The New Electronic Democracy
It is clear that one of the reasons that Barack Obama won the Presidency is his campaign utilized the Internet in all aspects and in new ways. The Obama campaign of 2008 introduced and defined success with this latest transformative medium. The campaign’s use of all aspects of interactivity will be the definition and measurement of success for the next 8-16 years.
Now that Obama is President and comes into office with a mandate for change in a time of incredible challenges it will be interesting to see how the campaign mastery of the Internet is deployed to the process of governing. It is already clear that this administration is and will do things via Internet connectivity that have never been done before.
Over the years, how many of you ever listened to the “President’s weekly radio address”. I always saw it reported on TV but never ever listened to it. Well, since the Saturday after his election Obama has delivered a Saturday video message via first his Change website and now from the White House web site and of course simultaneously uploaded it to YouTube. Within 48 hours, hundreds of thousands of people have taken the time to watch the video. The Saturday evening local and network newscasts feature highlights from the video, bringing the message to millions more. What used to be a rare event, the President of the United States speaking directly to the American people via video is now a weekly event.
What is even more intriguing is the migration of the incredible interconnectivity of the Obama campaign to the Obama administration. Never has a president come into office with 13 million email addresses. Never has a president come into office with such a strong direct communications link to millions of Americans, all of whom he knows were supporters of his effort to get elected. These millions of Americans obviously were moved by the Change message. They also interacted with each other in organizing and social ways that had no precedence. This desire for change and this high level of interconnectivity of these millions is now going to be mobilized to affect change in Washington D.C. This is something the long time power brokers in the Capitol have never ever seen or experienced.
Top level managers of the Obama campaign are now situated in the Democratic National Committee working on an on-line strategy of lobbying and service. Called Organizing for America (OFA the same letters as Obama for America), this brand new iteration of Obama interactivity is calling for people to organize people they know into a service organization to bring change and a sense of national service to America. The mobilization capability of this nascent organization will be incredibly powerful whether there are 1 million or 5 million participants. How many local events can be created with wildfire speed to support service efforts to clean up neighborhoods, organize policy debates and, here is the key, communicate directly with elected officials.
There are 435 congressional districts in the U.S. If there are several million active participants in OFA, simple math suggests that every single district will have people involved. Some districts may only have dozens of people while others will have thousands, but every single congressman and congresswoman will be subject to a significant amount of inbound email traffic supporting the change and agenda of President Obama. This connectivity of the citizenry with the President and Congress is unprecedented and will make many elected officials realize that in this new electronically connected world there is no place to hide and there is no gap between the voter and the elected official.
Imagine the first time that President Obama is confronted with a recalcitrant Congress about some major issue for which he knows is a mobilizing issue for OFA and even those who have now become more passive since the election. Imagine him speaking directly to America via email, YouTube and live television, asking Americans to communicate, organize and demonstrate to show Congress that they risk their own reelection by refusing to find a way to work with him. As long as this is not done in a partisan manner, but in the national interest, across party lines, it will be incredibly powerful. One million people showing up in person and on-line will trump any lobbyist or group of lobbyists.
The next logical step is where magic can begin to happen. As we move toward ever more connectivity in this country due to expansion of both wired and wireless high speed access those in Washington can, in a matter of hours, ask the citizenry what they want or would like to have put into law. Everywhere, on laptops, netbooks, smart phones and desk tops, citizen voters can respond and participate in democracy. What do the people want? That will be easy to ascertain. We’ll get back to you tomorrow with several million answers.
Whether it will ever come to pass in the years ahead, there is the real opportunity for pure Athenian democracy to again, 2500 years later, be reborn due to the cyberspace of the Neurosphere.