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What About the Official Federal Y2K Community Conversations?


by Tom Atlee


The President's Y2K Council has announced its "Y2K Community Conversations"
program. You'll find the announcement at:
The text is below.

The Community Conversations page is at:
It includes information on, and directions for ordering, a "Tool Kit" for organizing these conversations.  (While the tool kit is biased towards the government's perspective, there is plenty of room for creating the kind of meeting that will serve community groups, IF they take the initiative.  If you want some creative ideas for how to utilize these conversations, see Pros and Cons of the Community Conversations and What to Do With Them, below.)

Y2K organizer Mick Winter casts a jaundiced eye on the FAQ.  He points out the following:

<start of Mick Winter quote>

The main page states:  "People are looking for straight talk about the
Y2K readiness of their own local communities."  Here is what the FAQ
considers to be "straight talk":  The federal government will be fine,
utilities will be fine, banks will be fine, airlines will be fine,
elevators and VCRs will be fine, and three days of food and water are
always a good thing to have around the house.  Guess that takes care of
everything, doesn't it?

I cannot support an effort that presents such a rosy and
out-of-touch-with-reality view. The logical conclusion from the information
in this FAQ is that there is no need to even hold the Community
Conversations.  This program, as it appears, synthesizes everything that
has been harmful to date - particularly the groundless reassurances from
government and corporate spokesmen that everything is fine, and the need
for no more than a 3-day supply of food and water. Notice also:
"Stockpiling and panic buying could create economic difficulties". Not even
"hoarding", just "stockpiling".

The federal government is at least 3-5 months behind the Y2K-aware
communities in this country.  I had hopes for this program.  I have them no

<end of Mick Winter quote>

While I agree with Mick's decrying the rosy picture painted by the Council's FAQ, I think it may be premature to deliver the last rites for all good possibilities for this program at this point.  These federally-sanctioned Community Conversations will soon be a fact of life, one that we can fight, use, work with or ignore.  Our choice of how to interact with them will probably make a difference.  (For example, if a community group doesn't like the Council's FAQ, they might pass it out at the first Conversation along with a note that says:  "This is the official federal government's version of a Y2K FAQ.  Many people hold diverse opinions about it.  We're holding a contest for a Y2K FAQ that is best for our community.  You are invited to send us your suggested revisions and additions."  And then hand out both FAQs at the next conversation....]

I think that any local Y2K group might consider having a special brainstorming session about how they could work to shape these Conversations to best meet their community's needs.  Each community is different, and will be presented with different possibilities.  An alliance of government and utilities in one town could work together -- under the auspices of these Conversations -- to hide utility Y2K problems.  On the other hand, an alliance of community groups and government in another town could put powerful pressure on utilities to give real, useful data about their status.  I know communities where both of these scenarios are possible.

In addition to the frustrating statements such as those cited by Mick above, the council has provided some USEFUL statements.  For example:

The council has said:  "Y2K Community Conversations... give people an opportunity to hear from key service providers on the status of efforts to prepare computers for the date change and the work that remains to be done. The gatherings also enable local citizens to raise concerns they may have about the Y2K problem and work with service providers to identify areas where additional community preparation and planning are needed."

And Council Chair John Koskinen has said:  "Our greatest domestic risks for Year 2000-related failures are at the local level.  From power and phone companies to banks and water utilities, Americans want to know how the important local services upon which they rely may be affected by computers' ability to process the century date change. Y2K Community Conversations can help people better understand the progress that has been made, what the risks are, and what precautions may be appropriate in light of those risks....Our goal is not to cheerlead or create a false sense of security. Our goal is for participants to share factual information about what's been done, what remains to be done, and what additional actions a community should take as a result."

My own suggestion is to take such USABLE statements of the Council and Koskinen and USE THEM FOR ALL THEY ARE WORTH.  Use them to give legitimacy to our efforts.  Use them as a crow bar to pry open reluctant officials (with the help of the press, where necessary and possible).  Use them to wake people up.  Take them at face value and show up at these Conversations with insistent, articulate voices that will not go away (voices that always start from a place of great civility, and proceed with whatever tone is necessary to ensure that the needs of the community are recognized and met).

Isn't it time to take Koskinen at his word?  He didn't HAVE to say the statements above. Let's hold him to these very good sentiments. And then let's see how far we can run with them.  Let's assume (for now) that Koskinen is a frightened ally.  Let's assume that he really WANTS communities to be prepared and just doesn't know how to do it without creating panic -- except like this.  Let's show him what the next steps should be, and do our best to weave the different sectors of our communities into something that just might work.  If WE don't know what the next steps should be, we can try to make the Conversations into a real exploratory dialogue.  In any case, we can be creative, energetic and civic minded.  And then see how he and the Council respond.

There isn't a lot of time. We need every ally, every tool we can get.  We shouldn't stop what we're doing, but let's see what this new development has to offer to our communities, if we give it a chance and insist on it being of real service.  We can participate strongly, without being co-opted.  We can make ourselves visible enough that we can't be sidelined.  "We can build the road as we travel."  And we can always switch our strategies, when and where it makes sense.

Let's share information on what we do with these Community Conversations, or what we think might be done.  I'm not the best clearinghouse for this sort of information, but I'm wondering if or coalition2000 or wild2k or millennium salons or some other site might be willing to create a dialogue space for local organizers to discuss this topic, so all can learn from each other's experiences and ideas.

This is Y2K.  Wasting resources is not an option.  We can't throw apples away just because they have a few marks and bugs on them.  Let's give a bite and see what they taste like first.  If we don't like the apples we've just been given, there's always the compost heap...




PS:  Coalition 2000 is listed as a resource in the Conversations Guide Book.  THAT is another thing we can and should use to keep this process real.

PPS:  As far as we know, the majority of cities, towns and counties in the US do NOT have Y2K groups, and many of the groups that do exist are VERY small (one or two semi-active people).  I feel that in those places even a party-line Conversation is better than nothing.  I may be wrong.



May 24, 1999
For Immediate Release
Contact: Jack Gribben

Council Promotes "Y2K Community Conversations" To Help

Service Providers, Citizens Prepare at the Local Level for the Century Date Change

Stressing the importance of preparing at the local level for the transition to the Year 2000 (Y2K), the President's Council on Year 2000 Conversion today launched a nation-wide campaign to promote "Y2K Community Conversations" about readiness for the century date change.

