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Craig Newmark Headshot

Winning -- and Running -- the Presidency as a Participatory Democracy

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This election is historic, it's the beginning of a long tipping point where networked citizen involvement in the election marks the start of large scale participatory democracy. This year is comparable to 1787, when the Founders defined our system of representative democracy.

As more of us get Net access, we're getting the tools for the kind of representative democracy the Founders envisioned. Whoever wins the presidency will be faced with an electorate that is genuinely empowered. (There's still a digital divide issue, slowly being addressed.)

Barack Obama has signified his commitment to a role for American citizens in his election and his presidency, and he's following through with his commitment. (more below)

John McCain, who I admire, seemed to start with a similar vision, but has recently committed to sharing the current administration's view of democracy: "The American people have input every four years, and that's the way our system is set up." (video here). (Note that he's now hiring people with a record of deceptive campaigning; check out the first link.)

1. The financial contributions of ordinary citizens, including myself, constitute the best of Americans demonstrating their dedication to shared values. It's the most genuine, honest form of public electoral financing. Given the choice between genuine, grassroots electoral financing, and a coercive, tax-based public financing, the grassroots approach is the one consistent with American values.

So, the factual perspective is that Obama honored his commitment to honest public financing by refusing taxpayer based public financing. However, swiftboaters have already used this material for deceptive advertising. Additionally, commentators who don't understand participatory democracy have misinterpreted it.

2. Many parts of the FISA Amendment Act are subject to debate. However, in America, no one should be above the law, including telcoms who may have broken the law.

It should be noted that the Qwest case established that illegal wiretapping started well before the current Adminstration was interested in counterterrrorism, and that intelligence specialists have stated that current FISA mechanisms are effective. One might observe that Ronald Reagen never broke the law in this manner to fight Communism.

I feel Obama has the right position, and is also listening to the grassroots efforts opposing amnesty for illegal activities on the part of the telecoms.

3. After the inauguration of President Obama, real change will be facilitated by the evolution of the grassroots network into an effort for participatory governance. This is a matter of considerable discussion, but some concrete examples include:

-- transparency: all governmental work should be disclosed in an easily accessible manner. If we all can see how the sausage is made, at least it could be made increasingly better. Naturally, there will be sensitive matters which should not be disclosed. (credit to Jeff Jarvis.)

-- customer service and accountability: the success of city customer service call centers, that is, 311 systems, should be expanded to all government operations.

-- speaking truth to power: the current presidency illustrates the danger when the executive is isolated from the reality of his actions, that is, when kept in a bubble. The grassroots network could be used to provide an alternative means of letting the president really know what's going on.

The participatory movement and concrete efforts like these are the kind of change people talk about.