Does This Machine Have a Soul?

October 28, 2017

By: Evan Weiss, Warm Cookies of the Revolution

Have you been waking up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat thinking, “sweet lords, what is going on with the THIS MACHINE HAS A SOUL! project”?

Well, relax a bit, we have you covered.

First off, a reminder on the who and what:

Who: We are Warm Cookies of the Revolution and we are the world’s first Civic Health Club. Broken down to the essentials, we give a damn about our community and we merge important civic issues with creative and weird programs---just like at a gym for your physical health where you want to see results and feel better, we try to do the same for our community’s civic health.

What: THIS MACHINE HAS A SOUL! breathes life into a budgeting system that traditionally feels like a soulless machine. Residents and youth in 2 neighborhoods are leading a Participatory Budgeting process while artists create work that both illustrates and engages others in the boring yet crucial process. This is what we do.

In July, students aged 13-22 who will lead one of the participatory budgeting processes, filed into a classroom and prepped to learn about budgets. As you can imagine, the energy in the room was as electric as a rock sitting alone in a trash can. But then, they were not told about how important budgets are and why they should care. They were introduced to “Jesus Big World” a character played by poet and musician Molina Speaks. Jesus was a bit of a lame snake oil salesman and he said he was a time traveler. He entered with a metal suitcase and a steamer trunk. He opened the suitcase and presented the students with a machine and held up a coin. “Here is money for your neighborhood. What would you like to see it spent on?” he asked.

“We need sidewalks”

“We need a porta-potty back near the rec center and the park since they took it away. A lot of people need a place to go to the bathroom”


“School supplies for other kids who don’t have them”

“Okay, okay. Here, take this coin and put it into the machine and see what happens”

The first student said what he wanted, placed the coin in the machine. 


He continued this process a few times, each student getting a printout stating, “Thank you for your comments and concerns”. They said they felt no connection to what was happening or would happen next.

Then, Jesus Big World brought the students to the steamer trunk and opened it up to reveal another machine

(here is a video of some people working on it)



For this machine, the students were able to choose what path they’d like to take, and had to work together on a series of puzzles that unblocked the water from travelling, and were rewarded with what they wanted when they did so. Some of the puzzles required more than one person taking part at the same time. Some aspects they needed to ask for help from someone with specialized knowledge. It was difficult, but they said they felt in control and interested, and they knew it would succeed or fail based on their collective efforts.

The training then commenced and the students continued to use the machines as reference points for how the system works and how it could work.

The largest issues residents and artists have been wrestling with concern Input vs Decision-making and if we can put a soul back into the machine and the role that art can/should play in this process vs “artwashing".