people have told me this is a terrible time of year to be running a
crowdfunding campaign. They mean because everyone is saving their money for
Christmas presents and, more importantly, that there a host of other good
causes that come sharply into focus right now– homelessness, vulnerable or sick
children, asylum seekers, to name just a few. Yes, these causes are more
present in December, as is the question of how to spend our money, but in the
times we live in there is actually no time of year in which it is possible to
be unaware of our money – the amount we have or don’t have and what we use it
for- and the number of good causes that vitally need donations. It is the
emphasis of our times, in bold, underlined
and set in CAPITALS. Daily I get emails asking for my online signature and, if
possible, some funds for incredibly important causes – to stop devastating
environmental damage; human torture; save the NHS; ensure a tragedy like Grenfell
tower never happens again. I leave the house, with the children, and we walk
past the homeless woman outside Tescos who is almost always there, selling The
Big Issue. Today there is also a woman with a clipboard standing near the
station, hoping to enlist my support for Oxfam. The children and I walk past to
get the train. Opposite us in the carriage is a poster of a child with a
plastic tube up his nose – he is in hospital, he needs our help. Next to him is
another poster of an old woman – she has not spoken with anyone in weeks. At
the station where we get off there is an advert that the children like to look
at because it shows a whole line of cats and dogs - they have all been treated
with cruelty and need a safe home.
It is overwhelming. How to be the good Samaritan when the roads of our lives are crowded with those who all desperately need help? It is difficult. Of course, not as difficult as it is to be one of those that need the help. I am trying to work out how to use my position of relative privilege, how to help best. I have worried about this for years.
I would never argue that it is more important to give to Mothers Who Make than to give to a charity for homelessness. But I would argue that there is something problematic about aligning any two causes and attempting to measure their comparable value and importance. I have a favourite line from our funding application, a line not written by me but by Liat Rosenthal, a producer and mother who helped me write the application because the form has become so driven by statistics, by the need to justify our activity in numbers, that I felt unable to fill it out on my own. Here is the line:
“MWM social media networks have connected hundreds of mother-makers, cultivating a following of engaged artists who share the challenges/learnings specific to being both a mother and an artist, its impact extending beyond measurable metrics into a community of support.”
Beyond measurable metrics. There is a paradox in this, in that I believe that any good cause extends beyond measurable metrics, but it is so hard, and is becoming increasingly harder, to think in a way which is not a numerical sum, in which ‘worthy’ does not equal ‘worth’, but simply worthwhile.
How to choose then, what we support in a way that does not involve impossible sums of worth? So far the best answer I have found comes from within Open Space Technology, the self-organising conference format that I know of through Improbable’s Devoted and Disgruntled events. An Open Space is fuelled by the participants’ sense of passion and responsibility. Anyone can call a session, champion a cause, put an issue on the agenda. There is only one law: the law of two feet. This states that you follow your passion. You go where you are drawn and where you feel your time and energy will be put to best use. It is brilliantly simple, profound and it works – it makes stuff happen. It does this because everyone present is acting in line with themselves, not because they feel they should do this, have been told they must, were made to feel guilty, were cajoled, threatened or frightened into being there. They are there because they want to be. They received an invitation and felt moved to accept it. The first time I came to D&D it made me cry – it was such an intense relief to be in an environment where I was explicitly given permission to follow myself, to make a choice from this place of passion. It felt utterly right, stunningly obvious and incredibly rare.
Devoted and Disgruntled, and Open Space, has been a huge influence on me in running Mothers Who Make. I attended sessions within D&D events on the theme of motherhood and being in the performing arts when I was only just beginning to think about having a child. Essentially Mothers Who Make is an extended ‘session’ from a D&D event. I called the session, put out an invitation and to my very great surprise and delight people responded. And they kept on responding. And there were hundreds of them, and they lived all over the country. They were mothers. Mothers are good at being passionate and responsible – they have to be, it is almost a job description. The whole MWM initiative has been emergent – I did not plan any of it. I followed the passion and sense of responsibility that was present in me and in others, and here we are today with 6 groups established round the country, 10 others ready to happen, an Arts Council grant (hooray!) and a crowdfunding campaign to match-fund it, with 6 days to do, 6k still to raise.
There are a thousand good causes out there. There is a long list of things to be done and to be bought before Christmas. It is a crazy, hectic, intense, joyful, tragic time of year. Here is an invitation to pause, if you can, amidst the craziness. Check in with yourself, and what you care about. What you really care about. Follow that, whatever it is. If it happens to be supporting Mothers Who Make go here: https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/mothers-who-make