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Localflux — crowdfunding and crowd-making in the wake of Hurricane Sandy

Localflux brainstorming wordmap — click to see full size. (Localflux/Travis Simon)

Localflux brainstorming wordmap — click to see full size. (Localflux/Travis Simon)

Joshua Kogan is the man behind Localflux, a curious new online project with big offline ambitions. It includes a crowdfunding platform and an events tool designed for mobilizing activists, with a bit of an art magazine crammed in between. The website emerged in part out of the Occupy Sandy grassroots relief effort that began a year ago, and it is one of the ways in which the impact of the storm and its aftermath are still being lived out one year later.

What was the initial idea behind Localflux and how did it get started?

I’m not sure there was an initial idea behind Localflux. There was definitely a lot of energy swirling around in my brain. How could I use virtual space (the Internet) to share the interesting, the meaningful? Better yet, how could I use virtual space to assemble people in physical space, particularly for net-positive purposes? We started with projects post-Hurricane Sandy — YANA Community Center, Time’s UP! disaster relief — then grew slowly with many private crowdfunding projects. Campaigners preferred to use Localflux as a private donation page, rather than build hype as a crowdfunding campaign. From there we’ve picked up some additional meaningful projects. So, back to the question: There really hasn’t been a clear idea for Localflux, but if I had to reduce its purpose down to something simple, I’d say its purpose is to use the mystery of what we know as the Internet as a tool to amass people for positive world adjustment.

What exactly counts as “positive world adjustment”?

That’s not an easy question to answer. There are obvious things such as age, race, and ethnic equality, or advances in sustainable farming and environmentalism. I’m interested in those, for sure, but I’m also interested in the subtle things people do to prompt thought and challenge convention, such as noncommissioned public space art and culture jamming. I’m for pushing the conventional envelope, with the idea that the envelope will change resulting in a more-sustainable and cooperative living arrangement for all species, provided physical harm to others is not realized during the process.

Could you tell me about yourself? What kinds of experience prepared you for your work with Localflux?

I’m a vegan, born and raised in New York, partly in the city, and partly in the Hudson Valley. Localflux is one of the many things I do. I’m an environmental engineer by education and practice — how I pay rent — specifically, a water resources engineer. Additionally, I take it upon myself to engage in public outreach projects — bicycle justice, teaching, food growing, culture jamming (if that’s still a word). I also host a podcast from the Radiohive, located at Deep Dish TV. I created Localflux two years ago, but I also worked on it for two years prior.

There are lots of other sites where people can crowdfund. Why did you set up a new system for this through Localflux?

Yes there are, and each approach to their business — yes, business — from the top down vary from one another. I started considering creating a crowdfunding platform alternative over a year ago when a non-profit organization (that I know the organizers of personally) was rejected by the most famous crowdfunding platform. From what I was told, the platform considered their campaign a do-good project, and at that time such projects and more generally, non-profits, weren’t allowed to crowdfund. Shortly after, Hurricane Sandy hit. With a broken foot, I (along with my wife-partner) was out of my home in Brooklyn a few days afterwards digging people out of their homes in Queens, delivering food, water and clothing to those in need. I have no words to describe my feelings at the time, but I knew I needed to dedicate myself to a proper rebuild. I focused my efforts in the Rockaways, specifically with the YANA Community Center, as some of my Zuccotti Park Occupy family was already aligned with this magical community beacon. The crowdfunding tool went into effect immediately, and we raised more than the needed amount for the YANA center. Fees were not charged by Localflux. We typically do charge fees for campaigns, but they are the lowest out there, and a sliding scale is available, if you reach out to us and explain why you could use the support.

Is there any kind of accountability built in to ensure that the money goes where it’s supposed to be going?

It’s not possible. That’s the thing with crowdfunding. As a donor, you have to go with your gut. The project’s team, their track record on project execution and their ability to execute on the specific project must all be analyzed by the potential donor. It’s always easiest to donate to projects that are being campaigned by either friends or family, but outside of that, you have to take a leap of faith. Actually, most project campaigners honor their project scope and whole-heartedly attempt proper execution, while remaining in contact with donors. If that weren’t the case, the crowdfunding industry wouldn’t still be growing. Besides, we all need to take a leap of faith once in a while, especially if we can directly contribute to someone’s creative and meaningful dream. Each project gets reviewed by me before it goes live. The review process varies, but a project cannot go live until I click the button.

Crowdfunding is only one part of the project. Where does it fit in the broader whole?

Localflux is about using virtual space to positively adjust physical space, and the crowdfunding element ultimately will be just a small portion. Another focus is on events.

How does Critical Mass, your events tool, compare to the competition?

Most activists use Facebook for event planning. I don’t trust Facebook. Before Localflux, I didn’t have a Facebook or Twitter account. I do now, as it would be a disservice to the purpose of those contributing to the Localflux not to have them. That said, I think it’s important to offer a free alternative to Facebook (and other event management sites that charge fees, or impose heavy advertising) so that people can keep privacy with regard to whom they’re physically congregating with, as well as when, where and why they’re congregating. I’ve talked to many people at various rallies, and they’re all in favor of this, but they’re still currently addicted to Facebook. I have a few more tweaks to do to my events functionality, to make it easier for people to create accounts and commit to events, as well as to generate and manage groups. Once they’re complete, I’m expecting some real momentum. A Critical Mass campaign is like crowdfunding, but without the money. Instead of someone campaigning for capital, they’re campaigning for people — it’s literally crowd funding. Again, this is brand new, and with a few tweaks, we hope to help change the world.

The appeal of Facebook lies is its ubiquity; it’s useful for organizing because so many people are on it for other reasons already. That isn’t necessarily the case with Localflux. How will Localflux campaigns reach beyond the usual suspects?

Localflux already caters to people who aren’t 100 percent happy with the usual suspects. But to your point, I don’t think of Localflux as something that could replace Facebook as an event management tool. What I do envision is a place that anyone could visit to see Critical Mass events, all for a proper cause, and be able to traverse such events until they identify with one. It’s a different approach. There will be invite functionality, but Localflux will essentially catalog creative and meaningful events for all, with a search filter. Imagine a place online where you can run a quick search of creative and meaningful cause-based events and protests, by location and date. You can read up on their backgrounds, learn more about (and communicate with) the people who put them together and who’s going, and then commit to the event, with or without capital being raised — without Facebook! That’s the vision for Localflux.

Who is involved in making Localflux happen now? Can new people get involved?

I have a few content contributors who donate their time, as well as a community that regularly sends me content to upload. I mainly add the content, and flesh out design work, and all the while my wife-partner Ivy pokes at my thought process — challenges my judgement. She’s amazing like that. Without her, there would absolutely, 100 percent, be no Localflux project. Additionally, a small team of awesome paid and non-paid programmers are with the cause. Other than that, I’m always looking for help, mainly from thinker-writers. If you’re out there reading this, and you feel congruent with the Localflux energy and wish to be involved, you can reach out directly to me at joshua@localflux.net — I’d be more than excited to hear from you.