Monday, December 29, 2008

Obama, 'Half in Ten' and Me...

[I am committed to parlaying a lifetime of community building and social entrepreneurship into assisting the incoming Obama administration, 'Half in Ten' and associated groups in their efforts to cut US poverty in half within ten years. Hence, this letter to Lisa Donner, Executive Director of 'Half in Ten.' Any reader who has suggestions or contacts that might help me with my social ambition is encouraged to send me feedback!]

"Dear Lisa,

Why am I writing to you? Because you are the Executive Director of the Half in Ten campaign. And because I am a successful community builder and a proven social entrepreneur. I want to help you, your partner organizations and the new President work to halve poverty in the next ten years. But I need your help (and theirs) in working out the best way I can help.

As a starting point, I attach my Resume to indicate what I have to offer. I see several possibilities, which I set out below, and I hope that you (and others receiving a copy of this e-mail) may be able to find the time to review those with me.

My focal issue is that I am a problem-solver, rather than a theorist or ideologue. I want to do what I can to assist in ensuring that, alongside the many good folks and institutions that already exist to advocate policy on how to cure the causes of poverty in the US, there is a complementary effort to tackle the immediate symptoms of poverty, and that that effort is driven as much as possible by pragmatic policy-making based on real grassroots experience.

As I say, I am writing to you in the first instance in your role as Executive Director of Half in Ten. It may well be that you say there is someone more appropriate with whom I can exchange. And for that reason, I have copied this e-mail to a few other people. But you seemed to me to be the best starting point!

I know this may all seem a little presumptuous, but I am one who believes that, sometimes, the only way to help solve a problem is to be direct and persistent, while remaining charming and respectful, but always a passionate advocate - even when it is advocating me! So, please forgive my forwardness. I feel strongly about this.

Why now? As you will already know, Melody Barnes, President-elect Obama’s choice for director of his Domestic Policy Council, recently delivered a keynote address at a national board meeting of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights in which she affirmed the new administration’s commitment to cut poverty in half.

Even if the speech had not been made, it is well known that tackling poverty will be a major commitment of the new administration. What that means is that there may soon be a rapidly-formed and major effort, quite bluntly, to direct a lot of money at the problem of poverty in the US.

This promises to be one of the largest programs of its kind since the days of FDR. There is a little by way of modern template. A lot of policy regarding implementation of the program is very likely going to be made on the hoof. I would suggest that it's going to need a whole team of committed and proven grassroots community builders, who listen, learn and are not afraid to make decisions, when there is either too much or too little information available on the ground.

While the potential availability of new money and drive is to be welcomed, you will know better than I that there are inherent dangers. Much of the work with hunger and homelessness is currently being undertaken at the grassroots level by tightly-knit networks of established non-profits.

Sure, they need money. But I think that the distribution of that money - to them and to individual applicants - needs to be handled with sensitivity, so as not to upset the inter-relationships that already exist; to ensure that the funds are directed in the most effective and efficient manner; to respect the dignity of the recipients; and so as not to impose upon the grassroots volunteers a bureaucratic mentality which they may not understand, and which could stymie their best efforts.

In other words, and in my opinion, I would hope that there will be as much emphasis on policy-making from the ground up, as from the top down. And that there will be active efforts to enroll experienced community builders to act as a buffer between government and the non-profits.

In-the-field development troubleshooters who, on the on hand, know how to talk to those in need and those helping them on the ground, without talking down to them, and who, on the other hand, have experience in translating grassroots experience upwards into regional and national strategy, and who are comfortable addressing Washington policy groups such as yours. Frankly, values-driven professionals like me.

Why me? I have been a community builder since I was 16 years of age. I have an extensive background in social entrepreneurship at the grassroots level. And I have spent more than my fair share of time making and advocating policy in regional and national circles.

In 2005, I researched and presented a four-part radio series on the subject of alleviating the immediate symptoms of poverty. That effort led to FOCUS On Poverty,which I spent much of the ensuing three years advocating to various groups (including yours and the Center for American Progress) and the Presidential Campaigns of John Edwards (whose national campaign headquarters were just across the road from where I work in Chapel Hill) and Barack Obama.

I am committed now to devoting the next four to eight years of my life to doing what I can to help you, your colleagues and the Obama Administration reach the goal of halving poverty levels in the US, with, as I say, an especial focus on alleviating the immediate symptoms, and supporting (or building) the structures and processes that can assist in ensuring there is solid input from grassroots policy-making, and the wisest distribution of assistance to the existing efforts on the ground.

It may well be that what I am describing already exists, with a team of people like me committed to the same ideals and goals. In which case, please just point me in the right direction!

Alternatively, these may be ideas that are under consideration, in which case I would be delighted if you (and others receiving copies of this e-mail) could perhaps begin with me a conversation that might lead to some enactment that could include me, and other grassroots experts like me.

What are my options?

1) Approach the Obama Administration direct. Already done. I have completed the online job application, and left a note on with a few ideas about an anti-poverty approach at the grassroots level.

One of my primary concerns is the dignity of potential recipients. I know of many families in the Appalachians who struggle to make ends meet. They are certainly eligible for assistance. They are primary targets for existing and new anti-poverty programs. But they are too proud to admit the fact.

They would never own to needing help. Indeed, they have a universally dim view of charity and liberals. And even though they know in their hearts no Republican will ever help them, they consistently vote Republican because they don't trust politicians who assume they know what is best for them and appear to be out of touch. Plus, they need to keep up appearances.

Any effort seriously to reduce poverty is going to need to be able to employ language, processes and structures which respect these grassroots practicalities and accommodate this and similar cultural mindsets - and that, in turn, could well require consensus builders like me, who are comfortable negotiating with peoples of all sorts of different social backgrounds.

Anything that you or others can do to help my efforts in these regards, and with the Obama Administration, would be much appreciated.

2) Find room on the bus with you or your partner organizations. Indeed, I noticed that the Center for American Progress is looking for a Director of its Poverty and Prosperity Program. While I admire the work of CAP, and feel that I am qualified for the position, I am, quite honestly, not looking to spend as much time in Washington as the job description seems to suggest.

I recognize that the work of the Director, as described, has an important support function in filtering, co-ordinating and consolidating disparate ideas before they reach the Obama administration itself. Indeed, I would see participation by grassroots policy-makers in such work by the CAP as an important part of keeping government strategy relevant. But I'm not sure it's the direction I would wish for myself at the moment. Not as a daily occupation.

I'm looking to spend more time on the front lines of social instability. So, I would prefer to be out in the field, talking with grassroots people and organizations, confirming what works and what doesn't, and determining real needs. Only then would I want to feed upwards into policy-making circles (in Washington and elsewhere), and subsequently, helping with the effort to distribute downwards.

If my reading of the job description in question is wrong, or if CAP (or one of its partner organizations in Half in Ten) is looking to open up a position as I have described it, then I would immediately be interested.

3) Create my own effort, with help from the likes of your organization, its partners and the Obama Administration.

Now, while I have a healthy regard for the talents I have been given, and the experience I have gathered, I like to think I'm also sufficiently self-aware to know my limitations.

I'm not going to pretend I have all the answers. My greatest ongoing development project is myself. I am always listening and learning. In that regard, it might be presumptuous for me to talk about setting up an entity, which may well be duplicating what is already being done, and could be stepping on toes.

That is why I have been sharing these particular thoughts with colleagues who specialize in the raising and distribution of funds for non-profits.

My preliminary thoughts run along the lines of setting up a small team which would assist targeted areas. Immediately, I am looking at the network of non-profits working to alleviate homelessness and hunger in Raleigh and Durham, in North Carolina.

What I envisage is liaising closely with those organizations, agreeing their needs, and then, through existing contacts, establishing direct relationships with small donor foundations around the country.

