PdF: Can the Internet Fix Politics?

06/03/2010 05:46 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

This Thursday and Friday in New York City, nearly a thousand activists, political operatives, bloggers, technologists, journalists and futurists -- the hacks and the hackers -- will gather for the seventh annual Personal Democracy Forum, the world's biggest conference on technology and politics. PdF has come a long way as a community, from a modest one-day event in 2004 at the New School with just six panels, to a three-and-a-half day marathon of keynotes, plenaries, thirty panels, a bootcamp and an unconference. Not only that, many of the people who were at PdF in its early days -- when we were all swimming upstream against a tide of opinion that said the internet didn't matter in politics -- are now in key decision-making and strategic roles at top levels of government and campaign organizations.

The crowd will be full of digital strategists for the national party committees and congressional candidates; new media directors for government agencies; CEOs and CTOs of many of the most important political technology vendors and platforms; A-list bloggers from all sides of the political blogosphere; big media big-foots and new media gurus; foundation executives and university leaders; and the political hacks and tech hackers who are quietly plotting the next revolutions in the internet and politics.

This year, PdF is going to tackle a hard problem: can the Internet help fix politics? And the reason why is embedded in all the changes we've seen in the last year. If PdF 2009 marked the year when politics was turned upside down in America, with the White House changing hands for the first time in eight years, Democrats in power across Capitol Hill and Republicans in disarray, the past months have demonstrated, once again, how quickly the tables can turn.

First, we've witnessed a grass-roots revival on the Right, in many cases powered by the same online technologies and tactics that made the netroots a powerful new force on the Left. Second, we've seen how both parties have wrestled with the opportunities and challenges that arise from their new positions in the political order: Republicans have demonstrated new skill at harnessing the net for anti-incumbent campaigns, while Democrats have fought to convert their legislative majority and grassroots support into lasting changes in the law. The result has been a season of intensified politicking both around Congress and back home, with innovative net-centric organizing helping change the playing field for all sides.

But while it's great that many more voices, from both sides of the political aisle, are using the internet effectively, what about the larger effect on the system? To put it another way, while we all agree the internet is changing politics, can it fix politics too? Can it make politics more open, participatory, responsive and accountable? Can it help restore trust in self-government and perhaps convince more of us that the country is on the right track? Or is the internet making politics worse? We posed that question to a diverse array of activists and thinkers, and their answers will be woven throughout the conference.

To follow the conversation, or add your own voice to the mix, go to Personal Democracy Forum Live. We're going to be live-blogging the whole event, and offering streaming audio of all the talks. Or just follow #pdf10 on Twitter. And welcome to the conversation!