Parecon in Practice Chat

[We asked sustainers to read this ZNet article by Jessica Azulay on “Parecon in Practice” then on a chosen day and time, login to chat with her about it. Below is the discussion that took place.]



jessicaazulay: hi everyone!


jessicaazulay: thank you so much for joining me here


paulorodriguez: jessica: thank you for taking the time to talk to us.


jen: thank you for talking with us!


jessicaazulay: i wanted to start off by opening the room to anyone who has questions about the essay i wrote


clairealexander: it sounded like a lot of time was taken in maintenance


jessicaazulay: can you explain what you mean by maintenance?


chrisvoss: i’m intestest to know how you all found each other


clairealexander: meetings, email discussions, decision making


marla: how do you think that you could have been more effective at bringing new folks in, hiring


chrisvoss: considering you say at some point that not everyone even knew about parecon


jessicaazulay: ok. as for claire’s question. yes, we did spend a lot of time in meetings, but i think many of them would have been necessary whether we were parecon or not


jessicaazulay: we had a lot of meetings about what topics of cover as a news organization and stuff like that


hernanespinoza: was ever any idea, plan or prospect to organize the readership? consumer councils, is what i guess could have been called.


jessicaazulay: and we had meetings about budgets and other kinds of things having to do with running the organization


clairealexander: yes i can see that there would have been some meetings anyway.


jessicaazulay: but you’re right, there is another layer of meetings and discussion that go along with being part of a pareconish workplace


paulorodriguez: @jessica: i was wondering if you would have done something differently regarding the readership increase.


jessicaazulay: chrisvoss, the co-founders, brian and i, found everyone else through a hiring process that involved posting on job websites


paulorodriguez: i mean, it all looked great to me, so what went wrong with the crucial aspect of gaining paying readers?


kiwi: oh! i didn’t read it yet, i’m sorry jessica! can you explain in which kind of working place you experience parecon?


clairealexander: i have another question. in my experience when we try to flatten leadership, it seems we end up with no leader instead of shared leadership. how did you avoid that?


jessicaazulay: hernanespinoza, there was a little bit of talk about organizing the readership, but our first focus was on organizing ourselves and our freelancers


hernanespinoza: if i remember well, you only asked once for an increase in the amount of contribution (successfully but irrelevant for this comment, i may add). you also encouraged us to give feedback to you, and invite friend to read samples of the publication and


jessicaazulay: to answer the question about what went wrong with gaining readers, i’ve had a lot of time to think about this


jessicaazulay: ultimately, i think we lacked the connections we needed to get publicized


hernanespinoza: if i remember well, you only asked once for an increase in the amount of contribution (successfully but irrelevant for this comment, i may add). you also encouraged us to give feedback to you, and invite friend to read samples of the publication and


paulorodriguez: even among leftist circles?


jessicaazulay: and we never diverted time from our main focus of publishing to focus enough on promotion


chrisspannos: hi all, let’s give jessica a minute to catch up. please hold off on questions till she’s able to respond to a couple. thanks…


chrisspannos: she will try to get to all the questions asked so far..


jessicaazulay: in the end, we really needed more staff than we had, and we could not afford it. nor could we see a scenario in which we would gain enough readership quickly enough to afford it


jessicaazulay: and we burned out finally.


jonathan1: hello?


jessicaazulay: so if people are ok with it, i’d like to move on from the tns demise and maybe come back to it later and address some of the other questions?


jen: when you were able to hire, you say that hiring more employees was hard as no one wanted the lower pay. how were you able to form the body of employees if others were unaware of parecon?


paulorodriguez: sounds good. thanks jessica.


jonathan1: how does this work?


jessicaazulay: i’d like for us to talk about this one: i have another question. in my experience when we try to flatten leadership, it seems we end up with no leader instead of shared leadership. how did you avoid that?


jessicaazulay: we avoided having no leadership by creating some serious structure in our organization from the beginning


jessicaazulay: people were expected to step into the shared leadership right away


jessicaazulay: and they were given responsibilities right off the bat


clairealexander: our problem was that we agreed to shared leadership, but the next thing we knew, no one was calling a meeting. it was not for a business though, but for a discussion group


jessicaazulay: when i explain our model to a lot of people, they assume right away that it was sort of a free-for-all


jessicaazulay: but it wasn’t a free-for-all, it was very structured and i think that’s how we managed to get so much done


mitchellszczepanczyk: that’s interesting. usually, when i explain parecon, the response i hear is…


jessicaazulay: yeah, i think another big difference for us was that the newstandard was our job


mitchellszczepanczyk: …nodding their heads, and then moving on to another topic.


jessicaazulay: having it be our job felt really different from when i’ve volunteered for organizations as an activist


jen: can you be more specific as to ‘structure’.


jen: can you be more specific as to ‘structure’.


mitchellszczepanczyk: different how, jessica?


jessicaazulay: about structure… we each knew very clearly what our responsibilities were and we talked about these a lot


jessicaazulay: and our meetings were regularly scheduled, with rotating facilitation and note taking


jessicaazulay: we took the balanced job complex thing very seriously, which created a lot of structure in our work


clairealexander: who was in charge of scheduling the rotation of facilitator?


