Tag - micah sifry

Putting a Face on #Occupy Wall Street
Wikileaks ≠ Transparency
Discount for the Personal Democracy Forum
Demand Question Time!
Best Videos of 2009
Nonprofits and Transparency
Our "Aha" Moments
Off to Politics Online

Putting a Face on #Occupy Wall Street

Over the past week a number of folks have asked me what I think of the Occupy movement. I think a lot of things about it (naturally!) and thought I’d try to craft a few thoughts here.

Occupy Wall Street is a delicious and irresistible idea. It is a net-centric effort bubbling up online and sideways and growing organically around the country. Here is Jeff Jarvis euphorically shouting from the rooftops about the “hashtag revolt.” What more fun could a techtopian ask for? Micah does a fantastic job of providing an overview of the protest here, including the importance of connecting the dots from the Facebook pages to the on-the-ground protests. But the assertion by some that this effort doesn’t need leaders and goals isn’t correct.  No political movement has ever been successful without them.

Let’s be clear: this is a political not a social movement created by the complete and dismal failure of President Obama and his administration to protect average citizens. Here is a great piece by Marshall Ganz, the architect of the movement building piece of the Obama campaign, on the failure of the administration to govern the way it campaigned. The decision by the administration’s inner circle to be incrementalists in a time of enormous disruption misread history, the purpose of their own election and the true needs of the country. Basically, it boiled down, for most people, to banks over homes. Ganz’ piece is nearly a year old, and the disappointment that many people felt last year has turned into rage this year as the President continues to dither and concede. Had a Democrat challenged the President on the left, aka Ted Kennedy, my guess is that a lot of this energy would have gone in that direction. However, today both parties feed at the same monied trough, spawning a timidity on the part of too many politicians and their enablers.

All of these factors makes the OWS effort much closer to the Tea Party than the Arab Spring. It is disgust and anger by protesters against the political party that is supposed to represent them but doesn’t.

Given that context, protests in the streets rather than a primary, here is my wishlist for this movement:

1.Personal Stories. The greatest asset of the protestors is their clear, unambiguous moral outrage. That’s what makes this a movement and not a campaign. In order to resonate with people who aren’t there, the protestors need to put the personal stories front and center. Here is a great page on Tumblr of the stories of the 99% of people who are hurting economically right now. They are graphic and moving and personal. I actually think the whole movement should be called 99% since it includes all everyone and gets away from the unfortunate reference to military dominance connoted with the word occupation. Real people are hurting deeply right now because the political system has failed them. Every communications by the protestors has to start and end with these moving stories.

2. Clarity of outcomes. The protests now can be messy in their side-to-sideness, there is a lot of steam that needs to be let out of the tea kettle (couldn’t resistn some mention of tea!) And it is productive to have people self-organizing and making their outrage known. Ultimately, though, a very clear statement of what is wanted has to be made. And it has to be clear and simple and morally compelling that folks who are the least likely to actually hit the street begin to come out and are counted. Nurses, school teachers, laid off construction workers, moms, dads need to be on board for this effort to be sustainable. And maybe they will. Today there are unions and progressive organizations joining the protest on Wall Street – of course, their participation could also dilute the effort and insert organization needs and, egads!, branding into the effort. The Tea Party success is based on the simplicity of their demands: smaller government, lower taxes. That’s it, and you’re either with them or you’re not.The Occupy movement needs something just this simple beyond the outrage in order to be successful. It doesn’t have to be something easy or immediate, but it does have to be easily communicated. Like: No more corporate dollars in political campaigns. This is something Congress can do something about — if they all weren’t feeding at the same trough.

3. A Face. Movements don’t need institutions to lead them, but they do need a face, a person to represent the moral outrage. Egypt didn’t have one, they say. Not true, Egypt had Wael Ghonim, the Google who sparked the protests by his organizing and arrest. He embodied the protests: he was young, well educated, outraged, fed up and courageous. The Occupy protests need their own Ghonim. Successful movements have heroic faces: Mandela, Havel, Chavez, Ghonim. Unsuccessful ones, the WTO protests and the huge immigration marches, don’t. Just because the event is largely organized online doesn’t reduce the need for a face. Leadership matters, more now than ever because of the failure of institutions to lead. It does, however, mean that that person has to be comfortable with a new style of leadership, more network weaver than corner office. Can Van Jones do it? Maybe, time will tell, although his closeness to the administration is a detriment.




Wikileaks ≠ Transparency

As much as I hate using “gate” moniker, I want to discuss what is being called “Cablegate” because its ramifications for organizational life.

