A TransitCamp Tale

When I was organizing Vancouver Transit Camp, I didn’t memorize a one-liner, a three-liner, or a short paragraph to explain what it was to people. Instead, I told almost everyone I spoke to something a little different, depending on the day, how tired I was, who I’d talked to the previous night, and whether the person struck me as the sort of person that thought about unconferences (because, you know, you can just tell these things).

Of all the explanations I’d given, put forth in spite of the not-so-supportive voices outside and in, the one conversation I had about Transit Camp that sticks with me is a conversation I had during the event itself. A gentleman approached me while the participants were playing with the grid. I could tell he wanted to say something Serious to me.

I don’t remember word for word the conversation, but I remember these parts of it: “I wasn’t really sure whether to come today, but I was under the impression that we were going to be talking to people from TransLink here, in an official way. From what I’m seeing here (he gestures to the grid), there’s nothing of that kind happening here at all.”

My first instinct is to bite back (like I have in the past) with all those big, cool ideas I have; the buzzwords are ready to fly off my tongue. But I held back, gave voice to the parts of me that weren’t my woundedness. “Can you tell me a bit more about what you have in mind as a way to address TransLink?”

He pointed out that he would have wanted to see TransLink as a sponsor of the event, and to have the three TransLink representatives somehow be “more” officially there than they currently seemed to be; that there was a big difference whether they were here as individuals or here as representatives. They would be representatives whose word we could rely on, whose feet we could hold to the fire for the current state of transit.

I then offered my view. “Let’s try thinking of TransLink in a different way,” I proposed. “Instead of seeing them as a single hive mind, where some individual can come here and represent TransLink, let’s think of those three people like this: they are working at TransLink, and they have job descriptions, and bosses. They want to do a good job, but they also want to do right by the community because they care, and that’s what working with the public means; and they aren’t always able to, because their bosses have given them work and directions. So us getting together today can be about us finding ways we can help them to do their jobs better and to drive change within TransLink, alongside doing what makes our lives better.”

Yes, it sounds rosy and kumbaya-ish, pies in skies and the stuff of “happier” political times. The news says all the time that more things are on the line, at stake; that this is a time for action. It’s hard for me to reconcile that I’m supposed to be angry at someone for something. Hence, the not-angry action from me.

The gentleman I talked to at Transit Camp heard my interpretation, and nodded slowly, saying he’d give it a try. I think he stayed at least a few more hours of the day. I don’t know if he became convinced – or, for that matter, if anyone else was – but if nothing else, I hope he heard something that sounded good to him, and that other people got something out of his presence at Transit Camp. I certainly did – insight into how other people envision these interactions, and the experience of speaking to it with some different ideas.

One Comment

  1. Well, in my humble opinion, you’ve got it all right! :-)

    When you push against an entity, it often wants to just push back, regardless of what you’re pushing it towards. But when you strip away the animosity of the politics and aim to inspire it… that is when the magic can happen!

    Posted January 14, 2008 at 8:29 pm | Permalink

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