Y2K Initiative

In 1999, Commonway will focus its energies on the opportunities and pitfalls presented by “the computer millennium bomb”, otherwise known as Y2K.

Although Y2K is no different from any of the scores of other human-created calamities, this one is unique in that it has a fixed timeline attached.  The timeline allows us to put Commonway’s work within a time context that will become increasingly important as the end of ‘99 looms near.

At the bottom line, Y2K is not a computer problem but a human problem, a problem of consicousness.  Changing every computer program and every micro-chip in the world will only delay the inevitable -- our society is on a crash course with its own paradigm.

Five Ways to Reconceptualize the Y2K Crisis
"An Open Letter on the Social, Cultural and Spiritual Challenge of Y2K."
Links to Other Y2K Websites
A Real 
"Best Case" 
Y2K Scenario
"Natural History and the American Media"
"Ready for Chaos or Community?
Overview and Links to Other Y2K Sites:

This Y2K webpage does not have a "primer" on what is Y2K, an explanation of embedded chips or cramped date fields.  I'm assuming that if you made it this far, you know the basics of Y2K.  If not, the links below can refer you to some excellent websites, ones you should check out whether or not you know the basics.

The last time I checked, there were about 2,000 Y2K related websites on the Internet.  That number probably won't go down anytime soon.  Most of them are not of general interest: intensely local, an axe to grind, overly technical, or otherwise inaccessible.

However, I believe there are a handful of websites that not only contain excellent explanations of Y2K, but also address the deeper dimensions of the crisis: how we painted ourselves into this particular corner.  This handful of sites also contain plenty of links to others.

The Links
Margaret Wheatley's Berkana Institute:    The Berkana Institute

Tom Atlee's Co-Intelligence Institute:

Jay Earley's Transforming Y2K:    Transformating Y2K


I want us to think about Y2K differently.  The nature of our solutions will be determined in part by our conceptualization of the problem.  Therefore, I offer these five approaches to reconceptualize the Y2K crisis to stimulate a deeper discussion of the issues.

#1:  “Forget The Rat”:  Y2K Is A Human Problem, Not A  Technological One
#2:   Bad Computers Or Bad Leadership?
#3:   How Bad Is Bad?
#4:   What Parts Of The World Should End?
#5:   The Big Payback:  Y2K As Meta-Justice

Those of us trying to seriously address Y2K issues have the experience of talking to someone about Y2K and having them just not “get it”.  We all have the experience of someone dismissing the issue by saying:

· “It won’t affect me; I’m a Mac user.”
· “This is just a ploy by Bill Gates to sell a new operating system in 1999.”
· “If the telecommunications system goes out, I still have my cell phone.”
· “We pumped gas without computers before!  We can do without them now.”
· “What’s the problem?  Just add the other two numbers to the date!”
· “You must be one of those millennium nuts that comes every 1,000 years to warn of disasters.  The world didn’t come to an end in 1,000 AD and it won’t happen in 2,000 AD.”

People have attributed this dismissing attitude to denial, resistance and/or ignorance about our technological system, mental numbing in the face of overwhelming catastrophe, etc.  While those are true, I think there is another answer.

The Rat:
I put you in a time capsule and send you back to Europe in the 1300’s, right before an outbreak of the bubonic plague.  You walk up to a villager and warn him, “That rat munching grain over in the corner is going to kill you, kill your whole family and wipe out your entire village.”

“A rat can’t kill a human!  It’s not big enough.”

“It doesn’t matter what size it is; the rat will be responsible for all of your deaths.”

“Okay, just to humor you, I’ll kill the rat.”

“No!  The dead rat can kill you, also!”

At this point, the villager will stop listening to you, and may actually consider defending himself from you.

For a person living in the Middle Ages, it was simply beyond their conceptual ability to grasp a world of germs, bacteria and viruses.  Similarly, for most of us living at the end of the 20th Century, it is simply beyond our conceptual ability to grasp a world of bits, embedded micro-chips and computer-driven systems.  We’ve painted ourselves into a corner, and never realized anyone was painting!

My advice to those who are trying to educate and motivate people about Y2K: forget the rat.  People will never understand it, at least not as fast as they need to.  It’s not important that they understand the mechanism (which is fascinating for techie-types but deeply boring for others).  What is important is that they recognize that, for whatever reason, the systems that they DO understand may become unstable or disappear completely.

