We are aiming with Mobilized to create a vibrant forum for ideas. “Big deal”, you might say, there are already places for that.
Well, you’re not wrong. There was, in the earliest days of the web, a loose and wild forum called The Well. The great and powerful Google had as it’s mission the goal of “bringing all the knowledge of the world to every person”… before it pivoted to a new goal of just making money off of what it knows about us. That change was a real pity. There have been sites such as Wiser Earth, which aimed to be a global directory of people and non-profit organizations so that collaboration could happen on a larger scale than ever before. It lasted about two years, sadly; not long enough to create a legacy. Huffington Post had a good run in its’ early days, sharing ideas widely and helping to boost its’ contributors in the public’s mind.
What’s important to know, is that as of this writing, there is not really a widely recognized forum online or in ‘meat-space’. There are print publications such as YES! magazine, Tikkun, The Sun Magazine, and The Utne Reader, all of which which reach a population of hundreds thousands. Great, but their reach could be even more broad, in my humble opinion. Within social media sites there are plenty of good ‘groups’ but they also don’t reach enough folks outside of their own memberships.
Probably the most popular comparable live events right now are the TED talks, which do serve a valuable purpose. Sadly, they also tend toward the ‘Gee-Whiz‘ and the ‘Shiny New Buzzword‘ in their contents. Mobilized really wants to focus on the proven, the existing, and the hidden. There are already, all over, groups doing wonderful work, but too many of them are laboring in obscurity.
So, how do we do that? Well to begin with, we’re not trying to be a technology startup. There is no secret sauce, no fancy algorithm at work here. Almost all the underlying code behind Mobilized is made with off-the-shelf parts, such as WordPress. There is zero reason to re-invent the wheel, and frankly the notion that one must do so has tripped up several earlier attempts at building a successful progressive community. We take the approach of using the tools at hand to build our house.
Secondly, we are going into the future with an eye firmly on the past. And that leads us to the point of this essay, a look at how America became America. We can take many lessons from the past. One of our best ideas as a nation was the Chautauqua movement. It had it’s heyday from the 1870’s right up until the beginning of World War II. In part, it helped spawn a Lyceum movement, the Vaudeville traditions in the theater world; and had an effect on the earliest days of the motion-picture industry. Here’s why it was so popular: the average person, anywhere in the land, could go to a Chautauqua when it came to their town, and engage in spirited discussion with the brightest minds of the day. It was direct, person-to-person, and offered a mix of local and national ideas and people; presented on a rotating basis. So ideas could be hashed out and spread rapidly. And they did. In no small part due to these two movements, the Robber Barons of the Gilded Age were defeated. The Great Depression was tackled too, and along the way no less than Susan B. Anthony, Teddy Roosevelt and Mark Twain became huge fans. No part of society could, or wanted to, ignore the notion that average people could teach other average people.
Mobilized aims to help bring that back into common understanding. In the present era, there may well be a place for tents and lecturers setting up in farmer’s fields. There certainly is a crying need for an educational platform that is accessible to the masses. And now, there exist enough robust tools for us to re-create the ethos of a Chautauqua on the internet.
We, the people, when it really mattered and the stakes were high, collectively taught ourselves how to better ourselves. Now, in every corner of the world, the stakes are once again pretty high. It is time for a new Chautauqua movement, and this one will be truly global. So step right up, come on inside our virtual tent. Welcome to the show.