My name is Mike and I've been on Livejournal since 2002, the first five of those years as sleepyaardvark before I retired that journal in favor of my current one, idealistagain (the old one still exists; I just don't post there anymore). In all that time, I came to be a believer in Livejournal as a community, one that served its members. I've met a lot of great people here, made a lot of great friends here. I've found my voice here.
Sadly, I've also found that far too often, the people who have been ultimately in charge of the fate of our community have not kept the promises that have been made to all of us. Like all communities, Livejournal was built around a certain set of values, a set of values that was meant to endure. A set of values that was never meant to be undermined by some invisible corporate masters.
This is a community that was supposed to be about all of us. These were the promises that were made to us. They were promises that were meant to be eternal. They were meant to be promises that reflected a deep commitment to the values of the Livejournal community, not some arbitrary corporate policies that could simply be changed on a whim or when it was no longer convenient.
You know what? If freedom of speech and the commitment to enable every one of us to find our own voice are things that only apply when its convenient, then they don't really mean anything at all. Because freedom and community are things that are never going to be easy or convenient. The friendships we've all made here are never going to be easy or convenient. Our values, our commitments--yes, they are a huge challenge, but a challenge that is ultimately worth it in the end.
Its strange that Livejournal seems to parallel too many of the ugliest political developments we've seen in the "offline" world. The "powers that be" at Livejournal have too often resorted to the politics of fear and the old ways of governing by heavy-handed top down management and dictates from above. "We must protect our children", they tell us! We're told that we must have heavy handed management to protect us all from the invisible "them" who would do us harm. We are told we must destroy the values our community was built on in order to save it.
This is what we've seen time and time again, most notably in the controversy over fanfic communities and the various rounds of mass deletions. We've seen Livejournal management cave to outside pressures brought on by the hysteria of people who aren't part of Livejournal and who don't understand our community's values.
I reject all of this. I believe that the freedom of all of us to express ourselves is something that can and should be protected. We can ensure that everyone feels safe and secure, we can protect children, we can do all of these things while maintaining a strict commitment to the freedoms of speech and expression that we all hold dear. It has been said that those who would sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither. There are better solutions out there. The real question is whether there is the political will to find those better solutions instead of simply taking the easy way out. Unfortunately, that political will has not been there, out of laziness or lack of vision or whatever other reasons or excuses people would come up with.
I submit to you, my friends, my fellow community members...If Livejournal's management has determined that the only way to save the community is by turning our backs on all of the values that we built the community around in the first place, well, we haven't really saved anything at all, have we? This is what Livejournal's management must be made to see.
The fundamental truth is that this site, this community, exists only because of all of us. We are Livejournal. All of us, writing and debating and building communities and forming friendships and putting in countless free hours of our time, our heart, our energy, our commitment--we are what makes Livejournal what it is. If we were to go away, this site's economic value would be next to nothing. Regardless of formalities or titles, we are the reason Livejournal exists and ultimately, we're the ones with the power to make this site what it should be.
Please don't misunderstand me. I am not one to rush into confrontation. I believe in pragmatism and compromise. I believe in working with people to find solutions that everyone can live with. But what must be understood when trying to compromise with people who believe they're in power is that compromise more often that not comes out of a position of strength. Since we, the members, are the very reason that Livejournal can exist and can generate income, we have a lot of strength. Any member representative must always keep that strength in mind and be willing to use it when necessary. I believe in compromise, but not in confusing compromise with surrender.
Livejournal, if it is to thrive, must fully embrace the values of freedom and openness and commitment to its members that the site was founded on and that we were all promised when we joined. That said, the first thing any member representative must do is to advocate for even greater representation. And more than just one or a few seats on some board, there must be a broad range of ways for Livejournal's users to interact with those in charge and have their concerns addressed.
Livejournal has too much potential to be allowed to wither on the vine. In many ways, we've been left behind the wave of Web 2.0 and the full potential of new technologies to make Livejournal a force, not only in the online world, but also in society at large. While Livejournal falls behind, sites like Facebook and YouTube and Meetup sponsor presidential debates and have actually become a force for change and for openness in the greater society. There's no reason that Livejournal can't do the same.
I realize that a lot of this vision might sound ambitious. And its true that I've set the bar high--after all, if you're willing to settle for less, less is all you're going to get. I believe that Livejournal can return to its core values and become an example for others to follow. We should never be caving to outside pressures or censoring our community because people who aren't members of it might be uncomfortable with our values. Instead, we should be leading the way. And we can.
A little about me. As I've said, I've been on Livejournal since 2002. At one time, I worked in the IT department of a large telecommunications company until I got fed up with the corporate life. But the positive part of my experience there, and the one that will be useful here, is that I know how to operate within a corporate environment. I'm currently a partner in FutureWave LLC, a small business that designs websites and does consulting for companies and organizations about how to use the Web effectively. Our clients have included Internet-based print-on-demand company Lulu.com and the Thai Healing Alliance, an international association and governing body for Thai massage therapists.
Before starting my own business, I helped to lead the Community Initiative to End Homelessness in Orange County, North Carolina, part of a national movement of community coordinating committees whose mission is to pool the resources of community agencies into a coherent plan to end homelessness within ten years. During my time there, I helped to push many projects forward, including improved services to domestic violence victims (at one time our county didn't even have a domestic violence shelter), Project Homeless Connect (an effort to cut red tape and improve coordination of services to homeless individuals and families), Real Change from Spare Change (a cooperative effort to provide outreach services to panhandlers in partnership with downtown Chapel Hill's business community), and efforts to form partnerships with student organizations at the University of North Carolina (which led to organizing the now-annual Poverty Awareness Week on campus). Throughout my efforts, I was a strong advocate of greater use of Web-based technologies and improved access to information to enable agencies to cooperate more closely.
I've been involved in many projects and communities online, as a member, moderator, or administrator. In 2002, I was a co-founder of Sim US, an online US government simulation that at its height grew to hundreds of members. As a hobbyist and a businessman, I have worked with a number of powerful new web-based technologies and open source software platforms and gained a solid grasp of the potential for new technologies to help form communities that are more free, just, and humane.
Yes, I'm an idealist, but I can also get things done. I have a broad range of experience, but I'm also enough of an outsider to bring a fresh perspective. I'm a pragmatist, but I also have a deep commitment to freedom of speech and the idea that we, as a community, can be a force for good in the world. It can be done, if we simply decide to get to work.
And so, I'm asking for your support. I welcome your questions, your comments, and your feedback, not just during this campaign, but also in helping me to be an effective voice for us in advocating for the change we all seek.
Email: idealistagain [at] gmail.com
Yahoo IM: rm.mcgee