14 March 2014

I’ve just finished reading Bill Veeck’s three terrific memoirs and Paul Dickson’s excellent autobiography of him. I appreciate why Chicago historian and former Chicago Tribune columnist and obit writer Kenan Heise once indentified Bill Veeck as the most underrated Chicagoan. (Heise saw Daniel Burnham as the most overrated Chicagoan because his concept of the City Beautiful completely overshadowed Jane Addams’ concept of a City Livable, as described by historian Janice Metzger in her fascinating 2009 work of what she calls “speculative non-fiction”, What Would Jane Say.)

Veeck saw that the principles of building loyal, engaged communities of sports fans or citizens are identical. They include respect for fans and citizens, an intense desire to listen to and learn from them, to meet their needs, to engage them, and above all to deal honorably with them.

So it’s with Bill Veeck in mind that I maintain that Chicago and America have much to learn about community building from the National Football League.  Parity?  Where baseball scoffed at it, the NFL implemented it. Then there’s the NFL’s masterful use of mainstream and online media to establish the dominant and quasi-patriotic presence nationwide.

Here and elsewhere I’ve argued that what sports media have done for sports fans, civic media can do, and do profitably, for Americans: create a participatory culture that facilitates constructive citizen interaction on a massive scale, at once competitive and cooperative, that’s governed by universally accepted rules of the game.

What the America can learn from NFL nation is best suggested a comparison of four maps: two of American cities/regions and two of NFL teams and their fans. This comparison shows how American cities and regions may one day cooperate even as they compete with each other in the same way that NFL teams – and leagues of NFL teams (the NFC and AFC) – compete (furiously but on the whole fairly) and cooperate (ultimately, in the service of the NFL) with each other.

Cooperation? The NFL’s 17 weekly games lead to a series of playoff games culminating in what is arguably America’s most patriotic moment: its annual Super Bowl, which this year was seen by 111 million viewers. Sports writer Pat Imig, in an entertaining post on “Why American Football is More American than the American Government”,  made the patriotism point with this photo:

superbowlflyover

So let’s take a look first at two maps of America’s regions: regions, that one day might be connected by a civic media dedicated to doing for American regions what sports media have long been doing for (and with) American pro football teams:

  • Serving regional interests by enabling governments and citizens within each region to shape that region’s best future,
  • Serving regional and national interests by enabling regions to cooperate even as they compete, much in the same way that NFL teams cooperate in advancing the interests of the NFL. Bear in mind that the NFL itself competes and cooperates as well with other sports leagues: Major League Baseball (MLB), the National Basketball Association (NBA), the National Hockey League (NHL), and the Major Soccer League (MSL).

Regions? They range from simple to complex. Here first is a simple six-region map (below) used by Mrs. Finley to teach her 5th grade geography class in Scottsdale, Arizona:

Mrs Finley's MAP

Now compare the seven regions in Mrs. Finley’s map with the eleven regions, or “nations” in this one:

upinarms-map

To see what underlies this powerful, county-by-county map, check out the brief accounts of its eleven “nations” in historian Colin Woodard’s “Call to Arms” piece appearing in the Tufts University magazine last December. Woodard sets out to show how the roots of America’s bitter and divisive national debate over gun violence following the Sandy Hook school massacre of December 2012 are rooted in – guess what – settlement patterns of colonists going back to the earliest days of American history. And he succeeds.

Woodard’s capsule histories of these eleven “nations” – ten colonizing, one native – go far in explaining why Americans today are so polarized not just on the issue of gun control but on matters of immigration, abortion, prayer in schools, and states rights as well. Reading Woodard, one may get the feeling that the differences among regions are insuperable: Americans, in other words, will always be fighting the Civil War.

But now let’s take a look at two maps of America as an NFL Nation united and energized by loyalty not only to the teams that comprise it. Here, from deadspin.com, is a map of regions by fan base:

NFL simpler

This map of NFL nation drills down to the county level:

bestoriginalSo where does all this lead us? Into uncharted territory, that’s for sure. A territory of possible great rewards and altogether certain risks. Sailing into these waters will be the task of our next post.

 

Occupy’s next phase: Dialogue

This from listening to Julian Assange and Occupiers talking in London.

