Gathering with Purpose: Centering Joy and Celebration
From Chris Melody Fields Figueredo, BISC’s Executive Director:
Earlier this May, BISC gathered with advocates and our amazing partners across the country for our annual Road Ahead conference in Las Vegas, Nevada. I’ve been going to Road Ahead for seven years, even before I took over as executive director, and this year felt more magical than years before.
Maybe it was because this year’s Road Ahead was the largest yet – more than 550 people registered.
Maybe it was because for the first time ever, all 50 states plus DC were represented. Of those registered attendees, more than half had never been to Road Ahead before, a whole new crew of people eager to learn about the power we can collectively build through ballot measures.
Maybe it is because we are all still navigating returning to in-person events and we are excited to be in community again. Maybe it was because the love between BISC staff and our partners was palpable. Maybe it is because BISC was celebrating its 25th anniversary.
Maybe it was ALL OF THAT and more.
I’d like to believe that starting the conference off with a community practice of celebration and joy was a contributing factor. I believe in cultivating spaces with purpose and intention. It is important to think about the experience you want to design for your attendees. At BISC, we take the responsibility of gathering people seriously, especially when it takes people away from their families and home. Similarly to last year, after we came back to Vegas for the first time in two years, we knew how we started the conference would set the tone for our time together.
There is no doubt, we find ourselves grappling with multiple and intersecting crises: a global pandemic, rising authoritarianism, a climate emergency, increased attacks on our LGBTQ+ youth and communities, political violence, escalating mass shootings, racial inequity, unprecedented economic inequality, and more while also being in the midst of generational change. At the end of 2022, my dear friend Maurice Mitchell, National Director of the Working Families Party wrote an article that is essential reading, Building Resilient Organizations: Toward Joy and Durable Power in a Time of Crisis. The article not only outlines the problems we face, the root causes, and how they present themselves at work, but also offers actionable solutions.
One of the solutions he offered was to “build a culture of celebration”, and reminded us that “excellent work should coexist with fun and joy.” As an organization we asked ourselves, what would it look like for us to take on that call to action at Road Ahead? Given what we all face, I think we could all use more celebration and joy in our lives. I am so grateful to my friend, Gregory Allen Datu Cendana for helping guide the Road Ahead community through an opening practice of joy and celebration.
He asked people to write down on sun stickers a personal, organizational, or cultural celebration of the last year and place them on two giant rainbows that were hanging in the main conference room. After people had a moment to reflect and place their stickers on the rainbow, attendees had an opportunity to share their celebrations with the audience on the mics. People were shy at first but once the celebrations began, the joyful spirit spread and we could have probably spent 20-30 more minutes sharing celebrations. But that wasn’t the end.
Greg also asked us to make a joyful noise! Together, with some friends he unveiled new lyrics to Spice Girls Wannabe called “Direct Democracy.” The lyrics were an invitation to imagine what we can do together through ballot measures.
So tell us what you want, what you really, really want
I wanna, I wanna, I wanna, I wanna
I really, really, really want DIRECT DEMOCRACY
If you wanna make ballot measures
Love letters to our peeps
Tools for lib-er-ation
If you wanna make ballot measures
Watching people giggle, smile, dance, and sing along unleashed something within us that I believe carried us through the rest of the conference.
Yes, we had phenomenal panels and breakout sessions. Yes, we had a bumping 25th anniversary party and amazing Progress X BISC awards. Yes, we have curated an amazing community to attend the conference. Every piece of the convening was amazing. AND setting the stage at the beginning to give people permission to celebrate and share joy was fundamental to making Road Ahead a special place.
We hope to continue to make magic at future Road Ahead conferences.
Critical to making this happen was creating a new position at BISC, inspired by Priya Parker’s Art of Gathering. Parker believes “gatherings crackle and flourish when real thought goes into them, when (often invisible) structure is baked into them, and when a host has the curiosity, willingness, and generosity of spirit to try.”
As the hosts of Road Ahead, we lean into curiosity and are willing to experiment to curate an amazing experience for attendees, which is exactly why it was imperative to create a position to lead the design of our convening spaces. This was the first Road Ahead for our new BISC Senior Convenings Manager, Jana Villaseñor. Learn more about her experience and how to connect with her below.
Can’t wait to see you at Road Ahead 2024.
From Jana Villaseñor, BISC’s Senior Manager of Convenings:
On the last day of this year’s Road Ahead conference, I walked into “Co-Creating a Shared Vision” session facilitated by BISC’s Director of Strategic Communications, Caroline Sánchez Avakian. I nervously walked around the tables to understand why it was so quiet – we are not a silent group! To my surprise, I realized the collective quietness was because participants were finishing up the assignment to write a love letter to the communities and people they serve. Thereafter, people bravely walked to the mics to share their heartfelt letters, highlighting a special memory together, what they appreciated about how far they have come to get where they are now, and the love and hope they have for a better world they are building together.
As I reflect on my first Road Ahead experience, I think back to this moment and what I sought out to accomplish to create a space for powerful moments like this. When planning for this year’s conference, my goal was to share with attendees BISC’s vision for a just and equitable future, the power of ballot measures to make change and shift culture, and an inclusive convening space for a community practice of joy and celebration.
As BISC’s Senior Manager of Convenings, my role is to think strategically about BISC’s role as a convener so that we can strengthen relationships, deepen engagement, and remain open to transformational ways of working together to build power.
I am so glad to be a BISCuit and can’t wait to keep evolving Road Ahead into a special place for all of us! Please share your Road Ahead experience by submitting an evaluation survey here. I invite you to connect with me at [email protected] so we can collectively innovate all the spaces that BISC convenes.