Every week, on Spotify, you’ll get a playlist of someone’s favorite music.
Every week, on Spotify, someone else will get a playlist of *your* favorite music.
Greg, the man who built it, has a fascinating story.
He was one of the 14 people working at Instagram when it was acquired by Facebook. He was the only person who quit rather than work at Facebook. Instead, he relocated to New York.
Since then, he’s been building computerish art projects. Disco is one example, but there are a ton more.
When we met, he was about to publish Breaking The News, which was a series of threedifferentways to explore the audio of 5-minute NPR news updates in a fun and strange fashion. My favorite, “Don’t Play With Your News”, allows you to “refrigerator magnet” different words said by NPR hosts, and construct a sentence you can hear out loud. The NPR “studio voice” is so flat and stylized that different newscasters, speaking in different decades, can still have their bits of words glommed together to create something new. It’s fascinating.
Greg is cool. He’s a living example that you can break away from bigCorp and use computers for art instead of commerce. That you can step off the treadmill but still be technical. And he keeps giving us gifts along the way.
Imagine a city, on a beach. Relatively bustling. Prosperous — more or less. At least, the parties are really fun (for those allowed in). And the art and food is really good (for those who can afford the best food and have the money for art). Sure, sometimes people disappear, never to be heard from again. Sometimes strange ritual chanting rings out at night. But the chanting never hurt anyone — at least, not one of our people. And the disappearances, well, they’re not of anyone important. Or at least, anyone disappeared is no longer important. The city endures. The city thrives.
Then, one day, a tsunami hits. Trees are uprooted. Sand and dirt are blasted away. The city comes together to save itself. Heroes reveal themselves.
But, so, too, does something horrible. In the midst of heartwarming cooperation, the citizens realize a truth. The entire city was built on the site of an old temple to the mad god Bel-Shamharoth. The mayor was a vampire the whole time. Those parties were also recruiting sites of the more refined cults.
There’s a crisis to deal with, sure. But, in the apocalypse, the veil has finally lifted. No one will quite look at each other the same way again.
What foundations have been exposed by the tsunami we are now facing? Now that the dirt and cobblestones of “normal times” are being ripped away, what truths stand stark, bold, and naked?
It might be too early to be certain. But I have some hunches. Keep an eye on these storylines in the times ahead:
We’re going to learn a lot more about leveraged buyouts and private equity.
We saw it, for weeks, with our eyes. Trump, Republicans, Fox News, the conservative movement — all lying about Corovirus. Calling it a hoax, downplaying the threat, saying that the left was hyping it as “second impeachment.”
We saw the absolute, morally criminal lack of preparedness. The the hospitals not prepared, the population not distanced, the mocking of anyone who took this seriously.
We saw the clownish press conferences, claiming that “it’s only a flu”, that everything was under control, etc. The sort of obsequiousness to Trump that would be laughable if it wasn’t so scary. We saw Fox News hosts downplay the threat. Even in the last we saw Trump shaking hands during a press conference about the virus.
The propaganda onslaught from the right is coming. They’re going to try to pretend it never happened.
How does adult friendship work? Imagine you meet someone great. You ask them to hang out sometime — maybe for drinks? You convince them that you’re not just being polite: you really want to be friends. They accept, and you go out for drinks, and have a great time. Then maybe you plan dinner. Hooray! You do that. Now what? More dinner dates for the rest of your life? Assuming you meet once a month, that means at most you can have 30 friends in town. No thanks.
That also sounds exhausting. I hate bars. And, while staring at someone over a table can be nice sometimes, there are whole vistas of human friendship interaction lost in this model. Playing games! Building things together. Arts and crafts. Projects. Music. Events. Cafehopping. Parallel play. Founding neighborhood associations.
There’s an alternate approach that works for me, and maybe you’ll find it useful.
I have a friendship card. I hand it to people liberally. And I invite them to hang out with me at an event. That’s it.
