THE PIRATES OF SILICON BEACH

By:  Zoë Muntaner

“A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor” ~Franklin D. Roosevelt

In his 2002 classic The Rise of the Creative Class, Carnegie Mellon professor Richard Florida argued that “creative class” professionals like tech engineers, held the key to revitalizing America’s cities. He encouraged government planners and citizens to cater to the tastes of these creative professionals by developing walkable urban neighborhoods well-served by transit and with ample amenities. 

The result came with rents skyrocketing, pricing out many ordinary citizens. Sound familiar? Cities have become more segregated by income and economic class. Mixed-income neighborhoods have been on the decline, replaced by concentrated pockets of wealth and poverty.  We are more segregated now than the end of the civil war. Can you hack that? 

A hack is the use of a computer to gain unauthorized access to data in a system but don’t let the metaphor escape you.  Hack the Beach is a series of micro-festivals celebrating and bringing together Santa Monica’s tech innovators with local civic leaders co-sponsored by the City of Santa Monica and the Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce. The organizations aim to explore the big issues facing our community and discuss ways that technology can transform Santa Monica.  Technology has transformed Santa Monica indeed.  In the lead-up to the second annual Hack The Beach event, they are searching for innovation, ideas and solutions to improve Santa Monica’s Wellbeing through technology. 

hacker
Hacker is any skilled computer expert that uses their technical knowledge to overcome a problem, and/or uses bugs or exploits to break into computer systems.

Wellbeing is defined as the state of being comfortable, healthy and happy. new paper by Yale University researchers published last Monday, reaffirmed there are vast overestimations in the progress toward racial economic equality, particularly amongst those who are thriving.  The study’s results are especially stunning in the wake of census data released last week that showed that African Americans were the only racial group still making less than they did in 2000.  Hispanics, are a whole other story. Take a look at the growing discontent of the Pico Neighborhood residents published in the local Lookout piece by Niki Cervantes. 

This week’s The New York Times Technology section published a short documentary exploring digital colonialism: How Facebook is Changing Your Internet”.  Electronic colonialism theory explains how mass media is leading us to a new concept of empire.  “It will not be one based on military power or land acquisition but one based on controlling the mind. It is a psychological or mental empire.  It is an evolving global “Empire of the Mind.”   But it’s not just Facebook, several large tech companies are shaping access to information and expression, influencing political and business environments in previously unseen ways. Who is building the algorithms?  

City Manager Rick Cole spoke about “the opportunity for all of Santa Monica to be globally competitive, to have the highest quality of life and to achieve the goals of social justice and equity that we all share” at the 2016 State of the City Address.  The following video illustrates a particularly troubling metaphor that stands in the way to the lofty remark.  Got diversity?  Easier said than done.  Are YOU ready for your future? 

Who looks outside dreams. Who looks inside awakes” ~Carl Jung

Last year I sat with Brian Mac Mahon, sensei of Expert DOJO one of the partners of the event, to discuss Compassionate Santa Monica’s interest in the intersection of tech and corporate responsibility.  The tech industry can and should generate widespread opportunity instead of inequality and displacement, but without the acknowledgment that such disparities exist, as echoed by the Yale study, how to correct such imbalances?   That is one of the goals of Compassionate Santa Monica business sector.  We aim to build a compassionate and inclusive business community.   

Local leaders now have the opportunity to own up to intrinsic bias in policy making and development. The study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Americans revealed that all income levels remain profoundly unaware of the economic inequality between their groups. The clueless misperceptions could negatively affect public policy as (if) we grow more diverse, researchers said, with politicians championing misguided legislation rooted in false impressions.  Santa Monica is not immune to this problem. 

 “Perhaps, after all, America has never been discovered” ~Oscar Wilde

We have a fair share of equity issues, evidenced by last years’ school board Equity in Education presentation by Dr. Pedro Noguera, Fay Wells and Justin Palmer’s incidents with SMPD, at-large vs. district elections lawsuit, the renewed call for relocation of the Stanton Macdonald-Wright City Hall mural, criminalization of food street vendors, and compensation inequality.  Councilwoman Sue Himmerlich revealed at our meeting to discuss street vendors, she took the intrinsic bias test and found she hold biases: “I am sure you have taken it as well, everybody has biases”  Do you?  Got Compassion? 

I met with Mayor Ted Winterer on November 17, 2016, to present a Racial Relations Task Force aimed to deal with diversity issues created in part by the impact of tech on housing prices, the current presidential administration set of policies, parity representation at boards and commissions, and other issues.   The Wellbeing office jumped to facilitate a forum on immigration on February synchronized with a government resolution embracing diversity.  However, we still lack tangible solutions/policy to deal with the white elephant in the room, and the issues keep mounting. Resistant to own up their flaws leadership gets trapped in a bubble.

