Some personal obversations from Les Spencre.
DTE has a 25 year plus history of successfully evolving ConFest.
At macro level of 'the seven days of ConFest' - somewhere between 1500 to 2000 people - who have experienced one or more ConFests - create together 'the experience that is ConFest'.
When the people arrive, they 'do their own thing'. Those with prior ConFest experience are enough to 'make the magic happen'.
If enough strangers turned up we would loose the magic. It would be something else - not ConFest.
'Behind the scenes' there is a small group - around 50 who set up the ConFest site pre ConFest and pack the gear away post ConFest - so its all above the flood plain level. Among some of these people is a rich wisdom - born of experience of 'what is fitting' (the 'survival of the fitting') on how to set up a context for ConFest, consistent with 'ConFest':
Laying out water, roads, front gate, beaches, info, workshop boards, potential event places, potential workshop spaces, fire places and the like
'Behind the scenes' of 'the small group of 50' are very few who have a rich wisdom - born of experience of 'what is fitting' (the 'survival of the fitting') on how to set up a context for 'the context for ConFest', consistent with 'ConFest'.
This relates to walking and becoming familiar with potential ConFest sites and bouncing between the more than 150 inter-dependant variables of 'ConFest' and this potential site. We can easily get lost on 300 hectares of yellow box forest on a cloudy day. We use ways to become very familiar - so we know where we are. We tentatively juggle possibilities - how would a front gate work - the relating between access, natural limits - creeks and cliffs - for traffic limiting - eg how set up a 'car free zone' naturally - dust creating, and prevailing wind direction, hence dust-flow direction, distance for walking with gear, and a myriad other things.
We do let local rural people know our general criteria regarding potential sites. Even then, we may use less than one in eight of the sites we look at.
These very few have the wisdom of the 'magic happens'. They set up a context for the context to unfold.
The '50 group' tend to have sub-areas that is their thing:
The information tent, the workshop scene, the front gate, the water system etc.
Typically these people have little feel for, or interest in, the inter-relatedness and inter-dependence of the 150 plus variables that 'the few' have.
We have had an example where a general layout had been set up by the few, taking into account the myiad interacting elements. Then some of the 50 agreed to relocate one aspect when the few were not on site - because it suited the personal interest of one person. Those of the fifty on site allowed that relocation to take place. It had the potential to collapse the car free zone completely and reduce the three stage car parking to one big free-fo- all car park - cars and tents and dust everywhere - no 'spiritual bush experience' - just broken ankles tying to climb over tent ropes getting to one's tent in the dark during ConFest. The aspect was relocated and car free and parking evolved, as anticipated by the few.
We have had the cars and tents everywhere on an Easter Tocumwal ConFest and it's a mess.
We have had the ConFest site set up by contractors. Long-term ConFesters could feel the lack of spirit and magic.
DTE has had a history of mainstream people and so-called 'new age' people who arrive with 'organising' experienced gained in the dominant world. They see the DTE and ConFest way and sense that it is 'not well organized'. That is, it is not top down hierachical control - bosses and workers - where bosses plan, organize, direct, and control - the typical functions of 'managers'.
The reality is that DTE works! ConFest works! We DO know how to do it. We put on two ConFests a year. As a grassroots organization, we are rolling in money. And ConFest is best value for money around. DTE is organized. ConFest is organized. However, the 'organising' is very different from the dominant world model. I sense that the DTE and ConFest 'organising', 'authority' and 'wisdom' can only be experienced and through experience, embodied - that is, so that we have 'DTE' and 'ConFest' inside every aspect of our being. New people can not get this wisdom by reading something like this paper, or talking to core people, or the few - they have to experience things on site - (not even at DTE Melbourne meetings).
A metaphor for the evolving of ConFest is the workshop notice boards. Enough people know how they are set up. A place is created - 'the workshop notice boards'. Typically, the boards are near information and first aid. Around 14 workshop places are created and named. These places are marked on the tops of columns. Spaces are left on the tops of other columns for others to create other workshop places. Typically, another 10 or more emerge. A map of workshop locations evolves near the workshop boards. Two days workshops are displayed. People who know the system set up the third and subsequent days by rubbing out the previous writing. This is all self-organizing. People who want to enable a workshop write them up. People turn up and it all happens. Enough people know how it works. Typically, people who know, know who the others are who know, or know someone who can tell them who the knowers are. This self-organising process happens in many inter-related aspects of ConFest, and it works.
We had at the last ConFest around 50 people, (those not part of the 'core group' or 'the few'), who got together to explore 'ConFest Futures'. This is a wonderful move. As would be expected, much that has been thought up by this process excludes what currently happens. Some things have been written as a 'this is how the front gate can work in the future' and 'this is how X and Y can work in the future'. New ideas are always welcome. However, it seems useful for new energy to tap into all of the 25 plus years of wisdom of how to do this. Much of what has been suggested would never work, for very good reasons. A person with lots of front gate suggestions, 'in a vacuum disconnected from what actual happens at peak times', with respect, does not know he does not know.
We now have a lot of experience of what does not work. Some of the suggestions seem to be negating the superb work that already happens. 'Steps aside guys! We do not want to hear from you, and we with no experience will do it.' This type of 'support' may not be useful - rather it may be very alienating to those who have put in the hard, exhausting and at times, emotionally wearing yards. My sense is to get the sense of how it happens and hence increase one's capacity to make 'sensible' suggestions.
Those who have been to many ConFests, and who have not been part of the core group, and who have little volunteer experience 'know' ConFest at the macro, 'I've had my personal experience of ConFest'. They do not know what the 50 know, and they typically, they do not know they do not know. People do not hear about the fence jumpers, the number of children with burnt feet, the people who attempt to ram through the boom gate, the people who are escorted off site by police, the local drunks who try to get in, the number of candles left burning in tents during total fire ban days, the tents that go up in flames with people in them - to name a few things that have happened over the years. Do they know the cubic metres of excrement we create, the amount of water per hour we use between 5PM and 7 PM. And how do we get equal pressure throughout the water system. How many hectares of parking do we need per 1000 cars. How do you repair a bore pump 75 metres underground? We have the knowings for all this in our midst.
In turn, the fifty do not know what the few know, and the 50 typically do not know they do not know. It seems there are not many people who can juggle 100's of inter-dependent variables in their thinking and action.
They Us and We
The people who energized the first ConFests were all fervent social change people. It was obvious that 'We, together, make ConFest happen!' Over the years it seems that there has emerged among many that some people called 'they' 'put on' ConFest for us. This group 'they' sell a 'product with services', and it is 'Us' who buy it. This is attempting to lay a distorting 'dominant system' framing on ConFest. In the dominant system festivals are 'commodities' that are sold.
Sure there is a few who energise ConFest contexts. Once under way, attendees create ConFest. Magic emerges from the blending together of human passion, interests and energy. No one is paid in the core group, nor among the few. All attending pay. There is never the free ticket. This 'all attending evolve this together' is an integral aspect of ConFest. All attending can volunteer to make this happen.
Now this is where a crucial point emerges. I sense because of the growth of this 'them' and 'us' type thinking 'we' have not had anywhere near enough people volunteering. Hence, those who do volunteer are being over extended. Some things are done poorly or not at all. For example, some nights the front gate was way down on what is useful to have there.
Various actions are emerging to address this. A small gathering took place in a bush setting near Melbourne to explore the theme 'We creating ConFest together' and other themes. A newsletter raising the 'We' theme and inviting people to indicate their intention to be a volunteer is being circulated to our full mailing list. Processes are being explored to make it easy for people to participate in Sustaining and Evolving ConFest. Watch out for these when next you attend ConFest.