For over four years the Berkeley Writers Group has been meeting weekly under the organization of Meetup.com, an organization dedicated to simply helping bring people together. It is a service I use without much thought. They make my organizational tasks simpler, end of story. But last week I discovered that this is not the case when I read a rare letter from Scott Heiferman, the Meetup Co-Founder. I am printing it in full as the only way to truly do it justice. Over to you, Scott.
I don’t write to our whole community often, but this week is special because it’s the 10th anniversary of 9/11 and many people don’t know that Meetup is a 9/11 baby.
Let me tell you the Meetup story. I was living a couple miles from the Twin Towers, and I was the kind of person who thought local community doesn’t matter much if we’ve got the internet and tv. The only time I thought about my neighbors was when I hoped they wouldn’t bother me.
When the towers fell, I found myself talking to more neighbors in the days after 9/11 than ever before. People said hello to neighbors (next-door and across the city) who they’d normally ignore. People were looking after each other, helping each other, and meeting up with each other. You know, being neighborly.
A lot of people were thinking that maybe 9/11 could bring people together in a lasting way. So the idea for Meetup was born: Could we use the internet to get off the internet — and grow local communities?
We didn’t know if it would work. Most people thought it was a crazy idea — especially because terrorism is designed to make people distrust one another.
A small team came together, and we launched Meetup 9 months after 9/11.
Today, almost 10 years and 10 million Meetuppers later, it’s working. Every day, thousands of Meetups happen. Moms Meetups, Small Business Meetups, Fitness Meetups… a wild variety of 100,000 Meetup Groups with not much in common — except one thing.
Every Meetup starts with people simply saying hello to neighbors. And what often happens next is still amazing to me. They grow businesses and bands together, they teach and motivate each other, they babysit each other’s kids and find other ways to work together. They have fun and find solace together. They make friends and form powerful community. It’s powerful stuff.
It’s a wonderful revolution in local community, and it’s thanks to everyone who shows up. Meetups aren’t about 9/11, but they may not be happening if it weren’t for 9/11.
9/11 didn’t make us too scared to go outside or talk to strangers. 9/11 didn’t rip us apart. No, we’re building new community together!!!!
The towers fell, but we rise up. And we’re just getting started with these Meetups.
Scott Heiferman (on behalf of 80 people at Meetup HQ)
Co-Founder & CEO, Meetup
New York City
Thank you Scott and your team. Creating powerful, thriving community is the greatest action we can take to thwart the terrorists, in whatever form they come.
Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).