If you’ve been leaving beneath your bed for the last few weeks, you may not know that Cablegate refers to the release of thousands of secret State Department communications by Wikileaks. Here is good synopsis of the lead by Time Magazine.

Wikileaks first came onto the world’s radar screen by posting a video of American soldiers shooting Iraqi civilians. This is whistleblowing. The American military it appears had done a terrible thing and then covered it up. This is what journalists do, they uncover the bad things that companies and governments do and shed light on them. Daniel Ellsberg is one of the world’s most famous whistleblowers, having released the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times to reveal the lies that the US government was telling the public about their administration of the war in Vietnam.

Cablegate isn’t whistleblowing, it isn’t righting a wrong, unveiling unethical or immoral behavior. It is the theft of regular communications that makes it nearly impossible for the State Department to function.

One of the smartest people I know, well, actually one of the smartest people anywhere, Esther Dyson, discussed the downside of what she called “radical transparency” at Transparency Camp last year a double edged sword for organizational leaders. Beth Kanter reported Esther saying at the camp, “Esther Dyson said that transparency should be able the results and any deals, but there is a place for private discussion.   “We could all go around naked and look like angels, but in the real world that doesn’t happen.”  Transparency has its benefits, but so does privacy.  As Esther Dyson said, “There is a need for respect – of relationships, to get trust, and further understandings.   You can’t be fully transparent all the time because you need to give people a safe place to have the discussion without disrespecting others.”

And there is why I respectfully disagree with my friend and colleague, Micah Sifry, who wrote yesterday on his blog on TechPresident, “…there is a danger rising both to internet freedom and open government here, but that is not because of Wikileaks. It is because people who are threatened by more transparency want to stop this trend before it is completely uncontrollable.”

Leaks like Cablegate might be inevitable, however they are not honorable or constructive. Street crime might be inevitable but that doesn’t make it right. It also makes the word of transparency advocates, like Micah, much harder because it masks the true beauty and value of transparency which is to enable outsiders to get in and insiders to get out in order to make the work or product or law better. Transparency is not an academic exercise or window dressing for show, when done well and right, for instance in the ways that the Sunlight Foundation works, it makes the work better. Releasing every day cables of conversations within the State Department doesn’t make anything better, it just makes the work harder to do at all, much less do well.

The leakers, including Wikileaks, should be punished for it. How is any organization or government agency supposed to do business, to wrestle with complicated situations where the answers aren’t clear cut, in other words deal with the world as it is, if every conversation, every thought, every musing is going to be public.

The shame as Micah points out is that this kind of behavior provides cover for anti-transparency forces to have an excuse to become more opaque. They would would head in that direction anyway. News organizations should not have printed these leaks, it wasn’t news, it was a crime.

OK, folks, start disagreeing now!


Discount for the Personal Democracy Forum

One of my favorite events of the year is the Personal Democracy Forum (PDF) (full disclosure: I have had myriad business ties to PDF and am now engaged as a consultant with them.)

I consider PDF to be my home base for learning about what’s new and hot in the social media, politics and civics space. This year’s conference is shaping up to be awesome and Beth and I have the honor of talking about our book, The Networked Nonprofit, on Friday morning.

This year’s agenda includes:

-An in-depth look at how the internet fosters freedom and democracy, with speakers from all sides of that debate: Jimmy Wales, Julian Assange, Daniel Ellsberg, Evgeny Morozov, Ory Okolloh, Ethan Zuckerman, Cheryl Contee, Newt Gingrich, John Perry Barlow and Clay Shirky.

-Shop talk from online innovators from both sides of the aisle, including Markos Moulitsas, Arianna Huffington, Jane Hamsher, Mindy Finn, Rob Willington, Todd Herman, Natalie Foster, Stephanie Taylor, Dan Cantor, Eli Pariser and Ryan Gravatt.

-Visions of the networked future from thinkers like Howard Rheingold, Tim O’Reilly, Aneesh Chopra, Nick Bilton, Bernard Avishai, Craig Newmark, Esther Dyson, Anil Dash, Jen Pahlka, Bryan Sivak and Susan Crawford.

And as an added incentive, Micah Sifry, co-founder of PDF, is offering readers of this blog a $100 discount on their registration!  To save $100 on registration, go here:

https://personaldemocracy.com/product/pdf_2010_early_registration and use the following code: AFINE

Let me know if you’re coming, I’ve love to say hi there!


Demand Question Time!

As always, my friend Micah Sifry and his pals at Personal Democracy Forum and TechPresident are up to some good fun!

