I was fortunate to attend the Web of Change (WoC) conference on Cortes Island, Canada, this year. For those of you that don’t know, WoC is a community of visionary leaders working at the intersection of technology and social change. And the annual conference is the foundation of that community. As one of ntegrity’s Digital Strategists (based in Seattle), this sounded right up my alley.
Since I have not attended WoC before, I made sure to do my homework leading up to it: perused the website, looked at the pictures and talked with some former attendees. The common theme I found was the “magic” of it all. WoC claims to be an unparalleled, transformative experience that will foster lasting relationships and re-charge your soul. But since this conference is put on by some of the best and brightest progressive organizers in the world, you’d expect them to be able to generate some buzz. So imagine my surprise when it all turned out to be true.
Since the first meeting in 2001, Web of Change has grown in size and stature. More than 100 do-gooders gathered at Hollyhock Retreat Centre last week, including representatives from not-for-profit organisations like Greenpeace, Amnesty International and MoveOn (the American version of Avaaz).
Photo copyright Jed Miller
Together, we tackled big issues like, “Do our principles of democracy preclude us from denying our opponents access to our tools?” The discussion stemmed from a heated debate that took place in our community earlier this year. A petition platform (that shall remain nameless) which has core progressive values, suddenly allowed conservative groups to post their petitions alongside ours. Many attendees, including myself, considered the move “selling out” and we took our business elsewhere if we were able. However, after an hour of heated debate, I had a change of heart. Defenders of the platform argued that progressives don’t agree on 100% of the issues 100% of the time. What if suddenly a particular progressive organisation’s values fell out of fashion with the rest of the community? Should they be ousted? And if so, who has the right to make that decision? Instead of playing gatekeeper of the content, the platform is choosing to focus on making the platform work better. Besides, they argued, do we really think we are going to win because we have the better tools, or because we are on the right side of our issues?
It was truly amazing to see how vehemently this community could disagree, yet still maintain the utmost level of respect for each other.
Not surprisingly, the most stimulating conversations happened at the dinner table, and around the campfire and in line for the bathroom. The skills sharing and networking and brainstorming that happened organically is a natural byproduct of bringing together these types of people in this type of natural setting.
Another explicit goal of this conference is to slow down, unplug and recharge. We care so deeply about the issues we work on that we often neglect our own needs. We do the movement a disservice by not taking care of ourselves, and, thus, not bringing our A-game. Time was reserved for walking, swimming, yoga, meditation, napping, singing, dancing and any other activity that brings us joy. And lest I forget the food – oh! the food. Hollyhock served up some of the most nutritious and delicious pescatarian fare I have ever encountered. You can (and should) get some of the recipes here.
I could end by saying that I look forward to attending a future Web of Change conference, which would be true. But deep down I know that even if I return, it will be with a new batch of skeptical attendees and a new batch of pressing issues and I would undoubtedly be at a different stage in my own life. In other words, it wouldn’t be the same. Because how could it? So instead I’ll just end by saying I am grateful to have been a part of the magic this time.