Mike Weisman on Sat, 31 Oct 1998 09:41:30 +0100

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<nettime> Using the Net for subversive purposes

The attached article was published last week in the Seattle Weekly. I hope
they do not mind the extra exposure. It is copied from their Web site,
which is www.seattleweekly.com.  Your nettime correspondent (me) was the
original webmaster for the Urban Politics list (together with Nick). Mr.
Licata has now brought the whole thing in house and it is maintained by
his paid staff (right on.) From my point of view, the key to the success
of the Urban Politics experiment was: 1) having something important to
say, and saying it. The UP list frequently carried information that was
unavailable elsewhere. Also, Mr. Licata made some outrageous statements,
so it was interesting; 2) timeliness, the email idea allowed the
information to go out while it was fresh, and in time to get people to
attend meetings and public hearings; 3) demographics, although UP was an
open list, the demo of the Web, particularly a couple of years back, was
definitely upper bourgeois intellectual. This meant the recipients were
frequently opinion leaders, like the first people to buy the newest
fashions. And they had influence on thier friends; 4) anonymity, and this
cannot be emphasized too much.  The anonymous nature of email meant that
many closeted liberals subscribed, including many news media. They could
read it without their friends, spouses, editors, or bosses knowing it. To
make it even more secure, I established an Web version and an archive, so
that people who were worried about email could still access it (like
government employees). If you want to check out the new establishment
version of UP, see it at Mr. Licata's Web site,

Michael J. Weisman
please respond to: popeye@speakeasy.org


How citizen outrage stormed the electronic barricades at City Hall.
 by James Bush

THE SCUTTLING OF Seattle's bid to host the 2012 Olympics may have been the
first establishment initiative to be killed by electronic citizen outrage.
Seattle City Council members who tabled a resolution in support of the bid
say a flurry of anti-Olympics e-mail played a major factor in their

The Olympics debate, in fact, was played out largely in cyberspace.
Council member Nick Licata, the most vocal critic of the Olympics
proposal, used his e-mail newsletter to disseminate arguments against
continuing the bid process. Various council offices estimate that they
received from 300 to 800 e-mail messages each regarding the Olympics bid.
"The e-mail's running about 20 to 1 against the Olympics," notes Barbara
Clemons, legislative aide to council member Jan Drago. 

The flurry from Olympics opponents brought home an important message to
City Hall: E-mail is here to stay. "I've been doing constituent
correspondence in one form or another since 1981," says Peter Steinbrueck
aide Andy Grow, "and e-mail has just changed that whole world." 

Peter Clarke, legislative assistant to Margaret Pageler, says e-mail is
now the most common medium for citizen comment. "It certainly has replaced
letters and probably is even with phone calls," he says. "But the Olympics
thing has gone to new heights." 

There are advantages for both sender and recipient in using e-mail. The
messages arrive more quickly than letters, provide more direct access than
a phone call, and they allow for instant replies. "I find it particularly
useful because there's only so many hours in the day," says council member
Tina Podlodowski. "I can reply to a hundred e-mails a heck of a lot more
quickly than I can respond to a hundred phone calls." E-mail provides an
electronic record of the letter, and messages can be quickly forwarded to
city departments or other officials, she adds. Electronic messages also
have aided greatly in improving internal city communication. 

The instant access of e-mail can lead to increased citizen participation
on issues. When Licata polled the 1,400 readers of his Urban Politics
e-mail newsletter on the Olympics proposal, he received an impressive 850
responses. Several of the citizens sending e-mail about the Olympic games
cited Licata's newsletter in their messages. (Urban Politics includes the
e-mail addresses of all council members at the end of each issue.)

E-MAIL HAS DRAWN notice from political activists on the national level.
Austin, Texas-based E-The People offers to transmit free e-mail to elected
officials through its Web site (www.e-thepeople.com). 

The instantaneous nature of the medium has its downside. Constituents
writing letters to politicians once considered two or three weeks a
reasonable response time. "Now," says Andy Grow, "people who send e-mail
are pretty upset if they don't get something back right away." Managing
the heavier flow of information also places new burdens on council
offices. Licata had 96 e-mails waiting for him when he arrived at work one
morning last week; Drago was absent one day and attended a lengthy meeting
the following morning, then arrived at her office to find 140 messages on
her computer. "The messages arrive in quick time," notes Drago aide
Barbara Clemons. "But we're still working in real time here." 

The rise of e-mail in City Hall has coincided with the city's growing
technological prowess. When Clarke arrived with Pageler at the start of
1992, "computers were no more than a word-processing system." He remembers
having to copy a file onto a floppy disk and walk down the hall to a
different terminal to print documents. Two years later, when Clemons and
fellow Drago aide Dan McGrady arrived from their former jobs with the
state Legislature, they were shocked to discover that the council hadn't
yet installed an e-mail system. 

Two years later, when Podlodowski was sworn in, e-mail was in common use
among city employees, but only about half the council members personally
used it. Now, as council ranks are swollen by new members and aides who
take e-mail as a given, some wonder if the medium has become too
prevalent. Interviewed about his first six months on the council,
Steinbrueck lamented that too many of his exchanges with colleagues were
taking place via computer, rather than face-to-face. Fears that
controversial issues are being settled over e-mail are probably unfounded;
since messages have been ruled to be fully subject to public disclosure
requests, council members are resorting more to face-to-face exchanges.
"We've had more than one training session [on that topic]," notes Clemons.
"There is nothing personal or private about the city's e-mail system." 

The council's adoption of the e-mail standard hasn't gone unnoticed
elsewhere in City Hall. Partly in response to the success of Licata's
Urban Politics, Mayor Paul Schell is distributing his own e-mail
newsletter to about 600 readers. Says Licata: "I think it's just opened
another door into government." 

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