My approach to talking about Y2K:

(First question)  “Last year, the electric power grid in the Northeast went down for weeks.  What would you do if your electric power went down?”  (I get a variety of responses: people really understand electricity and power failures.)

(Second question)  “What would you do if it went down indefinitely?”  (I get more sober responses.)

(Third question)  “How do you think your community should respond do if the lights went out indefinitely?”

This is generally enough to get us into a meaningful discussion about our alternatives to build a new society.  They still don’t understand the rat, but the door is open to discuss what could happen to build a transformed society.

Another reason to “forget the rat” is that people can intuitively understand that the problem is not bad computers but bad leadership.  We have a problem that could have been easily fixed ten years ago, or even five years ago.  The problem is that our leadership (political and business) focuses on what is immediately profitable to them, and consistently ignores long-term consequences.  This is true for all of our long term crises, from environmental degradation to overpopulation to societal malaise. The Y2K just happens to be a long-term problem that has an unavoidable dateline.

What is the Problem?
You are cruising down the highway at 60 miles an hour.  Your oil light starts flashing.  You see it, and decide to increase your speed to 70.  You are passing gas stations, supermarkets, other places that have oil.

You get warning beeps from the car.  You glance at the temperature gauge -- its way over the red line. Smoke is pouring from under the hood.  You decide to bump up your speed to 80 miles an hour.

Your engine melts down and catches fire. As your car coasts to a stop, with its engine fused into a useless hunk of metal, ask yourself this question:

Do you have an engine problem or a driver problem?

Y2K is no different than any of a thousand other human-created blind alleys.  The people of the world have suffered the bad judgments of over-paid, short-sighted, self-absorbed leaders for decades.  The main difference with this crisis is that it has a dateline.

In general, most of the Y2K literature does not focus on the human problems and solutions.  Once more, the technology is blinding us.  For example, not one of the readers’ comments to the well done Y2K article appearing in the Economist (19 September 98) discussed what humans will do when faced with crisis.

This is a human problem with a human solution.  The solution lies in the same sphere as the problem: the sphere of human community and human leadership.  Without addressing the questions of community and leadership, it really doesn’t matter what happens to the computer chips -- as long as we follow the blind, we will wind up at a blind alley.

“In bright sunlight,
don’t ask a bat for directions.”

It is self-defeating to use doomsday scenarios to try to educate people about Y2K. Not that doomsday is not possible, but relating the magnitude of the experience in such dire terms causes the mind to shut off.  Also, it is helpful when talking about preparedness to know what level to prepare for.  We cannot plan well when the conversation constantly drifts to worst case scenarios.

This is like telling someone in Florida that the conditions are ripe for a hurricane.  That fact alone does not convey enough information upon which to act.  When will it hit land?  Where?  What category storm?  How reliable is the prediction?

To try to create more meaningful dialog leading to focused action, I talk to people about Y2K the same way I talk about hurricanes.  We know exactly when the Y2K hurricane will strike: 31 December 99 (although there may be squalls and gusts before then).  We know exactly where it will strike: the technologically dependent parts of societies around the globe.  What we didn’t know is the severity, in this regard.  I have developed some categories, again tracking hurricane predictors:

Category 1:   Ripples in the Grid
Although there are episodic fluctuations in systems, with outages, shortages, and widespread failures, the main parts of our systems come through intact.  The grid survives.  Category 1 has the effect of a really heavy snowstorm --  everywhere.

In Category 1, people will hunker down and wait for “them” to fix things again.  Hundreds may die from cold, traffic accidents, etc.  Minor looting.  News at 11:00.

Category 2:    Major Systemic Stress -- System Rebounds
Key elements of the grid go down.  National Guard helps maintain order and deliver essentials.  People in some areas are without regular electricity, food, water and fuels for up to two months.

In Category 2, people will be asking how we got in such a predicament and how we can avoid it in the future.  Some will be creating new systems for food, energy and communications.  Congress will call hearings after the worst is over.

Category 3:    Major Disaster -- and Major Transformation
One key element of the grid melts down and is completely unable to recover.  (For example, the financial grid completely loses track of how much money anyone has in the bank -- forever.)  Business and industry grinds to a halt.  Even if other aspects of the grid are restored, the failure of one key element will cause a complete reshuffling of our systems, our responses and our priorities.

