(or how we split from the CAI XXX Ottobre Association caving group)
During the 2010 AXXXO Caving Group’s annual meeting on October 28th, the board was dissolved through the cast of six blank ballots. We were the board members, we were taken by surprise, and as we will later understand, due to futile reasons.
We were committed to tackling a challenging situation for the whole mandate. Nonetheless, the vote’s outcome left us speechless, and appeared more like a childish spite that was facilitated by ambiguous bylaws. All we could do was accept the will of the majority and move on. Unfortunately, and for whatever reason, the six dissenters had not offered any alternative candidates to take our board positions.
The result was that the Caving Group was left in complete chaos, and without leadership. A few days later, the board of directors of our parent association (the CAI XXX Ottobre Association) took over, and put the Caving Group’s board under administrative leave. Two members of the XXX Ottobre stepped up to take the situation under control, and to bring both sides of the confrontation to mediate a compromise in order to overcome the deadlock.
Unfortunately, both sides of the dispute never sat at a negotiating table. In fact the two members of the XXX Ottobre focused exclusively on modifying the Caving Group’s bylaws, thinking that whatever dispute there may have been would vanish over time over a nice glass of wine. Over the next few months, the Caving Group’s differences gradually came to light, making this a period that is better forgotten.
On Friday, June 11th, 2010 the Caving Group’s board was called to convene in a special session. There were seven of us, including a few of the more active regular members, all weary of the Group’s internal turmoils. We unanimously agreed to take the drastic decision of handing in our resignation, as we felt estranged from the Group after the chasm formed by the dissenters. It was a painful and difficult decision. Some of us had dedicated ten or twenty years, another nearly thirty years, of our lives to the Association. Nobody would have expected such an outcome only a few months ago.
A decisive evening recounted from a brighter side
That same evening, we gathered around our mugs of beer to analyse our uncertain future. We had just lost our headquarters, our storage, our identity… all we had was our personal caving equipment. We had lost everything that was needed to provide the high level organization for speleological activities that we had been used to.
None of us were in favour of merging with another organization, as experience taught us that we would find ourselves in the same situation down the road. Our only alternative was to start our own group, in order to avoid making the same mistakes. Onehundredthirtythree sad days had gone by since the infamous 2010 annual meeting, and in that time frame we had begun to form a battle cry. We were still caving, and “continued caving”, hence Grotta Continua. It all started as a joke, then as a logo on t-shirts, then as a lifestyle when things got hard. Grotta Continua was derived from the name of a 1970’s left wing extra-parliamentary group called Lotta Continua, meaning The Fight Goes On. The slogan stuck, the group’s new name was officially adopted with the hope that our intentions will forever be understood to be caving and not politics.
The more beer we ordered, the more we got serious. We shun away from any suggestions of legalizing our group through paperwork and notary public, and hoped that our friendship alone will hold the group together. After all, we are speleologists and trust, loyalty, and friendship is our best survival kit, one that means more than a thousand guidelines and bylaws.
Hence, no membership cards, no official positions, only volunteers with enough experience to deal with whatever comes next. This setup should help avoid overburdening one member, and deter freeloaders and membership card collectors from joining.
Coincidentally, as our mugs of beer ran dry, somebody mentioned the fact that we will no longer have access to government funding. Having dealt for years with Italian bureaucracy in obtaining these funds, we knew well that these funds came with strings attached. The government funds were towards seminars, exhibits, courses, they were towards expensive equipment that got treated with disrespect as it was considered free, and it attracted the above mentioned freeloaders. Not much went towards what really mattered for speleology: exploration, research, and excavation. We opt to sustain ourselves financially by passing the hat around every time we are low on cash. Freedom is priceless.
As the pub is closing, our drinks are emptied, and bills paid, we reflect on our role on the environment as speleologists. How we spend days volunteering cleaning out caves of human refuse. How we hope to make a difference as a united front before environmental disasters such as the Bay of Sistiana, or the new high speed train (TAV) roaring through a fragile environment such as the Karst. By providing data, percentages, and numbers to the mightier in higher ranks so that they can make the ultimate decisions. We understand how frustrating it is to be simple bystanders, but ultimately it is about the Karst, and helping the Forestry Department keep our caves clean.
As the barkeeper shuts his doors behind us, we are rather drunk, but happy. This was the evening we founded our group, The Independent Speleological Group “Grotta Continua”.
A year has gone by since that decisive evening, and a lot has been realized, even some goals that we thought we would never attain. We started off by digging deep into our pockets, we made additional income by selling t-shirts at the 2011 Casola Valsenio Meeting, and in the end we had a substantial amount of money to purchase all the necessary equipment to face the future with serenity.
Lacking a storage facility, all the equipment is stored in different locations. The equipment has been meticulously inventoried to facilitate the distribution of any material to whomever needs it. This atmosphere of friendship and lack of stifling bureaucracy has attracted a lot of new members and old friends. The group’s membership has more than doubled since its beginnings. Among our most prestigious members is Andrea Gobetti, whom we named Honorary Member at the Casola Valsenio Meeting. Gobetti’s writings and books are reading essentials for serious speleologists, and we are thankful for his membership within our group.
Our last effort is this website. This will be our portal through which we will inform the general public of our past, present, and future activities. Our visitors will be able to download maps of caves, scientific papers, informative materials, about a hundred explorations, and maybe if we find a volunteer we may even start a newsletter. This website will remain a work in progress as our priority will be caving, either for exploration or simply for fun…
Fortunately, there are no deadlines to meet.
The members of Grotta Continua, May 2011