My Pet Causes

For the past two years, I worked to raise awareness and funds to help stem the pressing environmental crises of our time: water, energy, climate. It was a great and successful run and I felt extremely lucky to be employed full-time doing what I love in support of critical causes that I believe in.

But regardless of the focus of my efforts (or career), my pet causes persistently tug at my soul.

What do I mean by “pet causes?” It has nothing to do with pets. Or rocks for that matter.

pet causes goose
photo by Claudio Gennari shared via Creative Commons license.

When I was a freshman at University of Iowa and finally arrived at the age of independence, I thought: “We’re on the verge of a revolution and I’m ready, along with my new-found peers and old high school buds, to take on the world and turn it on its head.” I was pretty much like every other 18-year-old in that respect.

But as we grow and the world around us invariably and abruptly changes in both inexplicable and awesome ways, we start to think we might need to guard or cherish that which we find essential, lest it gets taken from younger generations. After all, it doesn’t take a long time at university to realize that you’ve got it better than many.

What I saw growing up and discovering the world in the mid- to late-’90s was a U.S. carelessly at the top of its game on the verge of imminent denouement and with a widening gap between the haves and have nots. The dumbing down of our nation had begun spiraling out of control and it wasn’t even the Bush 43 administration yet.

I began to get angry about certain things that I was afforded yet others were not. Nothing extreme, nothing impossible, just middle class luxuries that I refused to take for granted and to this day hope to see universally available – at least on a hyperlocal level.

My Pet Causes:

  • The Arts in Public Education
  • Internet (specifically broadband) for All

Arts in Education:

I learned to read music at age five – piano lessons. By second grade we played the recorder in music class. I probably had a crush on my third grade art teacher. Didn’t we all?

But by the time I got to high school, art and music classes were already getting stripped from public schools thanks to a budget crunch. And they never would recover. Fast forward to 2010 and it’s beyond blaming TV, video games, or the internet. Creativity is going out of style. It’s no longer an option. This is bad.

Broadband for All

I’m sick enough right now about LA public libraries shutting down every Sunday and Monday. The fact that we can’t bolster our society by at least subsidizing access to high-speed internet is a goddamn shame. I’ve reported on all the OECD broadband surveys in which the U.S. consistently shows up in the bottom half. Obama has presented a plan. Let’s make it happen… and more.

What you can do:

A little bit goes a long way and just by reading this far, you’ve (at least subconsciously) helped my pet causes. Please visit the following websites for more info and to take action:

What are your pet causes?

August 25 – CitizenGulf National Day of Action

citizengulf project august 25 day of action

Mark your calendars! Citizen Effect’s CitizenGulf project will become a National Day of Action on August 25th, in alignment with the week of the fifth anniversary of Katrina. The benefit — to be promoted by Gulf Coast Benefit — seeks to help fishing families find a new, more sustainable future by providing education resources for their children.

You Can Help Many

Catholic Charities of New Orleans is the beneficiary of all CitizenGulf National Day of Action donations. Citizen Effect will send 100% of donations, less credit card fees, directly to Catholic Charities to support education programs for fishing families

There are three things citizens like you can do to help:

1) Attend or host your local event
2) Donate
3) Support Gulf Coast Benefit’s Pepsi Refresh project.

Donations can be given directly through the main CitizenGulf project page.

A Day of Action Means Jazz, Blues, Zydeco, and More

World of Coca Cola Party

Events will be meet-ups at places that can accommodate the following: People, hurricanes, New Orleans themed music (i.e. jazz, blues, zydeco) and a local green or environmental expert who can say a few things about the oil spill’s impact on the marine environment and the Gulf Coast economies associated with it. Registration will be $10.

Social Media Club has signed on as a CitizenGulf project partner and will help Gulf Coast Benefit promote the CitizenGulf events. Cities that have already signed on to host events include Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, New York and Washington, DC. A full list of cities and details on how to register and participate will be available on the Gulf Coast Benefit web site no later than August 1.

We Are Actively Seeking Event Hosts, Sponsors and Attendees.

We are actively seeking hosts and sponsors to lead official events in many cities, organize Social Media Club local events and host unofficial awareness meetings. Email us for more details.

Gulf Coast Benefit’s Pepsi Refresh project will be our third action, and will be open for voting on August 1. The week of the national day of action, Citizen Effect will also offer CitizenGulf opportunities for individuals to engage in their own citizen grassroots projects throughout the fall to benefit fishing families; education, healthcare, food, etc.

Additional promotion partners for the national day of action include Andy Sternberg, el-studio.com, Live Your Talk, Taylor Davidson and Zoetica. Thank you so much for everything you and our caring supporters have done to support CitizenGulf. The project is now yours!

