Letter to the Boulder City Council on municipal broadband

In advance of the meeting tomorrow, I would like to write in support of moving forward on expanding our city-owned broadband resources. Several years of research on municipal and other community-based broadband solutions has made clear to me that communities need to take an active role in ensuring that their internet access is accessible, affordable, and neutral. Although our situation is different from neighbors like Ft. Collins and Longmont, I believe Boulder is in a position to be a national innovator on community broadband.

Having gotten to know the city staff members involved in this effort, I’ve been very impressed with the rigor and thoughtfulness that has gone into the process. Boulder will most likely not be in a position to deliver fiber-to-the-home without a municipal energy utility, but I think starting now with a backbone buildout would create the following opportunities:

+ Faster, more affordable service. Over and over around the country, we see that the large ISPs will not provide fast, affordable service without being somehow compelled to do so. A city-operated backbone could enable new competitors to enter the market and raise the bar for all. This will help strengthen our already vibrant tech business community and benefit consumers.

+ Opportunities for serving the underserved. Troubling, often disguised inequalities plague the country’s connectivity map, and Boulder is no exception. We already have good evidence that lower-income neighborhoods receive far poorer access opportunities than others. Recognizing this, the school district has been developing programs to use civic networks to serve underserved students. Expanding the city’s backbone would allow us to extend such services and ensure that all of our neighbors have affordable connectivity. We can show other communities what it looks like to treat internet access as the essential infrastructure that it is.

+ Leverage for fairness and neutrality. Today, as I write, net neutrality has officially been repealed on the national level. This is a development that could change the meaning of internet access in fundamental ways. It’s now up to local jurisdictions to protect their citizens’s rights of speech and access. Here, again, Boulder can be a leader. A city-owned backbone network could give the city leverage to negotiate arrangements with ISPs that ensure we are a net neutrality zone. This is an issue of concern to many people in town, and while it could be a difficult fight, it would be a fight your constituents would surely support.

In a sense, it is fitting that your decision to proceed with the broadband expansion comes the day after our federal government significantly relinquishes its regulatory powers over internet service. Tomorrow, we have the opportunity to step up and fill the void. Thank you for your consideration and your attention to this important matter.

Radical Tradition

Do you like the cover?This May Day, this Feast of St. Joseph the Worker, I apologize in advance. But I also don’t. The next few months, I’ll be working hard to spread the word about my new book, Everything for Everyone: The Radical Tradition that Is Shaping the Next Economy, published by the good people at Nation Books. The book is done, and the final details are closing in. It comes out in mid-September.

I apologize because I’m entering this promotional phase. I’ll be reaching out again asking you to help, if you’re so moved. But I don’t apologize about that, really, because the book shares stories that I believe need to be known—stories of the promise and struggle in the new generation of the cooperative movement. At a time when democracy is on the rocks, when the economy seems to run on a mix of autopilot and superheroes, we need these reminders that cooperation has helped build our world and can shape its future.

Learn more here. Retweet this. Maybe even place a preorder. Let me know if you’d like to publish a review or interview, or to schedule an event. Together, let’s help bring this radical tradition back to life.

Various dystopias

In the meantime, there are powers-that-be to troll. Here are some recent publications of mine more or less in that vein:

Works not cited

Have you read what Mark Twain regarded as his best book? Ted Gioia wades through his pious, late-live tribute to Joan of Arc.

Jessica Weisberg points out that America’s favorite guide to the corporate ladder was himself a precarious gig worker.

Black Lives Matter founder Alicia Garza learned to organize in the kitchen.

Now is an interesting time to revisit Mr. Zuckerberg’s pre-IPO letter to potential investors.

Scott Korb wonders whether standardized testing has killed the first-person.

Students are already producers; what if they were co-owners?

My CU Boulder colleagues and I stand with our embattled local journalists.

Times and places

Serving the State

This month I have a new title—I’m an assistant professor of media studies at the University of Colorado Boulder, on tenure track. It’s not fully clear to me how this departure from the precariat happened, except that it involved a move across the country with my family, astonishingly supportive colleagues, patient students, and an opportunity to do some good that I hope I can live up to.

All this has gotten me reading about the origins of universities in self-governing medieval guilds and remembering my grandfathers—one a state-university professor and one who never made it to college because of a hail storm.

I wrote about them in America.

“a better internet is possible”

The enemy isn’t supposed to be this nice, but somehow Wired magazine chose Ours to Hack and to Own, the book I co-edited with Trebor Scholz, as one of the “best tech books of 2017.”

Buy it in bitcoin or dollars from OR Books.

I’ve also been getting kind of worked up lately about the potential for co-op and municipal broadband, especially in the wake of the FCC net neutrality decision. I’ve been writing on this for Quartz and The Guardian, and my congressman, Rep. Jared Polis, had me on a webinar to discuss it. Scientific American quoted me on the subject, too.

