Joni Mitchell’s lyrics tumbled through Jillian’s mind as she sobbed with both deep grief and dizzy excitement. It was hard for her to accept that a wonderful fairy tale was coming true for her but at the cost of a deep loss. ‘Does it only work this way?’ she implored plaintively as she grappled with the sad news about Stacey and the joyful news of her generous gift, just three months after she had reconnected with her after so many years.
* * * *
“Hi Jilly. It’s Stacey Friedman. Remember me?”
“Stacey! Oh my gosh! It’s been ages. How are you? Where are you? Are you still in New York?”
“Yes, I’m still hiking the glass canyons and playing with money. Are you still fighting the good fight?”
“Well, trying. It’s been a long row to hoe, but I’m doing what I can. Since I moved to Ohio, I’ve been working with Cleveland Peace Action and the Cleveland Nonviolence Network. I even worked some on the Obama campaign last year — I couldn’t let this swing state swing over to McCain-Palin. How about you?”
“Hardly any these days. I’ve been mostly making money. I’d love to tell you more — we have so much to catch up on. But I don’t have much time right now, and I want to ask a favor. I have something difficult I’m trying to figure out. Back when we were working together against apartheid and nuclear power you were always a special… you always knew what was the right thing to do. I really need your advice now. I’ll be in Cleveland next Monday for an appointment. Are you going to be around? Could we meet then?”
“Next Monday night I have a meeting, but during the day would be ok. Michael will probably be at work… Do you know about Michael?”
“I got your marriage announcement. Was that 10 years ago?”
“A little over nine: June 2000.”
“I’m sorry I missed the ceremony… and everything else in your life for the last 25 years. I know I’m a really bad friend. But I was involved in some things that kept me out of touch. I want to tell you all about it, but not right now. Could we meet next Monday at 1:00 pm? My appointment is actually in Willoughby, that’s a suburb, right? I’d like to meet outdoors — maybe someplace in the woods near Willoughby — someplace where we can just sit and talk for a while. I’ll have a rental car but I don’t know my way around Cleveland. Is there a good place that is easy to get to?”
“The MetroParks are not as good for hiking as Huddart Park — no mountains and no redwoods. But there are some pretty nice parks. The North Chagrin Reservation is near Willoughby and close to the freeway. Michael and I often hike to a mini-castle there — Squire’s Castle. It’s off River Road, just south of Chardon Road.”
“Yes, I’m checking the map right now, and I see that intersection. That is very close to where my appointment will be. It will be wonderful to see you. I want to hear all about your life, Jilly, and tell you about a big project I’m working on. I can’t wait to tell you. So 1:00 Monday?”
“I love you, Jilly. As much as always.”
“I love you too, Stacey. “
* * * *
“Jilly. It is so good to see you. I’m sorry it has been so long.”
They hugged for a very long time, then just looked at each other.
“Stacey, it has been so long. You look great. The last time I saw you, you were all punked out.”
“Yes Jilly, I’ve gone corporate — no orange spiky hair now. But you’re just the same. A little grayer, but you still have the most beautiful smile and long, luscious hair. It is so wonderful to see you.”
From the parking lot, they walked together across the great lawn that cascaded down from Squire’s Castle. The grass was beginning to fade in the cooler days, but it still offered a dramatic green apron for the Castle. They walked to the far side, sat at a picnic table, and Jilly told Stacey about her life since they had last seen each other in California: lots of part-time tech writing jobs, living simply in small co-op houses, working for years with PeaceNet, the Women’s Support Network, and the Peninsula Peace and Justice Center, and then meeting Michael at a conference in San Francisco, falling in love, and moving to Ohio for his job at the Mandel School of Social Work at Case Western Reserve University.
“We don’t have children and the cost of living in Cleveland is really low, so we can easily live on Michael’s salary. It is so much easier than in California. We own a house! No more being crammed into tiny dumps and paying a fortune for the privilege. Now I can devote most of my time to change efforts.”
Then Stacey told Jillian about the very different path she had taken.
