Giving thanks to Jim
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Jim loved Thanksgiving because it was a time to acknowledge, honor, and thank people. We want to create that space for him here. Join us in sharing your thoughts, memories, and stories of Jim in a perpetual thanks giving...
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2019-12-06 01:16:50 -0500
If anyone deserves a strong memorial, it’s Jim Gilliam. While I only met him a few times, each interaction was an inspiration. He displayed a rare combination of ability,motivation, charisma, appreciation and humility. He spent his short, but very complete life working to help as many people as possible to come together in order to push the objectives of freedom and democracy. Jim Gilliam will always be remembered as one of the founding fathers of political campaign technology on the internet.
2019-12-05 21:12:08 -0500
I saw Jim speak at Politicon one year. He was a true brilliant thinker and I became so excited to hear what he would say next every time it was his turn to speak. I went up to him afterward and hoped he had some sort of show or podcast so I could always hear his latest thoughts and ruminations.
I still think about some of the points he made back then (likely 2016 or 2017), and went to see what he was up to and figured he may have succumbed to his sickness. The world has truly lost out, as he was phenomenally brilliant, and he’s still not forgotten to a complete stranger 12-5-19. It greatly saddens me that we don’t have his wisdom to consult in an ever-changing world. He is truly missed.
2019-08-13 15:50:36 -0400
I’ve been thinking about Jim a lot over the last couple days and finally decided to write something on here. Thank you, Jim.
I joined NationBuilder because I was inspired by Jim. I met Jim and felt immediately intimidated and engaged by him. Watching him lead the company through tough and beautiful times has been an all consuming ride. Being part of this community, of the people he and Lea brought together, this wonderful group of problem solvers, go getters, organizers, empaths, story tellers — creators, has been a joy of my life.
When I considered applying to the Product Team, I’m not going to lie, I had major hesitations about working more closely with Jim. When I interviewed, Jim grilled me about what I believed the product could be and why it was important to me. It seemed to me that he cared so much about not just what you could do, but why you do it. We chatted about books, the future, and Taylor Swift.
That interview is a precious memory for me. Not because it was a particularly meaningful conversation but because I was really nervous and in the end, all that really mattered was that I was myself. It strikes me that actually that was the thing Jim respected more than anything else, was when people were their true, authentic selves. It’s such a treasure in this world to find people like that that it’s almost jarring when you do.
Jim has been absent from NationBuilder daily operations for a couple years now, and I never ended up really getting the opportunity to work closely with him. Except that I do. I work with Jim every day because I use NationBuilder. NationBuilder is basically Jim’s brain on a rails app. All the weird intricacies that can seem disparate but ultimately tie together to make something greater than the sum of its parts. That is the NationBuilder product and that is the company too. It’s more than any one of us, it’s more than Jim, it’s all of us, creating together, and I think that is his most beautiful contribution.
2019-06-03 16:08:54 -0400
Jim was a great guy, not only was he brilliant but he had a heart of gold too. I grew up with him and we attended the same church. We had a few theological discussions over the years. Jim could not understand that his god was actually his health. He never worshipped the one true God of the Bible. He made his help his idol. Yes the internet is great and people are great, but none of that can save you, only the blood of Christ can save your soul.
2019-03-07 01:38:31 -0500
Jim was a gentle giant, a big thinker and an inspirational leader. I am grateful for knowing him and seeing the change that he generated. Until we meet again Jim, dream big and you can reach the stars.
2019-01-02 10:58:34 -0500
I remember hearing Jim on stage at Personal Democracy Forum in 2011; he was absolutely riveting. He spoke with power, grace, and a luminosity that simply shone through him. Many of us seek a digital world infused by his spirit of sharing and humanity. The physical world is a much darker place without him.
2018-12-19 21:02:02 -0500
I really was looking forward to meeting him one day.
I have loved his attitude and ‘Nation Builder’ as a vehicle for democracy near since its inception and have followed his journey and personal struggles , albeit – as just another citizen.
I had hopes of sharing my own vision of my educational-nonprofit-interactive-website & game called ‘The History Institute’. I do believe he would of loved it.
With that said. simply.. I ask the Lord to now comfort and embrace Jim – one of his treasured servants.
2018-12-15 16:14:47 -0500
Heartfelt, Jim you are an inspiration to a generation that experienced how the internet changed the world
You lead the way by founding Nationbuilder, sharing your thoughts and life… your ideas and spirit will last, rest in peace my friend
2018-12-15 05:52:28 -0500
Kindly accept my heartfelt condolences of Jim’s homegoing. Didn’t meet him but he impacted my vision through his entrepreneurship spirit. May the Lord deeply comfort all of you and especially his beloved family. I won’t say
because there’s no other option.
