The first annual YPSI NOW Unconference will be this Saturday

Last night, while Linette and the kids were out with friends, celebrating the coming of the new year, I was home in bed, recovering from a stomach bug. It was a relatively uneventful evening. I watched Arrival (which I’d been saving for a special occasion), listened to some pre-WWII jazz (as I like to do every New Year’s Eve), and read through some of my end-of-year posts from years past (which, it would seem, have often involve either handwritten notes scrawled in bars, or hollow threats to shut the whole website down). I started working on a recap of the last year, but I lost interest. My idea was to do a “Trump A to Z” thing, hitting all the highlights from the first year, in alphabetical order… Agalarov, Bowling Green Massacre, Covfefe, DeVos, emoluments clause, fake news, etc… After a while, though, I just got too depressed. So, instead, I thought I’d take this opportunity to do something a lot more positive, and a lot more local… and invite you to come out this Saturday afternoon to discuss real, tangible things that we can do to improve our lives here in Ypsilanti.

The event is called YPSI NOW: the unconference, and it kind of evolved out of a discussion I had with Riverside Arts Center program director Trevor Stone a few months ago about how we could get the new year off on the right foot… or, as James Brown would say, “the good foot.” Trevor was thinking about a show featuring a ton of Ypsi artists, a kind of snapshot of where we are today as a community, including several dozen participants ranging from high school art students and the kids at Fly Children’s Art Center, to EMU art professors and the folks associated with DIYpsi. And I suggested that we tie in an unconference, during which interested and engaged community members could come together to discuss what they see as being important issues, opportunities, etc. in the coming year. And it’s all going to happen this weekend. The YPSI NOW art show opening is this Friday evening, during First Fridays, and the unconference is going to take place the following day, between 4:00 and 7:15.

For those of you who have never been to an unconference, here’s what to expect… Basically, it’s not like a regular conference, where you sit and listen to ‘experts’ talk at you. It’s more collaborative than that. The people who show up decide what’s going to be discussed, and they control the flow of the event. So it’s totally organic, evolving out of the participants who choose to show up and what they want to talk about… It all starts with a group meeting in front of an empty matrix… This could change, but, as I’m envisioning it, we’ll have three tracks of 45 minutes each. The first will run from 4:45 to 5:30. The second will run from 5:30 to 6:15, and the third will run from 6:15 to 7:00. And, during each of those periods, we might have three or four different sessions taking place, depending on how many people show up, and how many ideas are brought up for sessions. So, let’s say we have a 3 x 4 matrix (three tracks, with four concurrent sessions each). That means we’ll have a total of 12 different conversations taking place over the course of the event… So, at the start of the event, after we make introductions, somebody will stand in front of this empty matrix, and ask what you want to talk about. I might raise my hand and say, “I want to talk about how we can better share news in a community without a local newspaper.” Or someone else might say, “I want to discuss ideas for increasing community ownership of property as a hedge against gentrification.” Or somebody might want to talk about how we improve public education, or how small businesses might better work together, or what we can do to get a train stop in Ypsi, or community gardens, or improving EMU/City relations, or how we might better care for the river, or how we can better organize for the 2018 election, or whatever. The ideas just come up from the crowd, and they’re discussed. And, if people want to talk about a specific idea, they’re given a spot on the matrix. And, at the given time, everyone who wants to talk about that issue goes to the designated room to meet with other folks who want to discuss the same thing. And they brainstorm, share ideas, get to know one another, etc. And, with any luck, a tiny seed of an idea might begin to grow and take shape… Does that make sense?

Anyway, I’ve done about eight of these over the past decade or so now, and I’ve always found them to be incredibly valuable. And I think it would be a great way to kick off the new year. So, if you have an interest in the future of Ypsi, I’d encourage you to consider joining the 30 or so people who, according to Facebook, have already signed up to attend… It’s free, but, if you’d like to bring yourself a beer or two, and a bag of chips to share, that would be awesome.

And, for what it’s worth, I think it’s fine to attend if you don’t live in Ypsi, but have an interest in this community. So, if you teach in Ypsi public schools, own a business in Ypsi, represent Ypsi in some capacity in Lansing, or whatever, but don’t live within the City boundaries, I think that’s fine. The more the merrier… Especially if you bring chips.

