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Misc

Yenta

I love people. I love helping them. I found a really fun way to do that, and it’s this: setting people up. It’s quite nice. For one thing, even if it doesn’t work out, people are so grateful that you made the introduction. For another thing, if it does work out, you get two happy friends, rather than one, out of the effort.

And it’s fun. Oh my it’s fun. Talking to people, thinking about them, that eureka moment when you figure out a way to change their life at little cost to yourself.

Setting people up on dates, however, isn’t the full picture. Why not set people up on jobs? I have friends hiring, and I have friends to hire. Why not housing?

There was a time when I had some time on my hands, and a fair number of friends were looking to hire. So I started matching people up in earnest for jobs. It was wonderful! I started a tinyletter list. I created guides for job finding. I created spreadsheets and so on. It got a little out of control, took up hours a day, and I scrapped it.

Later, I restarted on Facebook. Just a thread every once in a while inviting people to matchmake themselves in the comments for dates, housing, or jobs. It works!

But I still have the same problem I used to have: let’s say I run into an amazing job opportunity, or find a hot single in my area. Let’s say that a month earlier, someone perfect for it told me they were available. Ideally, I should match them. In practice, I often forget who is looking for what.

I think the answer is a few intake forms on Airtable. Just to keep me remembering.

Here they are:

Jobs for Friends intake form

Romance for Friends intake form

But linking to 2 different forms each time I do a monthly facebook post doesn’t like enough.

Update — I’ve launched a newsletter. It can:

  • Link to the monthly Facebook thread.
  • Remind people to fill out the intake form.
  • Highlight extra stuff and be fun.

Here’s the link.

Categories
Misc

Starcraft

A friend and I were playing Starcraft (o.g. Brood War) the other day. We were chatting with some strangers on multiplayer, and here’s what we found:

  • No more spamming of slurs. Seems like either Blizzard’s filters have finally caught up, or all the idiot teenagers are no longer playing a 20-year old game.
  • A lot of players (even in US leagues) are from south america, or Korea.
  • One comparatively longer conversation online was with a guy who said he couldn’t wait for the pandemic to be over. Cheekily, we said something like, “why? more time for starcraft”. He answered that he was a single dad working 60 hours a week. That dampened that conversation.
  • The people who play starcraft these days are really, really, good at it.

My first experience with antisemitism was through starcraft. In the cloud of slurs (anti-gay, anti-black, etc), was weirdly the word “jew”. It was clear from the context that it wasn’t meant as a compliment, or even anything specific. Just another way to insult someone you’ve never met before.

It’s kinda nice to finally be able to play this game without running into it any more.

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Misc

I’m still mad about Aaron

A bunch of us are reading David Graeber’s Debt. In the course of preparing for our upcoming discussion, I started re-reading that amazing resource: Crooked Timber.

That reminded me that Aaron Swartz wrote a couple guest posts on Crooked Timber. I reread one of his essays. Then another. Then more. You can guess what happened next. DANG. What an amazing writer. What a thinker.

There’s no one I’ve met in my life that I was so sure would change the course of history. No one I’ve met that was so obviously, even qualitatively, smarter than me. For a while, it felt like every big project I joined, or every cool thing I tried, he was there first, and happened to (sometimes co-)found it.

I think about Aaron all the time. Even now, years later.

For a long time, he was my role model: clear moral compass, brilliant, a tech genius but at the same time rooted in movement work and so much more than “the computer guy”.

It’s weird when your role model used to be your boss, is the brother of a friend, the ex of your boss. It’s weird to have this role model be a real person.

I was so angry when he died. I went on, well, a rampage, for the next few years. I never forgave Obama, Eric Holder, Carmen Ortiz, Steve Heymann, MIT, and the Democratic Party in general. I talked about it as part of my personal life story on dates, organizing 1-1’s, etc. I grew close to the angry wing of the radical left. I traveled the country. I took jobs based on what I felt he would have wanted me to do. When I played role-playing games, I would make a character named “Aharon Schahor” to try to process things.

I still get angry about his death. I still tell people about it. I still tell people about how important he was to me. Friends, acquaintances, even strangers who happen catch me in a particular mood.

Once, to my horror and embarrassment, I realized that one of those strangers was his brother. Oops! Sorry Noah. I seriously didn’t know.

Sidebar — Babbling about Aaron helped a friend introduce me to Mek, though, so overall the “talk about your feelings” seems to be working for me.

I’m still mad.

