“A Technologist, Like Benjamin Franklin”
Before I left for Continental Congress, so much had already happened. In trying to recall that and give a reasonably brief account of that time, I remember a question that Mr. Kostic had asked quite a few days into the event on one of those late, late nights. He actually addressed it to Jeremy Doucet of Rhode Island by saying something to the effect of “you’re not one of those ‘everything happens for a reason’ people, are you?” Jeremy shifted his feet around in the hotel hallway outside of my room. I waited to give Mr. Doucet a few seconds to answer and it became clear that he had trouble floating a reply. Into the silence of that moment, my mind began to pour. Too much had happened, so much had yet to happen, and signs were clear from the moment I first contacted our state coordinator about CC2009 that I could not have been anywhere else for those twelve days. My head cocked to the side and I checked Jeremy for the response that was his if he would take it. I looked back at Mr. Kostic and I said in the trance-like voice I had known from so long ago as one who found rising to such challenges a way to expose a part of myself I couldn’t help but like, “I am.”
In Ohio, we were blessed with a dedicated and utterly likeable state coordinator. When I first was told about CC2009, I had seen her name on the state page and noticed that her listed address was in the city where I lived. I first offered help and then I came to realize just how busy she, like many others I am sure, had to have been back when the leaves first started to change colors and fall from the trees. I noticed a few days after that initial exchange of hurried emails that one could, in fact, nominate themselves. I had some reservations about that idea but the first candidate forum was a quick fifteen minute drive from my house. If nothing else, I thought, it would certainly be a learning experience. My life had been hectic for the last few years, having gone through a lengthy and bitter divorce. My activism was scant having attended a few rallies, my contacts were few although I boasted a solid politically-oriented presence on a few social networking sites, and my particular study of the Constitution was good among the general public but would be a bit less so in the crowd I wanted to be a part of. I wrote my “stump speech” about an hour before I gave it. Being one of those “everything happens for a reason” people, I should have known it would have more to do with my experience in St. Charles than I could have possibly imagined at the time.
My primary sell was two-fold; I had a good understanding of legal language and had written a few “bills” based on transitioning from large federal programs to state administration and I did so using primarily input from those I disagreed with. Our forum just happened to coincide with the G20 protests in Pittsburgh so I told a crowd of mostly self-identified tea-partiers and “912ers” that we needed to reach out to the people in Pittsburgh because we were, in essence, protesting the same thing in different ways. I believe cooperation in methods and information would be helpful to those who approach liberty from any end of the political spectrum. The other thing I emphasized was that I had project management experience and had turned around a computing help desk with an abysmal record by focusing on the empowerment of base-level employees and engaging customers. Additionally, I said, I brought the perspective of a technologist, like Benjamin Franklin, as many of our founders brought unique abilities and ideas to the first Continental Congress and those meetings that came after. If you talked to me for any length of time in St. Charles, I probably told you that story and said something like “I should have known that God would make me live up to a promise like that.”
A few conference calls and meetings later, I was Ohio’s second delegate largely on the strength of mail-in ballots which came from people I had never met face-to-face. I thank my friends on the internet in its various incarnations for entrusting me with that purpose and I hope I was able to deliver. On the morning of Wednesday, November the 11th, I packed my bags along with two laptop computers, my desktop computer, and two extra monitors tightly into my convertible and drove the six hours to St. Charles.
“I came here to complain about taxes.”
I didn’t utter those words until the Saturday before we left but it’s certainly the best way to describe why I came to the Continental Congress. The other goal I had was to take full advantage of the scant time on the original agenda for what were described as “civic actions.” I arrived and quickly found Jim Davis, the lead delegate from Ohio. We talked about Ohio’s third delegate, Trisha Connell, who was en route and running a bit behind. While I was standing in line to register, we complained that the original 2PM deadline to be ready for the opening session was coming too quickly and it was moved to 3. I was in my suit and ready although I never managed to fully unpack and that stayed true for all twelve days. In truth, had Trisha arrived when we expected her to, I wouldn’t have pushed so hard for the first motion that passed at the Congress – to amend the prewritten rules to allow laptops during the proceedings. My plan was that when Trisha figured out where she was, I could look up directions and drive out to meet her. I lobbied the idea a bit at dinner and was first in line with the motion when the session resumed. It passed. It also changed CC2009, for better or worse. I had said in online discussions with delegates before the Congress that the people of Ohio couldn’t care less if I attached my name to something that came out of the event. I now jokingly refer to that motion as the “Dickerhoof Amendment to the Rules.” Trisha finally showed up the next morning but didn’t last the day.
