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May 04, 2005


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I wonder if he'd agree to be interviewed or read a few lines for the dumpster documentary.

Might be. Or better yet read a poem. Since poetry has often been the theme here. What is the role of the poet in wealth bondage? Poetry and the Gift. That is a topic he would enjoy, though who knows whether he would want to consort with riffraff like us. Called me a "revolutionary" today. Wished TV had heard it. Would have changed TV's mind about my being a "tepid liberal." Though, I think, actually TV is closer to it.

I am an amateur student of human nature, Tutor. Before I became a high rollin' organ harvester, I was a bartender. I've found many people with a reputation to lose are willing to consort with riff raff as long they're not subjected to lame bullshit or cheap mockery. They often manage to pull off some detournement of their own.

Yes, Peter is a cocked gun, to use a metaphor with which he ends a poem called "Stillness," written at the Rockefeller estate, Kycuitt. I once got him to agree to be interviewed for WB. Sent him the questions, and he mulled them over, but it was maybe too much. "Peter, how does it feel to be masked in Wealth Bondage, talking about Philanthropy? Or it that about par?"

The frame story makes all the difference.Once you entice people into your frame, which can be preposterous or monstrous, then you can be as moderate and reasonable as can be.

Actually, Peter is going to give me some stuff to post about his upcoming conference, to be broadcast over the web, about "A Better World." Maybe some bloggers will sign up and get the word out. He has left the door open. And invited us in. I think he would welcome any suggestions on how to get his work down to the grassroots. We ended our call today talking about philanthropy from the top down and the importance of organizing as in the old MLK days, that Peter help chronicle via "Eyes on the Prize." He was emphatic that his book is not just for the wealthy and their advisors and retainers. He wants to ask all citizens: "What is your vision of a better world?," and to provide workbooks or whatever else to convene such conversations in small groups around the country. Not unlike the open space giving conference in a way, or blogging circles. He might well be interested in how weblogs could help propagate such a conversation, not just from rich to non-rich, but from citizen to citizen regardless of wealth and status. We also talked about two lines of thought in liberal giving. Over $100 mil has been raised to do the sound bite thing for liberal causes. But Peter too is ambivalent about that, especially as a poet. We both felt that a better approach would be a more open and honest dialogue among diverse citizens about our ideals, shared and not.

The same yearning we feel, he seems to feel and to be finding among his super-wealthy funders. Says the themes are beginning to emerge and that "many think like you." Good news? I think so.

Anyway we could show support by signing up for his web enabled conference on "The world we want."

Always ask the learnéd to teach, Tutor, and to recommend studies for idealists. For example: I would ask Peter Karoff to suggest a literary selection for a young woman contemplating a career in civil liberties law, one that she might not encounter in the course of her studies.

Darn good question.

Peter and TPI are not yet web savvy. But I wonder if there isn't room for a "ask the maven" kind of site or discussion group that might serve as a link between funders, the writers of white papers, the liberal or progressive thinkers, and those who just need a rallying point.

Peter is way too busy to field one off questions from people at random, but if only....

Seems really the most important missing piece is not money but social networks and social capital linking the elite thinkers and funders who are so densely connected with us poor consumer-citizens who are so disconnected and at loose ends. Rather than us applying for piddling grants, or their writing white papers, and hiring pundits, wouldn't it make more sense to have a new Chattauqua?

Might tie in with Peter's book, or be part of book tour? I can see people like Lenore Ealy on the right or Bill Schambra being interested as well. What can we do to heal democracy after 9/11 and so many "wedge issues" driven among us so relentlessly for so many dubious partisan ends?

I know this can be done. I know people who know how to do it. Just say when and where and I will be there and bring some friends with talent and experience.

Gerry, I feel that finally we have a premise - Carnival. And we have an invitation list - Peter's too, and that is one hell of a list. We also have all the progressive nonprofit lists that would tie in with my WB life as giving consultant. But to attract those readers is an all or nothing effort. We get one shot and have to be ready, with content, a premise, and system. Peter is looking to sell his new book, and the workbooks that could be used in things like Open Space Giving Conferences to talk about "What We Want" as citizens. This could be big.

Peter also, as you know, does have access to big funders - very big. I think we have to bootstrap this up to a certain level of credibility with a little volunteer time and a few dollars, as we did the Giving Conference.

Then we have something to show, we could couple that with a grant-seeking program, or gift solicitation, or a pricing mechanism of some kind.

The system has to be very easy to enter, fun, and easy to use, it has to let strangers meet in masquerade and then network via anonymous email and discussion lists and boards until they become friends. We need a place to publish articles on line, a "want ads" kind of thing to pair those needing and those offering resources, a calendar of events, and some kind of "meet up" or Open Space organizing network, where people would plan meetings locally and share via the site, what they have done and learned.

It could be big and important. My inclination is to start with a modest entry point, using existing systems (MT, Haloscan, VisionBoard, Civic Space, Drupal, or whatever) to get it going and tested with our current Dumpster Crew, and when we have something a bit more fun, good looking and splashy, roll it out, maybe in conjunction with Peter's book. And yes dammit, it should be owned in a commons of some sort. Doesn't have to be open source as far as I am concerned, but it has to be nonprofit. "Friends hold all in common," - Greek proverb.

