digital democracy teach-in 'report'

John Chung chung at
Tue Feb 17 17:17:19 CST 2004


hello Perl mongers

i was at the digital democracy teach-in last week (and was
promptly sick for a week afterwards which explains my lack
of comments or review of what i saw there).

my thanks to Bob and everyone who got me the ticket to get
in at the oreilly conference.

here is my not-so-brief review of what i thought of the 
teach-in.  this i'm sure is of no interest to the perl 
programmer in you, but if politics mildly interests you,
feel free to read on.


of the all-day sessions there, i only sat through 3 of them.
this was partly because my interests in the event was less
political and more from the 'geek' angle, and i was somewhat
disappointed to see that even the ones that i attended were
somewhat too political in a very overtly biased way for my

i skipped the entire Joe Trippi session since i'd heard that
his cut of the role as Dean digital campaign manager was 
like $7 million (out of the $41 mil).

this session had 2 speakers in one:

 Jonah Seiger from
   institute for politics, democracy and the internet


 Scott Heiferman CEO of

Seiger's entire presentation can be downloaded from:

and was fairly insightful, i thought.
he defined what Online Political Citizens (OPC) were and
told us that something like 7% of the US population can
be considered an OPC by their profile.  he enumerated 
what their profile looks like (highly educated, white,
male, etc.) and went onto describe what he called an
'influential' person (1 / 10 in general public), where
a very large percentage of the OPC's were, in fact, also
influentials (not surprisingly).

the talk by the person was largely a slideshow
of various people and animals meeting up thru
and some hopeful statements of how the internet perhaps
can actually help reverse the effects of breakdown of 
various communities in this country in recent years.
he spoke of the need and the inevitability of people to
get together with others of similar interests or backgrounds.

3) Effective Political Blogging with
 Doc Searls
 Cameron Barrett 
 Mitch Ratcliffe
 Halley Suitt

and a one more person whose name wasn't identified in the

this was the worst session i thought because the lady named
Halley had nothing to contribute except her anti-Cheney
remarks and didn't really belong there.  i thought they
might be dealing with the geek side of blogging, and political
bloggin in particular, but this was not the case; even the
one question asked by an audience member along those lines
was pretty much dismissed with a, 'no, there's nothing
special about political blogging as far as bloggin goes'
reply.  Mitch Ratcliffe, i thought had the most objective and 
detached perspective among them (quoting the likes of Alexis
de Tocqville in the 19th century) on the role of blogs and
new media thru internet in general (he's been with a company
which had to shell out alot of money just to buy a seat
on the AirForce-1 during the previous administration; and
he told an interesting anecdote which told of the difficult
situation for journalist types where unless there is some
'selling out' to the presidential administration in power
to get access in the first place, there is no access, period
-- though he didn't mention it, i thought the situation
with CNN looking the other way or even endorsing the 
Hussein administration atrocities in order to have a Baghdad
bureau presence was an example that came to my mind).

question and answers from this session were quite eye-
opening for me; more on this in the next session comment.

4) The Grassroots Challenges the Jouralist Priesthood with

 Dan Gillmor, Jeff Jarvis, Jay Rosen (one other)

this was a pretty informative session which was mostly
wide-open panel discussions and numerous questions from the
audience (most of whom seemed to have something to sell


basically, there was nothing 'geek' about this entire
teach-in.  it was mostly political.  from the Q & A from
all the sessions, here are some summary points that i can 

A. many of the people there had carried sincerely high hopes
   with the Dean campaign and were visibly agitated and
   disappointed at the recent demise/collapse of what they
   thought might bring real revolution in american politics.
   still there was still much excitement and residual hopes
   that the messenger's shortcomings this time around is
   not as important as the message itself (the message in
   this instance being that the voice of 'the people' will
   be heard and must be reckoned with).

B. in light of the failure (a rather dismal one actually) and
   the discrepancy between the online efforts to raise money,
   awareness and the actual conversion of the likely
   joe-average (not an OPC) voter to go out and vote in a
   way reflective of the seeming online 'revolution', many
   questions were directed to try and figure out how to
   actually bridge this gap.

   (as a side-note this aspect reminded me of the scientific
   elite in this country who are baffled at what they view as
   the continued mindless acceptance by the general public of 
   the basic biblically based, creationist worldviews even after 
   many years of active efforts from the evolutionary framework
   at all levels of public education.)

   there were quite a few people who got up and asked questions
   and also made comments about how he/she and their organizations
   are in fact, energized by the recent events, doing this or 
   that to try and bring about the nitty gritty changes that need 
   to happen in order to see harnessing of this 'digital' medium 
   to desired ends.  however there was no consensus of any kind
   on where to go from here; mostly vague outlines of where
   they'd like to see continued changes happening.

   partly, this was due to realization that while the internet
   has given everyone an equivalent of a 5 MWatt radio transmitter
   which can bypass any normal peer-review or filtration process,
   to be able to transmit or publish content of enough interest
   and persuasive power necessary for political changes one
   still requires somewhat insider or professional status to
   penetrate the spheres of these people of influence in the
   first place.  i felt that i perceived a frustration on the
   part of some of these 'revolutionary'-minded people when this 
   point was driven home by some of the speakers.

   'education' was brought up by at least a couple of people in
   the audience and agreed by the panel discussion members as
   the most powerful and still the most important way to effect
   real changes for whatever vision we all have for this country.

C. there was also ambivalence on the part of the speakers and
   the audience whether to treat the political process as a 
   horse race (as the current 2-party presidential race is
   being portrayed by the media) or whether the internet has
   opened up new rules and obligations to make it less of a
   horse race and more as the tool for genuine and objective
   education of the masses in the sense of, oh, say a Jeffersonian 
   vision, perhaps.  i sensed that like everything else in life, 
   people are already accepting the pragmatic realities of one 
   without totally giving up the hopes and ideals of the other.


then i realized i'd been there over 4 hours already, and horton
plaza is free parking for upto 3 hrs with a validation from a
store, so i decided i'd heard enough and paid my $6 parking fee
and went home.

thanks again for the free ticket; i'd like to go to more of
these types of things whenever possible.  nice change of pace.

john chung
the scripps research institute


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