More to come. I’m currently (or currently should be) hard at work on edits for my next book, which will be out in time for Co-op Month from Nation Books.

Works not cited

Back in 1895, Hastings Randall was worrying about a lot of what university people today worry about when he wrote his hefty history of the medieval university.

Johann Hari thinks that worker co-ops might be at least as effective against depression as meds.

Kaya Oakes writes beautifully about middle age and the medieval women helping her embrace it.

Harvard says it so it must be true: community broadband is better.

I’ve been hearing from Kiera Feldman for years about her reporting among trash collectors, but what she published in ProPublica blew me (and lots of other people) away.

My kid isn’t that into Matt de la Peña’s Love, but I am.

Stops

  • 2018.02.17: Denver, CO – ETHDenver panel on the crypto-economy
  • 2018.02.23: Logan, UT – Talks on platform cooperativism and open research at Utah State University
  • 2018.03.07: Cambridge, MA – Platform cooperativism discussion at Harvard Law School
  • 2018.03.08: South Hadley, MA – Mount Holyoke College
  • 2018.03.10: Austin, TX – “Platform Co-Ops: Competitive Edge, Social Purpose” at South by Southwest
  • 2018.04.14: East Lansing, MI – MSU Student Housing Cooperative

What Happened to the Future?

Artwork by James SeiboldHi there! We’re just a few weeks away from the third #platformcoop conference at The New School in New York—a celebration and strategy session for a truly democratic internet. It’s called The People’s Disruption, and it runs all day November 10 and 11.

If you can come to just one part of it, come to our free, open-to-the-public Friday night event, “What Happened to the Future,” at 7 p.m. on November 10. It will include:

  • Alicia Garza, founder of #BlackLivesMatter
  • Yochai Benkler, Harvard University
  • Alicia Wong, Roosevelt Institute
  • Douglas Rushkoff, author of Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus

Learn about the Friday event here, and register for the full conference here. A million thanks to my co-organizers, Camille Kerr, Trebor Scholz, and Palak Shah.

Study and hone

I’m now in my third year of helping to create CU Boulder’s MA in Media and Public Engagement. I haven’t talked about it much, mostly because of the busyness of doing it, but now I feel like I should. My colleagues and I have worked hard to create a space where creators of diverse backgrounds can come and study together the crafts of media and social change—activists, social entrepreneurs, narrative hackers, solutions journalists, future academics who want to get their hands dirty, and more.

Maybe this is something you need. Maybe it’s something your community needs. We need you.

Please consider sharing this program with anyone you think might be interested. Let me know if you have questions. The application deadline for this year is January 10. It’s a lot of time and it isn’t.

Bibliography

This fantastic story of a weekend inside a black women’s secret society is just scratching the surface of the much, much bigger story Jessica Gordon Nembhard tells (h/t Phil Klay).

My Study Circle teammate Caroline Savery just published an epic on the Trumpocalypse via the young platform co-op Cosmos.

Bourdieu is useful for analyzing online reputation systems.

This is one of the better Zuckerberg think-pieces lately, but this one takes us to some solutions.

Isabella Bird’s A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains is helping me sleep.

Travels

  • 2017.11.07: New York, NY – Lecture on Catholic cooperative economics at St. John’s University
  • 2017.11.07: New York, NY – Lecture on Catholic cooperative economics at St. Joseph’s College
  • 2017.11.10-11: New York, NYThe People’s Disruption #platformcoop conference at The New School
  • 2018.03.07: Cambridge, MA – Platform cooperativism discussion at Harvard Law School
  • 2018.03.08: South Hadley, MA – Mount Holyoke College
  • 2018.03.10: East Lansing, MI – MSU Student Housing Cooperative

The People’s Disruption

[image: The People's Disruption]

Want to help bring democracy to the internet? On the heels of the successful platform co-op conference in Toronto, I’m now working with a mighty team of collaborators to organize November’s conference in New York, The People’s Disruption. It’s all about connecting the resources of the present with ambitious visions of a cooperative future online, featuring speakers from #BlackLivesMatter co-founder Alicia Garza to venture capitalist Brad Burnham. I hope you can join us! Space isn’t infinite! Register today (and retweet this).

Communists and Catholics

[image:Inside a wine co-op in Emilia-Romagna, Italy]

Over the summer I had the chance to join the MBA program at St. Mary’s University in Canada for a tour of the co-op sector in Emilia-Romagna, Italy. There was plenty to write home about, and I put it together in a dispatch for America magazine, which will appear in the next print issue. Read it and share it online now: “How Communists and Catholics Built a Commonwealth.”

It’s both a report from the field and a reflection on why, as we build a new economy, we should look to our past.

More Where that Came From

I’ve also been writing about stuff like how we can democratize ISPs and the little churches of St. Francis. I turned in a book draft, too! And then there are some live events coming up:

Thank you for reading, thank you for what you do.

