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Diverse communities are strong communities

Last week I was proud to represent Drupal Diversity and Inclusion at DrupalGovCon. Along with Dori Kelner, I co-presented a session to help people understand the challenges we face as a community and what DDI is doing about it.

You can see our slides overlayed with the audio of our talk here:

Drupal is crazy

Let’s do Drupal!

Following up on the very basic intro to Drupal class I created and taught for Girl Develop It RDU in the spring, I am now offering a half-day workshop for beginners who actually want to start getting their hands dirty using Drupal. The class is this weekend and we still have a lot of spaces left, so if you or someone you know is interested in getting a better understanding of Drupal, please let them know and share this link:

My slides or “curriculum” (such as it is) are available here: If you would like to adapt them for other noncommercial uses, please let me know and I will share an editable copy.

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New media and the civil rights movement

Cross-posted at

Last week I had the immense pleasure of attending and participating in “The Unfinished Work”: Advancing New Strategies in the Struggle for Civil Rights a conference honoring civil rights pioneer Julius Chambers. The event was attended by several generations of leaders including many former staffers from the NAACPs Legal Defense Fund (one of the main litigators of civil rights cases). I was personally in awe of the intellectual and cultural prowess of Harvard Law Professor Lani Guinier and Bennett College President Julianne Malveaux, who laid out with precision and wit the problems inherent in the mere idea of a “post-racial” society, not to mention the fact that we most certainly are not living in one.

The Guinier-led plenary also featured Wade Henderson who is the President of the The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. He spoke of the decline of the old ways that people used to get information, and the rise of personal networking tools such as Twitter and Facebook. His point that the civil rights movement needs to evolve along with this shifting media ecosystem or risk extinction was a perfect lead in for the panel I was invited to moderate on “New Media and Messaging Social Justice for Social Justice Advocates.”

This distinguished panel brought together insights from a wide range of organizations and issues into a cohesive message which was summarized by panelist Keith Kamisugi: online shouldn’t be your only strategy, but without online you have no strategy. If possible, I will add a recording of the panel when it becomes available. I’ll attempt to summarize our three key topics here:

Lynda Turet of the Center for Social Inclusion began by sharing the CSI’s work researching how people respond to discussion of issues with and without racial symbols. They found that people actually responded better to an ad about health care reform when it specifically addressed the racial undertones that come along with the issue (for many white people) than a similar ad that ignored race.  This prompted me to mention Berkeley Professor George Lakoff‘s 2004 book Don’t Think of an Elephant (a very accessible effort to bring cognitive linguistics to political activists). His main point is that all people have both liberal and conservative frames that we use to understand the world, and that successful activists should work to activate their own frame rather than attempting to negate (while actually reinforcing) their opponent’s view.

Next Jed Miller of Revenue Watch Institute drew on his experiences, including serving as the Internet Director for the ACLU and as an early online community builder for the New York Times, to lay out three major principles for any organization hoping to be successful in the digital age.  1. Timing is critical to having a relevant message that anyone wants to hear. 2. You must understand and work with the network-centric nature of new media. (More on this subject from me.) 3. You must build new media capacity within your organization rather than rely on outside consultants.

Finally Keith Kamisugi of the Equal Justice Society talked about the Digital Divide and the importance of Net Neutrality to preserving free speech on the Internet. (He was also very gracious about the other two speakers running over into his time.)

We didn’t have as much time for questions as we would have liked, but there was some good conversation about information overload, and also a question about efficacy which prompted me to mention Malcom Gladwell’s recent New Yorker peice “Small Change” asserting that Internet activism is not true grassroots organizing and doesn’t really change anything. This thesis was thoroughly debunked by many parties including Cathy here on HASTAC.

Again, it was an honor for me just to participate in this conference with so many legal and movement heavyweights. I was inspired and educated by them, and was glad to have the opportunity to give back by moderating this panel of new media visionaries Lynda, Jed, and Keith.  Thanks and kudos to the UNC Center for Civil Rights which organized The Unfinished Work. To learn more you can download a PDF of the program at

Delivering more than an RFP

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I feel a little like I just gave birth to another baby, but thank goodness it took less than 9 months to gestate and was a lot less painful to deliver!