In Category 3, people will search for and find other systems and other leaders.

Category 4:    Catastrophic Disaster
More than two elements of the grid melt down.  The emergency communications grid melts down; military control is impossible.  Places where social capital is strong will survive and perhaps thrive; places where the fabric of society is weak to begin with will fail.

People will be thinking about individual and family survival; dealing with community-level issues will be difficult.  It will be very difficult to control outlaw elements: Mafias, gangs, and citizen militias, with superior command-and-control structures, will dominate some areas.

Category 5:   Civilizational Meltdown -- All Bets are Off
The entire computer-dependent grid crashes, bringing down even Y2K compliant computer systems.  Toxic chemicals and nuclear pollution are released into the environment when their safeguards either go off-line or are interrupted by the failure of the electrical grid.  The social capital grid also collapses.  The ultimate doomsday scenario.

NO ONE KNOWS WHAT THIS SCENARIO WILL LOOK LIKE.  I believe it is  beyond our ability to envision a Y2K meltdown: we’ve never been there before.  Some have likened this scenario to a nuclear war without any explosions.  I would urge all of us to steer clear of talking about Category Five; it will not produce action but numbness backlash and/or panic.

Category 3 becomes our greatest opportunity for building a fundamentally new society.

“The End of the World As We Know It” sounds really good to me!  I’ve known a world with war, famine, disease, environmental degradation, human misery and a lot more. We live in a world where one basketball player is paid more than 100 elementary school teachers.   What if THAT world ended?

We have a world that is out of line with our stated values and out of control.  Y2K provides an opportunity to bring that world back in line.

Y2K is not our only problem.  It isn’t even our biggest problem.  Here is a list, from "Creating a World That Works For All", of our interlocking and mutually reinforcing problems and challenges:  The Mess.

The Mess includes...
Population explosion, suicide, holes in the ozone, political corruption, homelessness, emotional stress, the destruction of cultures, overgrazing, the use of children as combatants in warfare, violent political conflict, spiritual emptiness, acid rain, pandemics, decline in basic values, teenage pregnancy, increasing disparities in wealth, racism, spreading violence, economic slavery, chemical, biological, nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction, AIDS, ethnic unrest and conflict, civil wars, public school violence, spreading desertification, political and social alienation, the extinction of species, sexism, overuse of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, expanding global corporatism, destruction of family life, colonialism and neo-colonialism, increasing homicides, political apathy and malaise, attention deficit and other mental disorders in children, terrorism, unsustainability in all aspects of life, toxic wastes, genocide, increasing cancer, economic and class disparities, war, over-consumption, urban deterioration, regional famines, destruction of the natural environment, crime, child slave labor, increasing pollution, and even more...

The Mess cuts across all categories, fields of study, and present ways we conceptualize our challenges.  The Mess goes on; it predates and, assuming a Category 1 Y2K crisis, will live after the crisis dies.  We need solutions - not just for Y2K but for all of the aspects of the Mess.

Y2K and Values:
Assume that one Y2K effect is that electricity is scarce.   There is not enough electricity for all of the users in the system.  How would you allocate the available electricity?  Who would get it, and in what supplies?  Most importantly:  who do you suppose will be answering these questions?  Who should make those determinations?

This is a truly unique opportunity.  The ability to reallocate resources in line with our values is one that does not present itself every day.  We should engage each other in dialog about how to restructure our society.  When the lights come back on for most of us, we should know which ones we will leave off.

What New Opportunities Present Themselves?
While we make a list of what is turned off, we should also be making a list of what gets turned on.  Companies making wind and solar generators should see an incredible opportunity in Y2K.  So will gardening instructors, mechanics, and a host of others.  Any decentralized system should fair better than any centralized one.


Distributive Justice:
I believe it was Ann Landers who said, “Whatever it is that hits the fan will not be evenly distributed on its return”.

This has always been true.  However, the burdens of our other crises have been borne by the poor, the oppressed and the people of color of the world.  Y2K is the first major crisis that primarily affects well-to-do white people.  As the decades-old saying tells: “What goes around, comes around”.

I have asked my friends to tone down their rhetoric by putting Y2K into perspective.  Other people in the world have suffered and died at the hands of Western technology.  For example, according to Dr. Ashis Nandy, India disrupted the lives 220 million people, moving them in order to build 15 hydro-electric dams.  We all know the example of Bhopal, with tens of thousands of people killed or maimed by a dangerous chemical plant.  Those who may be affected by Y2K can meditate on these and many other examples.

