No body actually said it, but that's what I heard this afternoon at the BrisLets Annual General Meeting. Read it if you have the time...pretty long.
We were listening to the Treasurer about the 2009-2010 financial year and statements of accounts in official money. We were down from about $800 compared to the previous financial year. The money we had, about $300, was collected from new membership fees who are a 'for life' $20 per member, which means that in theory we had 15 new users in the system. Someone did the homework to look at the actual new members of the system and noticed that in fact, we had 50 new members, not 15. So the big question was: 'where is the money from this people?". The answer was that at some meeting, it was decided that Brislets would allow potential users to join in, try it out and pay afterwards. So 35 people haven't paid yet....people went mad!!
How come people are there without paying?!?!?! Some sort of united voice amongst the attendants was saying "I've paid my fee, it's not fair that I pay and others are there for free". Recruiting people is something that BrisLets wants to see happening. They really want to see the system growing. However, for many people Brislets is not the best thing they want to do for $20. On the other hand, many people who would find the system useful and would provide services (skills) to it, do not have $20. One of the social issues that LETS tackles is, precisely, poverty and unemployment. Nevertheless, in the midst of the convulsion, a very common unexamined assumption came through: "people who don't have $20 to pay for membership, do not have any goods nor services to offer to the system". My mouth just fell wide open. Are we saying that if you don't have whatever the membership fee is, you don't have anything to offer to this community??
I repeatedly said, imply, try to say, that 'exclusion never works' and, that with this approach we were closing the group to those who can pay. Some where quite happy with the latter, and some even suggested in regards to the 35 people who haven't paid something like: do so ASAP before you start trading, or please go away.
I find the whole idea quite shocking and completely opposite to what LETS AND the CES are all about. I dare to say that Tim Jenkin would feel quite sad to read this. Let's not forget that LETS is, in many cases, an initiative to overcome the trading constraints imposed by official money. Yet, Brislets punches people on their faces right at the beginning; Don't come if you can't pay...
People were kind of implying that everyone and anyone has $20 in their life. It would be good to explore this http://www.aph.gov.au/library/intguide/sp/poverty.htm
At some point I said again "what is going to happen if I have someone who wants to join but doesn't have the money". The answer was "Well, you pay for them!"...later on, I refined my question: "what if there is a group of refugees who definitely can pay $20" ...[because that means their food for the day?]... I can pay for one to join, but I can't pay for 50 people, as much as I would love to, I can't" Answer was "It's that simple, if people can't pay, then can't be part of this group"....The answer brought me tears, I had to leave the room...thanks God my son was there with me and I could find peace in him and his big smiles and funny noices.
Initially I had tears from seeing the indifference, after the tears left, a very strong and deep sadness remained, not for those of whom we are excluding, but for those who can't stand the fact that someone else will get the chance to join for free when they themselves had to pay. If $20 sounds to small an amount that everyone can pay, why are they so attached to the fact that they have already paid it?? Seeing them with such a dependence is very sad. During the morning, I attended the Peace and Sustainability Festival. They let anyone and everyone have stalls for free, I was there promoting The New Economics for Humanity. A very big crowd of people was representing "Make Poverty History". I wonder if Brislets could've been brave enough to be there telling these people "tell the poor you work with, that LETS can be a very good thing for them to join...just make sure they have $20 if they want to join us". I wonder how many of you are actually saying that you don't want poor people in the system anyway.
In the big picture, this reveals to me, how insecure we feel around what can happen with our money. According to Brislets, $20 is a very small amount to pay, but too much money to lose once you're in. And we're worried about poverty in the world?? There was a very interesting idea: What if those who can't give official money, give 20 units to the admin account. Unheard...it was like "[pat pat] yeah yeah, sounds good....and now the important thing: What about the AUD$20???" There was no room whatsoever for new ideas. Instead of taking advantage of the situation to innovate and create a DIFFERENT solution, people felt it was too risky and they rather went back to old paradigms...as if they were working before.
One of the main reasons for charging official money has something to do with Brislets being able to manage the group as an incorporated association. CAREFUL!!! THERE ARE SOME GRASSROOTS GROUPS AROUND BRISBANE who are looking at ways for association, please I don't want to see this happening again. If we want true transformation of the structures in society, we have to be inclusive. We can't just step on people who don't have the money, get them off the train and tell them "sorry, you missed this one". For many, there are no more trains!! People have more to show than just money. This is also a 'heads up' call for all other LETS and complementary currencies initiatives out there.
I also added that more important than $20 per member, was the fact that the health of the system, according to the CES statistics, was pretty bad. I brought up the fact that just a couple of months ago, there were about 1000 accounts that were put "on hold". For many users of Brislets, it is not a secret that most of those members will not be back to resume activities with us. They have pretty much left, and all of them have either positive or negative balances. Many argued that this was not really an issue. I would like to advice them to read the CES Manual again, about why it is important to bring balances to zero before leaving the system. Someone even dared to ask, in a very disrespectful tone: "which group are you talking about?? That is happening in your group! not here!". Am I crazy and showed up at the wrong meeting??
It felt as if most people in that room were happy for Brislets to lose members if they don't agree with their financial policies. According to that, I don't see any danger in putting this information available for Brislets members. There is a difference between ownership and stewardship. I feel like I'm in a privately owned group were I only have to follow old rules, and where there is no place for me to take responsibility of the success nor failure of the system. I also heard: "In the real world you have to pay money". I have to say: Don't overlook the real world of those of don't have the money, their real world is a lot tougher than yours, and it is your real world who has built theirs so...stewardship is my call. (Book: Stewardship: choosing service over self-interest by Peter Block)
Yes, this is my very ego speaking here. However, I am very thankful to the situation. I am not being sarcastic. If not because all of what happened there, I would not have been able to reinforce to myself that there are many and much better ways to 'do business'. So thank you all for the pain I saw and still feel. It'll push me through and take me to the grandest version of the greatest vision I've ever held of myself. Someone told me "don't take it personally". I appreciate the words, I felt they were sincere. I don't take it personally. I am a global citizen. I take it globally and humanly.
I'd like to paste something from a discussion that's going on in the yahoo group, something that maybe, many of you are not aware of: