Kurt Opprecht

Kurt Opprecht, Founder of The Threat to Freedom Index

“Not only are folks at Civic Hall doing great things for the world, but they are willing to take a moment to hear about what I’m doing, offer thoughts and advice, and to share the nuts and bolts of what their projects are.”

Pronouns: He/His/Him

Meet Kurt Opprecht. Kurt is a satirist, photographer, raconteur, and the founder of The Threat to Freedom Index. As a storyteller, he’s appeared at such venues as the Nuyorican Poets Cafe and The Moth, winning the Moth Slam once, and advancing onto the Grand Slam. He is the author of the Billionaire’s Manifesto, and the founder of an artist’s residency at Lacawac Sanctuary Artists’ Residency in the Northern Poconos. He divides his time between New Orleans and NYC, using Bardo – his short bus – as a mobile writer’s shack. You can connect with him here

What Does He Do?

Kurt is currently committed to launching The Threat to Freedom Index, which aspires to assess the state of our democracy on a weekly basis. The Index does so by gauging and indexing policy and pronouncements across nine different subject matter criteria with both expert panels and crowd-sourced citizen feedback. (Kurt is working with Civic Hall members Ray Shah and Jerry Weinstein on this project.)

Kurt is also in the process of completing a final draft of a highly stylized political novel —- which satirizes the 1950 YA novel genre while telling a tale of tragedy which hinges on a lynching. Think Bobbsey Twins meets Norman Mailer.

How Did He Get Into This Work?

Kurt grew up in Asheville, North Carolina, during the last leg of the Vietnam War. A full-color Sunday supplement gave him his first sense of what “opposition” could be, and while Kent State was happening in Ohio — fascinating and terrifying him — NC was not exactly a hotbed. After his family moved to Utah, Kurt experienced “othering” as a non-Mormon. In high school, he self-published a satirical guide to manners which he sold for a quarter a copy, which saw him summoned by the principal: “You were seen leafleting young man!”

It was an experience that his mother endured, however, which radicalized him. Mrs. Opprecht was the head of personnel for the state’s largest private employer —a defense contractor — and penned a memo exposing unfair labor practices. Her whistleblowing triggered retaliatory behavior on the part of her boss. She was offered a transfer to East Bumfuck or would be fired. She declined. Initially, there was every hope that the EEOC would be adjudicating on her behalf, but then Ronald Reagan became POTUS and she was told that there would be no case, that she was on her own. For four long years, she fought the unfair termination, as Kurt’s father continued to work at the same company. Over time, the family lost friends who asked that their names be taken off the witness list. While she ultimately prevailed, she was unable to ever work again for any employer in Northern Utah.

Kurt’s first successful foray into the political street theater was Billionaires for Bush in 2004. Given the size and budget (basically, none) of the project, they captured an amazing amount of press. But it was at the 2008 Republican National Convention in St. Paul as Lobbyists for McCain, where Kurt saw… red. In response to fellow activists who wanted to shut down Congress, he offered, “I actually like Democracy!” He quickly became a pariah.

“There was this orthodoxy to protest and opposition, and I was done with it. I resolved to come into the light and work on the positive side of things. To do more organizing and creating good. Not that I don’t still protest from time to time.”

What Project Is He Working On?

Kurt is a founder of The Threat to Freedom Index. Project prior to the Index, he worked on the Iran Storytelling Project, which entailed rounding up a dozen A-list storytellers to travel to Teheran, with the hope of promoting cultural exchange. With the emergence of the Green Movement, the project crashed and burned. Coming out of that experience, where the election of Mir-Hossein Mousavi had once hoped to restore democracy in Iran, Kurt got to thinking after last year’s election: “How close are we to authoritarianism? Let’s put a stick in the mud and see if the water is rising.” (Apparently, even President Obama is currently grappling with this.)

While many public intellectuals, including Sarah Kendzior and Masha Gessen, cover the threats to democracy, there is no gauge that isn’t annual. “That said, we are acquainted with the annual offering of Freedom House, and are being advised by the Global Peace Index.”

The two goals of the Index are simple: “Let’s keep track. Let’s educate the public.”

The nine areas the Index is tracking include:
Police & Prisons
Social Structures
Personal Liberties

“While we are recruiting panels of experts, we will be shortly rolling out the same scoresheet that the pro’s use, so that people playing at home can keep track.”

How Did He Come to Civic Hall?

Kurt met Jerry Weinstein at The Writer’s Room about eight years ago and was introduced by him to PDF and Civic Hall.

“Not only are folks at Civic Hall doing great things for the world, but they are willing to take a moment to hear about what I’m doing, offer thoughts and advice, and to share the nuts and bolts of what their projects are.”

What Is His Ask of Civic Hall?

“If you are an expert in one of our nine areas, please check out the Index. Or, if you – like most Americans – are overwhelmed by the daily challenge of signal to noise news, please consider using it, and giving us feedback, of course. We’re especially looking for coders, funders, and folks with media and social experience.”

A beta of the Index is accessible to the community here. The password is: libertas.