Invitation to Set the Bar for Membership (i.e. "What does Membership Mean"?)

Greetings beloved Noisebridge community,

I think it is high time – probably past due, really – that the entire Noisebridge community convene to decide What Does Membership Mean?

I’m inviting everyone to participate in a 2+ hour session that will result in the entire community – Philanthropists, Members, and the uninitiated alike – generating a set of standards for Membership that come from Noisebridge as a whole.

Why me? Well, for the past half-decade, one of the “side quests” I’ve done in corporate and nonprofit settings has been helping whole organizations understand and name their most highly-held values.

The way I do this is simple. I ask everyone to come to a meeting held online (Jitsi will do nicely) and I ask people to come up with stories about what they believe constitutes righteous and good behavior in the org, in themselves, and in the people they work with. Then we all work on distilling those stories into themes, and from themes we assign value words and heuristics we can all agree on.

I would like to hold this kind of workshop for Noisebridge.

I want to be clear that i want everyone (members, philanthropists, and the uninitiated) to participate in generating as much conversation and storytelling as possible for the following questions:

  • What makes a good Member?
  • Are we a Trust-but-Verify culture? or a “people need to earn our trust” culture?
  • What constitutes a good decision?
  • What’s a “reasonable” block? What’s an “unreasonable” block?

I will set up a time on a day of the week when not as much other stuff is going on. Say… Sunday night? Would that be good?

And I am willing to run this for multiple weeks in a row to provide as much surface area for participation as needed to get everyone’s voice heard.

Much love,
Naomi

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I know that you want to have a live discussion, and I fully support your efforts. However I enjoy protracted/long form discussion, so, I wanted to add some direct responses here:

First off, I really don’t think we should call them Members, the term is inherently exclusionary. Like it feels like borderline doublethink processing this sentence: “Everyone at Noisebridge is a member, but the big `M’ Members… those are the `real’ members”. In blatant protest to this nonsense, for the purpose of this post, I will be referring to them as Hacktionaries (Hacker + Functionary, its terrible but let’s workshop something…)

I think that the last consensus’d version of Hacktionariship is actually pretty good: see here:Membership - Noisebridge I think the spirit of those rules are actually quite good… It leaves things pretty open, you become Hacktionary through consensus, and you can be removed from being a Hacktionary by consensus and really the only requirement is that you must be a continually paying Hacktionary. From a procedural standpoint, I wish it was a bit more explicit, so that it could be more enforceable, like what are the actual dues, who’s responsible for tracking payments stuff like that. ( I get that it is implied that it will be the treasurer, as it is written, its not clear what the procedure of removing Hacktionary responsibilities based on lack of payment would look like…)

I get that using money as a gatekeeper is inherently unfair, however is is the most intrinsic measure of responsibility, while still being feasible. And it also helps ensure that people who are ongoing Hacktionary are invested in the space, literally. As mentioned on the wiki page, if someone can’t afford to be a Hacktionary, then they should seek sponsorship through individuals in the community.

I also fully acknowledge that tracking payments is work, and we already have too much to do and not enough people to do it, but maybe it we standardized on a single donation method with an API, we could make a really simple web app, that just printed a report of who was in good standing…

Furthermore, I do not think that the Hacktionary list, and status of Hacktionaries should be private. I think it would be best if we had a culture of openness about this, like if someone says they are a member and wants access to the space, there should be a way for people to independently verify that… I feel like this will be a requirement for enforcing due’s and access control, and the consensus process

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The live thing will feel a lot different from a Meeting or from this forum.

So, by all means, get all your thoughts out in a written format.

Just know that we’re going to do our best to discard the present frame – all of the implied historicity and reactivity – in order to get to some much more interesting conclusions about who we are and what we want.