Here’s how an exchange typically goes:
Me: hands them a card, looks them in the eye “Let’s be friends!” Them: Smile, put card away. Stop. Look at it again. “Wait, this card literally says let’s be friends on it.” Me: “Yes, this isn’t my business card, it’s a friendship card. Let’s hang out.” Them: suddenly taking this offer of friendship more seriously. “Cute! Let’s be friends. I like it. Write code, defeat evil, okay” Me: “You’ll notice that it’s a villain mustache being *defeated*”. Them: “Haha, love it. Okay, let’s be do this.” We exchange numbers, FB info, whatever Me: “Listen, I’m throwing an event in a couple weeks. A big all-day outdoor picnic with a bunch of new and old people. The idea is that it’s long enough that you can show up on your schedule. Wanna come?” Them: maybe/yes/no/etc…
This can be really fun! I’ve had the same basic design for almost eight years now, and it’s become part of my personality. These things happened to me:
Once, I handed a new-to-me one of these. He paused, and said something like: “wait, I’ve had one of these in my wallet for two years”, and then we realized that we had actually met before. Oops! Now we hang out all the time.
I was instantly offered a job based on my “demonstrated passion for community”
So many friendships have been solidified this way.
More than one romance has been kicked off this way. (i.e. “I know this card says let’s be friends, but what if we were at least friends?”)
I threw a birthday party for a dear friend based on this giant picnic friendship model. Over 100 people came. To this day I’m meeting people, then we realize they were at that birthday, and then we instantly connect.
Jobs, romances, fellowships, people even made a band together because they met at one of these giant-friendship-picnic-parties I do.
I’m pretty sure I sealed the deal on my current partner because I invited her to one of these picnics and she could see how happy I was surrounded by friends.
So, to repeat:
Be clear about your desire for friendship. Cards (not business cards!) work great.
Always have an event queued up to invite people to
Cross-pollinate new friendships at these events to build sustainable community.
The component parts:
First, be clear about your relationship intentions. I’m not here to be LinkedIn acquaintances, and I’m not here to flirt.
Second, always have a previously-scheduled upcoming event so that you can invite people to it. Make it a big one with lots of friends, new and old.
Third, at the event, introduce people to each other. That way, you start creating the building blocks of a community. There’s no way you can spend as much 1-1 time with people as you’d like. So get them to spend 1-1 time with each other, and bask in the communal good vibes and long-term connections all around you.
For more on friendship, check out StartingBloc — one of the best collections of good people in my life.
It was going to be a hub for left-wing organizing in Rochester and rebirth of the blogging scene (vs that dastardly enemy, Facebook). I missed writing for RochesterTurning, and wanted to also prove to my new radical friends that electoral, institutional, and radical leftist politics could play nice together. So I founded this project.
It lasted for about two months before I left town. Oops!
Thanks to the Wayback Machine, I just recovered every post, and archived them on this site.
I’m most proud of this one:
The kickoff post (and also the about page) give a sense of my ambitions at the time:
There’s a flourishing ecosystem of different grassroots groups in our neighborhoods. Dedicated and smart people are experimenting with new tactics and organizing models every day. However, these groups often aren’t aware of each other, can’t learn from each other, and don’t work together. There’s a real lack of movement communication and movement consciousness. We’ll need much more of both if we want to succeed.
We’re going to build a community online that consists of the broad left in Monroe County. Organizers and onlookers, center-left and radical left, electoral and direct action. As the community grows in numbers and coherence, so will our power. Specifically, as the community grows, we’ll draw more people to get involved in “meatspace”, connect disparate parts of the movement together, and push existing organizations towards excellence and accountability.
Meanwhile, there’s a battle between the democracy/civil rights orgs who say: “absolutely never delay elections, this could set precedent for very bad things”, and others who say “are you insane? Crowding election places run by elderly poll workers is a recipe for needless death”. Maybe both are right.
In Illinois, it seems like the workers took charge: they just didn’t show up to the election places. Polling locations are closed all over chicago, I hear. There is weird stuff happening in national politics. Trump is saying one thing “checks for everyone!” while his negotiators are trying to get the opposite. Some D senators have good plans, some R senators have good plans. But R senators are also trying to make things worse. Seems like a mess of confusion.
I begin to hate group phone calls or video calls even more. An event I’m helping plan is transitioning to becoming a long conference call that is also a passover seder.
Will it work?