2018-12-11 19:01:22 -0500
I heard Jim Gilliam’s electrifying talk at Personal Democracy Forum in 2011. (Below for any who would like to see it, for the tenth time or the first, is a link to it.) He was a pioneer with a great heart.
2018-12-11 15:01:16 -0500
[My memories of Jim Gilliam. I apologize to anyone if I get any details wrong, it’s unintentional, this is all just from memory. This is a long one.)
I met in Jim Gilliam in 2009 at Personal Democracy Forum, thanks to Cameron Barrett first, and then the conference founders, Andrew Rasiej and Micah Sifry. I had been familiar with Jim’s work from ‘White House 2’ a website that was attempting to be a platform where people could submit, vote, and discuss issues that, if reached a certain point, the White house, or the federal government theoretically could take it up, theoretically with some context for what people thought, a petition platform meant to bring more people into the process. I was working on some local issues and wanted to find ways to integrate the platform into what we were doing. We spoke about it, but ultimately the project I was working on fell off.
or the next one, he was giving a two minute product pitch between sessions in the main hall. It was for a tool he had started working on called Pro.act.ly, that would help bring together a bunch of important functions of a campaign into one online dashboard. It seemed cool, a way to lower the barrier of entry for people to running to office, something at this time I was noodling around in my own head, especially in that moment bolstered by the jolt of inspiration I’ve always felt meeting people and learning about what others are working on at personal democracy forum. I noted it down and moved on with the rest of the conference.
And then in 2010, a snowball that I had started rolling a few months prior had picked up to speed, It was at the point where I realized that not only was I going to run for the chief executive position of my hometown’s government, but that I would need all the help I could get, and only if I could marshal all possible resources, would I have even the slightest chance of not embarrassing myself on election day.
I emailed Jim to see how that product he mentioned was going, and if he either had something for purchase or in need of testers. It turned out they needed the latter. I made my case “I’d really be interested in discussing whether pro.act.ly might work for this campaign. Hint: It will be a campaign where I am the candidate and I’m going to need to use everything available to pull off what I think I’m going to do, and be interested to talk about anyway we can work together on this.”
At this point, what was now NationBuilder was in one of the purest phases of startup… just Jim Gilliam, Jesse Haff, and Aaron Straus Garcia (we’ll come back to that guy in a moment) were building this platform. It had been used on a campaign of Reshma Suijani, and I believe there may have been one or two others that were testing it out.
Jim and I had a long and engaging conversation on Skype – he seemed to see how I serious I was about getting into government, not for purposes of self-enrichment, vanity, political dynasty building or some of these more common and problematic reasons, but because I wanted to fuck it all up to help kick it all into a new, and better, era of being more inclusive and systems-level in what the goals were to improve things. I believed in working within the system to change it, not for me, or my interests, but for those who will inherit whatever we decide to leave them. I believed that in an age of new technology, people seemed surprisingly disconnected, and how could these new technologies reverse that and bring people together. And I believed that people should be able to run for office, not based on money or connections or anything like that, but because they cared about making change, and were willing to do the work to get there, and that the ability for diverse groups of people to do that was American as apple pie.
And Jim believed in me.
Not because I’m particularly special, but because Jim believed in people. He believed, so deeply, that individuals could have more power than they typically do, and he saw the internet, and the tool he was building, as a great equalizer, something that took a set of functions and abilities had really only been available to mainstream party-endorsed candidates or those who had wealth, and bring that to way, way more people, if not everyone. He believed that the more people you bring into our political system, who have a voice, the better the results could end up being.
I ended up winning that election, in 2011. And NationBuilder, a platform now used tens of thousands of times around the world to help people organize movements and campaigns, played a real role in that. Although to be fair, winning by 12 votes, I’m not sure there are any factors that can’t be credited with putting me over the top.
Midway through my campaign, my main point of contact at NationBuilder, Aaron Straus Garcia left the company, and with this newfound time on his hands, offered to help bring his skills as a former field organizer to my campaign South Orange. He did, and again, probably there is no way I could have won without him and his help.
About six months later, after Aaron had ended up going to Spain to work on a parliament race, and after I had started to (sort of) get my feet under me as a newly elected mayor, we caught up at Seton Hall in South Orange and realized that neither of us had a real paying job, and we decided to put our heads, and clients together, into my company, Veracity Media, and partner up on trying to build this into a real company, which largely ended up being centered around building NationBuilder websites and campaign tools for candidates, especially those at the local level, and especially challengers and those interested in good government.
