Doug Kaye has posted his interviews with Marc Danziger, COO of Spirit of America, and force of nature; and Kerry Dupont, SoA’s Director of Procurement/Logistics. They give a good insight into how SoA evolved and, importantly, how the project is embraced by all sides of the political spectrum. (Kerry gives a great example: her husband is very conservative and his mother’s a committed liberal. “At dinners, I think we’ll end up throwing wine.” But both of them embrace the SoA vision–and specifics–enthusiastically. Kerry tells more here.)
Dave Winer, bless his heart, is a reliable curmudgeon. When no one can find something wrong with Spirit of America, Dave is the loyal opposition, cautioning the rest of us clueless enthusiasts from joining hands in our shared ignorance:
Jeff Jarvis is promoting a site called Spirit of America. I don’t know much about it, and I don’t sign up for political causes I don’t know much about. I see other bloggers singing glowing praises for it, but sheez, how the heck could they know? I don’t think bloggerdom should be used the way people use talk shows on TV. I said I don’t stand up for causes I don’t understand. I guess that’s a polite way of saying that I don’t even like what they’re doing. I think we need to get over ourselves in America, because our time is just about over, unless we stop guzzling so much gas and start electing leaders with brains, morals and courage. I feel I have to say I like Jeff, I really do, he’s come through for me twice at BloggerCon, and I appreciate that. But his politics are 180 degrees opposite mine, even on tactics. I think the best thing the US can do for the world is get our own house in order and stop trying to fix the world, something we’re exceedingly bad at.
I agree that we Americans have to get over ourselves, but that’s mostly because we’re a subset of that egotistical species, homo sapiens, that needs, collectively, to get over itself. Fat chance! About as likely as the absurd hope that we’ll stop guzzling gas and start electing leaders with brains, morals and courage. As the military says, a hope is not a plan, and hoping for the impossible is a waste of time and bandwidth.
Alan Kay famously said that “The easiest way to predict the future is to invent it.” It’s a clever way to suggest that the only way to prove something is worth doing is to make it worthy.
Let’s be clear: Dave Winer has invented more future than anyone in the blogosphere. A couple of months ago, Mitch Kapor told me that the computer industry has spent the last ten years implementing the ideas Dave Winer had originated. That’s heady praise, indeed, and true. So when Dave pushes back, it’s good to listen.
But I’m missing the dark, ugly American aspects of SoA. Even Dan Gillmor is more optimistic than Dave, and Dan is our most trusted and insightful doubter of All-American cure-alls. The only problem he sees is that gear might not reach its intended recipients:
There are all kinds of things that can go wrong. Violence could make the relief work impossible. Someone might misuse or steal what gets sent overseas. The organization might not be able to handle the requests effectively. But Hake is building in what safeguards he can, and the finances of the non-profit will be made available for anyone to view on the Web site.
Tomorrow is Memorial Day in America. We remember and honor those who have fallen in service of their nation.
Maybe we can’t put aside our politics when we contemplate this war. I have my own strongly negative feelings about what President Bush and his advisers have done in Iraq, and wish we had not stopped halfway in Afghanistan.
We owe something to the people of those nations. Jim Hake and his crew can’t solve the world’s, or a nation’s, problems by themselves. They can help. So can the rest of us.
How Do I Question Thee? Let Me Count the Ways
Is it a problem that Americans choose to share their abundance with Iraqis? Is that a bad example? Should we not take advantage of the communications power of the Internet and the logistical miracles of space-available air freight? Which of SoA’s self-absorbed, questionable initiatives shall we stifle?
I understand the threat of irresponsible giving that Dave is cautioning us against. Oh, it started harmlessly enough when Dianna Smith humored her husband, Special Forces Sgt. First Class Jay Smith. Jay had asked Dianna to send baseball equipment so he and his buddies could organize a Little League program for Afghani kids in the town of Orgun-e, 20 miles from Pakistan. See, this is how these imperial initiatives start: innocent-appearing, but with a Pax Americana motivation. The hapless volunteers should have recognized the xenophobic threat in the next slide down the slippery slope when they helped load 2 tons – 4,000 pounds! – of Frisbees for delivery to Iraq.
There is surely a diabolical back story behind the nine Arab TV stations that the Marines are about to equip, thanks to about $1,500,000 donated in a week when the idea was raised at SoA. The Marines had found the buildings and, I guess, antennas for the nine stations, but the equipment had been destroyed. Now the equipment is in Iraq, ready to be delivered and lighted up. The stations will be turned over to Iraqi ownership and management, but the Marines have stipulated that the stations must accept the Marines’ paid commercials, urging Iraqis to not kill . . . wait for it . . . Marines! You do see the propaganda machine they’re setting up, don’t you? Soon the Marines will be broadcasting where the kids can pick up their frisbees.
I have a soft spot in my heart for American GI’s. I hauled a ton of ’em around Vietnam in ’67 and ’68. Couldn’t find a bad one in the bunch. As an airlift pilot (trash hauler), I’m aware of the good deeds that airlift crews have done. Did you know that, during the Berlin Airlift, the crews would airdrop candy with little parachutes they’d stay up half the night preparing? You DO know that candy causes cavities don’t you? There you have it: another plot against the world’s disadvantaged.
OK. I’ve gone over the top with this Fox News commentator persona. But we moderates don’t often have the luxury of teasing those who question straightforward humanitarianism. But there’s a deeper opportunity here, and if it’s not progressive, what is?
Strike Force Echo: Fulfillment Specialists
Coming Soon to a Global Theater near Someone
Echo is what follows Delta in the phonetic alphabet. Every Tom Clancy fan knows about Strike Force Delta, the Rambo-ish commandos prepared to project deadly force anywhere in the world that our wise leaders send them. But perhaps SoA can help us develop a new model? What if US military specialists were deployed all over the globe on random acts of kindness and senseless generosity? What if they were the fulfillment arm of the largesse of American citizens? The last mile for FedEx deliveries, as it were?
This seems to be Micah Sifry’s inkling today:
“Out of solidarity with my friends Britt Blaser and Jeff Jarvis, here’s a plug for Spirit of America, a people-to-people effort to bring vitally needed aid to the peoples of Iraq and Afghanistan.
I suppose this falls into the category of “if you’re stuck with lemons, make lemonade.”
Next time, let’s do this before the fools in Washington invade another country, OK?
Micah, who has earned his cynicism from a lifetime in politics, is clearly restrained and is acting out of personal loyalty as enthusiasm for SoA. The thing to remember about Micah is that he does more good stuff while skeptical than most of us do out of childish enthusiasm (my M.O.).
Micah’s parting shot is the part that stirs my juices, as well as Jeff’s, who calls SoA “open-source nation-building“. OSNB also energizes Jim Moore, with whom I’ve been exchanging voicemails, conjecturing together how this model might extend to ending genocide in the Sudan, which Jim has been championing ever since he discovered what happens when you remove the ID from President: The Passion of the Present.
The designer in me imagines a set of protocols for peer-to-peer sharing forced upon the U.S. government by the spontaneous generosity of the American people. When we want to project our generosity onto the world, Strike Force Echo swings into action, airlifted into action by the white C-130s (natch) with the teddy bear logos on the tail.
So maybe Strike Force Echo could be the promotion path for Delta Force guys.
The battle-hardened Teddy Bears in the white helmets;
We deliver the goods that make you feel good!
A Stitch in Time
I have a dream, and it’s about how to engage every citizen on the planet in a global village economy. When I heard about the 1,000 sewing machines that SoA is preparing to deliver, it dredged up a three-year-old vision I had to disrupt the Taliban’s patriarchy with some good old Yankee P2P trade:
- Get Muslim women to produce shawls, burkas, etc.
- Advertise the goods to American women who want to support the effort
(purchasing the goods as crafts in an expression of solidarity;
a $100 burka on your wall is a Muslim family free to be)
- Somehow exchange the goods by putting money in the hands of Muslim women
That “somehow” detail put the idea on the back burner until Micah Sifry and I had coffee with Rodger Desai, who has experience with middle eastern cellular systems and is also excited about SoA. Rodger’s interested in many intiatiatives, and assisted with the Grameen Bank microcredit project when he was with Accenture. I asked him how to monetize an Afghani or Iraqi woman’s labor, and he has what sounds like a practical solution: Phone cards.
Heh. It turns out that you can add value to another person’s unique phone card via PayPal. Then the other party can redeem the credits, if the issuer is willing. Rodger suggested that USAID might be the agency to redeem phone card credits for real cash.
Adopt the High Way
Spirit of America will be operating on the Adopt-a-Highway model, where clubs and organizations take responsibility for specific civic projects. Marc Danziger suggests that, when the Marines document the need for an irrigation pump for an Iraqi village, the need is publicized like an auctiuon item, until a person or group takes responsibility for it.
It’s a small stretch to see that our best collective urges and actions can force the government to take the bureaucracy out of nation-building and put the human heart into diplomacy. It might be called the POW! doctrine of defeating warfare with the use of the overwhelming force of kindness.
As Dan Gillmor says, “Jim Hake and his crew can’t solve the world’s, or a nation’s, problems by themselves. They can help. So can the rest of us.“
And a start is the most fun of all.