Occupy’s next and finest phase is DIALOGUE. Of the 99% and the 1%. Of the rich and the poor, of the governed and the governors. Of the voiceless and the voiced. Ongoing dialogues. Issue centered. Confrontational. Rule governed. Smart. Informative. Dramatic. Authentic. Outcome oriented. Productive. Opportunity maximizing. Doggedly tackling seemingly insoluble problems like health care and immigration and joblessness and corruption and gangs and drugs in new and novel ways. Doing so with the constant informed input from those most affected by these problems. Conducted until viable solutions are found, implemented and revisited. These dialogues – I call them civic media – are best and perhaps only future of democracy. They are the future of news and information on this planet. They are market driven: people will pay them when they are authentic. But not when they are rigged.

The NATO demonstrations last weekend in Chicago demonstrate the limits of street protest. It’s time for Occupy’s next phase: a phase in which the spirit of protest integrates with and transforms the way cities like Chicago, and countries (democracies) like the United States, make governmental decisions.

That’s all that need to be said right now. Like the idea? Run with it. Create the media that will make it real.

Mindism: invisible, widespread, pernicious

April 30, 2012. Over the past 100 years America has identified many prejudicial -isms: chauvinism, racisim, sexism, and ageism. But one prejudice is so widespread in America today, and yet so invisible, that to my knowledge it has yet to be named. Mindism is the best word I can think of for it. Mindism, as I understand it, is a vast underestimating of the intelligence and problem solving abilities of the American people. In a societal context, it is the denial of the existence of the public mind. In an individual context, it is the assumption or belief that the other guy is too stupid to make informed judgments or to give useful input on decisions that affect his life.

  • In politics, mindism maintains that most Americans lack the intelligence for informed judgments or input on the governmental decisions that affect their lives. This belief is widespread among governors and governed alike. Citizens use it to dismiss or put down the views of those they disagree with. Public officials and policy makers use it to do citizens’ thinking for them: to justify the exclusion of citizen input from government decisions about which citizens have profound knowledge. Other reasons and pretexts exist for excluding citizen input from decisions that directly affect citizens’ lives. These include self-interest, feasibility, convenience, tradition, force of habit, the press of time and the great difficulty of securing and channeling informed citizen input in a nation of 330 million people. But when one considers two facts – the extraordinary capacity of modern communications technologies to link citizens and government productively at local, state and national levels, and the failure (indeed refusal) of the nation’s political, academic and media leaders to put these technologies to civic use – it is mindism that best explains not only this failure but also the polarized and dysfunctional state of American civic discourse.
  • Mindism is a corrosive force in democratic government: an affectation of superiority among public officials and journalists that entitles some (not many) Americans to do the thinking and decision making for all. Mindism empowers elected officials and members of the media to define and solve problems without public input. The public spectates, it does not participate. Decisions made under these circumstances ofter fail or backfire because government refuses to include those who will be most directly affected in the decision-making process.
  • In journalism, mindism allows journalists to avoid two-way dialogues that enable their audiences not only to read and listen but to speak back. This belief has proximate roots in Walter Lippmann’s 1922 argument that the journalistic manufacture of consent was essential to a smoothly functioning government. Another source is the public relations and propaganda writing of Edward Bernays.


 

Implementing civic media in Chicago

We’re building. We want major media pros to see civic media when they first hear of it not as a shot in the dark but as the harbinger of a dynamic and feasible future for all Chicago newsmedia. For a newsmedia that facilitates a Chicago politics that works in the City that Works. For a newsmedia that enables the 20th century I Will city to become a We Will city.  Here’s the pitch we’ll make when we’ve lined up our ducks:

Since 1988 Chicago Civic Media has developed and implemented dialogic, problem-solving print/electronic civic media formats capable of making citizens and government responsive and accountable to each other in defining and solving the problems and also in maximizing the opportunities that present themselves to communities any size: local, state, or national.

We have also worked to develop an informal, problem-solving civic media network of Chicago public, commercial and community media committed to

  • giving all Chicagoans an informed voice in the government decisions that affect their lives, neighborhoods and city.
  • Making citizens and government responsive and accountable to each other in defining problems and maximizing opportunities (Transparency alone won’t get the job done!)

Civic media, as we think of it, is a mediating media. To jumpstart it in Chicago, CCM has designed a hyperlocal and (eventually) citywide news and information platform, chicagowrks.com (not online yet) that will enable citizens to gather, prioritize and interact with government on any and all issues of importance.

Financially, civic media will sustain themselves by tapping the Market of the Whole of all Chicagoans who desire an informed voice in the governmental decisions that affect their lives. To maintain the integrity of civic media dialogues, civic media will be funded by a broad spectrum of funding sources including public, private and commercial sources and citizens. Because civic media programming is dynamic – because it’s committed to rational, non-ideological resolutions of profound social differences – it will attract local, citywide and national advertisers. It will appeal to and engage the same demographic groups (e.g. 18-35) that advertisers now see as the “holy grail” of advertising.