There is another way to look at how Y2K effects will be distributed.  According to one Y2K expert, up to three billion people on the planet, half of the human race, won’t even know that anything happened.  This would be true for even a Category 4 or 5 Y2K crisis.  They will continue to grow their food, raise their children and make their prayers.  The human world won’t melt down, only our over-privileged, over-developed, over-consumptive lifestyles will.  If Y2K is Noah’s Flood, some people will barely get their feet wet.

For many of the other half, if they notice anything from Y2K, it will be that their lives have gotten a little better.  The air will be cleaner; so will the water.  The machines that were eating the forests are silent.  They will find that they have up to forty percent more resources than before.  The strange sores on their children’s bodies are going away. Being only a generation or two removed from their communal roots, they will look to the old ways. Even in the United States, the residents of places like “Cancer Alley” in Louisiana will find the terrible odors in the air drifting from the chemical plants abating.

For all of us, whether the world is coming to an end or just beginning depends on our perspective.  If our goal is the preservation and/or restoration of The Grid to its pre-Y2K splendor, the world may well come to an end, our soft and indulgent lifestyles threatened with extinction.  If our goal is to use this window of opportunity to develop the values and institutions of inclusivity, authenticity and sustainability, this will be a most exciting time.

“The Last Shall Be First”:  Those Most Out Of The Loop Are The Ones Who Have The Resources We Need To Survive.
Those who have been excluded from playing the game are poised to be leaders in a post- Y2K world. Those who have been on the outside of the computerized society have the opportunities to be insiders in a new game.  The old credentials don’t matter when the game changes.

I have been to Cuba several times in the past years.  One of the things that strikes me about the island is the amazing resiliency and resourcefulness of Cubans in the face of overwhelming odds.  Despite the implosion of the Soviet Union, the US Embargo, hurricanes and other calamities, they not only survive but are leaders in developing alternative systems.  (In Santiago de Cuba, I observed that a good portion of their public transportation system consisted of horse-drawn carts!  Pretty resistant to Y2K!)

The United States kept Cuba out of the loop, and it may be the Cubans who wind up coming to our rescue when the lights go off.

I have a nice organic garden that occupies a part of my yard.  On a good year, the yield from this garden is tremendous; I have plenty of tomatoes and squash to give away.

And that’s the problem.  I really don’t know how much of any one vegetable to plant.  I don’t know how to stretch out harvest times.  I don’t know how to extend my yield into the relatively mild Pacific Northwest Fall and Winter.  I’m an urbanite.  The problem is compounded when all of my neighbors also plant tomatoes.  We wind up exchanging tomatoes.  No one planted onions or corn.

The Mexican pickers who line up on Burnside and MLK for day labor may find themselves very popular.  They know the land, at least better than I do.

Former welfare recipients may also find that they have much more resiliency in the potentially turbulent times of post- Y2K than middle-class families who have had basic services provided with relative ease.  (Do you know how to bypass an electrical meter without barbecuing yourself?)

Many of those with means have separated themselves from the less fortunate, either by moving to increasingly distant suburbs or to the tops of luxury high-rises in our cities.  Having lived in a high-rise here in Portland during a power failure, I know how tenuous life can be for a 60 year old on the 20th floor when the elevator isn’t working.  (Even if the building has its own generator, the elevator’s embedded computer chips may still render the elevator useless.)

The inner city, usually the most dense part of the average city, will be the easiest to provide concentrated services in a time of crisis.  How services are provided will give us an opportunity to either come together or further separate.  Hopefully, we will not leave those decisions up to military generals and civil preparedness bureaucrats.

back to top
return to Commonway homepage

20 November 1998

An Open Letter On
The Social, Cultural and Spiritual Challenge of Y2K
  When I wrote those words almost a decade ago, I knew something was going to happen, but not exactly what.  Now, “what” is beginning to take shape.

As we all are becoming increasingly aware,  the so-called Y2K crisis, also known as the “millennium computer bug” may be an event of significant ramifications for our society.  This possibility has influenced the focus and direction for my work in the upcoming year.

I believe that our thinking on this matter thus far has been dangerously incomplete.  We focus on the technology, not the human choices that have made the simple technological problem so potentially devastating.  On the other hand, I also believe that, with the correct refocusing of our time and energies, Y2K can provide us with an unbelievable tool for reshaping our society, along lines of inclusivity, authenticity and sustainability.  This opportunity is unique, unparalleled, highly unstable and close to unimaginable.

For those of us who are prepared, this moment provides an opportunity to plant the seeds of a new society, based on values markedly different from where we have been collectively heading for decades.  We wanted to change directions; Y2K gives us both the opportunity and the incentive.

Of course, all these words are meaningless if we have sunk to the lowest levels of survivalist behavior.  We must provide not only a conscious transformation, but also the practical steps for alternative systems support for life and health.  And, we’ve got about 13 months to do it.
To these ends, Commonway will focus on three initiatives over the next 13 months:

Spread the Word
Seed the Concepts
Build the Commons

Spread the Word
I have written a new book, Creating a World That Works For All.   Scheduled to be released in the Spring of 1999, I believe this book contains an important formula for a radical shift in our consciousness in the face of crisis -- any crisis.  We can learn how to practice inclusivity: the recognition that our lives are inextricably linked with each other.

The central premise of Creating a World That Works For All is:

1. We are in deep trouble.  We live in a world that works for only a few.  It does not work for those it purports to serve.
2. We have created a world of interlocked and mutually reinforcing problems and crises: The Mess.  We each are responsible for destroying the Earth, although none of us wants to destroy the Earth.  We are being destroyed by our story.
3. However, we can change this.  We have the ability to create a world that works for all.  To change our world, we need:
· a change in consciousness, how we think
· a change in compassion, how we feel toward others, and
· a change in actions, what we do in the world.
 These three changes will transform our world.
4. To create a world for all, the necessary change in consciousness is specific: from “I am separate; there is not enough for all” to “we are one; the Earth is abundant”.  We have to move from the values of Breakers (practitioners of exclusivity) back to the values of Keepers (indigenous people who practice inclusivity on a local level).  We have to become Menders (practitioners of inclusivity on a global level).
5. In order to understand the magnitude of the change, a new analysis is necessary.  The elements of the new analysis includes:
· There is no one in charge of this mess.
· Each of us creates the problems we experience.
· Old theories will not work for new realities.
· We have to reclaim the values of the Keepers and adapt those values to a global society.  Using the values of the Keepers (indigenous people who keep to the ancient ways) and the technology of the Breakers (people who break from the ancient ways), we will become Menders: able to restore balance and harmony.  (These groups correspond to three internal states in each of us.)
6. The transformation to a world that works for all is based on our deepest transcendent values; it is spiritual.
7. We can develop the practices and the actions that will catalyze and nurture the shift to the Mender Era.

While not speaking to Y2K as a specific part of The Mess, Creating a World That Works For All describes the consciousness shift and practical steps for any societal challenge.  This will help people looking for both a conceptual framework as well as practical things to do in the face of this crisis.  I believe it will serve us all to make the concepts of inclusivity as widely received as possible in the months preceding Y2K.

In conjunction with the other activities listed below, I will be conducting workshops nationwide on the key concepts of the book, and relating them to the Y2K crisis.  Since it is anticipated that the “Spread the Word” attempt will meet some initial resistance, Commonway will need funding for the first half of 1999 until the effort becomes self-supporting.

Remember: it is our attitude about the future that will determine whether and how we survive and thrive in Y2K.

Seed the Concepts
Most of what I’ve read about Y2K focuses on the technology and hard systems involved.  Very little is discussed regarding the human factor: the pitfalls and the possibilities of humanity at the crossroads.

Some things are certain:  in this crisis, no matter what the magnitude, people will pull together and pull apart.  This isn’t either/or:  we’ll do both.  Our challenge must be maximizing the pulling together tendencies and minimizing and isolating the pulling apart tendencies.  All of the fault lines that separate us; lines of race/ethnicity, class, ideology, religion and a dozen others, will become intensified in a Y2K crisis.

If we leave it to the hysteria-feeding mass media and to responsibility-avoiding politicians, pulling apart will become the default option.

It does not have to be this way.  We can create an alternative.

Commonway will organize small “Culture Shaper” groups in up to three dozen key cities throughout the United States.  These groups will be dedicated to building inclusive community in all matters, especially during times of natural and/or human-made calamities.  They will be specifically trained in the inclusive community-building skills pioneered by Commonway -- building community across the lines that separate us, including among actual or potential adversaries.

This activity will be based on our successful “Culture Shaping” work within organizations (public and private), as well as our recently concluded large work, the “Three Valleys Project”, funding by the Rockefeller Foundation and designed to build bridges of understanding and “social capital” among diverse groups, including actual and potential adversaries.  Our present project, “The Commons Cafe”, is helping diverse groups tackle difficult, fundamental issues, including Y2K.

Using our learning, experience and track record, we may be able to help significant numbers of people surf through this crisis.  Or, if Y2K turns out to be a ripple instead of a tsunami wave, our work can help communities become more inclusive, sustainable and self-reliant for the next crisis.

To accomplish this, Commonway needs significant funding, for project managers, organizers, communications, transportation, logistics, materials and other support.

Build the Commons
The most ambitious part of this three-part scenario is to build an operative model of “The Commons” within the next 13 months.

As is spelled out in greater detain in my book, Creating a World That Works For All, the Commons is a location, within a neighborhood, where people actually practice the values of a new society, including authenticity, inclusivity and sustainability.  The Commons would be the opposite of The Mall and would restore a financial, intellectual, social and spiritual heart to a local community.

Unless we actually create the Commons, the notion of an inclusive community, one that spans and transcends ideological, ethnic and class lines, remains only a dream.

To build an operating model of the Commons before the Y2K crisis, it will be necessary to:
· envision it
· plan it
· acquire the resources
· construct, retrofit and/or rehab
· test and evaluate.

Simultaneously, we will need to build the “peopleware” of the Commons:
core organization development
· systems development and integration:
· economic/financial
· ecologic
· energy
· social governance
· spiritual

Given the finite nature of the Y2K window of opportunity and the magnitude of the project, I do not know if this ambitious project will be possible.   However, I do know that, unless we attempt to create the Commons, it is absolutely certain it will not be possible.

The beauty of the Y2K crisis is that it literally changes everything.  The task of easing us into a fundamentally transformed society is a necessary act, an ambitious undertaking and a sacred calling.  No one person or group can undertake this alone.  No one has the answer; our new paths will emerge through our collective wisdom.  Only together can we begin to move forward on a path that will create a future our children will want to live in.

Each of us will respond to The Call as it resonates in each of our hearts.  Each of us will be of service to the extent that we hear The Call.

As Commonway undertakes this 13 month mission, I ask for your prayers and good wishes, your resources, your contacts and information, and your visions and dreams.  I want you to know that you have mine.


Sharif Abdullah
Commonway Institute

back to top
back to Commonway Home Page

Squirrels bury nuts.  We have some idea of why they do so, and some idea how. However, whether or not we understand or condone their behavior, squirrels are still going to bury nuts.  In fact, if you see an animal that looks like a squirrel and it’s not burying nuts, its not a squirrel.  I can’t tell you what it IS, but I know what it isn’t, since I know that...  squirrels bury nuts.

Media people manage news.  Whether we understand or condone their behavior, media people are going to manage the news just as surely as squirrels are going to bury nuts.

The last few items to come to me through the Y2K network have been deploring the fact that media squirrels bury nuts.  Whether the squirrel is named Montieth Williams, Jerry Springer or Peter Jensen, they are all busily about burying their nuts.  If you don’t want them to bury your nut, don’t give it to them: they are genetically predisposed to stick it in the ground.  It’s what they do.

The Breaker media gives us a window onto Breaker reality.  News is viewed and managed from that reality.  That is the PURPOSE of the media -- to give us the news in a way we understand.  In a way we have become used to understanding.

By the term “Breaker”, I mean those who see themselves as separate from all others, those who attempt to live on top of the Earth, those who see every problem as an opportunity to control and manage.

Breaker leaders are going to try to control and manage Y2K, as surely as those furry rodents stick acorns in the ground.  Breakers will:

1. Define Y2K in a way that they can understand and control it (divide it into parts);
2. Spend a lot of time counting the parts;
3. Exert control over Y2K as defined (control the parts);
4. Declare victory (the Breaker approach has solved yet another problem).

In their role, the Breaker leadership will sound authorative, reassure the public, give the average citizen a manageable list of “things to do” so that they will feel involved.  Some of the Breaker leadership will be working to see how they can make money off of Y2K.   After 1 January, the Breaker leadership will declare victory and scoff at those who suggested that there was a serious Y2K problem.  They will do this, regardless of what actually happens.

