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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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.
2018-12-09 15:30:06 -0500
Yen and Joe Cha
2018-12-09 10:56:48 -0500
A giraffe walks tall.
Unless he walks with his friends,
Then, he smiles as well.
2018-12-07 23:30:08 -0500
I never met Jim, but I owe my political success in part to nationbuilder. As someone who was born in 1977 also, I thank him for his visionary work and ability to overcome his christian right wing upbringing. The cancer must have been hell.
I know there are several now elected progressives here in Indiana who beat the odds to win because of Jim’s vision for democracy.
2018-12-07 15:47:10 -0500
Bless and thank you for your brilliant platform used by many Campaigns and Corporations helping us manage Social Media and Planning.
2018-12-07 00:20:38 -0500
Thank you for the gifts you gave us Jim. Here’s to continuing the work you inspired organizers around the world to do. I am so thankful for having met you and for having had the chance to be part of the NationBuilder community you built. Here’s to connecting people and building community with the Internet.
2018-12-06 18:05:06 -0500
I will forever be grateful to Jim for giving me an opportunity to join the NationBuilder team and helping jumpstart my professional career. I know folks always talk about Jim’s genius, but it’s truly his ferocity and sheer force of will that will persist in my mind. Thank you, Jim. I will miss you dearly.
2018-12-04 11:48:24 -0500
I have to admit that I didn’t know Jim or his beliefs until today – December 4, 2018. I was looking for a job being a fantastic customer experience manager for an ethical, customer focused company, and came across NationBuilder and saw this page and watched Jim’s last speech. It embodies all that is right, and wrong, with our world, and this country, especially right now. I wish I knew about him earlier in my life – but I am
for having come across him today. Thank you Jim.
2018-12-03 21:18:49 -0500
I first met Jim through Twitter in 2013. I was the ED of a legal advocacy group looking for software to help us scale our public engagement and NationBuilder really fit the bill. I wrote about the experience of using NationBuilder and Jim reached out directly and thanked me for writing about the software. Two years later, I was interviewing for a lead organizer job at NationBuilder and sitting in Jim’s casual and comfortable office in
. In that first brief real life interaction with Jim, I really felt his drive, brilliance, calm, and humanity. Over the next 3 years working at NationBuilder, I watched Jim’s integrity come forward time and time again. I had never met someone so focused, so driven, so values based. He was so clear with his vision and believed so strongly. He inspired drive and passion in everyone at NationBuilder. Like many visionaries (especially ones living on borrowed time), he struggled with delays and did not suffer fools easily. I certainly saw him lose his patience a couple times over the years. We me, however, he was nothing but generous, even when his health was declining. I remember one trip to LA after the 2016 election, I asked if I could have 30 minutes of his time to discuss the mission, Trump, etc. He generously offered it. I remember sitting on a couch at the NationBuilder office and asking him if he really thought we were doing the right thing with the mission. He spoke so passionately and shared his views of the future and the present. He did so in such a humble, thoughtful way. It was the most generous and supportive thing that any
I left NationBuilder more than a year ago, to go be a
myself. I have brought so much of Jim’s wisdom and system to my new gig. Over the last year, I have often reflected on his life and role at NationBuilder. I reflected on all the tough calls that he had to make and deep belief in his values that he lived by. I have come to feel that is the role of a good
– tough calls and values. Jim taught me that and I am forever grateful. I am so sad to see you leave us Jim. Thank you for everything you gave me. I am very glad to have known you.
2018-12-02 21:29:58 -0500
I met Jim at Personal Democracy Forum (
) in 2014. It was my first time at
and I asked him who he thought was really changing the game in this complex and evolving landscape. In true humility and support he named a few incredible emerging players in the civic tech space. I was really taken aback by how sharp and committed he was to nurturing this community and really making a difference in every person’s life and every person he had the privilege of speaking with. Truly a remarkable human.