If you didn’t see the debate that President Obama had with the House Republicans last week, you absolutely must. It was inspiring to see elected officials have real, civil dialogue about real issues. Here’s a clip:

This needs to continue, it’s good for the country, for the citizenry, for these kinds of exchanges to continue. to that end, Micah and friends launched a new site this morning called “Demand Question Time!” It’s pretty self-explanatory, let’s get our elected leaders to keep doing this. Micah asked me to sign onto the effort on Monday and it was a no-brainer for me. Of course, Micah has a cross-partisan group of supporters working with him on this including Mike Moffo, David Corn, Mindy Finn, Jon Henke and Glenn Reynolds.

Please go and sign the petition and share it on Twitter and Facebook – no more politics as usual!!


Best Videos of 2009

My last post for this year will highlight my choices for the best videos by nonprofits and for causes of 2009.

But, first, I’d like to thank a few people who have enriched my life, taught and inspired me, and helped me in myriad ways this year — and hopefully will continue to do so next year:

1.  Beth Kanter – Beth is the best nonprofit blogger there is, hands down. But luckily for me she is more than that. She is my partner and co-author on our book, The Networked Nonprofit, that Wiley & Sons will release in late spring 2010. We have complimentary skills and perspectives — but most of all we have fun together, particularly as we spend copious amounts of time trying to decide whether to get dressed or clean the kitchen.

2. Lucy Bernholz – You can’t mention Lucy’s name without using the phrase, “super smart.” That’s simply who and what she is. She is courageous and forward thinking without ever diminishing anyone else’s contributions or skills. I learn something new and interesting every time I talk to her or read her blog. She is a unique thinker and we, as a sector, are lucky to have her on our side.

3.  Micah Sifry – I met Micah in 2003 at Esther Dyson’s Release 1.0 conference and he has been my primary social media educator ever since. Micah challenges, nudges, supports and guides me constantly and consistently. His Personal Democracy Forum reflects his energetic curiously. It is also the only tech conference that I go to that consistently has equal representation of women as panelists and keynoters reflecting Micah’s unwavering egalitarianism.

Now, onto the best videos of 2009!  Here they are, in no particular order, enjoy.

1. The Anaheim Ballet. Actually any of their videos would do as they’re doing a marvelous job of letting us into their rehearsals and creative process:

2. Rory Sutherland: Lessons from an Ad Man. Of course, it’s very hard to pick any particular Ted Talk to include on the list as so many of them are brilliant. This one is hilarious and provides good stuff for nonprofit folks to ruminate on.

3. The Lost Generation. It’s important to watch this one all the way to the end.

4. United Breaks Guitars. Again, this one isn’t specifically a cause video, however, it is a perfect example of the ability of individual activists, in this case the singer Dave Carrol, to use videos to express their outrage – particularly against large, faceless corporations.

5. The story of charity:water. I’m hard pressed to think of another nonprofit that does a better job of storytelling than charity:water. Watch founder Scott Harrison, a master storyteller, do his thing in four minutes.

A great resources for outstanding nonprofit videos is DoGooderTV from the smart folks at C3 Communications (and don’t miss their great video on their home page also.)

Let me know which ones I missed.

Wishing everyone a safe, fulfilling, prosperous 2010!


Nonprofits and Transparency

Lucy Bernholz, in her usual smart and insightful way, has written a terrific post on philanthropy and transparency, Downsides of Transparency. She is riffing on an article that Larry Lessig wrote for the New Republic entitled, Against Transparency.

Lessig’s arguments are more provocative than right. There is, of course, nothing inherently bad with opening up the black hole of government and sharing data with the public. And the Sunlight Foundation, of which Lessig is oddly an adviser, has led the charge in making data available to the public to enable it to connect the dots of connections between contributions, lobbyists and legislation. Ellen Miller and Mike Klein, the co-founders of the Sunlight Foundation, make a terrific counter argument to Lessing writing, “we argue that more transparency in politics will enable a healthy dynamic of rising public attention and engagement in demanding more accountability from government.”

As one would imagine, there was considerable pushback against Lessig’s take around the web. You can see different opinions here, by Patrice McDermott a long-time advocate for government openness, and David Weinberger here, and in the incomparable way that only he can, Micah Sifry here.

I don’t buy Lessig’s argument that there is such as thing as too much transparency in government. But I do buy Lucy’s concern that requiring too much transparency of foundations may drive them into the dark, back rooms without any sunlight of donor advised funds. The difference is that government is public and foundations are private entities. Even with their enormous tax breaks, foundations are private entities that more than any other kind of  institution has very little incentive to make their operations and programs more open and transparent except out of a noble assumption that by doing so they will be more effective.