Do We Underestimate the Universal Reach of the Social Web?

“The new Revolution aims essentially at a change in directive ideas…. It [is] a choice between so carrying on and so organising the process of change in our affairs as to produce a new world order, or suffering an entire and perhaps irreparable social collapse.” – H. G. Wells, The New World Order (1940)

tree media revolution internet social web
Photo by Giovanni Orlando shared via Creative Commons license.

I view recent developments in technology and media (roughly 1995 – 2005) as nothing short of revolutionary. The incredible pace of technological advancement and increased access to new media and communication tools during those ten years was like nothing we’ve seen in such a short time span and nothing we might see again for generations. From dial-up to WiMax, the browser-less web to OSx and Google Chrome, from buddy chat to Twitter, and low quality streaming audio to YouTube and video chat. Not to mention, TVs and monitors are now flat and gigantic.

We can have it all now and slowly the big picture is coming together, new tools and modes of communication are growing more comfortable for greater proportions of the global population. In many ways we’ve already leapfrogged adoption of previous generations’ groundbreaking tech. For example, many Native American reservations in the southwest were NEVER wired for telephones but now are not only on the mobile grid but have hi-speed WiFi setups such as the Tribal Digital Village.

Even early adopters of social tools on the web still find themselves in a sort of honeymoon phase — so excited to have the new tools yet not ready to get practical with them and in other cases hesitant to engage peers and family members who may be slower to pick up on new tech. Even the media is waiting for the proverbial “other shoe” to drop, slipping off the heels of privacy issues (Facebook), feature flaws (Apple), or media companies getting in the way of foreign policy (Google).

We’re nowhere near seeing the potential of the internet as a communication device and as a powerful social tool.

But I cringe a tiny bit when I see one of my mentors and colleagues minimizing the scope of social media’s — and the web’s global reach. That was my first reaction to reading the beginning of Geoff Livingston‘s next book, currently titled The Fifth Estate. Now, I know Geoff is not looking to repeat what he already covered in Now is Gone but I hope to see broader strokes applied from a global perspective.

For many Americans, the rise of social media is tied to a political shakeout due to blogger backlash or an embarrassing clip of a candidate memorialized on YouTube. Geoff points to the election of Jim Webb as Virginia senator in 2006, which happened after a pivotal YouTube video led to a destructive backlash against the incumbent George Allen — the infamous “‘Macaca’ moment.”

I had a similar awakening through the rapid rise and fall of the Howard Dean campaign in 2004. Dean’s campaign was the first test of the Netroots, in which bloggers on the progressive left, behind the brilliance of political strategist Joe Trippi, rallied behind Dean and turning him into a formidable candidate in a battle that was largely viewed as Kerry vs. Gore. Influencers in the blogosphere got on board, spread the word, and suddenly the people had their candidate, in spite of what the mainstream media was calling a two-man race.

But Dean’s undoing was not unlike Allen’s — and after a strong showing in the Iowa caucus, shot himself in the foot with the “Dean Scream.” There may not have been YouTube (or even Twitter and Facebook) at the time, however, the Dean Scream shot around the world, gaining “cult-like status on the web” thanks to social media, blog posts, and audio remixes.

For people in many countries, however, the rise of these new social devices and online tools have been marked more by mobile phones than online social media platforms — at least to this point. News and photos from the scene of the July 2005 London bombings were spread via SMS messages from people on the trains to their loved ones and photos uploaded directly to Flickr and other photo sharing sites like moblog.co.uk.

But it’s not just how social media has influenced how news is reported and affected the way political campaigns are managed. It’s about how these revolutionary technlogies enable a freer flow of information between agents of social change and primary points for action.

In 2003, journalists first got word of the severity of the SARS epidemic thanks to an SMS message from medical sources in China (read about this and more in Dan Gillmor‘s We the Media). Had it not been for these SMS messages and the ensuing global communications on listservs among medical professionals scrambling for a vaccine, the global scale of SARS could have been much worse — the Chinese media and government certainly weren’t letting on about it.

Personally I don’t like the term Fourth Estate and I certainly don’t think that our newly enhanced and increasingly social media need the badge of being a Fifth Estate — it’s all the same — and it seems to me that media in general can do a much better job of holding the government in check. Ironically (or maybe not) the term Fourth Estate refers to the press as a fourth branch of British parliament (or the three French states-general, as Wikipedia would have it).

Bollocks, I say! More branches does not make the tree grow taller, faster. Let’s take advantage of these revolutionary times, adapt and consolidate for the greater good and, like Wells wrote, save society from collapse and bring hopefulness to future generations.

Part 2 in an series of posts and cross-published comments inspired by friends’ recent blog posts. This one inspired by “Welcome to the Fifth Estate,” by Geoff Livingston.