Strategy & Soul
by Daniel HunterHome.html

Chapter 2
Operation Transparency
OCTOBER 14, 2006—NOVEMBER 13, 2006

breaking out of defeatism • rulers cannot govern without consent • 
cutting unwinnable issues into a campaign • heads we win, tails you lose • 
making each one-on-one meeting fruitful • being bold attracts attention • 
the first rule of online organizing • no more marches or rallies

Casting a shadow on our coffeeshop table, an older, seasoned organizer stopped by to give us some paternal advice. He looked down at Jethro. “I live right next to the proposed casino in South Philly, so it’s personal for me. I’m worried about a casino bringing crime so close to my family. But you gotta let this issue go. It’s a done deal.”
	Inside, I recoiled. “Done deal” was an excuse for low expectations—for birthing only small dreams.
	His eyes flickered toward me as he continued, “The casinos spent millions cutting these deals. I wish you could win, but you can’t.”
	It was like the voice of my guidance counselor telling me I was another black man who couldn’t make it to college. That had just fueled my fire to drop out of his high school, enroll directly in college, and show him up by graduating with honors. Statements of impossibility only make me want to prove them wrong—but this was Jethro’s fight. I was just helping out. I gazed over at Jethro.
	“Of course, you’re right,” Jethro said with his deep voice, handling each word with care. “People in this city are convinced we’re defeated. They’re so used to losing that nobody expects the government to protect them.” His fingers moved in rhythm to his punctuated words. “But if we convince people to hold high expectations and believe it’s not over, then it’s not.”
	Our friend opened his mouth to disagree, then paused. Everything Jethro said was true, except… 
	“That’s not a strategy,” the organizer half-shouted. “You can lobby the state house all you want, but they’re not going to change their minds. They cashed their checks long ago.”
	“I know,” said Jethro defensively. “But community and civic groups are going to find out soon that the PGCB doesn’t care what their traffic experts say and that local officials are only pretending to be on their side. I’m not begging the state house, I’m talking about activating ourselves. You know that when I wrote the letter to the editor challenging Senator Fumo for passing Act 71, it was the first one published against him?”
	“It was gutsy.” The organizer smiled.
	“No, it wasn’t gutsy. That’s the problem. People told me to keep my head down. Someone even said I should hire a bodyguard. We don’t need that kind of fear. Our defeatist mentality is killing this city and needs fixing.”
	The older organizer shrugged and shook his head slowly. “I’m sorry, but you’re running up against city officials, state legislators, the governor, and powerful monied interests. I’ve run lots of campaigns in this city. You just can’t win this one.” 
	It was like he was passing his trauma onto us. Stay small! Be cautious! It grated on my skin, making me feel I must join the campaign to prove him wrong. I didn’t have any particular beef with casinos, but people deserved control in their neighborhoods. Besides, even if we lost, working with Jethro would teach me a lot.
	I sipped my tea, realizing I had reached a decision. The organizer turned to leave, crying out as a parting shot, “It’s David versus Goliath. Except it’s a whole bunch of Goliaths.”
	“Exactly,” Jethro said back, tilting his head and smiling broadly. “But remember who wins?”
	Unfortunately, like David before he picked up a sling, we didn’t have a plan. In truth, David headed into the fight against Goliath only after ignoring his friends’ advice. After earning reluctant support from the king, David rejected the king’s offer of conventional weapons. A shepherd, he did not accept the brass helmet, coat of mail, or sword. He picked up what made sense to him: a slingshot. 
	Likewise, our Goliaths were too big to be taken down by conventional responses. Despite some residents’ optimism, Jethro and I knew that they would not be halted by South Philly’s hiring traffic experts, or East Falls/Nicetown’s tough negotiations, or political appeals from civic groups in Northeast Philly. The casinos had too much sway with the PGCB and politicos. Our Goliaths could easily withstand those strategies—just as they could ignore actions that merely protested against them or expressed our outrage, like marches or rallies. We needed a slingshot. And we needed it fast.

A week later, I pulled together a gathering of friends and activists in West Philly. There, I introduced Jethro to the smartest strategist I knew, Philippe Duhamel, who was visiting from Montreal. The year before, Philippe and I had run a campaign with the Canadian Union of Postal Workers. The union faced a powerful adversary backed by a hostile government and big business.
	“Explain the arc of the campaign you designed,” I told Philippe.
	Jethro took a chair nearby and slumped heavily from a full day’s work. 
	“You can’t win if you’re stuck reacting,” said middle-aged Philippe, waving his hands energetically. “That’s the first lesson of campaigning. But the union was stuck in a defensive posture, suffering from death by a thousand cuts and closings. They needed a way to get on the offensive and not just talk about individual plant closings, but the government’s large-scale plan to dismantle the union and privatize the industry.” 
	Jethro nodded, perking up.
	“They needed a campaign to seize the initiative by appealing to an unassailable value, one that all but the most hostile person could agree with. I thought to myself, ‘What’s a widely shared value here that’s being violated?’ And then it hit me: transparency. The government is closing all these plants without giving any reason or explanation. All their plans are secret—and that’s not right.”
	Philippe pulled out his computer, balancing it on his lap. He pulled up a PowerPoint presentation of the postal workers’ campaign, Operation Transparency. Its goal was straightforward: force the government to release all strategic planning documents related to the plant closings.
	“The campaign uses the value of transparency like a fulcrum, to pull people to our side of the debate. Instead of defensively responding to plant closings, we’re on the offensive.”
