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The power of personal greeting

“Caterina Fake, one of the founders of Flickr, siad she’d leanred from the early days taht ‘you have to greet the first ten thousand users personally.'” — Clay Shirky, Here Comes Everybody

Whether it’s online or face-to-face, organizing is all about relationships.

You can’t automate relationships. You can’t outsource them. They have to be made on a one-on-one basis over time; again and again; by the tens, hundreds, and thousands.

Are you willing to fail enough to succeed?

“Open source ecosystem is a profound threat, not because the open source eecosystem is outsucceeding commercial efforts but because it is outfailing them.” -Clay Shirky Here Comes Everybody

For all we’re about change, sometimes community organizers can be very afraid of it.

We stick to the same marches, the same chants, the same fundraisers. We do what we’ve seen work in the past.

But if we’re going to be about change, we should be willing to try it for ourselves, even if that means trying out tactics that flop.

Be bold. Try new things. Be willing to fail your way into success.

Clay Shirky

picture of recipe card

How does the Internet change the way we cook up social change?

In Here Comes Everybody:

The “Change We Can Believe In” Begins with Us

Last night I attended the annual Concert for Peace to benefit Michigan Peaceworks.

I left angry.

The mood of the concert, especially of the emcee, was one of despair.

Now, I can  understand why progressives would be dissatisfied with the Obama presidency now: we’re still in Iraq, we’re escalating in Afghanistan, Guantanamo Bay is still running, and healthcare reform and global warming policy are more modest than many would have hoped for.

Still, I found the soul-sucking despair of the concert to be ill-informed and inappropriate.  Here’s why:

  1. Liberal Obama-bashing forgets just how bad things were under Bush, or how bad they would be under McCain. Yes, I want a more robust health care bill, but McCain’s plan was to tax employer healthcare benefits. Yes, I want the U.S. to withdraw from Afghanistan and Iraq, but McCain was the one singing “bomb-bomb-bomb, bomb-bomb Iran,” and under Bush that almost happened. And climate change legislation wouldn’t even be on the map.
  2. If progressives write off Obama too early, we will limit his ability to promote progressive policies. What I hear from many on the left right now is that they’ve given up on anything good from Obama. Well, if that’s the case, and if we’re not out there organizing for good things to come from the presidency, then you can pretty much expect he won’t have the political capital to do anything good. The tea-party crowd will have the day.
  3. Putting all our hopes on Obama is a type of “messianic politics.” It assumes that an all-wise, all-powerful leader will ascend to the throne presidency, save the world from the forces of big oil and arms contractors, and usher in a time of progressive bliss. It doesn’t work that way. Even the best political leaders need strong social movements to hold them accountable. As FDR famously said when lobbied for progressive union policies, “Okay, you’ve convinced me. Now go out there and make me do it.” Leadership is important, we’ll get more good and less bad out of Obama than we would have McCain, but we still need to organize.
  4. Expecting large-scale wins on the whole progressive agenda in just a year ignores that presidents can only deliver a small amount to their base. In his first six years, President Bush was very powerful, yet  he didn’t ban abortion. He didn’t ban lawsuits against large corporations. He didn’t privatize social security. There were many items on the conservative agenda that he could not deliver, and that was even with his massive support post-9/11. I think the hopes were too high to think that in less than 1 year Obama would restore the economy, bring the troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan, end global warming pollution, create a single-payer healthcare system, and abolish subsidies for agribusiness. If those were your hopes, I’m sorry, but they deserve to be dashed.
  5. Disappointment in Obama’s regarding Afghanistan and healthcare reform forget that what he’s delivered is pretty much what he promised. Obama never promised a public option, much less single-payer healthcare. He did promise to escalate in Afghanistan. Also, as Juan Cole points out, when he was sworn in, the military brass didn’t necessarily buy into getting out of Iraq, and it seems he’s won that battle.

So, where do we go from here?

  1. We need to recognize our job is to change the context in which the politicians make their decisions. We need to organize so that it is easy for Obama to make decision we support and hard for him to make ones we opp0se (this would be the same approach if anyone were in the White House). We can’t do this if we only hang out in our liberal ghettos talking to people who only agree with us and whining on blogs (like I’m doing now). We need to get out there and talk to people who don’t already agree with us and we need to help the people who do agree with us to take action.
  2. We need to get the most good out of the Obama presidency as we can. That means criticizing decisions we don’t like. It also means giving support to decisions we do like. Like Rabbi Lerner of Tikkun says, our job is to “support Obama to be Obama.”
  3. We need to learn how to govern and inspire. The Bush years were great training on how to criticize, complain, and tear down. We’ve almost gotten to be too good at that. Now we need to learn how to lead and build up when we have potential allies in power, and I don’t think the rapid-response criticism we perfected under the previous administration is the best way to do that.