In this way, I would hope to create personal and ongoing partnerships between foundations who have money to give but no capacity to research appropriate recipients, and deserving anti-poverty causes, who are unable to sustain their own sufficient fund-raising efforts.

In due course, I would see this initial effort possibly expanding into a people and web-driven clearing house, marrying private and public money, through a knowledgeable clearing process and structure, with the enormous but disparate grassroots anti-poverty effort, in a fashion that does not interfere with that effort on the ground.

As I say, these are early thoughts. But, as with so much that I anticipate will be happening in the coming months, a lot is going to be needed to be put together in a short time period. I'm trying to do my bit to respond as quickly and as effectively as I can. And that means that much is still on the drawing board! And again, I would be grateful for any advice, support and assistance that you and others could give to this effort, if this is believed to be a useful way forward for me.

I want to help. I hope you can help me. I thank you for taking the time to read this far. And I truly hope this e-mail will lead to fruitful progress. I look forward to your response. Happy New Year!

All the best,
(Peter Geoff Gilson)"

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

FOCUS On Obama

What follows is a post I have just uploaded to the Obama Transition site,, making some suggestions about how to focus the proposed public works program on historically disadvantaged communities:

The proposed public works program will the largest of its kind since FDR. There is no modern template. Policy will be made on the hoof. I have spent several years working and living in historically disadvantaged Appalachian communities. Some thoughts:

1) Don't let policy-makers assume they know what is needed and wanted at the grassroots. Ask. Put people on the ground to find out.

2) Don't just focus on the causes of economic disadvantage and poverty. Address the immediate symptoms also.

3) We are a proud people. It's dignity that matters as much to us as money. Don't just throw money. Take the time and make the effort to set up structures and processes that empower our communities to help their own.

4) We're not going to be able to give everyone a job. We are not going to be able to cushion all the effects of this recession. So, along with creating jobs (and by the way, some of us have three already...!), focus on efforts also to allow us to build and maintain community.

For example, what about a program to support small communities in their efforts to build multipurpose community centers?

5) Make it easier and more dignified for welfare recipients to apply for and receive that helping hand. One-stop, omnibus applications for Food Stamps, Food Bank, housing benefits, and the like. That can be completed at home. Where coupons are received at home. Possibly to be completed at the same time as IRS forms?

6) Enroll community-builders who know how to mobilize at grassroots level, and are also comfortable and experienced with translating grassroots experience upwards into regional and national policy. To be honest, I have applied with to be just such a community-builder/policy-maker. Don't put the whole program into the hands of professional academics and bureaucrats, who may never have wielded a hammer.

For more, go to:, or

Good luck to us all!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

FOCUS on Care2

[This article originally posted by on their now closed web-site, and by the author of this blog on the sister site to this blog (W9), both on April 23, 2007]

Members of the Since Sliced Bread Community continue to adopt ideas, and news from the world (and the blogosphere) continues to show how relevant your ideas are, and how much we need to take action to make them a reality.

"FOCUS on Poverty" continues to be our most adopted idea, and with good reason as poverty is perhaps a bigger problem than many Americans realize. Via Care2 News Network this week comes a news of 2004 census analysis which reveals that 60 million Americans live on less than $7 a day.

While global income inequality is probably greater than it has ever been in human history, with half the world's population living on less than $3 per day, and the richest 1% receiving as much as the bottom 57%, the fact that so many Americans are living on so little, is particularly confounding.

The so-called “wealthiest, most abundant nation on Earth” now has the widest gap between rich and poor of any industrialized nation.
[2] In light of the fact that one dollar spent in the Caribbean, Latin America and Asia buys what $3 or $4 does in the U.S means the quality of life for tens of millions of Americans is now on a par with huge populations living in the developing world.

Ezra Klein points to a Robert Samuelson editorial that he says ignores the possible causes of economic disparity. But there are some Americans who can't ignore it, and according to this article by Raiane Eisler, most of them are women and children.