	“How does that help us with casinos?” asked Jethro, clearly stimulated.
	“You can’t win a debate framed as casinos or no casinos,” I said. “With the city’s current sentiments, we’d lose right away. We need to speak to a higher value to tilt people to our side… Philippe, talk about the actions you designed.”
	Philippe skipped to a slide of the campaign timeline. It started with a public ultimatum asking for the release of all documents and continued with cute, media-friendly actions, like an Easter Egg Hunt, during which union members searched the plant for planning documents to emphasize the point. One local had a member dress up in a white bunny rabbit suit armed with a magnifying glass.
	“For three months we used actions to build a media presence and our base, all the while giving our opponents time to do the right thing,” Philippe said. “Since any worthy goal needs a way to carry it out, our tactics escalated to a culminating action I’ve used before: the nonviolent search and seizure, where we go to their offices and liberate the plans.”
	Jethro chuckled and grinned, “Your action was your message.”
	Philippe clapped, “Exactly! We weren’t going to wait for Canada Post to sit on its hands, ignoring our requests or rallies. We were creating a dilemma demonstration, where no matter the outcome, we win. If Canada Post releases the documents, we win. If they don’t, we do the document search. Then, either we successfully liberate the documents and win—or they look bad arresting citizens who are exemplifying transparency, and they lose. Heads we win, tails you lose.”
	I knew that for Philippe and me, the document search wasn’t a stunt. It was the direct action approach—what I had learned ever since I was eight. Back then, I got it into my head that it was blasphemous to use God’s name in the Pledge of Allegiance. Associating God with country seemed to me taking God’s name in vain. My teacher insisted that I join the rest of the class in its recitation—and then began threatening me with detention when I steadfastly refused.
	While my parents eventually talked her down on the principle that I was allowed my form of religious expression, I withstood days of the teacher’s taunts. It was there that I first learned: Nobody can make you do anything. There might be consequences, but my choices are my own, and nobody can force me do something against my will. That changed my relationship to every boss, teacher, and police officer ever since.
	And it made it easy for me to join the direct action way of thinking. Instead of thinking that teachers, bosses, or CEOs carry the most power, Philippe and I saw the world through a lens that showed us power resides in the bottom, in the workers and the governed. Most people picture power as residing up at the top and flowing downward. But we saw those at the bottom as having great power via their consent or refusal to do what those at the top ask. That’s the heart of a direct action philosophy. 
	The direct action group Otpor, who overthrew a dictator with a nonviolent revolution, explained it succinctly, “By themselves, rulers cannot collect taxes, enforce repressive laws and regulations, keep trains running on time, prepare national budgets, direct traffic, manage ports, print money, repair roads, keep food supplied to the markets, make steel, build rockets, train the police and the army, issue postage stamps or even milk a cow. People provide these services to the ruler through a variety of organizations and institutions. If the people stop providing these skills, the ruler cannot rule.”
	That was the heart of the document search—ending citizen passivity by challenging an abusive organization. 
	But I wasn’t sure Jethro was ready for all of that. So I simply said, “Casino-Free Philadelphia can design a campaign like this. We model transparency by laying out our complete timeline, to help get people off the PGCB’s timeline and put citizens back in the driver’s seat. That gives the media time to cover us and time for your neighbors and others to digest our bold dilemma demonstration. Because we can’t win if this is just about casinos. We need to use a dramatic action to carry our framing.”
	For the next hour, Jethro flooded Philippe with questions about the mechanics, the framing, and the use of a public timeline. It was going better than I had hoped. 
	We talked late into the night, long after the others had departed. By the time I locked up the house for the night, Jethro and I had a sketch of plans.

On a rainy October day, Jethro and I sloshed into Sahara Grill, a Middle Eastern restaurant in Center City. We tossed our umbrellas in a corner and dripped on our booth. I nervously smoothed out draft flyers of Operation Transparency, wishing our draft was perfect. I wanted our best foot forward with Ed Goppelt for our first one-on-one meeting to share the campaign.
	With permission, Jethro and I extracted large chunks of Philippe’s design. We took the goal of releasing documents and the culminating citizens’ search-and-seizure action, but developed new actions and adapted the framing to our context. We debated replacing “search-and-seizure action” with a less confrontational name. Jethro’s view prevailed, that his brand-new-to-activism neighbors would be turned off by sounding too combative, and offered “document search.”
	Jethro had suggested enlisting endorsements from ally groups, starting with Ed Goppelt of the independent city watchdog group, a site so effective even government insiders used it to read upcoming City Council bills and access public tax records. Ed had ripped into the secrets of the casino licensing process, filing dozens of right-to-know requests (all turned down). He was the first journalist to show that the riverfront casinos needed public land known as “riparian land”—which had been historically submerged when the waterline was higher—in order to build their plans. Ed poured any shred of PGCB documents onto his website. 
	Right at twelve, lanky Ed opened the door and strode to our table, warmly greeting us. After short pleasantries, he whipped out a pen and began a barrage of razor-sharp questions. “Exactly which documents do you want?” His thin body leaned forward, his tie nearly dripping into his food.
	“All the casino-related planning documents, like site plans,” I said.
	 “The casinos published their original site plans long ago. But most of them have radically shifted their plans and we have not been able to see them. For example, I heard TrumpStreet[INTRODUCTION OF TRUMPSTREET]’s casino proposal added twelve more acres to its site. It’s the updated documents you’re seeking?”
