Contributed as program preparation for the Southcentral Yearly meeting of Quakers, April 10-12, 1998

 

FROM SPONSORSHIP TO COLLABORATION:

A PROPOSED AGENDA

 by George K. Floro

E-mail <gkfloro@sulross.edu>

Internet page: (http://www.corch.org/svsphome/)

 We people of passion for life, who are citizens working at the grassroots, need one another to glean the most from our experiences. I suggest we come together everywhere in collaborative inquiry -- to support each other, to learn how to do what needs to be done.

In his book on community development in Sri Lanka (I992), Quaker Norman Uphoff calls this learning process "research." He believes that if people have to rely solely upon what they know at the outset, they will surely fail. We of passionate commitments to serve, to give, and to mobilize for charitable and public service causes, listen to the same call in our search for real opportunity.

Having sponsors is not enough, impressive and helpful as they may be. Sponsors have an important role, but there are good reasons to go beyond them into relationships with fellow workers or other committed participants.

The earliest instruction to Christians was to rid themselves of money or they would be unable to enter into the kingdom of God. For those of us seeking to enter into rewarding collaborative relationships, the barrier is more likely to be status than money.

Elevated status tends to be linked to society's control system. Special status is defined and preserved by rules in a normative order. When people lose confidence in government and the public media and the control system becomes excessive, the entire status system becomes suspect. We are at such a point at the grassroots level today.

Our sponsors are legitimized in such a social order and thereby weakened by not having full credibility. Later I will be proposing that the most serious consequence of this weakening of trust is that the will of the people is undermined. And if there indeed is a conspiracy by either a competent or incompetent elite, this may be its objective: to destroy the will of the people.

(Events that undermine confidence and increase mistrust, sometimes to the level of sinister goals, include a war in Central America allegedly financed by income from the drug trade, the death of people at the Waco compound by burning alive, the death of Martin Luther King, Jr., numerous cover-ups by government leaders of mysterious happenings, and the disregard for human health and life by greed-driven corporate groups which operate behind the government facade. The perceptions at the grassroots are the realities in relationships. Proving or disproving that someone in government, for example, gave an order calling for King's death is not the central issue. One need not subscribe to conspiratorial theory to take it seriously and not close the door on its relevance in the present situation.)

Professionals, managers, universities, the United Nations, and other elevated institutions can not be trusted. To receive a research grant, if it is not a simple subsidy (and most of them are not), warrants viewing them with suspicion. Defensive professionals may miss the point and think the opposition is engaged in bull sessions contrariness or is guilty of some envy induced reaction.

Of course, those who have been elevated to the higher statuses may enter in collaborative research but as citizens. Sponsors too tend to be among the elevated with status resources as well as financial resources and may give assistance, when that is relevant.

They have legitimacy and get awards, like the Peace award for the Quakers. Such trophies may tempt even seekers to believe what they want to believe about a control system, even if it is ultimately dependent upon non-peaceful and mean-spirited sanctions.

The citizen working at the grassroots is handicapped when encumbered by statuses imposed by normative structures in such a society. Sponsors are likely to be out of touch with the grassroots, nonetheless citizen work needs support and a continuing learning opportunity. What is being affirmed here is that the opportunity for learning is most likely to come from collaboration with others working at the grassroots. At the end of this presentation, I offer a framework for such discourse, but grassroots workers may form their own collaboration arrangements. For example, Quakers in a certain kind of voluntary work may form their own collaboration groups or communication systems now possible through the internet. At least some of the inquiry would go beyond the charity of Quakers to similar work everywhere. I will try to illuminate these preliminary remarks in my own life journey.

MY OWN JOURNEY

 

At the beginning of the 1970s I became a visitor in the Eau Claire County jail under the sponsorship of the local Quaker meeting. It did not cost the Quakers anything financially, but they listened to my reports and on at least one occasion I met with a clearance committee. Something had happened at the jail (I do not even remember what it was) that might embarrass my sponsors and I did not want them to be surprised by it. My visitation was considered another outreach opportunity for the group and I was a witness, which in the Quaker tradition calls for simplicity and other guidelines. The new sheriff was also very supportive and he provided 24 hour a day access to the jail and to any of the prisoners. I was one of two volunteers with these special privileges. The other was a catholic nun.