Friends are beginning to host social events online. Live concerts. Trivia times. Webinars. The concerts are fun to listen to. Everything else takes more participation energy than I want to give. I can’t stand staring into a webcam any more.
Last night, I got into a long talk with my dad about social insurance, pandemics, and taking things seriously. Thankfully, it seems like he’s isolating correctly. I’m not too worried about them: my whole life, there’s been a stockpile of food in my parent’s basement. My mom reminds me that she stayed home before, during the 1979 Iranian Revolution. Instead of leaving home and getting sick, the danger was leaving home and getting shot. Ah.
Except for that one cold walk, I haven’t left the home in days.
We have to be aware of the disaster profiteers. Not the small time chumps selling Purell at markup from their garages. I mean the titans of industry that will grab as much free money as they can.
In History Time, ideas that used to be laughable are now on the table. After 9/11, the FBI took out their wishlist from a filing cabinet, bound it up on one bundle, called it the Patriot Act, and dared congress not to pass it. After the 08 crash, banks started even more mergers and paid their executives even more money, and dared congress to stop them.
Now it’s History Time again. Will we cede the field to the white collar criminals? Or will we step up with our suddenly reasonable demands? Remember, right now Tom Cotton is to the left of Nancy Pelosi on the crisis response. Anything is possible.
(How do we do it? As a first step: Start organizing your literal neighborhood. As a second step: join a local political group that has dues-paying membership and democratic control by its members. As a third: let me think about it and get back to you)
What can we do in the present crisis? More interestingly, what can we do with it?
I’m not talking about purchasing a bidet and stockpiling pasta sauce and medicine. Instead: as citizens, how can we rise to the occasion? As organizers, how can we seize the moment to put in place some needed social change?
When life starts looking like a movie, the extraordinary becomes inevitable. Either for good, or for ill. Back in 2008, we on the left were a bit overconfident. The basic analysis was there: we cited Naomi Klein and talked about how we needed a “Reverse Shock Doctrine”. Even Rahm Emanuel was on TV saying “you never want a serious crisis to go to waste”
It didn’t go to waste — for the bad guys. The crisis helped the Tea Party rebrand the conservative coalition after Bush, it funneled trillions of dollars of free money into banks, and it raised the concentration of industry even higher.
So let’s not let the crisis go to waste, before the enemy does.
That’s the challenge. These next few days and weeks will be qualitatively different than normal. We have an opening to try things (and get people to sign on) that would be strange and hard to pull off before. That’s the challenge: What opportunities can we seize now, that might have important effects in the future?
1. Make a neighborhood group
This is an excellent time to make a Facebook group for your block. Maybe just the 40 or so homes in your street. In a few weeks, you might need to start babysitting each other’s kids, or sharing advil, or pooling risk to send exactly one person to the store to buy supplies. In a few weeks, you might be grateful that you dug this well before you drew from in. You might be saving lives by performing errands for your elderly neighbor.
And, in the months and perhaps years to come, you’ll reap the benefits of a tighter neighborhood network. You’ll be happier, more communal. And maybe when you’re trying to convince your neighbors to go to a meeting, to vote, or to consider your perspective, they’ll listen.
Tomorrow, I’ll put this in practice. I’ll knock on doors nearby, and leave a flier. I likely won’t use the term “mutual aid”, or “solidarity network”. Why bother using words that confuse people? But hopefully we will get the rudiments of a community network set up to start being generous, helpful, and kind to each other.
2. Be decisive
In times of crisis, the flailing defer to the decisive. Be decisive.
“I have not seen interest this high. Not even after the merger with [Northwest] who was already represented by AFA at the time, or during the recession or the Ebola scare of 2014,” says Cheryl, who has worked at the airline for more than a decade. “The threat of involuntary furloughs and layoffs has been a big motivator. We are scared and freaking out because we don’t have any language in our policies for this.”
If months happen in days, then start grabbing that bounty of time and confusion to push your agenda.
You can start by small things. Advocate for this your neighbors to buy gift cards from local restaurants and cafes they’d normally go to every day. It’s a short term loan to businesses and a way to help them stay afloat. Can you do it through a Facebook page or Action Network petition? After the crisis, you can use that organization and credibility to start talking about other ways to help local businesses, like localist economics or raising the minimum wage or unionizing.