	TrumpStreet in East Falls/Nicetown was the casino proposed by Donald Trump, located across from a school. And in a twist of deep cynicism, was placed just a block from a local addiction treatment center. Like all the casinos, it was placed within blocks of people’s homes. 
	“Yes,” I said. “We’re trying to make an ask that makes sense to anyone. Shouldn’t people get to see updated plans of a massive casino building across from their house?”
	Ed looked at us with great intensity. “Why stop at updated site planning documents? Why not revenue planning projections?”
	“We did not know about those,” I said.
	“Those would be good, too,” Jethro said.
	Ed skimmed the flyer. “If you get the documents released, what then?”
	“We expect the documents to stand on their own as an argument to slow the process down for more consideration,” said Jethro. “They cannot have seriously addressed site plans, environmental plans, or social impacts. SugarHouse still claims they are not in a residential neighborhood.”
	“So you go to Harrisburg, do the action. If you get arrested, what will you do then?”
	“Create headlines,” I said. “Delegitimize the PGCB and the licensing process. Build momentum against whichever casinos get selected or, in the best case, make enough obstacles so the PGCB can’t go through with the licensing.”
	“These other little actions on the timeline? What do they do?”
	“They give us time to organize,” I said. “Our campaign needs an arc, time to raise the issue in the public’s eye and get into people’s consciousness. Plus, we need time to build pressure on the PGCB.”
	His questions continued on and on. Under the scrutiny of Ed’s mind, the campaign lost its glamour. “The ultimatum page is excellent,” he concluded. “The rest”—the tactics and direct action, apparently—“seems sketchy.” Thanking us for our ideas, he grabbed his umbrella and bade us a spritely goodbye, leaving Jethro and me sitting at the booth. 
	I felt sulky that Hallwatch would not run the campaign with us. “He was our most likely ally and probably won’t even endorse it?”
	Jethro’s savvy organizing experience made him see it differently. He knew organizing is about starting wherever people are, using their core values to move into action for social change. “Ed gave us a lot of important information. We know more about what parts we have to tighten up, especially explaining the point of the direct action. It’s not a failure, it’s just more information on how to bring Ed a step closer. If Ed won’t get arrested with us or even endorse us, I bet he’ll tighten up our document demands.”
	Jethro was right. Ed helped hone our vague demands into eight core requests: case files for each of the casinos; social, environmental, and crime impact studies; hearing presentations; revenue projections; updated site plans; updated traffic plans; architectural drawings; and a complete history of casinos’ past commitment to communities—all kept secret by the PGCB.
	It was the first time—but far from the last—that I saw Jethro’s brilliance at making even “unsuccessful” meetings count, by giving everyone a chance to help the campaign, no matter where they were.

After hundreds of emails, dozens of phone calls, and a handful of one-on-one meetings, nobody else had endorsed the campaign. Most just weren’t interested in casinos as an issue. I couldn’t motivate housing advocates, union leaders, or good government groups. At best, they admitted that neighbors were being mistreated and locked out from the process. However, most unhelpfully repeated that the deals were already struck. With no sense of irony that they were in losing movements themselves, they advised that since we couldn’t win, it wasn’t worth trying.
	I wrote to Philippe in frustration. “Are we crazy? We’re up against a multibillion dollar industry and don’t even have money for copies. What’s wrong with us?”
	Casino-Free Philadelphia was a shell of an organization, with no institutional support or structure. Jethro received moral support from NABR, but members were focused on broader planning and internal issues. He had to beg to get our flyer copied. Meanwhile, I tossed together a bare-bones website hosted on a friend’s server, with an email listserve of only fifteen people.
	Philippe wrote back quickly, “Yes, you are out of you mind. And that’s why I love you. Remember to breathe, and laugh at the whole mess!”
	It felt silly to take a deep breath in front of my computer, but I tried. I had been so caught up in creating something new, I forgot that most new campaigns suffer this moment: testing whether the campaign’s vision and organization is strong enough to weather forces outside of the womb. 
	It felt crazy. Our capacity was so tiny that to carry out the campaign we absolutely had to grow. Yet that’s exactly what a campaign should do. The goal should be inspiring and bold enough that its capacity needs to grow and expand. Our wildly ambitious timeline and zany actions were part of what made the campaign interesting; when people saw them, they’d want to join—or so I hoped. 
	Convinced that the campaign was ready, Jethro and I emailed our listserve and five media contacts. The day before Halloween, we would deliver our ultimatum.

On October 30, five of us gathered under a bright blue sky. Our tiny group was dwarfed by the shadow of massive City Hall, the largest masonry building in the nation. It’s what I expected for our maiden voyage, but I couldn’t help but feel concern. Are we really going to go through with this?
	Journalists from independent media dribbled in first, led by Ed Goppelt. At the stroke of noon, two journalists arrived from the mainstream daily newspapers: Jeff Shields for the Philadelphia Inquirer and Chris Brennan for the Philadelphia Daily News. Adding to their numbers were mainstream radio stations, including KYW and WHYY. 
	Nervously I turned to Caryn Hunt, one the four NABR activists who showed up to support CFP’s new campaign. “Do you see this? We have more reporters than participants!” My heart began racing. She patted my arm supportively. 
