[permaculture] Democratic solutions to Permacultures conflicts?

toby at patternliteracy.com toby at patternliteracy.com
Sun Jul 29 11:22:19 EDT 2007

Kevin et al,

I do think it's time for a national Pc organization in the US, and more broadly, an upgrading of what holding a PDC certificate means. Jedd made some excellent points, and as he suggests, there have been a number of attempts to form national or large regional membership organizations in the US. They have all failed. There were a couple of attempts before I was doing Pc that others can speak about, there was PINA (Pc Inst of North America) in the eighties, there is the dormant Eastern Permaculture Teachers Association, and there is the stillborn Western Permaculture Teachers Association. Principle difficulties have been burnout, lack of funding, lack of support, too little time to take on the enormous task of organizing, and difficulty in agreeing (or even determining) what the organization's function is. There is also a knee-jerk reaction: "Who are those people to create an organization?" which gets to the top-down issue. Thing is, those who are organizing would be delighted if someone else wanted to do it, but no one does.

Questions need to be answered before the process can begin: 

1. What is the function of the organization? To police teachers and enforce how the curriculum is taught, to get accreditation or other clout behind the certificate, to offer a clearing house for course resources, to raise money for Pc projects, or something else?

2. How will people find the time and money to begin the organizing process? We're all busy, so how do we make time to meet? And setting up a non-profit takes lawyers, a website, and other things that cost money. Do the original organizers just dig into their pockets and pay, and take time away from other projects that may be more promising than one more try at organizing? (I shelled out a couple hundred bucks of my own money for WPTA and it's simply gone.)

3. Who gets to organize it? Even the creation of an interim board causes a certain amount of resentment among those not on the board. And how do you draw committed and talented people to the organizing committee who will stick with it? All it took to kill WPTA was for a couple of the organizers to get too busy to reply to a couple of critical emails, and the project stalled. You need those one or two people who will spearhead and drive something to its end no matter what. That really means giving up all your other projects. You must find someone willing to make that level of commitment.

4. How are decisions made? As Jedd said, majority rule can mean 49% or more may disagree with a decision, and consensus done as a national (non-face-to-face) organization would be pretty time consuming.

I can think of lots of other questions. Of course, all of these have been answered by the many groups that have formed national organzations, so it makes you wonder why permaculturists have been unable or unwilling to do so. I think Pc has made a huge amount of progress without one, but I also suspect we'd have university-level courses, accreditation, better-funded projects, and a better reputation and track record if we did. I agree that some of the inertia has come from a lack of trust in organizations, as well as a lack of perceived need. Perhaps Pc doesn't attract good organizers, although I don't see how that can be the case. Another challenge may be a lack of understanding how (and why) to structure a grass-roots, fairly anarchic movement into a national organization. But I would support, and even aid, an effort to do so.


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