The Pursuance Project: Responding to the ongoing crisis of democracy in the US

The situation in the US under the Donald Trump administration has become so bad that some people even look back with nostalgia to the era of George W. Bush, even though that administration gave us two criminal wars, the horror of Guantanamo and global black sites, indulged in widespread use of torture, promoted rampant homophobia, and committed horrendous violations of civil rights. Before journalist Barrett Brown was thrown in jail (I have written about this before), he started something called Project PM as a means for getting better civic collaboration and media analysis in order to advance democratic principles and counter the strong authoritarian tendencies that currently exist.

He has now started a new project and in a new article, he first explains how he ended up in jail and then what his new venture is all about, and what drives it.

What is the proper role, then, for the citizen who takes citizenship seriously, and counts it a duty to defend the rights not just of Americans but of those populations abroad who ultimately bear the brunt of our civic failings? For many, the answer is to continue the hard of work of engaging within the system—voting, working for better candidates, donating time and money to the organizations that do what they can to prevent things from deteriorating even further. This is entirely appropriate. But even the reformers are likely to recognize, now, that this may not be sufficient in the face of the political conditions we face—and that the consequences of a morally failed American republic, continuing on its present course for even just another decade, would be irreparable. No competent observer of our current trajectory can today disregard this scenario, or others far worse.

It is an absolute certainty that, with sufficient thought, a new mechanism may someday be designed, capable of integrating thousands of talented individuals and existing organizations into a sort of parallel civic ecosystem, growing ever more refined in its functioning while perpetually expanding its user base on an invitation basis, and in such a way as to maintain a high average level of competence. If one were to start with a sufficiently resourceful group of initial participants with broad agreement on keystone issues—opposition to the drug war, police state, and mass surveillance, for instance, with these issues chosen in order to establish a reasoned polity sharing common values, if not ideological unanimity—one could expect such a system to quickly expand into a vast and formidable new force in world affairs, capable of advancing reform and confronting criminalized institutions across the globe.

I propose that such a thing be built now.

After describing the many things that need to be done to set up such a system, he then reassuringly says, “Again, this would be a considerable undertaking. It’s just as well, then, that I’ve already done all of these things.” He goes on to describe what is called the Pursuance System for “Impactful, agile, secure civic collaboration” will be like. Much of the system has already been set in motion. The board of directors will have some familiar figures.

The board of directors includes Icelandic Member of Parliament, poet, and Pirate Party stalwart Birgitta Jonsdottir; actor and filmmaker Alex Winter; CIA whistleblower John Kiriakou; former Columbia Journalism Review board member, author, and WhoWhatWhy founder Russ Baker; Professor Mano Singham of Case Western University (retired); Professor Robert Tynes of Bard University; author, intelligence critic, and former CIA Directorate of Operations covert asset Barry Eisler; activist-focused criminal defense attorney Jay Leiderman; and Pirate Party International board member Raymond Johansen. Our project manager Steve Phillips, a security researcher, occasional Def Con speaker and open-source software developer, has a long history of running hackerspaces and overseeing collaborative projects with others in the privacy and crypto communities, and has recruited additional programmers for this effort. Other of our core participants, such as Kevin Gallagher and Devin Balkind, have similarly prolific histories of involvement with some of the more effective activist and reform movements, and both have worked for foundations and non-profits.

You will notice that I am also on the board of directors though to be quite honest my contributions so far have been merely cheerleading. But fortunately the others on the board have much more sterling credentials, being highly skilled and knowledgeable people involved who actually make valuable contributions so that my own lack of expertise in any area does not seem to be holding things back, which is a relief.

Interested in learning more and even joining?

Those who would like to donate or be considered for participation may do so at Open-source software engineers interested in contributing their time to the project can reach us at or Twitter @elimisteve. Public updates will be delivered via Twitter @pursuanceproj.

I’ll provide more updates as they come in.

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