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Who Owns Social Media?

HMV-StaffTakeoverNew Orleans     If you’re lucky, you’ve never had to give any of this a second thought, but increasingly social media has blurred the lines between personal, political, and business, and forced the classic question about property:  who owns what?  There are blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and god knows what else, and when it’s working, it’s working well, but what happens when there’s a bump in the road, a business disagreement, or a bankruptcy?  The social media companies are very little help and often either obscure or worse, irresponsible, in how they deal with all of this and the courts and lawyers are only recently getting in the game, so it is worth thinking about this now, even though it may already be too late for many.  In the newness of the media, we all jumped in feet first, leaping now, and looking later. 

            Twitter is without a doubt the worse since their communication skills are limited to 149 characters it seems in all transactions.  The number of Twitter users is always suspect because passwords are linked to email addresses, and forgetting one means death to the other and the account, forcing another account with another random email address and starting the cycle all over again for many.  In the early days, some young eager beaver might have seized the opportunity or for that matter been asked by some doddering soul of forty or higher to “yeah, sure, go ahead and open one of those ‘tweet’ things.”  Years later the staffer or volunteer is gone, it now seems more important to actually deal with the account, and no one can remember what and whatnot. 

            We run into these problems frequently with the volunteer armies that keep our noncommercial radio stations on a forward line of march.  We had a great Facebook account for KABF that started as a so-called personal account and hit the maximum of 5000 friends before Facebook changed to “fan” pages.  Eventually, we were able to post on the account, but no matter how many times we entreat them, they will not honor the fact that KABF is the owner of the KABF account, so we can’t administer it, and were forced to start anew two years ago.  DJs, enthusiastic about their shows or leaders enthusiastic about their local groups, start Facebook accounts on their own that sprout up like weeds in the garden.  Does it build the organization or the station or siphon interest and support away into side channels and still bayous off of the mainstream?  Both in all likelihood, and trying to rein them in often breeds the worst results, even though everyone agrees it is important to speak with one voice and protect your so-called “brand.”  Once we even had to fight to get back on own website domain, sheesh!

           To keep up with the sites, a kneejerk reaction becomes to make lots of people administrators in order to feed the beast.  On Facebook that can be a disaster.  Any administrator can suddenly evict any other administrator from the site just on their say so without a nevermind it seems to the entity which owns it all and is responsible for the content.  Yikes!  And, Facebook is no help in resolving this.  We eventually discovered, thanks to our webmaster’s diligent research, that you can have one administrator and give “privileges” to others, so we’ve changed that on all of our sites, but how many know about that hidden nugget of information.

            A gun store owner in Texas recently spent seven weeks in jail because he refused to turn over the business Facebook and Twitter accounts to a partner acquiring the outfit after a bankruptcy, claiming he had used the accounts as a personal soapbox and his speech was being silence.  A South Carolina internet company sued a former employee for taking a Twitter account with 17,000 followers with him when he left, costing them thousands.  In Pennsylvania, a federal court had to get into the mess with a woman and her former employer over who owned the Linked-In account.  Discussions about all of this largely uncharted intellectual property ownership with Doug Young, our Austin-based attorney, give him huge migraines, he reports.

            My advice:  this is a mess, so best straighten it out now BEFORE there are problems.  Just saying.

Whitney Plantation: The Story of Slavery

DSCN0269-2Wallace, Louisiana     Somehow it seemed appropriate over the US Independence Day holiday to make a point of going up the Mississippi River from New Orleans to finally see John Cummings’ Whitney Plantation and what he is calling the “Story of Slavery.” The Plantation had earned a long review some months ago in the New York Times Magazine as a unique, if eccentric, museum built to tell the story of slavery from the perspective of the slaves. Cummings, a retired New Orleans lawyer, had bought the property from the Formosa chemical company when they decided not to build a plant on the grounds at the end of the 20th century and had been pulling the pieces together to implement this vision.

Without a doubt, his was a powerful vision and he has produced something laudatory and important. A view of the exhibits and grounds are guided and that helps fill in the gaps of the story. True to the billing, he and his collaborator, a historian from Africa, were everywhere about the grounds, lending passion and authenticity to the enterprise, and absorbing their quota of questions and comments.