In their role, the Breaker media will show scenes of Y2K being controlled and managed.  They will tow the line of the Breaker leadership, just like my friend Robert Theobald has pointed out the media currently burying the Kosovo nut.  The Breaker media will sensationalize, titillate and otherwise bury their nuts.  And they will minimize and trivialize the input of anyone who says otherwise.  They will do this because that is their particular nut to bury.

I’m not upset at Breakers being Breakers, no more than I am upset at squirrels being squirrels.  I never give a story to the Breaker media unless I have a particular need to have a nut buried.

If anything is going to change, we have to do something other than lamenting the fact that squirrels are running around burying nuts.  We have to stop paying attention to the dinosaurs and start paying attention to the emerging gazelles.

There is an emerging consciousness -- what I call the Menders.  Menders are those of us who see ourselves as inextricably linked to every other being on the planet, those of us who attempt to live within the Earth’s regenerative capacity, those who attempt to bring human behavior into harmony with all other beings on this planet.

This Mender consciousness is reflected in what I call an emerging Mender media.  Variously referred to as “civic journalism”, “environmental reporting” or “alternative media”, the Mender media seeks to respond, educate and inform, rather than sensationalize, titillate and distort.  This emerging Mender media is doing some of the most responsible reporting on Y2K.

Who are the Mender leaders?  You are a leader of this Mender reality.  If you are reading this, someone thinks that you are such a leader.

Y2K is a uniquely Mender challenge, calling for a Mender leadership.  Breakers do not understand it now, will not understand it on January, 2000 or January 2010.  Y2K defies all attempts at categorization, limitation, segmenting into parts, and lies outside the control attempts of any individual or group.

Y2K is evolving its own media.  Think about how this article got to you; I’m pretty sure you did not see it in your local newspaper or hear about it on ABC Evening News.  It more than likely came to you from someone with whom you have a relationship.  The emerging Mender media is relationship based, not control and crisis based.

What can we stop doing?

1. Stop asking the leadership that got us in this fix in the first place to get us out.
2. Stop asking the media to provide relevant news that will be helpful to people.  We have to do that for ourselves.
3. Stop asking squirrels to give up nut-burying.  Just leave them alone.  When they run out of nuts, they go out of business.  That is the key to the “Velvet Revolution” of Vaclav Havel.

What can we do?

1. Form Y2K Leadership Councils in your city and state.  Form a national Leadership Council from local representatives.
2. Support the emerging Y2K media networks with the best information, highest quality analysis, helpful critiques, and best interactive relationships.  Make sure that the media is not entirely Web-based, but gets out to large numbers of people in church bulletins, community centers, etc.  (I am concerned that a Web-based strategy leaves out large segments of our population and can quickly become self-indulgent.)
3. One of the possible activities of a national Y2K Leadership Council would be to issue a monthly “Best of...”  and “Worst of...”, where the best practices and information would be supported, and the worst incidents of trivialization and manipulation of facts would be exposed.

back to top
back to Commonway home page

(this article was originally published in “The Portland Observer” a black newspaper in Portland, Oregon, on 17 February 99 and is reprinted with permission of the author.  To my knowledge, it is one of the few articles on Y2K written specifically for an ethnic minority audience.)


by Sharif Abdullah

Do you think Y2K doesn’t affect you because you don’t own a computer?  At some point you will realize that your life is surrounded by micro-chips, in phones, cars and street lights, any of which may fail because of Y2K.  One survey said that the average American encounters seventy micro-chips every day -- before lunch.  The following is a story that could happen because of Y2K.

First Scenario:  “What’s Going On?”
You wake up in the morning.  You notice that your alarm clock did not go off.  In fact the digital readout is blinking “12:00”.  You dress hurriedly, thinking you may have to stop after work at the supermarket for a new clock.  In the bathroom, the water is only trickling out of the faucet.

On the way downstairs, you pick up the telephone to tell your co-workers that you will be late.  There is no dial tone.  Did you pay the bill?  You go back down the hall to your son’s room and check his phone line - his line is working!  You make your work call from his room; no answer, not even a voicemail message.