One last thing… As terrible as some things are right now in our country, we still have agency, especially at the local level. Our federal and state governments may be working against us, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t still work together and make positive things happen in our community. I’m not much of one for New Year’s resolutions, but, as I’ve mentioned here before, I really like number 33 on this list compiled by Woody Guthrie in 1942: “Wake Up and Fight.” And that fight, as far as I’m concerned, should start at home, where we actually have the power to change things.

[This scan comes courtesy of Boing Boing.]

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  1. wobblie
    Posted January 2, 2018 at 7:49 am | Permalink

    Thanks for all the hard work you do Mark. You are part of the glue that helps make Ypsilanti a community. Hope you are feeling better.
    Happy New Year to you and your loved ones

    cooling off a little in the Arctic only 5-10 c above normal

  2. Iron lung
    Posted January 2, 2018 at 7:54 am | Permalink


  3. M
    Posted January 2, 2018 at 8:57 am | Permalink

    How do we get a decent Indian restaurant downtown?

  4. anonymous
    Posted January 2, 2018 at 9:01 am | Permalink

    Water Street
    Public Art
    After School Opportunities for Kids
    Making Cross Street Two-Way
    Saving YIES from WISD
    Music Venues

  5. Hyborian Warlord
    Posted January 2, 2018 at 9:03 am | Permalink

    Blue pilling each other in the Matrix! Perfect

  6. Kim
    Posted January 2, 2018 at 9:27 am | Permalink

    Can someone translate what HW means by “Blue pilling each other in the Matrix”?

  7. Sad
    Posted January 2, 2018 at 9:44 am | Permalink

    You need to download the HW translation app from the Apple App Store. When you understand his comments your view of reality will be corrected and you’ll see the world as it really is. It’s worth the 99 cents.

  8. Frosted Flakes
    Posted January 2, 2018 at 10:06 am | Permalink

    I didn’t know HW had an app. I have heard that the “find a limp circle jerk near you” app is available for free download.

  9. Sad
    Posted January 2, 2018 at 10:20 am | Permalink

    FF – that app is what brought me to the comments section! I’ve never been disappointed.

    Don’t get the EOS translator though, even when they run his comments through the translator it’s still muddled and confused.

    That is impartial. I make all my determinations by flipping a coin, because I’m not that interested!

  10. Frosted Flakes
    Posted January 2, 2018 at 10:36 am | Permalink

    Do you have any technical advice for M? I don’t see a “get a decent Indian restaurant downtown Ypsi” button on my iPhone.

  11. Citywatch
    Posted January 2, 2018 at 11:18 am | Permalink

    Thank you Mark for all you do and happy New Year!
    I am interested, but I have some questions about what you have written above. Who compiles and records the ideas? What constitutes a “result” in this case? What is done with the “results”? Sometimes a forceful person can dominate an entire group (breakout session ) and the “outcome” reflects the group dynamic and not the group thinking. What is intended to be done with the “results”, meaning what are the ACTIONS to be taken, and who takes them? Is the hope that the participants will be motivated to take action and stick with an idea until completion? Talk and brainstorming are great, but if there are ideas without direction, and the knowledge, authority and determination necessary to realize them, the conversation is just conversation. It would be a shame to get a lot of people together like this just for the chips!

  12. Iron Lung
    Posted January 2, 2018 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

    Will the solution to Ypsi’s problems be “get rid of Ann Arbor?”

  13. Eel
    Posted January 2, 2018 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

    Maybe not a complete eradication, Iron Lung.

    “Build A Wall,” 5:30 to 6:15, Gallery A.

  14. Jean Henry
    Posted January 2, 2018 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

    In a conversation that started out addressing young musicians’ limited access to equipment and moved to one about expanding access to AADL resources to Ypsi residents– a DAY activist called the A2 library bougie, suggested that Ypsi didnt need that fancy stuff anyway. Even though it was his post suggesting a lack of musical equipment resources was indication of inequity and a limiting factor on his success… He then said further that Ann Arbor should just disappear. Because I guess that would solve Ypsi’s problems, as he identifies them.

    So, Iron Lung is onto something.

    And good luck wrangling those cats.

    PS do not talk about ‘revolution’ because apparently that is ageist and I’m so old I cant understand what the not so young Millennials think of when they mean revolution. They are certain I can not understand them, because I’m old and ageist.