Thanks for sticking with me through this little rant. After eight years of working constantly to defeat stupid ideas like building new nuclear weapons or bombing Iran, I’m grateful for the chance now to work to support good ideas like healthcare reform and global warming legislation.

Do I wish there were more change? Yes.

And I know better than to wait for Obama to deliver that change like a Christmas present. I have to work for it. WE have to work for it.

Let’s organize.

[NOTE: Please don’t take my frustration with this event as a dis on Peaceworks. They do great work that I really support. That’s why I go to their fundraisers, give money, and eagerly work with them on projects.]

In the hospital

Okay, this is a bit of a deviaiton from my regular blog format, but it seemed the best way to only have to write up the full background of what’s happening and not have to keep re-typing it.

Main point: I’m in the hospital, and probably will be until around December 7. I had a brain hemmhorage in which, the doctors believe, a vein leaked. The good news is that things like this in the veins rarely happen again, and I’ve seen no sign of damage due to this. My extended hospital stay is so the doctors can continue to monitor me to be sure it is indeed a vein issue and not an aneurysm.

How this happened: Yesterday, November 29, While out for a run, I experienced an excruciating headache. The pain spread to my neck, and I initially thought the headache was cused by a muscule strain in my neck.

I walked home and tried to rest it off. When I started vomiting, Nancy took me to the Urgent Care facility near our house.

The urgent care facility evaluated me and called for an ambulance to St. Joseph’s Mercy Hospital. They did a CT scan on me and saw the blood in my brain. St. Joe’s does not have a neurology department, to they transferred me to the University of Michigan Medical Center.

At the UM medical center they gave me another CT scan. They aslo gave me an angiogram, in which they thread a catheter into my body at the femoral artery (by my groin) and up thourgh my body and nect. From there they can inject dies that show up on X-rays to see if the bleeding was from a vein–which would be good (but not as good as this never happening) or an artery (which would be very bad, and in which case they would have to have surgery to repari the artery).

The result of the angiogram showed no sign of an aneurysm (thank God), so they believe the probelm to be one of vein bleeding.

Vein bleeding heals itself, and is very unlikely to re-rupture. The damage, if any, will be minimal, and I have not noticed any decrease in function from this ordeal.

The doctors are keeping me in the hospital for about a week so they can continue to monitor me–they want to be sure that it isn’t an aneurysm. They have another angiogram planned for about 7 days from now, and I”m hooked up to all the proges and monitory.

The pain from the bleeding is still very intense. That is, it is whne the pain relievers wear off.

Nancy, of course, had been pretty scared during all this. She’s done well and has been grateful for the support of her friends and family.
WHAT THIS MEANS:
1. I ill be out of the office for at least a week. Any meetings I had scheduled will need to go on without me or be re-scheduled.

2. I will be in limited cell phone and email contact. My cell phone number is 734-663-1870, email is chuck@icpj.net. With a week laid up, I am willing to stay involved when the balance between pain and pain medication allows me to, but I cannot commit to anything.

3. I’m feeling as good as could be expected (back to that balance between pain and pain medication), and I have books, podcasts, and my computer to entertain me. That said, you are welcome to stop by if you like. Right now I’m in the Neurology ICU, they plan to move me to a regular room in a few days. Please don’t feel obligated! For many of you, I will be asking enough of you to re-shuffle the pieces while I’m away.

4. I’m also giving thanks. Between the fire last week and the hemorrhaging this week we’ve experienced two things that were really scary, very inconvenient, but overall quite minor. I give thanks for the person who called in the fire and the fire department–If the fire had gone 10 more minutes more the whole place could have gone up. I’m thankful for everyone in the ICPJ community who wished us well after the fire and who helped step forward to get things done. I’m thankful for the medical professionals who have been caring for me, and the friends who have been there with Nancy as she has sat and worried. I’m also very happy for whoever invented the pain medicine I’m on right now.

In peace,
-Chuck

Like watching grass grow

I may not be able to see how fast my grass grows, but I know how often I need to water it.

I may not be able to see how fast my grass grows, but I know how often I need to water it.

I once heart Tanja Markus of SIPAZ say, “Working for peace is like watching grass grow.”

Yes, working for peace is often slow, and like watching grass grow, you might not see immediate results.

