Marcia got home late last night from an activist event and burst whooping into the bedroom where I was slipping from book to book.  I was reading Alinsky on organizing, Freud on the structure of humor, an Evo Devo text on Lamarckian evolution and a book on handedness.  I jumped, startled by her entry.

“We got it!  We got it!”

Unable to read the letter without her glasses, she handed it to me.   I read what we got.  The federal government had granted 501(c)3 status to the Peace, Justice and Environment Project.  Donors writing checks to PJEP could take it off of their taxes.

It was time to call Laurel and break open the champagne!

Marcia has worked for three seasons conducting the research, writing up the documents, consulting with friends (thank you, Allan Gratch!) and rewriting documents in order that contributions to the project could be deductible.  We could now begin the process of soliciting donations.

Then I realized that this is when the mythmaking begins.

It’s astonishing what we’ve accomplished in the almost three years since we started this project.  After Kerry lost, I went from being an occasional activist uncomfortable attending demonstrations to a hyper activist and then an organizer often attending several meetings in a week.  Moveon offered the most street actions and clearest direction.  From November to August, I worked my way up from activist to team leader to regional coordinator to Moveon national coordinator.  As a national coordinator for five months, I observed strengths and weaknesses in the organization.  Moveon displayed a remarkable ability to adjust to circumstance, get people in the streets, blast emails and collect donations.  Still, communication from the bottom going up in a seven-tier structure was very poor.  There was little ability for the grass roots in this grass roots organization to help create or design the actions that Moveon made.

At the same time I was absorbing lessons from the Moveon experience, I was participating in the vibrant, growing Illinois anti-war movement.  Coalitions were forming across the state.  Marcia and I stepped into four growing coalitions and offered our web support and communications savvy.  The sizes of these coalitions ranged from 11 to over 100.  I observed closely what worked and didn’t work as these coalitions formed structures that would enhance the ability of different organizations to work with one another.  I was fascinated by what both broke and built coalitions.

Integrating what I had learned from Moveon (which involved empowering the lowest levels and enhancing across-level communication) with what I was learning about coalition building and conflict resolution, I worked with programmer Rod Homor and Marcia to design the first derivation of the Actions Options Tool.  The site went live on April 1, 2006.  Over the next three years, the AOT would evolve to become the backbone of the PJEP family of websites.  I continued to conduct research on the nature of peace and justice coalition building across the country, contacting the existing statewide coalitions and networks in every state that had one.  I put together a survey and distributed the results.  There were powerful patterns suggesting what was and was not working across the country.  Rod, Marcia and I integrated those results with what we were doing in Illinois.

The programming was tested in Illinois, and then we took it on the road, offering the application to other coalitions.  From there we proceeded to set up networks in states that had no existing statewide organizations.  There are now 43 states with more than 1,200 organizations contributing to the project.  All 50 states should be up by July of this year.  Dave Larson is now our programmer, displaying astonishing creativity as the application grows.

The question now is how do we pitch ourselves?  Soliciting donations demands a powerful and clear story.  What is the best way to not only express what we are, but what we can be?  How do we best reveal our weaknesses so that people will feel compelled to participate?

Integral to what PJEP is becoming are the stories that have accompanied our growth.  We need to be paying close attention to the most powerful stories, encouraging activities that may result in stories with impact.

Now that we can receive donations, we need to consider what it is we want to say.


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