But because civic media exist to serve the market of the whole, they are committed to listening to and giving voice to all citizens, not just some. This means that when it comes to addressing controversial issues like gangs and drugs, civic media give voice not only to police and political figures but to taxpayers and businessmen and to those most directly impacted by gangs and drugs: young people and their parents and teachers, and to inmates and gang members.

Civic media’s commitment to hear and reconcile divergent voices is at the root of their enormous appeal to its audience and to their ability to generate viable and enduring solutions to truly intractable problems, like gangs and drugs.

Here’s a link to the work we did in the Austin neighborhood in the late 1990’s. This work came closer than anything I’ve seen to mobilizing an entire community to put a stop to public drug dealing. (Austin’s 15th District had a great District Commander in John Richardson and a feisty community newspaper in the Austin Voice.)

Perhaps the biggest obstacle to a civic media is not racism or elitism, but mindism: the belief, presently widespread among media pros and politicians alike, that ordinary citizens lack the intelligence (are too stupid) to make informed decisions on the issues that affect their lives. It’s this belief, grounded intellectually in Walter Lippman’s 1920’s notion of manufacturing consent and reinforced by the PR work of Edward Bernays, that appears to entitle a very small number of us to think it’s their duty to do thinking of the rest of us.

2012: Time to Tap the Market of the Whole

This piece, “2012: an election year message to Americans and its media owners” makes the essential case for civic media, as we’ve been advancing since the early 1990’s. But get ready, it’s versified. Highly compressed. Check it out. Feel free to circulate. We need feedback. This piece is a small but vital first step. Other larger steps are in the works. We’ll post updates here. We are raring to go.

On Education in Chicago: Gangs and Drugs and a Role for Civic Media

[This post is mainly for readers of the snippet of it in the education Topic of Edemocracy's Chicago Forum. But the darn thing took off on me and got so long I had to put the full text here. Bottom, line this post argues for the futility of continuing the decades of incremental school reform that have left so many Chicago schools in shambles. It makes a case for creating an interactive problem-solving media that will enable Chicago to address, in its totality, the underlying problems of poverty and a gang/drug economy that threatens Chicago schools and Chicago children.]

Before it can reform its public schools, Chicago has no choice but to abandon the decades of failed incremental practices that have marked all attempts at school reform since the 1960’s.

Only then will Chicagoans be in a position to address what, during these decades of neglect, has become the primary and most deadly threat to Chicago schools and children: the city’s gang/drug problem. And let’s face it: dealing with this problem entails dealing with problem of institutionalized poverty – geographically structured in Chicago along strictly racial lines – that underlies it.

Put from the perspective of Chicago students who have lost faith in the ability of adults – parents, teachers, police – to protect, let alone educate, them: Chicago school reform will be a lost cause until Chicago students can see the seemingly insoluble problem of gangs and drugs being credibly addressed and solved by their parents, teachers and city leaders. More than this, school reform will be a lost cause until Chicago students can see themselves deeply and centrally  involved in creating and implementing viable solutions.

I know it’s going out on a limb to say things like this. No one else does, which is understandable, given three factors: a) the assumption that Chicago’s gang/drug problem is a problem to be solved by adults, not children, b) the intractability of the problem itself, and c) the fact that no Chicago political or civic leader has ever attempted to engage Chicagoans of all ages in addressing a problem that, as Mayor Richard M Daley (of all people) said in 1992, has “cost Chicago two generations of young people”.

Yet Martin Luther King, were he alive today, would surely agree that gang/drug reform must precede (or go hand in hand with) school reform in America’s inner cities. In his last years, King, in his ill-fated yet conceptually sound Poor Peoples’ Campaign, struggled to focus America’s attention on the evils of governmentally institutionalized, racially structured poverty. All too clearly he saw the mechanisms that engender and institutionalize poverty in America and the mechanisms that keep Americans – even poor Americans – from addressing them at the ballot box. And since his murder in 1968, these mechanisms have created the phenomenon of gangs and drugs that blights substantial portions of virtually every city in America, to say nothing of their spread to rural areas as well.

Read “Dreams from My Father” and you will see that President Obama, as a community organizer in Chicago’s Altgeld Gardens, understands what King understood as well. Problem is, Obama has a lot on his plate and no one is pressing him, or Mayor Daley for that matter, to do anything about the inner city poverty and the gang/drug phenomenon that is its offspring.

