Like a lot of people, I was feeling a bit of post-partum letdown after the election. Those of us who were really engaged, following the polls, making calls to undecided voters, arguing out the merits of the candidates, experienced a bit of a vacuum after the election. Doonesbury summed it up pretty well: “I’ve been on a constant news drip all year and I can’t shut it off.”
But of course, the idea that it’s over till the next election is, well, “so 20th century.” As Barack Obama said in his presidential acceptance speech:
“What began twenty-one months ago in the depths of winter must not end on this autumn night. This victory alone is not the change we seek – it is only the chance for us to make that change. And that cannot happen if we go back to the way things were. It cannot happen without you.”
The question, of course, is the right way to get involved. What do we do next?
There are four biggies for the tech community:
- Actually apply for one of the jobs in the new administration. If there’s going to be any substance to the incoming administration’s plans for change, there will be a need for people with clue from outside the beltway to join in. And this doesn’t just mean more lawyers. There are great technical people who’ve been working from the outside on government transparency. I’m thinking of folks behind initiatives like the Sunlight Foundation, or Everyblock, or public.resource.org. Heck, I’d even reach out to the geniuses behind <a href=http://www.mysociety.orgmysociety.org in the UK. You do a great job of showing what’s possible. I’m wondering whether some of you ought to be on the inside, helping to implement “the change we need.” Seeing Kevin Werbach and Susan Crawford as the FCC transition team leads was an awesome wakeup call. Hey, these aren’t Washington insiders or telecom lobbyists! They are our peeps from the internet community!
Whether inside or out, the tech community can continue to lead by example. I’m imagining legions of bureaucrats saying “it can’t be done” countered by demonstration projects that show that “yes we can.” I’m remembering Carl Malamud‘s heroic work putting SEC data online in 1993. The project started with activism by Jamie Love – “you guys ought to do this.” Told by the SEC that it would take many years and tens of millions of dollars, Carl got a small team together, built an online database in a few months, and showed them how to do it. After Carl operated the service for two years as a non-profit, the SEC took it over.
I have a feeling we’ll need a lot more of that kind of technology activism by example, as the usual suspects seek to dip into “the great money river” of government spending, driving up the cost, extending the timelines, and reducing the possible impact of the new administration’s initiatives.
- Identifying specific proposals for best practices and points of leverage. We held an open government summit at O’Reilly at the end of last year, and came up with some guiding principles for open data, but we need to identify specific government data sets that could be opened up, specific channels for citizen involvement and oversight, and concrete actions that we can take together to make change. Hopefully, change.gov will become a platform for independent citizen efforts, in the same way that mybarackobama.com was a platform for self-organizing campaign efforts.
We really need to weigh in on the issues that matter. From climate change, to open spectrum, to education policy, to investments in science and technology, we need to make our voices heard. There’s a lot of discussion on the net, but we need to remember to channel it to the people who are actually making the decisions. If it gets loud enough, maybe they will hear it on their own, but it’s good if we can make concerted efforts to bring our suggestions to them via the channels they’ve provided. Let’s give change.gov a chance!
all these points re: GM, rails, etc are great. We’re submitting all this to change.gov, right?
Duh. They are opening a channel. We think that one person’s voice might be lost. But there are great social networking tools that could be used to aggregate voices, amplifying the signal even before it gets to change.gov. But if we don’t direct the messages there, it’s less likely to be heard. (Lazyweb call: a hashtag service on twitter that aggregates stuff hashed #change.gov and submits it automagically to change.gov. We also need change.gov to show what’s submitted, so it’s a conversation, not a combination soapbox/suggestion box. Hopefully, that will come.)
The weekend after the election, my wife and I held a party at our house, which included an old-fashioned barn dance, complete with fiddler and caller for square dancing. What happened was a great metaphor for how we need to keep each other involved. The nice thing about a square dance is that if you don’t have the right number of people, no one can dance. So we’d need two more for a square, and would call out to the people chatting outside: “We need two more!” We’d get three or four. And then, by gum, we’d have to call out, “We’ve got another square. Now we need six more!” And before long, we had just about everyone dancing. And even people who thought they didn’t like to dance, and most certainly not something as old-fashioned as a square dance, had a great time.
We are “the change we need.” Step up and join the dance.