Tony Abraham writes:The practice of making money while making a social impact is a business strategy largely thought to have originated on the brink of the 21st century with the rise of cleantech. But the seeds of social enterprise may have actually been sown in fertile Philadelphia soil two and half centuries ago.
“We’re here to bring people together”: Check out new album by West Philadelphia conscious acoustic duo. In the West Philly local:
West Philly-based duo City Love, comprised of Mantua and Belmont resident musicians Sterling Duns and Caselli Jordan, writes songs to spread the love, make people move, laugh, and foster dialogue about social issues.
Dr. Sa’ed Atshan: Teaching tolerance, promoting peace. The Philadelphia Gay News profiles a Friend and graduate of the Ramallah Friends School:
blockquote>I didn’t have a conventional coming-of-age there because I got to go to the Ramallah School, which emphasized non-violence and social justice and the light of God in every human being. It was also very rigorous academically. It allowed me to escape from a quite-harsh reality and gave me hope and promise for a future.</ blockquote>
From a 1956 issue of the then-newly rebranded Friends Journal, an explanation of the ethics behind providing a fixed price for goods:
Whether the early Quakers were consciously trying to start a social movement or not is a moot point. Most likely they were not. They were merely seeking to give consistent expression to their belief in the equality of all men as spiritual sons of God. The Quaker custom of marking a fixed price on merchandise so that all men would pay the same price is another case in point. Most probably Friends did this simply because they wanted to be fair to all who frequented their shops and give the sharp bargainer no advantage at the expense of his less skilled brother. It is unlikely that many Quakers adopted fixed prices in the hope of forcing their system on a business world interested only in profit. That part was just coincidence, the coincidence being that Friends hit upon it because of their convictions; the system itself was a natural success.
— Bruce L Pearson, Feb 4 1956
Liberal vs radical social witness. Another installment from Steven Davison’s Quaker-pocalypse series:
Liberal social action tends to be respectful, too, if not even a bit deferential. The liberal impulse in witness and outreach seeks not to turn away a seeker who might be made uncomfortable by un-reasonable words and actions, or to seem to disrespect the people with whom we disagree. This is not radical, and I question whether it is the path to renewal.
From Rebecca Onion in Slate, a great piece about inmates at America’s oldest women’s prison rewriting the history of its benevolent Quaker founders. Prisoners researching the history of the institution found that the common story didn’t line up with what they found:
“a feel-good story” about Quaker reformers rescuing women from abuse in men’s prisons and turned it into a darker, more complicated tale.
This article on the Quaker two Quaker women who started a prison in Indiana in 1873 who turn out not to be the benevolent figures handed down by history should not be terribly surprising.
A lot of 19th century Quaker reformist activity was equal parts interesting and horrid. There was a lot of condescension toward lower classes–Quaker scientists did some of the earliest eugenics studies and one working in South Jersey coined the word “moron” to label people of inferior genetics.
Another type of Quaker social work consisted of scrubbing the ethnicity and quirkiness out of social inferiors. There’s a great set of before and after pictures in Still Philadelphia: A Photographic History, 1890-1940 that shows an immigrant slum kitchen after the Quaker-connected Octavia Hill Association got through with it. They took down wallpaper and swept the place–as if mantlepiece clutter were to blame for the institutionalized poverty and racism these immigrants faced.
And yet… Some of these reformers’ work looks good on paper. The Octavia Hill renovation included adding a new window in the kitchen. Cleaning up ghettos and acclimatizing new immigrants to the unwritten norms of their new homeland is useful. I wonder if part of the problem is that these reformers weren’t asking the more radical questions–Why were immigrants fleeing here? Why were they being offered better jobs? Who profited by keeping them scared and desperate?
The twenty-first century inmates writing this new history have some perspective on this. They’re asking why women committing petty crimes were incarcerated while one of the prison’s co-founders lived off of the gains of an husband who embezzled large amounts of money.
In many ways this echoes the current discussions of white privilege. Crime was not then and is not now enforced equally. In Ferguson most of the town was literally classified as criminals based on the most subjective of broken laws. As pillars of the community Quakers were given a pass, both by outsiders and within our own ranks. We must ask hard questions about seemingly-neutral conflicts which result is ongoing patterns and we must constantly pay attention to who’s defining the definitions.