With a free tool kit and events held throughout the summer, the Council-led campaign will support and encourage the efforts of government officials, business leaders, and interested citizens to meet the Y2K challenge in communities across the country and to share information about their progress. Y2K Community Conversations, which build on discussions already being held in some areas, give people an opportunity to hear from key service providers on the status of efforts to prepare computers for the date change and the work that remains to be done. The gatherings also enable local citizens to raise concerns they may have about the Y2K problem and work with service providers to identify areas where additional community preparation and planning are needed.

"Our greatest domestic risks for Year 2000-related failures are at the local level," said Council Chair John A. Koskinen. From power and phone companies to banks and water utilities, Americans want to know how the important local services upon which they rely may be affected by computers' ability to process the century date change. Y2K Community Conversations can help people better understand the progress that has been made, what the risks are, and what precautions may be appropriate in light of those risks."

The Council is working with the more than 20 major national associations represented on its Senior Advisors Group to encourage local public officials and service providers to lead or participate in Y2K conversations within their own communities. Senior Advisors Group organizations like the American Bankers Association, the American Hospital Association, and the North American Electric Reliability Council have announced their support for the campaign and are asking their members to play an active role in informing citizens about local Y2K readiness. The National Governors' Association, the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the National League of Cities and other members of the Council's State and Local Government Working Group have also announced support for the campaign.

Y2K Community Conversations for the summer have already been scheduled for the following communities: Hartford, Connecticut; Green Bay, Wisconsin; Frankfort, Kentucky; Columbus, Ohio; Salt Lake City, Utah; Austin, Texas; Hot Springs, Arkansas; Hampton Roads area, Virginia; Lincoln, Nebraska; and Des Moines, Iowa. Plans are also underway for conversations in St. Louis, Missouri and Chicago, Illinois.

"In many communities, service providers have been working hard to keep citizens informed of their progress and the work that remains," said Koskinen. "We hope this campaign will support their efforts and encourage others to start talking about the Y2K problem with their customers and constituents, which in some communities will increase the level of effort being devoted to meeting the Y2K challenge."

Koskinen added, "Our goal is not to cheerlead or create a false sense of security. Our goal is for participants to share factual information about what's been done, what remains to be done, and what additional actions a community should take as a result."

To help local leaders organize and promote events focused on local Year 2000 efforts, the Council is making available a free "Y2K Community Conversations" tool kit. The tool kit contains:

o     a guidebook for putting together a meeting from start to finish ­ with suggestions for agendas, selecting formats and participants, promoting the meeting, and follow-up;

o     frequently asked questions about the Y2K problem;

o     a videotape with introductory remarks from President Clinton; and

o     a Y2K Community Conversations poster and other promotional materials.

Copies of the tool kit can be ordered though the Council's free information line 1-888-USA-4-Y2K (1-888-872-4925). Local leaders can also call the information line with questions about how to organize and promote Y2K conversations in their communities. A text version of the guidebook is available on the Council's web site at

The President's Council on Year 2000 Conversion, established on Feb. 4, 1998, by Executive Order 13073, is responsible for coordinating the Federal Government's efforts to address the Year 2000 problem. The Council's more than 30 member agencies are working to promote action on the problem and to offer support to public and private sector organizations within their policy areas. Visit the Council via the Internet at For consumer information on the Year 2000 problem, call the Council's free information line at 1-888-USA-4Y2K.



From Steve Davis of Coalition 2000 <>

The President's Council sent the draft Community Conversations document to
at least four of us from what I could see in the message header. They may
have sent it to more; I'm not sure. They got an earful from us and made
substantial changes as a result. The changes were a dramatic improvement
over the first draft....

I feel that now is the time to make noise - if not, this will languish
until the Fall and we will all be in a huge bind....

_ _ _ _

From Mick Winter <>

I know the argument that "something is better than nothing". Our group
used that justification to actively support the Napa Chamber of Commerce
when it put on its "Napa Valley Y2K Town Hall" at which the usual suspects
(local government, utilities, banks, hospitals, etc.) lined up to reassure
everyone who attended (over 200 - mainly people in their 50s, 60s and 70s)
that everything is okay. There was no discussion of preparation allowed
(although the chief of police snuck in some prep information and our group
had a table where we handed out preparation literature).

Cathryn Wellner and Richard Wright toured community groups in the Northwest
as far south as Santa Cruz. Cathryn made the following excellent point in
her report at

[begin quote]
2. We are inviting the wrong people to our forums.

Community groups from Williams Lake to Santa Cruz are inviting key
from the organizations the public is most concerned about:
telecommunications, power, fuel suppliers, government. When they accept the
invitations, they bring the same message: Everything is Y2KOK. Don't worry.
Don't stock up. We'll take care of you.

The efforts are well intended, but they backfire. They allay fears but do
not lead to community, small business, government, non-profit and personal
action. They put people to sleep instead of encouraging them to take
[end quote]

We knock ourselves out to put on public forums, and in the spirit of
community and open expression, invite all the local "experts" who do not
share our point of view. They then reassure the audience and our message
is lost. As far as I can see from the Community Conversations project, Mr.
Koskinen recognizes he can't reassure everyone in the country personally,
so he hopes to create "mini-Koskinens" to do the job for him.

We no longer have the time for bland reassurances. Without active and
honest support from the federal level, there is no chance our communities
and our country will be prepared. As far as I can see from the Community
Conversations FAQ, which I take to be the basic philosophical foundation
for the project, there is no need to even hold Community Conversations. I
marvel at the logic that says everything will be fine, and then asks
communities to hold public forums to discuss this "fineness".

Unless someone can convince me of a way to use the CC program to our
advantage, I can not and will not support it.

_ _ _ _

From Arthur Young <>

[The President's Y2k Council Y2K Community Conversations proposal]
is, for me, a most curious piece of literature.

What continues to perplex me is the lack of standards around the concept of
"mission critical." What does that term mean? How does not paying attention
to non-mission critical systems affect every organization and most entities
around it? I look at my body, my car, my television, my garden and most
things or systems around me and continue to wonder exactly how much
constitutes "non mission critical." Van Gogh is not my preferred model.

