The political climate can support or undermine efforts to use the Year 2000 problem (Y2K) to make a better world. Here are things you can do help make it right.

The Co-Intelligence Institute/Y2K // Y2K home // CII home

Y2K Political Action Project

Two Y2K Political Initiatives you can participate in:

Y2K Questions for Politicans and Government Officials (revised March 1999)
Y2K Public Participation Proposal

May The Truth Be With You -- Selective Disclosures And Missed Opportunities May Have Fostered Unrealistic Expectations About Solving Year 2000 Problems
by Leon A. Kappelman

The C-SPAN videotape of Senator Bennett's speech of July 15, 1998 is an
outstanding speech by an elected public official on the topic of the
Year 2000 Crisis. Order by calling 1-800 277 2698

"We have not begun to scratch the surface on creative public policy responses to this issue."
Harris N. Miller, President of Information Technology Association of America

Check out Model cover letters to send to government officials by Roleigh Martin
and An Open Letter to State Legislators (and other politicians) by Victor Porlier
Also see the Y2K Environmental/Sustainability materials page on this site.
WHAT YOU CAN DO: Action Summary

Tell your representatives and politicians that you want government
(a) to ensure that vital infrastructure will function in the Year 2000 and
(b) to help communities prepare to effectively take care of themselves where infrastructure breaks down.

Government policies and programs on Y2K -- national, state and local -- will have a gigantic effect on how the Y2K crisis unfolds. Grassroots actions can be helped, hindered, or made irrelevant by government actions. The lives and deaths of millions of people may be determined by what governments do or don't do -- especially if our infrastructure fails in the middle of winter, January 2000. Furthermore, strong-handed militaristic or fascistic responses by governments could seriously undermine our efforts to turn this crisis towards positive change.

It is therefore extremely important who gets elected in November 1998, and what the political climate is during 1999. We want government action that is positive, timely and effective. But where do we start?

I believe the most important immediate step is getting politicians to speak up for the Y2K-readiness of basic infrastructure needed to support populations (water, basic food, waste treatment, basic health care, etc.). We need to inject this idea into the emerging political dialogue and to elect politicians who advocate this approach. And we need to do this now. The elections are only months away. The earlier we speak up, the more effective our voices will be.

TechWeek 6/15 (p. 6) says

"Virtually every Washington pol
-- Republican or Democrat, player or potential candidate --
is scrambling for a Y2K position."

Now is the time to tell them which way to scramble. As they look around for a hot position, they'll see us calling them to position themselves on the side of community.

Write or call them now. Contact at least one congressperson or candidate. You can find the email addresses and URLs for every electronically-accessible Senator and Congressperson at Regular addresses and phone numbers can be found at (which also gives hints on writing letters).

The General Project: Everyone can do this, this fall!

What exactly might you tell your respresentatives and candidates?

This is probably the most important action we can do right now -- communicating this message strongly to our representatives and politicians in search of our votes. We can't depend on government-- but whatever it does do, needs to support the positive efforts of communities. Remember: The Congress and state and local officials that are elected this November will be governing us through January 2000.

You can expand your impact by alerting friends in other states to this political reality. Expain the role that politicians will have in their lives and in the future of our society. Encourage them to write and talk to their politicians and neighbors. And you, yourself, might even decide to write to more than one public official or candidate: after all, once you've written one letter, you'll know what to say in your next letter, so don't stop. (There is a form letter about some of this you can check out at Rev. Dacia Reid's letter to Al Gore is also interesting. If you want to learn more about the role government should play in dealing with the crisis, read the articles by Harlan Smith, Steve Davis and Leon Kappleman, et al.)

This may be one of the few times when our voices suddenly have real power, more power than we ever thought they'd have.

The Specific Project: Reaching The Senate Special Committee on the Year 2000 Technology Problem

This Special Committee is the main official national forum for exploring Y2K. As of mid-August, they have yet to explicitly address the needs of community. This isn't surprising. Their "jursidiction" from the Senate is "to study the impact of the year 2000 technology problem on the Executive and Judicial Branches of the Federal Government, State governments, and private sector operations in the United States and abroad." Notice that it doesn't say anything about communities, cities, or counties. (For some reason it doesn't say anything about Legislative branches, either!)

We can get the Special Committee to address community government issues by asking them to investigate whether State governments are dealing well or poorly with the Y2K preparations of the county, city and town governments and state and regional utility districts in their jurisdiction?

And we can get them to address grassroots community and non-profit preparations under the category "private sector operations." Although "private sector" is often code for business, it actually includes all non-governmental entities, including individuals, groups, corporations of all kinds, and non-governmental agencies.

We want the Senate Special Committee to focus their spotlight on the impact of Y2K on communities

We want the Special Committee to clarify how these can be prepared and protected. They should get at least as much attention as big government and big business. Of course, some activities of big government and big business are important to the health of communities (welfare, medicines, toxics control, etc.). And so we're very interested in those activities, as well. But we don't want so much time spent on all the others (like the international money markets and fighter jets). After all, people actually live in local communities. That's where they'll feel the impact of Y2K most vividly.

