Confessions of a Freedom Fighter @ the Crossroads

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Here’s a public therapy session featuring the uncensored inside scoop on our long-term plan.

“Be the change you wish to see in the world.” That is, indeed, wise advice. If you’re going to talk the talk, you sure as hell better walk the walk. That’s what separates the real deal change-makers and freedom fighters from the hipsters and politicians. Most people just want to be cool, be a rock star, the savior and talk righteous smack, but once it comes to doing the hard work and heavy lifting, they eventually sell out, or just retreat back to the consumer droid lifestyle. Sadly, can’t say that I blame them for it. Being the change you rant about is incredibly fucking hard, especially when you’re trapped in a corrupted society and have a family to feed.

Forgive me for ego-trippin’ while occupying an Anonymous realm but I’ve had to move four times in four years to cut living costs so I could keep fighting the good fight. Now, with two kids (a 1 year-old and 3 year-old) being “the change you wish to see in the world” is catching up with me fast. Over the past year, I’ve been dancing between the raindrops, deeply strategizing long-term plans to grow the movement, trying to raise money that doesn’t have greedy and manipulative strings attached, while staving off eviction letters, with my wife in and out of the hospital. Before you break out your tiny little violin, let me make it clear that I’m one of the fortunate ones. Definitely not a fortunate son, but I’ve been fortunate compared to most others who have been out on the frontlines.

I’ve been truly occupying freedom and able to keep in the fight, independently following my passion for over five years now. It’s been quite the run, an incredibly wild ride. Haven’t had to answer to anyone, except my wife, of course. In that span of time, I’ve seen so many inspiring people come and go. Activists and journalists are like artists. Very few can make a living at it without compromising their vision or selling their soul. And if you happen to gain any level of recognition, the haters and saboteurs will come at you in force. The road to freedom is littered with crushed souls; people have been killed, sent to prison on dubious grounds, buried by legal fees or have gone financially broke. Some others have compromised their values by working for bureaucrats or partisan front groups and corporations. They justify their actions by saying that they’re trying to create change from within the system.

Don’t get me wrong, diversity of tactics is necessary and there is value in attempting to change the system from within. But let’s face it, if they weren’t getting a paycheck for it, they’d be going about it much differently. I’ve seen a lot of people, who upon losing the partisan or corporate paycheck, return to being much more radical (honest) in their approach. These people prove over and over again the insidious nature of wage slavery. The fact that we are trapped in a Skinner box with a “token economy” is all too clear, if you have the desire to think it through that deeply.

One’s ability to “be the change you wish to see in the world” is often destroyed by the economic chains in which we toil. That is why you don’t see mass movements toward freedom and sanity in the United States. We are all too busy trying to stay afloat and make ends meet, costs of living are incredibly high, 50% of the population is either in poverty or “near poverty”, and 75% of the population is living paycheck to paycheck – debt slavery and all that jazz. Play it again, Uncle Sam.

Okay, I’m digressing here… Allow me to course correct before I totally pigeonhole my thoughts as bitter and holier than thou – battle scars will do that to you.

Building the Movement Without Selling Out

“All creators need to be able to live in the shade of the big questions
long enough for truly revolutionary ideas and insights to emerge.”
— Orson Welles

Over the past year and a half, I’ve basically been in hiding. I’ve only done one interview and been keeping a low profile, strategizing and meeting with people behind the scenes in an attempt to develop a long-term plan. Anyone who pays attention realizes that there are effective solutions and inspiring alternatives to the vast array of problems we face as a society today. Yes, even many 1%ers understand that we are on a disastrous and unsustainable path. While spending significant time meeting with 1%ers, it became clear that most of them were looking to support a plan that they felt could help get us out of this mess. After extensive research and planning with some of the most inspiring people we could find, we managed to come up with a plan that many of our radical allies and empathetic 1%ers absolutely loved.

