Call for a Campaign of Transition for the Port of Olympia
Before the first #OlyStand I remember attending some Port Fracking Resistance meetings. I was not an advocate at the time of a train blockade, I was very much arguing the need to have tactics build over time and I worried about the consequences. I was wrong mostly #OlyStand was a success in a number of important ways, but I was also right because PFR never materialized an organized campaign partially because people got arrested and burned out.
A year later, with no major precursor meetings and with PFR all but dead for months, a second #OlyStand happened. It was in some ways an even bigger success, but in some ways it only narrowly escaped disaster. This time though I am not going to watch another year go by with no organization, it is time for a real campaign to emerge.
What follows I begin with a “Why we need a Campaign,” because it is far from apparent for many people that a campaign model of organizing is at all necessary. I argue for it and also make it clear that people don’t have to be involved, they can do their own organizing their own way. Next I make a case for using some simple tools for campaigns and that generally we should try and use best practices more or less by the book organizing. I also include many of my own ideas of what all that means. Finally I start to lay out a kickstart on the actual organization of the campaign. This is by no means the final version, it’s a conversation starter and comes mainly from my understanding developed by listening to others and participating.
Why we need a Campaign
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There are many ways in which we each view our struggle around the port of Olympia. It can be viewed in the context of PMR, PFR, Oly Stand, Standing Rock solidarity, anti-fracking generally, anti-militarism, anti-fossil fuels, anti-global warming, train blockading, anarchism, socialism, elections, etc.
Anyone would like to name some others?
And these different ways of looking at it offer different ways of struggle. There is no form of struggle that can easily be judged as the best form. There is never any form of struggle that is completely straight forward either. In practice struggle always takes on it’s own character and adjusts to fit the nuances of the specific community and place.
However there are some blueprints for struggle. These usually come from past struggle, books written on what has and hasn’t worked. This isn’t the same as philosophy or religious perspectives. It’s more the organizer perspectives although they can be in certain traditions or they can cross multiple traditions. Even traditions at odds with each other can follow the same blueprints for struggle. Saul Alinsky’s “Rules for Radicals” has been used by democratic movements and by anti-democratic ones.
At Oly Stand what blueprints of struggle were used? In whole or in part? Was it implemented as a formal plan or was it more informal?
Imagine you want to build a wood house, but you’re not a carpenter, would it be a good idea for you to just start building or should you find some carpenters or learn carpentry skills? Ok, now imagine that you learn carpentry skills and gather together 10 carpenters, do you all start building or do you come up with some blueprints? So why do we somehow think that we can go about something as challenging as social change without training or a plan?
I’ve been studying, training, acting and reflecting about social change intensely for over a decade. There are some in this community who have been involved successfully in such work literally for multiple decades. As you get older, if you become wiser, you realize more and more about how little you actually know, but you do have important experience all the same. And this process of sharing experience and listening and learning from the experience of others is not some sort of hierarchical manipulations, it’s integral to the work of social change.
When I think of community leaders in this town I have learned from, I think of Rick Fellows, Patty Imani, Peter Bohmer, Bourtai Hargrove, Pat Holme, Meta Hogan, Zoltan Grossman, Glen Anderson, Tom Nogler, Janet Jordan, Larry Mosqueda, Kyle Lucas, Katie Warman, Nora Knutsen, Dylan, Alejandro and more! I can keep going. And the thing is I didn’t and don’t agree with all of them. And some are better at certain things and others different things. And some are young and some are old. But when I’m working on something important I want to reach out to these folks, at least for advice or encouragement but often for their help or leadership.
I have a lot of personal rules about being an organizer, and these rules change when I put a trainer hat on, but when I think of being an organizer I think of taking on a lot of responsibility for knowing and doing but not a lot of responsibility for speaking or creating. If I have to speak at an event I’ve organized, unless it’s also something I’m super good to speak on, I’ve probably not done enough organizing. In fact when it comes time for most actions or events, I’m ideally doing nothing essential in that moment. I’m there filling in gaps if needed, observing, participating like everyone else, but my function isn’t integral. With good trainings and a good plan you don’t need someone playing the role of the singular leader because you have made a community of leads. And as a radical, as an organizer, my goal is to train people able to do the work I do, to expand beyond what is currently possible so together we might reach for our shared vision.
