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Community Conversation Listserv


Dear friends: Coalition2000 is providing use of one of their listservs to discuss The President's Council's Y2K Community Conversations project. I've included below the instructions for joining the listserv. Also below are three responses to my mailing, to give you a taste of the sort of discussion you might expect on the listserv. I will post further notes people send me on my website at (this page is not yet posted, but will be in a few days). I won't be sending further comments on this to this list, since many of you probably won't want to receive them. -- Tom


Civic Preparedness (, is an unmoderated list intended to be a free ranging discussion about issues involved with civic preparedness. You can join this mail list on the web at or as follows:

Send an e-mail to with "subscribe civicprep your_name" in the subject or the body of the message (without the quotes).


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 spokespeople 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 responsibility. [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 pabulum 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 mongers 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 uninterrupted.

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 Conversations?

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 seriously. Now the federal government 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.