Less than one year after starting my job at HASTAC and then immediately overseeing the re-launch of, I realized that our site would have to be re-built entirely from scratch. I spent this summer working with my colleagues to create a clearer vision and a plan for a complete overhaul of the site. Here’s the request for proposals: I’m really proud of this document as it shows a solid foundation, a forward-thinking vision, and a practical strategy for how to make best use of our great ideas, the Drupal platform, and a brilliant and engaged community of members.

HASTAC Director Cathy Davidson is a deep and complex thinker. Here’s some of what she had to say about the RFP on her blog today:

If you are not a programmer but are interested in how you build up a successful virtual organization, a network of networks, the rfp is a lot more interesting than you might think. It’s not just about half a million page views a year (although we’re proud enough of that!), it is about how a distributed, collaborative team converges into a virtual site and ends up with a whole greater than the sum of many, many, MANY disparate parts. VC’s out there, listen up! There are lessons here.

Ruby’s method was fascinating. I’ve been involved with building three previous websites and no one has organized our group meetings towards the rfp conceptually before. I was skeptical at first, although I loved the conversations we generated from talking about what we envisioned for HASTAC and how we saw the website as the one portal through which you could extend outward through the network, and reach inward too, bringing what ever you and your institution had to offer back to the site where it would likely receive more attention than it could on its own.

It turned out (I’m not sure we would have found this out any other way) that we all possessed different kinds of gifts when asked to conceptualize a virtual network. Fiona Barnett, Director of the HASTAC Scholars, turns out to be a genius at formulating precise kinds of audiences and how they might or might not be best represented or welcomed to the site (yes, we’ve always known Fiona’s a genius but this was yet another manifestation). I tend to be a “both/and” kinda gal, so found myself over and over saying, well, it’s one kind of Venn diagram if you think about it this way, but it’s this other kind when you think . . . This can make developers crazy but Ruby somehow managed to capture the key point that we need FLEXIBILITY AND SIMPLICITY more than anything else.

So that’s the process on the way to Ruby’s eloquent, elegant, and detailed rfp.


Now that I’ve crossed that finish line, I’m going on vacation with my family for two weeks. When I get back I’ll be gearing up for the next race: actually managing the creation of our new web site.

UPDATE: Download the RFP as a PDF (5 MB).

So you wanna start a local politics blog

In my continuing series of turning advice e-mails into blog posts. I recently received this request:

I’m working on setting up a local-politics site for my area of the world. I was wondering if you had any words of wisdom on launching a local-politics site. What challenges have you encountered? What good/bad decisions have you made along the way? What kind of time/money is involved in running the site? Is this at least a break-even venture for you, money-wise? Any other suggestions or insights you may be able to offer would be great. Thanks in advance.

My reply:
Continue reading “So you wanna start a local politics blog”

GTD + Basecamp = ???

I am trying to use this trendy, new-ish organizational methodology called Getting Things Done (GTD). It’s been growing in popularity among geeks that I respect. I first discovered it through 43 Folders, a really great site for Macintosh and GTD geeks.

For the past 6 months, I have also been using a web-based tool called Basecamp that is pretty good for organizing projects and group communication. (And it’s free for very small accounts.) I really like Basecamp, and it has been especially helpful for tracking information so that my clients and I can both see it.
Continue reading “GTD + Basecamp = ???”

Blog the PATRIOT Act! I’m happy to announce that the consulting project I’ve been working on for the past 2 weeks is almost complete and I can finally show off the fruits of my labor! And it’s about time the because the reauthorization is now racing through congress and there are some very bad changes to it that need to be stopped!

I have been working with the ACLU to encourage bloggers to write about reforming the Patriot Act and to advise them on creation of the Reform the Patriot Act Blog. Please check out some of the cool stuff we put together. This page for bloggers features RSS feeds, technorati tags, graphics, and a list of the many helpful documents and presentations that have been developed by the ACLU.
Continue reading “Blog the PATRIOT Act!”