What are some fundamentals of a Campaign useful in this case?
Coming up with a campaign means a lot of work, there are a ton of important things to learn and that’s part of the fun.
I want to go into a couple of campaign fundamentals. I didn’t invent these tools, I learned them from various trainings over the years from a wide variety of groups and people. A lot of it comes from Backbone Campaign Action Camps but I also learned from Rising Tide camps, Green Peace trainers, Rising Spring, plenty of conferences and actions all over the country, one of the more interesting trainings I took was with the Audubon Society in Seattle nearly 15 years ago, so don’t discount the practical skills you can learn through mainstream groups. People also learn how to organize through their work. I also worked for WashPIRG’s canvassing wing for almost a year, worked for the Alliance For Global Justice for two and a half years, studied Latin America organizing in places like Honduras, Venezuela, Ecuador and Nicaragua, and have worked for about half a dozen other nonprofits. I’ve also been locked down, I’ve been arrested, I’ve stood up to cops, I’ve been in pepper spray, I’ve black blocked. My background is diverse, I’ve played in various ideological formulations and I respect a wide range of struggles, but while nobody can tell you how to struggle, you’re a fool to not seek out trainings or listen to the wisdom of elders. I’ve not been a fool, I may have been naive, but I’ve strove to understand the complicated world around me from a variety of people who seemed to know better.
The first core lesson of forming a campaign:
Vision Goals Strategy Tactics
People say this a lot of different ways and some people throw in other key headers but I got this from the Backbone Campaign’s Grand Strategy workshop which I have taken probably about 10 times. It’s about a 200 slide presentation and can fill a good 4 hours, but it’s incredibly valuable. Let’s just start by saying for most people activism is just tactics. If you’re pissing in the wind for world peace holding a sign at Sylvester Park each Wednesday at noon, that’s a tactic, if you’re live action role playing a revolutionary at a blockade of the railroad tracks, that’s a tactic. Gathering signatures? Tactic. Marching? Tactic. And the sum of individual tactics strung sporadically across targets and time adds up to very little. What gives any tactic 99% of it’s strength is when a tactic is used as part of a strategy.
Tactics are tools. As activists you might have heard of such a thing as your activist tool chest. It’s a metaphor but it is also quite real most of the time. The activists I know have probably a crate, closet, garage or even a warehouse full of the tools they need for change. At home I probably have ten clipboards, a pop up tent, a folding table, a couple folding chairs, a megaphone, markers, duct tape, poster board, plain sheets, coffee makers, airpots, and more. That’s just getting started. Maybe in your activist toolkit is a projector able to shine lights on the mistake on the lake, or giant helium weather balloons, or a giant bobble head of Trump, or a bike cart with a mobile sound system, or a flatbed truck, or climbing equipment, or a tripod, or lockdown equipment, or a pile of matching funny costumes, or a pile of hand drums and musical noisemakers.
Maybe you have specialty equipment like a PA system, walkie talkies, or computer servers, or a nice camera and microphones, or a pirate radio station. Some activist tools are skills you have developed after a lot of training and practice like facilitation, de-escalation, website development, social media management, messaging, writing, photography, videography, nonviolent direct action, soft and hard blockade skills, training in direct action roles like police liason, worker liason, media liason, scouting, legal observing, or the myriad of other tactical roles that take time to learn and practice and refresh to be in your tool kit. But if you don’t know how to use a tool, you can hurt yourself and others, very literally in the case of tripods or ropes, and using advanced skills that can put people in physical danger or legal danger or risk your messaging when you haven’t trained or practiced or gathered the necessary elements is foolish and irresponsible. Tactics need to be used appropriately, responsibly and as part of a strategy that works toward achievable goals that is on the long path to your vision.
But even then, some strategies are losers, to put it in Trump parlance. Maybe your group’s strategy is to spend an hour a week holding signs downtown for peace, maybe your group’s strategy is an annual blockade of the port. Well the question that then becomes important to articulate, what is your goal? If your goal is to have a fun event once a week or an edgy event once a year, then goal is achieved. Remember, just because you haven’t articulated your strategy, goal or vision doesn’t mean you’re not following one. Sometimes it is a useful thought experiment to pretend you’re an anthropologist from a thousand years in the future looking down at what you and your group are doing and think about how they may articulate your tactics, strategy, goals or vision.
