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Vibrant Localism

photoThe first time I noticed was in San Antonio. I was there for a wine festival, and as I made my way from my hotel downtown to a venue in the outer rings, I saw a Chili’s, and a Home Depot, and a Target. Freeway signs, and lots of cars. I forgot where I was.

Maybe I was tired, but I couldn’t see anything that made San Antonio any different than parts of Los Angeles, where I grew up, or northern California where I was living at the time. It all looked the same. I lost my place – not just what exit I needed to take to get to the tasting but what city was I in? Where did I go?

I’m a child of the 80s and 90s – I grew up in the boom of the big box stores and mega-chains and the appreciation of consistency. “If I go to this Chili’s in San Antonio, it will be the same as any other Chili’s anywhere else!” And that, for the moment, seemed like a good thing.

But when there’s nothing left that’s different – nothing left that’s unique – where do you belong? What’s there to remember? What do you call yourself when someone asks where you’re from? You get lost on freeways.

This country didn’t used to be so uniform. As a little kid, I visited Boonviille – a small town in northern California, where I had the best ice cream ever. Boonville has its own language:

Boontling is a folk language spoken only in Boonville in Northern California. Although based on English, Boontling’s unusual words are unique to Boonville, California. Scottish Gaelic and Irish, and some Pomoan and Spanish, also influenced the vocabulary of the language.[1] Boontling was invented in the late 19th century and had quite a following at the turn of the 20th century. It is now mostly spoken only by aging counter-culturists and native Anderson Valley residents. Because the town of Boonville only has a little over 700 residents, Boontling is an extremely esoteric dialect, and is quickly becoming archaic. It has over a thousand unique words and phrases.
Boontling, Wikipedia

Boontling arose from its place. With trails of languages from Native American and immigrant groups, it reflected the unique people, place and time special to Boonville. How do we keep Boontling alive? How do we tell these singular stories?

Hoping for the Vibrantly Local

I think Portlandia is the indicator that a tide is turning. People are turning on their TVs to watch quirky skits about a city that has an identity. We’re making choices that reject the bland, the repetitive, the big box in order to invest in the things that set us apart.

“Local” is trendy, but if local means gentrification of spaces where affordable housing is needed, or inflating prices for fresh food, or reliance on transportation to access specific services, then we are building a localism based on class. We’re invading others’ spaces to reinforce a new localism that further excludes already marginalized groups.

If we care about fairness and inclusivity, the solution is a localism that makes towns, places, communities more stable, that keeps people supported and loved where they already are (if that’s where they wish to be). This is a call to reflect – on bringing your time, attention and money to your community. To speaking out if you can or wish to, to inviting others to do so, and to listening when they do. Invest in your community by listening to the folks who are already there. Majora Carter says it best in her Twitter bio: You don’t have to leave your neighborhood to live better!

This is an ode to vibrant localism, to lively communities, to neighbors who know one another and to what makes us unique, different and separate. This is a beginning.


Bring back the moderates (and celebrate compromise)

No matter what election results you’re rejoicing or bemoaning, there’s a lot to mourn. In the last decade, we have seen many great moderates lose primary or general elections or simply walk away from their (sometimes long-held) electoral offices.

  • Olympia Snowe
  • Richard Lugar
  • Arlen Spector
  • Lincoln Chafee
  • Scott Brown

Lisa Murkowski, another fabulous, smart, thoughtful representative, barely held on to her Senate seat in 2010 after losing the primary election to a tea party candidate.

Everyone bears responsibility, but for the last year or two it feels like the Republican definition of compromise looks a little bit like this:

the McConnell compromise

Republicans are guilty of eschewing compromise – and their thoughtful moderate representatives –  in favor of more ardent, extreme politics. Toeing a party line preferred largely by a narrow base has become more important than getting things done.

The results? The paralysis of the last 4 years. Pending sequestration. A borderline Stormtrooper v. Rebel Alliance relationship between our two major parties. Complete dysfunction.

This harsh election season has been divided not on issues, but on lines of class, ethnicity and gender. White men voted overwhelmingly for Mitt Romney, and almost every other group voted overwhelmingly for Barack Obama. This is an America where everyone feels left out.

Etching these lines of division even deeper won’t make anyone feel better – it’ll just make us angrier – and it won’t help us get anything done. We need a politics of compromise – not of anyone’s core principles, but of our short-term goals. We need to understand that compromise is no sin – it’s a cornerstone of change. We need the bridge-makers who cross party-lines in favor of common sense.

