a safe space for LGBTQ folks and allies. There were workshops on peacemaking and reconciliation, on ethnicity and racism. There were skill shares on jewelery making and on drumming, on the circus, on gathering food from the forest.

As the Volunteer Coordinator, my job was to make sure the day-to-day things ran smoothly. The whole festival ran on volunteers: we asked all people who came to volunteer each day--to take out the trash and compost and recycling, to help out with the kids, to help direct parking, so on and so forth. It was exhausting because I coordinated and managed all of that, but it was wonderful. I loved my "job" (I did it at the '08 festival, too) because I could see firsthand how much people loved being there and how much they were willing to lend a hand.

A lot of the festival is about interdependence: learning to live with and lean on each other, learning to see each other as Christ would see us, and learning to love the world because God made it good. "If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other," Mother Teresa once said--and I think we're trying to relearn what exactly it means to belong to each other.

I'm going to post pictures soon....once I buy a new camera cord. I lost mine.

*People Against Poverty and Apathy. We've wanted to change the name for a variety of reasons (we feel like we should stand for something, not just against; we'd like to be more inclusive by using a non-masculine name; so on and so forth), but no one's been able to agree on another name. It is, however, kind of fun because the majority of the organizers are women; I like to call us the PAPA mamas.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

yes i said yes...

I missed Bloomsday because I was in the middle of nowhere. But to those of you who celebrated, I hope it was wonderful and that you pondered things like the ineluctable modality of the visible and non serviam and, of course, yes I said yes I will Yes. 

Also, it's officially summer. Happy solstice!   

More later.

Monday, June 13, 2011

in the category of "head hits desk..."

Huh. So apparently there's been a rash of (straight, white) dudes pretending to be (gay and, in one case, Syrian) women on blogs? And on Facebook as well?

Did someone say "appropriation"?

Lemme just say: I'm straight and white (so I have those things in common with the real people behind those blogs), but I'm a girl, not a guy. Just so's it's clear and all.

In better news, tomorrow I am headed off to PAPA Festival until Sunday, where, as the Volunteer Coordinator, I will undoubtedly be running around like a chicken with my head cut off. It'll be glorious.

Here, take a look at PAPA '08:

(This video was not taken by me, but I'm a fan of the fire-playing.)

My next post will be far more fun. I promise.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

where we go from here

I went to the Philadelphia City Planning Commission's meeting last night. It was a special meeting, open to the public, to adopt Philadelphia2035, a "citywide vision" that splits the city into 18 different districts and then focuses on ways to improve both the districts and the city as a whole.

The meeting itself wasn't too exciting. I was hoping for more details about what they were actually going to do, but it was more of a general overview (as well as a lot of mutual back-patting). From what I heard, the plan has a lot to do with improving transit (hell, yes), industrial and economic development, and development of green spaces and vacant lots. That's a very truncated version.

My particular "district" (West) is scheduled for development in four years. I haven't read the final plan, so I don't know exactly what they're planning on doing in my neighborhood--which, by the way, is a strange little bit of a neighborhood. It's too south to be Parkside or Belmont, too west to be Mantua or Powelton Village, too east to be Mill Creek. The neighborhood maps I've found call it "Haverford North," but I've never heard anyone call it that.

Anyway, after the meeting, I was with my housemate Emily and two other friends, Vicki and Troy (we went to Dock Street Brewery--so much more fun than a meeting), and we were talking about things we'd like to see in our neighborhoods. Here are some of my thoughts. Not all of them have to do with city planning in particular, but they're things I've observed in my neighborhood:

1. Trash. Oh, God, someone get rid of the trash on the streets! We all agreed on this one: the city would be a whole lot nicer if we just picked up our frakking garbage. By my bus stop, for example, there are two garbage cans at the corners of the street, and I still see people throw their trash on the ground. And it piles up and is so disgusting that no one wants to touch it (including me). Vicki suggested a citywide street-cleaning service. It's basic Broken Windows theory: if people see trash lying on the ground all the time, they'll think that's how it should be; if we keep the streets clean, people will understand that it's inappropriate to throw their garbage on the ground and will seek out the nearest trash can. It'll take money (to form a service to clean the streets) and time (for people to get used to the idea), but I'd say it would be worth it.

2. Sidewalks. There are a ton of broken-up sidewalks in my neighborhood. Let's repair them.

3. Abandoned buildings and vacant lots. No one knows quite how many abandoned homes and vacant lots we have, but the number hovers somewhere above 20,000. My street's got a few--not as many as some--and there are a couple of vacant lots near us as well. I realize it's complicated, finding out who owns these properties and figuring out how to buy them or transfer ownership or whatever, but I'd love to see someone--government or otherwise--take this on mass-scale. Along with this, I'd love to see the city create green spaces and playgrounds.

4. Access to healthy food. There's a corner grocery store around the corner from our house, and it's actually probably better than most corner stores (definitely just used "corner" 3 times in that sentence). It's got fruits and vegetables, but not all of them are fresh. Also, it's a crapshoot. You may find broccoli, or peppers, or apples, and you may not. I go there when I need something quick, but we could never do all of our food shopping there. And we have access to transportation and the money to buy good food, whereas a lot of people in our neighborhood, and in the rest of the city, don't have that luxury. 

5. Improved schools. An entire post could be spent on this, but I don't want to rant. Suffice it to say that the Philly school district is a hard place to get a good education. And it shouldn't be that way. A kid in a Philly neighborhood school should get the same level of education as a kid on the Main Line, and we shouldn't have to force parents to decide between living in the city and giving their children a good education. I think that should be a no-brainer.

6. Improved public transportation. I know this is on the city planning list, but a reiteration is always good.

7. Affordable (and decent) housing. PHA has been under a lot of strain, and a lot of scandal recently, and even if they did manage their resources properly, they most likely would not be able to help all of the people who need housing. In any case, we need to give people affordable housing--and good housing, too.

8. Revitalization without gentrification. We've seen this all over the place, right? A neighborhood improves, property values go up, and all of a sudden the people who used to live there can't afford to live there anymore. I don't want this to happen to my neighborhood--or anyone's neighborhood. I don't want my neighbors to move out (and really, I don't want my neighborhood overrun by students and hipsters; I like my families and old people, thanksverymuch).

The thing is, Philly's become home. And I want my home to improve and to be a place in which people can live lives that aren't continually affected by things like poverty and violence. Of course, all I've said above is rather idealistic, and I don't think we can, say, improve the schools with a snap of a magic wand. But we can work and push and try to make things a little better, yes?