2018-12-02 16:18:58 -0500
In December 2003, having been laid low by a compound fracture of my right ankle and therefore unable to join the anti-war marches in San Francisco, I went on a desperate search for some way to contribute to the protesting via the internet. Shortly thereafter, I answered an email blast from MoveOn.org and applied for a position as an unpaid researcher for an undisclosed documentary on the topic of media bias. The documentary eventually became
: Rupert Murdoch’s War on Journalism, directed by Robert Greenwald. Once enlisted, eight of us, all women, spent many months carefully documenting thousands of examples of propaganda masquerading as news. After the movie was released, we wanted to continue what we came to see as vitally important work calling out
on its daily distortions. Jim Gilliam, whom we had come to know as the technology guru for the documentary, suggested we start a blog. None of us knew what a “blog” was. With the patience of Job and an irrepressible sense of humor, Jim helped us launch News Hounds in July 2004. With his invaluable help, we learned about bandwidth,
scripting, YouTube videos, dealing with trolls, etc. Over the years as News Hounds flourished, Jim became our indispensable and beloved “Blog Father” to whom we turned for advice, trouble-shooting and, yes, comfort in times of darkness. I particularly remember one morning receiving an email from Jim, warning us that the images that were attached would disturb us and telling us that he wanted us to see them privately before they hit the media because he knew how strongly affected we would be. He was right. I still remember clicking the attachment and reacting in horror, disgust and blistering anger at the sight of prisoners being tortured at Abu Ghraib. Without Jim’s personal commitment and caring guidance, News Hounds would never have manifested and its voice would have remained silent. Even though I’ve known for years about Jim’s intense medical struggles, I am heartbroken to learn that he has lost the final battle with the disease that stalked him for so many years. The world has lost a quiet, gentle and persistent champion for the rights of humankind.
2018-12-02 15:07:09 -0500
I am just a NationBuilder user. When I ran for city council last year, I needed all the support I could get. Using NationBuilder and taking the “How to Run for Office” course largely taught by Jim, made the whole thing much less scary. I appreciate Jim, his goals, and the work he shared with all of us. Blessings friend.
2018-12-02 03:24:11 -0500
I remember being extremely inspired by his “internet is my religion” video (still one of my fav talks) and was anxious to interview with NB.
That day Inended up being late for my interview and I completely bombed it. It didn’t help that I was struck that I was interviewing w Jim. Needless to say I never had the chance to work w NB but always think back to Jim’s story and his understanding of what you can make possible if you can have people come together with the same point of view. For better or worse that ended up being the same story of NB itself as different groups came together with the platform, yet the power of the vision is undeniable.
I have Jim to thank for pointing out that power through his video, works and NB itself and am genuinely sad to know he is not longer with us. My condolences to his family and loved ones and everybody who had the opportunity to work with him more closely.
2018-12-02 01:37:34 -0500
I came to work at NationBuilder in June 2014 at a pivotal time in my life. I was at a crossroads in my story and didn’t know how I was going to bring the previous version of myself to the table.
Jim and Lea together created a space for me that I will be grateful for the rest of my life. When I was at the company I ended up in a position where I got to share my story with every new hire who joined, along with Jim. We sat next to each other for countless new hire story circles and listened to each other’s story again and again. His life of determination, passion, brilliance and grit are indelibly marked on my heart.
I close my eyes, and I’m right there next to him again. Stunned that my story was given a seat at such a beautiful table.
Jim was simultaneously fierce and kind. He held nothing back. He listened. He deliberately created space to let employees share crushing perspectives to him and about him, because he knew it would make him and the company better. I have never seen anyone, much less the leader of a company, be willing to go through that for the sake of growth.
He earned my trust and love. I had the privilege of sitting with him on some dark days and he was steadfast in his passion and belief.
I am so sad that he’s gone. This world needs more people like Jim. More courage. More leadership. More hope. More hard work. More love. More connection.
He was beautiful and flawed and brave, the very best parts of what it means to be human. And I personally am more connected to the world around me because of how he lived.
2018-12-01 18:34:58 -0500
I am sorry for a lost of someone who gave his life to make a better world. The good die young, may his legacy live on in his work ,his staff and his vision.
2018-12-01 11:37:40 -0500
Wise women and philosophers tell us that the purpose of life is to find our essential self and live in it. We are called to honor the soul that knows our true name and tells us who we are. And they say we are required to use our unique medicine where we can to make life better.
It is not an easy task. As humans we often get lost in the wear and tear of life and lose sight of that which is authentic about us. Those who are able to stay true to their sacred mission, no matter the hardships and challenges placed before them, walk on the earth as Mystics. Jim is a Mystic.
He would have never claimed this for himself. And if in our encounters I would have spoken
of him in this way. I imagine he would say, “Don’t lay that on me, find the mystic in you.” He would say this because he resists anyone seeing him as more extraordinary than they see
their self. But it is how I came to know and treasure him.
