Our Civic Wedding

Emily and Joe
Emily and Joe

My family and I traveled to see the wedding of a dear, dear friend recently. The bride is a wonderful person (as is the groom, but I do not know him as well). The ceremony just perfectly embodied who my friend Emily is: beautiful, humble, gracious.

It got me thinking about my own wedding, some sixteen years ago and more. We chose a decidedly nontraditional approach to our ceremony. It is a choice that has endured and I continue to be glad of it. My wife, Andrea Jarrell, and I met doing civic activities. These things were the center of our life at the time. We were (and are) both true believers that a good person leaves their community better than they found it, or tries to. We wanted our wedding to embody the civic ideals to which we aspired.

It’s a neat story.

How We Met

The day before primary election day in Los Angeles in June 1991, my not-yet-wife and I had both begun volunteering on behalf of an acquaintance, John Emerson, who was in the midst of a pitched battle for a seat in the California state Assembly. John was Deputy City Attorney for Los Angeles. Andrea and I didn’t know one another yet. We ended up phone-banking next to one another, and got to talking. The next night, at the victory party, we talked more.

John lost by a heartbreaking 31 votes, which entitled him to a recount but he decided against it, opting instead for party unity.

Over the next months, we got to know one another. We both had jobs that caused us to circulate in Los Angeles’ civic realm — I was a major gift fundraiser for my alma mater, and Andrea was an executive at the premier speaker’s forum in town. Our courtship is for another time, but suffice to say we hit it off, became friends, fell in love, and got engaged to be married — all very quickly. By October we’d made the decision.

Will You Marry Us?

We wanted John to marry us, which he could do as a City official. We met him at a downtown diner to ask him. We had no real idea how kind John was being to meet with us, two young kids. He had a very, very big job. But I think he was flattered, or his heart was touched. He said yes. Continue reading Our Civic Wedding

Community Builder? Read This

my neighborhood by Flickr user chrisdlugosz
"my neighborhood" by Flickr user chrisdlugosz

One of my entrepreneur and social web heroes, Seesmic founder Loic Le Meur, is among the most open and accessible members of the digerati. He is constantly sharing and praising others. He recently was at a conference where Internet star Chris Pirillo was speaking and the subject turned toward community and community building. Chris had some interesting things to say, and Loic responded in equally interesting ways.

Note that these folks were talking about online communities — my question for readers is to what extent, and how, do these observations apply to real-world, neighborhood community building?

Chris Pirillo’s Comments

These are from Loic’s notes:

I don’t want to be part of anything viral about any community ever, that’s just me a blog is just a tool. If you think a blog is a community then you too are a tool.  [Y]ou can’t build a community it is either there or it’s not. You know you have a community if it takes care of itself.

YOU are the asset of a community and not the other way around. [T]he best community leaders come out of the community rather than being hired or thrown in.

If you cultivate your community like a plant it will grow. If you empower and guide your community, you will lead it. if you have something to say, if you have a voice, use it, exercise it. Make those connections. You will be a leader before U know it.

[C]ommunity is the antithesis of ego. It is inside you but it is not about you.

Interesting ideas there. A few points:

  • The idea that YOU are the asset of a community, and not the other way around. So many of my friends in the community-building world look at the networks they are trying to build within the communities as “assets” to be used (either by the community members or by the parent organization).
  • We are quick to call something a “community” that just isn’t. Chris is withering when he tells bloggers who view their commenters as a “community” that “you are a tool.”  How many nonprofit orgs see communities where there are just groups of people? (A related question, for another time, might be: what turns an accidental group into a community?)

Loic’s Response

Loic, in inimmitable fashion (follow him a while and you will come to recognize it) has a few things to say. One thing he takes issue with is the idea that you can’t “build” community — in Loic’s view, you can:

I think you can “build” it though, it is just a question of words. Chris says “cultivate” by sharing regularly amongst other things. I think you can build with passion.

He goes into more detail in this brief video, and if you listen to his points from the standpoint of a nonprofit organization seeking to build community, there is a lot to be learned:

How To Evaluate Online Obligations

My good friend Cindy Cotte Griffiths is a prodigious volunteer and always has been. She’s the leader of a Cub Scout pack, chair of a city commission, active in her church, and in her childrens’ schools. She’s also my partner in the hyperlocal news site, Rockville Central.