_ _ _

From: "Cathryn Wellner" <>

Mick is right to see the Community Conversation reassurances as the usual
AOK pablum we've been fed all along. From talking with government
spokespeople, who in our experience are just ordinary people with an
extraordinary task, we can understand their reluctance to give a different
message. As we said in our recent report of a visit to Y2K-aware (Mick's
phrase, and a good one) communities: "We came away from the conversation
[with a government communications officer] certain of one commonality among
government spokespeople and community activists. No one really knows what to
do. We have never been here before."

Koskinen and his people are trying to do the best they know how to do under
puzzling and complex circumstances. Unfortunately, their approach (and that
of other government and utility communications people) has so far done
little more than encourage people to avoid preparing and to dismiss those
who advocate community response as fear mongerers or misguided souls. We
heard this frustration in every community we visited.

One government spokesperson recently told Richard that their community road
show has been frustrating and disappointing. The first thing people want to
know is whether or not they'll have electricity and telephones. As soon as
they hear what they've come to hear, they stop listening. Until they hear
what they've come to hear, they're not open to other messages. Double bind,
and the government communicators don't know how to deal with it. As several
of the community activists we spoke to recently phrased it, government is
not set up to form the kind of broad-based coalitions Y2K calls for. For
that we need community organizers, who need the support and encouragement of
government leaders and the cooperation of a broad base of local
organizations. For the most part, they are not getting it.

Y2K-aware people are "looking for straight talk about the Y2K readiness of
their own local communities" (from the CC's main page) but not everyone is.
Most people just want to be reassured that life as they know it will go on

Programs like "60 Minutes" may (too early to judge) do far more to prepare
people to listen than will the usual bland government, corporate (e.g.,
banks) and utilities messages. A publication that in May 1999 still calls
"stockpiling" what used to be prudence (storing for the coming winter or job
loss or unexpected disaster) does a disservice to the people it is intended
to reach. The good messages about organizational and personal responsibility
will be lost. There will be too few ants to take care of the grasshoppers
(Aesop's fable).

Federally-sanctioned Community Conversations are an important idea. We'd
like to see them here in Canada. Tom is right to suggest communities try to
make the best of them. Y2K-aware community groups have been holding
conversations for months, in spite of being undermined by official messages.
Was the CC guide book developed in consultation with community organizers,
who have been working in community and who understand the dynamics? Will
local governments, emergency services, utilities, businesses get involved at
this level or will they leave it to community groups (as they have so far in
most of the communities we visited)? Will they offer their organizational
support, their resources, or will they continue to insist that it is "not
our job" (another common refrain from communities visited)?

Unfortunately, Tom is right to say that the number of communities with
active Y2K groups is small and that many of those "groups" are 1-2 people.
Who will lead the Community Conversations? Will they actually happen? Will
Y2K community leaders be called on to assist other communities? Will the
conversations be led by people who have taken the time to research the
complex ramifications of Y2K? Local councils in the communities we visited
are divided, with those who understand the seriousness of Y2K in the
minority. Which of them will provide local leadership in Community

There are so few months remaining for communities to work together to be
part of the solution. The only certainty is that we are living through a
fascinating time in history and that it will give great material to writers,
storytellers, singers and historians for decades to come.

_ _ _ _ _


From: Hendrik <>

After initial ignorance a period of aggressive PR spin followed that
included the vilification of people who took individual and community
preparedness sriously. Now the federal gvovernment is not only jumping on
the bandwagon but pretends that it invented the bandwagon while trying at
the same time to assert control over the direction it is going. I would
expect an honest government that happens to come late (can happen, they are
human) to ask those who have been doing Y2K prep work for some time how
they have been doing it, what they have learned, what they are doing now,
and what they think needs to be shared with those who need information
and/or assistance. I take a dim view of this new official initiative but
also agree that one can't fight it. Continuing to further education and to
offer alternatives, as you and many have been doing so far, appears to me
the best strategy.

_ _ _ _

From Leon Kappelman <>

Imperfect though it is, the Administration is at least taking action in an effort to raise awareness and activate communities. Aside from hearings and reports, the Congress has taken no constructive action to really help y2k progress or preparedness. Instead, they are busy passing laws that go against the y2k recommendations of the federal courts, the Chemical Safety Board, and others. These laws protect y2k deceptions and those who fail to fix their products and systems, and will thus increase y2k damages. I'll take the pro-preparedness efforts of Koskinen over the pro-irresponsibility efforts of Bennett/Dodd/Kerry/Hyde & Company any day of the week.

Here are three informative, interesting, refreshing perspectives on how to think about John Koskinen and community welfare in the Y2K era. These folks have obviously been around! The idea of assuming most people are not going to prepare, and preparing instructions to help them after-the-fact, seems like an idea whose time has come... (If you are interested in the nuts and bolts of community prep, do sign up for the Coalition2000 listserv, from which these and many other great items have been coming through. Instructions for joining are at the end of this letter.) -- Coheartedly, Tom

_ _ _

My name is Andy van Roon, and I'd like to enter the 'national John Koskinen
conversation' as a board member of the grass roots Y2K group Nashville Prep
2000, founded by Nell Levin with Dan Strimer, and as the producer of a
documentary on Y2K titled, the Y2K Family Survival Guide hosted by Leonard
Nimoy. The process of creating our documentary/home video has provided us
with a comprehensive array of perspectives from around the country,
including key entities in Washington D.C. such as Senator Bennett,
Congressman Steve Horn [creator of the Y2K Report Card for federal agencies
and departments], Lee Holcomb of NASA, and John Koskinen. I agree with
both, essentially opposite, positions supported by Mick Winter and Tom
Atlee, yet may offer an additional perspective to somewhat fuse the two,
since I had occasion to personally interview Mr. Koskinen at the White House.

After dialoguing with Mr. Koskinen both on and off camera, I came away with
the distinct impression that he was executing a mandate thoroughly worked
out by a group at a higher level of authority than his own, that is, that he
is publicly holding the line on a policy that was determined by closed door
sessions with a number of other significant minds at the White House rather
than being the 'Supreme Czarlike' entity that is calling absolutely all USA
shots regarding Y2K. I therefore feel he is often inappropriately targeted,
because in one respect it is more a case of shooting the messenger.

At the risk of re-stating what many have possibly been observing for months,
my personal feeling and logics on why President Clinton and Vice President
Gore have been deliberately silent on the issue are because 1] it is a
situation that is utterly unique in the history of humankind; 2] that no one
knows exactly how to deal with such a world-wide historically unique and
potentially catastrophic phenomenon; 3] that it can only be an educated
gamble regarding whether a large-scale public campaign surrounding Y2K will
do more harm than good; 4] that, because it is a gamble which could go
either way, White House policy is to work as hard as it can behind the
scenes to assess and fix or otherwise mitigate Y2K problems, while 5]
simultaneously avoiding the risk of being blamed for any sort of
panic-driven meltdown - thus the throwing of a warm blanket over the public.
I am not in any way endorsing or condemning the White House approach, just
trying to analyze their reasoning.

My comparative reading of Mr. Koskinen both on and off camera is that,
wearing the hat of Y2K manager, he is in complete charge of all the
behind-the-scenes activity - in a very profound way - while, as public
spokesperson, he's restricted by White House-determined policy to keep the
public in an unalarmed state. Because he seems required by policy to throw
this warm blanket, he has unfortunately been forced to use the 'right
rhetoric' of "driving to the facts" and "being as forthcoming with the
American people as possible," while juxtaposing language that is indeed
deliberately designed to disable mechanisms which might generate public
alarm. This might make him seem disingenuous at times, even though I don't
think that is his intention, yet I think Mr. Koskinen is "willing to take
the public hit," so to speak, in order to carry out the
internally-determined mandate - i.e., he was tapped by the President of the
United States to do a job, and he's going to do what the Commander in Chief
asks him to do. In this sense I think he is simply acting rather as a loyal
soldier of White House policy, whether that policy may turn out to be good
or not so good in the long run.

In total, I believe the White House to be very concerned behind closed
doors, which is why they have Mr. Koskinen working very hard behind the
scenes while straining to hold a calm face on the surface. I do not think
this official approach will change. And unfortunately, I think that if we
were in the White House with countless scenarios and projections before us
as to possible Y2K outcomes, and saddled with the responsibility for
possible public panic and the widespread negative effects that could result,
we might find ourselves deciding to do exactly the same thing, not only
because an aggressive public campaign might prove disastrous, but because
there are so many alternative scenarios that we'd find ourselves
short-circuiting on the possibilities - i.e. we might just plain choke.

The situation facing the White House would not be too dissimilar to being in
a football stadium with 90,000 fans where the stadium management discovers a
series of electrical shorts and consequent fires around the perimeter of the
stadium, any one of which might burn the stadium to the ground and take a
significant part of the crowd with it. The strategic sequence is to try to
stop the source of the electrical problems, then put out some of the fires
while they're still containable, then, if necessary, gradually move out
blocks of the crowd closest to whatever fires may occur. The last thing
management wants to do, or should do, is blare on the loudspeakers to
everyone that there are a number of fires occuring everywhere in the
building that will soon burn the house down. The trampling might kill more
people than whatever fire might break out.

However, having observed all of the above, and in particular, that White
House policy on Y2K as voiced through John Koskinen is not likely to change,
I think it's just getting too damn late to banter endlessly back and forth
about who's not doing what they ought to be doing. It's too late in the Y2K
curve to do anything at this point but organize clear, simple, effective
plans of action to distribute practical information to the American public
about how to prepare for whatever may occur. I think the bottom line is
that we, the people, need to take it to the rest of the people regarding Y2K
awareness and preparation. In Nashville, middle America, we've planned on
doing this via establishing a very simple Y2K Prep Sheet which indicates how
to prepare for Y2K, then have large and small meetings which distribute this
very simple information. This Y2K Prep Sheet is copyable, and can be
re-distributed over and over again. We are planning on a general meeting
which would invite community leaders of all types, who would be presented
with these Y2K prep sheets, which they could in turn copy, then hold their
own meetings to their respective constituencies, and pass out tens or
hundreds of the Y2K prep sheets. This model could easily work around the
country over the next several months.

Let's face it folks, relative to the 40-to-50 year arc of Y2K, we are in the
endgame of this phenomenon, and need to clear the way for nothing but
preparation and contigency planning. Via our documentary, after having
surveyed various Y2K situations and requirements across the country that are
idiosyncratic to different localities, it's become clear, at least to us,
that it's now a waste of whatever time we have left and whatever resources
we have available in the months remaining to expect the U.S. government or
John Koskinen to change their universalized approach; and that we need to
take the information directly to the people all across this country via a
simple strategy to distribute easy-to-understand Y2K prep material that can
be replicated and re-disbursed via individuals, families, and community
groups. This can be achieved by creating the Y2K Prep Sheet - perhaps with
national input and refinement - and distributing it via e-mail to all parts
of the country, where it can be copied and printed out and re-distributed by
individuals and/or community organizers in large cities and small towns
across America over the next seven months. Such a campaign to just
distribute a simple sheet of preparedness information will become a de facto
Y2K awareness campaign. We're doing it in Nashville. It can be done
across America.

Thanks for listening.

Andy van Roon

_ _ _ _

Dear friends,

I am new to this list, but have been involved with Y2K issues for
about 18 months.

Since the first week of May, I've been working on tornado relief
here in Oklahoma City with Catholic Charities. Because of the
scale of the disaster here (45 tornadoes in about 3 hours, over
8,000 houses destroyed or severely damaged, 44 deaths, etc.), the
non-profit sector has been meeting regularly with our government
counterparts (FEMA, state emergency preparedness, etc.) as
"Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters". I believe there
is a national counterpart. Our purpose is to coordinate our
actions so that we don't needlessly duplicate efforts. (E.g.,
the Adventists are running our relief warehouse, the Methodists
are coordinating the volunteers, Catholic Charities is doing case
work, Salvation Army is running mobile kitchens, etc.)

At a typical meeting, you find the Salvation Army, Adventist
Disaster Corps, Red Cross, Catholic Charities, Mennonite
Builders, Church of the Brethren Disaster Day Care, United
Methodist Committee on Relief, Lutheran Social Services, Habitat
for Humanity, Americorps, Goodwill Industries, plus some
foundation reps, FEMA, state emergency preparedness (we meet in
their hq, located in a tunnel between two state office buildings,
complete with blast doors, built back during the 1960s, they tell
me the blast doors actually work). Anyway, everybody is pretty
focused on the disaster at hand, but everybody knows about Y2K.
I get the impression, however, that nobody is quite sure exactly
what to do about it.

