Wednesday, March 9, 2011

A Conversation with Millay Freschi of Four Bridges in Second Life

By the time I’d opened a blank word document and typed in the title and by line, I’d fondly recalled when and where I had first met Millay Freschi. I'd written a piece on the 60th Anniversary of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights Festival in Second Life for the SL Newspaper in November of 2008. The festival had been a huge success and at the time, it was one of the largest to have occurred in Second Life. It had been while doing research on the people and groups involved, that we’d met when I had introduced myself to Ms Freschi. She was at that time working with Amnesty International-E, a Second Life group, and she was involved in the planning for the event to occur at the groups location. We'd stayed in contact after the festival and it was a few months later that I'd learned that the plans for Four Bridges (4B) had progressed and were being actualized.

Since the inception, the mission of 4B is; “A virtual sustainable global community model founded on the four principles of respect for nature, universal human rights, economic and social justice, and a culture of peace. “ The 4B complex in Second Life now comprises four sims and is the home to fifteen groups that include; Amnesty International-E , Second Pride, Imagine Network, Veterans For Peace, ASERELA Maine, Peace Train, Coalition of Women For Peace, RAWA, Social Justice, Another Place, BORDC, Stop Violence Against Women, War Child SL, U2inSL, and CEPACET.  Besides being home to these organizations, the 4B complex also plays host to many events and the organizations, share the resources, including; space, venues, media, technology, as well as “knowledge and skills”.

We met at her office recently for a chat. When I arrived after I’d accepted the teleport request, she invited me to have a seat. We exchanged pleasantries and caught up briefly, while the site rezzed for me and then began the interview.

Nazz: How long has 4B been in operations now?

Millay: Two years … in December.

Nazz: So right around the time of the universal rights festival.

Millay Freschi: Yes, that's an important month … and we then we started a rebuild this last December.

Nazz: How far along are you on the re-design?

Millay: It will never be finished … people will come and add things, is our hope. Trill really is the guiding force there. She has done a good bit of the work and Siri (Vita) is going in and adding bits of her magic touch. I know that once Trill lays the foundation, the rest will just take off. It's been a process because it was a big change for a lot of people.

Nazz: How many of the organizations represented here are also real life organizations?

Millay: Well we have ten real life organizations and then a few that are strictly Second Life.

Nazz: And the mission and vision, they are still the same as when we first talked about it?

Millay: Yes, it's good that we started with a flexible mission. We've needed that flexibility.

Nazz: Second Life is flexible if nothing else. Is it not?

Millay: Absolutely and I think flexibility is a key component of any organizations ability to move forward ... especially in these uncertain times.

Nazz: Is 4b is a registered nonprofit?

Millay: No, we haven't incorporated, or decided on a status for ourselves. I think it was more of an issue before the price changes. We've been a part of an educational venture up to this point. The rate plans changing actually worked in our benefit.

Nazz: How so?

Millay: There was no clear reason why we should do anything to our status except the tier pricing. It nearly forced a decision that I don't think would have served our mission. One thing that I’ve counted on with 4B is our ability to evolve … to allow creativity be the guide instead of structure. We have to think outside of our structures to find answers to the issues that confront us and we aren't about our presence here ... or a corporate future. We're about changing the world.

Nazz: So the structures that are represented in an NGO or in a typical nonprofit ... being hierarchical in nature?

Millay: All of them ... any of them pick a structure ... any structure. They're all boxes. Anything defined is limited by that definition. This gives us the opportunity to work on a number of different levels, all of them relative to our mission.

Nazz: So then the flexibility and fluidity of a virtual environment allows for a flattened structure that operates more effectively?

Millay Freschi: Exactly because nothing is really flat when you're talking about issues that affect us all in both lives. Whatever world we're working in, having that flexibility is important  ... especially when things can change so dramatically.

Nazz: So when something arises … and I recall the happenings in Iran not too long ago ... the organizations and people that are part of 4B, begin to coalesce around the issue and then the natural leaders emerge to set the direction with consensus?

Millay Freschi: Yes. That’s the really cool part about 4B … because we don't have a structure, people decide on the issues that are important to them. They pick up the lead on the projects and because they're so passionate about the issues, create really dynamic events that cross over lines. Adding music and art is a great way to engage the general community, not just the community already devoted to these issues.  We're able to reach across the lines and touch people that might not have been touched. The more dynamic the presentation, the more awareness we raise. It's allowing that creativity that makes it possible.

Nazz: There are perhaps some critics who would characterize that as being anarchical, how would you respond to that?

Millay: Shall i get my anarchist t-shirt out? I hate that some words have connotations that lead to something ... distant. Anarchy became a bad word in a lot of circles … I'm not fighting against anything. I work with hope … I'm all about believing in the power of people to affect the changes that we're going to need ... that we need right now. I think that creativity is the only thing that might save us and I think that taking advantage of this opportunity to speak to each other from all over the world and talk about and learn about our cultures is incredible ... I’m not passing that up. If that makes me an anarchist, well then I’ll go with that.