Electricity People

Electric cooperatives in the United States

The big oil and electric companies are largely unaccountable to the communities they power and pollute. But the U.S. power grid has other kinds of companies, too. Seventy-five percent of the landmass of the country gets electricity from electric cooperatives—a wildly successful New Deal program, long maligned as communist, and now little-remembered, even by its members. These co-ops’ lobby just fought hard to end the Clean Power Plan and elect Donald Trump, but they might also become the cutting edge for a renewable-energy future.

This week in The Nation I report on the contradictory state of electric co-ops, from the promise of distributed, local generation to some of their members’ uphill battle for racial justice.

I hope you’ll consider helping to share this story, for instance by retweeting this, retooting this (if you’re in the fediverse), and liking or sharing this on Facebook.

The future of Twitter

[image: Birdies]

At their annual meeting on May 22, Twitter’s shareholders will be voting on a proposal to consider options for converting the company to some form of democratic user ownership. The proposal is an outgrowth of organizing that began with an article of mine in The Guardian last September, along with the brilliant, determined organizing of friends like Danny Spitzberg and Maira Sutton. With just two weeks to go, we’re doing all we can to spread the idea and persuade shareholders. Read more about us in places like Recode, Vanity Fair, and the Financial Times.

We need your help. Tweet your vision for the future of Twitter and sign our petition today. Or simply retweet this.

If you think the idea is crazy or impossible, tell that to the Associated Press.

More cooperative futures

[image: A photo I took of Chokwe Antar Lumumba in his office in 2015]

If you’re not watching Jackson, Mississippi, you should be. In 2015 I went there to report on the life of Chokwe Lumumba, the black-nationalist mayor who died suddenly after just a few months in office. But now his son, Chokwe Antar Lumumba, has just won the Democratic nomination, all but clinching the next election. Antar is riding the same platform of cooperative enterprise and local economy that brought his father to office. We have a new rebel city.

And more. In my first article for Quartz, I wrote about why tech startups need new business models, and how we can build them.

Finally, through the delightful Colorado Co-ops Study Circle, I’m co-hosting a new, monthly community radio show, the Co-op Power Hour. Subscribe to our feed and listen up for shows on Black Lives Matter, co-op education, business conversions, and more.

Near and far

Innovation for Everyone

[image:Innovation Hub] Catch it while we still have public radio: This weekend I’ll be on WBGH-Boston’s show Innovation Hub. Listen online or over the air with your local NPR affiliate. I’m talking about Ours to Hack and to Own, the new collective manifesto for a cooperative internet that I co-edited with Trebor Scholz.

[image:Ours to Hack and to Own] The book is available now from OR Books, a fine publisher whose model bypasses Amazon’s monopolistic stranglehold on the industry. If you buy books, buy it direct. If you review books—for your blog, Goodreads, The New York Times, whatever—please consider reviewing it (email me for a review copy). If you tweet, retweet my pinned tweet about it. The success of the book and the movement it represents depend on your support.

More radio to come! The Colorado Co-ops Study Circle that I co-founded will begin our monthly radio show, The Co-op Power Hour on KGNU, a Denver-Boulder community radio station.

Anarchy Under Trump

[image:Rob Schumacher/Arizona Republic via Associated Press] We all have thoughts and feelings about things these days. I made a suggestion in YES! Magazine for how Trump’s infrastructure plan might benefit someone other than the rich. But then I tanked my chances for a place in the new administration by defending the anarchists who protested his inauguration in America. Besides, I’m not enough of an elite-insider for his taste.

Anyway, as the Financial Times reports, we’re one step closer to buying and cooperativizing Twitter out from under him.

Want more anarchy? I once wrote a book on it, plus the intro to Noam Chomsky’s collection on the subject.

Roadshow

  • 2017.02.23: Denver, CO – “Social Worship,” Regis University
  • 2017.03.09: OnlineTransform Finance webinar on platform cooperativism
  • 2017.03.15: Madison, WI – “An Internet of Ownership” lecture
  • 2017.04.06: Santa Barbara, CA – UCSB Community Matters lecture

#WeAreTwitter

[image: #WeAreTwitter ]

Usually when I throw out a somewhat crazy idea, it remains just that—a somewhat crazy idea, out there in the ether. But when I proposed in The Guardian recently that maybe Twiter users should buy Twitter rather than letting it get sold to another big company, something else happened. People started organizing. It has become the latest outgrowth of the platform co-op movement that’s the subject of my new book with Trebor Scholz (and 60+ contributors), Ours to Hack and to Own, available for preorder from OR Books.

Sign the petition at wearetwitter.global

Then RT a tweet about it here!

Meanwhile, here’s a bit more about what I’m up to.