“After a few years of living in semi-poverty in Palo Alto, I realized that I was not really cut out to be a hippie activist. I enjoyed the warmth of the progressive community and working for change. I certainly explored my sexual horizons. But I didn’t really feel like I was accomplishing very much. My parents were happy to have me move back to New York, learn finance, and take over their business. I felt guilty working on Wall Street, though I did support a lot of good work with my donations every year. That’s why I didn’t write to you. I felt really terrible that I had sold out — living the high life in New York, my hands sullied by filthy lucre — while you were toiling in the fields for change.”
“Oh Stacey. I never thought you had sold out. It is pretty obvious, especially now, that there is no clear path for bringing about ‘the revolution.’ We each have to do what we think is best and do what we are best suited to. I wish you had called or written. I thought that I had offended you somehow.”
“Oh Silly Jilly, you could never be offensive. No, I was embarrassed to talk to you. And then things got… I was doing some things… Well, let me say this in another way.
“I remember long ago dreaming with you about fundamentally transforming society. The campaign at Stanford against apartheid was so exciting. I was amazed by all the good organizing and by how grounded it was in a deep love for people — a love for justice and positive change. And Jilly, you were such an exemplar of that perspective — you were so compassionate towards everyone in Columbae House and in the campaign, always forgiving of everyone’s crazy, dysfunctional behavior (especially mine), and so ardently committed to fundamentally transforming society. I personally felt your love sweep over me and transform me into a better person. And I saw this happen with so many others. Do you remember that young shoe salesman in San Luis Obispo who was on trial at the same time as us at the Diablo ’81 demo? He’d never been involved in politics before, but then he stood up proudly before that judge and made such an elegant statement about why he felt compelled to commit civil disobedience to stop nuclear power. He’d seen how truthful we were and how much our opponents had lied over and over again. That’s how I felt too — we were standing up for what is right and it made us feel wonderful. Things were going so well then.”
“Yes, it was a wonderful time.”
“Working with you, Jilly, I felt sure that we would be able to really challenge and end the corruption and exploitation. I was incredibly impressed with you and the way you actually practiced all of our loving, cooperative ideas. You were such an inspiring example. I believed in you and what you, and all of us, could accomplish.
“But instead, it all got destroyed and most of our gains overturned. I remember you talking about how our opponents had so much money and power to hire researchers to write studies that sounded good, but which were really just deceitful garbage. They could hire publicists to spread their lies, and the mainstream news media ignored us while repeating all the lies and their stupid solutions. Then, it got even worse, with Rush Limbaugh and Savage and Hannity and Beck and all those other propagandists spewing their hateful, fear-mongering bile every day on radio and TV. They convinced lots of ignorant people that the government is their enemy and religious extremists are their friends, and they focused attention on individual personal failings instead of the systemic forces and corrupt institutional structures that keep people down. We couldn’t counter all that. When the sides are even, we can easily bring people around to our perspective — I saw that happen hundreds of times. But when we’re outspent a thousand to one, or a million to one, we hardly have a chance. We had so few resources, everyone just burned out. It really made me sad — and angry. It also made me think. And I’ve been thinking about this ever since. How could we get the resources we need to really have an impact?”
“Yes, I’ve thought about this too.”
“I know, Jilly. I saw that article you wrote while you were on the board of Agape Foundation. All the different kinds of groups you’d support if you had the money. It made me think a lot. I realized that maybe I could provide some of that money. And then, after my parents died, an opportunity arose that offered a new, much more lucrative direction. I wish I could tell you all about it, but I need to be a little bit circumspect. Let me just say that I started doing some very lucrative things that are not exactly in harmony with progressive ideals.”
“Well, yes. And I also discovered that when I asked men for help, their due diligence sometimes became not quite so diligent. Men think they are so savvy and tough, but they are really very vulnerable. I guess I didn’t treat them very fairly. Of course, they didn’t treat me very fairly either. And the whole system that they support mistreats everyone. Finance has become a really vicious game and the most competitive guys on the Street would sell their mothers into slavery if it improved their bottom line. Look at Bernie Madoff. He conned all of his friends and business associates, and stole the endowment of several foundations. He got caught, but lots of others got away. Look at the way Goldman Sachs sold shoddy mortgage-backed securities to unsuspecting buyers, then turned around and shorted them, knowing they would probably crash. That kind of behavior is rampant on Wall Street these days. Many financial outfits are just glorified Ponzi schemes — their operations made as complex as possible to hide the reality. The greedy predators building these schemes are completely amoral. There aren’t many mensches in that cesspool. Still, I discovered a lot of them are attracted to a friendly woman in need and they’re willing to help her in whatever ways they can.”