I’m not going to spend much time talking about what a fiasco the first couple of days were. That subject will probably be covered in such detail as to make the reader engage in wonder at how anything was accomplished. Instead, I’ll just say that my first motion which was somewhat hotly contested at the time, ended up changing the Congress over those twelve days. When speaking about it with Charles Zoeller who ended up being the steady balance to my manic work in the Secretary’s chair, he had mixed feelings. I stated more or less and I would hope we came to some agreement on the idea that laptops should have either remained banned or been something of a requirement. People can find their own distraction in any environment but the disconnect of one generation from the next was at least initially amplified by the use of electronics. I recalled that Benjamin Franklin invented the bifocals to allow those with eye conditions to take part in reading and shaping the founding documents of this country. Would Franklin have remained quiet had bifocals been banned at that first Continental Congress? In remarking that there could not be one set of rules for the front table, decorated on that first day with a row of laptops, and the delegates who had already begun testing their ability to hide their devices, I was fulfilling the promise I had made to bring that technologist’s perspective. Besides, I had thought, there was no reason to use paper to print out the volumes of information I had on my machines. Love it or hate it, technology increased the efficiency and improved the weight of product that CC2009 passes on to America. It landed me on the stage a few days later and cost me the opportunity to complain too much about taxes.
The Super-Secret Admin Committee
After lunch on the second day, Richard Fry of Kansas informed me during a quick discussion on the impasses that were facing the delegates that he had been appointed the Chairman of the Administrative Processing Committee. He asked if I was interested and I said that I was and that the job before us reminded me quite a bit of the one I was paid for back home. I described it as “herding cats.” The idea was that a room full of liberty-minded people was a great thing for learning but that desire to be heard wasn’t necessarily a recipe for doing. We ducked out of the afternoon session and found a spot by the pool to begin talking about what could be done to make sure the Continental Congress would not remain in the same vicious stall that had marked the first three sessions and was intensifying as we met. I tried to emphasize that part of the problem was that pre-packaged instructions were being handed to delegates after lecture-style presentations with the hopes that they would stamp them and pass them on. I didn’t see that as a possibility. The other members of the committee and I tried to hash out a few ideas for speeding things up. My input was that the panic cost time, that the workload should be divided, and using a committee approach to separate instructions would allow us to use time between sessions by breaking the connection between presentation, discussion, and votes. “Storm to norm” is a pretty self-explanatory idea but Information Technology managers have it beaten thoroughly into our heads. As for the others, I will let them tell their own story.
After our meeting had gone on for quite a while, one of the delegates came to the meeting and sat down with us for a few minutes. I do not remember his name but he brought a very important message with him: things were deteriorating in the session and we were, in his estimation, the last best hope for fixing it. With that pronouncement, the members of the committee dedicated ourselves to producing the right recommendations, deadlines be damned, and we would stay up all night if we had to. All of us did. We had reached our own impasse in the committee when I realized that it was time to employ another lesson I had already learned in my life; that thinking visually does more to break down disagreements than hours of debate. I told the group I would return with a whiteboard and I left for the office. I asked Todd McGreevy for one of the two that was available in the office and for every dry-erase marker he had. I returned to the committee, illustrated my idea and then things just clicked. Jeff Lewis illustrated one of the most important lessons I have ever learned about this country simply by putting it on that board. His idea was that each committee report with separate instructions for the federal government, the states, and the people. He drew “WTP” on top, states under it, and congress under that. It immediately occurred to me that it was the first time I had seen the chain of command under the Constitution correctly described.
We had to do a bit of fighting to get our findings in front of President Badnarik and Vice-President Gonzales. It was worth it, in the long run. I didn’t stick around for our presentation but I had faith in Richard and the Jeffs (Lewis and Williams) to deliver it well and they did. Schaeffer Cox and I went on to a meeting of the People’s Action Caucus but awoke to the first session the next day to find our committee’s plan in action. We scrapped the entire idea of the agenda schedule outside of scheduled speakers, meals, and special events. I believe that if not for the work of that committee and the abundant use of technology at the Continental Congress, we may have returned a few instructions for Congress or the states and only because the dreaded “rubber stamp” would have fallen. A few days after that initial meeting, a woman I had befriended referred to the Committee on Administrative Processing as “they” and it was widely believed that we were secretively altering the course in St. Charles. I replied that “I am they” and that we had committed our plans so that civic actions, the goal we shared, wasn’t pushed to the side in a mad dash at the end of the Congress because we would have fallen so desperately behind the original agenda. I am grateful for the members of that committee and the work we did. Yes, we cost you all a great deal of sleep but fatigue in the defense of this nation is a badge of honor I wore from that day on. Where did I go from the committee meeting? I went to the second meeting of the People’s Action Caucus, of course.
Many of us who gathered in St. Charles had the same fear; that we were intended as a rubber stamp on Bob Schulz’s agenda. Let me make it quite clear that I don’t blame Bob for that even if it was his explicit purpose from day one. The original event was supposed to be much longer than twelve days and the “pre-packaged” feel of the agenda we were given prior to arrival had more to do with expediency than ulterior motives. For reasons discussed in connection with the Admin Committee, it just wasn’t going to work. Besides, as I often reminded myself, it was a Continental “Congress” and not a “Conference.” At the end of a session on the first day, a speech by Dan Gonzales seemed to resonate with a number of us. We gathered around him when the session ended and a group of people who were individually terrible at remembering names tried to address each other. By foresight, perhaps, Schaeffer Cox of Alaska was born to parents who gave him a name that was easily distinguished from average American male tags and not so odd as to be hard to recall in a pinch. I engaged him in conversation. Those of who were primarily interested in things that citizens could do to combat the monster that government could become would form an unofficial sort of committee. Schaeffer took it from there. We didn’t have the name until much later that night after our first meeting, a trip to an empty ballroom, and a return to the hotel bar. We had a name, a mission statement, rules, and most importantly a purpose.
At the first meeting of the People’s Action Caucus, we got together and started feeling each other out. Most every one of the twenty-plus people that attended that first meeting were much better friends before we left St. Charles and our unity from the beginning fueled the belief that we could accomplish something amazing. We split off into two groups to discuss the agenda items for the next day and come up with resolutions for each. Schaeffer ran the meeting with order and the “salty cracker” approach he had described earlier on the floor. Both groups came up with something. Both groups had the mutual support of the other when they would bring their motions to the floor. We had strategy, justifications, and each other. The next day, we brought a statement of purpose and a resolution concerning “hard/honest money” to the floor. Both passed quickly and with little discussion of the language we had worked diligently to refine for that reason. As Jeff Williams said, we needed to start with a small victory. When I followed him to call the question and vote the statement through, I said only the Congress needed one. There was applause, there were congratulations, and at last we had a sense of what our contribution would be. Let it be stated “for the record” that we were identified as the young and “mavericks.” What we had really done was to take the knowledge and practice of our “wiser” members and translated it into the energy of the “hopeful.” We were proud and understandably so but should have recognized that pride rarely comes without a price.
A Visit from Bob Schulz
The People’s Action Caucus got back together that night. The first order of business was to pat ourselves on the back. We had done what everyone else at the Congress seemed incapable of doing; we brought our crafted our own resolutions carefully, we guaranteed each other support, we brought the motions to the floor, and then we got them passed. We had members that were sitting in on some of the committees that were formed that day and so thirteen of us met to discuss strategy, the next step, and what are “end game” was. I will admit that I used the word “hijack” quite a bit and it was a poor choice. Nonetheless, we had acknowledged our power so discussing what to do with it made sense. We talked and “brainstormed.” We discussed the agenda items for the next day. We carried on for about an hour when my state coordinator called to let me know our alternate, Steve McMasters, was on his way to replace Trisha who had checked out of the hotel that morning. I informed the group that Steve would make a great addition to the caucus. Things were going so well that it didn’t seem to register that Bob Schulz, the man whose dream the Continental Congress had been for so long came into the room to listen to our discussion. In my mind, pride was poison and it was telling me that Bob’s agenda simply didn’t matter anymore. I thought that CC2009 was our show to run for the remaining ten days. Bob was a great man and I knew this from having read extensively about him before taking two weeks’ vacation and spending all of my food money on gas to get to St. Charles. Selfishly, I had thought that it was now Bob’s turn to get on board with our agenda.
Judith Whitmore joined him not long after. I know this is something of a tease but it’s not my place to reveal what was said during that meeting. I heard some of the bravest statements in that room that I will likely ever hear. My heart goes out to each and every person who sat through the entire affair not the least of which were Bob and Judith. It was in that meeting that I recognized that I shared the desperation of being a young father and faced with the prospect of my son living under the tyranny of our supposedly “servant government,” I was too quick to forget what others had already sacrificed. For my own part, I will share what I remember most vividly saying to Bob and Judith who approached us first as if visitors in their own home. I recall as if I said it today that the words did not spend any more time in my head than it took to reach my tongue. I told Bob I had studied him exhaustively, that I found him to be a patriot of unquestionable character and deed, and that my purpose at CC2009 was to take his incredible knowledge and distribute it so that some of the hardships that he endured could be avoided by millions of Americans coming together to retake our country. Bob did something I could not have possibly expected when faced with such unbridled arrogance out of the mouth of a man who has still not contributed 1/1000 of what he has to the cause of liberty: he listened. I didn’t meet formally with the PAC after that night but we spread out and took our resolve in new directions. Many of us started to really listen and that is another turning point that the Continental Congress can count among its historic course.
The Secretary Knows Everything
My mother had often reminded me that secretaries often know more about how any company or organization works than anyone else in it and I would generally reply to her that such a statement was expected from those who did much but were repaid little. I am coming to realize at a much deeper level than I could have even a few years ago that my mother is always right. Just like the understandable concerns about the secrecy of the Admin Committee, I feel I need to explain how I came to become the Secretary so that the record will defend me when I cannot afford the time. On third day of CC2009, Jeremy Doucet approached me after I took a prolonged morning nap and managed to miss the first session. He informed me that he was now the “clerk” and was assisting the secretary who was elected as a non-delegate during the first session. He wanted to know if I would help him with computer issues as sort of a “deputy clerk.” I believe that God puts me where he needs me to be and the move just made sense. Despite the earlier adoption of amended rules that allowed laptops, the technology in the room was not being utilized to do much besides recording minutes and collecting finished documents after some editing on the floor. When I first sat on the stage, I turned to an online collaboration tool that had been made available to delegates but to that point had been largely used so that certain people could antagonize others on the internet in addition to in the hallways. I began to shape it so that it could display data on committees and that it was intuitive for distributing documents or getting them to the secretary and clerks to be printed, distributed, and edited. That was most of what I did on the first day.
A little later, the secretary informed Jeremy and I that she was overwhelmed. She didn’t know what to expect but what was being asked of her was clearly more than she had signed on for. She “asked’ by telling us that she would like to leave and probably wouldn’t return if we would be willing to take over her duties. We agreed. That night, Jeremy and I discussed which of us might be Secretary and who would then be the Vice-Secretary. After we both figured out that neither of us wanted to be prime position, we decided that Co-Secretaries sounded better and fit with the principles of consensus and self-governance. The next morning, we started taking over every aspect of that job we were capable of. It seemed a poke in the eye that we had been “nominated” later and unanimously elected to the position that the parliamentarian had asked Charles Zoeller, a delegate from Kentucky, to take minutes as the acting secretary. As we came together, though, Charles was invaluable. His taking minutes freed us up to collect reports, get them printed, and distribute them so that the body had a reasonable, if not optimal, amount of time to read them. When Jeremy began following a different path toward the end of the Congress, Charles and I began to work in sync quite naturally. I had suggested that I could run two monitors more efficiently than most people could run one and that duty became mine. In terms of paper organization, I was a mess and Charles had himself together quite nicely. We later certified the reports, motions, amendments, and findings of the Continental Congress with surprising ease because my digital copies matched his paper records with few exceptions. Again, God had a way of making me live up to that Franklin comparison. I thank God for that opportunity.