For two generations Chicago, like the rest of America, has swept the issue of gangs and drugs under a carpet. In so doing, it has hidden from itself the horrendous economic costs of this neglect: to its schools, to the productivity of its workforce, and to taxpayers funding its overfilled jails and rehab centers. Chicago has hidden from itself the human cost as well: of hundreds of thousands of lives and families lost to gangs and drugs. And what about the civic costs of this neglect, which have divided the history Chicago since 1960 into a tale of two cities where one half of the city understands nothing of the history of the other.

In 1992, there was a flicker of awareness that for a very brief moment promised to generate real understanding and action. It came during a speech that Mayor Daley gave to a group of Chicago student leaders. No media were present, so the Mayor spoke bluntly and powerfully. He was right that day, astoundingly so, even to the point of admitting that adults had failed to solve the gang/drug problem and challenging the students present to “formulate a drug policy of your own.” But students never did, in part because their leader was a charismatic opportunist named Phillip Bleicher whose own, personal agenda would lead to a 2006 indictment by State Attorney General Lisa Madigan.

Well, those days are dead and gone. But what about the future? My twenty years of experience in inner city public schools in New Haven and Chicago convince me that big city school reform, absent the solution of the gang/drug problem, is a futile undertaking. To verify this take, just ask at-risk CPS students and families if their schools can be improved without first solving the problem of gangs and drugs. They will likely tell you, at first, that gangs and drugs are here to stay, and that’s why school reform will never take hold. But press them, and they may also tell you that Chicago could solve its gang/drug problem if it wanted to. The best Chicago cops I know have told me the same thing: Chicago could solve it if it wanted to.

Granted, as things stand, with its gang/drug problem allowed to fester, Chicago will always be able to create some first rate schools in safe neighborhoods. And dedicated reformers will always find ways to work wonders at smaller schools in rough neighborhoods. But these incremental improvements will not improve the system as a whole. It will continue to stagnate as it has for the past 50 years with the exception of the leadership provided by Paul Vallas.

Why? It’s not because Chicagoans don’t want better schools: indeed they do! Rather it’s because the schools lack courageous leaders who listen to the people – especially students – and who act courageously on the basis of what they learn. Vallas, in my judgment, provided such leadership.

The capacity of genuine leaders – school superintendents – is the thesis of Mary J. Herrick’s magisterial The Chicago Public Schools: a Social and Political History (1979 and sadly out of print), perhaps the greatest history ever written of a big city school system. This great book entirely confirms the importance of citizen-responsive leadership to a successful school system.

On a more positive note: I have long been convinced that the process of school reform WILL take hold and WILL succeed when and as Chicago’s political and civic leaders and its print and electronic media decide at long last to trust and empower ordinary Chicagoans – parents, students, teachers, taxpayers, businesses and police – to address and resolve the gang/drug problem in their schools and neighborhoods.

The interactive communications technologies needed to launch such a problem-solving mechanism have existed for years but have yet to be used, anywhere, for this purpose.

Since young people in particular are the primary victims, consumers, and perpetrators in the world of gangs and drugs, responsibility for initiating this process will fall on the shoulders of a DYNAMIC CIVIC MEDIA, partnering with both public and commercial community and mainstream media, to give Chicagoans of ALL ages, including reformed and current gangbangers, an informed voice in defining and solving the gang/drug problem as it exists in their neighborhoods and schools and as it exists citywide.

These students have answers. They’re with the Mikva Challenge and they spoke out after Derrion Albert’s murder at Fenger High.

Gangbangers I’ve met consistently tell me they would prefer a different way of life were it open to them. There was at least a time in their lives – like when they were very young – when the last thing they wanted was to be a gangbanger. The creation of alternative careers to gangs and drugs will  therefore be crucial to solving the problem.

In 1990, my eyes were opened when someone told me that even if I could wave a magic wand on Sunday and make all gangs and drugs disappear, I would still have from 50,000 to 100,000 young gangbangers hanging around with nothing to do on Monday. A huge problem, this, the rebuilding of the human spirit, one individual at a time, from the depredations of a criminal lifestyle and in the absence of viable economic alternatives to the drug economy that for decades has supported many Chicago neighborhoods.

