“All we say to America is be true to what you said on paper…”

“I have been to the mountaintop. I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life, longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will, and he’s allowed me to go up to the mountain, and I’ve looked over, and I have seen the promise land. I may not get there with you, but I want you to know tonight that we, as a people, will get to the promised land.”

Ana Sisnett

I met Ana Sisnett just after she arrived in Austin in 1983. She was very smart and very kind, and we immediately became friends. We crossed paths over the years, and in the 2000s when she became executive director of Austin Free-net, I joined the Board of Directors and, for a time, I was President of the Board. It was wonderful to work with Ana – we talk about building the digital divide; she wanted to blast it out of existence. She understood that digital access would have growing relevance to social and economic justice, and no one was more passionate about justice.

Here’s what I told the Statesman: “She was passionate and powerful in her support of people who are traditionally underserved online. Some people just want to make the system work the way that it should. She was one of those people.” Her daughter Meredith said “She was always willing to teach anyone all that she knows. She was an international teacher of love.”

Shopocalypse now: be mindful

Gary Gach considers how Buddha would approach consumer Christmas: “We should be trying to base contentment on being, rather than having. Then the question of buying that fourth shirt or that new gizmo on display might be dwarfed by the prospect of creating more space in one’s life by donating your extra stuff. When tempted to bite the hook of despair over seeming scarcity in one’s life or in the world, try practicing generosity instead.” He menntion’s Reverent Billy’s motto: “love is a gift economy. Pass it along.”

The Buddha’s critique of mindless craving and needless suffering pinpoints the precise moment during which real pleasure becomes abstract desire – the want to want. In our addictive culture of capitalism, it’s the exact same vital acupressure point that our basic market economy capitalizes on. “Don’t get hooked,” the Buddha says. Remember the hungry ghost, craving more and more of what can never satisfy.

The Working Poor

According to seattlepi.com, the working poor missed the benefits of the economic boom, but they definitely won’t miss the effects of the bust. The article references a report by The Working Poor Families Project, called “Still Working Hard, Still Falling Short.” [Link to pdf]

From the seattlepi.com article:

Nationally, 28 percent of families were deemed working poor in 2006, up from 27 percent in 2002 as parents spent more on housing and the number of low-paying jobs grew, the report found.

New Mexico ranked worst with 41 percent of working families considered low-income. New Hampshire had the lowest rate at 15 percent.

While the fortunes of low-wage workers worsened, the report paints a picture of those families that runs counter to some common beliefs. Struggling families typically worked more than 40 hours a week, while most were headed by parents who were 25 or older. Only a quarter received food stamps.

Blog Action Day: Poverty

A little-known fact about me: just out of college and eager to save the world, I worked with poverty programs for quite a few years, in fact (long story) that’s how I became a technology professional. The same idealism drove my later focus on the social web and online community. When I saw that this year’s Blog Action Day was about poverty, I quickly signed on, and I also signed on with local bloggers committed to the Blog Action Day project. (Some of my colleagues, like Bob Carlton, were thinking to spend a night at a homeless shelter.)

If you haven’t spent much time focused on poverty, it’s an abstraction, your perceptions based on random encounters with “the disadvantaged,” media coverage, and probably mental autofill based on your unschooled sense of what it would mean to be without appreciable income and resources. In my years as a caseworker, I saw a world that was hidden and unfamiliar. The poor are hidden from view both physically and conceptually. We’re in state of denial about poverty, and assume that people can only be poor because of their own shortcomings – it was common to hear that they’re “lazy, don’t want to work, want to live off the public dole.” I met few,if any, that fit that description. Many I met were working poor who never had the network of suppports and resources, the social safety net, that I had known. Some were sick. Some had spectacularly bad luck that persistently set them back. Some were destabilized by cycles of addiction and recovery. Many were only temporarily what you would call “poor,” and working hard to change their circumstances.

I met many whose lives had little of the structure I had known as an upper-middle-class white kid in West Texas – the structure and rhythms that set the stable path through school, through college, into a career. They were struggling with notions and disciplines that many of us take for granted. The “basic job skills” training programs were set up to create the habits and disciplines they’d missed.