Gerry, one more big point. Peter told me that his funders, many of them, are thinking as we are. He has interviewed a dozen, including some whose annual gifts are well into the millions, and they too are pissed and they too want to have a positive impact on civic conversation. They just do not know how.

So, there is a chance of getting help, but I think we have to bootstrap this up a level before we ask for it. The site has to look better, be more fun, and have a clear theme - Welcome to the Carnival. And we need a few resources, a la civic space or planet works, in the background. We put it out there, get a positive response, build a little and then ask for support. If we can get Peter's book - includingg lessons learned from his big funders who are written up in the book - promoted online and usuable online, you know -positively and for use - that those funders will read the site at least once. Right?

But we want to aim for self-sustaining, not a constant stream of funding. If the site becomes the place to go to raise consciousness and raise money, as well as raise a little hell, there has to be something there we can - as they say - monetize in a good nonprofit cause. (Memberships, want ads for services?)

Gosh, this is scary! It might work.

Couldn't agree more, I'll be in touch. Each of us is seeing it happen from a different side. We have time for maybe 4-8 conferences in a year, I have been to about seven events in the last two or so years, two and a half in the last two months.

The best events create explosive streams of activity and people get and stay connected after. The right amount of cross-polination is a big part of it. Michael Maranda has a list of segments around community networking from the people building physical networks, wireless meshes and the like, to people working in community technology, to indy media and so on. Each has a role to play in transforming the world.

In the end, the if the funders and the volunteer and activists meet at conferences and work together on-line, together they can make anything that they collectively choose as a goal into reality. The technology of this is not primarily systems and software, it is in the domain of human practices, how to work together, how to collaborate, how to reach consensus and so on. The hard technologies are only tools, the primary task is learning to live well and then giving our stories to the following generations.

This place, Wealth Bondage, is one of the important places where these ideas got started and incubated and connected to a hundred other. It's quite a brand to build on already, if you throw in a live show, I think you will have them hooked.

Gerry, as a practical step, even though you are now inside WB on the clock, will you please sign up for the Tues at TPI on the 17th? I want Karoff to see you name on the list, so maybe we can get a conversation going at some point. You know the subtopic of his conference is "Open Space Philanthropy," he is writing a paper drawing on Howard Rheignhold's bibilograhy of papers on the commons, cooperation, and systems. We are at a unique moment. His funders, he tells me, have now awakened. Some want to fund soundbite politics. But more of them want a grass roots democractic peer to peer revival. That is what I hear in what he is telling me. He knows technology is part of this, but his grasp of tech is nil. With great difficulty he has evolved his online conferences, but he tried blogs and stopped.

Very specifically, he will create materials that could be used online and off in an open space or open discussion format. He is looking for a book publisher for the book and accompanying workbook to be called, "The World We Want." He has asked me to read the submissions, and suggest edits. So, I am deep into it. The submissions are from funders who are among the top 100 in the US, as well as from a few idea people. The funders now like us are "milling about," seeking action points.

We can help in the most businesslike way by helping get their materials out into the blogosphere and the open space meetings. Dean-style. The tools exist, right? Could we get a tech team or volunteer crew to participate?

Givers with givers. Some very rich and some broke, but all idealistic and talented. I would stay 100% focused on "What Can I Give....for OUR Vision of a Better World"? I would make sure that anything we create is "in the commons" one way or another. Then as relationships form it can be built out. The capital is clearly available, but rule one of giving is give first, last and always. Asking for something is obtuse. Ask what we can give. The rest follows through the laws of reciprocity.

All I can say is that if you have a tech team that is willing to give of time and talent for open source philanthropy, society will benefit, and maybe good things will flow through the gift networks those who are plugged it into it. Begins with each of us offering our tiny gift.

Most of the career building things that have happened to me over the last 5 years are from the generosity of TPI. Giving of talent and time to them is an excellent "social investment," for me it has had superb Social Return on Invesmtent. Social capital up the wazoo.

So, please sign up, and maybe have some friends do the same, even if you can only glance at the monitor on work time, once in awhile. Form your own opinion of Peter. Don't say anytying, must soak in the ethos. Then afterwards we can regroup and debrief.

Gerry, what really gets to me is the transition of me to we. When I or Peter ask rich funders. "What is the world you want?" The question is sterile because it is like a consumer question, or a buyer question. It is improperly framed. It should go like this, "What is the world your we wants?" Your we. The community you are a part of, or could create? What is your opportunity to lead? Lead whom? That kind of question could align the Dumpster Dwellers with the funders and get something to happen. (I am endebted to Tracy Gary, for that thought process, around the "we" of community and leadership.) She too is in this thing, fierce in defense of community, and catalyzing her funders. And, she too, is totally out of touch with tech.

Let's make a move as volunteers. Just raise our hands and say, "We will help if this advances the commons. We will give to givers."

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