PS — And of course, Chris Dodd, that scumbag, the villain in the SOPA/PIPA fight that Aaron won for us; Chris Dodd, who flat out lied about his revolving door plans; Christopher J “Waitress Sandwich” Dodd — that’s the guy that Biden is tapping to lead his VP search.

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Misc

My Debt story

Our book club is reading Debt, The First 5000 Years. A prompt before starting has been: “What is your professional and personal experience with the concept of debt?”. This is lightly adapted from my response:

My last decade or so of life has been conducted just a little bit under the shadow of Debt, (the book). I remember reading the Crooked Timber symposium on it when it came out, reading the back and forth in Jacobin, etc. I think I’ve read more criticism and reviews of the book than there are pages in the book itself.

In that decade, I’ve felt a need to have read the book, in the same way I feel the need to read Keynes, Piketty, and Marx’s Capital. If I haven’t read those, how else could I show my face in public and dare to have opinions?

But I haven’t read the book. That is, until now. (And I’m not finished yet!)

I also have had a relationship with debt, the improper noun.

  • My father’s business has depended on debt. Loans, rotating credit cards, etc, in order to fund the expansion of a small real estate business. And he’s been remarkably successful!
  • I grew up feeling afraid of repeating his feat, and then failing. 
  • I went to my second (or fifth!) choice university to escape debt and high tuition. 
  • I arguably ruined my first startup / my relationship with my best friend, in part, because we both paid ourselves high enough salaries to pay our university debt. 
    • (This might a bit of a stretch. Maybe it’s more accurate to say I was so worried about paying off my university debt that it overhung my actions the entire time)

Debt has been a political topic I haven’t quite cracked. Post-Occupy, the group Strike Debt came out with the Debt Resistor’s Operations Manual. I remember poring over it. Feeling so excited. Part manual, part guide to “this is how the world works, you’re being screwed”. In my travels, I’d recommend it to strangers who were having debt problems. They often followed up to thank me. 

I dimly know that debt has been used to reinforce the post-WWII US-centered order. That it has to do with oil, Confessions of An Economic Hitman, and private equity. That leveraged buyouts are bad. And that there’s a weird thing where people feel obligated to pay their debts but corporations are assumed to be allowed to default on them all the time.

But I haven’t, yet, stitched that into a holistic idea of how the world works.

I’ve been excited to read this book for a long time. 

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Misc

Workers of the world, unite.

It’s May 1st. An international holiday commemorating an event that happened in the US, celebrated everywhere but in the US.

Except, slowly, over my lifetime, that’s changed. The big “day without an immigrant” strike of 2006 kicked it off. The slow buildup of left organizations starting to march and celebrate it over the years. Occupy gave it a kick in the pants, too.

Happy International Worker’s Day. Happy labor day. Happy socialist day. Happy strike day. (Like all good holidays, it contains several different meanings).

There’s a lot to say. About the importance of labor unions. Of worker militancy. How “solidarity” is a term with a ton of meaning and power, too-often cheapened by easy use. About the situation of capitalism, of the bosses and 1%, and so on.

Too much, to say. So let’s talk about the celebration itself.

Every May Day, I take the day off work and go marching. And, in the last few years, it’s been fantastic. So much energy. All the signs! All the different groups, showing themselves off, meeting each other, building energy.

A good May 1st march can give you enthusiasm and energy to last for months.

Here’s a sense of what it could be like. May 1, 2014.

Same march, different vantage point:

One one hand — so much energy! On the other hand — we could do better today. We’re growing.
It’s sad that I can’t go to a march and feel a little happier about the world. But we do have one of the largest strikes by non-unionized workers in memory. We have calls for a rent strike. That’s a pretty nice May 1st.

In my last year of college, our big musical extravaganza, Springfest, hit on May 1st. I spent the first half of the day stuck in my room, playing the Internationale at full blast, and doing my best to memorize the lyrics. Only after I could belt out La Marseillaise from memory (and the first few stanzas of the Internationale), did I go out into the sun and enjoy the beautiful day.

I think about it from time to time. I was a weird kid. But maybe, while we’re stuck here in our homes, memorizing a few classic labor songs doesn’t sound like a bad way to celebrate.