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And, that’s a good thing, because it sands down some of the rough edges that still exist that put up unnecessary barriers to accessing the story of slavery, which is by definition intense and disturbing already. The website is confusing about the hours and costs, and, sadly, lacks any directions or map. The woman at the counter confirmed that they had been unable to get Google’s navigation tools corrected to bring people directly into the plantation rather than taking people 15 to 30 miles out of the way. It actually couldn’t be easier to find, once you have been there. Take I-10 either from New Orleans or Baton Rouge and get off at the Gramercy exit, then cross the Mississippi River on the Gramercy Bridge, and head south along the River on Highway 18 and you are there within half-a-mile. Easy-peasy! Lord knows how many took a wrong turn, ended up in Thibideaux, and were never heard from again.

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Some of the main attractions are monuments to slaves from Louisiana or St. John Parish and children. The long marble slabs get short shrift on the tour, because there are simply too many names, meaning too many slaves, but that’s the point after all. The names, Vietnam Memorial style, are very powerful, though oddly some of the quotes alongside them are sometimes repeated on the same slabs, which seems a bit slipshod for something so significant and substantial. The quotes are not from local or Louisiana slaves but from others, but that’s fine, you are overwhelmed by the reading, when not catching yourself in a repetition. The so-called “Field of Angels” got equal billing for supposedly 2000 children who died in the parish before the age of two, though actually looking at the engravings there were children of all ages, even if most of them were younger, some eight, five, three, seven, and so forth. And, why not, a child dead in slavery is a child dead and dead as a slave. The age is meaningless. I was mystified why enough was not enough in impact rather than understanding the need to gild the lily. Evil is evil, and nothing more need be said.

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This is a work in progress. They are getting there and it’s an important place they are going. They need well-wishers, visitors, and support, because this is a story that needs to be told and must be told, and Cummings is to be saluted for the effort. Direct route or the long way around, it’s worth the journey!

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Greatest Country, Leading Some, Trailing Many

482-4th-of-julyNew Orleans        The conservative weekly news magazine from the United Kingdom, The Economist, publishes a “Pocket World in Figures,” ranking countries across the globe in areas large and small. Celebrating the US Declaration of Independence and our oft repeated claim by politicians that the United States is the “greatest country on earth,” it seemed like a good day to take a look at how we shape up in the world.

We are world shakers it seems, but much of that has to do with business.  We are number one in “global competitiveness” and number seven in “business environment” for example.  We are number two after Japan in the number of new patents at last count.  The top eight largest non-financial companies are our domestic giants including Exxon, Apple, Google, Berkshire Hathaway, Microsoft, General Electric, Johnson & Johnson, and Chevron.  The two largest banks in the world are the US-based Wells Fargo and JP Morgan Chase.  We have the longest highways, the most railroad miles, and the most air miles travelled, and therefore the most tourism.  I can tell we’re all swelling up with pride.  At least for business.

We don’t rank so high in other areas though, particularly ones that impact all of our people.  We are 45th for example in life expectancy.  What kind of slogan is that:  live free, die early?  We have the 3rd highest rate of obesity, even though we are at the top of health spending.  We also rank 3rdin cannabis usage.

We are first in the number of our people in prison.  We are 18th in our cost of living and first in the percentage of our people involved in giving.  We are second in the level of our emissions.

We are mighty and armed to the teeth.   We are 15th in defense spending as a percentage of our GDP.  Our armed forces are second only to China in size, but we lead in actual defense spending with five times the amount of the number two China.  We are second as an arms exporter, trailing only Russia.

How about tech where we have the big head?  We are sixth in the number of computers per 100 people, but only 28th in availability and subscribers to broadband and 9th in mobile broadband.  We are 22nd in telephones but not even in the top 34 for mobile telephones.  We are tied with Austria at 24th in terms of internet users per 100 people, but we are number one in Facebook users, internet hosts, and music including downloads.

Energy?  We produce more than anyone other than China, and we use more than anyone other than China, while our consumption per person is 11th in the world, and they don’t make the top 22 listed by The Economist. 

We won’t starve though.  We are first in agricultural output and tied for 11th with Japan and Denmark for the least dependent on agriculture in our economy.

Our government debt is 11th and our government spending is 27th.

We rank 15th in our level of democracy trailing Canada and the United Kingdom right above us, God Save the Queen.

America, what a country!   But, this is just the facts, ma’am.