However, when it came to the long-term financial model, most of the 1%ers slowly backed away. Truth be told, some of the 1%ers that we’ve met with are not down to do something that they think can create change, unless there is significant money they can personally make off it. It’s one thing if you don’t want to put your money into something that you don’t think is going to work, it’s quite another to think something is an excellent idea and say you want to put your money into it, only to pull back once you realize that you’re not going to personally make millions off of it.

Being reasonable and tactical, understanding the significant long-term potential of the project, we realized that it would require more of an incentive for the upfront risk people were taking by putting in their money at an early stage, so we came up with a compromise. We decided to offer a deal that would allow them to cap out at doubling their money. Other than that, local communities would get the profits so they could put the money back into the community from which they are generated.

Since we decided to stand strong on those grounds, my phone, which used to ring constantly, has gone silent. Alas, only a very small handful of these “socially conscious” 1%ers have stepped up to put any of their money where their mouth is. The fact is, we can raise the necessary funds through Venture Capital, but that’s definitely not being “the change we wish to see in the world.” You can call us overly idealistic all you want. Bottom line, we don’t want this to be yet another example of a small group of people making millions while most others do the hard work and barely get by. To be blunt, it’s been an all-out fucking battle to raise the necessary funds to make this happen in the right way.

We have a solid group of influential people who have supported us through the planning and initial development phase. We are still focused on getting enough momentum and resources together to make the plan a reality without having to take money with strings attached. Unfortunately, however, we are now running on fumes with little time left. Unless we quickly pull a rabbit out of a hat, we have to either accept money with strings attached or, once again, endure serious near-term financial hardship. We are, indeed, at the crossroads.

From a personal perspective, I’ve been incredibly frustrated, depressed and overwhelmed by all of it. After fighting so hard for so long, we’ve made it this far and we absolutely don’t want to sell out. I’ve done my best to put the long-term goals of the movement before personal gain. Every step of the way, there has been offers to sell out. Many people have wanted to use me and my background in an attempt to co-opt the movement, some people have had good intentions, most haven’t and were just looking to cash in. Even with this project, we have refused to use the names Occupy or the 99%.

By writing this piece, against the advice of some, I’m once again going against the odds and doubling down on the side of the movement. Ultimately, to sleep at night, you need to be transparent in your actions. So here it is, I’m not sure which exact way this is going to go, but I’m going to be up front about the entire process and let the chips fall where they may – don’t want to give the saboteurs any room to make false accusations and misrepresent the battle moves. We’re going to be held to the highest of standards, and to do this with integrity, to pull this off in the most effective, change-making way, we are going to need all the help we can get.

The Plan: A Decentralized Global Network of Sustainable Autonomous Zones

We believe the biggest lesson learned from the Occupy movement was the sense of genuine community that people felt inside the camps. People felt truly empowered; for once in their life they had a voice that could be heard and mattered. They were part of a community that cared for each other and debated real issues, instead of feeling alone and divided by the mainstream media’s endless charade of propaganda posing as news and information. For this vital lesson, we were reminded of the commonsense fact that you need to have human-to-human interaction on the ground to create real change.

With the collapse of traditional community organizations and the commodification of social gathering spaces, online social networks have begun to fill the void, but real change cannot happen until we have true community formation happening on the ground. As Occupy camps all over the world proved, we need places where socially conscious people can come together. There’s already a critical mass of aware and capable people prepared to create change, but they remain too isolated and scattered around without a real place to call home, without a community of support around them. We need to create a decentralized network of physical locations where people can go to collaborate, to build and model new ways of living that make our present ways of living obsolete.

We’ve thought long and hard about how to create a space that nurtures and maximizes all the energy around us. My co-conspirator Steven Starr and I analyzed emerging trends, from collaborative workspaces to coffee houses, from social venues to entertainment and media-making environments, from education to arts, from energy, food and health systems to effective community services. The elements within our plan are independently thriving all over the place. After consulting with many experienced people, we now have a way to bring all of these elements, which together form a thriving community, under one roof, and a strategy to have these community formations proliferate widely into a decentralized global network of Sustainable Autonomous Zones.