Here’s a new favorite:

This world looks like a chain of heavy broken hearts
It chains my brothers and sisters all apart
Link after link it clatters thru my land
This long heavy chain of broken hearts

Selfish pride is one link in this chain
And you better drive it out of your heart
Brother and sister when you do it’s then that you’ll get loose
From this long heavy chain of broken hearts

It’s this long heavy chain of broken hearts
It’s this long heavy chain of broken hearts
You gotta find your union before you can get free
From this long heavy chain of broken hearts

Fear is a link in this chain
Of sorrow and trouble and pain
Drive out your fear and you will break apart
This long heavy chain of broken hearts

Jealousy is a link of the worst
A worry, a blister and a curse
Join our union band and break with your hands
This long heavy chain of broken hearts

This long heavy chain of broken hearts
This long heavy chain of broken hearts
You gotta find your union before you can get free
From this long heavy chain of broken hearts

It’s when you are free from this chain
Love will come and fill you up again
Show your friends and neighbors how to break away
From this long heavy chain of broken hearts

Yes this long heavy chain of broken hearts
This long heavy chain of broken hearts
You gotta find your union before you can get free
From this long heavy chain of broken hearts

Categories
Misc

History Time: The Book Club

A little while ago, on Facebook, I asked:

A lot is happening quickly. We are in big bold idea territory. History time.

What if we started a reading group that covered works by great thinkers on topics like: political economy, how power works, authoritarianism, crises, how business works from a sociological perspective, radical politics (pro and con)?

Would you be interested in something like that?

Turns out, a few people were interested. But there were a lot of questions for how one might structure a thing like this online. Would discussions be synchronous or asynchronous? What role would we have to writing? How much time and commitment would work for people?

So, I created a form to sign up. (Feel free to sign up yourself)! The responses, however, were split: there’s definitely a role for synchronous meetings / video, but disagreement on the role of text and async discussion. Some people wanted to use Slack. Others (like me) hate Slack.

So — how might we go deep, but also accommodate people’s desire for this not to turn into a chore? How might we stay off walled gardens (Facebook, Slack)? How could we end up with artifacts coming out of this, instead of just ephemeral conversation?

I had some long talks with some friends, especially Anne Gomez and Danny Spitzberg. Here’s our draft idea of how it will all work.

In short:

  • Meetings are conducted by video. They both kick off discussion of a book / article / work, and also serve as organizational meetings to choose the next work to discuss
  • Someone posts a recap of discussion, summary of the book, or general essay based on the reading.
  • The discussion continues via text, probably in response to that post.

It’s intentionally loose. Each book (or article, video, etc.) will have a different facilitator, who can structure discussion however they like.

Anyway, we are starting up soon. Wanna join?

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Misc

My Monthly Mixtape Ritual

As you know, I’m dating Sarah. Sarah is very good. When we started dating, however, I noticed that she had a small flaw: not only did she not like the same music as me, she didn’t even know that my favorite bands existed. When she listened to music, which wasn’t often, it was mainly show tunes from her favorite musicals.

Now, musicals are great. I enjoy them, and have been known to go to a few on some occasion. It’s delightful that Sarah likes them — it gives her something with which to bond with my sister Shelly, who works in Broadway. But — what about The Mountain Goats? What about Wilco? What, not to put a fine point about it, about LCD Soundsystem?

So I made her a mixtape. A song each from some of my favorite bands. Bookended by two songs from a particularly good band. The format, and the habit, stuck. That was back in April 2018.

I’ve made a mixtape per month since then. It’s pretty fun! The challenge of making an aesthetically coherent album each month, always with new music, and all but the first and last song by a different artist, is real. I’ve explored arabic, hebrew, persian, afro-punk, chillwave, jug bands, and other forms of music I wasn’t normally listening to normally. I’ve started keeping an ear out for new things I haven’t heard before, and chatting up strangers to learn their tastes. It’s fun! Each month has a pretty different sound.

You can find them all on Spotify. March 2020 just dropped (with a lot of help from Disco). Take a listen.

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Misc

How to find good music — and more

There’s a cool little app that I’m increasingly a fan of. It’s also made by one of the more interesting people I’ve ever run across.

First off — the app. It’s for music. It’s called disco, and you can find it disco.grex.nyc. Here’s how it works:

  1. Go to disco.grex.nyc, and sign up through your Spotify account.
  2. Every week, on Spotify, you’ll get a playlist of someone’s favorite music.
  3. Every week, on Spotify, someone else will get a playlist of *your* favorite music.

That’s it.

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 three different ways 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.

He’s worked on many projects since. My favorite has been The Questions Game, where couples are sent a new set of three questions every week to try to answer together and bond. Kind of an extension of the famous 36 questions that might have lead you to becoming a couple in the first place. My partner and I used that to great effect while dating long-distance.