Catholic Charities is addressing this in a comprehensive disaster
plan we are preparing (we've had two big ones in four years,
first the federal building bombing, and now these tornadoes).
Here again, however, I can see some struggle with the concepts of
"if this is 'really real', then what's to be done?" I'm glad to
have the URL for the Y2K/Don't Panic teaching materials.

Those in the Y2K preparedness community should remember that
everything doesn't have to be done by us. In fact, I strongly
suspect that even if the president came out tomorrow and said,
"prepare now" most people wouldn't pay much attention. Y2K is
already a question of politics, and that isn't helping the
situation at all. Most people who live in earthquake and
hurricane zones don't make advance preparations, and many people
in Oklahoma City did not have access to a good tornado shelter
(that's why so many people died, there was plenty of warning).

So in considering what's to be done, we should include
contingency plans for informing the rest of civil society about
what should be done when disruptions happen. e.g., unless I find
something better, I'm working on a series of handouts that will
be copied in advance and stored in Catholic churches (or anywhere
else conveniently located to neighborhoods), to be distributed as
failures occur, e.g., a page on water, another on emergency
heating, another on the location of soup kitchens, a third on
emergency sanitation and garbage. Then there would be a handout
for civil society organizations, another for churches, and still
another for neighborhood organizations. "Here's what you can do
about the Y2K problems we are experiencing now."

For generators, I've downloaded pages from the internet on how to
make your own generator from a lawnmower engine and an automobile
alternator. I'm not at all technically inclined myself, but I've
shown these plans to several mechanics and tinkerers and they all
agree it could be done, ("of course, why didn't I think about
that.") Copies go in the box for the parishes.

I guess the point of this long and rambling post is that my
assumption is that most people won't make any preparations before

So, it's kind of like plotting a "revolution." (Monocle ON:)
Virst, ve infiltrate all zee neighborhoods, Zecond, ve make zee
propaganda. Zen, ven ze time iss ripe, there ve are, with ze
instructions. (Monocle OFF).

Call this the "vanguard theory" as it relates to "creating a
resilient community very fast." I agree with the idea of
making simple preparation material widely available, but while it
may have some preparedness effects, I'd still say the safest
assumption is that most people won't notice anything until their
power is off.

Remember: even if the power is off, you can still create and
distribute a flyer using the old-fashioned hectographic spirit
duplicator (a tray of gelatin, a carbon paper stencil, some ink,
and paper). Oh, a manual typewriter would help (the ribbon
doesn't have to work).

Robert Waldrop
"Robert Waldrop" <> (Access to Catholic Social Justice
Teachings) (Y2K and Civil Society)
Story about Y2K in Kansas City

From: Halim Dunsky <>
What is lacking, it seems to me,
>is a strategy for distributing the prep info to vastly larger
>of people, and bringing people to act on it.


The last time I checked the statistic (which was about 4 years
ago), the US is divided into 186,000 election precincts, each one
with anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand registered
voters. In Utah, where I was living at the time, we eventually
determined that it took on average about 8 hours of work to put a
flyer on every door in a typical precinct (we had 800 to 1000
households in each precinct).

So if you wanted to blanket a particular area in this way, you
could check (e.g.) US census statistics for the area for "number
of households."

Another resource in this would be the political party
organizations in each of these precincts. Some precincts will
have only one party, others may even have more than 2 (although
minor parties usually don't organize at the precinct level).

Thus, outreach directed at the political party organization in
each district might pay off in terms of putting stuff on people's

But as they used to say in political campaign school, every
campaign needs a great flyer, but it ain't real until it's on the
TV. Some PSA's advocating responsible preparation might get air
time on television and radio.

Robert Waldrop
"Robert Waldrop" <>

_ _ _ _

I took a gamble last week and decided not to fight against the local public
official's lack of interest in y2k - instead, I proposed that we put in
place a tentative contigency plan for early next year. If this thing goes
down badly, folks are going to be scrambling in a serious way, so...why not
have that plan ready? Like a tool to pull off the shelf just when we need
it the most. We're fortunate to have local facilitators who are
experienced in Future Search and have volunteered to facilitate a 3-day
event for all stakeholders to come together and develop common values for
moving through/solving whatever problems y2k may bring. We've just started
thinking/planning about how to implement this, but it appears to be on track.

In the course of having the discussion, the official decided that it would
be perceived as irresponsible to wait that long, and we're currently making
plans for this event in the fall....but I'm still wondering about moving my
own thinking about a deadline for when meaningful action can occur beyond
the first of the year into the critical weeks & months preceding. If folks
won't 'buy into' preparedness now, perhaps we can still, overtly and
deliberately, create a structure that will be ready and available if/when
its needed.

Since we already concede that not everything is going to be fixed, and not
everyone is going to be ready, and we're already in the endgame - why not
look beyond it?

steph kent
Stephanie Jo Kent <>

_ _ _ _



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Pros and Cons of the Community Conversations and What to Do With Them

From Tom Atlee - written 2 weeks after the President's Council on Y2K announced the program of Y2K Community Conversations to be held all over the United States. 

The President's Council has provided free guidelines, an official FAQ (Q&A sheet), a videotape of the President, and various other items to use in these conversations.  A number of grassroots Y2K community prep organizers have been incensed by the "happy-face" bias of these materials and didn't want anything to do with this official program.  I suggested (above) that the program was flexible enough to help us initiate the kinds of Y2K conversations we felt were necessary, but that we'd have to get creative about it.  At the time, I didn't provide much idea of what I meant.

But I did begin thinking about conversational designs that might better serve our purposes.  One particular design I worked out in some detail, but it ended up quite complex and I feared it might not even work.  A big part of the problem is that I don't have a tenth the experience with community groups, governments and businesses that many of you have.  I decided it didn't make sense (at least at this stage) for me to design particular community conversation processes.  Rather, I've decided to share with you what I was trying to do and why -- and with what sorts of process -- and invite you to do your own tinkering, should you be so inspired.