Except for the time when I was voluntarily incarcerated for two days (and treated as a prisoner) I had a privileged role in the jail. No time before or since have I been trusted so completely -- never searched, for example. But the role went well beyond that. Overall it seemed better than Quaker treatment, when you are trusted unconditionally AS LONG AS!

The sheriff was proud of the jail and wanted religious involvement through volunteers other than ministers -- although the nun held religious services. The sheriff saw us as having a protective and comforting role, possessed by altruism. His favorite quote from the Bible concerned the directive to visit the sick and persons in prison. (I was) "in prison, and you came unto me."

While this was going on year after year I taught a course at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire on the sociology of volunteerism. More than ten years passed so my own statement that it takes at least ten years to learn anything from experience, caught up with me. One thing I had learned was that I was not primarily in the role the sheriff attributed to me, generating altruism and protecting or saving the suffering prisoners.

My reputation took off as a person who could find lost cars. When some prisoners were incarcerated, their automobiles were impounded or placed in a public storage lot and later moved to other locations so that no one could put the whole story together. In the meantime the prisoner might be pacing the cell block wondering if the storage bill had already climbed to an amount worth more than the car itself. The word gets around, "George will find it." This had gone so well that the sheriff once confided in me that he should make a detective out of me. He and I could run the jail!

That experience spread to other matters. If a new prisoner came into a cell block and he asked who I was, he would be told by other prisoners before I could answer. "That is George and if you need to get a telephone call to someone, he will make sure the call gets through. You can trust him!"

The kind of volunteer role I had can be called a "life sharing" type.

No thank you sheriff and nearly everyone else who is hung up on altruism, I do not have to wait for my reward in heaven. I am already way out ahead and nobody owes me anything!

At the same time that the jail volunteering began (early in the 1970s), I began two other highly voluntary ventures. I became the editor of the Wisconsin Sociologist and continued that task for thirteen years.

While editor the elements of a unified voluntary approach (serving, giving, and not-for-profit organizing) was introduced. (I once wrote a paper on the subject, "when voluntarism succeeds in professional associations.") Much of voluntary style survived through the tenure of the next two editors, but professionalism is winning out gradually in the name of professional recognition and higher standards and the chance to win more grants. The Wisconsin Sociological Association did establish an annual award in my name: the George Floro Award for Service to the Discipline.

The second highly voluntary venture began in the early 1970s. I became a goatkeeper. This also was a life sharing and learning experience. And people who do not know what is happening wonder why anyone would do all of that work. Are the goats worth it? That is agriculture. Vegetarians might ask, "Do you eat the animals?" Animal rights people may suspect you of slavery. Critics could ask some of the same questions about jail visitation. Why do you spend so much time in the jail? Quakers could say that when they visit the jail they are witnessing. "Witnessing" does not seem as suitable when you go to the barn -- as one cow dairyman in Wisconsin said -- "just to be with the animals."

Just tell me one thing you ever learned from a goat! I do not want to get hung up on this subject but let me try with one animal, Floroland Elly, a grade dairy animal with Alpine and Toggenberg characteristics. Once while standing with her at the end in a line of a class of nine grade (as opposed to purebred type) animals and I whispered to her, "Elly," I told her, "you do not deserve this." She was indifferent to my comment and seemed completely unconcerned about what the judge or the crowd thought. Some years later when she was awarded best in show in a field of over 500 goats she exhibited the same indifference. She became a permanent grand champion but that was not what was most remarkable about her. Where she excelled was in placing herself in nature. People have so much difficulty doing that. Like goats generally she was prey -- food -- and at every conscious moment of her long life she seemed fully aware of it. She was always watchful! As people become expendable to a ruling elite driven by greed for money and power, they too could learn from Elly for they too in a sense are prey. I said it once before in another talk. Her message is: "BE WATCHFUL AND STOP BEING SO DUMB!" (I know what you are thinking. He is attributing human characteristics to animals. That is a no-no! At a national academic conference I stopped to look at an anthropologist's poster exhibit on animals. His thesis was that religion had its source in humans attributing human characteristics to animals.) My point here is only that I came way out ahead working with and for Elly.