	I was of two minds. One was proud our press calls had convinced skeptical reporters that we were serious and would offer a dramatic storyline. Most reporters couldn’t help but ask, “If they don’t give you the documents, are you seriously going to walk into their offices and just take the documents?” I would grin widely and silently point to our document, which laid out everything.
	But I hadn’t been this nervous before an action for years. It wasn’t only my anxiety about leading a confrontational action. What weighed most heavily was that we were promising everyone an escalating, two-month campaign—but we didn’t have the organizational resources to back it up. 
	Consciously, I chose to act from a place of confidence. I had been a trainer for years, which had taught me that I had a choice on how to present. Inside I’d still often worry that this time I wouldn’t be useful, but outside I’d project confidence—something I’d do so smoothly few people would know my own internal dialogue.
	To the crowd, Jethro read from the ultimatum, “People have a right to see plans of what is being built in this city. If these documents are not made public by December 1 at high noon, we will be forced to search for the documents ourselves. We are prepared to go the full lengths of nonviolent civil disobedience to assert our right as citizens for this information, including carrying out a Document Search on the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board’s offices in Harrisburg, where we will liberate the texts that have not been given to us.”
	I moved to the front of our huddle, steadying my voice. “Now, we’re going to head in and up to the mayor’s office to try faxing a copy of the ultimatum to Tad Decker, head of the PA Gaming Control Board. We’ll also send it to Governor Rendell.”
	I led the contingent up to the mayor’s office. Halfway through, I discretely pulled Jethro to help lead the way—I didn’t even know where the mayor’s office was! I chided myself, and my stomach churned at my naïveté and all I did not know.
	At the mayor’s fourth-floor office, we were confronted by a stiff, balding official. “How can I help you?” he asked, glancing suspiciously at the small crew and reporters in tow.
	I stuttered through our request, amazed at how poorly I was remembering what I had been editing for weeks. “We’re just wanting to use the mayors’ fax to send out… uh… a note to Chairman Decker and also to Governor Rendell letting them know that we’re wanting … uh… to get documents… uh… the casino applications, traffic and site plans, etc.”
	The gentleman made no eye contact with me as he read our ultimatum. “So you want to use our fax machine?”
	Well, it was our fax machine—our taxpayer dollars had paid for it, a point made to us earlier by Ed Goppelt. 
	The stiff official glanced at the video cameras, then reluctantly ushered us into the mayor’s communications office. “They’re going to just use the fax for a minute,” he told the wide-eyed staff.
	Dazed, I stood at the fax machine awkwardly entering first Decker’s, then Rendell’s fax numbers. Minutes later, the fax machine printed a confirmation that the letter had been sent. Success! Our ultimatum was delivered and the campaign officially launched.
	I turned to Jethro, “With five reporters covering us, I think its safe to say this is the most highly covered fax transmission in Philly history!” We passed out “trick-or-treat bags” to the mayor’s communications staffers—and later to councilmembers two floors lower. Unlike the casino industry, we did not have any money to buy off politicians, so we offered them what we could afford: chocolate coins. I had added magnifying glasses, so they could help us search for the documents, and some Tastykakes, because it was rumored that Tasty Baking Company might close its doors if Trump’s casino were built, costing the city hundreds of jobs.
	The action was cute, funny, and fairly well-executed—but not earth-shattering, with PGCB merely a non-participative fax recipient. Still, with an action each week until the December 1 ultimatum, we would get them engaged.

The next morning, I ran downstairs and tore open the pages of the Inquirer to find the first press of the campaign. The Philadelphia Inquirer is a Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper, generally well-regarded[INTRODUCTION OF INQUIRER] for its reporting. 
	I had to turn several pages to find the article. I scanned for my quote. When I found it, a familiar thrill at seeing one’s name in print ran through my body. “‘If the documents are not made public by that date, we’re going to have to take them ourselves,’ said Daniel Hunter of West Philadelphia, a member of Casino-Free Philadelphia.” 
	Reading more closely, I noted that the Inquirer ignored our drama with the mayor’s fax machine. It did mention our demands for “documents the board has not released” and referred to us as “residents from throughout the city.” Not activists—that’s good, I thought to myself. Even though I am an activist, the “activist” framing has been contaminated with images of undirected outrage or random violence, not the high-ground action by citizens that we were modeling.
	But the debate was poorly framed. Rather than transparency versus government secrecy, the article’s framing was about confidentiality and proper procedure. Responding to our requests for documents, the Inquirer wrote, “PGCB officials say it may be privileged.” Spokesperson Doug Harbach[INTRODUCTION DOUG HARBACH] dismissed our accusations, saying, “We’re not running away from releasing information that the public can obtain—we’re doing this by the book, and the book is Act 71.”
	It was barely a rebuttal, sidestepping entirely the accusation that his organization was operating behind a veil of secrecy. That the reporter had let that slide meant we had not increased the pressure enough. But it was a start.

All around Jethro’s dining room lay scattered lumber and sawdust. He kept an undampened hope his stairwell, attic, and bedroom would be finished soon, despite numerous contractor delays. Nothing seemed to get in the way of his buoyancy. 
	Jethro cocked his head, showing his pronounced chin, “You know I’ve never gotten arrested before?”
	My eyes grew wide in disbelief at this cavalier revelation. He never did direct action before? Yet he’s happy, even confident, in leading people outside his own comfort zone? 
	“I haven’t,” he said, not noticing my reaction. “I know community organizing, and you know direct action. We’re a great match. But everything about doing a document search is totally new for me. What’s gonna happen? People are asking me about what happens if we’re arrested. I don’t know what to tell them.”