So who do we need to reach on this? Here's who's on the committee:

Robert F. Bennett, Utah
Jon Kyl, Arizona
Gordon Smith, Oregon
Susan Collins, Maine
Ted Stevens, Alaska -- Ex Officio

Christopher J. Dodd, Connecticut
Daniel Patrick Moynihan, New York
Jeff Bingaman, New Mexico
Robert C. Byrd, West Virginia -- Ex Officio

Here's what to do

Ultimately, you want to get through to Bennett or Dodd, the chair and vice-chair of the Special Committee. They decide what gets dealt with by the committee, and who gets to testify. Tell your Senators to speak to Bennett and Dodd for you -- especially if you have a Senator on the committee. Contact Bennett and Dodd, yourself. Get your friends who live in the states represented on the Special Committee -- AZ, AK, CT, ME, NM, NY, OR, UT, WV -- to write to their Senators who sit on that committee. If you are connected to any community-oriented nonprofit, church, professional organization, etc., get them to contact the Bennett and Dodd. National organizations, especially, have clout with Senators in defining what is a community issue. Doing any of these would be great. Doing a number of them would be extremely powerful.

Y2K is a complex issue, and the people at Senatorial offices are busy (if not crazed). The message we want to communicate has three simple parts. We need to focus their attention and ours on that message. So tell them:

  1. Y2K is an important issue for communities, not just for businesses and governments.
  2. Communities need the government to make sure vital infrastructure is prepared for the Year 2000.
  3. Senator Bennett needs to invite the testimony of a leading infrastructure expert, such as Harlan Smith. Smith can be reached at

(There are many experts we could recommend, but we need to focus on one and Harlan is an especially good point person to initiate this effort. He can authoritatively explain what needs to be done with essential infrastructure. A retired electronics engineer with some 36 years experience of working on complex radar systems in the military, General Electric and Texas Instruments, Harlan has written several articles on the year 2000 problem including an introduction to the embedded systems problem and a plan for achieving global Y2K readiness called "Synergistic Mitigation and Contingency Preparation" which describes getting an "Austere Infrastructure" Y2K-ready. You can find out more at the following web sites: (for printout of infrastructure article) (for citizen-action project)

The easiest thing to do is send an email or letter to the Senator you're contacting, telling them the three points. More effective is to send a telegram. More effective yet (by far) is to have a personal conversation with their local office or call their DC office and ask "Who has issue responsibility for Y2K?" In the case of Special Committee members, ask "Who is involved in handling the Year 2000 hearings for Senator X, or scheduling testimony for the Special Committee on Y2K?" You can also talk to the Senator's Legislative Director (LD) and ask him or her how to best propose an expert to testify on the Special Committee on Y2K. Find someone you can communicate the three points to; then do it. If you let us know (, we can track how this is progressing and focus our efforts better.

Reasons to think that Bennett and Dodd may be receptive

At the first hearings of the Special Committee on June 12, Senator Dodd said: "I am very, very concerned that even as government and business leaders are finally acknowledging the seriousness of this problem, they are not thinking about the contingency plans that need to be put into place to minimize the harm from widespread failures.... I think we're no longer at the point of asking whether or not there will be any power disruptions, but we are now forced to ask how severe the disruptions are going to be.... Contingency planning has to start today - not just for the worst-case disaster scenarios but for all the medium-sized disruptions that are more likely to occur.... If the critical industries and government agencies don't start to pick up the pace of dealing with this problem right now, Congress and the Clinton Administration are going to have to make some very tough decisions to deal with a true national emergency."

In a speech June 2 to The Center for Strategic and International Studies, Senator Bennett named seven Y2K priorities. "The number one priority is to see to it that all of the utilities work, with power and water being available." If these shut down, he said, "you can imagine the social consequences that will occur in our major cities." The second priority is telecommunications, especially phone service. The third priority is transportation, especially railroads and oil supertankers. The fourth is financial services, especially banking. Then come government services -- especially health care, welfare, police, fire and defense. Priority six is general business activity and seven is litigation. Bennett went on to say:

"When people say to me, 'Is the world going to come to an end?' I say, 'I don't know.' I don't know whether this will be a bump in the road -- that's the most optimistic assessment of what we've got, a fairly serious bump in the road -- or whether this will, in fact, trigger a major worldwide recession with absolutely devastating economic consequences in some parts of the world.... But we must not be Chicken Little and tell them that the sky is falling, and, therefore, they need do nothing but plow up their backyard to put in a propane tank, a bomb shelter, and a large supply of dried food that they will live in until the world finally comes back in three or four years. Because that kind of attitude in the next 18 months will, indeed, turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy that will produce the disaster that we want to do whatever we can to try to avoid.... We must start thinking across the individual lines of our own organization, indeed across the individual lines of our own country's borders, think in these macro terms of these whole systems that must be preserved.... We must coldly, calculatingly divide up the next 18 months to determine what we can do, what we can't do, do what we can, and then provide for contingency plans for that which we cannot"

These two perceptive public officials already know that government agencies and businesses can be either a part of the problem or a part of the solution. They just need to be reminded that the same is true of communities -- and that communities may be the best allies they have in avoiding disaster. They just need to mobilize and empower them and make sure their basic needs are taken care of.

