In Praise of Martha Lavey

I did not know Martha Lavey, who died this afternoon. She was a living legend, a towering figure who made Chicago better, made us more relevant to the world, and contributed to the advance of American art in ways that people who are were close to her will tell over the coming days.

But I have a Martha Lavey story.

I was on the steering committee for On The Table, an initiative of the Chicago Community Trust, a program designed to elevate civic conversation, foster new relationships and inspire action.

I showed up at a meeting at The Trust for the committee— a typical affair, with 30-40 people in a board room talking about stuff.

And there was Martha Lavey. I stopped short. I was flummoxed to see her. There are people like this for all of us— untouchables who represent a level of import that makes us quake or look away or go shy.

So we started the meeting. People ate bagels and poured coffee and talked about stuff.

And Martha Lavey pulls out some nail polish from her purse.

She starts painting her nails. She chimes in on some topics, saying smarter things than everyone else, making us think, all the while casually looking down, painting her nails.

And I’m like, “Martha Lavey you are a fucking boss and I love you so much thank you Martha Lavey”.

I did not tell her that; I said it to myself.

Martha Lavey didn’t need me to tell her I loved her, but right now I raise that up and make it plain to you.

The Use of Simple Digital Tools for Communion

Thoughts in preparation for The Impact of Digital Communication on Civic Engagement at DPLA Fest.

A lot of my career has revolved around data and communications.

The first civic tech tool I ever made, in 1999,  was “KillerOnThe Loose.com”, a dumb notification tool that let you know, via Wireless Application Protocol, if there was a person nearby who has killed one or more people and who may kill others. It was more performance art than anything, focused on the towering insufficiency of technology.

I helped make EveryBlock, an early experiment in neighborhood data, and at Smart Chicago I helped launch many tools, methods, and programs around data and people, including Youth-Led Tech, Connect Chicago, Smart Health Centers, Documenters, and Expunge.io.

What I always want— what’s at the center of my work— is communion. I seek to use data and technology as a bonding agent for people— making a common set of principles, facts, and goals.

It’s not easy, and I have not succeeded.

The election of the current president— and the wide-ranging foreign intelligence operation that helped him win— is a good indication of failure. The tactics centered around  discord, and they were successful.

But if we choose— and I do— we can keep “right on going on /  a sort of human statement“, as Anne Sexton says.

Here’s thoughts:

Libraries are natural places of communion. Let’s do this.

Video of People Lining Up for the 10AM Buses for Chance the Rapper at #MCW2

Today my youngest child and 5 of his friends went to see #MCW2 by Chance the Rapper. By all accounts, it was a magical experience and it may soon be on Netflix. We walked them over to the secret bus location and I took a quick video. The shows seem to be over now, so I think it’s safe to post this video w/o giving anything.

I make a lot of personal documentaries like this. Here’s some more.