You go out to your car and start it up.  All of the red lights on the dash start flashing, and the on-board computer voice says, “Warning: your car is in need of servicing.  Driving your car in this condition could cause major damage.”  As you pull out of the driveway, the message starts repeating.

When you get to the intersection, traffic is jammed because the lights are malfunctioning.  Once through the intersection, you pull over to stop at the ATM for some cash.  There is a long line at the cash machine, with many people getting angry.  One yells, “The ATM is saying my account is closed!!”

There’s an ATM at the supermarket; you’ll stop there and get your clock, too.  You crawl through five more blinking light intersections, then pull into the supermarket parking lot.  As you approach, you see a long line -- no one can get into the supermarket because the computer-controlled security system locked everyone out.

It slowly dawns on you that you have a different kind of problem now:  if they can’t get the doors open, what are you going to do for food?

The above is considered a “moderate” Y2K scenario.  Consider this “serious” Y2K scenario:

Scenario Two:  Y2K Breakdown
You wake up in the morning.  You notice that your alarm clock did not go off.  It isn’t working at all: the electricity is off.  What woke you up was a series of explosions, coming from the direction of the industrial sector of the city.  You find a battery-powered radio and turn it on for news, but all you get is static.

You try the telephone -- there is no dial tone on any line.  You try the car -- it doesn’t start.

You start walking downtown, trying to find out what’s going on.  You notice people running past you.  One of them you recognize as a neighbor.  “Food, man, there’s no more food!  I’m going down to the store to get what’s left!”

You start to run also, carried along by the crowd.  There is a steady stream of people in and out of the broken doors of the supermarket.  People are emerging with shopping carts, baskets, wagons, bundles wrapped in coats and shirts. In the dark store, the sound of display cases breaking pierces an ominous silent shuffling.  You walk past the sporting goods section, noticing that the guns and ammunition have been cleared out.

On your way out, you notice a gang of youths with baseball bats stopping an elderly woman with her full shopping cart.  You turn away quickly; there’s nothing one person can do.  You have responsibility to get your bag of food to your family.

As you turn to your street, you notice six young men coming toward you.  They are carrying shotguns, some with the price tags still attached.  “Where you think you goin’? one asks softly.

Before you sink into despair, consider this third scenario:

Scenario Three:  Y2K Breakthrough
You wake up in the morning, to the sound of your wind-up alarm clock.  You junked the digital one months ago.  You go to the bathroom, admiring the two holes drilled into the wall:  one provides water from your rooftop cistern that collects rainwater, the other empties the bathtub water into the water tank that waters the vegetable garden.

You go downstairs.  “Who’s fixing breakfast today?”  Your partner checks the schedule taped to the refrigerator door.  “Ms. Thompson down the street.”  You hold your head in mock grief, “Damn!  Lumpy oatmeal again!”  Your partner retorts, “I like her lumpy oatmeal!”  The 21 houses in your area have been organized to provide hot meals throughout the community, on rotation.  The designated households are paid in community credits. The credits are worth more than money; the community credits get you what you really need: heat, energy, community services, etc.  Your turn to cook comes next Thursday; you will be fixing lasagna.

On your way outside, you run into ten young men standing on the corner, hats pulled down and hoods pulled up to ward off the cold.  They are waiting for their ride to work.  They are self organized into teams, called “gangs”, that cut firewood, bag coal, deliver food and services to the elderly, recycle newspapers and turn them into  toilet paper, operate the hydrogen production station and the wind power generator.  They used to be in violent street gangs, but got the Y2K message: “you don’t work, you don’t eat”.

You walk over to them.  “How’s Ms. Thompson’s oatmeal today?”  They look at each other, then say, in unison, “Lumpy!”.  You leave them as they are laughing and exchanging high-fives.

On your way to Ms. Thompson’s house, you notice Oscar coming toward you, highly agitated.  “My phone won’t work!  Neither will the water!  My car won’t start!  I’m going downtown and see if I can get some money from the ATM!”

You say with irritation, “Man, what is your problem?  Didn’t I tell you this would happen?  You had a whole year to prepare, to become a part of this community and you did nothing.  Now look at you.  Instead of going downtown, why don’t you go read that community preparation workbook I left with you half a year ago?  Why don’t you decide to be a part of this community?”

(this article was originally published in “The Portland Observer” on 17 February 99 and is reprinted with permission of the author.)

back to top
return to Commonway Home Page