After modeling the financials, we’ve concluded that it will take $5.7 million to build the prototype here in Los Angeles, a self-sustaining, thriving prototype that models ways to create the change we urgently need, then allows it to flourish all over the country and globally. The first live evidence of our plan is already online: an independent, ad-free social network called EvolveSociety.org. We’re currently in beta, and our longer-term plan is for the online network to work seamlessly with the network of Sustainable Autonomous Zones on the ground.

We are calling the financial structure a “for-community-profit” initiative, which will generate profit that is used to fund solution-based, socially conscious projects in a fully transparent way. Strictly going the non-profit route is riddled with losing propositions. Taking on the world’s most powerful corporations with a non-profit is like taking on Mike Tyson in his prime, with one hand tied behind your back. There are situations where being a non-profit is useful, and we will certainly go that route when strategically wise. There will be non-profit elements, such as educational and community services. There will also be a grant process to fund the costs for low-income individuals and non-profit initiatives. However, we feel that it is vital that these be “profit-making” entities to establish a self-sustaining model that develops the resources needed to significantly benefit the surrounding community.

While it would of course be ideal to have local funders actually donate the money, at this point, as already mentioned, it doesn’t seem possible to raise the necessary funds without there being reward for the upfront risk they are taking. Once local investors double their money, they are paid out and then the community takes full control of the venture. We are exploring various effective ways to put a community governance structure in place; it will be up to the local community to decide which governance model works best in their local environment.

We think crowdfunding, especially in a community-building project such as this, is the key. However, you need serious resources and momentum to get a critical mass of crowd-funders in play. Our next step is to raise $250k to get the team and resources in place to ignite the momentum online and offline to fund the costs of the initial prototype.

There are obviously many more details to unveil and discuss; we will be posting information on a consistent basis moving forward. We fully intend to do this in a groundbreaking and sustainable way; we want this to exemplify the change we all urgently need to see in the world.

We are going to involve as many people as possible in the process, without it turning into a clusterfuck and/or field day for saboteurs. So here’s your invitation: if you’re interested in being involved, please register here and let us know your thoughts.

33 Comments

  1. intense read! concisely sums up the battle for economic survival many of us are fighting and dealing with as we fight for a better world. want to hear more about these Sustainable Autonomous Zones.

    oh, and something tells me that you will strike with a bold action before selling out. no one makes it as far as you have and just takes a knee 😉

    and if you do go the bold action route, or do any actions, count me in brother!

  2. David

    Reading your work for the past few years has totally changed my perspective on things and really opened my mind up. You’ve been such a positive inspiration. I know it is not easy, but keep the faith! You are occupying a vital space, we need you to keep pushing forwrd.

  3. You set the bar pretty damn high! But I expect nothing less for you. Get’er done!

  4. live by the movement, die by the movement.

    understand your place peasant boy.

    bow down and kiss the ring before its too late.

    slavery is freedom.

    ignorance is bliss.

  5. Hi David,

    Thanks for your powerful communication! I applaud your courage and commitment. I’ve gone to the edge of personal bankruptcy twice in support of working for a new civic voice and I agree that walking the talk is incredibly difficult for people in today’s “slave wage economy.” I would like to build on what you write by offering my own views for deep, evolutionary change.

    You write: “the biggest lesson learned from the Occupy movement was the sense of genuine community that people felt inside the camps. People felt truly empowered; for once in their life they had a voice that could be heard and mattered.” I know you are talking about physical camps and face-to-face contacts; however, entire metropolitan areas and the entire country is now “our camp.” For me, the most telling part of your communication is where you say: “FOR ONCE IN THEIR LIFE THEY HAD A VOICE THAT COULD BE HEARD AND MATTERED.” Building on that key insight, what seems most valuable and needed is a trans-partisan, “COMMUNITY VOICE MOVEMENT” where people’s collective voice can be heard in ways that matter.