	“If we are arrested doing the document search, police can hold us in jail for up to seventy-two hours. It’s an early morning action on a weekday, not a high-volume time for arrests. So we’re unlikely to have a queue of people in front of us being booked. Unless they decide to play hardball with us, I bet we could be out by later that afternoon.”
	“Can they stop us from going into the building?”
	“Yes, they could set up some barricade. Then we just do the action there. We go as far as we can to legitimately carry out a document search.”
	“Could they arrest us before we do the action?”
	“It’s possible,” I said slowly. “I’ve seen them do that in Philadelphia before, during the Republican National Convention. They arrested protestors—even snatching cardboard puppets—only to release them after the event. But that’s real unlikely. It’s a pretty obscene violation of our rights, and we’re not perceived as much of a risk.”
	Inside my head, I brainstormed other scenarios: What if an angry spectator tries to start a brawl? What if they let us up, but all the doors are locked? What if they let us search but plant false evidence? How do we make it joyous if people are getting handcuffed? It was like a giant puzzle—and I like solving puzzles.
	Jethro sat back, smiling. “People need this information to combat their fears. They’ve never done anything like this, and it’s hard to get them totally psyched. NABR is supportive, but they’re not pushing it as hard as I hoped.”
	I said nothing. If he couldn’t recruit people for the action, then it wasn’t going to happen.
	“Including us, only four people have signed up so far,” he said, his body sagging slightly. “You have any more?”
	I shook my head. “We’ve got sixty people on our email list. But no commitments for the document search.”
	He downed the last of the coffee. “How many people do we need at minimum?”
	“Maybe double-digits. Too few and we look completely marginal.”
	He stared at his empty cup. I waited. 
	His head snapped up, some internal decision made. “Then let’s get ten.”
	It was certainty in his voice, borne from years of organizing people. The act of setting goals set him in motion. Definite numbers freed his energy. He ran upstairs. “Grab your coat!”
	I grabbed my coat off a chair and put it on. Jethro returned swiftly, and I followed him out of the house and four houses down. Jethro banged loudly on the door. 
	A loud, gruff shout carried from deep inside the house, “WHO IS IT?”
	“It’s Jethro.”
	A large man with a big trucker belly filled the doorway. He swaggered like a man who knew his way around a bar fight. “Jethro!” He lit up excitedly and clutched Jethro’s extended hand.
	After introductions and small talk, Jethro wheeled on Ed Verral. “The document search can make a big impact. It’s not over—it’s just barely begun.”
	Ed hated the idea of a casino across from his house, enough to give his name to CFP’s long-shot legal challenge and deliver a Halloween ultimatum. But that didn’t mean he was going to do something stupid.
	“I’ve never been arrested before,” he said.
	“Me either,” said Jethro. “It’ll be fun to do together. I want to do it with you.”
	Ed looked skeptical, as if his mind were swirling with exaggerated fears of jail or losing a job due to an arrest record.
	“What do you worry might happen?” I asked him. “What is the worst thing that might happen?”
	“It’s just…” Ed stared at me for the first time. His face showed a deeper fear than bad food in cold jail cells—something about being on the wrong side of the law. “It’s just not right.”
	Cigarette smoke from his jacket crawled into my nose. I wanted to challenge him: his Teamsters union had a history of using direct action to win rights. Words flashed in my mind from Dr. Martin Luther King about unearned suffering being redemptive to society. But it was too early in our relationship to push it. 
	Jethro leaned in. “It’s not right to put gigantic casinos with giant parking garages and 24/7 neon lights across from our houses. It’s not right to stomp on our say, to hide documents from us. When they’ve left us no options, taking actions into our hands is the right thing to do.”
	Ed nodded with respect, but said nothing.
	“So will you do it with us?”
	“I just don’t think—” 
	Jethro cut him off. “I hope you’ll come to the action, even if you decide not to risk arrest. But please consider it before saying no, because it would be fun to be arrested with you. Don’t decide now.”
	Jethro and I shot quick, nervous glances to each other—the same glances we’d share at a dozen more houses.
	“So,” said Jethro, “will you at least come to the action next week?”
	“You bet,” said Ed. “It sounds like fun!”

So next week we squeezed a two-hour trek to the PGCB’s offices into our packed schedule. Ed Goppelt wanted confirmation that the PGCB—despite its public face—wasn’t sharing the information we sought, and Jethro sold the action as a chance to re-launch Operation Transparency to the rest of the state. I wanted to make sure it wasn’t a boring press conference, so I made sure we brought along some “supplies.”
	When we arrived in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania’s capital, our little troop, twelve-strong, meandered into Strawberry Square, a 1,000,000-square foot office and mall complex across the street from the capitol building. I bantered with Ed, feeling none of the anxiety from last week’s action. With the campaign commitment made, it was just follow-through.
	After stepping through the mall’s entrance, we took an immediate right through large glass doors and walked up to a security desk. If the PGCB didn’t release the documents by our due date, we might do our action there in a month. 
	Unlike other government offices, where you could walk right in, we had to sign in with security and wait for a PGCB “escort” up to their office. Eyeing us with suspicion, our escort took us to the twelfth floor and into a dark, cramped room with a few folding tables and little air.
