Redistributing Wealth

Thanks to Ride Free Fearless Money and to Reed for helping me to not shrink away from conversations about money and my responsibility in its orbit.

So I grew up with some money. I think my parents did a pretty good job of navigating it – we were spoiled with things like good health care, good mattresses, healthy food, and comfortable shoes. I didn’t have a lot in the way of clothing or toys or other “frivolous” things, but we did have our basic needs well met. They helped with my school until I got a scholarship that paid for the bulk of it. At both times I worked part time to cover the rest. I graduated without debt. When I was in an abusive relationship, they covered my costs leading up to and after I left him. I am privileged.

I also have had the luxury of being principled about what jobs I do (and don’t) take. I’ve asked for (and gotten) loans from my parents (as well as gifts from an aunt) in the long stints between jobs at places I could work at in good conscious. I’ve since paid them back for the support, but I want to acknowledge the impact their support had on my career path.

And so now I can take jobs that I enjoy and feel are net positive impact and which pay well. To get here without the level of support I’ve had takes a bigger badass than me.

Now that I make dirty tech money (that, while less dirty than most, is still a part of the narrative of over valuing some skills and under valuing others) I’ve found this stupid thing to be absolutely true: having money makes it easier to get more money. In fact, people tend to just give you more money once you’ve gotten to a certain point.

It’s broken and I hate it.

Back in 2015 when I got my first steady-income job making a bit more than I needed to live off of, I started thinking about how to responsibly invest that money. In addition to that starting point, I also give to nonprofits and GoFundMes and Patreons. But there’s this thing that is still really awful to me, and it’s this: I am now wealthier than some of my dearest friends and some of my family, and to have a microcosm of society’s larger ills so close to our faces fucking sucks. I’ve been wondering if it’s possible to just give people money (also one of the most effective humanitarian interventions!) in addition to the organizations I support.

Can I just give people money?

Enter the Protestant Work Ethic, AKA “the American Dream.” What it says in brief is that your moral goodness is evident in how well you do in the world. EG, you don’t have to wait for your rewards in heaven, you get signals that you’ll go to heaven based on how successful you are while alive. It’s some bollocks and it’s what I think of as a core illness in American Society.

So I can’t just give people money because it’s indicative that they didn’t earn it and therefore to have it is an evil (even tho money is just being given to me without being based in merit or need). While to me at this point it’s just another resource I’d really rather share, I can’t because of Protestantism. Or maybe they have other reasons of their own.

I’m pretty new to all this, so I expect to be immature in my approach, and I’m eager for feedback in the comments.

After consulting many great humans I respect, here’s where I think we’re at:

If they’re noticeably younger than you

It seems to be ok to give them money without a lot of explanation. Can just be marked with “for a rainy day” without further explanation. This may also come under the expectation of middle- and upper-class environments based on “if money goes from your parents to you, you’re middle- to upper-class. If it flows from kids to parents, you’re lower class.”

If they already have an endeavor

A Patreon, an artistic practice, etc: commission something from them. Pay them as good or better than market rate so they also value their work more and can point at the sale in future negotiations to uplift their entire business. If you’re already supporting their monthly Patreon (or whatever), increase your amount.

This is also a great chance to give gifts. If someone is into a new hobby or embarking on a new adventure, giving gifts to get them set up well can launch them and not feel invasive.

If they have a specific goal in mind

Offer an interest-free loan you’re potentially willing to forget about. If not willing to forget about it, work on clear, flexible ways to do the repayment.

Another great point for gifts.

If it’s not any of these and you’re still set on it

Include a note about how wealth disparity in general sucks, how a windfall was just come into (inheritance, signing bonus, etc), and that you’d like to redistribute it. Make it clear there are no strings and what they chose to do with it is up to them. Don’t be offended or mention it if they don’t cash a check.

Any of these might change your relationship with each other.

Money is a point of deeply personal stress and pain for many folk. It is not easy to talk about, to need, to offer. And you know your friends and family better than I will, so your mileage may vary. I anticipate that if you’re kind and loving and up to make mistakes you’re willing to own up to and you’ll be fine.

Do you have other thoughts or ways you approach this (or would be comfortable with it being done)?

Stick ’em in the comments!

Wish me luck as I embark on enacting these even more in life.

2019 in Review

This will be my fifth year in a row doing these, so you can also read about 201520162017, or 2018 if so desired. They are inspired by Tilde, who has taught me that it can be a Good Thing to remember what the last year has been like. Many of the headers in this post are based on my 2019 goals.

The phrase for this year was building the foundations, as I had just made space for them. I feel like I solidly did this.

Stated Goals

Maintain a healthy routine for myself.

So I didn’t really talk about physical fitness last year, but I’ve kept up a solid routine of climbing, yoga, bicycling, strength training, and (for awhile there) boxing. I don’t work evenings, weekends, or holidays. I took most of the PTO available to me this year. With growing regularity I read books and drink tea instead of drinking. I went to PT and massage therapy when I injured myself. I take my meds and my vitamins regularly. I go to bed around 9p and wake up around 5:30 every day. My baseline is hecka solid.

Figure out more future things with Reed & something that brings hope.

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So uh. We got married. One of the best choices I’ve yet made in my life. Having Reed in my corner makes life more joyful, interested, and stable. He also challenges me to be better, and brings a perspective that brings hope to my brain (and by proxy, the people around me).

Set a metric and improve that metric at work.

Set metrics around time to onboard new Trussels, how many internal projects I was managing (work in progress), and how many new leaders I could uplift with those internal projects. Also implemented surveys around D&I and sense of belonging. Saw major gains in onboarding and developing leadership, small gains in WIP and belonging, and it’s still too soon to tell for D&I.

Try out sparring.

Because I sometimes do security at protests, I wanted to know how I reacted to getting punched. So I took up boxing. There was a point this year where I was training for boxing 5 days a week – in class, at home, and in private lessons. I love Four Elements Fitness and the science of boxing. Highly recommend. But when it came time to spar, I found that I have a really hard time hitting people (even consenting friends) in the face. I’m still not sure if boxing has a role in my life, but my body was at its happiest when I was in this groove this year.

Continue to meet my savings goals and investing in my communities.

I’ve been doing well at this, especially with the guidance of Ride Free Fearless Money, a fantastic person who does consulting and education around finances for anticapitalists.

Contribute to events as support, not as main organizer.

I’ve gone on a lot of bicycle rides that I didn’t organize, from friend rides in the Bay to organized rides with over 100 people to bicycling in the wooded mountains near Susanville. I also participated in a leadership program put on by Rise Together Bay Area without running any part of it (and it was a joy, they really have their shit together)!  And for Priceless, I contributed on tickets and on-site setup, but wasn’t a core organizer! I’m very proud of myself.

Something that brings joy.

I officiated Matt and Jenn’s wedding in Bloomington, Indiana. This was such a joy. They’re excellent humans with other excellent humans in their lives, and to be able to commemorate that through ritual was just dandy.


Reed and I also got a cat. After 7ish years without a pet, this has been baller. He’s sleeping on my lap right now.

Something that feels selfish.

Got my eyes lasered. This was an experience. I did PRK rather than any other form because I might get hit in the eye repeatedly at some point at a protest or something, and I don’t want my cornea to slide off my face. But that also meant a week of pain and blindness, followed by a month of blurry vision and dry eyes, and now perfect vision. It’s hard to describe what a great present perfect vision is. I don’t have to be constantly worried about being stranded somewhere if something happens to my glasses. They’re not always coming down my nose during physical activity. I wouldn’t be blind in an earthquake. I feel grateful every day that I did this for myself.

Previous years’ unmet goals that were met this year

Continue reducing my intoxicant consumption

2019 has been a good year. I’ve found healthier habits for coping with things, plus I have a solid enough baseline that I have available self control even when I’m still having a rough time. I’d proud of myself for treating myself better.

Bicycle further than I walk (without any drastic reduction in walking)

This is bananas, y’all. Something just clicked for me this year with bicycles. Going on long rides while listening to audiobooks on bone-conduction headphones is now my absolute favorite thing. To the point that I rode 2,500 miles this year, including a few populaires (100k), a century (100 miles), and a 200k Brevet. I walked 1,350 miles.

Unmet stated goal

Complete 4 cross-stitch projects.

I finished two, and then I started on that was too big and that I didn’t have the right equipment for. Instead of course correcting I plowed ahead and burned myself out on it.

Other things

Got another tattoo


After last year’s “first last tattoo,” I kept struggling with some personal things. This one a tribute to liminal space. Reed and I are going to try to gestate, and there’s no way to know if it’ll work or not, so this is a time of liminality, of between-ness. I love working with Santa Perpetua so much — as always, I waxed poetic to her about my existential angst and she put it as art on my body so I can carry it with me.

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Once more, this nice spartan lady came from The Estates, put up with two days in a row of my unfriendly needle and crazy rambling, to have in the end my artwork on her skin. I feel blessed to have such awesome people as clients. So, for this one, “Burn your ship” or “Swim out of the fish bowl”… Whichever you like! ;D WWW.SANTAPERPETUATATTOO.COM #santaperpetua #watercolortattoo #brighton #london #uk #avantgardetattoo #graphicarttattoo #eclectictattoo #contemporarytattooing #conceptualtattoo #thebesttattooartists #radtattoos #tattoo #art #ink #skin #abstracttattoo #organizedchaostattoo #toptattooartist #tattoolifegallery #freehandtattoo #swimoutofthefishbowl #onlywatercolor #burnyourship #detailstattoo

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Was intentional about my relationships

Have continued to invest more in a smaller set of friendships and romantic relationships. Have also decided (with the other person) that some just weren’t working out. One of the things about poly is that it allows relationships to draaaaaagggg on for a long time without closing things up that should be closed. I’m proud of us for not following that pattern, as hard as it can be in the moment.

Travel & Culture

  • Went to Indonesia for our honeymoon. Got over my fish phobia, tried out snorkeling, scuba, and free diving for the first times. Pet lots of cats, read lots of books, and just chilled the fuck out for two weeks. Also went on a mad dash for Dim Sum in Hong Kong on a layover that was just long enough on the way back.
  • We also went to France. Bicycled the Burgandy canal, ate at a 3-star Michelin restaurant, and found out that Paris truly is closed in the month of August.
  • Took a class on Neo Futurism. When I was doing crisis response, I stopped telling stories because everything I said seemed like one-upmanship. So I took a class on non-illusory theater from the SF Neo-Futurists to learn to tell stories again.
  • Reed and I have maintained a membership at a local theater and see shows there about once a month. Sometimes they’re exceptional and sometimes they’re terrible, but it feels nice to support Teh Arts.
  • Went to Desert X with friends. The art wasn’t the best I’ve ever seen, but it sure was a blast to go on a roadtrip with this crew.
  • Took other people to see The Jungle. I was so impacted by seeing The Jungle in NYC in 2018 that I made a point to bring some friends to see it when it came to SF. We then all sat together, mostly in silence, in a sushi place nearby while we processed our Feelings.
  • We went to Chicago to see one of Reed’s favorite musicals, Next to Normal. It was a fantastic piece of theater, put on humbly but well.

All this while still managing to decrease my overall speed – 6mph constant (the lowest it’s ever been since starting to track!), with 4 months with no flights at all.

2020

So now we’re on the cusp of 2020, and I should think about what that means for me.

  • Devise new ways to connect with my crew (and do so).
  • I dunno, maybe gestate? O_o
  • Take care of myself as best I can in light of potential gestation.
  • Bring passion back to my work.
  • Pick up ONE side project.

My phrase for 2020 will be welcoming others.

Burn your ships

Liminal space has long been my favorite, yet most exhausting, place to be. It is where new things are being tried, where curiosity lives, where people are stepping out of their comfort zones to acknowledge the vastness of the world.

I’ve been slowly making my way through a book about liminal space, called The Mushroom at the End of the World: on the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins. It speaks of people who harvest the Matsutake mushroom, a highly sought after delicacy which thrives in human disturbed forests. It tells a tale of how to survive in, and move beyond capitalism.

Liminal space is also queer space, where there aren’t (yet) norms to follow. Every movement is a question, and therefore full of oxytocin and peril. It is exhausting. Nothing is assumed.

And I do love me some infrastructure. I thrive on predictability. So what is the step after entering (and lingering) in liminal space? It is to fully commit to the new course of action. And while nearly all the phrases associated with committing have to do with military conquest and colonialism (including “burn your ships”), this won’t be the first time the nuanced meaning of such a phrase will continue to be a reminder to me in my life.

I transitioned in December 2017 to a job doing govtech work. I don’t focus on community-led crisis response any longer. While I still get to nerd out about it sometimes with excellent people, there are only so many hours in each day and I have chosen a new path to be on. It has come at a cost to my ego, and possibly to the domain (although they’ll be fine without me). I am continually reminded of this excellent comic from SMBC about living lives across one lifetime. To be a beginner at something, after being at the top of a field I helped create, is humbling and scary. But it is also necessary for me to grow, and for the things of which I have been a part to grow without me.

I spend a year and a half between when Aspiration and I decided to part ways, and settling into a delivery manager role at Truss. It took another 9 months for me to feel certain in the value I had to contribute at Truss. We’re now working on our delivery management playbook which I expect to be shared externally.

I’m also learning about how organizations grow and change. We were about 14 when I joined. We’re now 70. The team I was delivery manager for has grown from 12 to 37. Everything breaks from 15 to 50, and now we’re gearing up for the transition to 150. Being intentional about what should be centralized and what should be distributed hails back to what I learned in crisis response, although it’s in a completely new environment. I wouldn’t be able to be in the liminal spaces of learning these new skills if I hadn’t fully committed to the life in which I now live.

So three cheers for liminal space. But burn your ships for sanity and growth.

Identity Work

As anyone who has ever spent more than 5 seconds with me probably could have predicted, I hang a lot of my sense of self-worth on my work. And while I don’t always mean what I get paid to do, I certainly do mean that as well. As I once said at a hacker conference panel on taking money from tainted places: “no one could ever pay me enough to not do what needs doing.” As in, while other folk can be happy doing net-neutral (or even net-negative) work as their day jobs, I cannot. I have a complete mental block on it and cannot do it, regardless of how I spend my non-work hours. To each their own – others are able to balance the impact they have in the world in various ways, and I’m honestly a bit envious of them.

That means the jobs I have, I believe in. Whether it was Jigsaw or Geeks Without Bounds or Aspiration or now Truss, I see my “job” as being part of a collective effort to change the world for the better. I don’t leave my work at work, and I don’t like taking vacations. The world is a mess and the only way it changes is through our active effort. No, I will not put my laptop down. (I am actually working on this, to my benefit.)

This also means I can be a mess sometimes, because of work. Because of financial needs, and political systems, and growing pains, my ability to act within or through an organization can be disrupted. Which would be fine, except I have rough time with it. It is, as I like to joke, a direct reflection on my moral character.

So I brought this challenge to my amazing therapist. They asked me great questions about how I interact and perceive needs, and my identity in regards to (and beyond) work. But it still didn’t land.

In thinking about who I would be without connection to others or beyond the actions I take, I realized how much I ascribe to the Buddhist idea of just being a collection of molecules brought together in this moment. That life is meaningless but that we give it meaning. And that meaning is created through action and connections. So to try to describe an identity outside of connection and action is impossible for me to do.

What does this mean about my relationship to work?

A great conversation came up in the #kids channel at Truss a bit ago, about how people explain to their kids why they go away all day. And folk fell pretty squarely into two camps: “everyone has a job (including you),” and “capitalism is a system we exist in.” And I realized in this conversation about managing 4 year olds that I have grown up in an environment which says “everyone has a job,” but that the “we have to survive in capitalism” narrative far better aligns with how I actually view the world. There is a difference between responsibility to a system (the former), and responsibility to the people within that system (the latter).

How do y’all think about responsibility and creating meaning, and how it does or doesn’t overlap with your work?

PS, aside on how the American Dream / Work Ethic is actually protestantism and a plug for this great piece from back in the day from Quinn.

Magical Thinking

This blog post is heavily influenced by a conversation I had with one Ethan Zuckerman months ago on magical thinking.

I feel like something major has been taken away from the way I’ve liked to approach the world.

For years, I’ve placed my hope and my strategies into imagining the world as if it could be something other than what it is right now. A world where there aren’t borders, where the binary is opt-in, where people are equitable, where there is hope.

To do this takes imagination. It takes magical thinking. It takes imagining and acting as if the world was other than what it is.

And of all the things this administration has taken from me, it is that. Magical thinking has been sullied. To say the world might be, or is other than what it actually is, is no longer a tool to fight the status quo, it has instead become a way to undermine a shared reality, to fight back against science through the psyche. I never saw this coming.

And I have started to feel that just to acknowledge the world in the state it is actually is, is as much of a fight as I’ve got in me most days. To imagine it better is something I don’t have energy for. Fascism is creeping, it is not all at once.

My amazing therapist has been trying to remind me that just to survive in the world right now is an accomplishment. Go team. We’re surviving.

So I’ve been watching this a lot, and trying to imagine a future I’d like to be in, grounded in the realities of today.

What is inspiring you right now?

Making sense of things

I realized a thing about six months ago. While I was doing disaster and humanitarian response, I stopped telling stories. The reason was this: there were few people I worked with regularly. For anyone else, any story I might tell about life would seem like oneupmanship. “Oh, that reminds me of this car ride to rural Tanzania…” is not a way to further a conversation, it is a way to shut it down. Even with friends who did response work it could get into a genital-waving contest of who had been in the most dire situation, which is also not something I’m interested in.

So I just stopped telling stories. I offered synthesis of what I had learned, but rarely offered any specifics.

And the impact is many fold. I don’t remember much of that time of my life. Years just faded away for lack of revisiting and retelling. I’ve since learned how much folk benefit from specific examples (not just the summary) so they can make sense themselves. It also means that I’ve lost some of my ability to do sensemaking. I can describe my day, sure, but I wasn’t telling stories. I wasn’t connecting what had happened to me that day to what had happened the day before, or the week before, or to other people who were also involved.

I don’t feel like a lesser person because of this, but it does seem like something to remedy if possible to do so. How does one start telling stories again, if one has lost that skill?

Tangent that will totally come back to this (hey look, I’m doing sensemaking!): There’s this theater troop in San Francisco (original group in Chicago, second in NYC, third in SF) that I adore. They’re called the Neo Futurists and they do a show called the Infinite Wrench. The show is 30 plays in 60 minutes, whichever happens first; done in a style called “non illusory theater.” That means everyone is always themselves, where they are. No one pretends. You can be absurd, but you have to sort of acknowledge you’re being absurd. And they offer classes! You can see where this is going.

I somehow had the 7 Monday nights in a row free that the classes were. We learned a new technique each week, wrote a play as homework related to that technique, and then performed it for the class the following week. It culminated in a show attended by friends and family of our little troop.

I love that every play was 30-180 seconds long; that the order they go in is up to the audience (no time to get nervous or over-psyched for mine); that some are funny, some are sad, some are political; and that they all fit together in camaraderie without necessarily riffing off the others. I enjoyed being creative with others in a way that demanded we all be ourselves. The constraints were intense, and the output was joyous.

So now I’m thinking a bit more about how to tell stories about everyday life again. And it’s needed, especially right now. My anxiety has returned to hilarious highs, and while I also pursue talk therapy and chemical interventions, I also don’t want to have this time in my life fade away. To survive and thrive with mental health issues, especially with my identity what it is, in today’s political climate, is something worth celebrating, and I don’t want to lose it.

I think every one of those commas was necessary, don’t you?

I’m writing more each day, to try to track what’s been happening and my experience of it. Some of those I’d like to approach like non-illusory plays, to turn them into stories of a sort. And I’d like a friend or three to help me out by joining me in accountability for telling stories (in blogs or plays or by voice). Any takers?

2018 in Review

This will be my fourth year in a row doing these, so you can also read about 20152016, or 2017 if so desired. They are inspired by Tilde, who has taught me that it can be a Good Thing to remember what the last year has been like. Many of the headers in this post are based on my 2018 goals.

Oh dear 2018. This about sums up how I’ve been thinking about this report, and the past year:

Which also reminds me of this excellent piece.

Stated Goals

I set out in 2018 with the phrase Space for Foundations. I do think I’ve done that, despite the above. Continue reading

Influence and Concern

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how to maintain anything like a sense of empowerment (and thereby sanity) in our world today. Everything in the world seems to be on fire, not least of all American politics, and I can often feel that I am drowning in a sea of injustice, with a strong rip current of the outrage cycle to pull me back in anytime I think I’m about to escape.

I’m reminded of a story I heard recently of someone trying to push waves back into the ocean, to control it, exhausting themselves, and finally learning to sit and let the waves lap around them. I’m not finding it again in this moment.

It feels like most of the conversations about what to “do” right now boil down to voting. That’s a thing that’s supposedly within the ability of every US Citizen (spoiler: it’s not). Sure, I’ll vote in upcoming elections. And sure, I donate some money to campaigns (like The Great Slate). But frankly at this point I see that as damage control, not the place where actual change and growth is going to happen.

So how do I decide what to spend time on? It’s easy to lay in bed all day scrolling through twitter and crying. But I already did that once this month. I want to go back to having my equanimity and sense of empowered action.

First I asked myself: what are my boundaries in the changes I want to see in the world?

  • I will take at least one day a week fully away from work and side projects.
  • I will continue to make time to be physical 5 days a week.
  • Whenever possible, I will work in a local context.
  • I will act with integrity to the people who are priorities in my life (including myself).
  • I will not take on more than I can solidly deliver within the above constraints. I would rather do one small thing well than promise a big thing or five little things and fail.

Then I asked myself: how do I influence things? What are the actions which are available to me to take? I made a list. This is my toolbox. The first few were slow to write. Then more came to me.

  • I can be kind to myself and those I interact with directly.
  • I can uplift the voices and work of those less privileged than myself.
  • I can put myself in the way, if harm is going to come to another human, and/or if doing so will impede the spread of fascism.
  • I can do the work on myself and my workplace to make us even more inclusive and welcoming of diversity (it’s great place already, which makes this possible).
  • I can instigate, structure, and implement large-scale information management activities similar to crisis response.
  • I can facilitate discussions between very different people to come to novel responses in constructive ways.
  • I can help people find their guiding values and fears, and to then discern a path based on their existing self-knowledge and resources.

Yours will be generally be different (although I hope we can all do the first two, and that most of us can do the third). That’s good — we need many different approaches in order to get to a different place than we are now.

Finally, I looked to see at what the things are that I can actually influence. Where are the places in my life where I can make a difference?

  • I can assist groups finding their way to action.
  • I can influence how legible groups are to newcomers.
  • I can influence where I work.
  • I can influence how people approach polarized conversations, on the hard path of pacifism.
  • I could help write policy.

While I am pushing to find ways to gain (and deserve) greater influence in the world, those things which fall outside of my influence cannot be that which concerns me most. To do otherwise is a path to madness. I must trust that other capable people exist in the world, and that they are taking up their share just as I am taking up mine. As you are taking up yours. The world may be on fire, but we have one hell of a water brigade.

Today, I wrote myself this reminder post that I am not helpless nor inconsequential. Neither are you. Our problems are big, and will take time, and many hands, and showing up day after day (except for when we just can’t, and that’s ok) to change. I’ll work shoulder to shoulder with you.

A clear “no” as responsibility

While we still deeply believe in the mission behind Digitally Responsible Aid, Seamus and I are severing our direct ties with the organization for shared reasons.

I would like to take a moment to explain why, in my opinion, 1) DRA (or something like it) is needed and 2) some of why it didn’t work out for us.

The humanitarian sector should be guided by Do No Harm principles when using digital means

The Do No Harm framework has proven to be a vital and meaningful step forward for the humanitarian sector. One of the benefits of Do No Harm is in reviewing not just what aid is sent, but how it is delivered. For instance, something as pedestrian as selecting which local groups are employed at your field office can exacerbate or alleviate a conflict. Do No Harm provides a framework to analyze unique circumstances to have the positive impact you want on complicated situations.

We need something similar for considering the digital tools the humanitarian sector is adopting. Humanitarian organizations are rapidly adopting new technologies like biometrics and blockchain without sufficient consideration of the new risks created. We are wading into deep risks by using technology with untested frequency of failure in new contexts with new threat agents working on new threat surfaces. We worry that it will be too late when people finally start considering data breaches, the history of surveillance, and the politics of companies which are building and maintaining the software, hardware, and datasets.

Joe, Seamus, and I were a dream team. Joe focuses on research and policy, Seamus focuses on running the organization, and I focus on action and centering in communities. These things in balance meant grounding in the real world, taking action at what points were available to us, documenting the process, pushing on creating a copasetic operating environment, and consistently empowering stakeholders.

Here’s our concept note! It’s good.

I hope the org can still live up to its potential. We assembled an amazing board and advisor set. I’m rooting for the success of the group. I’m also still rooting for groups like Responsible Data, the UN Digital Blue Helmets, Amnesty’s Decoders, and a slew of other groups working in this space. Together, the space can be transformed to be not only more effective but also more equitable.

Then why step out?

I have been working to reduce the number of side projects1 in my life2. Seamus has been doing the same. This blog post is of course mostly covering my specific reasons.

Having a full-time gig which is also fulfilling means I’m wanting to spend my other time on things like deepening relationships, reading, and boxing. I knew upon taking the job at Truss that I could no longer do all the things associated with being a cofounder of a nonprofit, communicated that, did the paperwork involved to move from an executive to board position, and then acted as a very active board member to transition the organization to a healthy, sustainable place. I love it when other people similarly have an idea of how much they can (and can’t) give. I have literally high-fived people when they tell me “no” in response to a request for their time. It means I can figure out another way to get the thing done, instead of pestering someone who, in the end, can’t or won’t do it.

My stepping back removed the pull into balance around focusing on action4 in addition to policy. Without that, the organization had become focused solely on research and policy. Good for the space, but not something to dedicate my limited time on.

In Summary

Know and communicate your boundaries.

I get more time to box now.

I hope the space continues to grow and examine itself. I’ll be helping with that, but in a role different from what I expected.

Footnotes

  1. My side projects this year: being a lead organizer for an 1150-person art and music festival called Priceless, writing content and building a website for a resource repository for baby boomers about digital estate planning, researching and writing a white paper about getting journalists connected in post-disaster zones for the Ford Foundation, creating a significant talk about disaster tech and coauthoring a paper to accompany it for Frontiers of Engineering, doing all the things associated with bootstrapping the nonprofit mentioned in this post, and co-organizing and facilitating an unconference for coordinators of community-led crisis response called Crisis Convening. I put a book proposal about bridging formal and informal decision making structures in crisis response on the back burner. I’ve picked up one new thing since December, which is being a reviewer for the Canadian Grand Challenge.
  2. July was a bit of a slog for me to get much of the above out the door. I didn’t see my friends much. While there are still some editing passes to do, and rooms to be locked in with people to argue about who gets what grants, and emails to send about what organization is adopting the maintenance of some resources, most of the actual work is done.3
  3. I have been planning on seeing my loved ones more often and in a more relaxed way, boxing a lot more, diving back into the book proposal, and getting involved in local activism around homelessness. Maybe attempt being bored occasionally, which is very uncomfortable for me (if you can’t tell).
  4. I like designing systems more than most, but the moment those designs touch reality, they change. I’ve learned to speak my vision and take concrete steps toward it, rather than wait for everything to line up perfectly at scale.

“Show you can be free in a colony.” – a brief history of Puerto Rico

This post is being staged here while the presenters and other Public Lab attendees review it. It will updated in the next few weeks and pushed to Civic and Occupy Sandy blogs (as well as anywhere else that wants to share). Many intended links are missing, as are images.

“Know the history of the region” is something community-led crisis responders tend to repeatedly say those coming into a region impacted by crisis. But most histories are written by the colonizers, and so the role of educator also falls on the shoulders of those fighting to survive.

At an event called the Crisis Convening Public Labs Barn Raising in Newark, NJ in July, 3 Puerto Ricans (Jessica, Luis, and Raquela) gave a brief history of Puerto Rico to a room of folk interested in community-led crisis response and environmental justice. We took a rough transcript and created this blog post to distill their knowledge. With this documentation, those who wish to be in solidarity with Puerto Rico can educate themselves. Much of the blog post is comprised of pulling the transcript and doing slight rewording. The transcript follows the post. None of it should be considered mine. It is published here with their consent and endorsement.

Puerto Rico was first colonized by the Spanish for 400 years. Just as the fight for independence was taking hold, the Spanish-American war ended and Puerto Rico fell under United States rule. Our summary begins there, in 1898.