So in this memo I will first analyze the community conversation (CC) guidelines provided by The President's Council on Y2K (I'll call it PC, for short), to clarify the opportunities and problems involved.  Then I'll offer some guidelines of my own, which may help minimize the problems and maximize the opportunities.


Among the positive elements and opportunities presented by their proposals are these:

a) The meetings are open to the general public (it's easy to forget that they didn't have to be that way).
b) They include us ("community groups focused on Y2K civic preparedness") as possible participants.
c) They include others who COULD deepen the discussion - advocacy groups, religious leaders, professors, journalists, the disabled, students.
d) They explicitly include audience participation and questions ("addressing any specific concerns that our audience members may have").
e) They encourage follow-up meetings and organizing, or ongoing discussions to cover a range of Y2K topics.
f) They do occasionally use language like "potential Y2K-related failures," "potential service disruptions," "community preparedness," "contingency planning" and "ensuring that vulnerable members of the community receive the support they need."
g) They do recommend asking a few hard questions, like "Do you have a process for independently verifying your test results?" (Wouldn't we just love to ask the federal government that...)
h) They do occasionally speak of citizens, neighbors or people in ways that COULD be taken as permission for significant citizen initiatives.
i) They see CCs as "part of a continuing local dialog on Year 2000 readiness" -- which means that the CC doesn't necessarily co-opt all the other things we are doing or might do.
j) They allow flexibility in using PC program suggestions and official materials (videotape, logo, letterhead, etc.) and don't require prior OK before using them.


Among the limitations of the PC CC proposal, from our point of view, are:

a) They start from a stance of acclaiming "our local Y2K heroes" (organizations making progress on remediation) and "reassuring the public".  While this may help get high officials to show up, it sets a smiley-face tone unfriendly to difficult questions and issues.
b) They categorically exclude discussions of the readiness of national (especially federal government) systems -- systems which could have a profound effect on local well-being if they failed.
c) They implicitly ignore the global situation and the problem of interconnectedness (except among local systems), which could also have profound local effects.
d) They reinforce the paradigm of institutions delivering services to "the public" or "consumers, customers and constituents" and of officials and leaders presenting to and responsing to "the audience."  The proposed CCs don't start from a deep desire for citizen initiative and empowerment (although they do want to help you "give your neighbors the information they need to make informed decisions about how to approach the date change").
e) Therefore they say "Your primary 'messengers' will be senior executives or Y2K program managers of critical service providers or other organizations upon which the community relies" and that the CC will involve these "messengers" describing their Y2K programs and the audience responding to THAT.  This intense centering of the agenda on provider-reports constrains the raising of other issues and the creation of other needed initiatives.
f) They promote keeping tight control of the conversation ("work hard to stick to the agenda"; "there's always a chance that some members of the audience might get a bit carried away"; "limit each question and response to three minutes"; audience submits questions to central point and moderator "selects as many questions as time permits.")  While all these are potentially legitimate -- since there is always limited time, and "certain individuals" CAN dominate discussion in a way that depower others -- they can EASILY be used to suppress disturbing or complex ideas that are intrinsic to facing Y2K realistically. 

I suspect that most Y2K organizers don't want to participate in programs that could make it too easy for people in power to give the impression that there is nothing to worry about, when in fact there ARE things to worry about.  We fear that unless people face some of the truly fearsome possibilities, they won't act.  At the same time, if the focus is on how bad things are, and there is an atmosphere that makes officials feel unsafe, the chances of involving them and getting needed information from them is virtually nil.  Furthermore, I've noticed that many (not all) Y2K organizers (including often myself) are so inclusive of diverse voices that our meetings can seem unproductive, especially when "certain individuals" (a great phrase used in the CC guide) start grandstanding.

To deal with all these problems, I'd like to offer the following thoughts on what grassroot preparedness groups might do to make these community conversations worthy of the name:

1)  Since "community groups focused on Y2K civic preparedness" are included in the list of folks to invite (opportunity [b], above; p 11 of the CC guidebooklet), they should make sure that they are on any expert panel.

2)  They should encourage the use of forum formats in which (to quote the CC guide booklet) "panelists pose questions to each other."  IF they are on the panel and IF they can pose questions to other panelists, then they can choose a few key questions to ask that will enlarge the dialogue to embrace what needs to be embraced.

3)  The two roles usually assumed by the PC are "leaders" (panelists, moderators and organizers) and "the audience" or "the public."  Grassroots preparedness groups don't HAVE to go along with that model.  They can use a small but rapidly spreading innovation that breaks this dichotomy:  citizen panels that are demographically (and visibly) representative of the larger population, and who are given leadership roles to deal with important issues.  (Many examples of citizen panels are described on my co-intelligence website, but a well-known example is the jury.) A high-quality panel could, for example, be quickly selected from local community groups, churches and temples.  They could collect questions from the audience and pose them to the officials, reducing the chance that important issues would not be raised.  Since there are a lot of details involved here, I will say more about this approach in a later mailing.

4)  CIRCLES establish physical peerness, community and engagement.  AUDIENCE-AND-PRESENTER set-ups establish authority and passivity.  Wherever possible, Y2K activists should try to promote the use of circles.  Of course 400 people conversing in a circle doesn't work very well.  However, panelists can sit in a circle, with the audience sitting around them (you need a theatre-in-the-round or a gymnasium with bleachers to succeed well with this).  The fishbowl process described in an earlier email (and on my site) is like this.  Another approach is to create opportunities for citizens to talk together in small groups of 3-10, in small circles.  As a half-way measure, presenters can address the audience in a semi-circle so the audience can see each other.  At the very least, organizers should be aware of how the physical set-up of chairs, podiums, etc., affects the consciousness of the participants.

5) Have breakout groups, especially ones where each featured official is available for questions from those people who want to go to their breakout session, to deal with the issue that official is in charge of. 

6) Videotape the proceedings.  Edit the video into a summary which can be used in subsequent organizing activities in meetings and living rooms.  (This is in addition to getting coverage before and after in local media and on websites.)

7)  Plan a SERIES of meetings.  Too often we think in terms of "events" rather than ongoing "processes."  The Y2K scene will be changing over the next months, with different issues, different players, new information, etc.  The more we can offer large community events every month or two, the more responsive our community can be to the changing scene.  Since large events need to be planned and publicized ahead of time, now is the time to visualize and design this kind of process.