In the case of Olympia Stand does anyone want to try and objectively describe what this future anthropologist may surmise?
One thing that is also important to understand is that unarticulated goals, strategies and vision usually means that the person who is the loudest and most demanding rules. Also what rules are the mainstream values that maybe aren’t the ones that we want to emphasize. Ideas like extreme individualism, hoarding, capitalism, imperialism, maybe the ideas of your opposition, maybe the ideas of liberal establishment or corporate Democrats. In fact what I have seen over the past 10 years is the rising use of direct action tactics but not serving radical strategy, goals and vision. Often it is either not there or it is simply taken, as in the tactics are incorporated into liberal messaging strategy serving all too reformist of goals with no radical vision.
So strategy serves the achievement of goals. These goals need to be articulated and the strategy is the steps towards achieving those goals. Goals are incredibly important in this way. These are our chances to yell victory! And there should be some major goals and then many medium goals and smaller goals. The smaller and medium goals should be major steps achieved towards the larger goals, so they are incorporated in a strategy that continues past them. But goals aren’t enough without an articulated and radical vision.
There are a couple of problems activists get into around goals. They’re either too radical or they’re seen as not radical. This is actually inmaterial, what matters is whether the vision is radical or not. The goals themselves are judged only in such a manner as they serve the vision. You can have a radical goal but a nonexistent vision and a nonexistent vision is just an unarticulated one. If you haven’t articulated a vision than, like I said before, you are probably following someone else’s vision. So it is important to have a clearly articulated and radical vision. Goals that serve a radical vision best are the reforms that make gains and create a slippery slope towards the radical vision.
Goals also need to be winnable in a timeline. Obviously your smaller goals are sooner in the timeline and your bigger goals are much later in the timeline. A good timeline may have goals marked out 20 years in the future, a better one stretches for seven generations. Know that the future is unwritten, the closer to the present the smaller and more achievable the goal should be. Eventually goals are translated to smaller and smaller action items in a strategy. Real campaigns celebrate achieving goals not just completing tactics. If we’re patting ourselves on the back for completing tactics that didn’t reach a goal then we’re backwards.
Goals serve your vision or visions. A vision is what you really want, your dream for the future, your values played out to their brightest. It’s not just what you want, it’s what everyone in your campaign wants. Your vision is brought up regularly, everyone who becomes part of the work is inspired by the vision. The vision isn’t a plan, it isn’t detailed, it is vague, simple, powerful, easily digested, easily agreed with. It should be inspiring, bold, courageous and compelling. A call to action by itself! A vision should be alive, it needs to have it’s own work in support of it. It needs to be told in signs, banners, across media, it needs to be heralded, it needs to be made real in peon by itself! A vision should be alive, it needs to have it’s own work in support of it. It needs to be told in signs, banners, across media, it needs to be heralded, it needs to be made real in people’s minds. It is literally all the good things, past the bad things you’re overcoming.
This is what tactics, strategy, goals and vision generally mean to a campaign. What does it mean to this campaign? Well, we need to come together and figure that out but I can formulate what I think I hear from people. It’s a starting point, and this is about creating a living document, it’s important to remember that this is three years in and this is just what I have heard.
Beginning round of Vison, Goals Strategy and Tactics for Port of Olympia Campaign
Vision: The Port of Olympia transitions away from shipping that hurts workers or the environment and towards being a commons for economic, environmental and social improvement.
Goals: What we want to change and what we want to create
No more military shipments through the Port.
No more fossil fuel related shipments through the port.
Acknowledge and honor the local tribes and appropriately consult them and welcome their engagement and allow all access in pursuit of religious freedoms.
Move away from exporting raw materials towards exporting value added products, specifically moving away from raw log exports towards milled lumber or higher value added wood products. Examples include dimensional lumber, plywood, artisan lumber, furniture, siding, fencing, even tiny houses and wooden boats.
Stop the port of Olympia from losing money with the exception of public investment in transition goals.
Stop the Port from hurting workers.
Stop the Port from all large scale environmentally destructive or climate destructive work.
Make the port more accountable to it’s citizens by enhancing democratic control plus citizen and worker involvement in decision making.
Create more small and medium sized opportunities for business and public use.
More work in coalition with the cities, the county, the state, the colleges and nonprofits in maximizing efficient use of port resources for the public good.