Also of interest: a long account of Rhonda Coffin (pictured), the prison co-founder whose husband lost the fortune (and who was later drummed out of Friends). She’s a fascinating and complicated figure at the forefront of the tectonic changes then occurring among Indiana Friends: wealthy, Evangelical, a social reformist and support of revivals. She argued for feminine values when establishing a prison and yet was stepping out of “traditional” female role herself by doing this work.
When I first started blogging fifteen years ago, the process was simple. I’d open up a file, hand-edit the HTML code and upload it to a webserver–those were the days! Now every social web service is like a blog unto itself. The way I have them interact is occasionally dizzying even to me. Recently a friend asked on Facebook what people used Tumblr for, and I thought it might be a good time to survey my current web services. These shift and change constantly but perhaps others will find it an interesting snapshot of hooked-together media circa 2012.
The glue services you don’t see:
- Google Reader. I still try to keep up with about a hundred blogs, mostly spiritual in nature. The old tried-and-true Google Reader still organizes it all, though I often read it through the Android app NewsRob.
- Diigo. This took the place of the classic social bookmarking site Delicious when it had a near-death experience a few years ago (it’s never come back in a form that would make me reconsider it). Whenever I see something interesting I want to share, I post it here, where it gets cross-posted to my Twitter and Tumblr sites. I’ve bookmarked over 4500 sites over the last seven-plus years. It’s an essential archive that I use for remembering sites I’ve liked in the past. Diigo bookmarks that are tagged “Quaker” get sucked into an alternate route where they become editor features for QuakerQuaker.org.
- Pocket (formerly Read it Later). I’m in the enviable position that many of my personal interests overlap with my professional work. While working, I’ll often find some interesting Quaker article that I want to read later. Hence Pocket, a service that will instantly bookmark the site and make it available for later reading.
- Flipboard is a great mobile app that lets you read articles on topics you like. Combine it with Twitter lists and you have a personalized reading list. I use this every day, mostly for blogs and news sites I like to read but don’t consider so essential that I need to catch everything they publish.
- Ifttt.com. A handy service named after the logical construct “IF This, Then That,” Ifttt will take one social feed and cross-post it to another under various conditions. For example, I have Diigo posts cross-post to Twitter and Flickr posts crosspost to Facebook. Some of the Ifttt “recipies” are behind the scenes, like the one that takes every post on WordPress and adds it to my private Evernote account for archival purposes.
The Public-Facing Me:
- WordPress (Quakerranter.org). The blog you’re reading. It originally started as a Moveable Type-powered blog when that was the hip blogging platform (I’m old). A few years ago I went through a painstaking process to bring it over to WordPress in such a way that its Disqus-powered comments would be preserved.
- Twitter. I’ve long loved Twitter, though like many techies I’m worried about the direction it’s headed. They’ve recently locked most of the services that read Twitter feeds and reprocess it. If this weren’t happening, I’d use it as a default channel for just about everything. In the meantime, only about half of my tweets are direct from the service–the remainder are auto-imports from Diigo, Instagram, etc.
- Tumblr (QuackQuack.org). I like Tumblr although my site there (quackquack.org) gets very few direct visits. I mostly use it as a “links blog” of interesting things I find in my internet wanderings. Most items come in via Diigo, though if I have time I’ll supplement things with my own thoughts or pictures. Most people probably see this via the sidebar of the QuakerRanter site.
- Facebook. It may seem I post a lot on Facebook, but 95 percent of what goes up there is imported from some other service. But, because more people are on Facebook than anywhere else, it’s the place I get the most comments. I generally use it to reply to comments and see what friends are up to. I don’t like Facebook per se because of its paternalist controls on what can be seen and its recent moves to force content providers to pay for visibility for their own fan pages.
- Flickr. Once the darling of photo sites, Flickr’s been the heartbreak of the hipster set more times than I can remember. It has a terrible mobile app and always lags behind every other service but I have over 4000 pictures going back to 2005. This is my photo archive (much more so than the failing disk drives on a succession of laptops).
- I use Foursquare all the time but I don’t think many people notice it.
- Right now, most of my photos start off with the mobile app Instagram, handy despite the now-tired conceit of its square format (cute when it was the artsy underdog, cloying now that it’s the billion-dollar mainstream service).
- Like most of the planet I use Youtube for videos. I like Vimeo but Youtube is particularly convenient when shooting from a Google-based phone and it’s where the viewers are.
- I gave up my old custom site at MartinKelley.com for a Flavors.me account. Its flexibility lets me easily link to the services I use.
When I write all this out it seems so complicated. But the aim is convenience: a simple few keystrokes that feed into services disseminate information across a series of web presences.
A few days ago the NYTimes ran a fascinating early look-back at the relationship between social media and the largely-nonviolent revolution in Egypt written by David D Kirkpatrick and David E Sanger. I doubt we’ve seen the last twist and turn of this tumultuous time but as I write this, the world sighs relief that longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak is finally out. Most of the quotes and inside knowlege came via Ahmed Maher, a 30-year-old civil engineer and a leading organizer of the April 6 Youth Movement, who became an activist in 2005.
Lesson One: Years in the Making
The Times starts off by pointing out that the “bloggers lead the way” and that the “Egyptian revolt was years in the making.” It’s important to remember that these things don’t come out of nowhere. Bloggers have been active for years: leading, learning, making mistakes and collecting knowledge. Many of the first round of bloggers were ignored and repressed. Some of them were effectively neutralized when they were co-opted into what the Times calls “the timid, legally recognized opposition parties.” “What destroyed the movement was the old parties,” said one blogger. A lesson we might draw for that is that blogging isn’t necessarily a stepping stone to “real activism” but is instead it’s own kind of activism. The culture of blogs and mainstream movements are not always compatible.
Lesson Two: Share Your Experiences
The Egyptian protests began after ones in Tunisia. The context was not the same: “The Tunisians faced a more pervasive police state than the Egyptians, with less latitude for blogging or press freedom, but their trade unions were stronger and more independent.” Still, it was important to share tips: “We shared our experience with strikes and blogging,” a blogger recalled. Some of the tips were exceedingly practical (how to avert tear gas–brought lemons, onions and vinegar, apparently) and others more social (sharing torture experiences). Lesson: we all have many things to learn. It’s best to be ready for counter-tactics.
One of the interesting sidelights was how the teachings of American nonviolence strategist Gene Sharp made it to Cairo. A Serbian youth movement had based their rebellion on his tactics and the Egyptians followed their lead, with exiled organizers setting up a website (warning: annoying sound) compiling Sharp’s strategies:
For their part, Mr. Maher and his colleagues began reading about nonviolent struggles. They were especially drawn to a Serbian youth movement called Otpor, which had helped topple the dictator Slobodan Milosevic by drawing on the ideas of an American political thinker, Gene Sharp. The hallmark of Mr. Sharp’s work is well-tailored to Mr. Mubark’s Egypt: He argues that nonviolence is a singularly effective way to undermine police states that might cite violent resistance to justify repression in the name of stability.
As an aside, I have to say that as a longterm peace activist, it tickles me no end to see Gene Sharp’s ideas at the heart of the Egyptian protests. America really can export democracy sometimes!
Lesson Three: Be Relentless in Confronting Lies
The Times reports that Maher “took special aim at the distortions of the official media.” He told them that when people “distrust the media then you know you are not going to lose them. When the press is full of lies, social media takes on the fact checking role. People turn to independent sources when they sense a propaganda machine. The creator of a Facebook site was a Google marketing executive working on his own. He filled the site We Are all Khaled Said “with video clips and newspaper articles [and] repeatedly hammered home a simple message.”
Lesson Four: Don’t Wait for Those Supposed To Do This Work
Most of this social media was created by students for goodness sake and it all relied on essentially-free services. Everyone’s always thought that if Egypt were to explode it would be the dreaded-but-popular Muslim Brotherhood that would lead the charge. But they didn’t. They scrambled not knowing what to do as protests erupted in the major cities. Eventually the Brotherhood’s youth wing joined the protests and the full organization followed suit but it was not the leaders in any of this.
When we’re talking about popular organizating, money and established credentials aren’t always an advantage. What’s interesting to learn with the Egypt protests is that the generation leading it doesn’t seem to have as strict a religious worldview as its parents. This came out most dramatically in the images of Christian Egyptians protecting their Muslim brothers in Tahir Square during times of prayer. This is having ramification in copycat protests in Tehran. Iranian leaders tried to paint the Egyptian students as heirs to their own Islamic revolution but it seems practical considerations are more important than setting up an Islamist state (stay tuned on this one–protests have begun in Tehran on one hand and the Muslim Brotherhood might well take over from Egypt protesters now that Mubarak is out).
On a personal note…
It’s interesting to watch how the three-year old Save St Mary’s campaign has mimicked some of the features of the Egyptian protests. Their blog has been pretty relentless in exposing the lies. It’s attracted far more media attention than the professionally-staffed Diocesan press office has been able to muster. There’s been a lot of behind-the-scenes talking with churches in other regions to compare tactics and anticipate counter-moves. As far as I know it’s one of seven churches nationwide with round-the-clock vigils but it’s the only one with a strong social media component. It’s average age is probably a generation or two younger than the other vigils which gives it a certain frank style that’s not found elsewhere. The Philadelphia Archdiocese is exploding now with arrests of recent Diocesan officials and revelations from the District Attoreny that dozens of priests with “credible accusations” of pedophilia are still ministering around kids and while church closings and the pedophilia scandals are not officially connected, as a non-Catholic I’m fine admitting that they arise from a shared Diocesan culture of money and cover-ups. Again, “repeatingly hammering home a simple message” is a good strategy.
One of the big bits of tech news yesterday was a leaked slide showing that Yahoo was closing down Del.icio.us,
the social bookmarking system that helped define. Yahoo must not do
Twitter because it took them till today to finally respond. They now say
that Del.icio.us doesn’t fit their strategy and that they will be selling it.
we care? Should we care? When it started in 2003, Del.icio.us was something
innovative and quirky. It helped teach us that our online behavior
didn’t need to be secret and locked away on our hard drives but could be
shared. Indicating that you thought a website was worthy of a bookmark
could be a recommendation to friends. Even people bookmarking a site was
an indication of it’s real world value. For us techies, Del.icio.us
opened our eyes up to a world where everything could be an RSS feed and
in 2006 I jiggered the social aspects to create a human-powered
editorial aggregator QuakerQuaker.org.
When Yahoo bought it we
were all a bit nervous but it seemed like a good move. Yahoo could bring
server resources and a userbase and take Del.icio.us to the next level.
When corporate decided to rename it Delicious.com, it stripped the
quirkiness but perhaps signaled a willingness to take this more into the
Alas, it didn’t turn out that way. Delicious settled in
and stopped innovating. Eventually the founder left Yahoo. Things got so
bad that it seemed exciting when it essentially got a design make-over a
few years ago. Competing services sprang up but none were different
enough to make many of change our habits.
So yesterday’s news is
perhaps a good thing. I’ve been looking at those other services. Diigo.com looks really fabulous. I tried it when it launched in 2006 but wrote it off at the time as a Delicious clone with high ambitions. But they’ve been working hard. They’re onto version five now and they’ve been
adding the kind of cool features that an independent Delicious might
For example, you can add a note to a webpage that you’re bookmarking and then send a special URL with the site and note. They make it really easy to Twitter this. Last night I bookmarked and tweeted about an online radio service I’ve been using:
Listening to a lot of Radio Paradise lately. Good background work music, interesting selections: diigo.com/0e8gw
That Diigo link will take you to Radio Paradise’s homepage with the note I added. That’s really useful.
Diigo just a few moments ago put out a Transition to Diigo FAQ. Exporting from Delicious is really easy and importing it to Diigo is easy too–though not instant, it was about twelve hours. I’m confident enough about Diigo that I’ve upgraded to the $40/year Premium account–partly chipping in since I imagine they’re being hit with lots of new accounts today.
A lot of people, include Jeanne Burns over on Quakerquaker, are talking about Malcolm Gladwell’s latest New Yorker article, “Small Change: Why the Revolution Will Not Be Tweeted“.
Malcolm Gladwell’s modus operandi is to make outrageously counter-intuitive claims that people will talk about enough that they’ll buy his boss’s magazine, books and bobble-head likenesses. I find him likable and diverting but don’t take his claims very seriously. He’s a lot like Wired Magazine’s Chris Anderson, his sometimes sparring partner, which isn’t surprising as they work for the same magazine empire, Conde Nast Publications.
