Report from Sunlight North


I’ve just started this job with Sunlight a little over a month now, and one of our first projects, providing mini-grants of $1000 to $5000 to innovative people with risky or brilliant ideas about opening up government is already making me a little less morbid than I was about a year ago. Its nice to be reminded we’re a country teeming these persistent citizens, daydreaming at midnight, and over 20 different ideas have come in the door so far from Arkansas to Hawaii. If we can’t fund all of them, which we can’t even begin to, hopefully we can at least provide some boost, some direction, some connections to make something possible.

The basic information about the grants is here, and we’re still taking applications for the next month, so if you have an idea getting restless in your drawer, pull it out and send it to us. Ellen Rice is very helpful if you’ve never applied for a grant before, she’s happy to talk to you. 202-742-1520 ext. 226.

Perhaps the funniest feedback we got was the request to hyphenate mini-grants whenever we wrote it, lest it look too much like “immigrants.” (I suppose the other way to avoid confusion is start writing immi-grants with a hyphen.) But we complied, and are completely hyphenated now.

I telecommute I guess, though it feels less tele- than neta- (what is skype plus aim office work? skaiming?) and it’s the midriff of summer here in Vermont, hot, 94, 95 on the bank clock, even by 10 AM. The politicians are almost the only men not wearing shorts but staying outside — on the street corner yesterday a young aspiring auditor was sweating out the muggy, buggy, mid-afternoon with a handmade sign covered in cellophane, to keep out the sweat and occasional rain.

I walked down the Winooski yesterday and found about 8 teenagers wet with recent water, standing over a small cliff. “Ma’am, ma’am, I’ll jump in if you jump with me,” one of them said. A couple of girls were near them, said it was safe to swim, and then one of them started crying, inexplicably, about her finger. I couldn’t’ see anything wrong with her finger, and I couldn’t tell if she was on drugs or actually hurt, but it sounded like more of an existential wail than how you feel when you brush up against some nettles. Her friend didn’t want my help, they both kept saying everything was okay. After they left I swam alone.

What does this have to do with corruption? What does it have to do with open government? I can tie the knot, if you want, but most of the time that’s just a question I ask myself, too, not trying to tie it too neatly – its not just about the water perhaps being too dirty to swim in, which it is.

I met William Greider about a month ago, alone in his office in the middle of a conference he wasn’t attending, and he asked me, “what if a political party actually set out to do what people asked it to do?” and talked about how maybe what we most need is Parliament of Sorrows and a Parliament of Dreams. I don’t know, perhaps, but the phrases have stuck in my head and I see it now, sitting on the park bench as a man, not mad, just proximate eating lunch, is so eager to tell me what he thinks about the Hawaiin secession movement, having no one else to tell it to.