If you can, use the crisis as an excuse to cut out middlemen: can you pay service workers (instead of service businesses) directly? Can you convince your neighbors to do so as well? In the cloak of solidarity you can start laying the groundwork of a worker-owned business.
3. Be Local
Nationally, the Dems are gonna Dem. I’m sure they’ll disappoint us. But there’s a lot of ground you can seize locally.
“Jails and prisons are often dirty and have really very little in the way of infection control,” said Homer Venters, former chief medical officer at New York City’s notorious Rikers Island jail complex. “There are lots of people using a small number of bathrooms. Many of the sinks are broken or not in use. You may have access to water, but nothing to wipe your hands off with, or no access to soap.”
When Purell is Contraband, How Do You Contain Coronavirus? by The Marshall Project
You might very well save lives.
Also, I expect that when you start asking your friends to call their city councilmember, or to sign a petition, about these things, you’ll get a different response than you normally get. People who normally tune out politics will be suddenly paying attention to this large shock in their lives. Get them hooked on advocacy. Get them comfortable with the democratic process. This will yield dividends later.
4. Don’t wait for Republican Party to collapse on its own
The conservative movement survived stealing a presidency, lying us into Iraq, failing into Katrina, looting the public after the 2008 crash, gutting the voting rights act, lying to the Supreme court about gerrymandering, and nominating a sexual assaulter to the presidency. It can survive this.
For the last two months, Trump, Fox News, etc have been downplaying the crisis at best, actively sabotaging efforts to handle it at worst. Starting in about a day or so, they’ll try to pretend that never happened. Don’t let them get away with it.
The Republican Party didn’t collapse after Katrina. It didn’t curl up and die in shame after lying about the Iraq War. The conservative movement wasn’t saddled with the shame of Bush for a generation. Instead, they rebranded as “The Tea Party” in two short years and went on as they always have, only more so.
Lovingly, patiently, try to convince your parents and older friends to take this seriously, to stay safe, to change their habits. You’ll do this already, of course. You love them and care about them.
At the same time as you do this: make sure to point out again and again that the republicans and right wing media (not just Trump) are lying to them and getting them in danger of death. We can’t rely on them to figure it out on their own.
It’s inevitable that at some point the R’s are going to try to turn this crisis into an opportunity to do ugly ugly stuff. Will it be camps? Border shutdowns? Sweeping surveillance powers? Bailouts for crony industries? It’s going to get dark.
If (if! Not when. IF!) the faction of the country that accepted lies, corruption, venality, more lies, racism, incompetence, illegality, and lies from Trump finally leaves the death cult cocoon — it won’t be over.
The conservative media movement will turn on Trump just like they turned on Bush. They’ll pretend that he never was the beloved head of their movement. It might take them an election or two, but they’ll create some new brand name (just like the Tea Party), and start over again.
Already, as I write this, the right wing is changing its position. It’s going to pretend that it didn’t spend months claiming this was a hoax. It’s going to hope you forget that Fox News claimed that the hysteria was the real problem.It’s going to hope your parents forget everything that happened, because they weren’t really paying attention in January and February, were they?
Make sure your parents remember. Make sure everyone remembers.
The thing you have to understand is simple: I’m used to failure. Failure, and, I suppose, betrayal.
Howard Dean didn’t win. In the end, he didn’t come close. He had a growing, internet-fueled movement of people (young and old but mostly young) doing crazy new innovative things for his campaign. He called out the cowardice, the infuriating (or was it chillingly) dystopian way that the democratic party was rubber stamping surveillance, the police state, the war. He lost.
The netroots didn’t win in 2008. Obama did. He grabbed the loyalty of the members of “the bloggers movement” away from the bloggers themselves. And even before he got elected, he reversed himself on FISA, on spying, and on the banks. His ads were about “tax cuts to corporations who ship jobs overseas”. He never really explained what that was about. His presidency, at least at first, was a weird disaster. All the organizations that clearly called out Bush-era corruption just stopped doing it when Obama ran the show. Directors told me in confidence that their funders threatened to quit if they even mildly opposed Obama. The federal government had an explicit policy of allowing millions of people to get their houses foreclosed on, as long as the banks were okay. After a bailout overseen on insanely generous terms, the Federal Reserve pumped money into any bank, hedge fund, holding company, even McDonalds it could find.