“A friendly, attractive woman… You’ve always had a lot of boyfriends.”
“Yes, and some girlfriends along the way too, my dear Jilly. I’ve never been able to make a relationship work, but I’ve also never had trouble finding a new friend. You were such a good supporter despite all my turmoil and serial relationships. I’m really sorry that I hurt you. You were much better for me than all my therapists have been. Looking back, I probably should have stayed in California with you and let your tender love heal me. But I was too embarrassed by all the people who were mad at me.”
“Oh, Stacey. Most of them probably weren’t mad at you — they probably felt just like I do. They could see that you had been wounded by a hurtful childhood. There are a lot of women — and men — who’ve been sexually abused by someone close to them. I was never really mad at you. I was just sad at what had happened to you and the ways you hurt people who tried to love you. But I still love you very much.”
“Oh stop, Jilly. You are going to make me cry. Here, tell me about Squire’s Castle. Why is this weird little castle sitting out here in the woods?”
“It has an interesting story. An oil baron named Squire built it — he worked at Standard Oil with Rockefeller. It was going to be the gatekeeper’s house for his country estate, but then he never built the rest of it. I don’t know why he didn’t finish it.”
“Well, it’s nice that it went to the MetroParks so everyone can enjoy it. This is a really beautiful spot.”
“Yes, lots of couples come here to take wedding pictures. You should see it in a few weeks when the maple trees turn. That sweet gum in the middle of the parking lot will be an amazing shade of red. And in the winter, this field looks wonderful draped in smooth, silky snow. There’s a sledding hill just down the road. Hey, do you want to hike up the hill? There is a nice loop that goes up the bridle trail, past a vernal pond that’s filled with peeper frogs in the spring, and then around and back down behind the Castle.”
“No, I’m not a very good hiker anymore. I’d prefer to just sit with you Jilly. And maybe… perhaps I could ask you my questions now. As I said, my financial ventures have been quite lucrative. I want to set up a foundation and use it to really change society. Most foundations give grants to groups in Washington like Human Rights Watch, CREW, or the Economic Policy Institute. Those are good organizations that do important work. But maybe there is something more like what we did with the Abalone Alliance. More grassrootsy, and that affects people more deeply. I never felt more powerful and alive than when we blockaded Diablo in 1981. And we won! Well, at least for a short while — well, at least we stopped them from building any more nuke plants.”
“Yes, and the anti-nuclear movement helped inspire the Sanctuary Movement in their efforts to prevent the US from invading Central America, the Fair Trade/Anti-Global Capitalism movement, and the Iraq peace movement. Code Pink is probably a direct descendent. The work we did had a big effect.”
“So Jilly, should the foundation support small nonviolent direct action groups? I guess the Movement for a New Society faded away. It doesn’t seem like direct action is working very well these days. Is it better to try to elect some decent politicians? Obama sure has been a disappointment — I knew he was a centrist and a politician, but I didn’t expect him to immediately surround himself with DLCers and Goldman Sachs execs. Since we elected him, I expected him to at least fight a little for progressives. But I guess there is not much you can do in Washington. It’s hard to elect real progressives and hard for those we do elect to accomplish anything. The opposition is so powerful. Most of the politicians are beholden to the special interests that contribute big bucks to their campaigns. The news media is dominated by Right-wing craziness. Hate talk radio has practically destroyed our ability to have a civil debate about anything in this country. And, of course, there are 40,000 well-paid lobbyists. It’s as bad as Wall Street.”
“Yeah, probably worse.”
“So is there any better way to get around all the propaganda, blatant corruption, and power-tripping? Is there some way to challenge the military-industrial complex and the big oil companies and Wall Street? You know, Jilly, I’ve been socializing with all these Wall Street people, and it’s just like Domhoff said: there is a power elite and they mostly use their power for their own benefit. In fact, it’s even worse than that. Not only does the system corrupt them, but it convinces them that it could never be any different. According to them, the way things are right now is the Panglossian ‘best of all possible worlds’ so just get on board and enjoy it. They tell each other ‘we’re predestined to be the rich, powerful elite — we’re so clever and we work so hard, we deserve everything we have.’ They all believe deeply in TINA — ‘there is no alternative’ — so they feel justified in getting multi-million dollar bonuses for their shenanigans. These sentiments are pervasive. It’s really depressing. Jilly, is there some way to launch a revolution to overthrow this immoral and corrupt system?”
“I used to think so. Not the armed guerrilla insurrection that the Marxist-Leninists dreamed of, of course, but some kind of nonviolent revolution based on the love and solidarity that we had in Columbae and the Abalone: nonviolent struggle coupled with consensus decision-making and compassionate personal therapy. It seemed like this could really remake our society from the ground up. But as you said, the opposition overwhelmed us. We just didn’t have the resources to pull it off. And anyway, revolutions, even nonviolent ones, tend to be rather chaotic and crazy, opening the door to authoritarians that will ‘make sure the trains run on time.’ So I don’t think revolution is the right way to think about this.”
“Well, then is there some other way? The power elite has been pretty successful. Should we try to create our own elite that is a little more compassionate? I think I’ve been corrupted too much, but you’d make a really good benevolent dictator.”
“Thanks, but the lesson is that we can all be corrupted, and the system corrupts everyone. To gain a little bit of power, you have to drop your ethical standards. And the more you act like your opponents, the more you just become a part of them — you become just another appendage of the Borg. We don’t want to mimic them and become corrupt elitists. Though it’s tempting sometimes, I don’t think we are ever going to win by trying to adopt the strategies of our opponents. Instead, we need to enhance our strengths and stay true to our ideals. And our strengths are that we stand for love and compassion. We stand for acting decently and treating others well. We believe in justice. We believe in real participatory democracy: direct face-to-face consensus decision-making, established through rational discussion and grounded in scientifically verified facts. We support the rule of law based on fairness, not the rule of powerful men based on their whims, fears, and infatuations. Our strength comes from widespread support — because most people like our ideals and would like to see them implemented. Nobody wants to be exploited or oppressed. Nobody wants to be callously pushed around or thwarted for no good reason. Everyone wants to have a say in their lives, and they recognize that others do too. So everyone is really on our side.”
“Do we want an evolutionary change then?”
“Yes, probably more like the 1930s or 1960s: rapid change, but controlled, democratically controlled and nonviolent. We need to persuade people and have them join us voluntarily. We need to make it expensive to act badly and easy to act well.”
“That all sounds good Jilly. How does this translate into what the foundation should do?”
“As you saw in the article I wrote, I think we don’t want to just recreate the hierarchical elitist model. Instead, we need to spread the money around and keep it decentralized as much as possible. We also need some way to ensure that any organization that gets funding does not become corrupt or elitist — that they all stay democratic and accountable and focused on progressive ideals.”
“Oh Jilly, you’re saying ‘we.’ I was hoping you’d guide this process. Will you help me with this?”
“Of course, Stacey. How could I say no to an old friend — especially one who wants to fund social change efforts?” she quipped with a playful smile.
“That is so wonderful. Before I called you, I wasn’t sure you’d want to have anything to do with me. So remind me, what were the ways your article called for distributing money?”
