Monday, September 01, 2008

The Rise of Evolve Detroit

I've been OK with not being at Burning Man this year. (Note the 2009 theme, btw) I will admit to a few moments where I thought about how I could get some quick credit and charge our way out there with debt and carbon footprints marching up on us from behind. But the tune of that march quickly drowned out longing's melodies. We, like so many others this year elected not to head out and I hope its sign of change in the community's dependence upon that sacred place in the Black Rock Desert. We're working on the proposed Midwest Regional Burn for 2009 and this seems to be a much more sustainable route for participants wallets and the earth. The most important thing that I bring back from the playa every year is validation that human civilization has already made it through some rather large hoops on the path towards what I will only define here as a higher awareness. I've always come back from the playa ranting about how my faith in humanity has been restored. This, my exploration of Yoga and Shamanism, and now Angela and Aya have thankfully opened my eyes to a more meaningful life.

I know that many people go out to the playa for many reasons and I can only speak for myself and make a few generalizations that certainly could be argued. So many of us lack non-mediated connections to our selves and others these days and many find Black Rock City a place for much needed explorations of immediacy and depth. Personally, I think that if you're in a place you don't want to be, and I've been there, Burning Man is worth all the hassles, including the sweat and debt. The event isn't for everybody, but if you're of a flexible mind, its potential to open your eyes to something greater than yourself and/or the intense greatness of yourself is very high indeed. Last year, though we struggled to make it happen and keep the Lab in the black, we came back to Detroit with a great many ideas and a ton of energy. Sharing the experience with Angela for the first time last year was simply incredible. She held my hand and we went further out than I have ever been before, as always meeting me with balanced intensity.

Actually, I suppose I may not be as bothered by my lack of time playa-side due to the Temple Build this year. These two weeks of playa-like work got us our fix right here in the D. Of course, we identify with the Temple for many reasons. On many levels, it's a great example of the local and sustainable lifestyle we promote in our talks and classes. As we grow the Lab and now, Evolve Detroit, we are presenting certain principles, like self reliance and do-oracy, that are identified with BRC at the local level. In many ways we live playa-like everyday as we wake up every morning and love/live our life/work and vise versa. The past year, Detroit has experienced new growth in its already deeply rooted community based art and activist movements and I think our work has helped to facilitate this. Like Black Rock City, Detroit Rock City is a place where it is possible to live your dreams. Of course, anyplace is, as it's about the mindset and the lifestyle rather than the place. Respecting your place and mythologizing it is a vital part of that as well.

Actually, I postulate that this year away from the playa has done more for me than the time spent there could have. This last week here in what we call "the default world" has seen some incredibly beneficent organic development. As Angela and I pulled everything together for our first Saturday in Eastern Market, we, without much of a fuss, created an entirely new brand and business. I guess that we have been talking about expanding what is now our weekly newsletter, Evolve Detroit, into something more interactive and community driven. That gives us a little basis for the developments last week, but it's the merging of the Open Space and our packaged product line that came so suddenly, yet so smoothly. The fact that we were in the Market Saturday with a fully thought out Open Source Vegan Product Line, with labels and a Drupal based site waiting in the wings, is another example of the incredible opportunities we've been given since we elected to focus on the community rather than solely on our selves and our tiny core group of friends.

So, though we elected not to go to Burning Man this year, we still connected to a few of the mightier principals of the event and actually brought them to life in the default world this week. I suspect that they would have come to us playaside as well, but I wonder about the manifestation. Would the post-playa compression that people talk of have distorted the vision? Would I have the time this week has afforded me to start messing with Drupal and work on the Evolve Detroit site? I'll never know, but I'll embrace the idea that the rise of Evolve Detroit was part of greater motion that we've tuned into and by not being on the playa we were actually able to manifest them here and now. That's an awesome way to spin it, and we're living it, and I'm so very blessed to share that with you here.

Regardless of the myth-smything and dustless apologies, the idea behind Evolve Detroit is quite awesome. What started last year as a little newsletter to share our work with fiends and people who connected to our work has turned into a well-read expression of positive change in and for our city. Evolve Detroit now has over 600 subscribers and that number grows every day. But more than that, folks engage in it and anticipate it. Many have reacted strongly when we've taken a week or two off and they didn't get to partake in the info and energy it offers. It's been a great deal of work to put it together and keep it up, but it is the primary vehicle for Angela and I to express what we are working on in here.

As stated, we have thought on how to expand the scope of Evolve Detroit, but have been unable to find the time as we are, thankfully, extremely busy. I write the majority of the newsletter and it can take me a couple of days to put everything together and tweak to match our high standards of design. Putting more time into Evolve Detroit wasn't going to happen, so we put in on the back burner along with the Lab's new website. In my search for Open Source applications to work with I came across Drupal and though it would work perfectly for creating Evolve Detroit as a highly interactive site that offered our community an opportunity to collaborate with us and each other. Though a bit challenging, I've been able to fumble about within Drupal to develop a functional test site. In many ways I'm using this post as a means of clarifying my vision and gaining feedback on best practice and support so that I render this as functional and user friendly as possible.

