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July 04, 2006

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Jay Taber

Phil,

The proposed opposition-research learning center does not lend itself to conventional philanthropic measurement. There is not, for instance, a business plan.

I have no idea if it could be self-sustaining. Probably not. It's purpose, primarily, is to mentor and connect mostly unfunded research activists struggling to protect communities across the country. To what degree paying students might subsidize activist scholars' education is difficult to predict.

As our colleagues illustrate in the initial post at Continuity blog, they have considerable experience to pass on; we hope to tap that in a way that is useful and accessible regardless of students' ability to pay tuition, travel, or purchase books.

I expect my colleagues cited in that post, as well as some not listed, to be involved. They are, after all, the ones who encouraged me to explore this.

There is no timeframe or proposed budget; we will do what we can with what we can raise. Assistance from an organization like Tides in providing a funding conduit, accounting and legal services, and financial reporting might be good.

I have written Tides, Vanguard, and others over the years to no avail. Now I'm hoping a working group of insiders will take on the task of getting us what we need to carry on our vital work. I'm not inclined to distract my colleagues until that happens.

Jay Taber

Just so your readers don't get the wrong idea, the focus of the opposition research I and my peers have conducted has been on the malicious, often criminal activities of the violent right-wing. As part of our investigative research--conducted in advance of education, organizing, and community action (or group interventions), we consistently encountered the unintentional exacerbation of these hostile environments by liberal advocacy groups unaware of the danger inherent in these situations.

Educating them so they quit making things worse was a considerable challenge, but they were not the primary focus of our attention; keeping people safe from attack was.

Phil

Thanks, Jay. You have life experience I do not have. My questions were not meant to challenge you, but to see how a successful proposal might be shaped. When you say you have tried and failed with foundations in the past, I wonder if it is the substance or the form of the proposal, or both, that might prevent a meeting of the minds? Communication is hard, particularly long distance, between people who have never met, who bring widely disparate life experience to the discussion. But I hope you agree that these "boundary spanning," or "frame-breaking" efforts are worth the energy expended and the frequently incomplete mind-meld. What comes through to me clearly above all else is your courage. If I have understated the riskiness of what you do it is in part because few advance in the face of fear. You speak in your writings of altruism and self-sacrifice. When that includes potential loss of your own blood at the hands of a militant and violent faction, well, you are taking a heroic stance. I did understand, I intentionally downplayed the risks you take because I did not want to scare off those who might consider your work on its merits.

The business plan format, I suspect, ticks you off. All I am asking, as "door opener" is to consider framing your proposal in the langauge best suited to winning a hearing from those you solicit.

I do not read grant proposals professionally; Albert does. But I suspect they require a businesslike "project plan." There are those around who have that expertise. Maybe by sharing what each of us have, the whole is more than the sum of the (often futile) parts?

For the record, on the left/liberal/right spectrum, I self-identify as a satirist in the spirit of Swift and Gay. I am not so interested in politics, except as an instance of human vice and folly, but I am interested in living in a consitutional democracy in good working order. I fear our poor country is becoming politically dysfunctional because we have forgotten the lessons of our founding fathers, about checks and balances, an informed and active citizenry, and a free and independent press. What of your stuff I have read strikes me as courageous, informed, self-sacrificing, and patriotic in the best sense.

Gerry

It strikes me that one aspect of this is the claim that efforts of folks like Jay and his colleagues are characterised as politically partisan and special interests. The part of this that I support the most is the part that is in support of small-d democracy. Violent agents provocatours are not part of democracy whichever side they are on. When democracy breaks down, we have violence everywhere and need to be armed to protect our families. That's not the world I want, nor does any other patriotic American.

I'm not sure how useful a suggestion this is, but Omidyar Network is a slowly emerging place where a lot of ideas about alternative ways of organizing and supporting many kinds of good works.

Start at http://www.omidyar.net/home/ and create a login and look around. Send me a message on that system if you want some pointers on where to find stuff of interest.

phil

Good, Gerry, thanks. It is helpful.

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