And the “normies” around me, the people who admirably opposed Bush and his excess, were silent.
And the NSA grew.
Nancy Pelosi wants to jail Edward Snowden. MIT and Eric Holder threw Aaron Swartz to the wolves. Zephyr Teachout lost to Andrew Cuomo. SEIU backed Andrew Cuomo. Tish James backed Andrew Cuomo.
And still the surveillance state grows.
Google and Facebook were meant to be foils to the corrupt venality of the Verizons and Comcasts of the world. VoteVets ended up endorsing Pete Buttigieg. Pete, who Mark Zuckerberg tried to steer engineering talent to. Pete, who vied with Kamala Harris to be America’s first red diaper baby president.
And Amazon shares Ring data with cops. And license plate readers are everywhere. And Facebook will comply with “all local laws and regulations”. And the surveillance state grows.
I remember Chris Dodd’s campaign in 2008. I remember Tim Tagaris, an early internet politics hotshot, running an honorable campaign about “restoring the constitution” post-Bush. Chris Dodd was the man behind the SOPA push that tried to shut down free speech on the internet to protect the MAFIAA.
Meanwhile, our man Howard Dean quietly became a corporate lobbyist. (And, weirdly, a shill for literal terrorists.)
Bernie didn’t win. Shahid didn’t win. Most Brand New Congress candidates didn’t win. Tom Geohegan didn’t win. Carl Sciortino didn’t win. Paul Wellstone died. Tom Periello didn’t win. Zephyr Teachout didn’t win over and over again. Eric Massa won, then … got weird. Russ Feingold lost twice.
And today Nancy Pelosi is trying to reauthorize the Patriot Act.
So, you see, Bernie (and Warren) losing now feels bad, but not a gut punch. I expected it.
There is comfort in this sense of fated doom. We lost not because we did something wrong, but because we did something right in a world that’s wrong. When we acknowledge the awesome might and baleful intentions of our enemies, when we point our fingers at the traitors in our midst, what we seek is not a clear-eyed reckoning of the battlefield, but freedom from guilt for failing to win. Lurking behind our dour pessimism is, at times, a desire to evade accountability for our own mistakes.
Let’s talk about mistakes. But let’s not do it from the perspective of a candidate in a race, because we are not candidates and we are not bound to only think about specific contests for power via a presidential primary system. If we do it right, candidates (politicians) are pawns on our chessboard, not the other way around.
I love your passion, and your energy, and your way of seeing how the world is just so disconcertingly bad. I love it, and sometimes I worry that I’m smothering it with my world-weariness, with my “hey, actually this thing you’re mad at is fine and normal”, or my “you’re mad at the wrong institution”. I wanted you to know why.
There’s a particular feeling you get when you start politics. Little respect for everyone in the field already: after all, they’re part of a failed system. A sense of camaraderie with other people who start at the same time as you: after all, you’re all fighting the same enemies! And then as time goes on, you see your heroes fail you. You lose respect for people you started out with (both institutions and elected officials). And you celebrate the victories you have, because if you don’t, you burn out.
So when we talk about how bad it was, and how far we’ve gone, and how certain people you don’t like are Actually Good, and have street cred, that’s why.
We thought we found One Weird Trick to fixing politics, and we were wrong.
The prisoners are going to die. All those packed inmates in prisons across the country. The people in concentration camps at the border. The victims of ICE raids housed in crowded conditions in cities across the country: when the virus hits, they’re going to fall like dominoes. But daily life continues.
Daily life continues, with small changes: people take up the “Wuhan handshake” of feet taps instead of handclasps. Fist bumps are replaced by elbow bumps. The supermarket puts eggs, milk, cereal on sale: but only if you buy 5+ cartons at once.