“But when Galileo invited Christian scholars to look through his telescope in order to see the new evidence, they flatly refused. They didn’t want to see any data that might count against the earth-centric view of the universe. It is difficult to think of a more revelatory episode of cognitive dissonance. They simply shut their eyes.”– Matthew Syed from Black Box Thinking

BENCHMARKING

Is no secret the tech industry has a toxic diversity problem.  In her TEDx talk, Dr. Ruha Benjamin challenges biases inherent to modern scientific research. Prominent civic leaders misperceive the impact of tech on the quality of life of a big demographic of the city.  Stress is not a state of mind…it’s measurable and dangerous, and humans can’t seem to find their off switch.

When mammals escape from danger, their stress response settles and they return to a calm state. For human beings, our repeated exposure to everyday stressors such as traffic jams, long waits for the bus home and pushing crowds means that we live in a constant state of low-grade stress. I’d like to call them micro agression.  It’s as if our off-switch for stress is out of order because our stress levels rise so easily.  One of the reasons why lab bench science equity is key.  

The Chair of the Santa Monica Social Services commission Shawn Landres, PhD stood in front of City Council last year to cite a study supporting financial segregation of residents in the new affordable housing project: The Arroyo. On inquiry, I found out the “study” was an isolated survey of one housing project in Berkley, CA with no scientific protocol. Ironically Landres criticized our polling system in a previous blog post as unscientific. His Wikipedia page calls him as a social entrepreneur, independent scholar, and local civic leader, known primarily for applied research related to faith-based social innovation and community development.  Faith-based?   The banner of the 4th of July parade Social Services Commission he chairs read: “Advancing inclusion, diversity, and wellbeing. Lord have Mercy on us.  

A truly wonderful aspect of secular or faith compassion is that it helps to lift us out of our own pressing concerns and connects us with a bigger picture.  Compassion can help us as much as it enables us to benefit others.  All this is explored in the new online course, How to Become a Compassionate Citizen which is open for registration now and begins on 27 September 2017.  You can read more about the course here. If you wish to sign up you can register here. 

“A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.” ~Mahatma Gandhi

THERE ARE NO MOORS AT THE COAST 

The origin of this phrase comes from a time where the Moors, inhabitants of North Africa, used to invade from the sea and sack coastal villages in Spain. The phrase means that there are no Moors at the coast, which generally meant that there are no problems coming our way.  Turning the tables of diversity advocacy, when invited to speak to City Council in support of inclusion of Oaxacan food vendors for the upcoming COAST Open Street Festival, Landres, activist Irma Carranza, Project Manager Lisa Parson and Santa Monica Chief of Wellbeing Julie Rusk turned away and left the corner hall outside City Chambers.  Got inclusion?  Is rumored Landres is running for City Council in the 2018 election.  

There will be no ethnic food street vendors inclusion at COAST, but All-string female Mariachi band Las Collbrí, Hip-hop dance group Antics, Samba Reggae, Afro-Brazilian Dance, DJ Anthony Valadez and music from progressive salsa orchestra Rambankete will provide entertainment. A good show.  Beware, there will be pirates at COAST.

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TRANSPARENCY: QUIS CUSTODIET IPSOS CUSTODES?

Is a Latin phrase literally translated as “Who will guard the guards themselves?” It is commonly used to refer to the problem of controlling the actions of people in positions of power.   Building on the foundation of a simple level of transparency who won City Grows the inaugural Hack the Beach event, I asked Chamber of Commerce Government Affairs, Carl Hansen,  to disclose the list of the judges for the event.  Well, patience is a virtue.

Catherine Geanuracos, one of the co-founders of City Grows, went to college with Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti.  City Grows do business process and open data for local governments, an industry ripe for transformation. “Transparency is a missing component of a lot of government technology, it is a duty and a responsibility, it is also practical,” she said in an interview.  Adding “These processes are opaque in nature, transparency helps to build trust, establishing a culture of change”.   Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, after multiple emails I’m still waiting for Hansen or anyone from the Communications Office with answers to simple questions.   City Grows was awarded an initial $5,000.00 contract to develop a transportation plan as part of the mobility strategy of the city. Currently, they are working with the Block Party permits of the Office of Civic Wellbeing.  “Making things digital allows for more efficiency and gives access to better information. Our open data portal allows for internal and external transparency. Information can be very valuable, any government activity is”  she concluded.   Who will guard the pirates?

“The fullest measure of respect that we can show our country is activism – our courage to take a stand or a knee to fight injustice.” ~ Brené Brown 

As Santa Monica celebrates the creative class, it must be mindful of a couple of things.  One–appropriation is not collaboration, they can’t co-create by excluding the very community they aim to serve, two–not be so fascinated with the creative class that it neglects the working class that keeps the city going, and finally pay attention to digital colonialism.  Data and algorithm transparency is key. 