8)  Create your group's own FAQ (or have a national group like Coalition 2000 do it) which can be offered to CC participants alongside the official federal PC FAQ.  There is no reason why the information table can't offer co-existing federal and Y2K movement materials. 

9)  Hold public meetings -- perhaps a more open community conversation -- before or (probably better yet) after a PC CC, using tools like "open space" or "world cafe" to allow everyone to talk about the aspects of Y2K that are most pressing or relevant to them.  Invite everyone who comes to the PC CC (if you can't announce your meeting as a participant in the PC CC, you can pass out invitations to people as they walk into the PC CC).  Better yet, hold such meetings every 2-4 weeks throughout the Y2K era.  (See "A toolbox of processes for Y2K community work" for further information.)

10)  So what else might be done?  I suspect there's no shortage of creativity available.  Especially with future generations watching us with such intense hopes.


Notes from the first official Community Conversation


What follows are two attendee descriptions of the first President's Council-sponsored Community Conversation in Hartford CT. These reveal a major problem with Q&A formats: You don't necessarily get answers which clarify what the questioner was looking for.

The second attendee reporter below, Bill Dunne, recommends that the questionner "hold onto the microphone" so they can ask follow-up questions. This is better than not getting the question answered, but it can result in (a) battles over the microphone, (b) run-on debates between the questioner and answerer and/or (c) running the meeting way overtime.

It is FAR better, where possible, to have a respected (or undisputably representative) panel of citizens INTERVIEW major local service providers (i.e., infrastructure organizations). If the right people are selected for such a panel (or if they are well moderated), they will ask follow-up questions which, since THEY are trying to understand what's going on, will clarify what's going on for the audience. At best, such interviews will result in clarity about actual conditions. However, they may only reveal that information is truly not available ("we don't know," "I can't tell you any more than I have," "our lawyers have advised us...," etc.). But at least there's clarity.



_ _ _ _ _

Hello all-

Jan Nickerson suggested that I post the observations of Bill Dunne and
myself of the very first Community Conversation held on 6/7 at Trinity
College in Hartford, CT. I had forgotten that many readers of this group
participate by listserv only, and web access may not be universal. If this
seems like an egregious waste of bandwidth, Jan has authorized me to tell
you that you can blame her. ;-)

Lewis <>

Here goes:

Lewis' impessions:

It was educational, but not terribly informative. The most important thing
I learned was a fundamental lesson that I'd forgotten:

The topic of Y2K is incredibly difficult to discuss coherently, regardless
of your point of view.

The more we talk, the fuzzier it gets. The fuzzier it gets, the more
frustrated folks get, and the more frustrated they get the less civil they
get. In an open forum such as CC, informative dialog is even harder.

It struck me last night that JK may be in the same boat Ed Yourdon is: you
can only preach to the choir for so long before the lack of fresh faces in
the front row makes it all seem pointless. These .gov sponsored Community
Conversations will only draw the Y2K aware, IMO. (Particularly if most
attendees hear of it via word-of-mouth or web as was the case here.) But I
think their real purpose is not to inform the public, but to force local
entities into the spotlight so they will act. An important task, but any
actual information dissemination appears to be incidental.

An unfortunate side effect of the difficulty of discussion, is that
anything anyone says about their Y2K status winds up sounding vaguely
disingenuous. Describing problems and repairs whose nature is shades of
grey in terms of black and white is incomplete and unsatisfying to all.
Unfortunately, such a complex subject lacking standardized terms or metrics
is doomed to breed confusion and distrust. People want an answer: "Do I
have to worry about y2K or not?" Try answering that question honestly
without beginning with a prevaricatory "Well,....". It's bloody hard to

A homegrown small-scale version of a CC, done locally with neighbors
inviting neighbors, may be a useful vehicle. Hosted one myself a few weeks
ago and it was a surprisingly positive experience. The moderator controls
the spin, after all, and if you, after researching your area's situation,
feel that a more "gloomer" spin is appropriate, construct the meeting that
way. But it's a serious responsibility and you'd better do your homework.

Another obvious lesson I'd forgotten came home to me last night: Y2K really
will have a wide range of impacts across the US and the world. Not all
black or all white but a nasty patchwork of brushfires to contain.
Hopefully contain. If the worst does come it will not come as a comet
striking, but as individual fires that must be prevented or controlled
before they can spread and merge into one horror.

So the details. (Note: while I recorded nearly all of the session, I have
not yet had a chance to listen to it.

John Koskinen presided, and Sen. Dodd addressed the group via telephone. He
was in Washington and had chosen to be present at the White House summit on
Mental Health instead of in CT. Many cameras were present, but a post event
discussion with one of the media people told me that it probably would not
be broadcast as a one hour show, (unless perhaps on public access cable),
but was likely to be used for brief 1-2 minute PSA's. In other words, the
tough questions will probably never see the light of day.

The "chorus" consisted of 40-odd representatives of state and local
government, bankers, civic leaders, major employers, and I think private
citizens who asked or responded to questions occasionally. I'm not sure if
seating was significant, but the heads of CT largest banks sat to his right
and immediately behind. CT's IT Chief sat to his right.

(Digression: CT is in the midst of a controversial privatization all of
it's computer operation using Texas-based EDS. The quote for this
cost-saving measure just jumped yesterday from $1B to $1.5B; mostly because
apparently CT has no accurate inventory of how many computer systems it
owns. Certainly gives one the warm fuzzes for their Y2K efforts doesn't it?
This idea is nearly as knuckleheaded as moving the Gas company headquarters
and the steam plant serving downtown Hartford in the midst of their y2K
work just to build a stadium for the Patriots. /digression)

Mr. Koskinen gave a lengthy introduction which left me with a positive
impression of him. He seems very calm but not over confident. IMO, I think
we're lucky to have him in that job. Is he trying to manage the information
flow? Of course he is. If that surprise or offends you, I suggest you offer
to take over for him. Forget Koskinen. That job is to be a lightning rod
and anyone in it will be damned whatever they do.