    PPS It really would be good for Ypsi residents to ask the AADL for Ypsi library card access to its collection. I know there is some bureaucratic barrier, but I don’t think it’s insurmountable. And as our cities become more tied to one another (yeah, that’s happening) it makes sense to share whatever resources we can. But I think Ypsi needs to ask. I’ve tried from my end.

  15. Iron Lung
    Posted January 2, 2018 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

    Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti should have wholly separate bus systems where you have to change buses in Pittsfield to travel between the two.

  16. Jcp2
    Posted January 2, 2018 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

    Solution for lack of good Indian restaurant in Ypsi: have more people who like eating Indian food move to Ypsi, or drive to where good Indian restaurants are already established.

  17. teacherpatti
    Posted January 2, 2018 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

    That’s a good question/point–why can’t we share library cards across districts? I grew up on the border of Macomb/Oakland County and we could use the Troy, Warren, Sterling Heights libraries with our card.

  18. Iron Lung
    Posted January 2, 2018 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

    Solution for lack of good Indian restaurant in Ypsi:

    Stop complaining and open one yourself.

  19. anonymous
    Posted January 2, 2018 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

    Ypsi has an Indian restaurant. It’s more like NeeHee’s or Hut-K Chaats, instead of being like Cardamom or Madras Masala, so it depends on what your definition of “good” is, but I like it a lot. Veg-O-Rama.

  20. wobblie
    Posted January 2, 2018 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

    I miss the Red Sea and the Hidden Dragon, but go live in a place like Mansfield Oh, or Quincy IL and you will realize just how fortunate we are here in Ypsi when it comes to food. You can’t even find decent ingredients at the grocery stores in those places.

  21. 911
    Posted January 2, 2018 at 4:49 pm | Permalink

    I depends on what race M is. If M is white, he/she can’t prepare or sell Indian food. It’s Ypsi law. Look up The Ma Lou Outrage Ordinance.

  22. Iron Lung
    Posted January 2, 2018 at 5:12 pm | Permalink

    The Ma Lou Outrage Incident was just about the dumbest thing I had ever seen.

  23. stupid hick
    Posted January 2, 2018 at 6:40 pm | Permalink

    There’s Nirmal on Washtenaw, or is that too close to the Ann Arbor border for comfort?

  24. nate
    Posted January 2, 2018 at 6:50 pm | Permalink

    beth bashart said international village would bring “real” chinese food to ypsilanti.

    maybe beth can bring ‘real” indian food to ypsilanti by selling off our public lands to the highest bidder.

  25. Ljw559
    Posted January 2, 2018 at 6:56 pm | Permalink

    Is the event on Saturday limited to city residents ot can people in the township come?

  26. Posted January 2, 2018 at 8:32 pm | Permalink

    OK, Citywatch, let me see if I can answer your questions.

    Q: Who compiles and records the ideas?

    A: I’ve seen it done different ways. At some unconferences, I’ve seen assigned scribes in each session. I don’t know how well that works, though, as the people doing the writing, I think, often don’t care as much, or aren’t as knowledgeable about the subject matter as the people participating in the session. I’m more inclined to say, at lease this time out, that we leave it up to the wisdom of the crowd. If the people in the group feel as though what they’re talking about should be preserved and shared, I think we need to trust them to do that. Really, I’ve found these kinds of events to be at their best when you don’t try to impose too much, and try to make them as democratic as possible. With that said, though, there will be paper in each of the breakout rooms for people to take notes, etc. Also, we’ll have a wrap-up period at the end, where people will be encouraged to talk about their sessions and any next steps they might want to pursue.

    Q: What constitutes a “result” in this case?

    A: Every case is different. A result could be something as simple as meeting someone you didn’t know before, and, a year later, when you’re working on an idea, you reach out to enlist their help. And, if that’s all that happens, I think it will have been a success. Beyond that, that sky’s the limit. Alliances could be made. Groups could be formed. Companies could be launched. It’s up to the participants. All I can tell you is that, when you trust in the process, good things can happen. But, if you go into it thinking, “If I’m in a session about how we get an Amtrak stop, and it doesn’t lead immediately to an Amtrak stop, then the whole thing wasted,” then you’re probably not in the right frame of mind for an exercise like this. This is all about just talking and seeing what evolves naturally, not forcing anything, and not obsessing about outcomes. And, really, with just 45 minute sessions, it’s difficult to imagine that we might actually solve big issues. You’ve got to start somewhere, tough, right? So, to sum up, I can’t promise results. But I’m pretty damn sure that, if you come out and participate, you’ll have a better chance of achieving a positive result than if you stay home and watch TV. Of that, I’m quite confident.