Things have started to escalate. The concert sends an email saying “we aren’t going to cancel, but if you want a refund, we’re thinking about giving you one”. Two days later, they just straight up cancel. The grocery store is decidedly out of hand sanitizer, toilet paper, and most pasta. A few bags of frozen vegetables make a valiant stand to cover shelves and shelves of otherwise empty space. Classes cancel. Students are told to get out of their dorms. So much for the last quarter of senior year, class of 2020. Get your last-minute crush revelations and awkward hormonal goodbyes done before you fly home in 5 days.
My partner worries about graduating into a recession. My mom starts coughing. I retreat into clearing my email inbox, buying almond croissants for the former and calling the latter every day.
The house starts getting messier. I make a pilgrimage or two at the supermarket every day. I document the shelves that start getting bare. So far milk, eggs, bread, and snacks are holding up fine.
Links start getting passed around. Long medium articles about how bad things are going to be. Lion tamers of data whipping it into terrorizing shape. People joke about how we can’t trust government, how they’re denying or classifying everything, that it’s just like the Soviet responses to crises we read about in our textbooks. Haha.
On my todo list, I make a recurring daily item: breathe deeply for five minutes. Kiss your Sarah.
It’s ello time. And now that we’re in day 2 of ello-mania, some smart articles are popping up.
My buddy Cayden has the so-far canonical synthesis of everything written so far, and he’s definitely on the right track in his analysis of ello:
With Ello positioned as the anti-Facebook, a door closes. Our imaginations are bound to the platform choices we’ve been presented with. We are locked into a politics of scarcity that is very unfamiliar to me on the internet. As I was remarking to a friend yesterday, the thing I’ve always loved about the internet was its anarchistic abundance, its sense of possibility. The thing that disturbs me the most deeply about positioning Ello versus Facebook is the way that abundance is foreclosed on.
This is all, obviously, striking a chord with me. And the whole facebook-exodus-in-a-teapot (I doubt many think this will lead to a real break on anyone’s part) raises the question: “Why not go back to the good old days of actual blogging?”
Cayden, I think you’re on the right track on a lot of what you say. I especially like how you tied together the critique on funding (which should get a LOT more attention!), design, and privacy all together.
Your closing thought is also strong — wish you had taken a few more extra steps though! I wonder where you would have ended up.
As organizers, we are trained to think about power. When talking about the economy, when talking about interpersonal relationships, reading the news (“who benefits from this coming to light *now*?”), even when talking about literature or pop culture. That’s the mark of a good organizer — being able to see deeper. Yet when it comes to the ever-increasing part of our lives that is mediated through screens and processors, all too often we are faced with people’s tendency to shut down that part of their brain.
We know what the good solution to facebook would be — owning our own data. Writing comments directly on a blog post instead of on the facebook share linking to it. Placing our lives and content on servers and programs (wordpress, media goblin, rails, jekyll, etc) that we control. Shrinking the sphere of social media to sharing links to value instead of hosting value itself.
At least, that’s part of the solution. And something we can actually do now, without assuming a legion of technical help.
We do have the tools to break free. At least partially. Here’s hoping that Future Me spends more time over here, blogging in the independent democracy of Sahar’s Server, rather than over there, in the Facebook Fiefdom.
And it’s a good thing, too, because the state has been slashing the SUNY system to the bone. I was at the SUNY Geneseo commencement this May. I was shocked to the extent that the University President spoke frankly about their finances. He talked about how the state is funding less and less of the school budget, and how it imperiled their mission of a quality education for all.
Public schools are essential to the health of our democracy. Education is a human right, and state and community colleges are the only way we can provide it at an affordable rate. Student loan and grant programs, if they only go to private colleges, will just drive up costs. We need public schools not only because they’re good themselves, but also to keep private schools honest (through market competition!)
In the midst of all this budget cutting, department closing, and tuition-increasing, Governor Andrew “1%” Cuomo is making a big deal of a grand poobah commission to cut taxes.
So after this happened:
The Governor is insisting that everything is peachy. So great that we can start cutting taxes. And thus the “emergency” “we have no choice” cuts to education become permanent.
Here’s what New York’s tax structure looks like (without the temporary top brackets about to expire):
The top bracket is $20,000! Maybe if we used the same brackets say, say, any other state, we’d be able to cut taxes for the majority of citizens and still be able to offer a quality education to all.