Jim discovered very early in his life what he was put here to do. And he was true to it. He lived courageously beyond the hardships and the wear and tear that life handed him. He is a peace maker and a justice seeker. Jim believes a connected humanity is the answer to much that ails us as human beings. And in his brief time with us he used his genius, his medicine to help connect us all.
I have learned much from him in the short time I’ve come to know him. He is my friend and I am his. I am not ready to say good-by. It will take some time to internalize the idea that he is not on this side of the sky. So, for now I will say what I have said in his presence and out of it. You are loved.
2018-12-01 10:51:17 -0500
Ever since I learned about Nationbuilder 4 years ago, I knew it was going to be a powerful force for good, and has helped me immensely in shaping the vision of the Vegan Utopia Ecovillage. Now that I am creating the Livable Future Alliance, having Nationbulder as a platform gives me hope that we can unify like-minded people in Northwest Arkansas and eventually the whole world so that we can create a world where everyone can thrive.
Although I did not know Jim personally, I feel thankful to him for his dedication, vision, talent, and love. I feel grateful to be part of an organization which has a leader who people seem to love so much, unlike many large corporations where the leaders, when they died, were shown to be people who did not care about the workers.
An organization with a heart is what I want to support. Tears come to my eyes to think about Jim’s passing. Thank you for giving us all an opportunity to express our thanks. I believe that Jim must have empowered all of you to carry on in a way that reflects his values.
2018-11-30 21:45:14 -0500
My condolences to Jim’s family and Nation Builder team. I briefly met Jim back in 2012 and was immediately mesmerized and drawn to his vision. It truly is a very, very sad day for the internet world:(
2018-11-30 14:10:16 -0500
Thoughts and prayers for the loved ones of Jim.
Jim from the Latino Equality Alliance family.
2018-11-30 13:43:07 -0500
Rest In Peace Jim! May God comfort your family through this difficult time.
Bích Ngọc Cao
2018-11-30 05:38:07 -0500
Jim understood my love for the internet in a way that few others do. I am so gutted that we no longer have his leadership and vision. Rest in power, Jim. #
2018-11-30 04:16:39 -0500
I am heartbroken at the news of Jim’s passing. I was told by co workers earlier today of his passing and I just …. stopped. I didn’t know Jim personally, I work in the building of Nation Builder’s downtown L.A. office. I speak with NB staff on the daily and I always ask about him. It truly hurts my heart that he and his brilliance and his heart are no longer physically here. He was always kind and spoke when he passed and we had a few short discussions. His kindness and his support will never be forgotten…. I think it was our first brief conversation where he said to me everyone’s contribution is important. I haven’t forgotten that and I have learned so much from focusing on those words. My heart goes out to all of his friends and family. He is no longer in pain and has been reunited with his mom. May he Rest in Peace and may all that have encountered him share the positivity, knowledge and love that he has bestowed upon them. I know I will.
2018-11-30 03:04:06 -0500
Such sad news – deepest sympathies to his family, friends and colleagues. Grateful to be part of this global community of makers that Jim founded.
2018-11-30 01:41:04 -0500
i met jim only once at a friends party. i spoke with him about his work and walked away from that evening tremendously inspired to do something that mattered with my life. i still remember meeting him and being changed by that single meeting, though it was probably almost 10years ago now. very sad the world has lost such an amazing spirit. thank you jim for inspiring and changing those around you for the better.
2018-11-29 23:50:17 -0500
Jim made a difference in my life. As so many have said, some of that difference changed me for the good – some changes were harder to accept. But in all things, Jim was passion embodied.
May we all do the good in the world Jim would have wanted to see. Remember the best of him. Forget the rest. Follow your passion. Live your life the best way you can.
2018-11-29 21:24:02 -0500
God Bless a great creator given to us to touch lives! May he R.I.P his legacy will forever carry on 🌹💝🌹💝🌹💝🌹💝
2018-11-29 21:04:24 -0500
I was reading an article about Jim on a plane to LA, as I was reading I knew somehow this man had a lung transplant like myself. I made contact with him and he met me while I was there. An extraordinary man with an incredible spirit. He gave me his book and I stayed up all night to read it completely that evening, it was inspiring.
Thank you Jim, I’ll not forget having had the pleasure of meeting you.