But if I can’t tell how fast my grass is growing it by watching, I can tell how fast it’s growing by how often I have to mow it.

Be patient, but also be determined to create real change.

Timeline for moblizing for an action

What should you be doing as you count down the days to a big event?

What should you be doing as you count down the days to a big event?

In Tools for Radical Democracy, Minieri and Getsos have an excellent timeline for how to get the word out and mobilize people for an action. I’m not going to re-type the whole thing because, a) I want them to be able to sell their book, it’s a good one, and b) I’m too lazy.

But, here’s a quick summary of the key points in it:

  • Four weeks out: Send a mail or email to everyone on your contact list who could potentially come to the action.
  • Three to four weeks out: Call everyone on your list who would potentially come to the action and ask them to commit to coming.
  • Two weeks out: Call everyone who said “yes” on the first round of calls and everyone you left a message for to confirm that they will come.
  • One week out: Send a confirmation post card to everyone who said they are coming after the second round of phone calls.
  • Two or three days out, up until the day of the action: Call everyone who said they are coming to remind them.

Here’s what I like about the system:

  • It contacts people multiple times. It doesn’t expect that just one “touch” will be enough.
  • It uses multiple methods to reach people (PR folks would say it’s “multichannel”). Some people barely read their email, some only scan their mail, others don’t answer their phone. You don’t have to worry about that with this method because it uses multiple channels.
  • It tells people that their attendance is important. If you’ve made all this effort to get them there, it must be a big event!
  • It involves volunteers. Phone banking is a volunteer-intensive effort and a great way to get people involved.
  • It cuts through the email chatter.
  • It reaches people who don’t do email (or don’t do it well).

If your audience is tech-savvy, I would add a few other things in here:

  • Facebook events with reminders at 4 weeks, 2 weeks, and 3 days;
  • Email reminders at 2 days out;
  • Twitter posts regularly for all 4 weeks whenever there is another facet of the event to update about.

My Passover questions this year

Last night I walked home listening to the Speaking of Faith interview with Avivah Zornberg about Passover. Much of the Passover observance centers around asking questions, Avivah Zornberg’s interview left me with 3 questions for this year:

  1. Exodus says that the Passover meal should be eaten in haste. There is a sense of urgency here. Do we have the same sense of urgency about today’s struggles for liberation?
  2. Exodus is a process. It begins with the first acts of revolt of the Hebrew midwives. It continues and Moses resists the exploitation when he is in Egypt, through the plagues, across the Red Sea, into the wilderness before the Israelites reach the promised land. Where are we in the process of liberation for this generation? What challenges does it face for us? What is our task at this stage?
  3. One of the key themes in the story is the hardness of Pharaoh’s heart. How have we hardened our own hearts? Whose suffering have we become indifferent to? To Iraqis? To Palestinians? To Israelis? To people who were formerly incarcerated? To the poor? To that family member who really gets on our nerves? How do we soften our hearts and avoid the pattern of Pharaoh?

I have thoughts about these questions, but no clear answers. Indeed, even to ask question 3 is a scary proposition, because when we open our heart we may find we are called to respond (and how to respond leads to even more questions). But still we must ask.

Chuck’s Challenge Update

So I recently invited friends, family, and other people who want to see me act foolish in public to donate to ICPJ as part of a Birthday challenge.

I said if we raised $250 I’d shave my head, $500 I’d recite the Lorax in public, and $1000 I’d run a half marathon in a pink peace fairy costume (details at www.thewarpreport.org)

Well, the most excitement was around the Lorax and the fairy run.

We’ve raised $1,214, which is enough to get me into a tutu with a tiara and a wand (and get it on video), but there was so much interest in the Lorax, I’ve decided to extend the deadline.

If we can get up to $1,500 by Monday, April 13 I’ll do BOTH.

So, if you’d like to get the Lorax reading AND the run of the peace fairy, you can donate now at:
http://tinyurl.com/chuckschallenge

Almost final total

With just 7 1/2 hours to go, the Birthday Challenge total is up to $1,204. That’s enough for a Lorax Reading OR a Peace Fairy race, but not for both. Will we cross the $1,500 mark?

We’ve cracked $1000

Thank you so much to everyone who has donated to the Birthday Challenge. Our latest total is $1004! That’s enough to have the peace fairy run in the Dexter Ann Arbor Run.

What I’ve heard as the most asked-for requests are:
–Peace Fairy
–Lorax
–Shaved head

We could do all 3 for $1,750. AND we could support a great local group that brings people together for peace and justice.