20 February 2012

Dear Jeff Skoll

(Yes, this is a letter to Jeff Skoll.  You may read along.  You may even comment.  Even better, you can print this off and give it to Jeff, if you know him.  For that matter, if you know someone of similar mind and bank account, you can give this to them, too.)

We don't know each other and we probably don't have much in common.  I've shopped on eBay, I write, and I'm Canadian.  That's probably the end of the list.

Oh, one more thing: I also champion the underdog.

I've read a lot about your philanthropy over the past 24 hours, and I admire the way you are approaching it.  Good job.  I am always glad to see someone following their moral duty, especially when the only thing driving it is their own drive.

In fact, I have admired many who have done this: people who stick to their guns, who declare that a thing is right, and who do it regardless of harm to themselves.  I have a list of names: Romeo Dallaire, Linda Keen, Pat Stogran...and you.  And others.  Oh, its not that giving away your money is the big deal; many wealthy do so.  It is the WAY you are doing it.  I can see that you are personally involved in doing what is right and your money happens to be the tool you have handy.

As for me, I too feel this drive, this thing inside that tells me to stand up and point at things that are wrong.  18 months ago, this drive kicked in as I watched a man lose his job for standing up for what is right.  Col Pat Stogran, Canada's first Veterans' Ombudsman, lost his position because he was too outspoken.  Upon learning this, his first response was "Oh, you thought THAT was outspoken???  Tune in to tomorrow's press conference!"  And so he did hold a press conference and he blew the lid off a slew of problems at Veterans' Affairs.

Citizens like you and I, we don't pay too much attention to veterans.  We know people enlist in the RCMP and the Canadian Forces.  We know they get hurt and killed.  We stand proud of Canada's role in peacekeeping.  We wear our poppies on Remembrance Day.  But otherwise, we don't think much about them.  Part of that is because we don't want to think too much about the horrors they see and the things they endure.  The other part is that we think they are taken care of.  After all, this is Canada!  Of course they are looked after!  No one would even debate the need and there has never been a debate about funds.  We pay our taxes, secure in the knowledge that, of all government departments, Veterans' Affairs will be run properly and the vets looked after.

Which, of course, is completely naive when you think about it.

But Col Stogran changed all that for me.  He told me, a civilian, what was really going on.  And the veterans themselves, in comments on the press coverage, also told me the horrors of this department.  Within 48 hours, I had found the Col and offered to help spread the word (having some measure of social media skills).  He accepted.

A week later, I had a campaign, a website, and a name for the organization: Our Duty.  The purpose?  To fix Veterans' Affairs and to make sure that we take care of our veterans, at least in the way we thought we had been.

What's wrong over there?  Well, there's the big things: failure to cover exposure to Agent Orange/White/Purple and depleted uranium.  Pension clawbacks.  Replacing a monthly pension with a much smaller lump-sum award.  Then there's the small things: thousands of pages of policy.  Staffing problems.  Case mangers carrying a load of 1000+ claims.  Years-long processing times and decades long appeals processes.  And then there's the dirty things: passing around the private medical files of any critic.  Cutting benefits to those same critics.  Trying to get veterans who stand up for themselves committed to mental hospitals.  Yes, Jeff, its happening in your Canada.

Outraged?  So am I.  Motivated?  Well, I am.  So much that I have been labouring long and hard this past year-and-a-half.  OurDuty.org has become Our Duty Inc - a registered not-for-profit.  We even have a board of directors.  And a bank account containing $10 (our treasurer's recycling money).

And that's the problem: Our Duty is broke.  We have the drive to make things happen.  We have the knowledge and will to solve the problems.  We have the desire to stand and declare That Is Wrong!

But we don't have any money to do it.

We've donated thousands of hours in manpower, and we would gladly do so again, if we could just figure out how to pay our bills.  Our Duty could have a major impact, if we had enough cash to buy a few ads once in a while, to help spread the word.  And if we weren't all stressed out about making ends meet.  Because, as you know, advocacy doesn't pay.  At least, advocating for veterans doesn't pay.

In the land of the government grant, we can't get funds. Veterans' themselves are broke. The provinces say that veterans are a federal issue.  The Feds are hardly going to fund a group that is critical of them.  Philanthropists don't want to upset the government by funding advocacy.  And no one wants to sponsor a group that speaks truth to power.

Except, perhaps, you.

Jeff Skoll, you like underdogs?  Here's one.  Our Duty, a group of rogue citizens committed to fixing an entire government department, provided we can find a way to feed our families while we do that.

Jeff, you're a Canadian.  You know how important those uniforms are, the blue beret and the red serge.  You know what the Battle of the Somme means.  And Rwanda.  And Suez.  Haiti.  The Balkans.  Afghanistan.  And so on.  You know that Canada made those commitments and sacrifices, not for glory, but for humanity.  We have sent our fellow citizens to the furthest outposts of the globe, to bring peace and aid, or, when everything else fails, to bear witness to atrocities so that someone will know.  Our fellow citizens answer to call to fight, to rescue, to bag sand and shovel snow, to fly in blizzards and to march on ice, to get maimed or killed, because it is necessary.

Jeff, my fight is also necessary.  Someone, some civilian, an unbiased third party, needs to wade into this fight and bring stability. Veterans are biased one way; politicians and bureaucrats the other.  Citizens are the employers of both sides.  We can make the peace and fix the problems.  We can do it.  All it takes is clarity of vision, will to change, and drive to labour.  And a few bucks to pay for the gas.

Jeff Skoll: your veterans need you.  Your government needs you.  Your nation needs you.  I need you.  Will you help me make this right?

Best Regards,
Jeff Rose-Martland
President, Our Duty inc.

P.S. I am putting this letter into an electronic bottle and casting it adrift on the seas of cyberspace in the hope it finds you.

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