Me in Second Life (Bradrourke Dynamo)
Me in Second Life (Bradrourke Dynamo)

The other day Cindy wrote about the pull online commitments can exert, in the face of offline, real world interactions. We seem constantly pulled away from reality to tend to online business. For many, this can be vexing. For volunteers intent on helping those around them, it can be even more of a dilemma.

Cindy has developed some questions she asks herself in evaluating new online obligations, to try to help keep it all in balance:

  • Does the organization have a positive influence on a priority in my life, such as my children?
  • What do I get out of the experience personally?
  • Am I truly helping a broader good or cause?
  • Will the online interaction improve an aspect of my real life community or career?

I really like these.

"I Divorce Thee . . . "

I recently witnessed an interesting event. 

Some people I know on Facebook, who had sort of reconnected after a long hiatus since childhood, got into a political argument and appear to have “broken up.”

Each side had their points, but it was a great example of how hard it can be to engage with people you disagree with. We like to call for people to “disagree without being disagreeable” but it’s easier said than done.

In this case, the rhetoric was OK for almost the entire exchange, and then — it seemed almost in the midst of a post — one of them got angry and made mention of unfriending the other. At that point, the other basically said “fine. See if I care.”

“I divorce thee,” in other words.

It’s easy to wring one’s hands and think “oh, it could have been avoided.” But I’m not so sure. Sometimes people just get in fights. It takes a lot of energy to stay out of that paradigm when you feel strongly about something.

Will they patch it up? I don’t know.

I do know that, once things are said . . . they become very difficult to unsay.

“I Divorce Thee . . . “

I recently witnessed an interesting event. 

Some people I know on Facebook, who had sort of reconnected after a long hiatus since childhood, got into a political argument and appear to have “broken up.”

Each side had their points, but it was a great example of how hard it can be to engage with people you disagree with. We like to call for people to “disagree without being disagreeable” but it’s easier said than done.

In this case, the rhetoric was OK for almost the entire exchange, and then — it seemed almost in the midst of a post — one of them got angry and made mention of unfriending the other. At that point, the other basically said “fine. See if I care.”

“I divorce thee,” in other words.

It’s easy to wring one’s hands and think “oh, it could have been avoided.” But I’m not so sure. Sometimes people just get in fights. It takes a lot of energy to stay out of that paradigm when you feel strongly about something.

Will they patch it up? I don’t know.

I do know that, once things are said . . . they become very difficult to unsay.

Changing The Meaning Of "Community Work"

I do a lot of work with organizations trying to change how they relate to — and work with — communities. As a result, I write a lot of reports about “changing work habits in order to make change in communities” and whatnot.

There’s a challenge in writing such things. Often, it is hard to make them seem real. The results are often things like: “staff have new ways of relating to one another,” or “people in the community see the organization in a new light.” Even if it’s all true it sounds sort of . . . lame. I always imagine someone reading the report and shouting, “These are results?! We spent how much money on this?!”

I am always trying to write these reports a little punchier, a little more solid, a little better. So my eyes widened when I came across an excerpt from an article that seemed to me to strike exactly the right tone.

It’s about an organization that totally changed out it relates to the community, embracing a number of Web 2.0 ideas and shifting from being an old-school organization to a nimble, community-centered outfit. It revamped its website and started seeing itself as a resource to the community. The results (and this is always where it’s hard to write) were astonishinng — awards, accolades, all the metrics pointing up. Wow!

The kicker? The organization is the Roxy on Sunset Strip. You never know where connecting with the community can take you!

(Thanks to my good friend Thomas for pointing this out to me.)

Read on:

…[Nic] Adler {who owns the Roxy] realized that radical change was needed as the venue could no longer rely on reputation alone. It was no longer “cool” to play at The Roxy, unless you were a hair metal band. It was getting harder and harder for The Roxy to be competitive.

The final straw came in October 2006. Adler was driving up Doheny on his way to the club when a sign-flipper tapped on his windshield with a big GOING OUT OF BUSINESS sign, for Tower Records. He had grown up with Tower Records right down the street from The Roxy. He knew that if he didn’t do something to turn things around…The Roxy, and the rest of the Strip would be next to go.