Consider that in the United States women over the age of 65 are twice as poor as men in the same age group. And there's a reason poverty so disproportionately hits women. Most of these poor women were, or still are, caregivers. And we've got an economic system that gives no visibility or value to this essential work when it's done in the home.

In fact, according to economists, the people who do the caring work in households, whether female or male, are "economically inactive." Of course, anyone who has a mother knows that most caregivers work from dawn to dusk. And we also know that without their work of caring for children, for the sick, and for the elderly, there would be no workforce, no economy, nothing.

Working Dad points out that children's health is at a 30-year low, and the Annual Child and Youth Well-Being Index (PDF) indicates that poverty is one of the main reasons. One of our finalist ideas, 3 Steps to Universal Health Care, recommends guaranteed health care for children and young adults.

So, what are you doing about poverty? The One Campaign wants to know, and wants you to tell the rest of the world. Why not make a start by signing the "FOCUS on Poverty 2008" Petition on Care2?

Saturday, April 26, 2008

FOCUS On A Helping Hand

[Written April 12, 2007 on W9]

The organizers (SEIU) of (SSB) are doing a fantastic job of giving a high profile to FOCUS On Poverty and the plight of the 50 million of our friends and neighbors who live below the poverty line in this country. My continued thanks to SEIU, SSB, Terrance Heath and Matt S!

They have just put up the following guest post from me. All of this activity about FOCUS On Poverty on SSB is giving me an idea of what I might be able to do to help make FOCUS a reality. Given that the potential avenue, originally presented by John Edwards' Presidential Campaign, seems now to have closed as a realistic possibility. But more of that later...

[This guest post is from Geoffrey G., whose FOCUS on Poverty idea is currently our most adopted idea. Watch for more guest posts from Since Sliced Bread Community Members.]

Too many of our working friends and neighbors live below the poverty line. This should be unacceptable in the richest country on earth in the 21st Century. This is not a matter of politics; it’s a question of common human decency.

The purpose of FOCUS On Poverty is to guarantee that every man, woman and child in the United States has access to proper food, clothing, housing and healthcare. It’s not a matter of political semantics; it’s a question of basic human need.

FOCUS On Poverty originated in October 2005, when my co-hosts and I ran a four-part series on poverty, on the community radio station in Chapel Hill, North Carolina – my hometown, as well as that of John Edwards, Democratic Presidential Candidate. The major points of FOCUS now also form the centerpiece of John’s platform on poverty.

On the same day that John announced his Candidacy, I created, the purpose of which is to help John stay on message with his promise to help America’s working poor families.

I have now issued an open invitation to John to appear on my radio program, to allow him to flesh out the specifics of his proposals. Air America Radio have already publicly committed their support to my campaign.

Big concepts and bold promises are all very well. But each one of us can do something right now to help our neighbors in need.

If ever there was time for direct citizen action, it is now. That is the very essence of what Since Sliced Bread is about. And SEIU are being joined in that approach by all of the progressive Presidential Campaigns – from John’s OneCorps, to Hillary’s ‘conversations,’ and Barack’s call to us all to take responsibility now.

I am delighted at the opportunity that SEIU and SSB have given to me to raise the profile of America’s working poor. I am proud of how much they have allowed me to achieve in this past year.

But you know, I was never so moved as when I was able to use the gifts that had been given to me to help my ex-girlfriend in her disability fight against her overbearing chain grocery store. Never so happy as when I was able to encourage a fellow worker to pop across our village green, and ask John’s National HQ for help with her bed-ridden mother.

We all know a family that is in need. They don’t so much want a hand-out, as the warmth of your helping hand. Don’t wait for them to ask. Spare them that final loss of dignity. Offer a kind word, a bit of advice, or a cooked meal.

And remember: all of us, working together, can help to "Take Care of America's Family Values" - one family at a time!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Great Minds Think Alike?

[Written April 9, 2007 on W9]

The Service Employees International Union, the trade union organizing (SSB), the national clearing-house web-site for commons sense ideas, submitted by ordinary Americans and designed to help working families, continues to give profile to FOCUS On Poverty.

