Free Speech, Free Listening

This is a remarkable little experiment with huge implications and potential. Lucas Cioffi took some dining room chairs down to the local pedestrian mall, put signs on the back offering “Free Speech,” reminiscent of Fran Peavey’s travels and invitation as “American willing to listen.”

When Lucas wondered if he shouldn’t add more rules or guidance to shape the dialogues that have emerged, I said I didn’t think so. Though as he had already used signs and the phrase “Free Speech,” I suggested “Free Listening” would be a powerful addition to the signs. The combination of the two, right and responsibility, seems like robust and complete guidance for these small groups, all the way up to our federal government.

The Limits of the Microphone?

Friend and colleague Koos de Heer shared this video on Facebook today, and sparked a small chain reaction for me.

First, at its climax, last 30 or 45 seconds, Chaplin cries: “let us fight…!” Yes, to fulfill promise, to free the world, to end barriers, greed, injustice and so on… but it’s still all FIGHTING! Then, it occurs to me that the rallying cry for science and rationality to deliver humankind must have been heard by many of Chaplin’s original viewers. Decades later we would seem to have made science and rationality the new dictators, perhaps more dangerous because more distributed, more deeply embedded in human culture. Even an old community organizer like Barack Obama rises on the strength of a cool, rational, technology-enhanced campaigning.

I think Chaplin was onto something with his bits early in the video about kindness, and what all humans want. Wish I could here a crescendo built on that view, before he slipped back into “fight fight fight!” The big paradox… How does one person make this sort of empassioned rallying cry for neighbors, brothers, sisters, friends, lovers, parents, teachers, partners, fellow travelers and other strangers?

For me, something of the answer might unfold next week. I am looking forward to spending four days in a CJYI training course, with an old friend who just happens to be the guy who hired Obama into Chicago and introduced him to organizing. We — he’s a student in the course, not the teacher — will be learning a person-to-person approach to something called restorative justice, what a practitioner/journalist friend has called “get a rock and talk.” Not especially rational or technical or scientific. Not any sort of fighting or rallying. Just a quietly personal and increasingly effective movement, reflecting on responsibility, redefining justice, and ultimately reallocating power, in real community.

silent night / newtown news

years ago, simon and garfunkel recorded a song called silent night/7 o’clock news. in one channel, they sang the old christmas song we all know. but in the other, they played news reports of the day, most memorably, about the war in vietnam. so, yes, that’s me in the red suit at a neighbors/family party this weekend and there’s more to this story than “ho, ho, ho!”

i have a friend, ben roberts, in newtown, connecticut, who is hosting a number of open “cafe” calls this week, for people to come together to talk, to explore what’s happened and think about what might now be possible, on guns, schools, mental illness, and anything else that participants might decide is related. the cafe call details are here and the one word that stood out for me in the many good and wise things he’s posted is: isolation.


it seems to be the underlying assumption, common perception, and slippery slope at the center of all sorts of horrible news stories. our natural reaction, our immediate response, is to come together. like we did after 9/11, like ben and others are doing on the phone this week, like he and his neighbors are doing all around newtown, like we do for more ordinary funerals — but also for holidays.

in the wake of the shootings last week, the cry goes up about gun control, and then it’s expanded to mental illness, but it seems to me that the thing that makes guns and illness possible is isolation. Francisco Varela, a Chilean biologist, philosopher, and neuroscientist once said something like “If a living system is unhealthy, the way to make it more healthy is to reconnect it with more of itself.”

just three days after our world crashed down on 9/11, i convened an open space gathering at old st. patrick’s church, here in chicago. what i remember best from that day is that after 70 or 80 or more participants posted something like 30 breakout session topics, nobody moved. nobody broke out. everyone wanted only to be with everyone else, in one big circle. we sat and talked, taking turns in that large group, for more than three hours, without any break, connecting and reconnecting.

when i was in grade school, in a suburb of detroit, in the 1970’s, safety meant being able to go to any house that displayed a red hand or a blue star in the front window. when there was a string of child abductions — every time it snowed, a kid would disappear, and every time the snow melted, they’d find a body — we were told to run and yell for help if any stranger tried to get us into a car.

the message was that help was all around, help was there for the asking. a bit like santa’s helpers being scattered all around the neighborhood, watching behavior, but also watching out for us. this is just the opposite, i think, of the voice that says, “the world is dangerous. i need to be prepared to shoot my way out,” or “if i’m hurting or struggling, nobody could possibly understand.” it’s these views we need to attack, need to prove wrong, need to dispel with our action.

i’m thinking that the solution to our current grief is not simply the opposite of gun rights, nor the opposite of mental illness, but the opposite of isolation, the opposite of whatever darkness might separate us from ourselves. holidays it seems, and especially the one(s) upon us now, in the dark of northern winter, are for practicing: coming together, rekindling light, watching over, and looking out for each other.

coming together might just be the only and every thing we need. the challenge, i think, is that it’s going to be most effective when we do it with those who seem most different from how we think we are, everywhere we are, in families and neighborhoods, churches and schools, politics and business. but teachers and pastors, mayors and the president, can’t do it for us. we have to do it together, each of us, all of us, everywhere, with every one, every chance we get.

merry happy to all, and to all a good night.

Occupy and Commons

i’ve been thinking about the notion of “commons” and it’s popped up in a number of conversations lately. here’s a quick explanation lifted from “Commons Not Capitalism,” a day 20 report posted about a month ago at OccupyPhillyMedia:

A commons is a simple idea really, and something that humans have done throughout our existence, even before we had languages, even before we made up the word “commons” in multiples languages. A commons is something held by people in common, to be used, shared, and enjoyed. It can be a physical space, like a field for grazing or planting, or a library or park; it can be knowledge, like the ideas within our libraries or free and open-source software; it can be those things that sustain all of life, like the air and water; it can be some of the things that make us most human, such as dignity, love, caring, art, and our imagination.

i’d add to this culture, beliefs, agreements, like the common agreement we have in this country that it’s okay to protest and speak out, if done peacefully, or as is catching some press today, that America is not a battlefield.

in Open Space, the circle, bulletin board and “marketplace” in which participants move about, with the right and responsibility to maximize thier own learning and contributing, are all commons. and while i appreciate the focus on commons, setting it against capitalism might miss the point. capital is perhaps another sort of commons, or at least the parts that move and accumulate because of various commons existe and are accessible to all. “markets,” so often held up as dangerous are also commons.

the video above does a good job of telling this story in another way. it’s not as simple as any us against them, or this against that.

the essence of invitation

“i’m going, because it matters. come with me. we need you.” this is, to me, the essence of invitation.

harrison owen reported recently, via the OSLIST, on a conversation with a woman who was in the middle of the tahrir square action earlier this year. they concluded that the tahrir event(s) had all the deep qualities of open space, and none of the official trappings, no facilitator, no flipcharts and markers. i thought, yes, that’s true, save one: invitation, lots of individual invitations, that must have sounded just like “i’m going, because it matters. come with me. we need you.”

this might be the best working template for invitation that i’ve yet discovered. there is the integrity of the leader going first, committing first. there is the statement of an issue or opportunity that really matters. it’s personal and active and voluntary: come with me. and it points out beyond control, to what the leader can do only with the help of others: we need you.

harrison’s point was that open space is naturally occuring, and i would say that’s true… because invitation is naturally occuring. facilitation and flipcharts? not so much. but invitation… is.

Egyptian Youth in Open Space

In the turbulent times following the Egyptian uprising and Mubarek resignation, a group called the Egyptian Youth Federation has begun convening youth leadership forums in Open Space, around a theme of Egypt at the Crossroads. Every so often something like this pops up in the world and makes me proud to be playing on the team, and working in the community, that I am. They’ve written an excellent invitation (which I also archived in my InvitationWriting page), and from the pile of photos and notes posted on their Facebook wall, had just the sort of high-performance experience you’d expect in Open Space. Seems Egypt at the Crossroads II is now in the works, as well. Go team!

Regional Economic Communities

My friend Tim Reeves, in Munich, has been working on something called Regional Economic Communities. I’m just starting to explore his ideas, but I’m intrigued because he (and co-author Anna-Lisa Schmalz) seem to be articuting something quite new. At the same time, it rings a bit like a conversation I had ten years ago with friends in India, about the wisdom and utility of many overlapping languages spoken there. It seems to me that the “solution” for which many are fishing about will have something to do with overlapping wholes, reflecting a world that is layered and connected rather than simply delineated and divided. Given my long history with Open Space, I appreciate the emphasis on renewing the mechanism of personal responsibility, as well.

Why we need Regional Economic Communities

The egocentric world-view is not viable in the long term, because its picture of the world is incorrect. This is because the basis of ones own life is shared with and made by countless other beings, or in the case of resources there is only a finite amount available. The egocentric view ignores these facts. It demands more than would be sustainably possible and thus destroys its own basis for life. We don’t need to look far to be able to see that humanity is moving fast towards such a fate.

The only attitude which is able to survive in the long term is that which puts the well-being of the community of all beings on this planet foremost, actively cares for them and takes responsibility for this goal.

A global way of thinking leads to local action. The Regional Economic Community was devised to put these insights into practice. It consists of a Community of Participation and Ownership (CPO) and a barter community which builds upon it. It invites all the citizens within the region to step back fully into personal responsibility, in both economic and interpersonal respects, and provides the tools required to do so.

Inviting Democracy

NYTimes reporting this week…
Few Americans have heard of Gene Sharp. But for decades, his practical writings on nonviolent revolution — most notably From Dictatorship to Democracy, a 93-page guide to toppling autocrats, available for download in 24 languages — have inspired dissidents around the world, including in Burma, Bosnia, Estonia and Zimbabwe, and now Tunisia and Egypt. Full story

Somethin’ Happenin’ Here

When the Bulls were winning NBA championships, you could step into any elevator in the city and feel the vibe, the anticipation, the density or pressure of everybody paying attention, focusing. Perfect strangers striking up conversations, everybody assuming that everybody else was thinking about last night’s win or this evening’s contest. I think it’s happening again, but it’s not about the Cubs and the World Series (at least not yet).

I go to the hardware store today and the old thai guy who runs the place totals up my bill for some boiler parts. Then, pretty much out of the blue, he asks me, “So, what do you think about this $700 billion bailout?” Earlier this week, I went in to get a blood test and the arm sticker has his computer tuned to CNN political reports. I walk into a meeting the other day and about the first thing out of my client’s mouth is basically, “Can you believe this Palin mess?” And I’m hearing this election, the financial mess, and even conspiracy theories raised in conversations in decidedly (at least until now) non-political offices. There’s somethin’ happenin’ here, I think.

Now add to that, the President gets on the TV (finally)… but says basically, “Hey, this is really bad.” I’ve never heard of such a thing. The president’s supposed to get on and tell us it’s all gonna be okay. But then, the funny thing is, nobody seems to trust the government anymore, so when the Sec’y of the Treasury says people should be very scared, nobody seems to panic. I see a lot of people paying attention. Watching and waiting. Nervous, maybe, but not panicked. Like we’re all watching each other more than the TV, to know if everything is okay.

Yes, we’re on this big financial edge, but I think we might be on the edge of something more. And more positive. No way to know. What it is ain’t exactly clear, or so the song goes. But suffice it to say that the world is SO very upside down right now that the Cubs could finish the regular season with the best record in MLB, and if they win the world series, there is just no telling what kind of crazy strange world we could be in.

For what it’s worth, here’s the best bailout plan I’ve seen.

Oklahoma Declaring Independence?

Walter Williams points out that what we usually call “The Civil War” was not really that at all. In a civil war, two factions fight for control of a government. But the South wanted to get out of Washington, DC, not take it over.

The war of 1861 was a war of independence. The Feds won. And by now, most of us out here in the States are losing. The Oklahoma House of Reps has voted 92 to 3 to put the Feds in their place. This could be quite the revolution if it can gather some steam.

…and Whereas, today, in 2008, the states are demonstrably treated as agents of the federal government. … Now, therefore, be it resolved by the House of Representatives and the Senate of the 2nd session of the 51st Oklahoma Legislature: that the State of Oklahoma hereby claims sovereignty under the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States over all powers not otherwise enumerated and granted to the federal government by the Constitution of the United States. That this serve as Notice and Demand to the federal government, as our agent, to cease and desist, effective immediately, mandates that are beyond the scope of these constitutionally delegated powers.

Chicago Civics 101: Getting (Green) Things Done with City Government

A political education and organizing workshop:

Saturday, June 28
10AM – 1PM
Chicago Center for Green Technology

Learn how the city works from the people who do it everyday! Work more effectively and strategically with aldermen, ward staff, and city departments to get green things done and build the healthy neighborhood food systems we envision. This three-hour workshop will provide tools, insights, and guidance – and a chance to converse with policy makers about ways we can help them to help us, help each other. More Info and Register Online

opening space for appreciative inquiry — and peace — in nepal and its government

romy shovelton emailed today, from her farm in wales, asking about mixing open space and appreciative inquiry. it turns out i have a pretty good story of such mixing, from grassroots to new national government, that i’d been meaning to update here.

on my third visit to nepal, i helped convene and facilitate a third open space event there, this one a first national summit for peaceful development. the first two meetings were a classroom presentation/demonstration of open space technology, for about 20 students and faculty at kathmandu college. the second was a city-wide event, organized on the success and with the skills gained in the first session, looking at the 20-year future of kathmandu.

at this second event, i made a point of having side conversations with as many of the 40 participants as i could, suggesting that we might do 4 days the following year, two days of open space, followed by two days of ost training. this was a model we’d used elsewhere and i thought it could give the depth of experience needed to accomplish the things that were being discussed for the next 20 years in kathmandu.

when i contacted my colleagues about returning for a third visit, they began organizing the event we’d discussed the previous year, with some important changes. it was to be four days, but it would be national in scope. it would be held in open space, but it would be based also on AI principles and the 4-D process. it would include training, as well, on both ost and ai.

i never would have believed it was possible, but my nepali colleagues never thought otherwise. so we did four one-day open space events, one on each of the four D’s, the first one shortened by opening speeches, the last one shortened by a grand closing ceremony that included gifts and acknowledgements and official thank yous in addition to the usual comments in a circle. the middle days opened with ost training observations and closed with evening sessions on how to do AI. we also started a blog that they used for several years.

since then they have had second, third and fourth national summits, sometimes in open space, sometimes with appreciative inquiry facilitated by ai originator, david cooperrider.

along the way, in the midst of the sometimes violent maoist resistance, a 6000(?)-year old landmark gate was destroyed in an explosion that also destroyed part of one of the organizers’ homes. the village where this happened was devastated by the loss, but this organizer emailed me almost immediately, saying that they were planning an open space to talk about rebuilding gate. i don’t know if that event ever formally happened, but having it there as a possibility in such a moment is surely worth something.

and now, after a fifth summit event just held in january, this one also in open space, and run totally on their own, without outside facilitators or consultants, they are planning a sixth national summit — this one for the 601 members of the soon-to-be-elected “constituent assembly” that is the budding solution to more than a decade of political, sometimes armed, in-fighting, and the governmental structure that will replace the ages-old nepali monarchy. the sixth summit will seek to infuse the new government with open space and appreciative inquiry.

