front porch flimflam
Flimflam /ˈflɪm.flæm/: n. Talk that intends to deceive ... v. To swindle or dupe
On this page, you will find any information, news, links to documents, or other updates that have occurred since FrontPorchFlimflam.com was first published in the first week of November 2022. Mostly just a collection, in reverse chronological order, of what we've been up to in order to tell this story. Thanks!
January 30, 2023
A recent article on Salon.com hit all the usual and popular talking points in telling the Front Porch Forum narrative. Its misinformation even goes so far as to say that a nearly six-year-old research survey was "independent" when the page the article points to is a Front Porch Forum web page that clearly states "This survey was commissioned by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Front Porch Forum..." Also, six years ago is a lifetime ago. Ask anyone.
The article, entitled "Our digital public squares aren't so healthy. Can we fix that?" was written by Leslie Stebbins, an "independent research librarian and the Director of research4Ed." Ms. Stebbins is also the author of an upcoming book, ironically called "Building Back Truth in an Age of Misinformation," which includes a foreword written by Ethan Zuckerman – a friend of Michael Wood-Lewis (FOMWL) who has promoted Front Porch Forum and its misleading narrative in his own work. Ms. Stebbins is a friend of a FOMWL, at least, which may explain a lot.
I reached out to Ms. Stebbins to see if she'd be interested in correcting the misinformation contained in her article. Instead of amplifying the narrative FPF continuously promotes of itself, as a researcher Ms. Stebbins certainly could have easily learned that FPF is not at all what it claims to be, and does not operate in the way her article described.
It's interesting that Ms. Stebbins' glowing report on FPF has come out after FPF has begun to take some subtle hits in local media lately, particularly about how toxic and divisive some people feel it has become in their local community. Perhaps FPF was in need of some "good news" to counter what's been said about it lately, and dialed up a friend?
For more on the recent stories that are beginning to show FPF's cracks and how it contributes to the toxicity and divisiveness in local communities, you can look here, here, here, and here.
I don't believe in the emergent popular discourse that public and online forums are becoming more toxic or divisive. I don't believe that simply because I read something that I disagree with – even vehemently – that the author is toxic or divisive. That's not how a community's public space, or freedom of expression, is supposed to work. I also think using those labels on someone else or their expression removes agency from the person reading or listening to what someone else has to say, and puts all the responsibility, and blame, on the author/speaker, often negatively singling out that person for sharing their thoughts. I think the labeling of "toxic" and "divisive" are the tools used by power-holding interests in order to maintain their power and control. This is not new in cultures or societies around the world, but that doesn't mean we – as in the vast majority of people – should accept it.
If I write the truth about human behaviors and choices destroying our planet and killing living beings, while at the same time someone else is writing an opinion that tree-hugging environmentalists are trying to keep humans from having homes, or food, or a place to recreate, or a direct route to drive on, or fuel for their heat and cars, how is it that both of us can be considered toxic and divisive? If I write the truth about the history of events on this continent and the effect of White settler colonialism in carrying out a continuing genocide of Indigenous Peoples in the Americas (and the rest of globe), and the continuing terrible effects of White settler colonialism and White supremacy in this country (and the rest of the globe), while at the same time someone is else is writing an opinion about how all immigrants should be kicked out of this country and the U.S. should only be for White people, how is it that both of us can be considered toxic and divisive?
It is the power-holding interests that are defining "toxic" and "divisive," in the name of self-interest and maintaining their power and control over the society, culture, and the mass population. "Sit down and don't rock the boat," they say, but they don't tell you that (by design) we're not actually all in the same vessel and that it's their 100-foot luxury yacht they're really worried about, and not your canoe.
To be critical is not to be hateful, or divisive, or toxic. To tell the whole story, instead of accepting the master narrative of events, is not to be hateful, or divisive, or toxic. What is hateful, divisive, and toxic, is to be closed-minded, and to isolate individuals from communities – especially when those doing the isolating have narrow self-interest, or don't belong to the community, or both.
The problems our communities are dealing with in public discourse and freedom of expression are not the problems of what any one individual has to say – no matter how objectionable, hurtful, or ill-intentioned their words are to someone reading or hearing them. Again, couching it in those terms singles out individuals in order to isolate or silence them, which is not community. The problems our communities are dealing with in public discourse and freedom of expression are due to an unwillingness of others to continually listen, hear, learn, understand, consider, and meaningfully engage with other members of their community, in a way that moves conversations forward and to a place where the community is better informed, and has a better, clearer understanding of itself as a result. If we all did that, I think we'd find that our communities, and the individuals living in our communities, would all benefit immensely and in ways we've not yet been able to realize in our society.
