Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Inside the Mind of Chicago VeganMania

Chicago VeganMania
a celebration of vegan commerce, culture, and community
Coming to Chicago in October 2009

1st post - John
This blog is a place where ideas can be shared among the visionaries who are coming together to create an all-new vegan experience in Chicago. The idea behind the blog is to have a forum and a place where we can suggest ideas, share information, give each other feedback, and ultimately create a wonderful event about ten and a half months from now. How will this blog it work? I don't know. It depends on all of us who share it. This is all pretty new, and I don't completely have a handle on the whole process yet. That's a good thing really. I come up with ideas for a living, and I always have a more successful time of it when I'm not too constrained by definition. To quote the great philosopher, Shunryu Suzuki, "In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities... in the expert's mind there are few".

Still, it's best to have some bit of structure and definition. So here are a couple of obvious questions, followed by whatever answers I have right now. Of course, I'm just one guy in a group, and everyone in the group is welcome and encouraged to share her or his opinion about this.

What is VeganMania?
VeganMania is an event that is in the process of being designed and created by members of EarthSave Chicago and other like-minded souls. We currently have a core group of about ten people or so. I'm not sure how many. It's in flux and mostly growing. I'm pretty sure people have joined since the last time we met, so I don't have a firm number. We also don't have firm leadership right now, which may become a problem down the road, but for now is mostly just an annoyance. Would you like to lead us? It gives you a good sense of power and accomplishment, but it's a lot of work.

Some of us have been talking about VeganMania since last winter. Basically the idea grew from a series of conferences we (EarthSave Chicago) have put on over the last several years called The Conference for Conscious Living. The conferences were held at different university campuses around town, and brought together some of the leading thinkers and activists in vegan thought. We always included a vegan marketplace called the Conscious Living Fair where attendees could buy products, learn more about local groups, and generally support and build the vegan community. These events were generally pretty successful. Most attendees left feeling very inspired and motivated, and some of them went on to do great things. Still, the attendance was never more than a few hundred people, and most of them were already with the program. We wanted to find a way to reach a larger audience.

We decided it was time for what we began to dub a "third wave action" (for a definition of third wave action, scroll down). We wanted to create an event that is designed to show off and celebrate Chicago's vibrant vegan community in a lively, fun, and completely non-threatening way (It's time for us to admit that a lot of people find vegans threatening, mostly in the same way that most of us find anyone who strongly believes anything outside of the mainstream threatening. It's not that people are worried about being converted. They're mostly worried about being annoyed).

We decided to start with the part of our Conference that we felt would be the most accessible – the marketplace. We'll have at least a couple of restaurants, several shops selling vegan products and other healthy, eco-friendly and/or life enhancing things, as well as a bunch of nonprofit groups, and anyone else who seems to fit in and is willing to pay a small fee for a table.

Beyond that, it's wide open. Some of the things we're discussing are entertainers, bands, a kid's area, perhaps a parade -- plus a lot of other things. We'll post a list soon, but the point is that it could be any number of things, and will be guided and led into existence by the very minds of the people who come together to make it happen, and that, of course, includes you, the person reading this blog. You probably have something you'd like to see happen here. Our experience has been that when we encourage someone to follow a good idea through, that person is often surprisingly effective. So let's all encourage other to think big.

So that leads to the second question:

What is the point of this blog?
As I wrote earlier, this could be the place where we share, dissect, and build all the various components that will become VeganMania.

If you're a part of the Vegan Mania core group, you'll be given the password so you have access to this blog, and you can post whatever you want to post.
The hope is that this will become a kind of a shared sketchbook and planner, and that as time goes along, will become a kind of an interesting thing to read. It also could become a vehicle to attract more people to the process, as well as a teaching tool for showing people how to create a community building event. It's also a great transparent record of everything this went into the process.

Will it work? I don't know. I guess it's up to all of us including me. This is only one way this group is sharing information. We already have an active listserve and we've been holding (somewhat) regular meetings. The success of this blog is based on what we put into it and what we feel we get out of it. It may be an amazing and world changing record of an incredible leap of consciousness by a remarkable group of people or we may all decide that it's a lousy idea and it will be gone and forgotten within a month.

Tomorrow (actually, today I guess by this point) is November 19 and we'll all be meeting tonight at The Balanced Kitchen. At that point, I'll explain to everyone there how they can contribute to this blog.

Okay, lastly, What's all this about third wave action?
There probably is some much more sophisticated and accurate measurement of this sort of thing, but this is something we were kicking around, and it makes a lot of sense to me. In any social movement, there seems to be at least four phases of action:

First wave - Confrontation
Second wave - Education
Third wave - Celebration
Fourth wave - Integration
There may be levels beyond that, but I haven't thought that far.

Level 1 is best characterized by a protest, an angry missive or something like that. For vegans, think back to early PETA protests and anti-fur demonstrations. Of course, a lot of this is still going on, but we're a pretty young movement. Level 2 is when people started publishing vegan cookbooks, list of cruelty free products, academic works and scholarly works like those collected in the sadly now defunct magazine, Satya. The Conference for Conscious Living is a great example of second wave action. Third wave actions are kind of new. I would call VegNews magazine third wave. This summer's Vegan Pride Parade in New York was definitely third wave. Marla and I started a company about ten years ago called Vegan Street that was attempting some third wave stuff back then. Chicago VeganMania could be the definitive third wave event.

Most movements have different people working or living at different levels, though there probably is one place that represents the bulk of progress. I'd say that for the most part the vegan movement has progressed to somewhere in the early stages of the second wave. That kind of make us pioneers.

So I invite you to become a part of this blog. Whatever happens with it, just like whatever happens with VeganMania, is up to us.