One way to think about poverty: it has no single cause, and to talk about fixing the problem of poverty is like talking about curing disease – which disease? The cures vary, depending on the specifics of the condition.

On the other hand, many common diseases are associated with lifestyle, they’re systemic, and can be addressed by corrections to cultural systems and assumptions. Consider the negative health impact of efficient production and distribution of high-fat, high-calorie fast food, and the positive impact of retooling to produce fast foods that have less fat, fewer calories, more nutrition. I.e. just thinking about the problem, thinking about what has to change, taking relevant action yourself and demanding action from others, can have a positive effect.

So I think asking bloggers to focus on poverty is a great first step.

Zack Exley on “The New Organizers”

Zack Exley, who rejected a proposed plan a meeting to discuss a proposed plan for community-centric organizing offered to the Kerry campaign in 2004, writes at the Huffington Post about the Obama campaign’s success in incorporating the “netroots.”

The “New Organizers” have succeeded in building what many netroots-oriented campaigners have been dreaming about for a decade. Other recent attempts have failed because they were either so “top-down” and/or poorly-managed that they choked volunteer leadership and enthusiasm; or because they were so dogmatically fixated on pure peer-to-peer or “bottom-up” organizing that they rejected basic management, accountability and planning. The architects and builders of the Obama field campaign, on the other hand, have undogmatically mixed timeless traditions and discipline of good organizing with new technologies of decentralization and self-organization….Win or lose, “The New Organizers” have already transformed thousands of communities—and revolutionized the way organizing itself will be understood and practiced for at least the next generation.

Obama’s people are extending the uses of technology documented in Extreme Democracy The Kerry campaign had an opportunity to go there in April 2004, but opted for a completely top-down approach, though a group of volunteers with experience in online commmunity, including Howard Rheingold, Nanci Meng, Tex Coate, Cameron Barrett, Jock Gill, Nancy White, Bob Jacobson, Aldon Hynes, Jerry Michalski and myself offered community organizing plans that could have been implemented with minimal overhead, leveraging technology and volunteers. Jock Gill wrote about this in 2006 at Greater Democracy. Jock posts text from the plan in comments.

Not faulting Zack, who was coming to the Kerry campaign from Moveon.org, an email-based organization brilliant at coordinating activist campaigns, but never effective using social technology to organize the “netroots.” We had been meeting with the Kerry campaign when he came on board and chose not to pursue the netroots approach, working instead with the moveon style of fundraising he knew best, under very real pressure to raise money for the campaign, leaving little time and mindshare for grassroots organizing, the effectiveness of which was iffy in the short term. What we were offering was risky in that it would have taken longer to build effectively, however if we had started then, there would have been a much stronger network of communities committed to the Democratic party, and Obama could arguably have grown his network better and faster. And it’s not that the netroots didn’t organize. Howard Dean continued working his networks to become the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, and a very effective netroots emerged through Daily Kos and other progressive hubs.

And the Obama campaign really understood the power of the technology, not just to support fundraising, but to organize effective networks and communities in support of their candidate. I suspect there’s a whole powerful Obama network that you don’t really see because of this focus on building support from the ground up rather than through more visible mass media. It will be very interesting to see the effect of this organizing on the November elections.

Additional note: I’ve been discussing the netroots in a two-week interview with Lowell Feld and Nate Wilcox, authors of Netroots Rising, in a public conversation on the WELL.

Thinking about poverty

At today’s Social Media Club, Bob Carlton and Mike Chapman filled me in on Bob’s plan for Blog Action Day. Bob wants to mobilize local bloggers to fill the 24-hour action day with posts that “capture the face of poverty in Austin today, focusing on the personal story behind the facts of living in poverty.”

A core team will focus on a street retreat immersion effort, delivering updates via Twitter, small video updates & audio segments, as well as scheduled webinars. By engaging with stories from a wide variety of voices & mediums, online readers in Austin will be immersed in an experience of what it means to live in poverty in Austin today.