“I listed five main mechanisms. First, fund small organizations around the country, like the ones I’ve worked for. There are a lot of groups that do great work. They rely heavily on volunteers; most raise just barely enough money to support one or two activists. A small grant would help these groups a great deal. So it would be wonderful if there were, say, twenty mini-foundations all across the country, each one like Agape Foundation in San Francisco or Resist in Massachusetts. They could have boards made up of local activists who would investigate potential grantees and distribute small grants to a handful of organizations in their areas. The grants would need to be big enough so the groups could actually do good work — say ten to twenty thousand dollars. And perhaps they should be granted on a matching basis: one dollar for every two the organization raises from their other donors. This would ensure they stayed accountable to lots of people in their local area. Also, grants should not be made to organizations that pay their top staff much more than a living wage. There is no reason that any progressive activist should be paid more than $150,000 or so, even if they are running a big organization. And for most small, local groups, the staff should be paid no more than a professor. And since I’m now married to a professor, I know what that means. People who make too much money — even progressive activists — tend to lose their ideals and get co-opted or corrupted. Also, the grants should be easily renewed so groups don’t have to spend all their time writing grant proposals. Perhaps as long as they continued to do good work, then they’d continue to get funding — or until some other group came along with a better proposal. They’d have to write up progress reports — that’s a way that the mini-foundations could supervise them and ensure that they continued to do good work. And they should be audited by an accounting firm to prevent fraud and scrutinized closely to ensure they continue to do effective work. Perhaps they should be required to post their financial books on the web.”
“These are great ideas Jilly. What else was on your list?”
“Second, fund progressive college groups since college students are often open to new ideas. It would be really great to make a small grant to one student at each of hundreds of different colleges, sort of like a scholarship for those who’ve shown they’re willing and able to do basic organizing work on campus. Each student would have to work with a campus-based progressive organization and the other students could keep them accountable.”
“That sounds good.”
“Third is to fund some of the national progressive organizations. Many of them do very good work: they do careful research, write important policy reports, lobby Congress, and motivate and coordinate the efforts of activists all across the country. It would be especially helpful to fund internship programs at these organizations since this is a way to teach and support young activists — if well-trained and supported, some of those activists will continue for decades. There also needs to be funding for our own media: traditional magazines like In These Times, The Progressive, and Yes, radio shows like Democracy Now and Making Contact, blogs like DailyKos, OpenLeft, and FireDogLake, and sites like Common Dreams and Alternet. In addition, there should be funding for training groups like Training for Change and the Midwest Academy. And electoral groups like the Progressive Democrats of America need help so we can get some more decent politicians elected, though groups like that are not tax-deductible non-profits, so I don’t know if that would work.”
“Yes, that’s something to investigate. Jilly, what was the fourth mechanism?”
“Fourth would be to fund folksingers and progressive theater groups like the San Francisco Mime Troupe. These folks are always living in poverty. They do a lot to reach people who learn best from drama and songs and they bolster everyone’s morale. I expect a few small grants could really help them.
“The fifth mechanism would be to support some sort of decentralized education program. To transform society, we need a way to persuade and really transform people — the way we were transformed by living in Columbae House. We need something similar — some way to offer instructive information and experiences to a large number of people. I learned a lot from those MNS workshops when we were first putting the Abalone Alliance together. Their Macro-Analysis Seminars were also great ways to learn about social change and practice working together. It was so empowering to think of a problem, come up with an action to tackle it, and then carry out that action. The actions we did were small, but they gave us a sense of what we could do. And the Abalone Alliance provided a great model of how powerful we could be when there were thousands of us working in concert. The Obama campaign was like that too. I think it’s really important to learn there are alternative ways of doing things and to show practical ways to bring them into existence.”
“Jilly, these are great ideas. But doing all of them sounds like it would require a lot of money. How much do you think it would take to implement them?”
“Well, quite a bit. Credo Action distributes a few million dollars each year and that only helps fifty organizations a bit. To do what I described and do it at the level necessary for it to be transformative would probably take tens or even hundreds of million dollars.”
Stacey and Jillian continued to discuss these ideas for two more hours, exploring and probing their limitations as well as catching up more on Jillian’s life. But then Stacey announced she needed to go.
“Jilly, this has been wonderful, but I need to leave now. I’m going to have my assistant, Heather Schwarz, do all the paperwork necessary to set up the foundation. Here’s her email address, so you can exchange information with her as she writes up the charter. I hate to be mysterious, but I think it is best if you work through her. And I’d prefer that you not talk about this with anyone, even Michael. Let’s let this ripen a bit before we announce it publicly.”