Support public private partnerships that give greater benefit to the public, and greater control to the workers.
Consider small business incubators, makerspace, community centers, trade schools, boat building and repair, tourism, scientific research, public transportation projects, alternative energy projects, waste reduction projects, appropriate technologies, shipping “made in Olympia” products, and more.
Make the Port a place that captures the dreams of the people of the South Sound.
Envision the Port of Olympia seven generations in the future.
Each of these goals are arrived at through the achievement of stepping stone subgoals in a planned strategy using appropriate tactics.
Strategy: Use tactics as part of a strategy to achieve important goals that work towards our vision, spread the vision to other people who will also help build power of people and groups who believe in our vision and who actively work on creating the capacity and the implementing of our vision.
Steps: Small to large, achievable goals, celebrate victories, trainings, reflections, diversity, build culture and camaraderie.
Meetings, structure and calendar: meetings should include several categories: core group meetings, allies and partner meetings, public meetings, and meetings are not open to everyone they’re open to those who have the focus too which the meeting is about. Core group meetings is about your core group, there can be several core groups. Allies and partner meetings are where we share with each other what our core groups are doing and talk about, or rather make strategic decisions regarding, the calendar, the vision and larger goals. Public meetings are several types, they are recruitment meetings, informations shares, resource gathering and they help expand our base. They also serve as tactics to show our strength and depth, therefore the public meeting is the most prepared for meeting of high value but of little decision making potential. Structure is also important to consider and there are lots of ways to do this, the important aspects on structure is folks knowing the structure and willing to use it, what “it” is is much less important. I encourage a mix of structures and using what folks know and making sure to train and get buy in around. Calendar is crucial. You need to have things on the calendar going out for a year minimal. A calendar can set the flow, meetings are set so folks can plan for them, major actions are set months in advance, fundraisers as well, calendars are set but they are continuously adjusted and infilled at meetings.
Next part of a strategy is understanding our resources and our power realistically and build it methodically focusing on quality and results. This is where the tactics in our activist toolbox come into play. It is important to start small, what can we do that is easy, can hold space, repetitious, maximizes reward for effort? Start there. If it is possible to have 25 people show up for a rally at City Hall but you only have one banner, why not send two people instead? 2-4 people can do the work of 25 in this scenario, reach the same number of folks with a fraction of the planning and effort. You can hold space with 2-4 people ten times with similar effectiveness of 25 people holding space once. What other actions are in our tool box that are easy to do? What about projection? What about teach ins? What about speakers sent to various groups to give a presentation about the campaign? What about petition gatherers? Tablers? Door to door folks? I just listed a set of actions that a small group can do without major strain and maximum effect. As the work builds and more folks are trained we increase our capacity and take on bigger actions while still doing the actions that keep us rigorously moving forward. This is when we do a rally, a march, a contingent at a rally or march, creative actions, song and dance, puppets, theater, flash mobs, kayactivism and more intense media work, short video projects, a newspaper, zines, bigger articles, photo series and more. These are bigger projects that take more planning but are near zero risk and high value and can involve everyone. Then you do all that and you’ve expanded capacity even further. You can run fundraisers that pull in more substantive resources. This is when capacity allows for some offspring projects, election work and direct actions. These are offsprings but they follow the strategy, the goals, the vision. Why? Because you hold these elements accountable. You don’t allow just any politician say they support you, you vet them and you crush anyone who doesn’t. You don’t allow just any direct action to claim to be on your side, you demand direct actions carry your messaging and vision or you stand up to them and do what it takes to make sure folks take you seriously. This is the confusing part, the heart, the head and the body must all work together. There will be complications in all areas and there will be struggles but they must be addressed and overcome. This is when you’re fully becoming a threat as a social movement. This is when you start winning some of your goals on your way to all of them and your vision.
Another aspect of strategy is research, media and messaging. This is crucial. A constant evolution from simple messaging to deep expertise and a path between the two is absolutely integral to achieving the larger goals. For this you need researchers, a team, you need website developers, writers, photographers, videographers, speakers, experts and more. They need to have their focus on two important areas, one on the vision of what you want which needs to be as detailed and beautiful as possible and second on where you are at, which is both capturing current messages towards goals and researching your opposition. This might be a good time to describe the OODA loop. OODA loop stand for “Observe Orient Decide Act” and it repeats itself endlessly in our campaign strategy. Observe the situation, what the port is doing, what the community is doing and other observations that could be very much real and present in an action. The next step is to Orient, to realistically understand you position relative to what you observed including your real capabilities. The next step is now that you have assessed those two fundamentals you Decide what you are going to do, which means having a process for making decisions that is deliberative of facts and is effective. Then you Act, you carry out the decisions tactically. Then it is back again to RE-doing the OODA loop. Every time you act you change the playing field which necessitates Observing, you change your position on the board and capacities which demands a new orientation, then you must make a new decision and act once more. This comes from fighter pilot training, the purpose is to do the OODA loop quicker than the opposition and hopefully be able to adjust more strategically. Understanding the OODA loop means really having good researchers and media people and making sure they are incorporated and responding to the campaigns needs.
A big campaign like this is going to last many years, perhaps a decade, perhaps longer. Winning the Commissioner positions isn’t nearly the end of the game. So the campaign is going to have to embrace culture and care because if it doesn’t only certain self interested sorts will be around as victories are won. Think about the Procession of the Species, it has lasted over 20 years, manifesting huge amounts of energy from the community and resources. It has become involved in schools, it has a space, it has supplies, it can throw big fundraisers, the city doesn’t control it, it adheres to it’s founding principles and carries out it’s vision. A good campaign will be very deeply part of the community culture, but beyond that it will literally be there in caring for the people who are a deep part of it. That of course means legal and jail support, but beyond that it means helping people get jobs, helping folks with their homes, volunteering with care work for elderly and children, not within the contexts of just the actions and events, but in general. In fact I consider this a third of the work.
Finally, although this a vague strategy outline, it becomes important for the campaign to show solidarity. If you expect other people and groups to support you, then you must support them. I also give this a third of the time and resources of the campaign. That the campaigns clear vision and goals is only a third of the work of the group of people pushing the campaign forward might sound strange but this is the difference between deeply rooted long term and culturally sensitive organizing and flash in the pan issue actions. A well designed campaign cherishes the needs and culture of it’s core members a third of their effort, to include celebrations, but to also include helping people find housing, must give a third of their effort to campaigns and the solidarity work for other in the community unrelated to the campaign and must therefore limit itself to a third of it’s core focus to the actual vision in front of it. The two thirds of the effort falling outside of the direct focus will substantially benefit the campaign itself. It will make the bonds between core members irreversible which is essential for later more involved actions. It will create deep buy in from those involved. It will create good will from those in the community that we share solidarity with. In some respects it is karmic, but it also is just simply a way for people to find more ways to be involved. It opens up our organizing to leadership from folks who focus on caring for others. It opens up the group to people who need solidarity in finding it. It shows us to be focused on principles and the moral high ground. It makes sure that people who are self interested alone either bend to community or break off. It is not enough in our current period of time to create issue oriented activism alone, we must create organized people that aren’t siloed into competing ideas but are fighting together.
Tactics: Tactics are our tools that help us complete our strategy towards our goals.
Tactics aren’t pulled out of thin air, they are tools that we acquire through hard work, training, saving, maintenance, cooperation, trade, etc. You either have a tactic in your tool box or you don’t. Maybe also you only have one piece of a tactic in your toolbox or maybe just the plans but the plans require certain materials and certain numbers of people for it to work. You either have that material or certain numbers and those people having training, or you don’t.
Tactics are also neutral in every way. They can be positive for your campaign or negative. They can be violent or nonviolent. They can have any emotion associated with it. They can be dangerous or safe. Legal or not legal. All of this is determined based on how a tactic is implemented, how your good your training was, your messaging was, how strong you are and some variables outside of your full control like whether a police officer woke up on the wrong side of the bed or not. But despite not everything being under your control a good tactic is done with all these variables considered.
A good tactic has it’s message ring clear as day. It doesn’t struggle with interpretation, it is the message, words not needed. But having it written out is also essential. The tone is also exacting, it can be angry, sad, happy, loving, funny or a myriad of other emotions, but it is set and considered in advance. Your chants, songs, signs, messaging all convey the tone you want. The visual aspects are also decided in advance. You know exactly what pictures, video and what you want the public to see all in advance. You think about background, foreground, who is in the photo, who isn’t, what actions captured. You know what media will be conveying your message.
