I probably wrote my most recent blog post, Led to Take Risks, with myself in mind. I wrote about my friend Christine Nobiss suggesting I attend the first National Network Assembly at the Des Moines YMCA Camp near Boone, Iowa, August 22-25. So I registered to attend and told her I would be there.
The morning of the first day of the Assembly, Thursday the 22nd, found me thinking I didn’t really want to go, thinking of the hassles that would be involved, figuring out about meals, where to sleep, the schedule, and of being in a crowd of so many strangers, most of whom would be younger than me by about 40 years I assumed. But as usual, I was so glad I went, and many of those strangers became friends.
The sign at the entrance to the camp says “You don’t have to make friends, they are given to you“.
I think one of the most important things we need to do as we are confronted with environmental, economic and social collapse is “find new ways to assemble with people with diverse perspectives who are capable of coming into coherent relationships with each other for long enough to produce something worthwhile.” Pontoon Archipelago or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Collapse. James Allen, Medium, May 24, 2019. I don’t think it was a coincidence that these meetings would be called the National Network Assembly. That was one of the reasons I felt it important that I attend, and the result far exceeded my expectations.
We were given a helpful packing list. We would be staying in cabins at the YMCA Camp, but is was suggested we bring a sleeping bag. Two shuttles (school buses) provided transportation from the Des Moines Airport to the YMCA Camp. Mom dropped me off at the airport and I looked for the bus. It was impossible to miss once it arrived. So a crowd of about 50 of us boarded the bus, and rode the 70 miles to the Y camp. It seemed everyone was younger than 25 years of age! It was certainly a boisterous and friendly group. It was amusing to see how city kids reacted to rural Iowa. ‘Wow, did you see those cows?’ ‘There sure is a lot of corn.’
I was a bit confused when one of the event organizers approached me as soon as we arrived at the registration desk, and asked if I was Jeff Kisling? This was Rachel Potucek who was organizing the volunteers. I had emailed her to see if it would be OK for me to take photos of the Assembly, to be shared with the organizers and attendees. She hadn’t responded because, as we were told ahead of time, there was no WiFi and only Verizon cell phones worked at all (which I didn’t have). Rachel was happy to have me take photos, and I was glad to have something to do and contribute.
As part of registration we wrote our name, where we are from and the organization we represent on a wooden piece cut in the shape of Iowa. The Native people wrote they were from “Native Land”.
I wasn’t sure what to write for my organization so, as you can see, I wrote “Quaker.” It probably wasn’t the best term to use, but when people asked what organization I was with, I said I was just a “generic Quaker” which always got a laugh. I thought if I just said “Quaker” people would think of a stern and grumpy Puritan. I was surprised that everyone seemed to know something about Quakers. Many people were involved in organizations that met at Quaker meetinghouses.
I spoke at Bear Creek meeting this morning about my organization being “Quaker” represented our approach to justice work. That we usually didn’t work on a specific issue or with one organization, but instead discerned what the Spirit was leading us to do, and then find ways to do that with the support of our Quaker and other communities.
The registration process went well and we learned where we would be sleeping. I was in the cabin named Caribou along with fifteen other guys. Climbing in and out of a top bunk proved a little challenging. The cabin was new and had 4 separate restrooms, two with showers.
We were given the link to an app called Sched that allowed us to pick the sessions we wanted to attend, giving the time and location of each. There were usually multiple things going on simultaneously so we had to make choices. The schedule often needed to be changed because of conflicts with speakers or room assignments. So the following was my initial schedule, but things changed during the Assembly. This gives you an idea of some of the presentation and workshop topics. The presenters were all very articulate and spoke from their own extensive experiences. It was just amazing actually.
It will take a number of bog posts to share what I learned. The next blog post, though, will be one I printed by hand. I didn’t even bring my laptop because I saw we would be very busy and there was no Internet access. But I had so much I wanted to write about, that I hand printed a couple of blog posts that should appear soon.