Jon Lebkowsky on Fri, 23 Apr 2004 08:50:32 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Just Do It


(Note: this was posted at

No surprise to Internet mavens: the global network has become an
essential part of politics in the USA and other countries where
there's significant adoption. This is good news to the extent that the
Internet supports more and better participation in the political
process, though there's an obvious down side, the fact that folks with
no Internet access are left in the virtual dust. Obviously we have to
work on the digital divide thing, but the net effect of net-based
political activity still looks positive from here.

A variety of tools are emerging for web-based activism in the wake of
the Howard Dean campaign's success in promoting the former Vermont
governor from virtual unknown to short-term front-runner and second or
third place in various primaries. Dean raised money and visibility
using a combination of technologies including weblogs, RSS feeds, and
Yahoo  <> groups. The Dean organization made
especially effective use of <>  to
build support through a national schedule of monthly face-to-face
meetings that gathered increasing, eventually impressive numbers of
Dean supporters nationwide. There was also the volunteer project
Deanspace <> , which created a modification of
the Open Source content management system Drupal <>
to deploy as a platform for numerous sites supporting Dean's campaign.

Other Democratic presidential campaigns (especially Clark's) made
effective use of web-based tools, and Republicans have also created
effective political sites such as GOP Team Leader
<> . The there's issues-focused
organizations like <>  and its
just-launched cousin, <>

After Dean left the presidential race, technologists who had been
supporting his effort organized efforts to create general-use campaign
software incorporating lessons they had learned working with the Dean
campaign. The Deanspace team is working on a more robust version of
the Drupal-based toolkit under the name CivicSpace, and Pat Dunlavey
and Dan Robinson are leading development of a "Get Out the Vote" web
application called Advokit <> .

So what's the future of the political web? 

It could be that, after the presidential election, the excitement will
die down and all this will fall away. We're conditioned to see the
"voting ritual" as our fundamental political act/responsibility
through which we not only select candidates, but reaffirm process -
after which we can return to our daily lives and leave political
decisons to the representatives we've elected. The way this process
has evolved over the years is broadcast-focused. Elections are won by
managing voter perceptions through expensive television advertising
and through a contest of broadcast news sound bites orchestrated by
campaign handlers and media relations experts. The voter passively
consumes campaign messages, and the campaign with the most effective
messaging - which usually means the campaign that can afford to buy
the most effective messaging - wins. We pay lip service to concepts
like democracy, but in this view of political process citizens are
passive. In fact over the years we've been so passive that we've lost
touch with the process, become apathetic, lost the sense of any
political debate that isn't carefully orchestrated by handlers; many
citizens have stopped voting altogether, losing their sole tenuous
connection to the process of governance.

I'd like to offer an alternative, a post-broadcast politics wherein
citizens take back the process using the Internet as a tool for civic
engagement. With tools we have available now we can build activist
networks and sustain our engagement with politics and governance as an
everyday year-round part of our lives. We can blog, post to forums,
chat - debate issues, research problems, expose poor or corrupt
governance wherever it occurs, communicate with our represenatives -
challenge them to be responsive and make sure they know what we're
thinking about the issues du jour. We can evolve a world where
elections are decided, not by expensive one-way broadcast advertising,
but by ongoing public conversation and a candidate's ability to prove,
not ideological alignment, but competent, effective leadership.

To make this happen, we just have to do it. We just have to get
engaged, however we define engagement personally. We all have issues
that we care about, issues that affect us in some way; that's where we
can start.

We're not going to see perfection here. There's still a lot of work we
have to do, such as finding ways to represent the views and concerns
of those folks who don't have access to this technology. Such as
accommodating the mess that democracy can become as more voices are
added to the mix. Such as educating and informing citizens about
issues that difficult to grasp, even for experts. We just have to
tackle these problems head-on. We just have to do it.

Posted by Jon Lebkowsky at 06:25 AM
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