	PGCB staff hauled boxes of files into the room. Left alone, we quickly learned their strategy: bore us to death with unrelated files. Most were generic public corporation filings, others were heavily redacted with hundreds of entirely blacked-out pages. We waded for hours, searching knee-deep for any scrap of useful information. Nothing.
	When the clock hit one, we headed back down to the mall. We huddled just past the glass doors, beyond the PGCB security desk, and unveiled our “supplies.” We donned bright-yellow miner hats and headlamps, then waited for members of the press to arrive to our scheduled 1:30 P.M. press conference. 
	Four or five arrived, stealing multiple glances at our costumes.
	Anne Dicker stepped forward, wearing a giant headlamp. “We are data miners,” she said, “and have come searching for any plans from the Gaming Control Board.” The Harrisburg-based journalists from several statewide newspapers smiled, perhaps wondering if their story was “Crazy Activists Wear Funny Clothes Outside of PGCB Office.”
	Silly or not, it was that hook—plus the general arc of the campaign—that got them to show up. Who would show up to a press conference called “Philadelphia Citizens Ask for Documents and Don’t Get Them”?
	We described the shreds of information the PGCB offered us, as reporters scribbled notes furiously, peppering us with questions in our informal “Data Miners’ Report Session.” 
	Cheered that something had come from our full-day trip, we took off our hats and crammed back into our cars for the ride home. While we were still on the road, a Pittsburgh Tribune reporter called the PGCB to find out why so few documents were available. “We have opened our offices for review of this information and welcome the public during normal business hours to inspect these records,” PGCB spokesman Doug Harbach told him, again side-stepping the issue.
	Days later, a Pittsburgh state representative, Jake Wheatley, saw the Tribune’s headline piece and unexpectedly became the first politician to sign on to our campaign. Hearing that, a reporter from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette posted a half-week-old story about our data-mining action and asked Doug a new round of questions.
	Doug switched his tune, saying that architectural renderings are confidential because they might reveal the locations of security cameras or vaults. He “wasn’t sure why” community groups were denied site plans but said impact studies and reviews would be available “once licensing hearings are complete.” It was a tacit acknowledgement of secrecy—and the beginnings of a crack in their talking points.

Half-an-hour ahead of a NABR meeting in the low-ceilinged Old Brick Church in Fishtown, I plopped down breathlessly next to Jethro. 
	I started to talk, but Jethro launched into his frustrations about NABR not giving him as much support as he wished. Normally, I would have listened patiently, but I was too excited and waved him off.
	This was big. “Doug Harbach just called me!”
	Jethro halted quickly and looked at me in disbelief. “Doug called you?”
	My heart was still pounding. I squealed in excitement, “Yes!”
	“You mean Doug Harbach? From the PGCB?”
	“Yes, yes,” I said. “He asked what documents we wanted. Wait, no. First, he said he heard we were having trouble getting some documents—”
	“Because of him!”
	“Yeah,” I said hurriedly, “so I gave him the list of documents we wanted. He told me he’d try to get them on the PGCB website quickly. He didn’t apologize or anything. But he sounded serious.” I took my first full breath since the call. “He just called up out of the blue. I started to tell him I hoped they’d restart community hearings, but he hung up. I’m gonna send a follow-up to him and Chairman Decker.” I second-guessed myself, hoping Jethro thought I did a good job. He would have built a personal relationship with Doug… or recruited him… or something… 
	“This is big,” said Jethro. “We have to let our people and reporters know about this. We’re getting to the PGCB.”
	I nodded, my heart still thudding in my chest. “That’s what our timeline does, it creates pressure. They would have ignored a one-time rally or direct action, waiting until the heat blew over. But the timeline builds pressure. Press are referencing our December 1 demands and our document search threat—”
	“Except Philadelphia press,” said Jethro curtly.
	“In turn, that creates pressure as more politicians are signing on to our campaign—”
	“Except Philadelphia politicians.”
	“The point is,” I said, “this is the result—the PGCB is nervous about our deadline!”
	It was a marked contrast from other groups I had worked with, who raced from action to action on the belief that time was against them and they had to act now. They’d plan an action, execute it, and then do it all again—the activist version of “rinse, lather, repeat.” But it rarely worked.
	Instead, we made an ally out of time. We transparently announced our direct action far in advance. That gave time for our opponents to worry about what was coming, and it gave us time to publicly escalate pressure on our opponent—with a clear escape route for them: Release the documents. 
	“Of course, if that’s the case, maybe the PGCB will give us the documents.” Jethro looked at me expectantly, then added, “Or it could all just be a bluff, hoping we’ll call it off. Or they’ll release a portion. Either way, we have to be ready.”
	I nodded and asked, “Any more people sign up for the document search?”
	We were now in well-traversed terrain. We’d called every person on our small listserve—several times now. 
	“Only six people,” he said. “You have any?”
	“I’m not having success getting any statewide groups.”
	“Ha, that’s okay. Everyone’s so paralyzed. Up North, people talk about their fears about having maybe two casinos in their vicinity. But does that make them want to take bold direct action? No. Instead, civic leaders are telling people to negotiate and beg politicians to save us.”
	“But I’m not even getting to talk to people statewide.”
	“Why not?”
	“Well,” I said. “I emailed Diane again to send Operation Transparency flyers to her list. She hasn’t replied to me. And she won’t give me lists of statewide contacts.”
	A one-woman show overseeing the statewide anti-casino organization, Diane Berlin was a wealth of information, distributing clippings of every newspaper article and report to her extensive statewide and nationwide list.