Has the Tenderloin Built a Poison Pill Against Gentrification?

hotel_unionNew Orleans   While in the Bay Area I made a point of dropping by to visit with Randy Shaw, the longtime director of the Tenderloin Housing Clinic, the neighborhood filled with SRO hotels, union offices, bars, and whatever within blocks of City Hall, the Opera, and other civic monuments. Shaw had recently published a book on the history of the Tenderloin called, The Tenderloin: Sex, Crime, and Resistance in the Heart of San Francisco. I wanted to get him on tape for a radio interview on Wade’s World and Social Policy had excerpted his book in the current issue, so this was all on my mind. Randy is also a veteran organizer with thirty-five years under his belt, so always has some insights. Besides, San Francisco is a case study of gentrification where real estate costs are constant conversation, so how has the Tenderloin fared?

The Tenderloin Housing Clinic is a serious institution with a budget of $23 million mostly through local city contracts to manage and support a host of SRO hotels in the Tenderloin. Shaw says they have three-hundred people on staff, importantly including tenant and community organizers assigned to each of their buildings. It goes without saying the residents of the single room occupancy hotels are a reserve army ready to be mobilized by the THC and its on-site organizers at any provocation. Undoubtedly the ability to couple those two forces has been part of Shaw and the THC’s recipe for success and is something that Mayors and council members keep constantly in mind. It is probably also the reason that the City of San Francisco pitched in the first million and change to build out the 3500 square foot Tenderloin Museum that Shaw and the THC team are opening in mid-July on the history of the area.

In this executive city with its legendary housing prices, banking, oil, tourism, and tech wealth, it is still surprising that the Tenderloin is allowed to exist at all. The THC and Shaw were strategic in this regard. They used the exorbitant cost of land to hedge against development by shrewdly campaigning and winning a height restriction blocking any development over eight stories, essentially trumping almost any developer’s financial models of what it would take to balance the books on a new hotel, office tower, or condo development. They also have rent control in force and a number of other measures in the Tenderloin, further preventing the SRO’s from simply being converted to condos along the New York City, Vancouver, or Seattle models.

Shaw also invested the time and energy in making sure that the Tenderloin and the city ordinances and developmental restrictions that protected it could not be swept away by shifts in the political wind at City Hall. Telling me the story, he described years of lobbying in Sacramento at the state capitol until they were able to win legislation that put some dead bolt locks on their housing protections for the Tenderloin. Naturally, I asked him why other communities in San Francisco had not tried the same strategy. He was clear that he thought the Mission should have done so and the sweeping gentrification occurring there now was somewhat the result of missing the opportunity. Talking to Mike Miller, a veteran community organizer in the area about Randy’s point, he disagreed, arguing that the Tenderloin was a relative small area compared to the size of the Mission, and the same strategy would not have worked.

Maybe? But, there are important lessons to be learned from the Tenderloin Housing Clinic about how to block developers, speculators, and the wannabes that inevitably follow by building the doors and securing the locks to keep them out while improving the housing stock for the existing residents at the same time, and these lessons are not in a museum but in thinking about how to adapt similar strategies and tactics to other neighborhoods in the same disciplined and committed fashion.

Buzz for Bernie on the Left Coast

lowwagerally520San Francisco   I’m not totally shocked, but I didn’t see all of this coming.  Meeting with random associates, comrades, and friends from diverse fields and directions, everyone on the Left Coast is buzzing about Bernie Sanders and his race for President.

Running a union, there’s no way to miss the fact that several thousand union activists have signed a letter of support for Sanders’ campaign. That kind of news is flooding my email “in-box.”  The Vermont and South Carolina AFL-CIO councils have issued resolutions of support, worrying AFL-CIO chief Richard Trumka enough that he has already had to issue an alert to state and local bodies to stand down and leave it to the Executive Council and the national unions to make these decisions.  Larry Cohen after ten years at the helm of the Communications Workers resigned one day and the next day announced that he was going to work as a volunteer for Sanders campaign in part because of Sanders’ longtime voting record with labor in Congress and in his home state, but also in protest of Hillary Clinton’s support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade negotiations.

In California though his beachhead among progressives is extensive and much wider than labor activists.  For example, in meeting with community, political, and labor activists in Contra Costa County in the East Bay, it was startling to hear how often the conversation migrated to Sanders and his prospects.  Importantly, this interest was deeper than simply speculation about how far Sanders might make it in the Democratic Presidential sweepstakes.  The substantive discussion – and hope – was whether or not a strong run could ignite more movement and support for independent politics at every level, including the prospects for an effective and national alternative party. There was a feeling that support building for Sanders was not an “anybody but Hillary” drive, but a reward and real excitement over a candidate deeply committed and bravely progressive on positions one  after another.

