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From Maleck comes this topic:
“How do you build community in the modern era?”
I think part of the issue with writing on this subject is that we have to define what kinds of communities we are looking to build. Kindreds are vastly different in structure, scope, and goals than that of a coalition of leftists, builders of a local mutual aid network, or more formal political structures. What we are trying to build and the focus we bring to it greatly differs even if there are some commonalities built into the idea of community building.
First, you have to figure out what kind of community you are going to build. In this, I would ask a series of questions.
What is the purpose of the community? Is this community oriented around religious, political, or hobby interests? Building a community is based on the foundation you are sharing.
How oriented around a worldview, ideology, or set of ideas does this community need to be in order to be considered a cohesive community with regards to its purpose? A Heathen Kindred or Wiccan coven requires a fairly tightly held set of beliefs, ideas, responsibilities, and expectations of each member in order to function and develop well. Communities oriented around hobbies need to have some set ideas about what hobbies they will be enjoying in their time together, but otherwise each member may have wildly different ideas of religion, politics, and other essential parts of their worldview.
How tight are the ties in this community? Is it a Kindred or a coven? Is it a religious community such as a Pagan or Heathen Discord? Is it a mutual aid network? Is it a hobby-based community? Each has its requirements for how tight those ties are to be included within a community, and the accompanying expectations for how one is to act.
What are the expectations, including responsibilities and obligations of each member to one another and the community as a whole? Are there administrative needs that must be met in order for the community to function well? What are the core fundamentals of organization of the community? Does the community operate under egalitarian, hierarchical, and/or other forms of organization? Even free apps have terms of service, and to leave this idea unaddressed is to leave gaps for serious inroads of issues to occur.
After these questions are answered, in a way, I think the overarching way you build community is quite similar. Whether you are looking to create a Kindred, coven, mutual aid network, political group, or hobbyist group, a community needs to know the fundamentals of what is required for in/out group, what level of buy-in/work is required to be an active member, and a good idea of what the active participation by each member looks like. While the ties may be looser or tighter depending on the obligations, responsibilities, roles, and worldview of the group, there has to be fundamental agreements on how things are done, what is being done, and why.
Communities transform over time. When I started teaching at The Wandering Owl it was started to teach on the Runes. It then turned into a Northern Tradition study class. Then it turned into a working group, and finally, a Kindred. At each step there were discussions around expectations of each member, my role as the facilitator, what was changing in regards to the group, and how we were to be, and what the community was becoming at each step of the way. The Kindred has largely gone quiet in the last few years because of the masive amounts of difference in our schedules and obligations in our lives. Nonetheless, we carry love and care for one another. Much of my focus has shifted specifically from Mímisbrunnr Kindred to my work with the larger communities in Around Grandfather Fire, 3 Pagans on Tap, and the various Heathen, polytheist, and animist communities I am part of and serve.
Another example of change: I was involved as a member of a boards of directors for a nonprofit that handled millions of dollars of donations to help kids connect with technology, computers especially but also programming and basic robot work with Lego Mindstorm kits. Animation was my speciality at this point in time and I won a small award from the nonprofit before they approached me, asked me to join, and I had to stop participating in the competitions. I transitioned from a regular member to a board member, taking leadership classes and other training so I could be an effective youth liason and full voting member. I then began to teach kids how to animate, bringing basic visual design with basic animation as I had learned how to do it.
The various computer clubs in schools we partnered with then have carried on the work we started. Over time we went from a relatively small base of schools to a regional SE Michigan base of schools, and the competitions were bigger, more involved, and amazing to watch. We did excellent, needed work to bring kids into better working relationship with tech, computers, and building life skills.
We had to shut our doors because the donors stopped giving in 2004, the year I graduated. So, we finished out the year with a bang and had our largest competitions for animation and robots yet. Our transition out of the schools meant they had to source their own computers, their own funding, and bring more local focus to the work they did. Some did exceptionally well, and some did not. I am deeply proud of the work we did. If nothing else, we helped launch countless school computer clubs, tech clubs, and robot clubs, and helped teach a generation of students from middle through high school how to effectively work with computers and technology.
The current board of directors I am a part of, Crossing Hedgerows Sanctuary and Farm, is a growing, beautiful part of my life. I volunteer every other Wednesday, and as I can I make it out to various events we host on Saturdays.
Communities organize, live, and die for different reasons. In the case of Mímisbrunnr Kindred we yet live in a kind of holding pattern. In the case of the nonprofit I was part of as a teen, it died because funding ceased. Crossing Hedgerows Sanctuary and Farm lives because we are mimicking the environment we are building the sanctuary with: we are playing the long game, adjusting as we need to with regard to the energy and ability of our Board and volunteers.
Of these approaches I think that the approach of Mímisbrunnr Kindred and Crossing Hedgerows are the ones that last the longest and are most enduring because they are wholistically plugged into the members’ lives. They allow for changes in each member’s life while still having identity and direction around which they are oriented, providing guidance over time. They build on the experiences and contributions of each member. Perhaps the biggest weakness of the computer club nonprofit was its necessary reliance on big donors to keep the doors open, and so, those who were relied upon to provide the energy necessary to keep the projects going had no actual community buy-in. They were not part of the communities with direct stake in the projects. Their funding was a philanthropy project, likely more oriented around public relations and tax breaks than anything to do with closing the digital divide, and enabling the ongoing running of computer clubs, robot clubs, and animation clubs.
While far smaller in terms of focus, direction, and impact insofar as greater society is concerned, both Mímisbrunnr Kindred and Crossing Hedgerows have had major impact on their membership and all who come into each. Both of these communities have far outlived the computer club nonprofit. The focus, direction, and impact of these smaller, but tied-in community projects, are ongoing and directly affecting the wider communities they are situated within. Where the computer clubs we touched that were able to survive without us have thrived in different ways, many utterly failed once our support went away.
How do you build community in the modern era? In a variety of ways, and from the ground up its purpose needs to be consistent, shared by its members, and understood well to survive, thrive, and change. Otherwise, it risks being shut down once whatever used to fuel it is spent, whether that is money, people, volunteers, or passion. If you want me to tackle this in more detail, please let me know!