“He said his name was Columbus, I just said, “Good luck” ~Bob Dylan, 115 Dream

Florida praises “the clustering of knowledge assets, technology, firms, startups, universities, human capital, the talent that so many of us have seen as the motor for innovation, entrepreneurship,  productivity and economic growth.” But that same congregation is also at the root of “deep divides in our society.” 

“Problems can not be solved with the same mindset that created them” ~Albert Einstein

jack
“The problem is not the problem,.  The problem is your attitude about the problem.”  ~Captain Jack Sparrow

“Tech solves some problems and creates others,”  Geanuracos said

Take a deep look in the mirror. Ask hard questions. Explore how you can become a catalyst for a true compassionate city.  Here is a hack for you: treat everyone with dignity, kindness, and respect. Inclusion is the real challenge of wellbeing.  

Compassion is not a mindless detail.

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WELLBEING: What Art Got To Do With It?

By: Zoë Muntaner

An update from the Office of Civic Wellbeing was presented to Santa Monica City Council under the Special Agenda Items at the September 12 meeting. The buzzwords are diversity, race, equity.  On the heels of the renewed call for the removal of the historic Stanton Macdonald-Wright City Hall mural, one of its most relevant highlights involve intensive staff training on racial equity led by the Center for Social Inclusion and Government Alliance on Race and Equity.

“Don’t let your learning lead to knowledge. Let your learning lead to action.”~ Jim Rohn

Activists have viewed the mural an expression of racism that parallels the Confederate Flag.  Julie Rusk, Chief of Civic Wellbeing watched protesters cries of the blatant symbol of colonialism from the balcony of City Hall, a day before her presentation. Yesterday, she accompanied Deputy City Attorney Gary Rhoades to the Pico Neighborhood Association Meeting for his presentation of a policy proposal affecting immigrants.  Coincidentally like the Wellbeing Index, the law is about data. The City is considering a law that would limit the gathering and use of information about a person’s immigration or religious status. It seems they can’t escape the historical legacy of local disenfranchised populations. The law is designed to empower the City Attorney’s Office to file lawsuits on behalf of marginalized immigrants. Oscar de la Torre, Chair of PNA stated: “the policy offers a false sense of security, this is another instance of a white organization teaching people of color about social justice” Mr. Rhoades said: “We use discretion and don’t want to file false claims” Oh, the irony of ironies… a story for another post.  Stay tuned.

“What we need today are universal values based not on faith but on scientific findings, common experience and common sense.” ~Dalai Lama

Back to the mural. The Santa Monica Landmarks Properties website offers a brief history of the mural–President Franklin Delano Roosevelt helped cure the country of “The Great Depression” by allocating several billion dollars to Public Works Administration projects, as a means of providing employment, stabilizing purchasing power, improving public welfare and contributing to a revival of the American industry. The City Hall walls feature murals documenting the city’s and the state’s history. Stanton Macdonald-Wright (1890-1973) created one of the most extensive mural cycles in Southern California at the Santa Monica Public Library in the mid-1930’s, unveiled on August 25, 1935.

The Mural’s history is chronicled at the Santa Monica library’s website. Macdonald-Wright, had plywood panels specially prepared.  This technique, termed “portable murals,” was also utilized by famed Mexican muralist Diego Rivera. Such a procedure enable easy removal from the wall if necessary. This is exactly what happened in 1965 when the library moved to a newly-constructed building located at 1343 Sixth Street. Deemed too old-fashioned, the Depression-era mural cycle was not transferred to the new facility, and the federal government took possession of all the mural panels. Alas, removal has precedent.

According Dr. Noah Bardach, an art-historian and co-founder of Universal Human Rights Initiative (UHRI), a non-profit focused on human rights education, “The WPA murals at the entrance to City Hall, depicting two American Indian men at the feet of a conquistador and a Franciscan friar,  communicate prominent themes of white supremacy over Native Americans and other people of color.” Local activists demand the murals be moved to a local museum. Dr. Bardach further explained: “These images glorify two historical tragedies for indigenous peoples, the Conquest and forced conversion by the Catholic Church, both of which resulted in the decimation of local populations from violence and sickness. The loss of life suffered during this period can rightly be thought of as a Native American Holocaust. Paired with this message of Native American subjugation and suffering is a mural of Caucasians at leisure.   Together, these two murals convey a vision of Santa Monica as an enclave for the pleasures of the White leisure class, one where people of color are kept in an inferior status and hidden out of sight.   The City of Santa Monica must recognize the central message of these works for what it is: white supremacy. This is not representative of the diverse, inclusive Santa Monica of today and it must not be the sentiment that greets visitors to our City Hall.   To live up to our highest ideals as a City, and in recognition of the wrongs that have been visited on minorities in our City’s past, the City of Santa Monica must take immediate steps to relocate the mural to a museum, or other suitable location, where it can be appreciated as a historical document.”