Nazz: I would prefer to think of it as taking a creative approach, given the dynamics of life virtual and real.

Millay: Yes ... me too. But some would call that anarchy. I just don't think we have to put titles on things … not sure it's a good idea to do that … and we do that all over the place.

Nazz: Let’s talk about Millay for a bit ... why did you chose that name, is there any significance?

Millay: Edna (St Vincent Millay) is one of my heroes. I've been Millay since I stepped into my first virtual world in 1993.

Nazz: An oldbie then.

Millay: I’ve been around a pixel or ten.

Nazz: How'd you happen into Second Life ... or was it planned?

Millay: Oh absolutely NOT planned. After Virtual Places closed in 2001, I wandered around looking for something else ... something that gave me that sense of community … I didn't find anything. Then in 2007 ... October 11th my rezz day, I was in a physics program at the university … wicked busy. My sister sent me the link and said oh you have to try this place! So I downloaded and rezzed and my first statement in-world was; "I can never come in here again while I’m in school". I knew I would be addicted … and I was. So I figured I best figure out a way to turn this into my studies … perfect place to learn and teach physics. Then I got involved with amnesty through a friend in here and the rest ... as they say is ... herstory. I switched to peace studies a couple of semesters later. It was a really good move for me. Although i still intend to study physics ... just not formally.

Nazz: A memorable moment in Second Life, is there one that stands out more than any other?

Millay: hmmmm … There have been so many ... it's hard to pick just one. But if I were to answer honestly, I’d have to say that it was the first month i was in here. I went to a U2inSL concert … was just a noob … and Bono danced with me. U2inSL is now housed on 4B. You know, this place must be a little shocking with the changes since the last time you were here.

Nazz: I’d popped in a few months back to meet with Trill (Zapatero) … and the Garden for change is still a favorite of mine … I’m partial to gardens in both lives.

Millay Freschi: Trill has done such amazing things here. She just put the vision in pixels like an expert. Yes ... I love the garden for change! And i love that they're next door!

Nazz: Has the VW educational community shown any interest or involvement in 4B?

Millay: Well not really ... I mean of course the University of Maine has because I’ve used this as my independent study and the peace department has been really supportive. Many have sent students here for grad research and there is one professor that brings his students through each semester to maybe work with an organization on a particular project.  The lack of structure I think is a scary thing for many though and perhaps many just don't know how they might use the resource. We're getting better about that now that we've had some trial runs. This is the first semester that we've brought a group of students in directly to 4B.

Nazz: How about the use of other VW's … Like InWorldz or Opensim, have you explored how to utilize other VW’s with the 4B mission?

Millay: Oh yes … we have a presence in many of them already … Spoton3d, InWorldz, Opensim. We're looking into purchasing a couple of sims in Opensim as well. We want the second life sims to be our door into the community. This is where the people that we need to reach will be, but we can certainly utilize the resources in other virtual worlds for things that aren't so community oriented. We can do classes elsewhere and that sort of thing.

Nazz: Looking out into the next year or two ... how do you see things evolving for 4B?

Millay: Whew … a year or two, that's forever in pixelated time.

Nazz: A shorter time frame then, 6 months to a year from now?

Millay: My hope is that it really becomes a true community project. Not just the 4B organizations but the whole of the Second Life community. I hope that people will come and leave their bits of hope and take some away with them. Being practical, I want to do a lot more with education. We're bringing a couple of university students in to work on projects. I like the collaboration with the social justice issues. My original goal in Second Life was/is to create an international school where people can come together and teach and learn from each other skills that they can use in their own communities … water collection and distribution …  solar panel making and maintenance, college prep courses, kitchen gardening, forgiveness, conflict resolution, mediation, yoga … the list goes on and on. I credit those that stick with the community and my seeming lack of leadership, but this is an experiment and I am a community member just like the rest. I don't know where we're going or even if we'll make it through six months under this new tier. But I do know that i couldn't have handpicked a better group of people to stand with and raise our voices for change … I’m proud of my association with all of them.

Nazz: Spoken like a true leader.

Millay: Accidental leader

Nazz: Most are … and often the really good ones who rise to the occasion... any closing thoughts you'd like to share?

Millay: hmmm....  well, I do want to say thank you to a couple of people if I can. Trill, Siri, Medora and juni ... they've been incredibly supportive of this. I know it sounds really clichéd and I’m backspacing half of what i write … but they've been the ones that no matter what show up … even when I make terrible mistakes or come close to it even when they don't get me ... they come back. This community is like that … family i guess … and I know there are more that I’m missing but those four have been with me from the beginning of some really difficult processes … Coyote and Mike are new to that circle relatively speaking and just as valuable … maybe I shouldn't start mentioning people, we'll be here all night.


Bradd Laval said...

4B very nice..

Anonymous said...

Millay is quite an inspiring personality.