I suggest we commit the next four years to these basic kindergarten principles: Problem-solving, compromise and no name-calling. Leaders like Chris Christie and Mike Bloomberg are setting a new tone, where “red lines” about social issues don’t prevent their ability to be practical when it’s in their constituents’ interests. I never thought I would put these words together, but Governor Christie’s quote from this week captures the spirit we should embody:

“I don’t give a damn about Election Day. It doesn’t matter a lick to me  at the moment. I’ve got bigger fish to fry,” a solemn Christie told  reporters during a morning briefing in which he outlined the damage from  Sandy.
Chris Christie says Sandy first: ‘I don’t give a damn about Election Day’ – Andrew Restuccia (

We’ve all got bigger fish to fry – wars to end, a deficit to address, healthcare and education to improve – it’s time to leave today’s politics behind in favor of a practical, action-oriented politics of compromise.

Building Human Rights into Social Networks #SXsafesocial

  1. The panel “How to Build a Social Network without Getting Users Killed” had a sensationalist-sounding title, but one founded in real concerns. Citizens are becoming citizen journalists, using social and online tools to share real-time information from breaking events. The Arab Spring revolutions became known as Twitter and Facebook revolutions because of the visible role those tools played as accelerators of existing sentiment and action. With this great scale and usage, social network platforms play a key role as a broker of access to information and access to ways to share information.

    But that power is tempered by networks that weren’t necessarily built to play a role in advocacy, and can easily be  manipulated by actors motivated to repress information, expression and ideas. Panelists Jillian York (Electronic Frontier Foundation, Ahmed Shibab-Eldin (Huffington Post), Danny O’Brien (Committee to Protect Journalists) and Sam Gregory (WITNESS) discussed the ways social networks have been manipulated, and what ways they can change to avoid manipulation in the future.
    With a veritable who’s who of the Twitter journalist corps in the room, the session was live-tweeted in detail. 
  2. Share
    The idea that one can bully a company into removing your content really irks me @jilliancyork #sxsafesocial
  3. York opened the discussion with a core idea: Companies can be bullied, manipulated and used to repress information, although, in a sense they are becoming communications utilities.
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    During important time in Egypt, @jilliancyork says, @Ghonim page was taken down because he was anonymous. #sxsw #safesocial
  5. Share
    Why was @jilliancyork blog blocked by Yemen? Because her posts were spammed by pornographers. #safesocial #sxsw
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    York: community policing is vulnerable to abuse for political purposes. Likely example of Moroccan athiest FB page removed. #sxsafesocial
  7. Facebook got a lot of (negative) attention not just because they are one of the most widely used tools but because of concerns about lack of transparency, inadequate response to user concerns and slow adaptation to needs of international users.
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    .@jilliancyork: Facebook’s TOS is in 11 languages, but it’s not enough. It’s not in Arabic, for example. #sxsafesocial
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    York: I pick on Facebook because they’ve been resistant to listening to complaints and concerns from users. #sxsafesocial
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    York: Even though I’m not totally satisfied with Google’s #nymwars response, it showed they actually listened. #sxsafesocial
  11. Both panelists and listeners defended the social networks in one sense – they weren’t built to play pivotal roles in civil discourse. They were built by college students in dorm rooms trying to make it easier to keep up with their friends. They aren’t prepared for attacks from state level actors.
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    #sxsafesocial state level actors now try attacking facebook, google, etc.
  13. Share
    at #sxsafesocial foreign govts love targeted phishing operations against activists
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    Comment from @techsoc: some problems are just issues of scale. Platforms don’t have enough staff to address millions of users. #sxsafesocial
  15. A lot of the negative outcomes are the result of mistaken applications or abuse of spam policies.
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    “algorithmic collateral damage” – algorithms aren’t built to detect human rights violations @danny_at_cpj #sxsafesocial
  17. As journalists adapt to their roles as curators and organizers of shared information, they will be targeted by actors seeking to repress information.
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    O’Brien: you’re going to see more regimes going after data journalists because they’re the ones with the deepest knowledge. #sxsafesocial
  19. So what change is needed? Software developers need to understand that the decisions they make (perhaps in dorm rooms) may have future implications for human rights. Gregory in particular argued that communication and outreach needs to occur between the developer world and the human rights communities, to make sure human rights are “baked in” on the front end. 
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    Designing for human rights and privacy needs to be embedded in developer mindset #sxsafesocial
  21. Share
    Are there ways to create a campaign to make tech wake up to privacy, rights, to leverage change? #SXsafesocial
  22. Share
    #sxsafesocial we should base our terms of service on the UN declaration of human rights.
  23. Share
    Audience comment: Many western CEOs and engineers are unaware that human rights violations are occurring on their platform. #sxsafesocial
  24. Journalist Brian Conley disrupted some of the assumptions underlying the conversation by pointing out that assumptions about working with software terms of service are based on typical American TOS. 
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    Ht @BaghdadBrian: has anyone reviewed tos of social networks across countries? #sxsafesocial
  26. Finally, collaboratively created notes from the session are available on Google Docs. 
  27. Share
    Notes from today’s #sxsafesocial session: #sxsw