The questions from the audience were mostly intelligent, receiving
occasionally coherent answers. (Cf. my first point above.) It was clear to
me that many, especially from the city and state governments, did not
instill confidence in the citizenry. I think due to an evil mixture of poor
public speaking skills, instinctive beauracratic speech patterns,
cluelessness about the issue and prevaricating about the problems.

The very first exchange was so pat and such good sound-bite material that I
am guilty of conspiratorial thoughts and suspect it was jiggered:

Young lady (student?): "Will I be able to take money out of the bank?"

Head of Fleet bank on JK's right: "Do you have any money IN the Bank?"

Laughter filled the room, tension was released and the reassuring words
flowed. He did say that banks had a statutory requirement to be Y2K
compliant by June 30. I hadn't heard that before. That date was apparently
the bandwagon to be on, ridden by Aetna Insurance, Northeast Utilities,
state agencies and sundry others.

More details later, but it was clear that Mr. Koskinen avoided responding
to questions directly, making no effort to take the microphone awaiting
anyone else. This produced a few awkward pauses. Three self avowed computer
geeks in the audience (including this correspondent) brought up the most
ominous issues. (How insanely complex Y2K is, What is the truth behind
self reported compliance information, How no-one will have any idea what
the effects will be until The Day...) but they were deflected to other
members of the chorus, resulting in some peculiar non-answer answers.

Mr. Koskinen remained afterward for perhaps 20 minutes to talk with
audience members and seemed candid and accessible. Media coverage on the
11:00 news amounted to an unintelligible 1-minute jumble.

Or maybe I was just tired.

Bill Dunne's observations:

Hi Lewis, it was nice to finally meet you. Here's my jumbled notes and
observations on last night's event:

Format: John Koskinen and approx. 40 reps. from area business, industry,
gov't, utilities, and the General of the Conn. Nat'l Guard sat on the
panel, facing about 250 audience members. Phil Donahue- like moderator
walked among the audience with a cordless mic. Audience members would ask a
question, and a member or two of the panel would volunteer to answer.
Questions were not pre-screened.

Major problem: by the time the question was answered (or deflected and not
really answered), the moderator had moved on to another part of the room
where another person would ask a totally unrelated question. There was no
opportunity for multiple questions, follow-up, refutation, argument, etc.

For example, when I finally got the chance to ask a question, I said, "In
March the Senate Y2K committee issued a report which stated, 'The
fundamental questions or risk and personal preparedness cannot be answered
at this time.' But on the very day that report came out, Sen. Dodd and
other officials began proclaiming, 'Prepare for Y2K as you would for a
3-day snow storm.' My question is: if the fundamental question of personal
preparedness could not be answered at that time, how did Sen. Dodd and
others arrive at their 3-day recommendation?"

After a pause, the representative from the Red Cross volunteered to answer,
and said something along the lines of, "Well, maybe he came up with that
recommendation from some of our literature where we suggest that all
families have a few days worth of emergency supplies on hand."

And that was it. Before I could say anything like, "But Y2K is different.
It's not a localized weather event," "We have no experience with this,"
"Shouldn't we err on the side of caution?" etc., someone else on the other
side of the room was asking another question.

Other notes:

Koskinen said he probably won't be attending all the other town meetings
scheduled throughout the summer.

An organizer told me beforehand they hoped to keep the meeting to one hour
in length. It actually went about 1 hr. 40 mins. before the moderator
wrapped it up. The audience seemed willing to go on for a few more hours
if they had allowed it.

Koskinen said the federal gov't is 93% done and the greatest risks are at
the local level. (Weren't they 92% done on Mar. 31? One- percent progress
in over 2 months? Unfortunately, no one challenged him on this.)

Koskinen said (on a radio interview earlier in the day) that HCFA is
completely finished, and the GAO will be issuing a report next week saying
so. (De Parle must be a miracle worker.) He did admit there's still work
to be done with Medicare's private contractors.

Reps from Aetna Insurance, Fleet Bank, and Northeast Utilities (power co.)
each said they would definitely be done-100% compliant, tested, and in
production-by June 30. Atena rep noted this meant 100% internal
compliance. She admitted they're very dependent on a complex, multi-layered
chain of suppliers, vendors, and service providers.

During all the Q and A with the banking reps-and all the assurances about,
"Everything will be fine," "You'll be able to get your money," "the Fed is
printing up an extra $50 billion in currency"-the phrase "fractional
reserve lending" was never mentioned.

Rep from Yale New Haven Hosp. said they tested thousands and thousands of
medical devices and not a single one would have malfunctioned on 1-1-00.
Some would have printed the wrong date on a report, but he claimed not a
single one would have ceased to perform its critical function, and he sees
no reason why anyone would want to postpone surgery.

Sen. Dodd spoke via phone from Washington at the very beginning, and went
through his usual "this is serious, but we're on top of it - blah, blah -
prepare like it's a 3-day hurricane" (he must've changed the type of storm
because it was 98-degrees yesterday). He concluded by making it very clear
that it's wise to prepare but we should avoid "hoarding" and "extreme

Koskinen used the expression, "...respond appropriately" numerous times, as
in, It's important that people respond appropriately to this issue. He
never defined exactly what that means.

Many people who wanted to ask a question did not get the chance, and of
those who did, no one had the opportunity to ask a second question. (Mine
would've been: "Why is it when business and gov't stock up on critical
materials it's called 'prudent,' but when individuals and families stock up
it's called 'panic'?")

Summary: Unfortunately, it's the Kosky Katch-22. He walks that tightrope
between raising awareness and getting as many systems repaired as
possible, while making sure he doesn't wake the sleeping giant-the general
public who would throw our economic production/supply system for a loop if
they suddenly took this stuff seriously and began stocking up. (See GN at for a good discussion of

Wishful thinking and optimism were the main attitudes for the evening. The
hard questions were either not asked or danced around. (Like the concerned
inner-city woman who asked about civil unrest. "Civil unrest? Why, we've
had many, many meetings and that topic has never even come up. Don't
worry," was the General's general reply.)

Suggestions: 1. At future meetings, if the format is the same, DON'T GIVE
follow-ups to your original question and don't let them off the hook as
easily as happened last night.

2. Do what Koskinen says: badger your local officials to hold similar open
meetings, but don't for a minute relax your own personal prep steps.

Your humble scribe, BD

-- Bill Dunn (, June 08, 1999.