I signed up to blog (7am-8am on October 15), and I’m giving it a lot of thought. In a past life, I worked with poverty programs for quite a few years, and I learned firsthand and from many perspectives about what it means to be poor. I haven’t thought about it in quite a while. I’m not sure I know what it’s like to be poor in the 21st century, though… and how much worse it will be with the harsher economic climate we seem to be facing.

Bacevich: let’s get our affairs in order

Maybe I’m a conservative, after all, because I was listening to Andrew Bacevich earlier today and nodding. Bacevich is a real conservative, not a neocon, and I’m thinking he’s got the right message … I was pretty excited by all he had to say:

  • The U.S. has become in empire of consumption, not production.
  • We assume that business must be built on credit, and not on productivity.
  • Americans (and others) are participating in a de facto Ponzi scheme, borrowing with the underlying assumption that the bills will never come due.
  • No one in politics seems to offer a politically plausible solution.
  • Trade imbalances are larger each year. Jimmy Carter was the one president who recognized the challenges awaiting if we refuse to get our house in order &ndash check out his “malaise” speech.
  • Freedom does not equal, or depend on, materialism. Quite the contrary.
  • We might have to modify what may be peripheral to preserver the core of the American way of life. Focus on the way we live and order our affairs.
  • At our best, we have focused on community, harmony, and the future. That last is important: we now think too little of the extent to which we put our children and grandchildren at risk as we squander our resources, which is the same as squandering our freedom.
  • We’re using military power to conceal the real implications of U.S. profligacy. Reagan, Bush 1, Clinton, and Bush 2 all assumed that power can “fix the world” to sustain our dysfunctional system.
  • We have created an imperial presidency, and congress no longer articulates a visoin of the common good.
  • The National Security State build around the president doesn’t work – it didn’t predict 9/11 or plan effectively for the war in Iraq.
  • No one in Washington DC knows what they’re doing.

At least, that’s what I thought I heard him say… and I’m ready to work on solutions. My business partner, David Armistead, and I are already working on something that might be helpful.

Check out the Bacevich interview on Bill Moyers’ Journal.

Making it – our DIY future

I’m not exactly a maker – I don’t spend a lot of time building or deconstructing devices or hacking what I’ve bought. I’m not a regular reader of Make Magazine, though it’s edited by my friend and former bOING bOING colleague Mark Frauenfelder, and I’ve always appreciated his world view… Mark’s a mashup of wide-eyed innocent and wise sage, and his head’s all full of fascinating cartoons and futuristic visions. When I curated a digital convergence track for SXSW Interactive in 2006, I included a session on DIY and convergence and contacted Mark, who suggested Phil Torrone, who signed on and suggested Limor Fried and someone from Make’s sister magazine, Craft. It was a great session; the next year Phil and Limor keynoted to a packed room at the conference. I realized there was a huge DIY movement emerging and they were channeling those energies. Consider that the world of the future may not be a slick, standardized manufactured environment but a world of personal reconfigurable environments, highly individualized; a world where everyone’s expected to have gadget literacy and everything in our environment has an open, hackable architecture.

A couple of years ago, after the first Maker Faire in California, I emailed Mark and suggested they try it in Austin. They did, and as a result I found myself working an installation on the DIY Home of the Future based on Derek Woodgate’s research and Dave Demaris’s hard work, along with Bon Davis and several others. (Our Plutopia collective and annual party emerged from this endeavor – long story.) I wrote a couple of DIY home pieces for Worldchanging at the time, posted here and here. Derek had done a lot of thinking about the future of personal built environments, again highly reconfigurable by “the user.” This assumes a couple of things: 1) that we evolve the gadget literacy I mentioned earlier, and we see that in the DIY/Maker movement as early adopters on the today’s fringes, and 2) homes and gadgets and devices will be increasingly open, hackable, and reconfigurable. To that end, Make has published a Maker’s Bill of Rights, and Jeremy Faludi at Worldchanging riffs on the concept, discussing design for hackability as green design. Note that the Bill of Rights page at Make has a link to the Leatherman Squirt, aka “Warranty Voider.”