This is excellent news for the 50 million Americans living below the poverty line. And I'm deeply grateful to SEIU and SSB for helping to remind our friends and neighbors that they are not alone. That we stand by them.

You too can show your support for America's working poor, by going to SSB and 'adopting' FOCUS On Poverty as an idea you wish to see become a reality.

This may be particularly crucial now that the Presidential Campaign of John Edwards has faltered.

The primary reason that I supported John's Campaign - and still hope that a miracle might occur - is that he was the only Candidate prepared to put forward proposals that would help to lead to the elimination of poverty in the United States.

There are plenty of national organizations that assist in giving profile to the plight of the poor. But what I wanted was action. And John's Campaign held out the real possibility of that action becoming a reality.

However, if we are to be brutally honest - and John has stated he wishes to be - then we have to admit that it is now highly unlikely that John will be the Democratic Nominee in 2008.

And so I will turn my mind to other other avenues, which on the one hand will parallel and compliment John's efforts, but on the other may hold out a greater chance of our jointly-conceived proposals on poverty becoming a reality.

Now, I'm getting there! And I will be updating you with my thinking and planning - as they progress.

But, in the meantime, you can at least show that your heart is in the right place by 'adopting' FOCUS On Poverty at SSB:

Themes from two of our most adopted ideas -- FOCUS on Poverty and Consumer Credit and Debt -- are cropping up in the news and in the blogosphere. Jim Wallis, of Sojourners, has long been a leading voice in the evangelical community on poverty issues, and on his blog this week he called for a "moral budget" that will "prioritize the poor," and quoted from a letter he sent to every U.S. Senator:

In a letter that went to every senator, I requested that each “make sure to prioritize poor and working families, children, and the elderly as you determine where our nation commits its energies and resources.”

I continued, “what is needed now is bold leadership and an agenda that sets clear priorities and seeks to empower families. We need to protect critical programs and increase aid, but also recommit ourselves to the notion of the common good.”

Wednesday, March 26, 2008


[Written April 7, 2007 on W9]

FOCUS On Poverty has caught the attention of SEIU, the national union organizing the (SSB) web-site, where FOCUS is currently featured.

Terrance Heath, the blogmaster in charge of SSB, recently issued the following e-mail to the thousands of individuals who signed up with SSB, in response to the call by SEIU to help America's working families with a healthy dose of citizen action.

You should see what some people are doing with their ideas!

For example, Geoffrey G. in North Carolina has an idea about how to help the millions of Americans who live below the poverty line.

But he's not just waiting for it to happen: Geoffrey has contacted the John Edwards campaign about the idea and started a blog to support his efforts.

Top 5 Most Adopted Ideas:1. FOCUS On Poverty2. Workweek Down 1/10, Commuting 1/5 !3. Consumer Credit And Debt 4. Peace Study in Public Schools 5. Farm Produce Distribution Network

You can adopt this idea, read excerpts from his blog and help Geoffrey take action here:

If you haven't adopted an idea yet, what are you waiting for?

Click here to find one you might like:

Terrance Heath
Since Sliced Bread

Enlist your friends for help! Click below. Tell-a-friend!

If you received this message from a friend, you can sign up for Since Sliced Bread.

Like Terrance says, show your support for the 50 million Americans who live below the poverty line. Let them now that they are not alone.

Go over to SSB and 'adopt' FOCUS On Poverty as an idea you want to see become a reality.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Real FOCUS On Poverty

[Written March 18, 2007 on W9]

Good news for John Edwards, W9 and our program for eliminating poverty in the United States - FOCUS On Poverty. Ordinary folk are jumping onto the bandwagon. And you too can help to garner support for the cause of helping America's poor. Read on!

