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Waves of Collaboration: The Future of Organizing

D.C. Cummins
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Introduction: The Importance of Collaboration
The future is collaboration. To some, this statement may seem simple, or unrealistic, but in our globalized political economy based on self-interest, competition, and divisive modes of thought, surely if there is to be a bright future it will depend on social justice advocates and environmentalists working together, among various other generalized groups. However, with social organizations, environmental sustainability groups, and academic communities, many in these groups are overworked and narrowly focused on specific objectives central to their diverse understandings of the work to be done, and importantly so. In a world with such a vast array of economic, political, and socio-ideological controls and inequities, certainly we need impassioned people to stand up for the restitution of the environment, critical and empowering education, peace at home and abroad, and the cultural reparation of the poor and disenfranchised populations across the globe, most distinctively the African diaspora1 and indigenous peoples struggling for self-determination in the Americas and abroad. This is to name only a handful of challenges to participating in a peaceful and orderly world.

Tragically, however, when these passionate activists and educators are not connected with each other, or the populations for which they advocate, they risk replicating certain basic elements of the self-interested paradigm of rugged individualism2 that we should fundamentally be challenging in our resistance movements if we are to make long lasting change. Some social critics3 would certainly argue, however, that through the socialization of this historically Euro-American paradigm, how are culturally, ideologically, geographically and otherwise different people, with diverse understandings of the world we live in and the work to be done, supposed to work together despite their differences? This is an argument generally accepted as given for many in academia, politics, and the activist world, precisely because of our collective socialization into the ‘master narrative’ of dominant ‘free market’ dogma. But when we begin working together, not in spite of our diversity, but with a liberated respect for all perspectives involved, and the proper coalition-building markers along the way, we can begin to build a “bridge” system through which we can openly exchange knowledge, learn from each other, and build potential for what Childs describes as “shared practical actions”(24) in Transcommunality: From the Politics of Conversion to the Ethics of Respect (Temple, 2003). Moreover, in the rich technological environment of our generation, as activists and educators in much of the Western world and beyond well know, we must take advantage of the bridge building tools available to us, through the Internet primarily, that provide the initial channels of communication from which further collaborations, “constructive disputing”(60) and ‘face to face’ interactions grow. In my undergraduate experience at University of California, Santa Cruz studying Transcommunality as a student, activist, and educator working with Professor Childs, I have built these bridges, I’ve walked them, and I know the practicality of this type of networking based on respect, mutual learning, and shared practical actions.

This article, therefore, is not only my story of the different methods and processes of inter-organizational collaboration based at least in part on Transcommunality, it is my experience initializing a structure through which this type of collaboration would be most effective and empowering. After all, at its most basic level, Childs book Transcommunality (or ‘the Bible’ as I like to call it), is a guide outlining a process for collaborative coalition-building amongst diverse worldviews, fields of study, and organizational affiliations; at the same time it holds a vision of global community based on these principles of cooperation and respect.

Transcommunality manifests a vision of how the relationships created and sustained through these types of coalitions cause a transformation in the participants and the organization itself, and eventually the educational, political, and social systems we live in. Childs writes of the “creation of transcommunal associations” (66) that through this process “[s]hared practical actions, leading to interpersonal relationships, coalesces into associations that give these individuals a strong sense of group cohesiveness. Such groups may achieve formal status or may remain informal”(66-67).

The network of ‘bridges’ that follow, I argue, will benefit from a more ‘formal’ organizational status within and among the participating communities. Just as the image of a real bridge provokes, to remain functional the bridges we build must be held up by structural support beams to make people feel safe traveling across them, creating comfortable, well-known pathways to meet new organizers, share projects and actions, and learn from the others in a process of personal and organizational transformation. Such support beams, I argue, must be maintained by transcommunal bridge builders whose specific organizational role is to innovate methods, tactics, events, outreach materials, and other strategies of collaboration that tangibly connect people across cultures, organizations, and academic disciplines. It is my hope that the story outlined in this article becomes one rip curl in a massive wave of transcommunal energy that will define these organizational roles. Through the constructive interaction of the multiple perspectives involved locally and across the globe, a bright future for social justice, the environment, and an emerging global community built “from below,” will surface based on respect and cooperation.

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