Update on Unrest in Mali

  1. Share
    Was at #Niger #Mali border today: thousands of Malian refugees survive in makeshift shelters. Fear returning to unsafe #Azawad Mali region
  2. Share
    #Malian#refugee Zoulfa in #Ayorou, #Niger:”Several armed men entered our village in #Mali & stole everyth. We fled w our children, cattle”
  3. UNHCR reports that more than 44,000 people have fled fighting into neighboring countries Mauritania, Niger and Burkina Faso.
  4. Like populations in many other Sahel countries, Malians are particularly vulnerable in times of civil unrest because they already live a subsistence lifestyle – without reserves of food or funds. As they enter similar subsistence economies in neighboring Sahel countries, they put additional strains on limited resources.

  5. Share
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  7. The violence is also putting strain on democratic institutions in Mali. According to Amnesty International, the Malian government is both arresting suspected Tuareg participants without due process and failing to protect Tuareg people threatened during protests in Bamako, the capital:

    “During the demonstrations, the Malian security forces failed to prevent an angry mob from attacking homes and properties owned by Tuaregs and other ethnic groups – including Arabs and Mauritanians – living in the capital.”  
  8. Violence is spreading out of the Sahara and into the Sahel. Yesterday, armed groups entered Hombori, in Central Mali, and killed the village chief. While some reports attribute the violence to Tuareg rebels, others attribute the murder to Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), which is also active in northern Mali. 
  9. Meanwhile, Malian president Amadou Toumani Toure has announced that the scheduled presidential elections in April will go forward, despite the violence. 

Touareg Rebellion & Unrest in Mali

  1. The history of the Touareg people: a trans-border nation, traditionally nomadic, with no country and unrepresented by the governments that govern them. 

    In the past few weeks, Touareg groups in Northern Mali – newly invigorated, perhaps, by their participation as paid mercenaries in the Libyan conflict – have engaged in armed conflict with the Malian government. The Touareg seek an autonomous region in their homelands in the Sahara.

    As a complicating factor, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb (AQIM) has a strong presence in Touareg areas of Mali. The seriousness of the relationship between AQIM and the Touareg is not clear, but the Al Qaeda in Northern Mali are a growing problem – with kidnappings of westerners and conflicts with neighboring groups. Rumors are rife, reporting is minimal, but civilians are fleeing to neighboring countries and refugee camps are growing. 

    Here’s a summary of news and first hand reporting from Mali. 

  2. The New York Times shares reporting and photos on the ground in Northern Mali, where Touareg rebels are attacking army bases and taking control of villages and towns.
  3. After the Touareg rebels participated in the Libyan conflict, they are better-armed and battle-tested: 

    “They had the advantage of being more numerous, being better armed and having better logistics, including satellite phones,” a Malian government soldier told Reuters on condition of anonymity. “It is the sad truth.”

  4. As a result of violence, civilians are fleeing the area, moving south within Mali and into neighboring Niger and Burkina Faso. The International Committee of the Red Cross reports: 
  5. “”People are fleeing the violence in large numbers, in great haste, and in utter destitution,” said Jürg Eglin, the head of the ICRC’s regional delegation for Niger and Mali. “We are joining forces with the Mali Red Cross and the Red Cross Society of Niger to provide them with food and shelter, and to improve their access to water. The latest assessments made by our staff in northern Mali are particularly alarming.”
  6. Share
    8,000 #Touareg #refugees have fled #Mali and reached neighboring Burkina Faso.
  7. In an area plagued by drought and famine, neighboring countries are unprepared to support refugee camps.