My area of interest is in nonprofit organizations, which I think in some ways are harder to get our hands around in regards to transparency (does everyone thing that their sector is the most important?)  because nonprofits aren’t public entities and aren’t as private as foundations. We’re somewhere in between. Esther Dyson was right when she said at Transparency Camp a few months ago, “You cannot be fully transparent all the time because you need to give people a safe place to have the discussion without disrespecting others.” And, of course, no one would want a social service agency to reveal the private files of their clients or a clinic to reveal their health records. So, where is the transparency middle ground for nonprofits?

We need to begin from one fundamental premise: Transparency is not a technology tool. It is aided by technology. At its core, a value that creates organizational norms. The default setting for too many nonprofit organizations, to date, has been to the closed, proprietary side of the dial. We need a new transparency default setting and err on the side of openness, or sunlight as Ellen would say!

Nonprofits need to begin to ask themselves questions about transparency to guide their work. These questions include:

1. Will sharing this information advance our mission of benefiting our community?

2. How can others build on our content and make it better?

3. Will revealing this information improve morale and make staff feel better informed and able to make decisions on their own?

4. Will sharing this information better connect us to our network and help us to build relationships that we need to be successful?

Nonprofits spend too much time worrying about things that could go wrong or how they might be able to create a new revenue stream with their content. Both conversations are time spent putting up big walls between organizations and their communities. Take the walls down, make transparency the default setting.


Our "Aha" Moments

I had a terrific time as part of a panel yesterday at Baruch College called Social Media and Technology: What Nonprofits Need to Know. The event was co-sponsored by the Personal Democracy Forum. The other panelists were:

  • Andrew Rasiej, Founder of Personal Democracy Forum
  • Deanna Zandt, Media Technologist, Consultant, and Author of the forthcoming book: Share This! How You Will Change the World with Social Networking

The moderator was the spectacular Kyra Gaunt, muscicologist, anthropologist, technologist and every other ologist you can think of!

Farra Trumpeter was in attendance and wrote a terrific summary of the event. But a conversation began during the session on Twitter and continued afterwards that I thought was great fun. Micah Sifry, Andrew’s co-founder at PDF, was tweeting the event. Kyra asked the panelists about their personal “Aha” moments with social media. Mine was the amazing story of the women of Kuwait who used their blackberries, often beneath their burkas, to successfully pass full women’s suffrage in 2005. That was the story that led to my writing Momentum. The end of that story was this spring when, again using their blackberries and personal networks, four women were elected to the Kuwaiti legislature!

Micah started to use the hashtag #aha on Twitter and asked others to tweet their own personal social media aha moments. For hours last night, people around the world were sharing their stories. They included:

  • Micah kicked off the tweets by writing: My SocMed #aha moment was when someone in a #SXSW panel asked the mod for a #hashtag & neither of us knew what he meant
  • antheawatson: Arriving May 08 in rural IN as an Obama FO + finding group of vols with an office doing voter contact. They met on MyBo.
  • Sarah Granger: My #socialmedia #aha moment: launching Gary Hart’s presidential exploratory blog early 2003. Instant community.
  • Pierre Omidyar: @pierre: My #aha: 1996: people using eBay to defy stereotypes and connect unexpectedly with strangers over common passions.

What a great way to extend the panel beyond the walls of the conference room and an absolutely perfect way of using Twitter to share experiences. Thanks, Micah!

Note: Micah just spotted a mistake here with his eagle eye. The tweet attributed to him above about SXSW was actually from Hash Tager. Micah’s “aha” moment is here.


Off to Politics Online

I’ll be speaking at the 2008 Politics Online Conference tomorrow.  I’m on a panel moderated by Micah Sifry with Ben Rattry of Change.org and Randall Winston of Project Agape which manages the Causes application for Facebook.

I’ve been thinking about the intersection of causes and  social networks for a while now and am intrigued more by what we don’t know than what we do.  It seems to me that there is something about the networks that catalyze a cause that are fundamentally different from those that don’t.  Maybe, it’s in large part serendipity, a volatile mix of people and issues at a particular time that has folks talking about Darfur or Obama or Jena Six.  But, I think it is more complicated than that.  I’m still exploring and open to suggestions.

One thing that separates this conference out from most others is the inside-the-Beltway make-up of the attendees.  I’ll be very curious to see what their take is, so far, on the primary elections.  Stay tuned!


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