    Q: What is done with the “results”?

    A: Again, I’d say it’s up to the groups. If you’ve got a few people in a room, all of whom are interested in the same thing, though, I think you’ve got a reasonable chance of making something happen.

    Q: Sometimes a forceful person can dominate an entire group (breakout session ) and the “outcome” reflects the group dynamic and not the group thinking.

    A: One of the great things about the unconference model is what’s called “the law of two feet.” If you’re in a group that isn’t working, or that is being dominated by someone with a specific agenda, and you can’t figure out a way to work it out, you’re encouraged to get up, use your feet, walk out, and find another session… Nothing says that, if you enter a meeting, you have to stay there.

    Q: What is intended to be done with the “results”, meaning what are the ACTIONS to be taken, and who takes them? Is the hope that the participants will be motivated to take action and stick with an idea until completion?

    A: Again, it’s up to the group. There’s nothing that requires you, as a participant, to do anything after the event. It is my hope, however, that some will choose to do so.

    Q: Talk and brainstorming are great, but if there are ideas without direction, and the knowledge, authority and determination necessary to realize them, the conversation is just conversation. It would be a shame to get a lot of people together like this just for the chips!

    A: I would argue that, if we get several dozen active, passionate community members in the building together, discussing 12 topics of interest to them, good things will happen. Will the 12 most epic problems facing Ypsi be solved? No. But that’s not the point. The point is to engage in conversation with the understanding that that’s how progress is made.

    I should add that this doesn’t just need to be about solving problems. One of the great things about unconferences is that you have no idea what the assembled people might want to talk about. I focus more on big problems, because that’s what interests me. But attendees can talk about anything. If someone said, “I want to discuss regional dog grooming styles for poodles,” and others are into the idea, they can go off and do that. An unconference is literally whatever the participants want it to be. Groups can form to talk about local dating, tenants rights, options for rooftop solar, rules concerning dogs at the park, whatever they want.

    And I’m happy to have Township folks join us. Eventually we may combine anyway, right?

    I hope this helps.

  27. Jean Henry
    Posted January 2, 2018 at 9:00 pm | Permalink

    The ‘real Indian food’comment was unfortunate. Other cultures do not exist solely to provide us food.
    On the other hand, Food and music are also the first stage of exposure to other cultures.
    On the other other hand, no Food is real or authentic. All Food reflects cross cultural blending. It manifests All that is good and bad about that blending (including oppressions) but it’s not the cause of oppression. Saying Foodways can be appropriated denies that all foodways are appropriated. That’s how they work.
    All that said, it would be great to see Ypsi look at ways to support businesses owned by people of color, Mama Lou’s being one of them. And yes Ann Arbor should be doing this too. (Working on it…)

  28. Iron Lung
    Posted January 2, 2018 at 9:15 pm | Permalink

    What is “real Chinese food?”

    Like General Tso’s chicken and fortune cookies?

  29. Jean Henry
    Posted January 3, 2018 at 8:54 am | Permalink

    Or Chop Suey? Exactly. The history of food in America is interesting precisely because it so often reflects an embodied history of our American culture (which is only a blend of cultures). This is true in almost any place that is not isolated and destitute. The stories behind the food we eat are far too complex for simple ideological battles. Fortune cookies for example were first made by Japanese immigrants in California, as a combo of a traditional cookie and an American popular custom of putting fortunes in candy. They were popularized after internment, when the production was taken over by the Chinese in California. Is there a lot of pain and horror buried in that history? Sure. Because history is full of pain and horror everywhere. The blending of cultures is always resisted, but it’s also the best way forward to mutuality of concern.

  30. wobblie
    Posted January 5, 2018 at 5:41 pm | Permalink

    I think we should develope a community based bio-char initiative

  31. Citywatch
    Posted January 6, 2018 at 10:18 am | Permalink

    Thank you Mark for taking the time to answer (as best you can in advance) my questions about the “Un conference”. I have been to one of these before. The questions I asked came from that experience. I wondered what might be different in this case.

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