    How can average Americans find their collective voice in our times of political gridlock? While there is no debating the power of the Internet, at this critical time, the large-scale conversation of our democracy continues to be dominated by television. Although few realize this, as American citizens, we legally own the airwaves in our local communities. In turn, we have a unique opportunity to coalesce a “community voice movement” that gives people a collective voice that can be heard and that could make a decisive difference in our times of political stalemate.

    As I described in a HuffPo blog, here is the opportunity I see: Within the space of three months, the citizens of a major metropolitan area could take three, difficult but realistically doable steps (I’ve done them before), to awaken an entirely new level of civic conversation:

    1. Community Voice Organization — The first step is to create a simple, independent, non-profit organization — a “Community Voice” organization to represent the communication rights and needs of a major metropolitan area served by television broadcasters that use our public airwaves. (In the 1980s, we called our San Francisco Bay Area organization “Bay Voice.”) This organization must authentically represent the diverse constituencies of its community and it must be strictly trans-partisan — able to stand above and embrace the full range of community views and concerns. A Community Voice organization has only two roles: to listen to the concerns of the community, and to present those concerns for dialogue before the community in the form of “Electronic Town Meetings” that include electronic feedback from a scientific sample of citizens and then to “let the chips fall where they may.” The organization itself is neutral and does no advocacy; rather, it serves as a vehicle for giving the community a voice in its own affairs and future.

    2. Prime Time Access — The second step is for the Community Voice organization to make a legal request for prime-time from local television broadcasters (ABC, CBS, NBC, and FOX) for a series of ongoing Electronic Town Meetings that enable the community to air its views on issues of critical concern. Conversations about the most critical issues of our time cannot be relegated to the wastelands of viewership. Because the laws are unequivocal that broadcasters must serve the “public interest, convenience, and necessity” before their own profits, the community has every right to expect this trans-partisan request will be honored if the first step has been done well.

    3. Electronic Town Meetings — The third step is for the Community Voice organization to work in cooperation with one of the local TV broadcasters to produce an Electronic Town Meeting (or ETM) with multiple votes and clear feedback from a “scientific” or random sample of citizens from the community. Scientific samples can be supplemented with feedback from specific groups (younger, older, ethnic, gender, etc.) that want to participate via the Internet. The modern ETM process builds upon more than two centuries of experience with the New England Town Meetings, and is NOT controlled by the television stations or advertisers; rather, it is controlled by the community through its independent Community Voice organization.

    From Portland, Oregon to Portland, Maine, it is the major metropolitan areas that are the natural scale of organizing for legally effective work to take back the airwaves for a new level of citizen dialogue and giving people a voice that matters. If individual communities around the country were to form independent, trans-partisan Community Voice organizations to launch Electronic Town Meetings, it would revolutionize the conversation of democracy within a matter of months. The leadership of one community could inspire and catalyze other communities to create their own “Community Voice” organization and we could quickly have an entirely new layer of sustained and meaningful dialogue sweeping the country. Citizens could voice their concerns, propose and debate solutions, and then give feedback to Senators, Governors, and even the President to break the gridlock at the state and national levels.

    Many people recognize that we are immersed in a world of extraordinary communication technologies and that we now have the potential to raise the level of dialogue in our democracy dramatically. We are needlessly diminishing the richness and power of our democracy by not using these powerful tools to serve our needs as citizens. This is not an idealistic dream. A metropolitan-scale Electronic Town Meeting is the direct expression of our Constitutional rights — we demonstrated its workability a quarter of a century ago (1987) in the San Francisco Bay Area (See the first four minutes of the following video clip on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a53hL5Z1WHE&feature=youtu.be ) By combining the broad reach of television with the penetrating depth of the Internet, we have the technologies for a revolution in civic communication — where people’s voice can be heard in ways that authentically can make a difference to our future. A “community voice movement” does not require millions of dollars; rather, it requires citizens — all of us — to come together in common cause and bring our conversations into the public airwaves that we all own via the broadcast media in major metropolitan communities.

