Deep Offline: The Next Wave of Community Organizing
In today’s social movements, there is typically online organizing (“Click here to do this good thing”) and there is offline organizing (“Excuse me, ma’am, would you sign this petition to do this good thing?”). But hold on to your clipboards because I’ve seen the future. And I am here to tell you that a new wave of community organizing is dawning at a bar, dog park, spa, cupcake shop, playground, and yoga studio near you. Let’s call it “Deep Offline Organizing.”
We are talking deep, people; so deep, as a matter of fact, that you hardly even realize you are being organized. Your experience is that of hanging out with amazing and passionate people, fulfilling your heart’s desire, bubbling over with personal power and purpose. And yet, as a result of the experience, you are moved, changed, and suddenly find yourself engaging in your community at a different level than before. This, cause lovers, is Deep Offline. And you heard about it here first.
Seriously though, I’m certain that I’ve spotted a trend, and I’m seeing it manifest in a variety of ways. Many of the most hard-core and in-your-face change agents I know are recalibrating, regrouping after a few dozen years pushing their issues, fists in the air, chanting, “Hey, hey, ho, ho, (insert bad thing here) has got to go!” They are looking to keep themselves—let alone their audiences—engaged and are now cultivating what is possible in the face of grace. Approaching their commitment to social change with joy, passion, balance and heart’s desire, they are finding that the conversation looks very different, and the results ever so potent.
I see it in the lawyer-turned-gardener, for example, who feeds his neighbors homegrown organic vegetables. He put down his law books and picked up a hoe, desperate to find his own inner peace. Now everyone thinks of him as a farmer, much to his delight. The experience is subtle, and it looks and feels like a garden tour and a free community potluck. And yet, as our bellies fill, so do our minds, with delicious possibilities of affordable, healthy, local food, and a renewed sense of freedom from the trappings of industrial, over-packaged, overpriced groceries. There are no trifold brochures and no courtroom testimony, but his neighbors will testify that they are getting a helping of more than just brunch over there. And by the time they realize it, they are activated, and there is no turning back. For years our lawyer-cum-farmer friend doubted himself, worried he was a has-been or a sell out, too weak to stick with the law. But in embracing his heart’s desire and doing what he truly wanted, he cultivated more than just great food. He created a hub for “deep offline” connections.
If the slew of budding business plans and big schemes are any indication, Deep Offline will soon be coming your way in the form of eateries, bars, story salons, and other establishments that will be political without feeling political. These are places that will enroll you into the ranks of do-gooders without overtly asking. Imagine a bar started by a veteran human rights activist and a high-powered news reporter. Their commitment to engaging a conversation about what matters is as unwavering as ever, but it looks, feels, and manifests differently than it did before. It happens over finely crafted artisan cocktails, prepared with local and organic ingredients, and served with a sweet backbeat and maybe some tapas. Designed to not hit you over the head, it nonetheless hits you in the heart and the gut as you talk, learn, share, plan, and commit. The vibe conjures collaborative sociopolitical discourse that paints a clear picture of that so-called “better world” we all believe is possible, yet the process doesn’t feel preachy or uncomfortable. It is a warm local joint you return to often, a safe haven where you can find brethren with whom to foment justice. And voila, suddenly it is “the place where everybody knows your name.”
Deep Offline is alive and well in yoga studios across the country, where instructors are collaborating with Off the Mat and Into the World to gently reach people where they are (on the mat) and respectfully recruit them into conscious, sustainable service to others. The deep approach is full on, and it responds to the urgency our times call for, but with a balance that can draw us in for the long haul. It is a slow healthy burn of a heart on fire, not the fly-by-night intoxication of adrenal glands frying.
Perhaps Deep Offline is hardly new at all, just our inevitable return to a time when we recognize that our community’s very survival depends on our capacity to accept the political as personal and vice versa. Like Deep Ecology, “deep offline” calls us to ask deeper questions about the place and role of human life, who we are, how we should behave, how best to call one another to excellence. It recognizes the inherent worth of all living beings, including humans, beyond their utility to our campaigns. Deep Offline invites us to organize, not so we can extract those signatures and clicks to support our campaigns, but instead to foster leadership, partnership, self-determination, and lasting power among people. There is a renewed commitment to this deep breed of change, a change that is cultivated from a place of joy, grace, and heart’s desire. And it is this depth that will sustain us in the challenging days ahead!