The live thing will more or less be rebuilding the very notion of belongingness from scratch. Everyone will be asked to get into more of a human space where we’re listening to each other talk about what we believe is important, and what we see in each other as valuable.

i think the idea of standards for membership is the whole problem.

the debacle that led to this whole conversation came from the basic hypocrisy in how the space was being run: membership was said to have no value, while it obviously did, and then membership was being denied based on institutional trauma that had nothing to do with the present situation.

this is a space built on the interpersonal, and creating institutional framework to replace the interpersonal is bad, and is what began happening when philanthropy was invented and what has begun to affect us for real with the way membership has been talked about vs what it actually ends up being.

as to your points nthmost:

  • the only way it can possibly continue equitably and without an elite is by trust-but-verify
  • we already have the standard of a block happening only if you wouldn’t be able to be in the space if the decision went through, that is, the block is to make sure your needs are being met, not for you to exert your will on the space

i feel like most of what’s happening is simply the messaging and the reality not lining up rather than a fundamental issue. the people telling new comers stuff need to actually behave like what they want new members to behave, and they do for the most part, just not around inclusion into specific institutional structures like Membership, and blocking.

ooh and another edit: i’m just not gonna be at the space at all over the next few months :confused: so let this be my in person statement lol

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i think the idea of standards for membership is the whole problem.

Well, I can tell you truthfully that the “standards” when I became a Member in 2009 were extraordinarily low. I had been hanging out for a few months and someone said “You should become a Member.” My page was read out for 4 weeks in a row. On the 4th week, no one blocked. The end.

Because I can remember many years in which this process WAS the “standard” for Membership with only very minor adjustments over the years until about 2014 (in the aftermath of the Reboot), my imagination is preloaded with an incredible amount of possibilities for what Membership could mean and still have Noisebridge working well.

This is why I want to have an open discussion with everyone that builds the concept of Membership up from scratch – not from a point of reactivity to the past 3+ years.

the debacle that led to this whole conversation came from the basic hypocrisy in how the space was being run: membership was said to have no value, while it obviously did, and then membership was being denied based on institutional trauma that had nothing to do with the present situation.

This is what motivates me as well.

simply the messaging and the reality not lining up rather than a fundamental issue

And yet changing the minds and hearts of Members to act and think differently seems to be a major challenge…

so let this be my in person statement lol

NP – in that case, let me ask you the following more foundational questions:

  • What do you think has enabled Noisebridge to exist for over 12 years?

  • What do you think enables Noisebridge to stick around for another decade?

  • What makes a good steward of Noisebridge?

  • When you think of someone who is truly Excellent, what comes to mind?

  • What does a real community consist of?

in order my answers are:

  • i’ve only been active at nb for the past 3 months about, so i actually don’t really know beyond the usual “staying dynamic” and “ability to resolve interpersonal issues restoratively”

  • as for another decade, it will come down to being able to maintain a highly interpersonal and non-institutional culture that can continue to be dynamic and proactive and that seeks to solve systemic issues instead of blaming individuals for problems. this includes being able to resolve institutional traumas well, etc. . . but again, this is mostly what i imagine would make noisebridge be able to survive that long

  • someone who is radically accepting of others, is willing to take others’ actions and speech in good faith until it’s obvious it isn’t, and someone who cares about anarchist mission of nb. this seems like the bare minimum

  • i don’t really want to bring up specific people at nb in this case, but for the most part everyone i’ve interacted with has been essentially excellent.

  • people who care for each other and want to see the joint endeavors we engage in succeed? good faith actors who are willing to interpret actions in the best way possible, facilities that allow for learning new skills, producing things that support the community etc. . . i mean, whole books get written about this.

one major thing is actually a core of people who will maintain the culture and values and make sure new comers are educated. this isn’t to say this is an official group, but rather a dynamic of integrating people so that they understand what is expected and how things operate.

one thing that has always pissed me off about joining new groups is the dissonance between the official messaging and what ends up being the actual common procedure. making the common procedure what is seen by new comers would be really excellent, or, instead, being strict with common procedure so that it aligns with messaging. a good community integrates new members in that way too.

there’s a bunch more but i think the general idea is essentially: radically open (trust but verify etc), an effective culture as opposed to institutional/structural crutches, ability of members and culture to change when things need to, active telling of history and participation in it so that context can be constantly understood (which is part of the way new comers are integrated effectively).

i’ll probably add to this more.

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Thanks Leon, your answers get to the heart of the conversation I’m trying to create here. Really appreciate your efforts and insights!

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Woz, if you’re still interested in writing your thoughts here – what are your ideas on the following questions?

What do you think has enabled Noisebridge to exist for over 12 years?

What do you think enables Noisebridge to stick around for another decade?

What makes a good steward of Noisebridge?

When you think of someone who is truly Excellent, what comes to mind?

What does a real community consist of?