Fireflies and Rhizomes
A WeavEast Reflection
By Charlene Boyce, Inspiring Communities
In October of 2020, in the seventh month of the pandemic, I was hired by Inspiring Communities to serve as a content curator, working primarily at the outset on a new education platform, Wayside. Oh, and also WeavEast.
“What is WeavEast?” I asked at the time, and the response made sense — a network of changemakers. That’s who Wayside is for.
The sentence was clear enough, but it was confusing to me at the beginning (and if I’m honest for many of the months that followed) why the team I was working with were using “Wayside” and “WeavEast” interchangeably. Each had its own logo, purpose, scope and definition.
But Wayside was newer. It shone with possibility and absorbed our attention as we ramped up to offer courses. My team brainstormed, connected, developed principles. We shut down the WeavEast Facebook page and Instagram. We emailed a list of people to invite them to join Wayside. Some did. Many didn’t.
As we built Wayside, we were beginning the work of hospicing WeavEast.
Still, “WeavEast” remained a regular topic at meetings, as we talked about creating a report and the wrap-up of something called the Narrative Project, a partnership with How We Thrive, which was not hosted on Wayside but was part of WeavEast.
Whenever I didn’t understand something, I would mentally file it under “innovation” and move on. Our team was dynamic, talented, and building a terrific culture. So what if I didn’t ‘get’ WeavEast? What was not to get? Network. Changemakers. Simple.
And yet. If that were all of it, why did the name WeavEast float through our office like a firefly in a bubble, a spark of something that was too hot or too fragile to hang onto? It sang like frustration. It sparkled like the secret hopes we don’t acknowledge.
I found photos in our Google Drive, people walking single file through trees. People around a fire. Flip charts covered in big colourful sticky notes. Phrases that hinted at answers I didn’t have: “healthy humans in harmony with nature”, “a brave collective voice”, “we’re all in this together.”
Over the ensuing months I have spoken with or heard from many of the folks who were involved in this thing called WeavEast. I have not yet read Going Horizontal, which provided the early inspiration for a non-hierarchical network organization but thanks to reading Jen DeCoste’s warm and honest reflections, I have a better sense of that vision.
I still don’t fully ‘get’ WeavEast, and in accepting that, I feel I have come closer to an understanding than ever. WeavEast is not a single firefly, it is a swarm. A bunch of sparks that came together into a blaze. Each person involved had a slightly different view of and experience of WeavEast. More than a singular entity, WeavEast was — is — the projection of the goals of a cluster of singular humans who came together in 2019 to build a way of working together that would change everything.
And then COVID changed everything.
Did COVID spell the end of WeavEast, in eliminating the possibility of the magical face-to-face convenings that fed a wellspring of good intention? Or was it the effect of changing backbone staff at Inspiring Communities, each new iteration arriving with a slightly different version of the animating vision? Or was it just mental exhaustion all around, as the long term anxiety of a pandemic meshed with the hovering burnout that is always nearby in social change work?
Instead of playing Clue at this stage, I choose to embrace my role as WeavEast’s death doula.
Are you familiar with the concept of death doulas? A death doula, or death midwife, or end-of-life doula serves as the bookend to a birth doula. Their services are not medical, nor are they vigilers. “An End of life Doula empowers, educates, and encourages clients and their families to be involved in making decisions,” is how the End of Life Doula Association of Canada puts it. They prepare the dying and their families for as comfortable and easy a passage as possible.
Throughout the summer of 2021, in what we hoped were the waning days of the COVID pandemic, Inspiring Communities hosted a second round of seed funding from the remaining monies of WeavEast. This was the last stage in the funded project, a gentle way to let the project go, and hopefully light a few new sparks.
With intentionality, we reached out across the Atlantic region, seeking the people who had not been drawn to the WeavEast fire before. We set two deadline dates, anticipating we might be challenged to find suitable projects.
The submissions were overwhelming. Forty-one fantastic project proposals, from all parts of the region, involving people from the communities we’d hoped to see representation from: Black, Indigenous, French, 2SLGBTQIA++, immigrant. With difficulty, we settled on nine projects, and in the spirit of building a network, the rest got personal responses, with comments on their project and suggestions for other funding sources, other connections that might help them realize their projects. We tried to keep the door open.
Nine project liaisons have begun meeting to discuss what they are learning in leading their projects. A few people are familiar, and were engaged in the original surge of WeavEast, but by and large this is a new set of actors.
Miranda Cobb and I are leading these online convenings. We have not chosen to burden these folks with what feels now like the worn baggage of the original WeavEast vision. This is a more pragmatic level of network building. “Who needs advice on granting? Someone here has insights to share. Who needs guidance on social media? Your peers can help.”
And yet… the sparks are there. In the first convening, as folks introduced their projects, others inserted questions, made connections, exchanged contacts and ideas. I almost smelled a faint whiff of woodsmoke.
Between sessions, I am sharing resources that cross my path, facilitating connections among projects, blowing gently on the embers.
Will a full network emerge from this weaving? Fireflies are real but phoenixes require magic, just like networks require work and stewarding. This work we do is long term. Magic seems instant, but perhaps it is like energy — if you could slow it down sufficiently, you would see all the material required to make it.
WeavEast is dead.
Changemakers created this ball of potential and energy that we called WeavEast and energy does not die, it merely changes form.
Long live WeavEast.
A network of changemakers across Atlantic Canada have created between and among them tendrils of shared experience and hope, alignment and relationships, from before the time the WeavEast name emerged. These carry forward, and over time, they grow. Meanwhile, similar dreams and experiences begin to sprout in new areas.
Perhaps at this point, sparks and fire are not the metaphor that will drive the future. Perhaps now we rely on rhizomes, roots growing underground, reaching farther afield than we can imagine.
We at Inspiring Communities intend to play a role in nourishing these rhizomes, and we welcome folks around the region to join us.