Articles

[ Pat Kinsella for The Chronicle Review ]

Speaking

Okay, that’s it. Take heart!

Ours to Hack

[image: Ours to Hack and to Own] The Internet we’ve been waiting for is now available for pre-order—or, at least, a book about it. For the past couple of years, New School professor Trebor Scholz and I have been working the support and build a movement to develop more democratic, fair, and accountable ownership models for the online economy. We organized a conference, traveled the world, and mapped the ecosystem. We also edited a book, with about 60 phenomenal contributors, from Harvard’s Yochai Benkler and Boston College’s Juliet Schor to filmmaker Astra Taylor and Frontline star Douglas Rushkoff. It’s not quite out yet—I’m dealing with the page proofs this week—but it’ll be shipping by next month from OR Books, a publisher that has built a platform-monopoly-busting business model in its own right.

Order your copy today!

Momentum is building. Just last week, UK Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn issued a manifesto that explicitly calls for creating platform co-ops. We hope that this book will help show that online democracy is both a live option and a moral necessity.

Cooperative advantages

[image:Photo by Nathan Schneider for The Nation] I’ve been continuing to follow a bunch of different leads along the cutting edge of economic democracy. In The Nation this week, read about Denver’s 800-driver taxi cooperative vying to turn Uber’s disruption into a push for worker ownership. If they keep

[image:Photo collage by Adam Mignanelli for Vice] Meanwhile, in the September issue of Vice, I return as economics columnist with a report on Enspiral, a remarkable co-working network based in Wellington, New Zealand, which shows how trust can become not only a cooperative advantage, but a competitive one. If you missed it, also, I recently reported for Vice about the latest on ColoradoCare, the controversial ballot proposal poised to bring cooperative, universal medical coverage to all the state’s residents—now, with the help of Bernie Sanders.

Utterances

Upcoming talks and trips:

  • 2016.09.29: Alma, MI – Alma College
  • 2016.09.30: Grand Rapids, MI – Aquinas College
  • 2016.10.06: Omaha, NE – IGNITE at Creighton University
  • 2016.10.12: Quebec, CanadaCollaborative economy session at the International Summit of Cooperatives
  • 2016.10.20: Boulder, COMALfunction with the Media Archaeology Lab
  • 2016.11.02: Austin, TXHHHI HComp plenary
  • 2016.11.11-13: New York, NYPlatform Cooperativism conference at The New School
  • 2016.12.08-09: Cambridge, MA – Harvard Religious Literacy and Journalism Symposium
  • 2017.02.09: Nashville, TN – Belmont University Faith and Culture Symposium
  • 2017.04.06: Santa Barbara, CA – UCSB Community Matters lecture

Un-branding

[image: The Row Boat] You might have noticed that I’m writing from a different email address. Over the past few months I’ve pivoted from a public self-presentation heavily weighed toward modes of transportation: nathanairplane, The Row Boat, etc. As much as I enjoy transportation, I’ve decided to reorient my self-presentation around the name my parents gave me when I was born. So now this is where you can find me and my stuff:

And watch out, because I’m still playing around in various ways, like for instance with a shorter form of the URL; both http://ntnsndr.in and n@ntnsndr.in work right now but we’ll see if it really seems worth keeping. In the meantime, see y’all there!

Free the Land

[image:Nia and Takuma Umoja]

What would it take for black lives to matter in America?

In this month’s issue of Vice magazine, I take a long look at one answer to that question in Jackson, Mississippi. There, in 2013, voters elected black-nationalist lawyer Chokwe Lumumba as mayor based on promises of direct democracy and cooperative enterprise. Lumumba died unexpectedly less than a year later, but the story of what he tried to carry out in Jackson remains a possible future for Black Lives Matter—especially now that BLM spokesman DeRay Mckesson is running for the mayor’s office in Baltimore.

Please share this story far and wide! You can simply retweet this or share this. You can also download the print spread.

In addition to the excellent editorial work by the team at Vice, I’m grateful for the photographs by William Widmer, who also took pictures for my Al Jazeera America (RIP) feature on transgender Catholics.


More cooperation where that came from

Vice illustrationI’ve been continuing to explore the prospects for a more cooperative economy wherever I can. I profiled a co-op Internet service provider in the mountains west of me; I argued in The Guardian that cooperative economics might be the best way to make good on Bernie Sanders’s call for political revolution.

Together with a small, distributed team (join us!), I’m developing The Internet of Ownership, a directory of cooperative online platforms and the ecosystem that supports them. This week, also, Trebor Scholz and I are completing the manuscript for our collaborative book (with around 60 co-authors) on platform cooperativism.

In my column for America magazine this month, I reflected on Pope Francis’s emphasis on process in his governing philosophy, which can help us think through the U.S. presidential election as well as the pope’s own recent statement on family.


Speaking schedule, more or less

Check here for updates.

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