    Translation of tweet below: “In the camps of Malian refugees in Burkina Faso, one lacks everything.”
  8. Share
    #Mali Actu : Dans les camps de réfugiés maliens au Burkina Faso, “on manque de tout”
  9. Reports of war crimes and summary executions follow the violence.
  10. Share
    #Mali Mali: Mali says soldiers, civilians executed during Tuareg clashes #crisismanagement
  11. Meanwhile, the Malian president, Amadou Toumani Toure, answers to complaints from military supporters and “searches for a solution” through regional mediation. 
  12. Share
    Mali /Burkina Faso : Amadou Toumani Touré et Blaise Compaoré cherchent une issue à la crise malienne:” #Mali #Burkina
  13. In more quotidien concerns, the Malian musical group Tinariwen was unable to accept their Grammy award as a result of the violence.
  14. Share
    RT @philinthe_: 4,000 displaced from #Tessalit, #Mali, including band @TINARIWEN who were unable to accept grammy yesterday bcos they are living in desert

A Strategy for Occupy in 2012

As the police (and winter) chased occupiers out of parks over the last few months, the Occupy movement has lost momentum, and clarity of purpose. Holding the parks became the point for awhile, but the occupiers were never going to hold the parks for long.

From a public relations perspective, the Occupy movement is in a better position without the parks. Clashing with the cops dehumanizes protesters in the eyes of the wider public (just as much as it delegitimizes the police in the eyes of protesters). The clashes in the parks distract from the clear sound of the protester’s voice – and it’s time to make that voice clear again.

Put a Face on the Movement

At the moment it’s too easy to dismiss the Occupy movement with the same language Nixon used to describe Goldwater: Hippies, unemployed, lazy, drug addicts, Communists, Socialists, Fascists, etc. Language dragged out of the political archives because it invokes visceral, patriotic, nationalistic reactions and dehumanizes the described. It’s time for the Occupy movement to prove its averageness – and to offer the curious onlooker a way to identify with the movement.

Unfortunately, that does mean a little bit of centralization: Providing a clear voice for the movement that represents the best possible consensus of the occupiers. And that means voting when necessary, and outlining diverse ways for supporters to participate. Ultimately, it means thinking clearly through the different types of people who already do and who might identify with the movement: Students, the unemployed, the poor, whoever – and thinking about how they view their own place in the world. They may not view themselves as the type of person who clashes with police in parks – but they may take more subtle action.

Convincing those people to participate means clearly appealing to their position and clearly describing the movement’s priorities. But here’s what it doesn’t mean: It does not mean the movement is responsible for finding all the solutions. it just means that the movement will have a cohesive center that has a few clear priorities that legislators and the powerful will be held accountable for.

Get Outraged About the Outrageous

The easiest place to find those clear messages to agree upon are in the truly outrageous areas of the American political discourse: Income inequality and the death of the middle class. Watching Kim Kardashian on TV must be a little bit like listening to Marie Antoinette tell the peasants to eat cake. The American middle class is an idealized and almost fetishized institution, but the middle class is shrinking and the numbers of poor are growing. Meanwhile the American public supports tax cuts for the richest Americans because they still believe in the biggest piece of the American dream: that someday maybe they’ll be rich. That someday maybe they’ll benefit from that tax cut.

It’s time to explain that Occupy isn’t some kind of half-baked Robin Hood operation. No one is suggesting we should behead Bill Gates and take all his money. But there are clear ways in which the tax, regulatory and public policy machines in the United States support the continued concentration of wealth in the – well – 1%. So here’s a clear policy agenda, from this Occupier, in hopes of clarifying the discussion.

  1. Simplify tax code. Ensure you don’t need a lawyer and tax accountant to understand the tax code.
  2. Roll back the Bush tax cuts. We can’t afford them. Any further justification, or discussion, is stupid.
  3. Reduce the military budget. The military stage of the Iraq war is over; combat expenditures are reduced. Take a rational look at the peacetime budget.
  4. Refocus tax and finance regulation and enforcement. Focus IRS investigators on large-time fraud. Give the SEC some muscle. Give the Consumer Protection Commission enforcement capacity.

I haven’t mentioned the entitlement programs not because I don’t think they need work, but because I think they’d be advanced compromise, and this country is barely ready for beginner’s compromise.

Image Credit: WilliamBanzai7

Karl Rove’s Cynicism and the Payroll Tax Cut

Karl Rove is no longer in the White House and  no longer holds a title or literal power in the political sphere – so perhaps his cynicism shouldn’t surprise. But his comment below (about the payroll tax cut) illuminates the cynicism (and failure) of the American political system:

Use it for political theater and then vote the extension and get out of town.

It is appalling that’s it’s acceptable to suggest, in all seriousness, that legislators should make their political decisions based not on what’s best for the American public but based on salvaging victory and political theater. And this comment arouses no shock, no surprise and no outcry.