I've finally caught up on my sleep after four days of workshops in Atlanta, and have more to say about everything. As I said, I'll pick up first with the Friday evening workshop run by Project South (they also have a myspacepage). Project South is an organization that works on "popular education" and their workshop was designed to have us try out their training tools and see if we could take them back to our own organizations. One thing I liked at the outset was that they clearly stated a set of guidelines: the respect for time-limits, a way for people to interrupt by saying "whoa!" when they hear something they are bothered by, and the "step up/step back" rule was explicit (we'll call less on people who talk a lot/more on people who talk less).
The workshop starts with what they call an "Aha" moment. The exercise is to have people talk in small groups about the moment when they first felt themselves to be activists and to then identify the year. Everyone in the room also has a copy of a time-line including events in the history of global capitalism and social movements in the US. Given a smaller group and more time, there would then be a large group discussion about people's aha moments, placing them on the big timeline so that people could see clusters (say around the beginning of the current war, or around the 1960s). In addition to being an interesting demonstration of people's situation in a broader history, it also allows the group leaders to know the experience level of the people in the room.
The rest of the workshop that I attended had to do with how people compare their own vision of what they want the society to look like with what they think the society actually looks like. The group leaders distributed poster boards, tape, markers and little cards with words on them like "money (capital)"; "health care" and "environment," that each group was to put on the board in the order that the society wanted them in. The process of putting the cards on the board was very interesting in my group, which made up primarily of college student activists who had become active around the war in Iraq. Our biggest question was what "the society" meant - the people in power? or the people in general? (the people in power was the answer we got from Project South) When the groups came back to the large group, there was a lot of agreement about how what the values of the powerful were. Then we went to step two - designing the world/US *we* wanted, there was also a lot of agreement - and a lot of interesting creativity. Almost everyone made a circle instead of a line and put "people" in the middle. One group took the word Money (capital), shredded it, and taped the pieces all around the board to show redistribution. I can imagine a version of this workshop might work well in my union. When it shows broad agreement, it helps shoot past petty conflicts, and it also can illuminate reasons for conflicts by highlighting disagreements in a way that doesn't immediately lead to a big argument.
The pictures above are the beginning of the first step: showing society's priorities. The second one shows the end of part two, when small groups shared their vision of a new society with the large group.