    • yes I agree whole heartedly with this communication and believe Duane has hit on a very positive idea that will require a lot of effort on many fronts but could pay off plenty in the long run . Being a wage slave I know all about effort and results. I think he’s on to something here . Making the masses aware of the power we could wield were they were informed and organized . I still have a very nebulous understanding of this “change” (a word overused so much as to be almost meaningless and powerless) but I understand a better life and future for the majority of the population of this planet is a good and necessary thing .. Now to get to work .. The elected servants of this nation need to obey the laws they choose for the citizens first . They work for us . Mandatory two term limits … they need health and retirement plans like everybody else ..We can stop this elite ism with the right people working with us and for us . I;m not saying I’m the right person but I am ready to go to work . Are you?

  6. Well isn’t this the conversation starter. You got my attention. Do tell more.

  7. I respect the dedication and the clarity.
    I don’t have a mental picture of what the 5.7 mill Sustainable Autonomous Structure looks like or what happens in it that couldn’t happen outside of it. It would be helpful to share the details (maybe I missed them). The money feels like a burden to me. I’d like to see the weight on the governance part, extending the sense of radical welcome and “everyone belongs” outward to everyone til it catches fire and the org takes whatever form it takes. We’ll find what it looks like later. That’s the view from here.

    • Hi,

      I came here by author’s invitation. I’ve read through the comments. Serious, heavy stuff.

      One thing I suppose it could happen within, but not outside, is high quality schooling. I haven’t made many friends claiming this, but “Democracy” doesn’t have schools (for the masses). That goes to the point that even universities visibly suffer, at undergraduate level at least.

      Perhaps this seems (is ?!) a light issue, but millions of unemployed (or close) educated people isn’t the same as the same millions, while uneducated. Once again: I’m talking about education standards “Democracy” appears to never offer.

      As with anything else, this is easier said than done. It’s hard to do it, after the “regular” school day ends. It’s hard to do it with kids who don’t want serious school. Worst of all: parents don’t want it (regardless of their public statements).

      Otherwise, this is one thing where people should (easily!) exceed the performances of “Democracy” (name it as you see fit, I’m no expert there). Perhaps a great trampoline for exceeding the performances of this society in other areas.

      I suppose you know school is to be taught (and led etc.) by professors (in the very field they teach), not by (education) “experts”. Any country who ever had a strong education system (I would be hesitant to count Finland here) must have done it that way. In certain cases, I’m sure of it

    • Agreeing that this does not give a clear picture of the proposal itself, it is also unclear as to what problem this is a solution. It does not seem in the least strategic. Just a fun thing to do with some community building patina, but sugar for power seeking flies. The first part of the piece seemed to be suggesting that money driven “partisan front groups” and such are the problem and that money and politics just do not mix in any form or any way. The priority issue of our time is money in politics and we cannot accomplish and kind of reform on any issue until we get it out. With a decent strategy, 5.7 mil $ is more than a long enough to lever to get money out of politics. Spending so much money for something of unclear relationship to any strategic problem simply dramatizes the bankruptcy of this process for building a strategy. Not to go all negative without contributing constructively, an example of strategic thinking would be for example this outline: http://www.opednews.com/articles/12-Essential-Elements-of-S-by-George-Flower-121210-581.html

      The task is to suggest, debate, perfect, gain consensus on such a strategy starting from the point of a common analysis of the problem, formulating a goal, sharing a fact-base, and then developing a plan. Unfortunately David has provided none of these elements of a strategy not because he has failed in any good faith in trying to be transparent, but because there is not strategy to this plan, with all due respect.

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