jessicaazulay: and i think we created a culture of high expectations for participation


paulorodriguez: @jessica: was the process of determining discrete tasks difficult? i would have thought that it would be, given the variety of backgrounds from all involved…


paulorodriguez: within the bjc i mean


jessicaazulay: we agreed on an order for facilitation in one meeting and after that, it perpetuated itself


jessicaazulay: the order was posted on a shared website we used to store documents, meeting notes and other things like that


jessicaazulay: on the process of determining tasks… it wasn’t as hard as i thought it would be before we started


jessicaazulay: we all came to the job with different skills and interests


jessicaazulay: and through discussion we were able to fit all the pieces together


jessicaazulay: we were also careful about hiring in order to choose people who we thought would compliment the skills of everyone else


jessicaazulay: i think the balanced job complex issue is a very interesting one for people who want to start parecon projects


jessicaazulay: there are so many different ways to go about dividing up the tasks


jessicaazulay: we found a way that worked for us, but i think there are many ways it could be done


clairealexander: it kinda sounds like you hired the folks with the needed technical skills and then had to sort out the other more ordinary ones.


paulorodriguez: it’s the most difficult one it seems to me… specially when you want to do startups in areas not common for radical change


jessicaazulay: and i’ll be first to admit that ours was not perfect


mitchellszczepanczyk: that’s an interesting math problem: the combinatorics of balanced job complexes.


marla: jessica, when you tell people of your experience…


jessicaazulay: yeah, mitchell, you should write a computer program for this


marla: do you get a sense that others want to start parecon institutions?


mitchellszczepanczyk: but jessica, tns delivered extraordinary quality of output.


paulorodriguez: i second that.


jessicaazulay: but part of why it worked for us, i think, was that we communicated a lot


mitchellszczepanczyk: …so much so that i felt that the parecon structure was the reason why.


kenpersaud: the experiment was a good one — but how can this be transformed to the level of a small nation as guyana, my immediate concern.


jessicaazulay: and we trusted each other. so if i ever felt like i was getting shafted on my balanced job complex, i could say so. and i trusted that people would try to address it


paulorodriguez: @jessica: was it your impression that if more time had been spent on fine-tuning the bjc’s, you could have increased productivity? cuz what you mentioned in your essay sounded solid.


jessicaazulay: marla, i haven’t had anyone say they want to start a parecon


mitchellszczepanczyk: one big part of why alternative projects is so hard is rule enforcement.


jessicaazulay: i think the parecon structure was the reason for tns quality and i will tell you why specifically


mitchellszczepanczyk: when i lived in a housing cooperative for three years, the hardest job was getting others to do their jobs.


jessicaazulay: because the journalists and the editors were so involved in the decision making process for what stories we would cover and how we would cover them


jessicaazulay: and we all edited each other


mitchellszczepanczyk: in the chapter in "real utopia" on mondragon, this is discussed at length.


jessicaazulay: each of us learned so much from our co-workers and we were each pushed very hard by everyone we worked with


jessicaazulay: and there were so many opinions in the room, instead of just the editors


jessicaazulay: ok. are there questions anyone has asked that i haven’t addressed yet?


paulorodriguez: @jessica: but this was a push that actually empowered or debilitated you? i can see how it could be wrecking at times…


jessicaazulay: i think the pushing was empowering


paulorodriguez: balancing domestic reporting, international reporting, ecology, etc


jessicaazulay: i can understand how it could become an obstacle, but in the end, we also had to meet real deadlines, which kept us from getting bogged down too much


kiwi: did you experience conflict resolution. if so, how you resolve problem?


jessicaazulay: i will address the "getting others to do their jobs" comment and kiwis question at the same time


jessicaazulay: i think they are related


jessicaazulay: like in any workplace, we had problems with personality conflicts as well as with people sometimes not holding up their end of the work


jessicaazulay: especially as we grew, this became a challenge for us


jessicaazulay: at first, we had no real way to deal with it and it created some very serious problems for us


jessicaazulay: we went through a very long process of figuring out how to address it.


jessicaazulay: we talked to other collectives and organizations and asked them for feedback and found that this was a challenge many orgs had and there were few solutions offered us


jessicaazulay: so we had a lot of meetings about what to do


jessicaazulay: finally, we came up with an accountability policy that worked for us


jessicaazulay: it is one of the things i am most proud of


jessicaazulay: if anyone is interested, i can try to dig it up and get it up on znet somewhere


mitchellszczepanczyk: jessica, have you made that tns accountability policy public?


mattg: yeah, i’d like to read it


jessicaazulay: the basics of it involved collective intervention in behavior that was hurting our collective


jessicaazulay: making sure the person doing the transgression had a hand in fixing the problems they were causing


mitchellszczepanczyk: yes!!!


jessicaazulay: and the rest of us trying to help them fix those problems


paulorodriguez: definitely, it would be a great read.


jessicaazulay: ok. i’ll see if i can find it and get it into a format that is understandable


guilherme: can you give us an example?


jessicaazulay: are there other questions about how tns did parecon?


jessicaazulay: sure. i can give an example…


paulorodriguez: how did the interfacing with other orgs go? you mentioned solutions were proposed from other collectives but i’m thinking, orgs with classic structures, not pareconish ones. were they applicable nevertheless?


jessicaazulay: let’s say a staff journalist kept missing deadlines


jessicaazulay: the first step would be that the people affected by the missing of the deadlines, like the editor who had to keep staying up all night waiting for the article to come, would go to the rest of the collective and alert them to the problem


kiwi: that sound a good example…


jessicaazulay: the next step would be a meeting about the problem


jessicaazulay: in the meeting, we would list the ways in which the deadline missing was causing problems


jessicaazulay: then we would decide whether this was a m

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