Last week, as we began to prep for Saturday, I found myself registering and thinking that it may be a great name for our packaged product line. I hesitated at first as I was a little protecting of Evolve Detroit's newsletter function and didn't want to change its name. While meditating about the proper use of the name I ran through the pros and cons and then practiced a slip stream technique where I sought out memes that ran through both options. The idea of Open Source came through both uses of Evolve Detroit and there I found the connection required to overcome the dissonance between the two. Evolve Detroit will stand up as the vehicle for our exploration of Open Space, serving as the hub for news and info as provided by our current newsletter and expanded by community participation and as a point of contact for our Open Source packaged products.

As it translates to our products, Open Source refers to the fact that we are offering these products under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License. This simply means that we are making the recipes for our products available for personal use and even commercial distribution as long as you credit and keep the connection to Evolve Detroit. Not only will the recipes and bottle labels be available, but users will also have the ability to make suggestions, make updates and additions to the recipe, and possibly even create new products to share. To many, the non-proprietary nature of this Open Source project must seem utterly insane for a for-profit venture and it does take a leap. Bear in mind that we are activist business owners and we have an agenda as we enter into the market place.

Diversity, Progressive Politics, Economic Justice, No Hunger, Clean Energy, Universal Health Care, World Peace, Media Responsibility, Social Justice, Corporate Social Responsibility, and Free Education are the values we share and rely upon to guide our work. These values are sought first locally as a mean to a global end. We wear these values on our sleeves and people from a vast demographic identify with them. Don't get me wrong, we're capitalist but we're sustainable and extremely minimal in our consumption and are creating a business to support this lifestyle. As we've grown, Angela and I have been diligent in reducing our debt footprint and to the expression of our values in the community. As Evolve Detroit assists us to escape from under our debt and move further to self-reliance we will share our path, successes and failures, and support others as the market changes. As we go off grid and reduce overhead and cost of raw materials through self and hyper-local production, profits fuel the expansion of concepts, education and training for the community.

Emphasis is placed upon the community and our social activism rather than profit. As business owners we are well aware and hope that many people will make their own Sesame Ginger Miso dressing. As they do so and enjoy it we also hope that they will spread the concept of Open Source to their friends and neighbors. We also know that people are grateful when you offer them something and that they'll support ideas that challenge and inspire them. Even though people can easily whip up a batch of dressing many who are financially able will choose to support a Detroit business. They are even more likely to do so as they discover the work we are doing in the city while visiting Evolve Detroit to get and interact with their recipes. In addition to this, though we are working to change it, we still live in a fast-paced and sickness prone society that many struggle in. The majority of our community are keeping at a pace that makes it hard to find time in their kitchen. As the importance of plant based diets and whole food nutrition grows in our collective culture even the people who live at breakneck speeds will find value in mindfully prepared food and support the growth of Evolve Detroit.

This Open Source community-based business plan came to fruition in conjunction with the emergence of the Aya symbol and the new Lab Logo (please check last week's Evolve Detroit for that story). The Logo brought with it new design opportunities. Though we still love the occidental look and feel of the Lab site we are feeling a little more "power to the people" these days. As the design of our product labels will share, we are going for a very minimal and almost generic approach. At the same time we are beginning to amplify our "join the evolution" tone with the use of a raised fist expressing solidarity, strength and defiance. This new branding connects directly with the revolutionary aspects of what I'd very lightly deem good old fashioned Open Source Capitalism, the likes of which your grand or great grandmother would have embraced following the Great Depression. This simple motion, that's been cropping up throughout our culture, is gaining stride and we're thrilled to express it here on our block and promote it on yours.

There is a great deal more here than this post notes. Though we have not discussed it here the non-profit cooperative cafe, grocery, and wellness center are coming along slowly but thoughtfully and meaningfully. I will strive to outline those plans and how they connect to our revelations about Evolve Detroit soon. Our city is one of a few major U.S. cities without a community-based cooperative. Detroit Evolution Laboratory's transition to non-profit status will allow our community to explore sliding scale and gift economies, open source stocking systems, and alternatives to so called health insurance. People in Detroit and the whole of Southeast Michigan seem hesitant to integrating pertinent ideas into their lifestyle and we believe a great part of that is due to a lack of visible resources and cultural expression. Cooperatives not only support their members with pantry items and healthy options, but they also become a nexus for change in the community. I'll wax on that in a future post too.

So, all of this from a Labor Day post to stop myself from crying about not visiting one of the 3 places I call home. Whew! It is certain that we missed a few huge expressions of the Universal "YES" this past week at Burning Man. Yet we're pleased to have had a few intense revelations and manifestations ourselves. We are actively seeking more small local benefactors and investors who are interested in helping us to grow this expression, change our city and by doing so the entire world around us. It's a pretty simple idea that we'd love to share more in depth with all of you. If you're reading this you know how to get in touch with us.

In Health, Joy and Liberation


Anonymous said...

Thank YOU for the Labor behind the Labor Day post. I love to spread the word out here to the West of the City, and to participate in the (r)evolution in many small ways throughout my every day.

ROHIT said...

how was your day?
i liked your blog
you are fantastic!!!

really nice blog
fabulous fantastic
take care
see you

randy said...

Hey. It's been a while. Congrats to both on the hook-up. Life is much of the same and yet always getting better. Smilin' hugs o' peace.