Adler turned to the Internet. He created a MySpace profile for the club. Within three weeks he saw an impact on the club. Earlier that year he had hired Megan Jacobs, former talent buyer for Temple Bar, in attempt to bring in some new talent to the venue. Jacobs introduced Adler to online media specialist Kyra Reed in November of 2006, and Reed brought the change he was looking for.

Reed convinced Adler that the future was online and it was time to be bold. The Roxy website ditched their old-school site and moved to a blog format. Furthermore, Adler took the spirit of community and transparency a step further by including listings for other businesses and venues on the Strip. This radical departure from the competitive nature of the industry has made an impact, although few — if any — venues have followed suit with their internet presence. Adler is admittedly hooked on social media now and it’s apparent — The Roxy, which only years ago went after camera-wielding patrons, now has a massive presence on the web and even hosts user-generated photos and videos on the site. The Roxy is also one of four nominees for Best Rock Site for this month’s VH1 Rock Honors.

The staff at The Roxy embraced the blog and the blogosphere at large. They’ve expanded their horizons beyond the rock staple that had become synonymous with The Roxy and began booking more “eastside” bands like Peter, Bjorn,and John and started a three-month partnership with Filter magazine.

Changing The Meaning Of "Community Work"

I do a lot of work with organizations trying to change how they relate to — and work with — communities. As a result, I write a lot of reports about “changing work habits in order to make change in communities” and whatnot.

There’s a challenge in writing such things. Often, it is hard to make them seem real. The results are often things like: “staff have new ways of relating to one another,” or “people in the community see the organization in a new light.” Even if it’s all true it sounds sort of . . . lame. I always imagine someone reading the report and shouting, “These are results?! We spent how much money on this?!”

I am always trying to write these reports a little punchier, a little more solid, a little better. So my eyes widened when I came across an excerpt from an article that seemed to me to strike exactly the right tone.

It’s about an organization that totally changed out it relates to the community, embracing a number of Web 2.0 ideas and shifting from being an old-school organization to a nimble, community-centered outfit. It revamped its website and started seeing itself as a resource to the community. The results (and this is always where it’s hard to write) were astonishinng — awards, accolades, all the metrics pointing up. Wow!

The kicker? The organization is the Roxy on Sunset Strip. You never know where connecting with the community can take you!

(Thanks to my good friend Thomas for pointing this out to me.)

Read on:

…[Nic] Adler {who owns the Roxy] realized that radical change was needed as the venue could no longer rely on reputation alone. It was no longer “cool” to play at The Roxy, unless you were a hair metal band. It was getting harder and harder for The Roxy to be competitive.

The final straw came in October 2006. Adler was driving up Doheny on his way to the club when a sign-flipper tapped on his windshield with a big GOING OUT OF BUSINESS sign, for Tower Records. He had grown up with Tower Records right down the street from The Roxy. He knew that if he didn’t do something to turn things around…The Roxy, and the rest of the Strip would be next to go.

Adler turned to the Internet. He created a MySpace profile for the club. Within three weeks he saw an impact on the club. Earlier that year he had hired Megan Jacobs, former talent buyer for Temple Bar, in attempt to bring in some new talent to the venue. Jacobs introduced Adler to online media specialist Kyra Reed in November of 2006, and Reed brought the change he was looking for.

Reed convinced Adler that the future was online and it was time to be bold. The Roxy website ditched their old-school site and moved to a blog format. Furthermore, Adler took the spirit of community and transparency a step further by including listings for other businesses and venues on the Strip. This radical departure from the competitive nature of the industry has made an impact, although few — if any — venues have followed suit with their internet presence. Adler is admittedly hooked on social media now and it’s apparent — The Roxy, which only years ago went after camera-wielding patrons, now has a massive presence on the web and even hosts user-generated photos and videos on the site. The Roxy is also one of four nominees for Best Rock Site for this month’s VH1 Rock Honors.

The staff at The Roxy embraced the blog and the blogosphere at large. They’ve expanded their horizons beyond the rock staple that had become synonymous with The Roxy and began booking more “eastside” bands like Peter, Bjorn,and John and started a three-month partnership with Filter magazine.