For background some mention might be made of my involvement in an academic and professional practice association (ARNOVA) that had as its goal to become the major research organization for the study of volunteerism, philanthropy, and non-profit organizations. I had written abstracts for one of its publications for several years and had at one time been one of the association directors. Also I published Voluntarism Review and Reporter, a publication of Studies of Voluntarism and Social Participation, for ten years. It reviewed current publications: books and articles in professional journals.

 

VOLITION AS THE ISSUE

Looking for the voluntary participation in different settings helped in attempts to understand any of it. This is a step that Quakers and others rightly concerned, if not preoccupied and over concerned with their own tradition, may not take. When they do not make the connection to a field of voluntarism they may put their effort into recreating the tradition and neglect a larger whole in which they indeed are a part.

Also not all volunteers may feel very comfortable with some of the conclusions that came out of this venture into the field. The so-called voluntary or nonprofit sector is an economic sector and it is an integral part of the total economy and it is overwhelmed by the more powerful within it.
To enter into the larger whole calls for both enthusiastic affirmations and well developed resistance to excessive controls and hidden dangers to life itself. As long as Quakers limit themselves to Quaker sponsored service, philanthropic, and organized effort, they may escape many of the disturbing conditions in a field of voluntarism. The civil rights movement and the militia have some of the same characteristics. The Quaker witness for peace has some of the same characteristics the steadfast and passionate commitment -- as the witness for national identity and self government. Militancy that insists that something be stopped comes in both peaceful and violent forms. All forms of voluntarism are nurtured by passion and the will of the people.

The specter that arises in society on the dimension of passion is negative prejudice, and if volunteers do not bring this barrier down they are not likely to have an authentic and distinctive service mission. Quakers sometimes seem to be hung up on negative prejudice around gender. Why not broaden the perspective to include goatism, a granddaddy of negative prejudice. In its pure form, it is easier to separate it from the struggle for higher status, which is another issue on another dimension of collective life. Unfortunately the struggle for dignity and to overcome marginalization or depersonalization is confused with competition for higher status.

Why not broaden the perspective by acknowledging the pervasive negative prejudice that destroys community everywhere in the society? And why not see voluntarism as the appropriate response? What is called for is more than a political strategy of a particular segment of the society.

The type of volunteering (life sharing) I generally do provides opportunities for one to come out ahead. (Other types of voluntarism discussed elsewhere as early as the late 1970s include protective and militant styles. Attempts have been made to estimate which styles are most common in the volunteering that is being done in service settings.)

At this point I am suggesting an openness toward different types or styles of voluntarism as passionate commitments to life. Also what is being called for is a step beyond sponsorship to collaboration among persons with the passionate commitments -- learning with and from each other in a collaborative research relationship.

The search is on for collaborators. What does one look for?

Experienced citizens who do not fragmentize the field. They do it all: serve, give, and organize for a cause.

Every status elevated group and institution in a society that has the wholehearted support of the people needs its believable citizens. Last year I wrote a paper for Wisconsin sociologists on citizen participation by sociologists. The title was: "Beyond Activism and Professionalism to Collaborative Participation or the Citizen Sociologist (October 30-31, 1997)." Quakers have cattleman Jim Corbett, leader in an intentional community, goatkeeper, and Arizona cattleman, known as a folk hero who worked in the sanctuary movement helping victims of the political struggle in central America. Many more believable citizens are in place and more are needed. They need to be discovered and acknowledged. (Incidentally, Corbett is a law and order person, believes in a sacred covenant and thinks that government should obey the laws.)

An academic and practice issue is that voluntarism needs to be saved from the attempt to bury it in clever naming for professionals and management. It has been used synonymously with volunteerism. Before that voluntarism was a no-no. Perhaps, if the movers and shapers knew what they were doing, voluntarism was too close to the will of the people.

 

REFERENCES

Floro, George K.

1997 "Beyond Activism and Professionalism to Collaborative Participation or the Citizen Sociologist." Presented at the annual meeting of the Wisconsin Sociological Association, October 30-31 at Rockford, Illinois.

 

Uphoff, Norman

1992 Learning from Gal Oya: Possibilities for Development and Post-Newtonian Social Science. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press.

 (The contributed paper received no collaboration or any other response from conference participants who were celebrating projects within the framework of Quaker witnessing.)


Return to SVSP Home Page