And then, with a big hug, she was off. Jillian was left confused. If it had been anyone but Stacey, she would have wondered if a master manipulator was toying with her. But she and Stacey had shared enough love, danger, and pain for her to trust Stacey completely. Stacey might have manipulated a lot of men on Wall Street, but Jillian felt certain that Stacey would never mess with her.
* * * *
Her trust wavered some when, after a perfunctory exchange of emails with Heather, she heard nothing from Stacey until mid-November. But then, with a quick exchange of emails, she was back in the parking lot of North Chagrin Reservation with Stacey. It had been a relatively warm November and that day was one of the warmest, but it was still too cold to sit out on a bench for long, so they sat together in Stacey’s rental car.
“Jilly, I have two confessions to make. The first is that the reason I came to Cleveland in September — besides seeing you of course — was for an appointment at the Cleveland Clinic. I’ve been sick the past four months with something the doctors had a very difficult time diagnosing. But they finally figured out that I have mantle cell lymphoma. Whenever I’ve not been in the hospital getting tests and chemo, I’ve been living in the Marriott hotel downtown. I haven’t told you my whereabouts because I didn’t want you to worry, and I wanted to make all the arrangements for the foundation.”
“Oh Stacey. That’s terrible news. Are you going to be ok? You look tired.”
“I’m pretty weak. The doctors don’t think I’m going to live very long — at most a few months. By the time they figured out I had cancer, it had spread all over my body. They’ve tried a number of things, but nothing has worked.”
“Oh no. Stacey, this is so sad. It’s really unfair.” And Jillian hugged her friend as best she could, constrained as they were by the bucket seats of the car.
“Life is surely not fair. But you have to play the hand you’re dealt and do your best to turn lemons into lemonade, to quote a few cliches. This is why I needed to talk to you again today face-to-face. Let me get to my second confession. Before I called you in September, I googled you and researched everything you’ve been doing since I last saw you 25 years ago. I read your article about how to make the progressive movement stronger. I saw that you are still the principled nonviolent activist that I knew and loved and you are still working as hard as you can for positive change. Thirty years ago in California, I tried to be your friend. But I was not cut out to be an activist and it was clear that it could never be the way I wanted. Instead, it seemed that the best way to love you would be to go back to New York, make some money — which is what I turned out to be good at doing — and then give you some additional resources so you’d be able to bring about the social change we both desire. It didn’t turn out quite like I planned. I expected to help you a long time ago and for it to be in a completely different form. But the winds of life have a way of blowing you places you didn’t expect.”
Stacey continued: “When I first got ill, I suspected that it was something pretty bad. I realized this might be my last chance to help you, so I contacted you. But I can only help you if you are willing… only if you are willing to accept something. So I need to ask one very important question. Let me preface this by talking about the concept of the Jubilee Year. In the Jewish tradition — and it was later adopted by Christians — every 50 years is a special year in which all slaves and prisoners are released and all debts are canceled and sins are pardoned. It’s a year when equity is restored and those who gained at the expense of others give back to those wronged. It was a way to restore the balance between people and prevent the long-term accumulation of wealth, especially ill-gotten wealth. You probably remember Jubilee 2000 when progressive religious people were promoting the cancellation of third-world debt.”
“Yeah, that was a good idea. How can poor countries ever pay those massive debts? — just paying the interest keeps them in poverty. And the debt was often incurred by dictators who used the money to oppress the people in those countries. Why should they be forced to repay that?”
“But like many good ideas, it wasn’t very successful, I guess.”
