This is the 10th year of the Personal Democracy Forum, a tech-focused conference that's been for a decade the place to be for folks looking to use technology to innovate or invent what has come to be thought of as Government 2.0.
While the event is effectively non-partisan, the crowd and the speakers are clearly left-leaning, with speakers including Eli Pariser, founder and now president of MoveOn.org, and Markos Moulitsas from The Daily Kos.
But after eight years of Bush policy, and now almost a year and a half of the Obama administration, it was clear that this crowd wasn't about to give Obama a report card of straight "A's."
Event co-chair Michah Sifry opened the day with a live video of the oil gushing into the Gulf. As Sifry pointed out, the freedom to be able to see the disaster in real time didn't change the fact that sitting in our chairs, watching a computer video image, we weren't doing anything that was helping solve the problem. He wasn't advocating crowd-sourced solutions, but rather the fact that remote engagement wasn't enough to effect change.
That theme continued as MeetUp.org Founder and CEO Scott Heiferman demonstrated MoveOn Everywhere, basically shouting at the crowd to get up off their asses and understand that there's not a whole lot you can do being a passive "follower."
"Use the Internet to get off the Internet," said Heiferman. "You have followers, so what? That's not a movement. You need to allow them to connect with each other."
The message seemed to resonate. Legendary internet-freedom advocate John Perry Barlow cheered on the "get active" message, suggesting that remote engagement only takes you so far. In fact Barlow went further.
"The political system is broken partly because of Internet," he said. "It's made it impossible to govern anything the size of the nation-state. We're going back to the city-state. The nation-state is ungovernably information-rich."
Barlow, a former Grateful Dead songwriter, defended President Obama, saying he's not getting enough credit for what he's achieved.
"There is a circle of fat around the Beltway that is incredibly thick," Barlow said. "We can no longer try to run this country from the center. We've got to run it, just like the Internet, from the edges."
But all the energy around change wasn't enough to keep Daniel Ellsberg from landing a powerful criticism that hung in the air. Obama is a liar, said the Pentagon papers leaker and powerful truth teller.
"I don't believe that Obama is truthful about limiting troops to Afghanistan, and I believe he doesn't believe it." Ellsberg went on: "We are being lied into a wrong and hopeless war." Ellsberg compared Obama's complicity to LBJ -- it it didn't go over well in the room.
To summarize, the Internet is the solution. The internet is the problem. We're connected, but not engaged. We're "networked" but not mobilized. We're Friends and Followers, but not active and acting.
We've come so far, we have so far to go.
And just to make sure that the techno-crowd didn't think that technology could solve everything, the onstage use of Skype Video was so painfully choppy that the speakers that "beamed-in" rather than showing up in person ended up being hard to understand. If it were only Newt Gingrich, one might have suspected a tech-based conspiracy. But Wikileaks founder and spokesman Julian Assange was turned into a bit of digital Max Headroom, making his accent all the more difficult to comprehend. Gingrich had no accent, but was equally unintelligible.
---> More video from PDF 10: