Chapter 9: START Stories
START’s predecessor, the Macro-Analysis Seminars, have a remarkable and inspiring history of fostering progressive change. The 1975 Macro-Analysis study guide yields a wealth of information about the early growth of this movement.
A. The Macro-Analysis Movement
The Macro-Analysis movement can be traced back to a 1969 seminar held for change activists in Philadelphia. The focus was economics and social change, and the group read a different book for each of fifteen weeks. As seminars for Philadelphia activists continued, the issues expanded and an emphasis on democratic process and group dynamics increased. In 1971-72 there were eight seminars in the Philadelphia area.
With the publication in August of 1972 of the first edition of the study guide (On Organizing Macro-Analysis Seminars), new people were able to organize and facilitate groups on their own. Writing the guide helped people in Philadelphia improve their seminars by pooling the best readings and group processes. It also helped make the seminars more democratic; all participants who read the guide had an equal level of knowledge of various group procedures and techniques.
Macro seminars began appearing across the country. There were 35 seminars in 1973 and 65 in 1974. Many other groups used the guide for its group process suggestions and reading references. Over six thousand copies of the first Macro-Analysis study guide were sold. The seminars were used by a variety of groups in social change and academic settings:
- Local affiliates of national organizations, such as the American Friends Service Committee and Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom
- Local church social action groups
- Ad hoc groups of friends who wanted to do the seminar together
- College campuses, such as Stanford University; the University of Oxford, England; the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor; Oberlin College; Colgate University; Earlham College, and Western Michigan University at Kalamazoo
The Macro-Analysis movement was a part of the Movement for a New Society (MNS), a network of small groups across the United States dedicated to nonviolent societal change. Many MNS groups originated with a Macro-Analysis Seminar.
The Philadelphia Macro-Analysis Collective was at the heart of the movement. They met weekly, using many of the same process techniques that were used in the seminars. Members wrote and revised the study guide, reprinted and mailed out articles, spoke to interested groups, helped groups start seminars, supported those already involved, convened several seminars per year in the Philadelphia area, directed interested individuals to others in their area who were already involved, and put out a newsletter. A 1974 article in Friends Journal captures the spirit of the project.
In some places, local Macro-Analysis collectives were organized, which helped to start new seminars locally. The spreading of the Macro-Analysis movement was especially timely during that consciousness-raising period in which many Americans were undergoing major re-thinking of what their country was and should be. In 1974, a British study guide was written and published in London.
While some seminars organized demonstrations or full-fledged campaigns, the major change activities of others did not occur within the group itself, but by participants influencing other people and organizations to which they belonged.
Macro-Analysis at the University
Because both the process and the content of macro-analysis challenged prevailing norms, the seminars were not always an easy fit at traditional educational institutions. Macro-analysis might succeed in changing the student-teacher relationship, but the idea of needing an “expert” was a much more difficult mindset to overcome. Also, students often had a problem thinking in terms of action because of their short-term commitment to the class and often to the community in which they lived.
Different forms of macro-analysis were developed for the differing needs of students and professors. Students initiated many seminars through “experimental colleges” and “free universities” while others were conducted with the professor as convener and with required papers. When seminars were offered for credit, some participants found that the grading process conflicted with the macro-analysis emphasis on equality. They preferred a non-graded or pass/fail system and liked self-evaluation and grading even more.
Some university groups used the process while incorporating their own readings. Others used the readings in a normal classroom situation. One professor restructured his seminar to include a section on diagnosis of societal problems, including the participants’ relationship to the problem (for instance, their class and social backgrounds). This helped participants get a clearer understanding of the differences that arose between people in the group. Another seminar was held by a mixed group of students, professors, and townspeople. This brought some good sharing between “town” and “gown” as well as a broader perspective on social change issues.
B. START and Social Action
The Need for Action
A START group is not an end in itself, but a means for people to take action — to take charge of their own lives and to help bring about a more just, democratic, and safe world. Virtually every gain in human decency, justice, and democracy has been won through the efforts of regular people. As Margaret Mead said: “Never doubt that a small, group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
Some Examples of Follow-Up Activities by Participants in Earlier Groups
1. One of the early Macro-Analysis seminars started the campaign that prevented American ports from shipping materials to support Pakistan in its war against Bangladesh in 1971. (See the book Blockade! by Richard K. Taylor, Orbis Books, 1977.)
2. Many seminar participants were involved in de-fusing the crisis at Wounded Knee in 1974. When three members of the Philadelphia Macro-Analysis Collective worked with the National Council of Churches to establish a nonviolent intervention force between the AIM Indians and the government forces then threatening an Attica-prison-like attack, they counted about a dozen of the 50 people in the intervention force who were then involved in Macro-Analysis seminars.
3. Many participants started new seminars for other people and groups — in Washington, D. C.; New York City; Grand Rapids and Ann Arbor, Mich.; Pittsburgh; and Eugene, Oregon.
4. A Palo Alto, California group, with help from the American Friends Service Committee, wrote a manual on simple living entitled, Taking Charge. This book helped people relate worldwide political, economic, and environmental conditions to their own consumptive lifestyle, and helped them reduce their consumption to more equitable levels.
5. A group in Butte, Montana facilitated the organization of a food co-op with more than 100 families. Out of that effort grew a film forum that showed political films.
6. A group in Berea, Kentucky got the local city council to endorse a statewide bottle return bill, and sponsored local Sun Day celebrations featuring displays on alternatives to nuclear energy.
7. A group in Salt Lake City, Utah began a successful “guerilla gardening” project on the parking strips along the roads owned by the city, and significantly raised people’s consciousness about how multinational corporations control their food supplies.
8. Many people changed their lifestyles and eating habits, quit oppressive jobs, and switched to working more intensely for change because of their participation in Macro seminars.
9. Macro-Analysis seminar participants helped shape the safe energy (anti-nuclear power) movement with their heavy involvement in key early demonstrations in Portland, Oregon in 1974 and in Seabrook, New Hampshire in 1977. The safe energy movement was able to slow or stop the construction of many nuclear power plants and ensured that no new plants were ordered, essentially halting the industry in the United States.
People in this movement then went on to work against nuclear weapons and to prevent U.S. military intervention in Central America during the 1980s. Many of these people still continue to work in the fair trade, economic justice, environmental, and peace movements.
Recent Examples of Follow-Up Activities by Participants in START Groups
For stories about the change work that recent START groups have done, see the growing list at: