Practical advice for digital civil society (U.S. focused)

In The New Republic, Brian Beutler writes

"...we’re facing a moment that threatens equal protection, due process, free expression, democracy—. It’s not a drill."
Social justice advocates, reproductive rights activists, racial equity leaders, librarians, civil liberties protectors, and journalists have been doing the hard work of protecting our rights for a long time. They have been in the forefront of protecting themselves (and us) in digital civil society against precisely the concerns being raised across the U.S. nonprofit, philanthropic, and activist communities.

Since 1990 and the founding of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (or maybe 1985 and founding of FSF) many have been warning that these same protections are needed in the digital age.

The newly elected U.S. president boasts of putting legal limits on the press and continues to show a deft hand at manipulating it. He's hired a white supremacist to work alongside him in the White House. He ran on a campaign of xenophobia, misogyny, and bigotry. We should take him at his word.

Civil society needs to stand up. This means ALL nonprofits and foundations. At the very least, these organizations need to stand by the activists who will be standing up. This is not a message just for the organizations and people who voted against the president-elect. The threats he has made to a free press, peaceable assembly and privacy are threats to an independent civil society. They are threats to all independent action.

All our civic action - from philanthropy to protest, from petitions to polling - now takes place on a digital infrastructure. Every organization that is dedicated to helping the vulnerable, to free expression, or that understands it is simply an institutionalized form of our right to peaceable assembly and private action for public benefit should realize now that their existence depends on the rights now threatened. As civil society has closed elsewhere, so has it now been directly, overtly, and rather unabashedly threatened from the people elected to lead our government. 

First, protect yourself and your organization and strengthen your partners.

Protect yourself - go to or host a #CryptoParty. Read these tips from The Intercept. Try these tips from the Electronic Frontier Foundation - Surveillance Self Defense

Train your staff -  See resources and workshops provided by the Library Freedom Project, From Aspiration and from TacticalTech Collective. Access Now offers a multilingual round-the-clock service free, 24-hour Digital Security Helpline for activists and civil society organizations.

Audit and improve your organizational governance policies and practices - DigitalImpact.io. Find colleagues you can work with at the Future of Privacy Forum. Organizations that provide capacity building, consulting, governance training, and technology support need to address digital governance and practices. It is not optional, it's integral to running a safe and effective organization.

Invest in your nonprofit partners' capacity through the work of TheEngineRoom, Benetech and the Center for Media Justice. Tools from Freedom of the Press Foundation, research from Data & Society and the Equal Future newsletter - check them all out. 

Report acts of hate to the Southern Poverty Law Center,  which has been tracking it for years and has seen a drastic increase since November 8, 2016. Ushahidi is also working on this. The American Library Association has these resources for safe actions by and for young people.

Second, realize that your organizational existence - to say nothing of your rights as a citizen - depend on free expression, freedom to associate, and the right to act privately. The laws that protect these rights are the bedrock upon which your organization exists. Fight for them. Nonprofit peers such as EFF, ACLU, Center for Democracy and Technology, EPIC, Public Knowledge - these organizations are on the front lines of the policy issues that matter to digital civil society.

Third, Share additional resources - send me comments, links, tweet me @p2173. Global friends - help us understand the global situation.

Civil society now

That democracy depends on an independent civil society is a bedrock assumption in political theory. In the USA, we've just held an election that will test this theory against reality.

Like so many people, I've spent the last few days trying to reconcile my feelings, my fear, my skills, my political beliefs, my social commitments, and my morality with the immediate and longer-term future that millions of my countrymen just voted for.

I believe we have to take the elected campaign at its word. The intention of the incoming administration is to take the USA back in time in terms of economic policies, racial equity, social justice, and its interactions with the rest of the globe. That's what the "again" meant.

Accepting that this vision has been handed the reins of power is daunting, but the past provides some perspective. We know how these types of choices have played out in the past. We can learn from history, our own in the U.S. and others' around the globe. We can look to previous generations and contemporary societies. 

We who disagree with all of the above intentions of the incoming administration need to fight against these plans at every level. We need to protect ourselves and our neighbors from already escalating street level violence while also working for structural change that could actually provide justice and opportunity.

Civil society in the U.S. will be tested in terms of its ability to hold the newly elected administration accountable, to stand for the rights of those who didn't support the election victors (in this case, the majority of voters), and to remain steadfast protectors of our individual and collective rights to free expression, free press, free assembly, and privacy. Again, there are things we can learn from and build with allies in the U.S. and abroad. What has happened here is not unique, it has unfortunate parallels and amplifiers in many places around the world, here and now.

But, there are elements of this moment that have no easy historical analogues. The role of cyber attacks and cross national government/NGO manipulation may have antecedents, but in today's versions we see the dangers of the scale, rapidity, and decentralized nature that are also our digital systems' great strengths.

We know our policies and regulatory frames are not ready for these challenges.

We know that most NGOs and nonprofits and civic associations are not equipped to manage and govern their digital resources in safe, ethical, and effective ways - either to protect themselves and the people they serve or to prevent themselves from becoming puppets of forces they cannot see.

Civil society doesn't have the luxury of time. The structures of civil society have been upended by the digital age - and not in ways that position us well to take on the tasks at hand. We knew what the demands were for digital civil society - and of democracies in the digital age - on Monday. But back then, we mistakenly thought we had  time to bring our institutions and legal practices closer in line with the nature of digital action. Today these demands are clearer to more people - and more pressing. And we've lost too much time already.




Philanthropy in Democratic Societies - New book and excerpt

I'm delighted to have co-edited this new volume, Philanthropy in Democratic Societies. The book is a product of an unusual process, one of workshops and seminars designed to create an multi-author  volume that forms a more coherent whole than most such collections.

The blog HistPhil is running a series of pieces by each of the volume's contributing authors. My chapter uses the development of the Digital Public Library of America as a case study of philanthropy and nonprofits seeking to fill the liminal space between markets and governments. This role is not new. But filling such space when the resources to be managed are digital, the founding leaders are disbursed, and the ideal of the decentralized internet holds strong as a governing metaphor is not only the DPLA's story but a model of enterprises yet to come.

My contribution to the HistPhil series can be found here. The book is available here. If you are in the Bay Area, please join several of the book's contributors and me for a book launch at Stanford on October 27. Information is here

Philanthropy in Democratic Societies

Philanthropy in Democratic Societies, co-edited book with Rob Reich and Chiara Cordelli, is out!

The book is the result of an 18 month workshop with the chapter authors in which we considered the question of philanthropy's fit in democracy through the lenses of history, institutional structures, and values. Authors include: Jonathan Levy, Olivier Zunz, Rob Reich, Aaron Horvath and Walter W. Powell, Paul Brest, Ray D. Madoff, Lucy Bernholz, Eric Beerbohm, Ryan Pevnick, and Chiara Cordelli.

More info here.



So close, yet so far

I saw the above in a parking lot near Uluru.
And here's Uluru.
And here's a different Uluru.
These are the dog days of summer (northern hemisphere). This post has nothing to do with philanthropy, other than I took the top two photos while I was in Australia, working on digital governance in philanthropy. I'll have more to write on what I learned when I stop procrastinating by looking at photos.