Unspoken, but undoubtedly felt, was the feeling that a card carrying Socialist and avowed independent, building a significant vote total and campaign effort, could create a real Left willing to embrace the opportunity to lead and contend for power, rather than still facing the PTSD of the Cold War.

Many desperately wanted a California campaign.  They want the chance to pile up the votes and use the campaign to build their own infrastructure for now and the future.  Others speculated that the Working Families Party or other nascent national efforts might be able to grow in the slipstream of a Sanders campaign.

Having lunch in Oakland with a longtime supporter of ACORN, I did a double take when she also turned the conversation to Sanders.  Her argument was both personal and political.  Family members including a young nephew were planning at this point to sit the election out in 2016, feeling no enthusiasm and a pox on both their houses kind of attitude.  She felt she had moved the twenty-something towards Sanders as someone different.  Perhaps the buzz for Bernie can go deeper than white, elderly, and rural where he is finding more than enough of his Vermont-type base in his early forays in New Hampshire and Iowa.  Another comrade argued that Sanders might be able to double-down with younger voters from an equally solid place based on his longstanding work with veterans and his advocacy and effectiveness on the Veterans Committee of the Senate.

Grasping straws?  Building dream castles in the sky?  Hard to tell, but if this kind of excitement about Sanders starts to catch fire more broadly around the country, maybe what Sarah Palin famously called this “hope-y thing” might find a cozy home in the Sanders’ campaign with long term results.

Working Assets and Credo Defining Social Enterprise

indexSan Francisco   The buzz waxes and wanes on the value of social enterprise in the business world and whether or not it is a movement getting traction or hidden by the shadow of the global group hug being given all things tech today.  I was in San Francisco to praise the Cesar of Social Enterprise at a gallery in the business district, Michael Kieschnick, as he celebrated a triple header:his anniversary, his birthday, and his retirement from Credo Mobility.

Credo, and Working Assets before that, is at the apex of social enterprise in the USA.  Credo is largely known as a mobile phone service.  Working Assets was ostensibly a reseller of long distance service, usually for Sprint for many years.  None of that describes what they really did at all.  Over the years, largely due to Michael’s tutelage
and his team’s efforts they assembled a massive action list that could be – and often was – mobilized on issues from climate change to peace to voting rights and hundreds of issues large and small.  Credo was not just a voice for social change, but under Michael had built a megaphone that roared truth to power.

As importantly, they also put their money where their mouth was. After withstanding, somewhat uncomfortably, the praise of partners and friends last night, in his concluding remarks he cited the figure of $80 million as the sum of what they had given out to support a wide variety of environmental, peace, social justice and other organizations.  They made money to make change, not just hear a dial tone. They were not a foundation or the usual friends funding clique. They were a business that had to perform, and expected the same of the groups they supported.

He mentioned that they were the single largest funder of Planned Parenthood for example.  I know this firsthand from ACORN’s own experience since we enjoyed the Working Assets support on alternate years a number of times.  Getting on the list required a simple proposal but also a vote of the workforce.  Once there, Working Assets customers voted for who should get the money.  Since the money came from a piece of the profits, as the business succeeded, the pot enlarged.  The division of support was an even split of the pot. An organization could lobby and campaign, but it wasn’t a popularity contest. We never felt we got anything other than a fair shake, even when we didn’t make the list.

This may be too much information, so focus on the facts.  This was a huge transfer of resources to social change and campaigning organizations that desperately needed the support, and, warts and all, Michael’s design was a remarkably innovative and committed device to maintain huge commitment from his workforce to the mission and projects of the company.

Kieschnick’s sudden retirement had caught me and many others by surprise.  He vaguely mentioned some health problems over the previous year and the inspiration of his wife and her successful transition, but Michael is too important a force in the infrastructure of the progressive movement and a prod to vision and performance for him to exit the scene. It will be a challenge and a frustration for him to find a voice and platform as large as what he and his associates have built at Credo, but we need him to rise to it, and we need Credo to continue to grow and fill this space as a beacon for others and a partner for many of us.

Repeating a line I had heard him speak at many a Tides Foundation board meeting, “I just have one question…,” I had ended my two minutes on Michael by asking the same question and reminding him of his responsibility in the future.  He had whispered to me after I finished that he would be active and we would be working together on many campaigns in the future.

We are going to have to hold him to his word on that.