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.

In conclusion — sign up for Disco. I can’t wait to expand my musical horizons through getting a taste of yours.

(Adapted from this Facebook post)

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Misc

What to expect when you’re expecting a crisis

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:

I’m also watching some other things:

  • China. It’s authoritarian, it’s scary, and it’s exporting its model. We haven’t been taking it seriously enough.
  • Fights between the white-supremacy-curious faction of the conservative movement and the “let’s loot the country” faction of the movement.
  • We’re going to see a lot more strange bedfellows and left-right alliances between people of different parties.

What stories are you tracking and predicting?

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Misc

TrumpLiedAboutCoronavirus.com

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.

I bought the rights to TrumpLiedAboutCoronavirus.com and RepublicansLiedAboutCoronavirus.com. What should we do with them?

Right now I’m pointing them both to this post by James Fallows: 2020 Time Capsule #4: Trump Is Lying, Blatantly.

Instead we could point them to this video timeline of trump downplaying everything by The Recount. Or maybe this video tracking Fox New’s lies and sudden reversals about coronavirus created by the Washington Post.

Or a microsite! Or something else entirely. If you have a great idea for these domains, or even a bad one, let me know!

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Misc

How I make friends

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.

You’ll notice it’s a villain mustache being defeated

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…

Stories

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:

  1. Be clear about your desire for friendship. Cards (not business cards!) work great.
  2. Always have an event queued up to invite people to
  3. 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.

What else?

For more on friendship, check out StartingBloc — one of the best collections of good people in my life.

Also see: Camp Grounded and its descendants: Camp Wonderful and Camp Anywhere

How do you form friendships as an adult? I just sketched out my weird way of doing it. I’m not really sure how anyone else does. I’d love to hear what this part of your life looks like.

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Misc

People-Powered Rochester

Back in 2013, for a little while, there existed a site with a lot of passion: PeoplePoweredRochester.com.

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.

You can see them all at: sahar.io/tag/rochester

Enjoy!

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Misc

Life in a time of Coronavirus, March 17, 2020

Has anyone else noticed this? Taking a walk yesterday, neighbours were actually pretty bad at keeping a full 6 feet away, but they were very intent on not making eye contact.

It’s as if, I don’t know, people can’t look each other in the eye without coming close? Or their instincts are muddled and they do the wrong kind of social distancing.

It’s strange.

Sarah is working hard. Maybe today she will finally finish her draft. We’re running low on vegetables. 54 eggs left.

We took a walk around town yesterday. Restaurants closed and hurting, but still putting a brave face on it. A local tenants union has been trying to form for a while, it seems. (Go go Boston DSA!)

There’s a new group in town: MAMAS: Mutual Aid Medford and Somerville, Massachusetts. They have google groups, google docs, etc. They have a website with overlays of “neighborhood pods” where a pod captain is meant to coordinate everyone in a roughly 3-block radius.

Like this:

I hope it works.

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.

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Misc

It’s History Time

We are now in a special kind of time. “Revolution time”. “History time”. “Disruption time”. Whatever you want to call it.

Every day, huge events are happening. Things that seemed impossible now are a matter of course. Right now I’m watching a speech from the president of Serbia attacking the EU and throwing himself onto the arms of China. Senator Tom Cotton (R-Fox news) is proposing a much stronger (and equitable) response to the crisis than Nancy Pelosi. The Fed just took most of the 2009 playbook and deployed it in one big go yesterday.

In History Time, the rules are different. Opportunities arise. And the knives come out. For example: Right now the US airline history is asking for a $50 billion bailout because they “have no cash”. They just spent the last decade spending their cash on stock buybacks. Stock buybacks used to be illegal.

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)

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Misc

How to be a citizen in a time of Coronavirus

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.

Delta flight attendants have gotten a huge boost to their union drive in the last few days:

“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.”

The Coronavirus Is Jump-Starting Union Organizing at Delta (by Mike Elk)

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.

Organize your neighbors around demands for your town or state. Ones that will save lives. Things like: Stop evicting people during a pandemic! Or “Free Broadband for everyone!”. Or “don’t cut off people’s access to utilities!” Or “give the prisoners free soap and water, for God’s sake

“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.

(I wrote a whole thing about it here)

5. Further reading and examples

Mutual Aid Medford and Somerville

COVID-19 Full List of Actions You Can Take Right Now

How To Start A Social Street

BRANDEIS mutual aid for first-generation and low-income students affected by COVID-19 updates