	“Then you must follow the first rule of online organizing,” Jethro said.
	I waited for him to say more. When he didn’t, I asked, “Which is?”
	“The first rule of online organizing: Stop being online. Stop emailing her, and give her a call. You’ll only make up stories about each other that are probably not true.”
	I sighed. He was right. As much as I tried to tell myself that maybe she just missed my email or it got lost in a spam filter, my nagging fear returned that she was sticking it to us for a reason. There was already so much statewide tension set up in the divide-and-conquer strategy of how Pennsylvania brought in casinos. Because locations were competitive, it easily turned each locality against each other. Gettysburg people hoped it would be built in Bethlehem, who hoped it would be built in Allentown. It was the same divisive design in Philadelphia. Yet just as Operation Transparency was designed to bring together all citywide groups, I hoped it could do the same with the statewide groups.
	“Call me if it doesn’t work out,” said Jethro, as NABR members started to assemble for their meeting. He turned to chat up members about the good news from the campaign, before turning back and whispering, “And that call with Doug… You did great, really great.”
	I exhaled and beamed.

A week later, I jumped off the bus with my boombox blaring Mission Impossible’s theme song. A half-dozen supporters followed me to the State Museum auditorium in Harrisburg. The first-ever mock document search was on.
	In the chilly mid-November air, I projected confidence, despite my own discomfort with the oddness of the street theater we were about to do. “This mock search is a practice session for our nonviolent document search. It is playful, but we are serious. The future of our city is at stake. What are they hiding? Let’s see if we can find out!”
	The PGCB’s penchant for secrecy had been confirmed days earlier. Their advertisements for “public” hearings reminded us there would be no chance for public testimony—and avoided saying where they would be held. After a flurry of fruitless emails with equally puzzled reporters, I finally called Doug Harbach to obtain the location. It was as if they didn’t want us there.
	To the tune from The Pink Panther, we each picked up a magnifying glass and started scouring the entrance, looking under bushes and outside the doors for the documents. It was awkward silliness, until people started arriving.
	Lawyers, architects, casino investors, and other professionals headed in to listen or give testimony. Surprising them, we thrust magnifying glasses in their faces asking, “Do you have the Philadelphia casino planning documents?” Most muttered “No” and scurried off. 
	I was good-naturedly envious of NABR activist Lena Helen’s boldness as she casually strolled up, with dollar-store magnifying glass held aloft, and asked authoritatively, “Can we search you for any casino planning documents?” One lawyer-type gripped his briefcase as if we might run off with it and weakly shot back, “No, I never saw them!” He fled into the auditorium.
	A few reporters meandered through, and we half-heartedly replayed our searches on them. Most more-or-less playfully responded, “Haven’t seen them either. But when you find them, let us know.” 
	We used it as a chance to strengthen relationships with reporters; for example, taking aside a reporter for the Associated Press. As a national distributor, the AP gets news stories placed into thousands of newspapers and TV stations across the state and country. Jethro introduced the AP reporter to his neighbor, 60-year-old Joanne Sherman, who had lived in Fishtown for decades, while I countered the latest that Doug had been saying, urging the reporter to get tough with him.
	We continued for about half an hour, with a dozen people playfully, and some nervously, holding up magnifying glasses—to the tune of a dozen spy-related songs. When we turned the music off, it was time for the hearings to begin. I felt dumbfounded: how to close this kind of action? “Well,” I said awkwardly, thrusting my hands into my jeans. “We successfully did the first-ever mock document search! Congrats! And, uh, let’s go inside.”
	We headed inside to the low-ceilinged, darkly lit auditorium of the hearings. Here, casinos would show videotaped messages of support from Bruce Willis, Sylvester Stallone, Michael Jordan, Quincy Jones, and others, each vying to be selected for the coveted Philly licenses. When the Casino-Free Philadelphia crew found seats, I scuttled out. I couldn’t stand being cooped up listening, helplessly, to casino investors drone on. I’d planned legislative visits, while everyone else wanted to glean what they could from the hearings.
	Alone, I headed toward the capitol building, immediately running into an anti-casino activist from Pittsburgh. She was a freelance, independent lobbyist. 
	Concerned as I was about messing up my first attempts at lobbying, I asked if she would join. She readily agreed, and together we entered the offices of State Representative Jake Wheatley for an unannounced meeting. Butterflies fluttered in my stomach as Jake invited us to his couch and offered us soda. He lowered himself behind his imposing desk and kindly asked us why we were there.
	“We’re here to know… you see, to find out if…” I collected myself. “You signed on to our campaign. We thank you. And I wanted to hear more about why you did that.”
	As an African-American representing Pittsburgh’s predominantly African-American Hill District, he reiterated the same statements he had given to the press. “The fact that many in the public don’t have access to the most updated changes in these proposals is problematic. How can the public determine the impact on their neighborhoods and communities if they are not seeing the constant changes being made to the plans?”
	I agreed excitedly, only to be interrupted by my colleague, who demanded it was not enough to be anti-process—he must be anti-casino, too. For several minutes he politely nodded as she dictated to him, until he cut her off to strenuously disagree. “I’m not anti-casino,” he said, staring at us. “I think we need jobs.”
	This was not going well. Instead of trying to bring him one step closer, she was giving ideological purity tests. 