Carol Lemlein, President of the Santa Monica Conservancy filmed the demonstration on Monday. “I personally think there is little equivalency with the use of the Confederate flag and erecting statues of Confederate icons, most of which took place long after the Civil War and which were, for the most part, erected in defiance during the Jim Crow era.” said by email statement. She offered some food for thought courtesy of African American historian, Alison Rose Jefferson. “The Association for the Study of African American Life and History has issued a statement which in my mind offers a much more constructive and unifying approach than what I heard at City Hall on Monday.” she wrote.

COGNITIVE DISSONANCE

The intention of Santa Monica Wellbeing Office is to hone in on partnerships as an effective path to address concerning aspects of community wellbeing, one would think this is an ideal opportunity to address those intentions in a tangible way.  Local equity issues debated through education, affordable housing, street food vendors and authentic inclusion are on the line.

mantra

The Wellbeing Index was deemed a “game changer” when it won the first-ever Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Mayors Challenge in 2013. Will they talk a good game or play a good game? We can only guess what Mike Bloomberg would say about sportsmanship. In his 2016 Annual Letter on Philanthropy, he wrote: “Teamwork wins championships, as any sports fan can tell you…But having a full roster is a far cry from having a great team, to say nothing of winning a championship. Success will require leadership that unites everyone behind a common mission and gets everyone to work together by promoting communication, collaboration, and coordination. It’s a role that Bloomberg Philanthropies has fully embraced.”  

“Truth is an inseparable companion of justice and mercy.” ~Pope Francis

Santa Monica does not have a good track record when it comes to inclusive teamwork.  A lack of viable and sincere city government leadership have residents at wits ends.   After multiple emails expressing a desire to co-create with Compassionate Santa Monica, Wellbeing Project Manager Lisa Parson, in patronizing superiority, said is not my place to define inclusion.  I thought we were getting along fine.   At Council Chambers, multiple boards & commission community leader Albin Gielicz divulged they are still trying to define what wellbeing means in Santa Monica. I’m confused.  What have they defined all this time?   Chief of Wellbeing Julie Rusk and Senior Strategist Libby Carlson have made it clear there is a gatekeeping policy.  When confronted by the question of how City Attorney staff will assure fair enforcement/compliance with policy/ordinances given the fact that intensive staff training on racial equity raises flags of historical bias, she admitted: “We have a lot of work to do, yes”.  With new findings showing a community in need of social connection, economic security, and stress management, one would think their approach would be more inclusive.  The launch party of the new findings of the Wellbeing Index at The Water Garden excluded key groups and advocates that have been tirelessly working towards equity, parity and good racial relations in Santa Monica.   Missing the mark as the best opportunity to start making those connections and affirming the sincerity of the message, does not sound promising.  “Perhaps this is not the best example of an inclusive event,” said City Manager Rick Cole.  He is right. “There are clear areas of disparity, and the overall strength of a community is measured by its ability to help all members thrive, including its most vulnerable members. The latest Wellbeing Index tells us that we have work to do and we want to enlist the entire community in bridging these gaps,” said Mayor Ted Winterer.  Off the gates, the entire community was not included. The flaws seem to be in the design.  Authentic Wellbeing Mantra: “Meet people where they are, but tell the truth”.  Let’s frame it with that intent.

“In the absence of love and belonging there will always be suffering” ~Brené Brown 

GAME PLAN

We’ll have to wait to see Rick Cole’s game plan. He adopted this project two years ago when he became City Manager.  Does he have what it takes to win?  Can he do the work of becoming a real team outside of the cheerleader’s squad? Is this another ploy of City Hall’s expensive PR Machine?  Is he an authentic agent of change? Are we being played? What kind of inheritance we want, one of money or one of values? Innovation thinks outside the box.  Unless we fundamentally practice democracy, wellbeing is a hashtag code for privilege.   The ball is in their court.

Speaking about games, the Compassion Games are currently being played around the world. Santa Monica has a team on the map.  To learn more visit The Global Unity Games: Building Bridges a 16-day challenge to unify communities around the world in an expression of globally synchronized intentions with locally organized compassionate action.  Today”s Mission: Nourishing the Diversity of Life.

 Are you optimistic about your future?

#CompassionUnites #SantaMonica #BuildingBridges Game On.

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“In a time of universal deceit – telling the truth is a revolutionary act.” ~George Orwell