Over the course of the Tunisian revolution, those organizing on the ground had to rely on such things as Facebook to coordinate the fight for democracy. This left key organizers exposed to the regime’s secret police, themselves equipped with surprisingly advanced tools — provided by “intelligence contracting” firms in France and elsewhere — by which to identify and surveil opposition leaders and arrest those considered most effective.
Tunisia ultimately managed to free itself from the criminalized regime that had ruled over the country for decades. But as open society advocates improved their tradecraft, so did the oppressive states that still determine the fates of billions of human beings, along with the private firms that have continued to assist them for profit. Other democratic revolutions have since been successfully thwarted with a combination of stealth and force; Bahrain’s movement for democracy was met with tanks provided by Saudi Arabian royals and high-end disinformation campaigns provided by U.S. “public relations” firms like Qorvis.
If movements like these had had access to some platform by which to safely and securely mobilize the tens of thousands who participate, recent history could have turned out differently. And that’s why, in the seven years since I abandoned conventional journalism to directly support such enterprises, I’ve been thinking about what such a platform would look like, what it would require, and how it could be made to work. Upon my release from a federal prison in late 2016, Wired announced that I’d be overseeing the development of such a platform. After a year of hard work by a team of volunteers, the platform is now a reality.
Pursuance, as we call it, is currently in alpha testing, with our early users soon to be joined by many of the 1800 individuals and organizations that have applied to participate so far, followed by the thousands more that will be brought along in the next few years as each new wave of participants recruits additional users — and so on, exponentially.
Pursuance isn’t just for overthrowing dictatorships. The Observer recently noted that its most typical function may prove to be crowd-sourced research of the sort that has proven so effective in recent years even when done informally, by strangers on the internet using ad hoc tools and haphazard methods. As I explained at a research conference in San Francisco last week, there’s good reason to expect that traditional journalists may also be ready to adapt these new methods, in this case by harnessing self-organizing networks of readers who can dig into specific issues as directed, or supply a reporter with tips on an ongoing basis, all without any significant time investment on the part of the journalist. The case for crowd-sourcing as a means of improving journalism has already been made over and over again; now we can make it easy, and thus increasingly widespread.
Above all, we aim to facilitate the work of existing groups — both informal movements and traditional NGOs and non-profits — that still do so much of the heavy lifting that goes into defending free, open, and just societies. Because Pursuance is a visualized online ecosystem made up of customizable, scalable entities best described as living organizational charts, the vast array of organizations that currently face all manner of mundane barriers to effective cooperation will be able to establish simple presences on Pursuance to better identify and evaluate other groups for potential partnership. Perhaps more importantly, they’ll also be able to make full use of their supporters, which can be harnessed into refined networks that can grow without becoming unwieldy, and thus make full use of that talent and energy which we can no longer afford to waste. Any of those same individuals can also create their own pursuance, allowing good ideas to get a hearing among like-minded citizens with the skills and resources to implement them.
Pursuance Project is a registered non-profit with a board of directors that includes luminaries of activism, journalism, and civics; Icelandic MP Birgitta Jonsdottir serves on our board of directors, along with Columbia Journalism Review board alum Russ Baker, CIA whistleblower John Kiriakou, and filmmaker and activist Alex Winter. It’s also a tightly-run operation, with almost no overhead. As I told Wired a year ago, my original plan was to fund it with the advance from my upcoming book from Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, which itself will present a comprehensive case for why such things are needed. Sadly, the Department of Justice has made this impossible, having ordered FSG to refrain from paying me my sole source of income until some “further notice” that turned out to be very further indeed, sending similar subpoenas to my agent and other publications from which I could potentially make a living, and announcing that they’ll be seizing 25 percent of everything I make from here on out. Aside from a few thousand dollars early on, then, I’ve been unable to pay our lead developer (who has kept pushing on nonetheless), much less bring on the specialized programmers we’d need to implement the feature set we want to make available. Some volunteers have even put in their own money to deal with assorted costs. That’s how much we believe in this.
As such, we’re holding a Kickstarter, which includes an accompanying video presentation that should help explain why everyone who’s looked closely at our project thus far has agreed that it’s the best way forward for those who care enough about open and just societies to actually fight for them. We’ll be releasing additional videos over the next few weeks as well, each explaining in further detail the several major functions that Pursuance will take on from the start, as well as the global role that its underlying structure of “process democracy” could gradually come to serve as the world’s institutions continue to deteriorate.
Please consider donating, spreading the word, and signing up at PursuanceProject.org to participate in the platform when it goes live. Livestream at 10 pm CST 6/15: https://live.kickstarter.com/barrett-brown/live/barrett-brown-talks-about-pursuance