I started California Jedi in 2012 with zero experience on how to run an organization or be a Jedi leader. I’d been in the community for over a decade, and was preparing for my second knighthood process when my then-boyfriend now-husband and I moved across the country back to California. All I knew is that, having tasted the amazing power of training offline with other Jedi, I wasn’t about to give it up just because there was no California Jedi group.
In many internet fan spaces, there’s an unofficial rule: if you can’t find the thing you are looking for, it’s your job to make it yourself. I took the plunge to create this space, and I’ve been making it up as I go along ever since. California Jedi is coming up on it’s eighth anniversary, and our fifth ever Jedi Gathering. In that time, we’ve built a healthy and happy off and online community centered around learning, accountability, and social justice. I’m pretty proud of that, and of the work we’ve accomplished together. Since I figure we must be doing something right, I’ve decided to share all my lessons and advice on starting your own group, for whatever they are worth.
This document will be a work in progress, so check back every once in a while for updates. Whether you use this as a jumping-off point to start your own Jedi group or just glean some insight about California Jedi’s leadership and history, I hope you find it useful.
How to Begin
- Decide you want to start a Jedi group. Understand that this is going to take a lot of hours over the next several years, and possibly some monetary resources, depending on how you want to go about this. Find one other person to support you and bounce ideas off of, ideally interested in being a first member.
- Start learning what it means to be a mentor and a leader. This doesn’t mean you’re the supreme ruler of your organization, but as the person who started it, you’re responsible for it and the people in it in a unique way. There are not a lot of good books on this topic which is frustrating–you’re going to end up in the business section quite a bit. Add approximately 20-50% more listening and empathy to any advice you get. Your core job as the leader of a group is to create a safe space for learning (this means being a strict moderator when trolling and BS comes up) and protect and support the needs of your group as much as you can with the time and resources you have.
- Logistics! Make a Facebook group to start inviting folks to. Public or private will both work; the former will take much more moderation work, the latter more publicity work. Although I’m not a huge fan of Facebook as a platform, it’s centralized and useful to most folks in and entering the Jedi community. If you can afford to, make a Meetup group. Get a friend with minor design skills to shove together some kind of logo so all of your pages look related. You can invest in something better or prettier later. Right now we are using minimum resources to start finding people to join your quest.
- Think hard now about what kind of group you want. What are your values, what are your goals? Think about how you’ll need to nurture those things, and enforce them down the line. Instead of worrying about structure and hierarchy and knighthood or any of those things, make your values and the rules surrounding following them your top priority. Try to find one more person to participate and help you talk these things through to see if there are holes or weaknesses in your plan.
- Set your first meeting, whether it’s videochat, text-chat, or in person, and start sharing it with everyone you know! Spam all the groups and forums, poke that veteran Jedi who lurks on the internet. Get the news out there, and be patient. Know that for your first few meetings, you’re going to be sitting in cafes or on videochat links alone quite a bit. Bring a good book or your knitting. Keep hosting them.
Community Building Advice
- Recruit enthusiasm over experience. Keep an eye out for people actively interested in helping out. They are worth their weight in gold. Collect people in your area as much as possible.
- Your second follower is the key. The first member other than you is how you get off the ground. Find someone trusted to help evaluate your ideas and motivate you to get them up and running. The second person who shows up to participate sincerely and enthusiastically is your first push to start rolling. Embrace that new person, include them in your process.
- Create a reliable community space. In a state taller than many countries, using the internet to provide emotional connection and community is a core training resource. If you’re all close enough to meet for dinner, great! Do that as often as you can. If your members aren’t videochat people like mine, a chat room of some kind might do the same trick. Either way, organize some sort of social activity that lets your membership drop in and talk at least every other week, and try to see each other in person at least once a year. This community feeling is what will keep people coming back to train and donating their time to spend on this amazing creation of theirs and yours.
- Taking care of yourself is taking care of the group. If you’re feeling overwhelmed and like you’ve already asked for help and no one is stepping up, chances are you haven’t actually asked for help. If you have actually asked for help? Ask more, ask again. Be explicit. Delegate like your life depends on it. Having an entire group dependent on you is a lot of pressure; don’t just wilt under the weight. Giving folks responsibility empowers them to invest in your space.
- Leaders are mediators. If interpersonal conflict happens in your group, you are responsible for making sure mediation happens, and probably for doing that work. Set up written policies about what behavior is acceptable or not, and what the consequences are way ahead of time so you have something to look at and point to when it comes time. Don’t make these so strict that you can’t follow the spirit of the law instead of the letter, but take them very seriously and enforce them courageously.
- Toxic people only get one warning. If someone is just being straight up toxic, abusive, or trolling, confront them immediately, and if apologies and changed behavior are not the result, or they’re back at it again as soon as they think you aren’t looking, remove them from the group. Giving space to oppressive or toxic behavior is the fastest way to destroy a group’s sense of safety, and therefore destroy the group. You want a group of people willing to bring you any interpersonal problems ideally before they become major, and to get that, you have to have the trust of the group. Mediation and restorative justice is well and good, but not at the expense of your group’s safety and productivity.
- Try to stay in the loop. The wider community might not be your jam, but it affects your members. Know what’s going on in the wider community; you don’t have to participate, or get a lot of detail, but being prepared to support your members is important.
- Don’t start with knighthoods. It’s not relevant until you’re off the ground. If you decide that’s a thing you want your group to do, when you are ready, see the our Knighthood How-To (coming soon).
Design and Logistics
- Websites cost money, and are easier to build than you think. Think about why you want one, and whether a Meetup group is a better choice. Do we need another 101 training module? Does your membership have a unique perspective to write in? What value will it bring to your membership and the community? If you decide to go forward with a website: inhale many hours of Youtube WordPress/Squarespace tutorials, and google many weird design and formatting problems. Accidentally learn more HTML. Start writing.
- Designing a logo! It’s ok to make something pretty and assign meaning to the parts after the fact. It’s also ok to hack together something in paint and update it as many times as you like. The goal is to have a consistent visual brand to help people find you in various places on the internet.