Discourse among the community can change minds and perspectives. No human is truly and completely locked into a way of thinking and being, no matter what an individual may say. It is a choice. And choices can change. But we can't expect people to change if we're not all doing the work that is necessary to continually keep our minds open to what there is to listen to, hear, learn, understand, consider, and meaningfully engage with as a way to build our community of people with each other.
If we are actually looking to allow our communities to develop freely, then we must allow everyone in the community the freedom to speak up in whatever way they wish. Most people don't wish to, but for those who do, let them say what they want, let those who want to listen listen, and those who don't don't, and let the community of voices determine how things develop from there and what kind of community it will be as a result. That's a free and open community.
January 3, 2023
The new year began with submitting a Commentary to VTDigger, and a Letter to the Editor to Seven Days. Both concerned the housing crisis in Vermont, and referenced Front Porch Forum's role in exacerbating the crisis due to its unchecked power and control over the real lived experiences of Vermonters. A press release was sent to news outlets across the state to try to tell this story to everyone who ought to hear it.
December 19, 2022
Today we published a new page on the site, "In the news." Ideally this page is where you'd find links to the latest news stories about Front Porch Flimflam's efforts to tell this story of statewide (and beyond) interest. But, interestingly, VTDigger and Seven Days have thus far chosen sides, and staked out a different position than Front Porch Flimflam. Also interesting: Front Porch Forum co-founders Michael and Valerie Wood-Lewis are known to be donors to both VTDigger and Seven Days.
Check out "In the news" to read more.
December 16, 2022
In last night's caucus for Burlington Democrats, Front Porch Forum executive Jason Van Driesche was unsuccessful in his bid to be on the ticket for the South District City Council seat in March. Deborah had published an LTE about this race on VTDigger earlier in the campaign, and while we'll never know if the message was heard (in part because other outlets actively prevented that message from being heard), perhaps it was.
It was instructive that, outside of a brief mention on the campaign's "About" page, Jason Van Driesche's campaign materials, blogs, and published speeches did not discuss his present role at Front Porch Forum, and his work in (theoretically) helping to build communities around the state. It seems like that would have been a strength to lean on in his candidacy.
But maybe that message was a bridge too far, and perhaps some people did hear our message and decided that what Jason Van Driesche is a part of professionally at Front Porch Forum doesn't match up with his campaign's stated values of "Listening and learning" and "Including everyone. We all matter, and we all get to be part of building our shared future. I will never write off any part of our community."
That's certainly not our experience, and not the experience of people across the state who have had their voice removed, and have been excluded, from their community by Burlington-based Front Porch Forum.
And those experiences are what should be concerning to everyone who uses FPF (individuals, governments, businesses, etc.), or supports it financially, as "essential civic infrastructure" in their own community.
December 13, 2022
Outreach to all of Vermont's selectboard and city council members began today, similar to the outreach we did last week to Vermont's town clerks and public libraries. Read the selectboard letter here. Read the press release here. This more-or-less alphabetically organized (by town) contact to nearly 1,000 Vermont local government elected officials will take place over two days this week, because of Gmail's daily sending limit.
December 9, 2022
Today FrontPorchFlimflam.com reached out across the state of Vermont, to every municipal clerk and public library in the state to ask them to learn about our story and perhaps reconsider their own use of Front Porch Forum for public purposes in their community. Read the press release here. Read the letter to libraries here. Read the letter to municipal clerks here. The press release also was paid for and sent for publication on VTDigger.org, which has still not published a (unpaid-for) Commentary about FrontPorchFlimflam.com.
December 7, 2022
At last we made it into our community's newspaper, as The Montpelier Bridge published Kristian's Letter to the Editor about Front Porch Flimflam. Every resident in our community might now learn the story when the paper arrives to them via USPS later in the week. The LTE references FPF's recent attempts to discredit Kristian and Front Porch Flimflam. Read more about that here.
December 6, 2022
Today Kristian made his third attempt to have a Commentary posted on VTDigger. The first two were not accepted by VTDigger, which had never before happened to Kristian. This one concerns VTDigger, FrontPorchFlimflam.com, Front Porch Forum, and Northeast Wilderness Trust. We'll see if it makes the cut. Either way, you can read it here.
December 5, 2022
After learning over the weekend that FPF staff was talking about Kristian to people who had contacted them about FrontPorchFlimflam.com, today we sent out a press release statement about FPF's back-room behavior. You can read the full statement here.
Suffice it to say, we were not impressed with FPF telling others:
"In regards to Kristian Connolly's case, we generally don’t comment on the particulars of any single member’s participation on FPF or interaction with our staff, but rest assured that there is more to this particular story than revealed."
That's the posture, and action, of someone who's on the run and privately defending themselves because they know they don't have any position from which to defend themselves publicly. And trying to do so publicly might end up revealing more than they want to reveal about themselves.