“Yeah, it was a great idea, but since it challenged some powerful banks and questioned the free-market ideology that is touted so much these days, it didn’t get far. I think some debt was cancelled, but not nearly enough. The tradition of the Jubilee Year is really not observed much these days. But there were some good reasons this tradition was started and passed along for centuries. It’s a valuable tradition that we could really use in our society today. Jilly, please keep that tradition in mind as I ask this next question. I know you are very committed to principled nonviolence. You are completely honest and compassionate. You do your best to turn your righteous anger into effective change instead of trashing people or even thinking badly of them. That is one of the reasons I loved you so much back when we were roomies, and I still do. I know I can count on you to do what is right, to fight for the highest ideals and to always do your best to make your means completely consistent with your ideals. In light of that, I need to tell you something about the money I plan to put into the foundation. As I hinted the last time we met, the money was not obtained in the most wholesome way. In fact, much of it may have been originally collected in very immoral ways — I’m not even sure. Much of it probably made several visits to shell corporations in the Cayman Islands and several trips through secret Swiss bank accounts. Some of it was probably taken from people who were suckered into a Ponzi scheme like Madoff’s — he wasn’t the only one fleecing people, you know, just one of the few who were caught. Some of the money was probably ripped off from swindlers like Madoff — those engaged in fraud are really vulnerable to extortion and manipulation since they can’t call the cops or have an accountant clean up the books. And when trillions of dollars are sloshing around the world in a few seconds, no one really knows who is buying or selling and what the real value of anything is.
“Honestly, I am not sure where most of that money actually originated or where it traveled. I just made sure that some of it ended up in my accounts, clean and clear. I’m not proud of some of the things that I did to get it there, but it is done now and the money is there. The main reason you haven’t heard anything about me these last 20 years is that I’ve been keeping a very low profile and hiding behind some corporate walls. I figured it was better for people not to know what I’ve been up to — especially you — or you might feel some qualms about what I’ve been doing. It hasn’t been a pretty picture. But I figured, given how corrupt our society is, that this was the only way to really make a significant change. And it didn’t seem particularly immoral to take money away from swindlers — it is what the federal justice system would do if it were operating like it should. So my question is: Are you still willing to work with me on this project knowing that the means to this end were pretty tarnished? Will working with the foundation bother your conscience? Would you feel an obligation to try to return the money to the swindlers who stole it? Or can you accept this as a Jubilee Gift?”
“Wow. Those are some pretty heavy questions, Stacey. I guess I need to think about this for a minute. So there is no way to return the money to the people who really deserve it — the people it was swindled from in the first place?”
“Not really. You know how the system works — usually lots of people are ripped off — just look at how Enron manipulated electricity prices in California and how gasoline prices soared last year. And after a few transactions, ownership of swindled money is completely unclear. If it has been spent on other investments and then those investments went sour, where is the money? Of if it was invested in honest ventures and those ventures did really well, who should get the windfall? And what if someone made a lot of money by betting that fraudulent companies would crash? Just like reparations for slavery — it is unclear who the money should be taken from and who it should be given to. It seems to me the only ethical way to deal with these situations is to pass it on to people who will work for justice.”
“Yes, I guess that makes sense. Did the money all come to you in legal transactions?”
“Yes. I don’t want to give you any details, but yes everything I did was essentially legal and I believe the money is all clean and clear. I have done my best to make sure that no one will question where the money came from. Once the foundation is making grants, there will probably be a lot of conservatives who will question it, so I have done my best to ensure there is no tainted trail. My death will probably help — once I’ve passed, there will much less interest in me, and once I’m gone, I won’t be able to reveal anything about the people I’ve interacted with.”
“Isn’t the SEC or the IRS or somebody going to want to investigate its origins? Aren’t they supposed to make sure that foundations are funded by honest money?”
“The nice thing about playing the power elite corruption game is that everyone who should be questioning this has been looking the other direction for years. There are a dozen scammers who have operated right in front of everyone, but no one pays them any attention. The only people who could report them are up to their eyebrows in their own shady deals. And all the media ‘watchdogs’ are obviously just lapdogs that only bark at petty crimes — not at high finance. I can’t guarantee that no one will question us, but they’ve had lots of time to do so and have done nothing so far. Everyone thinks I’m a financial genius, making money through my savvy deals, which I guess is accurate. It hasn’t exactly been honest work, but by Wall Street standards, it’s just standard wheeling and dealing with winners and losers and me being the winner more often than not. What I’ve done is not illegal, just not very ethical by our standards.”
