The idea for SHARE Fair first came to me from two places. Emily, a friend of mine, hosted a wonderful birthday party where she asked each of us to bring something to teach her. It was beautiful to see that room full of friends-of-friends, learning everything from silly card tricks to astrophysics. Everyone was so eager to learn each new thing, so excited for their own turn to share their knowledge.
I was reminded of Thinking Day, a holiday celebrated by the Girl Scouts. Once a year in a school cafeteria, the older girls put together tables for the younger troops, with information and activities on an assigned topic. The joy and fun of putting together and presenting a table to each new wave of younger girls made a much bigger impression on me than being a passive participant had, and I’ve already written here about how empowering it was to realize the content had been created by girls just like me.
SHARE Fair is a Thinking Day for social justice, with the goal of capturing the spirit of joy from that birthday party. It is an activist skillshare devoted to fun and community-building. The Fair is coming up this weekend. I wrote this post to encourage you to attend and to reflect on what this adventure has meant to me. Regarding that first goal:
What: SHARE Fair 2013
When: Saturday, September 21, 1:30-5pm (potluck at the Blue Parka 5:30-8pm)
Where: Auditorium of St. Stephen’s Church, 1525 Newton St. NW, Washington DC
Why: Activism, skills, friends, fun (and at the potluck: food!)
For more info: See the facebook event!
We’ve got some amazing booths lined up this year, including:
-Street harassment: why and how to respond
-Deeptalks: breaking social scripts to initiate meaningful communication
-A tribe to share life with: starting an intentional community
-Intro to Sewing: how to sew on a button
-Effective strategies and success stories for anti-foreclosure activism
-Media skills: speaking and writing
-Effective communication strategies through diverse media
-Taking ownership in your community (buying a home)
-Intro to vegan cooking
Come to meet new friends, inspire your activism, and have fun on a beautiful fall afternoon!
I worked for over a year with a group of wonderful co-organizers and friends to make SHARE Fair a reality. We held many an organizational meeting, a fundraising dance party, a mini-fair trial run and evaluation, and a pre-fair preparation party for booth organizers (called share leaders). Finally, we held our first SHARE Fair last June, with fourteen fantastic booths and about 200 attendees. After the fair all participants were welcome at my group house for a potluck dinner, a bit of social time, a community reflection, and discussion about the DC activist community.
The people, work, experiences, and discussions described above have taught me a lot. Specifically, they’ve taught me in a real way the value of some things I already knew were important, and some things I whose worth I hadn’t quite figured out. Here are five of the many things I learned to value through SHARE Fair:
1. Value those who came before
This came up in our community discussion last year. It is so very important as a matter not only of effectiveness, but of humility and respect, to learn what people are already doing on an issue before jumping into the fray. When you create a redundant activist group or action, you may draw membership and funds away from a group that’s been fighting that same battle longer than you, has more institutional knowledge and community connections than you, and has a much longer history with the issue than you do. They’re also probably tired and deeply committed, and could use the burst of fresh energy and new connections you could bring to them. Do your research, and collaborate instead of competing.
This is especially important in communities like DC, where informal segregation persists, and where so many young professionals move for two or four years before leaving again. Remember that someone was here before you, will be here after you, and could possibly use your support on that issue you both care about. Listen first, then act as an ally.
I realize this is ironic coming from someone who created a new event. Although SHARE Fair is a different format than any other organizations my research turned up, there are wonderful groups doing knowledge-sharing work in DC and nationally. Knowledge Commons DC is an absolutely fabulous volunteer-run organization that puts on free classes in the District and runs entirely on (often in-kind) donations. Donate your time, your knowledge, or your space to them! The DC Learning Collective was formed by a group of activists and focuses on activist-friendly knowledge and skills workshops.
2. Value physical space
Man, DC will teach you this one hardcore. With real estate (and thus property taxes) so expensive, hardly anyone offers use of space for free, and fees can often be quite high. This makes it really hard for low-low-budget activist groups to find the physical space they need to put on events. SHARE Fair actually stalled for almost a year because we couldn’t find a space big enough for our event with a cost small enough for our minuscule budget.
You learn to value the beautiful people who offer up their space to allow beautiful things to happen. The venue we used last year and this, St. Stephen and the Incarnation Episcopal Church, is amazing.* They not only offer space-use discounts for groups working on social justice issues, they also have divided a huge portion of their administrative space into offices for small (mostly local) nonprofits, and they let activist groups in town for protests and other actions sleep over on the floor of the church. There are other hidden gems like this in DC, but you have to work hard to seek them out. Once you’ve found them, THANK THEM.
3. Value your fellow organizers
It is literally impossible to put on an event like SHARE Fair alone. Years ago, I handed my barely-conceived idea to my fellow organizers, and they used their time, wisdom, creativity, and experience to turn it into the event I’m proud to be a part of. One artistic volunteer created our logo’s thought bubble, and my talented graphic designer brother turned it into the set of logos we use everywhere. Every person who attended the mini-fair (especially those who led booths and stuck around for the evaluation) made SHARE Fair something different and better. All the share leaders who put thought, work, and adrenaline into planning a booth and sharing their knowledge with waves of participants are the real stars of the fair; if you come on Saturday please be sure to thank them. Other organizers contacted their networks to connect with potential new share leaders expanded the breadth of activist experiences present at the fair. Others took photos and video of the fair, and others spread the word about the event to new groups of possible attendees.
When you’re in a position like I’ve been these past couple years with regards to SHARE Fair, you’re given the perspective on just how many people put a part of themselves into an event (especially a free, volunteer-run event) to make it a success. You value their time and their contributions and learn to balance the two: it’s a delicate process to figure out just how much time someone really has to give you, how many contributions you can ask from them and have it be empowering rather than overwhelming. The people who put on SHARE Fair with me, like me, have their fingers in lots of different activist pots. Regardless of the amount of time and work they were able to dedicate to SHARE Fair relative to their many other commitments, I feel unending gratitude to each person who contributed to this event.
4. Value your friends and family
I am well aware that I babble on about SHARE Fair like a broken record. I’m sure plenty of other organizers do the same thing. I bet plenty of friends of other organizers could sympathize with my friends and family, who got to hear me excitedly list newly confirmed booth topics, worry about how little I’d gotten done that week, ask if they wanted to be organizers, ask if they were coming, ask if they’d invited their friends, ask if they wanted to be share leaders, or answer their questions of “how are you?” with an overly-long organizational update on SHARE Fair. Oof. Friends, I know I’m insufferable. Thank you for liking me anyway. And especially, thank you for sometimes answering those questions with “yes”, for listening through the rambles, for offering advice and sympathy and excitement, and for supporting me.
So, yeah, don’t ever forget how wonderful your friends are.
5. Value our collective strength
“It was so powerful to ask ‘What skills to do you have?’ We sometimes don’t value our own knowledge and skills, but asking each other to share it makes you think, and realize how much you really know how to do. And how much we know how to do together.” This was one of the comments in the post-fair discussion the stuck with me the most, because I think it gets at what SHARE Fair is really all about at its heart.
SHARE Fair is a visible, audible, and tangible reminder of how much we all can do together. SHARE Fair is based on the principle that we’re not just passively receiving knowledge, we’re exchanging it. As individuals and as a community, we are made stronger when we work together, and collectively, we know know how to do a remarkable amount of things–more than you can imagine.
*Note: they also have a really interesting history with regards to racial justice and gender justice. I recommend reading up on them.