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Murray Dobbin,

BT’s first ever Training for Trainers, um, Network Gathering (Part 1)

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Over Memorial Day weekend, 23 intrepid movement builders traveled by plane, train, automobile and bicycle (yes — bicycle! David Sievers from Avaaz rode his bike 14 miles from the train station) to the gorgeous Watershed Retreat Center in Millerton, New York for the first ever Beautiful Trouble Training for Trainers. This convening brought together trainers, facilitators, artists and campaigners from New Orleans, Greensboro, Oakland as well as all over the Northeast — some new to the ways of Beautiful Trouble and some with us from the beginning — for a 4.5 day crash course in BT training methods, skill-sharing, and social movement theory.


Our network is made of up of folks somewhere on this three-way Venn diagram. BT sits at the intersection. Photo by Nadine Bloch.

BT Training Coordinator and lead facilitator Nadine Bloch held the space, wrangling us each morning into Watershed’s yurt (aka conference room) to kick off another action-packed day. Everyone had a chance to take the lead, whether it was offering a song or an energizer to get us moving, sharing a facilitation tip or dynamic exercise like “mind-blazing” conversations (thanks Rebecca Mwase!), or stepping us through a powerful new strategy tool (everything from Movement Generation’s “Banks and Tanks” to a cultural power analysis of the Land of Oz from the perspective of the Munchkin Liberation Front!). On the second night we stayed up into the wee hours parsing the dynamics of networked organizing after a striking presentation by BT-stalwart and Net-Lab co-founder Gan Golan. And on the fourth morning we powered up Watershed’s hi-tech video conferencing system to beam in Adrienne Maree Brown from Detroit for a mind- and heart-bending sci-fi-inspired emergent strategy conversation. With all the real-time feedback and showcasing of new methods, even 30-year+ facilitation veterans learned a trick or two! Along the way participants suggested countless new additions to the Beautiful Trouble Training Library which we are avidly following up on now.

Connections - BT Training for Trainers

CONNECTIONS! Thanks to the quick collaboration of Jess Solomon and Gan Golan, a new networking game was born! Photo by Gan Golan.

What all the scribed-up flipcharts couldn’t capture was the delicious food we ate between sessions, the organizing stories we told over mealtimes, the human sculptures of our aha! activists moments, not to mention the apple tree on Watershed’s grounds that we adorned with ribbons detailing our climate hopes and heartbreaks. At one critical moment, we passed around a “magic wand” during a visioning exercise to help us voice what we were longing for — from the movement and from each other — which birthed a discussion on the role Beautiful Trouble might play in better serving the training community.

It was in these moments of relationship and trust building that it dawned on us that we were in the middle of something bigger than a training for trainers. People came to share skills, sure, but they came also with a deeper — and trickier — question: could Beautiful Trouble be one of their homes in the movement?

It was a bit disorienting and bit of a struggle to realize half-way through the week that we were in the middle of something we hadn’t quite prepared for, but after some stutter-steps, we fully embraced it. This was, in fact, the first real gathering of BT trainers, a founding gathering if you will, and before our very eyes we were charting a new and necessary course for the Beautiful Trouble Trainer Network.

This post is the first of a two-parter; in the the follow-up post we’ll describe the new collective vision for the Network that is unfolding and outline the path forward. Stay tuned!