	“We, uh, represent different organizations,” I said. “Though we are against casinos, the campaign I’m involved in is specifically about good process. We think we’d never have these casinos without a bad process. That’s why we’re asking for transparency from the PGCB, as a first step. We’ll be back on December 11 to fight for that goal, which we share. Would you come and be part of our rally?”
	He nodded tenuously, as if looking for the catch. “Of course it’s an important issue. I’ll talk to my scheduler about it.”
	Later, I realized I should have pressed. This was a politician’s polite form of no. One shouldn’t leave a politician’s office without a hard confirmation, but I was vaguely proud of not doing anything tragically wrong. It gave me more confidence in meeting additional representatives—but without my one-note colleague. 
	At lunchtime, I headed across the street to a dive of a restaurant, where Gene Stilp introduced me to a few of his activist colleagues. They were part of his statewide tour with his signature fifteen-foot-high inflatable pig, protesting legislative pork and a controversial pay raise by state legislators. A year after Act 71 introduced casinos, legislators used the same 2 A.M. process without public review to give themselves and judges a pay raise of up to one-third. Horrified by their blatant disregard for process and the people, Gene took to the streets. 
	Like many others, he believed the inclusion of judges in the pay raise was likely in exchange for their support for casinos. But though his passion on the issue was evident, I wasn’t sure how we could help each other. He was as noncommittal about coming to our action as I was about his. I persisted, trying to find a way to bring him and his good government activists into our movement. I didn’t need a conversion, I just needed him to move one step closer to us. “You must have some local experience from your high-profile actions,” I said. “One thing we need is to prepare for possible scenarios for the day and scout the location for our document search.”
	His eyes lit up. “I know the place—and know all the police very well.” He jumped up from the table. “Come on, let’s go scouting!” He swept out of the restaurant, leaving me hurrying behind.
	Back at Strawberry Square, he pointed to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania lobby, saying, “These are public facilities, so Capitol Police would arrest you here.”
	“But PGCB’s offices are on that side,” I pointed to the other side of the entrance, toward Verizon Tower.
	“No way,” he said. “All the government offices are here, because it’s public property.” He watched me continue to point. “You sure?”
	He looked surprised and sought out a local state police officer. “Excuse me, who owns that tower?” He pointed at Verizon Tower.
	“It’s private,” the officer said.
	“So any arrests there would be by local Harrisburg police?”
	The officer raised an eyebrow. “Yes, I guess so.”
	“Well, that would be Randy King’s jurisdiction,” Gene said, rattling off from memory the contact of the Harrisburg communications director. “He’s a decent guy.”
	Gene continued to spew information until he glanced at his watch and excused himself.
	Alone in the lobby, I tried to envision our action. 
	The lobby is public, so here we can gather from the cold to get warm and collect ourselves. We’ll go through the front doors, instead of the back entrance. We’re not trying to sneak past them. Then we’ll gather at the security desk where everyone can cheer us on and press can go stand by the wall for good pictures. Then those willing to risk arrest will press on, through the glass doors, up the elevators, and as far as we can go to liberating the documents. 
	So what’s likely to go wrong? If they lock the doors, we’ll go as far as we can to carry out the action. What if the person at the security desk freaks out?
	I walked over to a bored woman with Securitas insignia and introduced myself, hoping to imprint my face on her memory. Maybe she would be working when—if—we did the document search.
	After a few more moments standing in imagination, I headed back to the auditorium to join my bleary-eyed colleagues for one last event. They emerged looking stunned by the slick presentations, each casino boasting of its plans for a half-a-billion investment to build the first phase, with second and third phases including larger parking garages, restaurants, hotels, and amenities. None trumped community support, because none had it.
	To close the day, we headed over for a short, statewide protest arranged by statewide allies. It was a classic rally, with signs wafting from the capitol steps as hand-chosen people followed each other to drone on a lectern. 
	I had nothing to say until Jethro and I were back on the bus, heading home. By then, we had learned that our first Associated Press story was spreading across the state. Doug had reiterated that releasing documents was unacceptable, because it might reveal the “location of security cameras,” but looked weak in the face of Jethro’s neighbor tenaciously fighting nightclubs only to be facing the prospect of SugarHouse casino within 500 feet of her home, who said simply, “We’re a nice and quiet neighborhood, we all stick together. A casino doesn’t belong in a residential neighborhood.” Even so, Doug yielded part-way, offering that more documents should be disclosed during the hearings. 
	“See, Jethro, despite our small numbers, we’re getting noticed by doing something unusual, something to report on. Press don’t cover issues. They cover news stories, so, to earn press we must be new and a story, not just a litany of problems… Plus, it helps to show up where media were already coming!” I smiled and leaned toward him closely. “But Jethro, promise me we’ll keep doing things like the document search and not bland rallies.”
	“You mean because no press showed up at the afternoon rally?” he asked.
	“No, because the entire action was commonplace. People walked past us without a second glance. Promise me we’ll only use fresh actions—mock document searches, data mining, or the most highly covered fax transmission in Philly history.”
	“Sure… No boring rallies or marches for us.”
	“I promise,” he said, smiling broadly at me.
	I leaned back in my seat. Over the winding months, our commitment would force us to stay creative and generative, rather than defaulting to actions that are the lowest common denominator. We couldn’t slay Goliath with conventional weapons. We had found our slingshot: direct action.
Introduction * Chapter 1 * Chapter 2Excerpt.htmlChapter_1.htmlshapeimage_4_link_0shapeimage_4_link_1shapeimage_4_link_2