turning up the volume on inviting leadership

i woke up the other morning thinking about “those special interests.” pretty scary, eh? specifically, thinking that obama’s frequent promises to do something about “those special interests” should be traded in for promises he can actually keep: he should be promising to “turn up the volume” of ordinary voices in Washington.

this he can prove. this he has demonstrated. in stadium rallies. literally, a million donors. an active community blogosphere. person-to-person phonebanking and door-to-door campaigning instead of robo-calling. the marvel of his campaign is that he’s got so many people involved. his “solution” doesn’t need to be invented… it needs only to be repeated.

he doesn’t need to change the system, he needs only to keep inviting more and more ordinary american voices into the system — and we will change that system. it’s an additive process, an inviting leader inviting more and more leadership, that addresses problems without attacking them directly.

this is how inviting leadership works. it adds and invites more and more of what is good and working, brings more and more people into the conversation. that is enough. their new energy, new ideas, and new connections immediately move the system in ways that naturally (even if slowly) replace and resolve the old ways and problems.

“turning up the volume” on what’s good and working seems a stronger position than “battling the special interests” and “changing the system” — in this election, and in every organization and leadership situation i can remember. they say people resist change, but who doesn’t like to be invited? this is, i think, why this campaign is working.

an inviting campaign

earlier this evening i saw an army veteran named cheryl, in tacoma, washington, post on the obama community blogsite a request for help in writing her own iraq story, in support of the story senator obama told in the debate last week.

i was impressed that she posted her phone number, and challenged by her obvious determination to get her story into writing. i paused… and then called this perfect stranger. i left a message, hung up, and wondered what would happen next.

in the meantime, i wondered who she was. clicked on her profile page. noticed that i didn’t have a profile, so started to fill that in. some minutes later, the phone rang.

we’ve had a bit of a chat now, and she’s got a bit of a line on the start of her story. we’re looking forward to chatting again tomorrow or the next day about what she comes up with — because she’s determined to get her story out.

THIS is what i think is so remarkable about this campaign, that people can connect in these simple ways. that people are so determined to give to this movement, willing to ask for help, and willing to offer to strangers.

this is why i think the deepest structure of this campaign is different. it is already supporting the way so many of us wish our government could be: of the people, by the people, and for each other.

i don’t think of it as supporting a candidate as much as being a member of a community, same as i am an active member in other LARGE communities. this one just happens to have as its purpose the future of the united states government.


We are now spending $9 billion per month in Iraq.

Not having much experience with billions, I wondered: How does that compare to something like what the City of Chicago spends to run all city services and functions for a year?

The City of Chicago spent $5.7 to run itself for the twelve months of 2007.

Other ways to understand how much $9 billion is?

On Style and Substance

Grassroots Mom has done some fantastic research into the question of style and substance. She’s pulled directly from Thomas, the Library of Congress’ legislative database, and delivered her findings (at Daily Kos) in a balanced and objective way:

I refuse to buy into the hype, on either side, but especially on that of Obama. However the “empty rhetoric” v. “history of accomplishments” arguments have prompted me to check it out on my own, not relying on any candidate’s website, book, or worst of all supporters’ diaries, like this one.

I went to the Library of Congress Website. The FACTS of what each did in the Senate last year sure surprised me. I’m sure they will surprise you, too. Whether you love or hate Hillary, you will be surprised. Whether you think Obama is the second coming of JFK or an inexperienced lightweight, you will surprised. Go check out the Library of Congress Website. After spending some time there, it will be clear that there is really only one candidate would is ready to be the next president, even better than Gore. If you don’t want to spend an hour or two doing research, then I’ll tell you what I discovered…

The Substance of Revolution

Recent calls for “substance”, or more commonly criticisms of its absence, in Barack Obama’s speeches remind me of so many questions I’ve heard over the years about “How does open space technology lead to action?”