Stacey continued, “If you agree to work with the foundation, I don’t think you’ll get accused of doing anything wrong. And I don’t think the origins of the money will be questioned. The only question is ‘Would you, as a highly ethical, principled person, feel weird knowing that the money was obtained in less-than-honorable ways?’ Or could you view it as a Jubilee Gift. It wouldn’t be money returned to its rightful owners exactly, but you could see it as reparations — repaying a debt by working for justice. Could you see it that way? Can you accept this Jubilee Gift?”
“Oh, Stacey. I really want to help you, especially now that I know you are dying. And, of course, I’ve been working for years for progressive change and your money could really make a difference. I wish there were no questions about the money, but I guess all fortunes are tainted. There is no way to make a lot of money without there being corruption or exploitation somewhere in the process. So I guess I’m ok with it. I will accept this Jubilee Gift.”
“Jilly, that is exactly what I wanted to hear. You are such a great friend. Now one last question: will you be willing to serve as the Executive Director of this foundation? I’m obviously too sick to do it myself. And you would be great — you have experience working with a foundation and you have great ideas about how to ensure the money is used well. Will you do this for me?”
“Well, put that way, I really can’t say no, can I?” She laughed.“But yes, I will do it willingly and eagerly.”
“Thank you Jilly. I’m sure you’ll do a great job. I’ll have Heather contact you to make all the arrangements. You’ll need to assemble a Board of Directors, people you can trust to guide the foundation. I recommend that you hire Heather to be your assistant. She is young, but she is very smart and capable. And I think she would like to take on this role. You can teach her about nonviolent struggle and cooperative decision-making. Oh and Jilly, I’d love to see you again — I’d like to see you every day. But it is probably best for me to continue to be rather mysterious and distant. So please don’t try to contact me. Just remember that I love you and always have. And thank you for taking my gift.”
Then, after many more goodbye hugs, they parted. Stacey drove back to the Clinic and Jillian sat, dazed, in her car. After a short while, tears came gushing down her cheeks. They flowed again and again over the next few weeks, Michael holding her as she expressed her deep sorrow at the impending loss of Stacey and as she contemplated her new role as a progressive foundation executive director. “Stacey is only 52 years old — just like me. And after losing her for 25 years, I finally get her back, only to have her taken away forever. This really isn’t fair.”
* * * *
The day after Christmas, Heather called Jillian to say that Stacey had died and would be cremated quietly with no memorial service. They arranged to meet on Wednesday, February 3rd at the office of Stacey’s lawyer in downtown Cleveland to finish the process of passing her personal trust fund to the foundation and arranging for the people Jillian had picked to be officially appointed to the board of directors. Jillian was stunned by the death of her friend and by the rapid change in her role. But she was even more stunned when she asked Heather how much the trust was worth.
“I don’t have the exact figures in front of me, but it is roughly $10 billion. That is what you were expecting, right?”
“Ten billion dollars? Really? I didn’t know it was quite so much,” she said vaguely, trying to hide her astonishment. An endowment of $10 billion meant the foundation could distribute approximately $500 million each year. This represented a gigantic increase in the amount of money available to the progressive movement. It was enough to provide $50,000 — a livable wage — to 10,000 more activists each year. The consequences of this were staggering, and Jillian was now responsible for distributing it. She was overwhelmed by the enormity of the amount and the immensity of the responsibility she had unknowingly taken on. She also marveled at her friend and appreciated the enormous risk and effort she had made to advance progressive change. ‘You really swindled the swindlers,’ she thought. ‘You outsmarted the financial sharks and won. You were so shrewd and disciplined. But now you’re gone.’ Intense emotion — guilty pleasure at how Stacey’s craftiness had enabled her to capitalize from Wall Street’s mischief and put the proceeds to good use, grief at Stacey’s untimely death, excitement about the Jubilee Gift and how helpful it would be in bringing about a positive transformation of society, and fear of the grave responsibility she now shouldered — welled up in her and came spilling out in a rush.
‘Something lost but something gained,’ she thought. And then she cried and cried.
* * * *
If you liked this fantasy story, you might be interested in these additional resources:
Inciting Democracy: A Practical Proposal for Creating a Good Society
START Study Groups
The Vernal Education Project
500 Leading National U.S. Progressive Organizations