Over the next few years we got a lot of great work done in South Orange. And with our third partner and an amazing team, Veracity grew into a respected and successful consulting company, with clients around the country and a few around the world. And NationBuilder, well anyone still reading this knows they exploded, going from an interesting idea, to a ’it has promise’ tool, to a real disruptor in the field of political and digital organizing.
Throughout the next few years, as my world had been turned upside down and I seemed to moving a million miles an hour towards some distant but important goals related to finding implementing better governance models, and while NationBuilder was growing at an incredible rate, Jim and I kept in touch. If I was in LA, or he in NY, we would try to get together to catch up. But not a perfunctory catch up with a colleague you once met at a conference. These get togethers were conversations, on a few occasions which lasted 4 or 5 hours or more, where we’d be deeply present and engaged in conversations that took us to some of the most fundamental areas of interest in thinking through how to change a broken/inefficient political/electoral/public governance systems. These conversations were also helpful, I think, for both of us, and each of our cynicism about broken systems ended up being overshadowed by optimism, and faith, especially his, in people, being able to make this all better.
Jim’s own unbelievable hardships or challenges in his life no doubt contributed to how empathetic he was to broad groups of people, and how much he wanted to see things better for others. I never knew Jim as well as I wish I had, now looking back, and I was by no means someone extremely close to him, but since his passing, I keep thinking back to those conversations and areas of my life impacted by Jim.
The Skype session where he believed in me, and where his belief in me helped me believe in myself.
To the campaign that changed my life and so many others, in part because of a product he created, and the team he built around that product.
To a company, NationBuilder, that constantly had good, empathetic, motivated, people in all its corners, which brought me to one of my business partners, and closest friends.
To the people he believed in, whether directly, or indirectly all across the world.
I don’t pretend to suggest that anyone can live a life free of contention or of disagreement or of issues. But, from my personal perspective, I can never forget Jim for the role that he played in my life, and I will always chose to remember him for the role that I’m sure he played in thousands upon thousands of lives – trying to find ways to use technology to equalize and empower and fighting to give a greater voice to so many good people who he always believed in.
But this story doesn’t end yet, unfortunately.
Earlier this year, the spring of 2018, I was working on a component to a big life/data/history organization project, which involved documenting and organizing all sorts of past experiences, from trips, to random but impactful conversations, to turning point moments in my life, all that. And I came across my first email to Jim in 2009 about WhiteHouse2. I wrote an email reflecting on this, and how much had happened in the preceding decade, to Jim. In the last few years, we weren’t in as close touch at all, and I was moved seeing our ten year old conversations that changed so much in my life. I tried to email Jim, but got a bounce on the two personal emails I had for him. I made a mental note to email someone at NationBuilder to pass along whatever his current email was, so I could forward this brief reflection to him and see if we could find a long overdue catch up, but I kept putting it off, and now, it’s too late.
Although I hope, and believe, that he probably knows all of this and more, I should have been more proactive with saying so, and it’s an important reminder of how valuable it is to tell people how you feel, when you feel it. Life is too short, and too unpredictable to not do so. So, even though Jim is gone, and I never got to send him this email, I hope this reflection on my experience with him reminds his friends and family not just how many people he impacted, but how important it is to live with that intentionality, and to tell people how you feel, and ultimately, how much more we have to do to create a world that would have satisfied Jim’s vision for better humanity.
“Cleaning up and organizing some digital assets, old notes and various things, and came across this meeting and email thread from 2009…. Seems like eons ago doesn’t it? I guess almost a decade now… kind of frightening.
I know for me, it’s strange to think if I hadn’t sent this, or you hadn’t responded, and we didn’t get to know each other…. using NB for my campaign, winning and doing that whole thing, meeting Aaron and going into business together, (we’re still very close), he ended up introducing me to a woman that while we were together and since ended up changing a lot about life, so many things came from this. Crazy.
I hope all is well with you Jim, it’s been a while, if you ever wanted to catch up in person or Skype sometime it would be fun to do so!
2018-12-10 10:57:41 -0500
Jim – It was a pleasure and honor to meet you. Your contributions continue to live on through the connections you developed and the relationships you built.
2018-12-10 01:15:52 -0500
… an other Buddha has left us for the light …
Jim your spirit is now part of eternity and all of us. Your work will live forever.