I could write an entire book about what I learned from this experience, the power of the Secretary in a meeting such as CC2009, and the secrets that people may or may not wish to be aired. Certainly, I am again a tease. Most of what I learned I put on display in some form or another. If you saw me working, keep in mind you saw about one-fifth of what I was doing. Manipulating the screen was one thing but I was working behind the scenes to get feedback on what to fix next. I fix things for a living and I’ve found that simply asking people what they want or consider important is more valuable than spending my time guessing. I also learned that people can come together much more easily off-camera and face-to-face so, when I knew different groups or people were working on similar projects, I let them know to get together. I learned that the best way to be heard and really listened to was to let everyone else have their say, first. My speeches to the body became mostly procedural after I took the Secretary’s chair; urging people to focus first on their common ground, reminding CC2009 that the clock was ticking, or taking time to read a message called “fortune cookie” that was as true when I read it as it was weeks earlier when I had written it. When I finally spoke to advocate a position, the adoption of the preamble sub-committee’s work as read by Jeff Williams, the body came together. As for secrets, well, a secretary doesn’t reveal those as trust remains my most valuable currency.
The Evolution of a Revolution
I am eternally grateful to all those who stuck out those historic twelve days. To a great degree, what the Continental Congress achieves has much more to do with what happens next. Another point I had made in my candidate’s speech was that I wanted to find ways to reach out to different groups who might think we’re opposed to their efforts. I wrote a blog about how the real enemies of liberty use false divisions to keep Americans focused on guarding against each other while the thieves sneak in the back door to rob us of our treasure. Similarly, those divisions exist within Continental Congress and the false “left-right” paradigm we’ve all been fed for years. That lie is told with the help of distractions and inefficiencies that run through our communication and I believe at my core that things happen for a reason and I was meant to occupy the Secretary’s chair so that much work could be done in twelve days. Without that bit of history, perhaps we would not have enough material to win over some on the traditional “right” who would take offense to our condemnation of the Patriot Act and abuses of the War Powers clause. Perhaps we would have pushed to the side those two efforts and others that help us reach out to the traditional left who are willing to listen now that the blunt force of overreaching central government is revealed. I shudder to think that sixty or eighty percent of what we accomplished would have been a generous estimate of our abilities without freeing up the channels of information by utilizing our tools and by my being held to the promises I told Ohioans. My primary goal was to bring the collaborative approach to education and knowledge-sharing that I had developed in working for the state to a community of patriots. It became my slogan, of sorts, but I will reiterate it here for the record: I would measure the success of CC2009 by the idea that I wanted to leave St. Charles with ten times more work than I came with. That as the objective, I can gladly report that this is initially, at least, a smashing success. We have a public to win over and we have a good number of tools to do it with.
I had told others on the first few days of the Congress that it was my intention to write a book about the proceedings and that I would entitle it “the evolution of a revolution.” I thank Mr. Kostic for taking that task upon himself. I thank Bob Schulz for gathering us, Michael Badnarik for giving up the chance to speak eloquently more often for the mantle of the Presidency. I thank Dan Gonzales for using the position of the Vice-President to push willingly toward the goal of a finished product. I thank the PAC for making me feel welcome. I thank every delegate who stuck it out for being a part of this. I thank the Technology Sub-Committee for standing behind me. I thank the people of Ohio for sending me. To the God-fearing people who read this, let us thank God for such work as this. For those who do not know God, I thank God you’re on our side. Yes, I’m one of those “everything happens for a reason people” and I wouldn’t have changed a thing about those twelve days.