In his article, Gladwell takes a lot of potshots at social media. It’s easy to do. He picks Clay Shirky, another New York “Big Idea” guy as his rhetorical strawman now, claiming Shirky’s book “Here Comes Everybody” is the “bible of social-media movement.” Reading Gladwell, you kind of wish he’d get out of the echo box of circle-jerk New York Big Talkers (just getting out of the Conde Nast building’s cafeteria would be a good start).
Gladwell’s certainly right in that most of what passes for activism on Twitter and Facebook is ridiculous. Clicking a “Like” button or changing your profile image green doesn’t do much. He makes an important distinction between “weak ties” (Facebook “friends” who aren’t friends; Twitter campaigns that are risk-free) and “strong ties.” He cites the Civil Rights movement as a strong-tie phenomenon: the people who put themselves on the line tended to be those with close friends also putting themselves on the line.
What Gladwell misses is strong-tie organizing going on in social media. A lot of what’s happening over on QuakerQuaker is pretty strong-tie–it’s translating to workshops, articles, and is just one of a number of important networks that are forming. People are finding each other and making real connections that spill out into the real world. It’s not that online organizes creates real world changes, or even the reverse. Instead, under the right circumstances they can feed into each other, with each component magnifying the other’s reach.
One example of non-hierarchical involved social media is how Quaker bloggers came together to explain Tom Fox’s motives after his kidnapping. It didn’t have any effect on the kidnappers, obviously, but we did reach a lot of people who were curious why a Friend might choose such a personally dangerous form of Christian witness. This was all done by inter-related groups of people with no budget and no organizational chart. But these things don’t have to be quite so life-and-death.
A more recent example I’ve been able to see up close is the way my wife’s church has organized against diocesan attempts to shut it down: a core group of leaders have emerged; they share power, divide up roles and have been waging an organized campaign for about 2.5 years now. One element of this work has been the Savestmarys.org blog. The website’s only important because it’s been part of a real-world social network but it’s had an influence that’s gone far beyond the handful of people who write for it. One of the more surprising audiences have been the many staff at the Diocesan headquarters who visit every day–a small group has taken over quite a bit of mental space over there!
It’s been interesting for me to compare QuakerQuaker with an earlier peace project of mine, Nonviolence.org, which ran for thirteen years starting in 1995. In many ways it was the bigger site: a larger audience, with a wider base of interest. It was a popular site, with many visits and a fairly active bulletin board for much of it’s life. But it didn’t spawn workshop or conferences. There’s no “movement” associated with it. Donations were minimal and I never felt the support structure that I have now with my Quaker work.
Nonviolence.org was a good idea, but it was a “weak tie” network. QuakerQuaker’s network is stronger for two reasons that I can identify. The obvious one is that it’s built atop the organizing identity of a social group (Friends). But it also speaks more directly to its participants, asking them to share their lives and offering real-world opportunities for interaction. So much of my blogging on Nonviolence.org was Big Idea thoughts pieces about the situation in Bosnia–that just doesn’t provide the same kind of immediate personal entre.
Malcolm Gladwell minimizes the leadership structure of activist organizations, where leadership and power is in constant flux. He likewise minimizes the leadership of social media networks. Yes, anyone can publish but we all have different levels of visibility and influence and there is a filtering effect. I have twenty-five years of organized activism under my belt and fifteen years of online organizing and while the technology is very different, a lot of the social dynamics are remarkably similar.
Gladwell is an hired employee in one of the largest media companies in the world. It’s a very structured life: he’s got editors, publishers, copyeditors, proofreaders. He’s a cog in a company with $5 billion in annual revenue. It’s not really surprising that he doesn’t have much direct experience with effective social networks. It’s hard to see how social media is complementing real world grassroots networks from the 40th floor of a mid-town Manhattan skyscraper.
- What Malcolm Gladwell Doesn’t Understand About Activism and Social Networks over on StudentActivism.net, via @public_historian.
- Friends and Hierarchy and Social Change. Jeanne Burns on QuakerQuaker.
- Make the Revolution from Anil Dash: “People who want to see marches in the streets are often unwilling to admit that those marches just don’t produce much in the way of results in America in 2010.”
- Social Media for Good and Evil, Strong and Weak Ties, Online/Offline,and Orgs and Networks from Beth Kantor