Wage Peace! … From Americans to Iraqis


Wage Peace! … From Americans to Iraqis

: If you want to improve the world — and, of course, you do — here is a wonderful way:

Spirit of America is collecting contributions from Americans to buy Iraqi citizens the things they need to help rebuild their country and their future: tools, broadcasting equipment, sewing machines, business loans, blog hosting…

I think of this as the Statue of Liberty in reverse: We, the people put together our money and effort to help build democracy on the other side of the world. We could buy them a new statue in Firdaus Square. Or we could buy them something useful.

I’ve signed on to help the good people behind this movement. And I’ll warn you, my blogging friends: I’ll be putting the arm on each one of you to help — to give money, to put up a banner, to put up a link, to volunteer, anything to help. This should be our cause.

First, go read Dan Gillmor’s wonderful column about Spirit of America.

Marc Danziger, a.k.a. the “Armed Liberal” Web logger, supported the war in Iraq. Britt Blaser, a Howard Dean campaign adviser, did not.

Yet they agree on at least one thing about that Middle Eastern nation’s struggle: However right or wrong America’s official policy may be, Americans should do what we can to help Iraqis.

In that spirit, they’re assisting a Web-based humanitarian project that almost anyone can endorse, regardless of one’s stance on the wisdom of the war. It’s called “Spirit of America” — and it’s a bright spot in an otherwise horrendous muddle.

In the next few weeks, the organization hopes to sign up a million Americans as contributors, volunteers or simply people who are interested enough to pay attention.

This is important work on so many levels: As Dan says, no matter what you think about the war, we have a human obligation to help the Iraqi people. But it is also enlightened self-interest: If we can help the Iraqis build their nation and their democracy and if we can connect with them on a personal level — if, to be blunt, we can demonstrate that Americans are not ugly — then we create a foothold for democracy, freedom, modernity, civilization, and just friendship in the Middle East.

I came to this effort through this weblog. Many of you know the story already, but I’ll recount it briefly for those who don’t: By chance, I discovered the amazing story of Iranian weblogs, launched by an expat Johnny Appleseed of blogging and democracy, Hoder. As the war in Iraq wound to a close — or so we thought — I said that we needed to see the sort of citizens’ media and free speech growing in Iran — even Iran — in Iraq. I wished for “a thousand Salam Paxes.” I fretted that we’d need government, charity, military, and business help. But one day last fall, a 24-year-old Baghdad dentist named Zeyad emailed me and said, ‘OK, you’ve convinced me, now help me.’ He started blogging. Then, with a camera from America, he covered events Western media did not and even the White House paid attention. It was such a simple, small, human connection. I wanted to do more but didn’t know how.

Blogger Kerry Dupont did a hundred times more. She sent bloggers in Iraq laptops and cameras. Yet she wanted to do still more. So she has now signed up with Spirit of America as the chief of procurement (the Radar O’Reilley, as I say).

Marc Danziger wanted to do more. As the Armed Liberal blogger at Winds of Change (now revealing his identity), he has signed on as COO.

Blogger Britt Blaser wanted to do more; he helped Howard Dean’s campaign and lately has been working on taking the lessons and tools of that campaign and bringing them to campaigns anywhere. He has signed on to help Spirit of America.

Jim Hake started SoA and he wanted to do more. He raised $1.5 million so far and now wants to raise millions more and sign up countless Americans to reach out to Iraqis. He also reached out to buyout genius Ted Forstmann, who’s going to help raise the big bucks.

And I’m reaching out to you.

Spirit of America is going to let us all do more. It carries on the work and spirit of Chief Wiggles and Operation Give and countless individual soldiers who have had their families back home send baseballs and frisbees over to give to kids — but in a big way. They will raise millions of dollars to respond to requests from the streets of Iraq for material such as tools, help with media (both TV and weblogs!), help start microbusinesses owned by Iraqis, and help bring sports back to the Iraqi youth. Eventually, SoA hopes to be a conduit for needs in Iraq and contributions from America.

Think of it as open-source nation-building.

Spirit of America is already helping. Last week, Kerry put together the shipment of 15 pallets of tools to send to Iraqi craftsmen trained by Marines and SeaBees as carpenters, electricians, and plumbers.

I have been wanting to bring more citizens’ media to Iraq — blogging tools translated into Arabic and free blog hosting, for example. I now hope we can accomplish this via SoA.

So I will be working with these good folks on citizens’ media in Iraq. I’m advising them on media until they get a pro onboard. And I’m appealing to you to help. This is just the start.

If we do this right, we can show the people of Iraq and the Middle East that the people of America — politics be damned — are allies to them and to freedom and democracy.

: See also Britt Blaser’s post here.

: Here’s an April Wall Street Journal story on Hake and SoA that led to $1.5 million in contributions.

: Thanks for nice links to SoA from Glenn, Rex, Loic, Joi, Kerry, Halley, Tim, Benyamin, Thomas, Om, Tom (MP), Roger, Ed, Gene, and more….

: Now up on Worthwhile Mag, too…

: Michele, who did so much to make Operation Give a success and who has been a booster of SoA since its start, has a nice and inspiring post here.

: Surprise, surprise, surprise: Dave Winer dissents.