Reflections on WILLA’s Passing

Lessons from the demise of a community project

One of the articles in Being A Planetary Villager (IC#1)
Originally published in Winter 1983 on page 28
Copyright (c)1983, 1996 by Context Institute

COMMUNITY PROJECTS don’t always work, and, as is often said, we learn at least as much from these experiences as we do from our more obvious successes. The case in point here is the demise of the Whidbey Island Living Lightly Association (WILLA) after about a year of trying. What follows are excerpts from WILLA’s last journal.

For me the process of forming WILLA and now laying it down, for the present, has taught me some valuable things. One is to look and see how busy so many of us are. Country living is often romanticized as a return to "the simple life". I see and acknowledge many folks living in this area and holding high values regarding an enriched cultural, educational, environmental and social life. To attempt the playing out of these values far from an urban resource center is to devote tremendous energy to making good things happen. Such energy often comes from individuals who are juggling many formal and informal organizational efforts. Clearly, for us to add another organizational focus and to ask for community energy, already heavily overdrawn, has proven unhelpful and problematic.

Another learning is that in any organization ideas of things "to do" surface rapidly as expressions of "we should’s". However, only when an individual personally accepts the suggestion as their own project does anything actually happen. No amount of meeting and talking brings about such productions; only individual action on the group stimulated ideas.

Dave Morris

Community, it seems to me, is more than a collection of individuals, living in close proximity, under common laws. And our exercise in WILLA has indeed been an experiment in community. What was it we were trying to do? Share ideas? Come together? Influence each others’ thinking? Meet in concord and unity? Pool manpower in work projects? Modify lifestyles?

Whatever it was, there weren’t enough of us who chose to commit the time to achieve our purpose. The community effort was not there. The individual time was not there. And without time and effort, nothing can succeed.

Jack Tingstad

I think that getting any sort of organization going is a lot like kite flying – you build something, take it outside, and when the wind is right you run like mad and hope that it gets off the ground. Sometimes it doesn’t.

In this vein, I think we cobbled together a pretty good kite. We could only guess at the wind – that was a problem – and it took a lot of us to run with it. We ran pretty hard, too, but something – maybe the wind, the construction, or the direction we ran – wasn’t quite right, and it didn’t stay up long.

Now, my experience with kite flying is that such an experience is not failure. In the first place, there is the excitement of the anticipation, the challenge and the fun of the attempt, and the learning that happens whether the kite works or not. There is also something that comes of knowing that there are people willing to pull together.

Felix Elles

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