Tactics usually involve trainings before hand, materials gathering and preparation, an art and sign making party. Roles are trained, clear, rehearsed, practiced. Everyone who is core to the action trusts each other. Some roles are behind the scenes but are equally important, some are front and center, being front and center doesn’t mean you are in charge necessarily. As far as who is in charge, hopefully the plan is good enough that everyone plays their part and knows what to do and what areas they are in charge of. If you’re trying to make crucial decisions on the fly then the planning wasn’t good enough.
You either know how to do a tactic or you don’t. If people are suggesting tactics they don’t know how to successfully do then they shouldn’t be suggesting it. The riskier legally or the more dangerous it is, or the more costly it is, the more the outcome must be worth and the more the preparation, trust, training and support work must go into it. There are reasons for this, some tactics can horribly backfire or have negative reactions, these should be known in advance and should try to be avoided or else accepted as necessary for the overall good.
There are basic tactics that pretty much every campaign needs to do that are simple and all to often totally not done. They are core work, holding a sign or banner in public, ready to answer questions, pass out written answers or refer people to your media. You need a couple signs, a banner, informational flyers, key messaging, a script, a signup sheet, clipboards, pens and at least a couple people willing to do the work. This is the bare minimum tactically of any campaign along with a website or online presence of some sort. You need to also be able to use information collected, another basic all to often not done because that means processing information which is boring work.
If you have the above tactic in your toolkit, you’re officially a campaign and can get to work. People should be scheduled to do this work constantly. It should be one of the first things new people do, paired with someone with experience. It is worth it to be prepared, soothed nerves, dressed for the weather, with snacks, making sure that shifts aren’t too long. This is also how we get information about what the public thinks, how we learn to cater our message appropriately. It is how we break into different new population areas identified as important to the campaign work.
All tactics are used to get your message out and to pull people in. All tactics, regardless of their direct action intent. They are all used to deepen resolve and escalate. They are used to undermine your opponents as well. This is where we must remember the Spectrum of Allies. In the Spectrum of Allies, people are broken down into 5 categories; active opposition, passive opposition, neutral, passive support, and active support. The goal is not to try and convince active opposition to become active support, no, the work is in moving people one category closer to you. Each of these audiences may have a particular message that works for them.
If your tactic is direct action then it still has to get your message out and pull people in. It could be secondary but often direct actions are symbolic more than anything else. It needs to be really researched if you are using direct action as a main effort of your campaign as to what kind and how much direct action will be effective. Direct actions are blockades, boycotts, subterfuge, hacking, strikes, targeted pressure and more. Direct Action is effective when combined with a campaign, is ineffective, or much less effective, when it isn’t. But because direct action crosses sometimes into being illegal, it is dangerous for campaigns to integrate into their work.
But it doesn’t have to be.
Direct Action can disrupt business as usual, cost businesses, government or people in opposition substantial resources, including real pressure, without being illegal. It can tiptoe the line of legality and can be fun and inclusionary. Boycotts are not illegal. Pickets are not illegal. Strikes are not illegal. Creative actions may be disruptive and slightly illegal but mostly go unprosecuted. There are direct actions like sabotage, explosions, fires, physical violence that should be completely avoided by a campaign. Those are actions for individuals and small groups with no larger presence and let’s hope they are done only with the goal of harm only to property and bruising only of egos. These aren’t blatantly condemnable either unless they are in fact nondiscriminatory to harming others. However for a campaign these are direct actions that are completely rejected, even talking about these sort of actions should be quickly shut down. It isn’t uncommon for police or private provocateurs to infiltrate and instigate participation in these kinds of actions.
Howard Zinn once said between the options of violence and nonviolence there are thousands of different opportunities for creative action. I agree with that thoroughly. A smart sophisticated campaign can create tactics that are a thousand times more explosive than dynamite in their effectiveness all it takes is creativity, research, trust, planning and resources.
Let’s get the basic tactics of campaigning up and running. Then let’s do more, but let’s make them done well and not blow all our capacity with every action. Once a tactic is decided on, you have to prepare, that usually means preparation meetings, art parties and trainings. Every tactic should have good messaging. After an action every tactic needs to be celebrated, then debriefed. In between actions there needs to be tactical trainings, trust building exercises, fundraisers, maintenance and art parties.