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- Americans 'Snapping' By The Millions
- Activists fear large death toll near Damascus
- MF Global Trustee Sues Corzine Over Firm’s Collapse
Two themes that we've been consistently stressing over the past several years were beautifully illustrated today, courtesy of a hacked AP Twitter feed.
- Our markets are broken (courtesy of High Frequency Trading, or HFT, computers), and
- When things finally shift, they will do so at a speed that will shock us.
But first, the hacked AP Twitter feed...
By Erika Kazi (edited by Mira Luna)
Sarah Jilbert, Melissa Guziak, and I were juniors at Ohio Wesleyan University when we formulated Green Week. Our school has lagged behind when it comes to sustainability efforts - only making baby steps in the past two years due to a lack of environmental awareness among our peers.
Our research about other campus sustainability programs showed us that once educated and conscious, students can easily become enthusiastic for environmental causes. We’d seen this grow at our own school - a school once without a uniform recycling program. In just one semester, we initiated a composting program at our school, redesigned the recycling program, and hosted two free stores. Our first Free Store collected items during student move out in May, and allowed students to claim items at the start of the following school year. This was a great success - we diverted 43 tons of waste from a landfill within just 2 weeks. To build on this enthusiasm, we created Green Week, funded in part by a seed grant from Shareable and OWU.
Though the week-long event was mainly focused on education, having fun and bonding as a community was an integral part. Each day of the week had a different theme to promote ‘green’ actions through playful challenges. Each activity was an opportunity for teams to earn points and three teams with the highest points earned certificates for local ice cream. The winning team won the opportunity to implement an innovative sustainable project on campus with the help of the Sustainability Task Force.
On Monday, Energy and Water Day, students won a free water bottle for sharing information about their energy and water habits.
Tuesday was Mind Your Area Business Day, a big dinner celebration with local food, wine, and beer to create relationships between students and local business owners and encourage local consumption.
Wednesday's Waste Naught event featured a recycled art display about waste and a “Compost Challenge” - to receive a free Green Week reusable tote bag, contestants had to demonstrate knowledge of compostable materials.
On Thursday, Smoothie Moves / Social Bike Ride day, we surveyed students how they got to class (walking, biking, or driving) in order to get a smoothie and sign up with our campus bike share program costing only $1 for the semester. Students gathered for a bike ride, which earned them a reusable spork.
Friday's Black Out Day & Night / Community Free Store event was focused on reusing clothes and striving for accountability in turning lights out. Students signed a statement saying that they would be more consciously aware of turning out lights to receive “when not in use, turn out the juice” stickers, a pencil, or a spork. In order to enter a thrift shop dance party later that night, students had to donate at least one clothing item to a Free Store the following day, supported by a donation from Shareable.
Reflecting on the excitement around Green Week, the campus’ reaction was the greatest proof of the impact that we made. It was hopeful to hear students encouraging their peers to recycle and carrying the free water reusable bottles, and to see the administration's awe of such a successful event. Some students, as cheesy as it sounds, mentioned that Green Week changed their lives. In one case, a student approached me and explained that by getting the water bottle she gave up drinking soda, speaking to local businesses encouraged her to be more conscious about her food choices, and the bike ride made her join the bike share program. This student is now trying out being a vegetarian and is excited to be helping to fix the recycling program in her residence hall.
Encouraging students to take a step back from the dominant materialistic culture and get a feel for a more genuine and sustainable lifestyle allowed the importance and benefits of living in an eco-friendly manner to be understood in a real way. It was such a hugely successful event that nearly everyone was affected even if it was just by seeing the waste display on our main walkway. In total, we estimate that 1,900 people were influenced by our event, based on the number of students that participated in the challenges.
Students, faculty, and staff responded so well to our initial effort that we are confident that next year will be even better and our community will learn even more. There are already other students on campus interested in taking charge of Green Week, so as we graduate, the program will continue on.
More Food for Thought:
This article originally appeared on PPS.org and is republished with permission. It is part two of a three-part series on transformative Placemaking.
A great place is something that everybody can create. If vibrancy is people, as we argued prior, the only way to make a city vibrant again is to make room for more of them. Today, in the first of a two-part follow up, we will explore how Placemaking, by positioning public spaces at the heart of action-oriented community dialog, makes room both physically andphilosophically by re-framing citizenship as an on-going, creative collaboration between neighbors. The result is not merely vibrancy, but equity.
In equitable places, individual citizens feel (first) that they are welcome, and (second) that it is within their power to change those places through their own actions. “The huge problem with citizenship today is that people don’t take it very seriously,” says Harry Boyte, director of the Center for Democracy and Citizenship at Augsburg College. “The two dominant frameworks for citizenship in political theory,” he explains, “are the liberal framework, where citizens are voters and consumers of goods, and the communitarian framework, where citizens are volunteers and members of communities. In other words, for most people, citizenship is doing good deeds, or it’s voting and getting things. We need to develop the idea of civic agency, where citizens are co-creators of democracy and the democratic way of life.”
It is bewildering, when you take a step back, to realize how far we’ve gotten away from that last statement. We have completely divorced governance from citizenship, and built thick silo walls around government by creating an opaque, discipline-driven approach to problem-solving. Busting those silo walls is imperative to creating more equitable communities. Rather than trying, haplessly, to solve transportation, housing, or health problems separately, as if they exist within a vacuum, government should be focused on building stronger place.
A new citizen-centered model has also begun to emerge, that we’ve come to call Place Governance.” Photo credit: Andy Castro. Used under Creative Commons license.
Revitalizing citizenship through Place Governance: Why we need a Copernican revolution
As the link between bustling public spaces and economic development has grown stronger, some government officials have started advocating for change in this arena. After so many decades of top-down thinking, the learning curve is steep, and many officials are trying to solve human problems with design solutions. But a new citizen-centered model has also begun to emerge, that we’ve come to call Place Governance.
In Place Governance, officials endeavor to draw more people into the civic decision-making process. When dealing with a dysfunctional street, for instance, answers aren’t only sought from transportation engineers—they’re sought from merchants who own businesses along the street, non-profit organizations working in the surrounding community, teachers and administrators at the school where buses queue, etc. The fundamental actors in a Place Governance structure are not official agencies that deal with specific slices of the pie, but the people who use the area in question and are most intimately acquainted with its challenges. Officials who strive to implement this type of governance structure do so because they understand that the best solutions don’t come from within narrow disciplines, but from the points where people of different backgrounds come together.
One of the key strengths of Place Governance is that it meets people where they are, and makes it easier for them to engage in shaping their communities. We have seen the willingness to collaborate more and more frequently in our work with local government agencies. Speaking about a recent workshop in Pasadena, CA, PPS President Fred Kent noted that “The Mayor and City Manager there fully realize and support the idea that if the people, lead they will follow. They recognize that they need leadership coming from their citizens to create the change that will sustain and build the special qualities that give Pasadena a sense of place.”
Finding ways to help citizens lead is critical to the future of community development and Placemaking, which is exactly why we have been working to form cross-disciplinary coalitions like Livability Solutions, Community Matters, and, most recently, the Placemaking Leadership Council. “Democracy is not a government, it’s a society,” argues Boyte. “We have to develop an idea that democracy is the work of the people. It’s citizen-centered democracy, not state- or government-centered democracy. That doesn’t mean government doesn’t play an important role, but if you think about government as the center of the universe, we need something like a Copernican revolution.”
“We have to develop an idea that democracy is the work of the people. It’s citizen-centered democracy, not state- or government-centered democracy.” Photo credit: PPS. Used under Creative Commons license.
Attachment then engagement: Co-creating a culture of citizenship
The engagement of citizens from all walks of life is central to Place Governance, and while a great deal of Placemaking work comes from grassroots activity, we need more change agents working within existing frameworks to pull people in. As the Knight Foundation’s Soul of the Community Study has shown for several years running, “soft” aspects like social offerings, openness, and aesthetics are key to creating the attachment to place that leads to economic development and community cohesion. But counter-intuitively, civic engagement and social capital are actually the two least important factors in creating a sense of attachment.
As it turns out, that’s actually not bad news. It’s all in how to read the data. When the SOTC results came out, Katherine Loflin, who served as the lead consultant for Knight on the study, recalls there being a great deal of consternation at the foundation around this surprising result. But SOTC does not measure the factors that are most important to place generally; it measures the factors that are most important in regard to peoples’ attachment to place. Working off of the specificity of that premise, Loflin dug deeper into the data to see if she could find an explanation for the curious lack of correlation between engagement and attachment.
“By the third year of Soul,” Loflin says, “we decided to start testing different variables to see whether civic engagement has to work with something else to inspire attachment. We found that one thing that does seem to matter is one’s feeling of self-efficacy. You need civic engagement plus the belief that you can make a difference in order for it to create greater attachment. We can’t just provide civic engagement opportunities, we also have to create a culture of success around engagement if we want it to translate to feelings of greater attachment to a place.”
Matt Leighninger, the director of the Deliberative Democracy Consortium (a Community Matters partner) echoes this need when talking about his own work in engaging communities. “The shortcoming of work,” he says, “is that it is too often set up to address a particular issue, and then once it’s over, it’s over. You would think that people having an experience like that would lead them to seek out opportunities to do it again on other issues, but that often doesn’t happen. Unless there’s a social circle or ecosystem that encourages them and honors their contributions, it’s not likely that they’re going to stay involved.”
“In equitable places, individual citizens feel (first) that they are welcome, and (second) that it is within their power to change those places through their own actions.” Photo credit: Jennifer Conley. Used under Creative Commons license.
How Placemaking helps citizens see what they can build together
Creating that support system is what Place Governance is all about. In addition to their capacity for creating a sense of attachment to place, great public destinations, through the interactive way in which they are developed and managed, challenge people to think more broadly about what it means to be a citizen. Place Governance relies on the Placemaking process to structure the discussion about how shared spaces should be used in a way that helps people to understand how their own specific knowledge can benefit their community more broadly. “We can set up the conversation, and help move things along,” Kent says, “but once the community’s got it, they’re golden. Just setting the process up for them to perform—that’s what Placemaking is.”
If the dominant framework for understanding citizenship today is passive, with citizens ‘receiving’ government services and being ‘given’ rights, then we need to develop affirmative cultures around citizen action. We should also recognize that elected representatives are citizens, just as surely as we are ourselves. We need officials to focus on creating great places with their communities rather than solving isolated problems for distant constituents. Equitable places are not given, they are made, collaboratively. Everyone has a part to play, from the top down, and from the bottom up. “The default of consumer culture,” Boyte says of this much-needed shift in thinking about citizenship, “is that people ask what they can get, rather than thinking about what they could build, in terms of common resources.”
Governance is social, and citizenship is creative. The only things standing between where we are and where we want to be are those big, thick silo walls.
How long does it take to become famous these days? A lot less time than it used to. Thanks to the Internet, anyone can become an overnight sensation. But, not everyone can.
As YouTube's trend manager Kevin Allocca points out in a TEDYouth talk, double rainbow, Nyan Cat, the Friday video and the ticket-protesting NYC cyclist stand apart from the glut of YouTube videos because we put them there. Yes, if you watched Yosemite Bear's blissed-out reaction to seeing a double rainbow, or Psy's "Gangham Style" video, you played a hand in making them famous and shaping pop culture for better...or worse, depending on your outlook.
Allocca talks about the three reasons videos go viral, including the all-important participatory aspect, where we all become part of the sensation by sharing and remixing it. The big takeaway is that media is now a participatory affair and the future of entertainment will be determined by you and me.
It seems clear to everyone that we’ve reached some sort of historical turning point. Things are shifting beneath our feet, old structures are collapsing and old stories losing their power. But, as always happens in moments of major shift, it’s very hard for anyone to tell where we’re going: we just know that we’re headed somewhere different. One road that seems desperately likely is drastic ecological and economic collapse. But there is another road, the road that Charles Eisenstein, in this short video essay made by “Sustainable Man” adapted from Eisenstein’s TED talk, calls “the more beautiful world our heart knows is possible.”
As Eisenstein points out, correctly it seems to me, we are living in a time and a society that idealizes the individual, and which emphasizes the ways in which that individual is explicitly separated from the rest of the world. This particular formation of the individual, built in total separation, is the cause of alienation, of boredom, of confusing consumption with pleasure and greed with desire.
The video speaks to a fundamental ethical demand: “When we’re young we have this knowledge that the world is supposed to be much more beautiful than what is offered to us as normal….But that expectation gets betrayed again and again…As our ecosystems fall apart, as our political system, our educational system, healthcare system falls apart…it’s a lot harder to fully believe in our stories. So we’re moving into a different story”
The demand is to change the world for the better, to change the story of our lives and our values, to make it the world we believe it can be. He speaks of simple acts of generosity and kindness, and the ways that serving something larger than yourself can help create a better world. Indeed, Eisenstein says that “being in service to something larger than yourself” is the most important thing you can do to make the world better.
But there is a danger in confusing, as this video does, the act of serving something larger than yourself with acting to change the world for the better. There are many things larger than ourselves, and many ways to generously and selflessly give yourself to something that damages the world. What would you say to earnest volunteers for Republican or Democratic politicians who cut social services or scuttle environmental reform—were they not giving to something larger than themselves? What about European missionaries who aggressively attacked the belief structures of indigenous communities, or volunteers who’ve joined their nations’ armies when war breaks out? Were they not “bowing into service”, believing they were creating a better world?
The video further muddles this question by equating images of political action—in particular from Occupy Wall Street and Tiananmen Square—with images of a huge coordinated and (apparently) corporate supported synchronized dance, someone with a ‘free hugs’ sign (a cop gets one), massive religious ceremonies and images of swarming animals: flocks of birds and schools of fish. These are all examples of an individual being part of ‘something larger’, but are wildly different in meaning, in effect, and in their capacity to actually empower the individual, enable ethical action and change the world.
It is important not to build simple binaries between the individual and the group, nor to confuse a group with a community. The late-capitalist individual is most often alienated, bored, frustrated and lonely, but is that because being an individual is suspect, or because the way we are made individuals goes against our own desires, pleasures, and compassionate understanding and interaction with the world? Is “bowing into service” enough, or should we in fact interrogate our actions and those larger movements around us?
I don’t believe that we should “bow into service”, with all of the making ourselves prostrate and submissive such an image implies, but rather find or build communities of friends and comrades that share our desires, our projects, our joys. Communities who we know we can act and fight beside. Yes, the first step is recognizing that the world can be a better place, and that we have the power to change it, and yes, being part of something which goes beyond yourself can empower you like nothing else. It can also deepen your sense of connectedness with both the world and the people around you.
But what that project is, what that “something larger” amounts to, makes all the difference.
- The prevailing trends of the next several decades: contraction, down-scaling & re-localization
- How these trends will manifest in commerce, politics, employment & infrastructure
- Those who adapt now will be positioned to thrive
- Act now - ask forgiveness, not permission
If you have not yet read Part I: We've Dug a Pretty Damn Big Hole for Ourselves, available free to all readers, please click here to read it first.
We may never again restore trust in giant institutions ranging from the U.S. government to Harvard University to The New York Times. They have probably squandered their credibility and their legitimacy.
Anyway, the trends now moving human affairs are taking us away from both gigantism and the growth imperative that these things represent. The trends of the present moment in history are contraction, down-scaling, and re-localization.
Managing contraction is the only safe reality-based political response to the situation, and there is no constituency for it – though contraction is emphatically underway whether we like it or not, and it would be advantageous if we could manage our way through it rather than let it become a disorderly rout in which people starve and the rule of law disintegrates altogether.
As for re-localization and downscaling, there is a highly visible, easily identifiable constituency...
The diminishing returns of technology are insidious, and they are ever with us. By this I mean the slow erosion of the quality of life, despite the impression that technological wonders only make our lives better.
by Hillete Warner
Global Innovators is a 10-part series that celebrates the remarkable work of social innovators from outside the English-speaking world. Twice a month, we will be profiling the stories of inspiring community pioneers from across three broad cultural clusters: change enthusiasts from Italy, France and the Spanish-speaking world. The series, based on the recently launched multilingual editions of the Enabling City toolkit, will focus on a rich variety of themes that explore 'enabling' frameworks for participatory social change.
“Open” and “participatory” are words that seem to have become almost synonymous with design lately. From open source software to co-creation, the process of collective brainstorming is stronger – and more inspiring – than ever. Yet one element that is often overlooked in the process of collaborative design, one that we don’t maybe think much about, is something essential to the process itself: “open” communication. Cultivating the art of effective communication requires a capacity to listen empathetically, a strong sense of emotional intelligence, an insatiable curiosity and, of course, a willingness to share.
The result is what is often called “collective intelligence,” the skilful blending of diverse insights and ideas into a coherent whole. So just like successful ‘open design’ is helping us make the shift from closed to open systems of production, learning what makes ‘open communication’ successful can help us shift the emphasis away from the celebration of individual insights to a creative process developed for and by the commons. For almost a decade, Cristiano Siri has been working to encourage just that. We spoke with him today to learn more about how he went from being a user experience designer to a participatory process facilitator, and what inspired him to investigate the path towards personal and community resilience along the way.
Enabling City: Cristiano, your work is known for bringing people together and bridging inter-sectoral divides. What are some of the formative experiences that have defined your work over the years?
Cristiano Siri: I first started as a user experience and service designer in Italy, and later decided to train as a participatory process facilitator in Italy and abroad. For the past ten years, I have practiced, taught and disseminated the art of listening, of co-creation, and community-building. These experiences are what compelled me to co-found The Hub Roma and to be a founding member of CoDesign Jam, an event format that organizes regular co-design gatherings (such as the Global Service Jam) here in Rome.
At the moment, however, my main project is finding my true ‘mission’ in life. In May 2013, my backpack and I will set out on a “mission finding” journey to explore places where people are prototyping new ways of living through resilience, relationship-building and inclusive community practices. I am inspired by job titles like: Transition Host, Transformation Doula, Community Gardener and Healer, Global Cross-Pollinator and Resilience Agent. I will visit eco-villages, intentional communities, transition towns and groups who are using different sharing economy models to learn from their stories and see how I can use the values of active listening in support of resilience-building.
EC: What motivated you to make the jump from being a user experience designer to becoming involved in co-design, co-working and the world of social innovation?
CS: I entered the “working world” fresh out of school and quickly realized that the workplace culture was encouraging us to pursue our tasks individually, that we were being separated into silos. Even in a creative environment, the value of listening to one another was missing. I wanted to do something to create a culture shift, to encourage the cross-pollination of skills, experiences and viewpoints so that they, in turn, could be applied to the emergence of eco-logical solutions. I found these engrained work habits to be stifling opportunities for co-working, so I created workshops to introduce co-design to as many stakeholders and team members as I possibly could. What emerged was an experience of deep engagement, one that gave way to new forms of collaboration and communication.
Then, in 2009, I met Dario Carrera and Ivan Fadini who invited me to join their team and open The Hub Roma with them. This was my first encounter with social innovation. Through my involvement with the project, I realized that the skills I had developed could be wonderfully employed to support a community of social innovators, people who are working to substitute negative externalities with long-term, positive ones.
EC: That must have been a rewarding, if challenging, transition. What have you learned from working with social innovators in Italy?
CS: In Italy, we are currently hearing the loud crackling sounds of a collapsing social, cultural and economic system. A large number of citizens are suffering from this collapse but, to this day, the institutions and the entrepreneurial system have failed to provide any tangible solutions to move the country forward. Luckily, citizens are leading the way by self-organizing and prototyping change through innovative social practices, showing us that change is indeed possible.
The practice of ‘social innovation’ is still new in the country, but I believe the strength of this community is precisely its ability to offer tangible, new ways to address old (but very real) needs. There is no support from formal institutions, and much remains to be done to network these co-design initiatives more broadly. The Hub Roma was established for precisely this purpose: to offer spaces and events that encourage encounters and networking while providing visibility to social innovators. We also use the space to explore relevant and common themes through public workshops, like our recent event series called "Money 4 Good" where we explored alternatives to the current financial model.
EC:As a seasoned facilitator, what are some of your favourite ways of bringing people together?
CS: To create positive change, I like to invite all stakeholders into the same room to facilitate the emergence of a shared view of the system they are in. This experience enables a shift in the participants' ways of thinking and acting so that, together, we begin to co-create and prototype solutions that have the collective long-term interest in mind. To do this, I use principles, methods, and tools from the Art of Hosting, Theory U, and Appreciative Inquiry. This is my favourite process design sequence:
- Listening practices (eg. Council Circle, Sensing Journeys, Open Space);
- Practices to collectively envision the system (eg. World Café, Multi Stakeholder Change Lab);
- Co-design and co-creation practices (eg. Design Jam);
- Prototyping practices.
EC: When blending these approaches, what are the values that guide your ‘open communication’ work?
CS: I will let my guiding values emerge from four quotes that I love:
Every leader is continually making an invitation, but often they are unaware of the invitation they are making. Some leadership is an invitation to shut up and some leadership is an invitation to speak up. We focus on the invitation it takes to get people to a conversation where they are willing to participate as fully as they can.
Mary Alice Arthur – Art of Hosting Steward
Not just any talk is conversation. Not any talk raises consciousness. Good conversation has an edge. It opens your eyes to something, it quickens your ears. And good conversation reverberates. It keeps on talking in your mind later in the day; the next day, you find yourself still conversing with what was said. The reverberation afterward is the very raising of consciousness. Your mind has been moved. You are at another level with your reflections.
Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.
And those who where seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.
EC: You mentioned the importance of bringing communities together and creating a system of mutual support. How can we encourage ‘networked’ co-design to thrive?
CS: To empower the emergence of a global community of change makers, I first like to focus on developing a process that supports, at the local level, the:
- Visibility of innovative local experiments and prototypes;
- Sharing of experiences (both successes and failures);
- Wisdom and capacity to adapt models to different contexts;
- Ability to listen to emerging signals, even when they are weak and local, to predict global changes in advance;
- Capacity for dialogue, and
- Connections that can be fostered between local initiatives and global institutional reform.
This dynamic is already developing and accelerating and I believe the most important factor, today, is that social innovators are aware they are no longer alone, that there is a multitude of them changing the rules of the game and giving birth to a new paradigm.
The rest will depend on how well we respond to the signals we hear when we actively listen to the world around us.
Enabling City is an organization that explores social innovation in the areas of urban sustainability and participatory governance. This series is based on Enabling City's toolkit and the recent launch of its French, Spanish and Italian editions. Visit the website or follow Enabling City on Twitter to find out more about the project.
Today, 50 million Americans are uninsured, while millions more of us keep jobs we hate in order to pay rising insurance fees. Medical bills cause half of all bankruptcies and millions of evictions. Doctors often pay more attention to insurers than to patients, and America’s infant mortality rate ranks 34th.
Americans have been griping about medical insurance for over 100 years, ever since Teddy Roosevelt proposed a national insurance plan in 1912. Obamacare is already being diluted by insurers. But griping is a drag. Power is fun. Let’s take power. When corporate medical insurance ensures profits while blocking health care, it’s time to replace it. Not only this, but it’s time to quit waiting for Congress and take direct control of health care, starting in our communities.
Sixteen years ago, I realized that Congress would never extend Medicare to everyone because legislators are bought off by insurance companies. So I started a genuinely nonprofit health co-op in Ithaca, New York.
Health insurance companies enjoy healthy profits. Photo credit: Leader Nancy Pelosi. Used under Creative Commons license.
The Ithaca Health Aliance began when I set up a display in public places and said, “Let’s each pay $100 per year into a fund. As the cash pile grows, we’ll pay for an increasing variety of common emergencies like broken bones, stitches, and burns.” Medical emergencies are called “non-elective” care since people rarely choose to crack, slice, or burn themselves.
On the first day, we had $300. During the next several years, the fund grew gradually to nearly $1 million. We compensated our members for 12 categories of emergencies -- anywhere in the world -- to specified maximum amounts. Upon our modest surplus income, we started a member-owned free clinic. The co-op was not a pyramid scheme because the payment menu both expanded or stabliized with member enrollment. We could estimate how frequent these injuries would happen to our member base, then calculate maximum payments for each category.
The system proved itself so well that it was endorsed by Ithaca’s Chamber of Commerce, Health Department, county legislature, mayor, Health Planning Council, the chairman of the New York State Senate Insurance Committee, and by our members from 47 states. Though an outside-the-box plan, we were permitted to continue by the NYS Insurance Department.
Members elected a board of directors yearly, who decided when to expand payment categories and amounts. Every payment to members was listed on the website chronologically. We also listed every denial of claim (for categories not yet covered).
For the first seven years we grew steadily then leveled off to pay lawyers to satisfy NYS regulators. They agreed to allow us to continue if we enrolled only NYS residents. NYS has a law for minor medical plans (5422a).
Our potential to become a national model of genuinely nonprofit health security, within a community-financed health system, began to attract national attention. Yet co-op insurance is not a new idea. Eighty years ago, one third of Americans were members of fraternal benefit co-ops, like the Moose, Elks, and Odd Fellows. Members pooled pennies per week to build community hospitals and clinics, orphanages and old folks’ homes, and to pay lost wages due to sickness. Their success and wealth caused corporations to muscle into the territory, pushing for laws to limit the right of fraternals to insure.
Concerned citizens in North Carolina rally for health care reform. Photo credit: TW Buckner. Used under Creative Commons license.
So, today, most insurance law is written by and for insurance companies. Whereas a grassroots co-op grows incrementally, most insurance regulations mandate comprehensive coverage that requires high premiums to support large staff. Thus, price of entry into the poker game is high.
When starting a Philadelphia health co-op, I was blocked by the Pennsylvania Insurance Department. In response, I wrote the book A Crime Not a Crisis, detailing collusion between state legislators, regulators, and insurers to keep profits high. Since then, I’ve launched the League of Uninsured Voters (LUV) to rally Americans to kick insurers aside, while building a health system devoted to people. Even were Medicare extended to everyone someday, Americans will need to be organized to fight to keep it.
By contrast, the grassroots co-ops, based on generosity, will create a national nonprofit infrastructure that’s essential for a national health plan that’s affordable, democratic, and humane.
Most recently, I’ve been organizing to build the first Patch Adams free clinic, a passive solar earthship surrounded by greenhouses and orchards on a large vacant lot in a low-income neighborhood. We’ll serve one another in the spirit of love, justice, and fun.
Here are the basic elements:
- Make a simple plan affordable by all: $100, $200, or $300 per year.
- Incorporate as a tax-exempt organization: 501(c)15 or as a co-op.
- Find pioneer members.
- Put money into a tax-exempt bank account.
- Find pioneer healers for discounts.
- When $10,000, start a broken bone fund, maximum 5 percent of total in fund.
- When $20,000, set a maximum for broken bones and add emergency stitches.
- When $30,000, add first and second degree burns.
And so forth. Your member-owned free clinic can be started inexpensively. To enable other communities to start their own health co-ops, I wrote the book Health Democracy which explains, step-by-step, how we successfuly expanded categories and payment maximums.
The first page of H.R. 3200, also known as the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare. Photo credit: Listener42. Used under Creative Commons license.
When corporate laws become a cage for us to die in, it’s time to break the lock. Here are guidelines for model legislation:
1) Charge a maximum $300 per person per year (adjustable annually for inflation). Our intent has always been to make co-op membership accessible to the lowest-income residents. We have sought to prove that small amounts of money, multiplied by large numbers of people, can fund nonprofit systems that serve better than for-profit systems. Our small health plan has already enabled people to buy lower-cost, higher-deductible standard coverage. Yet, since even $100 per year is more money than many can afford, we invite donations to a fund which donates memberships.
2) Pay claims without requiring a deductible. Community ownership of a health system means more than just paying medical bills; it means funding free clinics, providing preventive care and/or health education, advocating for healthier cities, and so on.
3) Pay claims billed by any credentialed health provider anywhere. Because we pay only for specified non-elective care (emergencies), we do not need to leverage provider discounts and can afford to pay any doctor. We are not a preferred provider network.
4) Enroll members without collecting information about gender, age, ethnicity, income, or personal/family medical history. Such information enables insurers to discriminate against people likelier to need their services
5) Permit members to vote for board of directors annually and to initiate referenda. Essential to the democratic process, voting allows members to restrain their governing body.
6) Require that board members reside within the county where the organization is incorporated or within counties adjacent. Local boards are potentially more accountable because board members must preserve their community standing. Alliance members can lobby board members on the street.
7) Require that all board meetings take place in the county where incorporated. This makes access easier for the majority of members. Several general members who have attended board meetings have become candidates for the board.
8) Pay administrative employees not more than twice the state’s livable wage, regionally adjusted. Staff-driven organizations divert money from the original mission to ever-expanding salaries and benefits. Alliances are operated by people motivated by generosity rather than greed -- people who are more keen to accumulate gratitude than consumer goods.
9) Do not hire commission agents. Selling memberships on commission encourages shortcuts that undercut service and honesty.
10) Maintain a website which presents bylaws; covered categories and maximum amounts paid; current balance sheet (including general fund total, income and expenses by category/month/year, detailed expense sheet, list of each payment and each denial of payment by member number); time and place of next board meeting; minutes of board meetings; statements by board candidates. The Internet has become an essential tool for communicating with members, for bringing in new members, and for keeping the organization honest and accountable. No other health plan lists its payments and denials of payment.
11) Maintain a listserve for members which facilitates publication of monthly reports and electronic voting. As above, e-mail enables two-way communication with greatest ease and least cost.
12) Enroll at least 51 percent of members from the county where incorporated and adjacent counties. This retains maximum democratic control by enabling more members to attend meetings and serve on committees.
13) Publish conspicuously and in bold-face type not smaller than 10-point type, on the first page of any literature, that "This organization does not operate under the supervision of the Insurance Department. This is required in NYS for compliance with section 4522.
14) Publish quarterly reports to the state’s insurance department, detailing compliance with the above. We prefer that a state’s insurance department look over the shoulder of the co-op sector to assist in the credentialing of health alliances.
15) Publish atop the list of covered categories, in bold-face type not smaller than 14-point type, that “This Fund is not a major medical plan. It covers only the categories listed below, to the maximum amounts specified.” We do not encourage people to drop their major medical coverage if they can afford to keep it. Members should be reminded that, as the co-op is small, they may need help beyond our capacity.
16) Comply with HIPAA regulations. Whether required to protect privacy or not, we prefer to do so. Privacy is so important that we feel the federal government itself should not have access to member records. Members are to be notified when government copies their records.
Paul Glover is the founder of 18 organizations and campaigns, including HOURS, Philadelphia Orchard Project, Citizen Planners of Los Angeles and League of Uninsured Voters. He’s author of six books and a former professor of urban studies at Temple University.
An interesting bee hive design and management philosophy to consider for those wishing to help rebuild bee populations and have onsite pollination for gardens and farms.
- Where Are The Regulators After The Historic Gold & Silver Price Drop?
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What happens when you temporarily close areas to cars and open them up to bicyclists and pedestrians? People come out in droves to ride, play, walk, interact with their community and activate their shared space. Ciclovia, a temporary closure of roads to cars, takes this concept to the next level by blocking off entire thoroughfares. Originating in Colombia in the 1980s, Ciclovia has been so well-received that it has spread to countries around the world including Australia, Brazil, Peru, Canada, Mexico, the U.S and more.
Los Angeles has put its own twist on Cyclovia with CicLAvia. Since 2010, CicLAvia has successfully held five road-closing events, each one attracting over 100,000 participants. Most recently, CicLAvia opened a 15 mile route between downtown Los Angeles and Venice Beach to cyclists and pedestrians for a day.
Challenging the stereotype of the car-centric Angeleno, CicLAvia demonstrates the desire of people from all walks of life to get out of the cars and into the streets.
“CicLAvia is successful because people are eager to interact with the city in a way that is impossible to do by car,” says CicLAvia’s executive director Aaron Paley. “They can set their own pace, decide their own means of participating, and enjoy businesses, cultures, architecture and other Angelenos in ways that are not possible when confined to a car.”
Paley notes that there’s a pent up demand for this kind of event in a city so dominated by the car and with such a paucity of real public space.
“Los Angeles is essentially an urban ocean with many neighborhood islands,” he says. “Trying to travel to other islands by foot, bike or public transit and explore what they have to offer is not as easy as it should be."
CicLAvia offers a way for people to leave their neighborhoods and become more familiar with surrounding areas. “People see what other parts of the city have to offer in terms of culture, business, cuisine, entertainment, outdoor space, etc.," says Paley. "They are encouraged to return, and they now know it is possible to do by bike, public transit or other non- vehicle means.”
The CicLAvia team works closely with city officials, the transportation department, the police department, emergency officials and business owners to ensure that CicLAvias are safe, well-organized events. There have been no arrests made in any of the CicLAvias and according to Paley, crime is down during CicLAvias. He also points out that many surrounding businesses see a post-CicLAvia increase in business as well as a new customer base.
According to Paley, the biggest challenges when organizing CicLAvia are logistical: making sure the permits are in order, coordinating with public agencies on street closures, making residents and businesses along the route aware that they may have limited access to their driveways, etc.
For those interested in organizing a Ciclovia, Paley stresses the importance of forming strong partnerships and relationships with city officials, government agencies, law and emergency personnel, and local business and community stakeholders.
“Ultimately,” he says, “the success of CicLAvia comes from all of these entities combined with the support and involvement of participants the day of the event.”
The next CicLAvia is scheduled for June 23, when Wilshire Boulevard, one of the main thoroughfares in Los Angeles, will be closed to traffic for the day. Ideally, Paley would like to see monthly CicLAvias throughout Los Angeles County. “We’d like to touch upon diverse communities, geographies and cultures,” he says, “and connect us all as owners and imaginers of our city streets.”
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When the bond market finally does crack, it is going to be one epic nightmare that is going to make 2008 and 2009 seem like a picnic. It will be a different kind of a crisis; but it will be an enormous crisis. These people that are bullish about stocks and bonds and the bond market, they do not understand anything.
- Nicole Foss – Relocalising the Trust Horizon
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19 ways to reduce your food container waste by reusing and upcycling.
We've been closely following the tightness in supply in the physical bullion market this week. Premiums began spiking, and now it's becoming harder and harder to find metal in stock to purchase regardless of price.
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Project M, one of the first design-for-good initiatives, will celebrate its tenth anniversary with a special session in Greensboro, Alabama this June. The session will include a reunion of the growing network of changemakers proving the power of design to uplift and change lives.
In 2003, designer John Bielenberg founded Project M to teach young people to drive positive change by thinking wrong. “We’re all victims of our synaptic connections,” says Bielenberg. “Our brains usually follow pre-existing synaptic paths to solve problems. But that produces predictable solutions. Thinking wrong disrupts those heuristic biases to generate completely unexpected solutions you couldn’t come up with otherwise.”
Since thinking wrong can lead to doing right, Bielenberg has made a point of running his Project M sessions in communities that have pressing social, environmental, and economic challenges. Among other things, in the ten years since its founding Project M has raised $35,000 for access to clean running water, organized a cross-country tour on bamboo bikes to promote sustainable bamboo farming in America’s Black Belt, delivered disaster relief supplies to Katrina-stricken New Orleans, and founded Pie Lab and Bike Lab, two social enterprises that strive to create jobs, community cooperation, and economic growth in one of the nation’s poorest counties.
But the value of M can’t truly be measured by its projects. Over the years, thinking wrong has shaped a generation. “Project M is about the M’ers,” says Bielenberg. “These people produce cool projects, that’s true. But what M really does is produce these incredible, inspiring people. They come to M, they think wrong, and it changes them. They go out into the world and bring that attitude with them, and they spread it to others too. It’s like a retrovirus for creative good.” And the virus is spreading. Project M has helped to spark the growing movement of design-for-good initiatives around the world, alongside others such as Project H, D-rev, Windhorse International, AIGA’s Design for Good, and many more.
M’s decennial celebration also includes an ongoing series of profiles featuring M’ers and their accomplishments. The retrospective includes Ben Barry, founder of Facebook’s Analog Research Lab; Kodiak Starr, White House Creative Director of Digital Strategy; Brian W. Jones, founder of Dear Coffee, I Love You; Dana Steffe, founder of The Map Project, and many more. These fearless, creative, and inspired M’ers will attend the special reunion in June, ready to inspire 10 more years of thinking wrong about the greatest challenges of their generation.