Literally everything regarding this situation that we've experienced with Front Porch Forum staff is published on FrontPorchFlimflam.com. This is all in text or embedded links throughout the site. We're not hiding anything. It's all here.
The idea that there is "more to this particular story than revealed" is news to us. If there is more to this story about us, we certainly don't know it, and FPF certainly has never told us what that "more" might be.
How many people is FPF privately communicating with to counter the public story we are telling about it? And why is FPF doing that in the first place?
You can read the full statement here.
December 1, 2022
VTDigger published Deborah's LTE that asked questions about Burlington City Council candidate and Front Porch Forum executive Jason Van Driesche, and his potential role in oppressing the voices of, and excluding, community members across Vermont as he runs for office based on a pledge to value and listen to everyone's voice and opinion. VTDigger altered Deborah's headline from "Questioning Van Driesche, Front Porch Forum" to "Question about candidate and free speech."
November 30, 2022
November 29, 2022
Today we contacted, via email, Vermont Governor Phil Scott, Secretary of State Jim Condos, Attorney General Susanne R. Young, Secretary-elect Sarah Copeland Hanzas, AG-elect Charity Clark, and leadership in the Vermont legislature to ask that they examine Vermont public benefit corporation Front Porch Forum. Read the full letter here. VTDigger published the press release, which you can read here.
November 21, 2022
Today, we had a press release published on VTDigger to announce the launch of FrontPorchFlimflam.com. You can read it here.
November 19, 2022
The day started by reaching out to Burlington City Councilor Joan Shannon, who is the incumbent for the South District seat that is being challenged by Front Porch Forum chief of Staff Jason Van Driesche (more on that just below) in the upcoming Democratic Party caucus in Burlington.
Also, our current state legislators – Senators Ann Cummings, Andrew Perchlik, and Anthony Pollina, as well as Representative Mary Hooper – were all contacted to tell them the story.
Later, we hit another round of houses around Montpelier with the FrontPorchFlimflam.com flyer.
November 18, 2022
We read with interest that Jason Van Driesche, chief of staff at FPF, was running for an open city council spot in Burlington. We were particularly interested in the combination of his background at Front Porch Forum, along with his statements that "Everyone deserves to be heard. ... I'm committed to listening to the whole community, and working with all city leadership, to get the work done, with community safety, housing, affordability, and the climate crisis at the top of the list.”
So Kristian reached out to Mr. Van Driesche's campaign manager, Joanna Grossman, to find out how exactly it is that "an expert in helping people figure out how to work together to make their communities better places" might have had a role in my termination (as well as my wife's termination) from FPF, and the removal of our voices from our communities.
Also, we contacted Montpelier city council members to let them know that two of the city's residents were having their voices oppressed by Front Porch Forum, and were also therefore restricted from seeing important information put out by the City on the "essential civic infrastructure in Vermont" provided by FPF.
Also, today we dropped FrontPorchFlimflam.com flyers in various neighborhoods around Montpelier.
November 17, 2022
Outreach continued by sharing the FrontPorchFlimflam.com website address with communities across Vermont via listservs.
November 16, 2022
Kristian contacted Katie Flagg, the president of Press Forward PR in Middlebury. Ms. Flagg was a Seven Days reporter in 2013 and wrote a story about Front Porch Forum's censoring and banning members. Kristian wrote to see if Ms. Flagg would be interested in sharing our story with people, but also to ask if there is anyone that she came across in her reporting (whether they appeared in the story or not) that she thought it might be worthwhile to reach out to.
November 15, 2022
Because Michael Wood-Lewis tells an "origin story" for FPF that involves he and his wife putting flyers around the Five Sisters neighborhood in Burlington in order to spread the word among their neighbors, we went to the Five Sisters neighborhood and dropped flyers at houses, too. We thought anyone who had a hand in the beginning of FPF might like to know what it looks like today. (Incidentally, we learned a few days later that FPF chief of staff Jason Van Driesche also lives in that neighborhood. See above.)
November 14, 2022
Kristian reached out to approximately 130 donors to Front Porch Forum -- specifically people who had donated and then posted a donation ask in local FPF issues during FPF's recent twice-a-year fundraising drives.
Also, Kristian contacted those national journalists or figures who have covered FPF and whose work praising FPF is prominently featured on FPF's site. This list included renowned digital activist and strategist Eli Pariser; nationally known investigative tech reporter Julia Angwin of The Markup; media scholar, blogger, and Internet activist Ethan Zuckerman; New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg; writer, editor, and democracy activist Micah Sifry; Pultizer prize-winning author and historian Anne Applebaum; Vermont writer and historian Andrew Liptak; and science fiction author, activist, journalist and blogger Cory Doctorow.