At the end of 2005, at the same time that the specifics of FOCUS On Poverty were being aired on the local community radio station that serves both John and me, in our home town of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, I submitted a summary of FOCUS to a web-site called

SSB is a project run by the Service Employees International Union, and its purpose is to serve as a national clearing-house for ideas from regular people about how to help America's working families - in particular, those that fall below the poverty line.

FOCUS On Poverty was the suggestion that received the most reviews during the competition phase, back in January 2006.

FOCUS On Poverty is the idea that has received the most flags in the past year. And...

FOCUS On Poverty is the proposal currently being adopted by the most visitors to SSB.

This is great news for all of America's working poor, who struggle every day to achieve some small measure of dignity, in the face of obstacles they believe are insurmountable. It sends them a message that they are not alone.

Be a part of that same message.

Lend your voice. To ensure that SEIU hears it. That the other visitors to SSB hear it. And, perhaps most important of all, that John Edwards hears it.

That he never wavers. And never feels that it might be ok to 're-calculate' just how important the issue of poverty is to all ordinary people in America.

You can do this in a number of ways:
  1. Go to the SSB site, create an account, and then review FOCUS On Poverty.

  2. Flag FOCUS On Poverty as a slice above the rest! When you have signed in, go to FOCUS On Poverty, and below the idea, click on the 'yes' icon, where it asks if this idea is a slice above the rest.

  3. Adopt FOCUS On Poverty as an idea that needs implementation - now! Once you have signed in, go to FOCUS On Poverty, and left-click once on the light-bulb icon. Note: when it asks if you want to set it loose - don't!

  4. In the Comment box, in the Act section, make suggestions as to what you think can be done to make FOCUS On Poverty a reality.

  5. In particular, in that Comment box, openly lend your support to W9's campaign to get John Edwards to accept our outstanding invitation to come and be interviewed on his local, grass-roots radio station, and give detailed, irredeemable specifics on how he intends to implement FOCUS On Poverty when he becomes President.

  6. Leave a comment on this blog, why not? SEIU and John Edwards will be sure to see it!

W9 and FOCUS On Poverty are not about me. They're not even about John Edwards - even though he is the only Presidential Candidate to make America's poor the central focus of his Campaign.

I don't care a fig for myself whether or not you take any of the action outlined above. I care only about helping those 50 million of our friends and neighbors who have done all they can to make ends meet. It's time we remembered the generous spirit that was behind the founding of this country, and gave our friends and neighbors a helping hand.

You can give a helping hand today, by going to SSB, and letting our friends and neighbors know they are not alone.

You can also go to John Edwards' site and leave him a message. Tell John you want him to prove, once and for all, that he is a real friend of the poor.

Ask him to agree to give a detailed interview to his local, grass-roots radio station. To prove to all of us that he is staying on message. I'll make it easy for you - just paste the following into John's Questions/Ideas box:

"Hey John. Here's an idea. Why don't you agree to give a live interview to Geoff Gilson on your local, grass-roots radio station. Show us the 'real' you. Convince us you're still on message about America's poor."

Now John, you don't have to wait to hear the message. You can agree to that interview - today! And John - have you yet gone to SSB, and shown your open support for FOCUS On Poverty - 'adopted' on SSB the very same proposals on eliminating poverty that you have already adopted for your own Campaign?

John, SSB represents the very essence of what you sat your Presidential Campaign is about. It allows ordinary folk to organize and take action on their own common sense ideas to help America's working families. It is a magnificent reflection of your call for people to achieve results even before you get to the White House. In fact, you should want to 'adopt' the entirety of SSB! Certainly, give it profile on your Campaign web site.

I want to thank SEIU and their President, Andy Stern, for the opportunity to give such high profile to the cause of America's working poor. SSB is truly American innovation and inspiration at its best. As they themselves say, who better than real working men and women to put forward ideas on how to make America a better place for everyone?

Folks, don't miss your opportunity to send the right message on poverty to all those campaigning for the Presidency.

Go to SSB, support FOCUS On Poverty, and help to get some real 'focus' on the 50 million Americans who live below the poverty line.