When 100 or 200 people create a working agenda of 50 or 70 cricital issues, take personal responsibility for leading those conversations, and pledge to bring back the notes to share with everybody — in about an hour — that IS action. We just have to know where to look.

As to the history of the Revolution, my ideas may be peculiar, perhaps singular. What do we mean by the Revolution? The War? That was no part of the Revolution. It was only an Effect and Consequence of it. The Revolution was in the minds of the People . . .
—John Adams

Many Obama supporters might simply be thinking differently about politics, partisanship, and policy. It’s a different set of priorities, that includes the process, and the personal experience of the process. Words like cult and messiah are popping up, I think, because it looks so mysterious, as many are voting on the basis of criteria that simply don’t exist for some others. Jeff Aitken has some interesting things about Obama and self-organization and another post that includes this:

Catherine Austin Fitts warns us that we have a stark choice: we support the centralizers or the decentralizers. We support a centralizing economic system (the “tapeworm” economy, which has sucked 10 trillion dollars out of communities into globalized concentrations of wealth); or forge a decentralizing, community economics when we pull our investments (and those of our community’s institutions, like pension funds) out of the tapeworm and put them to work in our communities. The government is not coming to our rescue when “peak everything” leaves us to our own relationships with farmers and shoemakers.

The Adams quote comes from Fitts, and I’ve added her Coming Clean process, toward a financially intimate world, to the Practices Roll in the sidebar. If self-organization and Open Space are less centralized, more intimate, then is it fair to say that Obama is running a more intimate campaign and proposing a more politically intimate government? Not just “for” the people, but more “of” and “by” than ever before?

Do you know Substance when you see it?

Then have a look for yourself. You can search the Congressional Record online. Just pick Clinton or Obama or your own senator out of the list. Clinton’s served in 107-110th Congresses. Obama in 109-110th. Scan what they authored and introduced. See what’s been passed or ignored. It’s an easy-to-read listing, with status on everything. Pretty fascinating view of government, how things get done, or not.

The World is Watching Burma

My friend Holger Nauheimer in Germany says: I believe that blogs can make a difference to the world. So here is my request to all other blogs: Please post the following message in your blog. I say it’s worth a try. So here it is. Please join us.

In Burma (Myanmar), thousands of Buddhist monks are marching through the streets every day to protest against more than 20 years of dictatorship. They are joint by major parts of the population. In the past, any anti-government protests have been stopped by the army with fierce violence and the arrest of the protestors. So, far, the military has not intervened on these latest civil movement.

We want to tell to the Government of Myanmar: the community of bloggers – and therefore the world – is watching every step you take. Do not excert any violence on the peaceful protesters.

We want to tell to the monks and to the people of Myanmar: you are not alone. The time for change in Myanmar has come and the people of Myanmar have a right to enjoy the same economic growth than your neighbouring countries and the increase of democratic rights.

So, we ask all blogs to post this message. Feel free to translate this message into your language. If you are a blog reader, write a message to your favourite blogs and ask them to participate in this joint action. Please follow the news on BBC World or any other news channel.

We further ask you to report us that you have posted this message. Please go to and enter your blog name, the URL, and the estimated number of readers.

Thank you for you support.

I opened a small space today for 80 or 100 people at a Catholic Network of Volunteer Service conference. Along the way, I found this Sir Edmund Burke quote spread around on some tables: “The surest way for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.” Go vols, go bloggers, go monks.

Inviting Digital Inclusion

Sascha Meinrath sez…

Through the hard work of folks like Michael Maranda and many others, the Chicago Digital Access Alliance has formulated an extraordinarily useful 10-point statement of principles applicable to every city engaged in expanding digital inclusion. Tackling the multi-faceted nature of the digital divide, the CDAA has drafted a document that should be brought before all decision-makers before they sign off on plans to wire(less) their communities. Congrats to the CDAA!

All Agreed! Read the 10-point statement

And my question for Michael Maranda… So when do we get to email this to the Mayor?

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