It is a story of resistance, industrialization, imposed poverty and debt, diminished schooling, imprisonment, bombs hidden on beaches, and a growing trust in self-sufficiency. It doesn’t end with a plan of action beyond listening more.

Resistance has always been a thing in Puerto Rico

In 1917, Puerto Rico got their “citizenship.” But as a different category – it meant if residents could receive financial aid for education, but of those of those who did, the men could be drafted into the military, and that Puerto Ricans still couldn’t elect anyone who has a hand in U.S. politics (no Congressional, no House, no Presidential votes). While local elections for local positions can occur, no matter what is decided in the island the U.S. has veto power, and the last decision.

The United States wanted to make an example of the impact of industrialization to lift a place out of poverty, but that poverty persisted. In 1920, a new fight for independence began. To push back against this fight, the official language (including the language of education) was changed to English, forcing many to drop out of school. After a couple/few decades of this, it was finally accepted that it wasn’t working, and the official language was changed back.

In 1952, a ray of hope! Countries fighting for their freedoms were released as colonies by the UN. But it was fake in Puerto Rico, which was named as a “Estado Libre Asociado,” which translates to “state free associated” – none of which are true.

All this happened during a brutal oppression of the movement. In the ‘20s, more than half of Puerto Ricans were working towards independence. Now it’s far less1. There is a well-documented history of persecuted, killed, and jailed those who stood up for Puerto Rican independence. Oscar López Rivera just released (in 36 years)2; two more are still there.

In the 1960s, organizing against the military complex reached a new height. Here’s as good a time as any to tell you about how the U.S. military used Puerto Rico to test bombs, contraceptives, and Agent Orange (all without consent). We even rented out the region for other countries to bomb! Organizing against these joined the existing movements for independence and educating community members they can be self-sufficient.

In 1999, the realities of these activities were realized when a civilian was killed by a bomb. People took to the streets to stop bombing, told Marines to get out of the land. It wasn’t until 2003 that Marines got out of Vieques. This was a huge deal, compared to the moments where it felt like Occupy Wall Street could win. It crossed political lines, generational lines, those who wanted statehood or independence. Side note that the bombs are still there, marines don’t want to clean it up.

During all this time, Puerto Rico was borrowing money3. Anything produced there had to be shipped to the U.S. and back in order to be used because of a bullshit act called Ley Jones4. In 2016, Obama put in place a fiscal control board, called “P.R.O.M.E.S.A,” which put 7 people who don’t live in Puerto Rico as a fiscal control board to determine how budget is spent. In addition to the standing requirement of having to pay creditors before investing in infrastructure or anything else, these people now also had a say in what budget cuts were. Further privatization, creeping into schools, hospitals, and power occurred in addition to the airport and telephone companies. As you might imagine, this has caused further poverty.

Bombs hidden on beaches are no longer the priority (somehow)

With Hurricane Maria in 2017, all the poverty, destruction of land, and poor infrastructure was revealed. The same thing that happened with Katrina in New Orleans is happening across the island – cutting social services, closing schools and hospitals. Money is going to contractors who often don’t do the work. School closures help transition to charter schools, which pull more money into outside pockets.

The government (as this history might indicate) have not shown up in a useful way, and so it’s up to the community organizers who have been around through these movements to serve the people to Puerto Rico. Solidary work has become the flag. The work done to build community kitchens, farming projects, occupying abandoned schools for housing, rebuilding infrastructure, and have become the shoulders on which local response to Maria are occuring.

This is a moment to build the empowerment movement. Puerto Ricans know they can do things by themselves, for themselves. They opened roads, created community kitchens, held spaces for sorrow. It is a place for freedom, but it is delicate.

So when you ask to help, this is why there is push back. This is why impeaching Trump is not a good first (or even tenth) topic of conversation.

“I am protecting the 35 years of wins we’ve had.”
Your first plan in helping Puerto Rico should always be listening more, first.

Footnotes

  1. We don’t know the percentage. Less than half of the population voted last election, about 3% for independent party, but there are many more non-party affiliated fighting for independence.
  2. More than Mandela!
  3. Something like 72 billion?!?!
  4. What the everliving fuck

Transcription

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