Thursday, May 19, 2011

Journey of Awakening – 32: House Priors

1976-7. We settled in to our new room in the San Francisco House, organized our living space as comfortably as we could, with a queen-sized box spring and mattress on the floor, a small desk and chair with a lamp, and a commode that served as a headboard and wall for privacy from the entry door. Troy and Eric were at summer camp, provided by Order staff. Linda and I were now assigned as House Priors. At the end of the summer Eric started his 3rd grade year and Troy was in 5th grade at Starr King School.


Bob and Cynthia Vance had full-time assignments as Area Priors. Bob was travelling constantly, researching sites for potential human development projects, while Cynthia was responsible for securing in-kind donations and overall administration. One unforgettable result of her fearless approach to likely donors was the day Cynthia drove up to the front door with a station wagon full of half-gallons of rainbow sherbet. She ran frantically up the steps yelling for us to come help unload the sherbet and find space in our two or three freezers. Since there was not enough room for it all, she began handing out sherbet, which was by now getting a little soft, to neighbors and people passing by on the street.

San Francisco was a stopping place for people travelling overseas. And since the ICA had projects either in full swing or in preparation in the Marshall Islands, the Philippines, Japan, and Korea, we were making regular trips to San Francisco International to pick up staff and volunteers and put them up overnight. We also hosted a number of our travelling fundraising staff for periods of a few days, or in some cases, weeks. This in addition to housing our staff and a group of senior high students whose parents were assigned overseas. These were, by the way, incredible kids who participated fully, with only the normal amount of teenage rebellion, in the House life and community activities, while being full-time students. Some of the best of these were David St. John and his sister Ann, John Wainwright, Doug Haman and Hendrik Idzerta, all of whom have grown to be successful adults and productive and creative contributors to society.

clip_image004Me and John Wainwright

The fall of ’76 kicked off with a flurry of preparations for a major Town Meeting initiative in San Francisco. Linda was in charge of coordinating twelve neighborhood forums to be held on the same Saturday. We had the support and endorsement of Mayor George Moscone and the Board of Supervisors, then chaired by Dianne Feinstein, and a who’s who list of community leaders, churches (including the now infamous Peoples’ Temple), service organizations and businesses. Training sessions were held in all 12 neighborhoods for workshop leaders in English and Spanish.


Eric, Karen Reese, Barbara Prather, Tim Goodger: Town Meeting San Francisco Promotion Team

On the day of the forums McDonald’s supplied hamburgers, cheeseburgers, and fries for every meeting. Local soft drink suppliers provided sodas. Other businesses donated door prizes. It was a massive undertaking. Some of the more memorable forums were the Tenderloin (San Francisco’s night life district), the Haight-Ashbury (where one of the participants ripped our flip charts off the wall and proceeded to jump up and down on them while shouting dis-establishment statements), the Castro District, and a special city-wide senior citizen Town Meeting that 500 unruly seniors showed up for. And we had prepared enough workshop leaders for half that number.

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We received lots of publicity. The press showed up at several of the meeting sites. Politicians of all stripes attended, and many even stayed for the whole day and participated, even though they realized they were not going to be allowed to make long speeches. It was a fantastic demonstration of citizen participation and community empowerment. Every meeting produced a set of proposals that residents could take action on and not wait for the politicians. Each one had actually written their own brief story of what the community meant to them, its history, present challenges and future hopes. Every neighborhood created a symbol, displayed at the plenary session at the end of the day, and wrote a song that the whole community could sing.

The bicentennial year ended and we were still a ways from the 200 Town Meetings in California, and even further from the 5000 across the U.S., which some crazy persons among us had proposed as our ultimate goal. But we as a group had never shrunk from impossible tasks, so we simply extended the bicentennial for another year or so and created the image of completing at least one Town Meeting in each and every county of the U.S. This would be a challenge worthy of a crazy group like ours.

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