The Big Picture

Mapping out a creative political perspective for Y2K now

The current public discourse on Y2K is focused on three things:

1) the impact on business (and economic fortunes)
2) the impact on governance (and political fortunes)
3) the impact on individuals (and their pursuit of
individual survival)

We aim to add a fourth focus to the list, which we believe is the most important one of them all:

4) the impact on communities, on populations where
they live.

We observe that public officials and others involved with communities evolve through a number of stages regarding Y2K:

1) Ignorance: "What's Y2K?"
2) False security: "This is a technical problem being handled by
the government's technical people."
3) Government coping: "We won't get all our government systems
compliant, so we need to do triage and focus on mission-critical
4) Waking up to the big picture: "Other organizations (businesses,
governments, nonprofits, countries) are not going to be compliant,
and this will impact our community/agency."
5) Waking up to the needs of the community: "We need to make sure
that actions are taken to prepare our community to survive."
(At which point people start advocating one or more of these.)

a) action by higher levels of government
b) action by their own level of government
c) action by the community, itself

6) Identifying specific programmatic approaches to support the survival of all communities: (People advocate one or more of these.) (Leading advocates are listed after each option. Major references are linked where first mentioned.)

a) austere infrastructure mitigation [getting vital infrastructure
Y2K-compliant] (Smith, Carmichael, Beal, Victor, Kappelman, et al)
b) contingency preparation (all proposals)
c) community resilence development (includes sustainable
technologies and the revitalization of citizenship) (Atlee,
Theobald, Beal, Carmichael, O'Reilly, Victor, Wells)
d) legal modifications to encourage Y2K information-sharing
(Kappelman, et al)
e) bipartisan effort to cease the blame game (Kappelman, Atlee)
f) conscious use of media to educate and orient populations to
pro-social responses (Atlee, Carmichael, Wells, Victor)
g) mass simulations to "practice" for Y2K-crisis (Carmichael, Victor)

Most officials are currently at either stage (1) or stage (2). We want to move them as rapidly as possible to stage 6, and to move public dialogue and political discourse into "which aspects of 5 and 6 should we focus on, and how should we accomplish that?" Bennett, Gore and Clinton have all now spoken up for 6 d and e. Bennett has talked a bit about 6 a and b. But none of them have started talking about community action.

Note that 6a-6c involve systems and resources that are vital for community survival. This is, oddly enough, a grey area.

What systems and resources are considered vital is not only a technical question, but a controversial political one. We believe that certain systems are basic enough that consensus will be found to address them IMMEDIATELY while the other systems are being researched and debated. These first-priority systems include:

a) water (primarily potable)
b) sewage
c) basic food (in terms of calories and minimal nutrition)
[see Eight Steps to U.S. Y2K Food Security by Carla Emery]
d) heat (in areas where it is dangerously cold in winter)
e) public health (epidemic prevention + some basic individual health care,
esp. vital medications)
f) security (basic community and national)
g) toxics/nuclear control
h) basic inter-community communications

It is noted that 6a, 6b, and 6c (infrastructure mitigation, contingency preparedness, and community resilience development) all imply different and potentially complementary approaches to meeting each of these needs. Take water, for example: Austere infrastructure mitigation may involve ensuring the Y2K compliance of certain water utilities. Contingency preparation may involve families and communities stockpiling fresh water. Community resilience may involve building the capacity of neighborhoods to catch drinkable rain runoff. A different mix of these may be appropriate in different communities.

The next level of things to attend to, about which there is less agreement and therefore require more political discourse to establish priorities, includes:

i) corporate survival and welfare
j) welfare of the poor and otherwise vulnerable
k) functioning financial systems
l) maintenance of global commerce
m) welfare of other countries
n) transportation
o) full energy availability
p) full telecommunications and mass media services

Again, there are diverse approaches to these, supported by diverse interest groups. In things like finance, welfare, transportation, energy and telecommunications, a mixed approach (of, for example, rationed provision plus community self-reliance) may be better than a one-solution-fits-all approach.

Overall, we see three basic approaches to dealing with the Y2K crisis:

1) Trying to sustain a holding pattern (emergency management) and
getting back to business-as-usual as soon as possible.
2) Using whatever force is necessary to push solutions and public order
(call out the National Guard!).
3) Supporting participatory local responses which will leave
communities more resilient and self-reliant after the dust settles.

We expect that different mixes of these will work best in different areas, and will be advocated by different interest groups. Most community-oriented groups, experts and activists favor (1) and/or (3) as their central strategy. We advocate the utmost restraint and care in applying force (2) to deal with this problem.

For other notes and correspondence on this subject, click here.

Check out Model cover letters to send to government officials by Roleigh Martin and An Open Letter to State Legislators (and other politicians) by Victor Porlier