In its robust early years, Chicago called itself the “I Will” city. To solve its gang/drug problem, Chicago must become a “We Will” city. The will to solve the problem of gangs and drugs must originate with ordinary Chicagoans, from people who are just sick and tired of what’s been going on and who feel they have nothing to lose and perhaps something to gain by speaking out. The political and civic leadership needed to solve the problem will surface when, and only when, when a certain number of energetic Chicagoans – relatively small, I think, given the huge leveraging power of modern communications technologies – have publicly defined the problem, offered solutions of their own and pressed City Hall and the powers that be – really pressed them – to solve it.

I’m excited to say that in coming months, Chicago Civic Media will launch an online mechanism, ChicagoWRKS.com, designed to enable all Chicagoans – by citizen vote informed by expert input – to solve problems like this one and to maximize the opportunities will most benefit all Chicagoans. We’re looking to team up in all kinds of ways with others who feel that the future of news in Chicago, and the best future of Chicago itself, lies in the creation of interactive communication mechanisms that make informed problem-solvers of citizens and government.

BTW, our big thing is not TRANSPARENCY, as important as transparency is in giving citizens access to key government data. We say this because it’s not by the one-way VISUAL process of citizens SEEING data that communities can define and solve the problems that matter most to them. As an alternative this visual process, we are fine-tuning an ORAL process of LISTENING and RESPONDING. We propose an ongoing, structured, mediated and refereed process of mutual responsiveness and accountability between citizens and government. This process has visual elements – you’ll be able to post photos and videos on our site – but it’s essentially an oral one that facilitates ongoing problem solving and opportunity-realizing dialog.

From E-Democracy’s Chicago CityCamp, Jan 22-24

January 29

I’ve been waiting all week to do this wrapup of E-Democracy’s pretty amazing  CityCamp last weekend for about 100 civic-minded IT folks from some 30 states, with dozens of them doing IT for cities large and small.  Here’s the  full program. Tone was set first thing Saturday AM by Tim O’Reilly (IT author and coiner of the term “Web 2.0“) and his kickoff interview of San Francisco CIO Chris Vein, pictured right, fearless proponent for open source & Gov 2.0 (good 20 second video and very informative 19 minute video).

The night before, at the Friday meet & greet, I had a lively hour with E-Democracy founder and Minneapolis resident Steve Clift (pictured below) Chicago web & app designer Crystal Wilson (who works “with urban planners to make visible what is otherwise misunderstood, unseen, or only imagined) and Benet Haller, Director of Chicago’s Planning and Development Department.  Also met Aaron Soules and Conor White-Sullivan of Amherst, MA, whose Localocracy site, soon to launch, struck me as having lots in common with the information gathering, processing and resolution  (problem-solving) mechanism that we’re developing here at Chicago Civic Media (we’re also a couple months from launching our site). Then a nice long latish-night walk to Billy Goat’s Tavern with Mike Trakan of Chicago’s Cabrini Connections and Mapping for Justice to introduce Peter Fleck of Minneapolis to the celebrated Chicago “cheezbuggah”.

On Saturday at the U. of I. Innovation Center, I floated like a butterfly to get glimpses and sometime good looks at all 8 or 10 sessions being run simultaneously, taking notes and once stinging like a bee when foreclosures and not gang and drugs was mentioned as Chicago’s #1 unsolved problem (Susannah, I apologize, hope I didn’t distract too much).

Two presentations stood out for me.  Apps for Democracy, by Peter Corbett of istrategylabshere’s his 20 second Gov 2.0 video – was full of invaluable ideas – here’s his 20 page booklet – for anyone who wants to engage IT people (or anyone) in creative ways. The second, by Jon Udell on the seemingly innocuous (to me) topic of event aggregation, whose elmcity project opened my eyes to the enormous social bonding potential of properly tagged RSS feeds.  I can only hope this summary doesn’t misrepresent his intense presentation – and I don’t know if he liked it when at the end I jokingly said I’d “remember has as the Ted Turner of social media.”  Afterwards it was Peter Fleck who steered me to Jon’s IT Conversations with IT innovators covering a “wide range of issues at the intersection of technology and society.” Huge resource.

This account is so incomplete! I gotta mention the presentations by Keith Hurwitz on Microsoft’s  Open Government Data Initiative, Steve Clift on Public Meetings, and SusannahVazquez, Director of LISC Chicago’s New Communities Program. And it was great to meet my homey and fellow high school alumnus from New Haven, the gregarious Ben Berkowitz of SeeClickFix. And the redoubtable Daniel X. O’Neil of EveryBlock!

Now to explore all the sites I just put up here! Thanks, Steve Clift, and thanks Rockefeller Foundation & other sponsors for a great event.