Personal Democracy Plus Our premium content network. LEARN MORE You are not logged in. LOG IN NOW >

Obama as Crowdsourcer; Organizing the Country for Change and Accountability

BY Micah L. Sifry | Sunday, February 8 2009

It looks like President Obama's email list still has a lot of punch to it. Yesterday, he sent out a mass email asking people to watch a four-and-a-half minute video addressing the Organizing for America house parties, and so far that video has garnered more than 460,000 views, nearly as many as his first video announcing OFA's launch. Beyond these metrics, it's pretty interesting to listen to how Obama's talks to his base. He doesn't use the word "crowdsourcing," but tell me if you don't hear it in how he describes how he plans to use the web to make sure his recovery plan works.

Obama's message is in keeping with the intimate style he perfected during the election campaign. "Hi everybody," he starts. Not "My Fellow Americans" or some other pomp and circumstance. He also begins not with an appeal for support, but with a thank you to his troops for "coming together, organizing, staying involved in the task of remaking this nation." He also deftly positions his audience as the folks who are more in touch with what is going on across America as the recession deepens, noting that "sometimes Washington is slow to get the news."

His core pitch is that his Economic Recovery Plan is all about jobs. I think he used the word "jobs" ten times during his talk. It was also interesting to me that he made a special mention of

"doing all this with unprecedented transparency and accountability. I'll appoint an aggressive Inspector General and a cabinet level oversight board to make sure your money is spent wisely. More importantly, I'll enlist all of you. As soon as this plan is signed into law, Recovery.gov goes live and you'll be able to see precisely where your tax dollars are going. Because this is your democracy, and as I said throughout the campaign, change never begins from the top down. It begins from the bottom up."

He concludes with a call to his supporters not to call their Member of Congress about his plan, but to talk with their friends and neighbors about it. And he issues a warning as well: "We have inherited a terrible mess. But I know we have the capacity to rise to this moment and keep the promise of America alive in our time, if the American people demand that we do."

"I'll enlist all of you." We can do this, "if the American people demand that we do." Obama is talking about a radically different vision of the relationship between the government and the citizenry than the previous President, George Bush. Compare his remarks to Bush's speech to Congress after 9-11:

"Americans are asking, 'What is expected of us?' I ask you to live your lives and hug your children. I know many citizens have fears tonight, and I ask you to be calm and resolute, even in the face of a continuing threat....I ask you to continue to support the victims of this tragedy with your contributions....I ask for your patience with the delays and inconveniences that may accompany tighter security and for your patience in what will be a long struggle. I ask your continued participation and confidence in the American economy. Terrorists attacked a symbol of American prosperity; they did not touch its source."

Basically, Bush asked Americans to go on with their lives, and critics later mocked him for basically asking people to keep shopping. In his speech, "We" is the government, the military and the security apparatus, who are going to protect the American people. To Obama, "We" is all the people who want to roll up their sleeves and help deal with the economic crisis. Quite a difference, no? Of course, by inviting this kind of participation, Obama also risks losing some control of the governing process. But, so far, he keeps giving every indication of want to involve Americans more directly in their democracy. Things could get very interesting as they we take him up on his call.

News Briefs

RSS Feed today >

Facebook Seeks Approval as Financial Service in Ireland. Is the Developing World Next?

On April 13 the Financial Times reported that Facebook is only weeks away from being approved as a financial service in Ireland. Is this foray into e-money motivated by Facebook's desire to conquer the developing world before other corporate Internet giants do? Maybe.

GO

The Rise and Fall of Iran's “Blogestan”

The robust community of Iranian bloggers—sometimes nicknamed “Blogestan”—has shrunk since its heyday between 2002 – 2010. “Whither Blogestan,” a recent report from the University of Pennsylvania's Iran Media Program sought to find out how and why. The researchers performed a web crawling analysis of Blogestan, survey 165 Persian blog users, and conducted 20 interviews with influential bloggers in the Persian community. They found multiple causes of the decline in blogging, including increased social media use and interference from authorities.

GO

tuesday >

Weekly Readings: What the Govt Wants to Know

A roundup of interesting reads and stories from around the web. GO

Russia to Treat Bloggers Like Mass Media Because "the F*cking Journalists Won't Stop Writing"

The worldwide debate over who is and who isn't a journalist has raged since digital media made it much easier for citizen journalists and other “amateurs” to compete with the big guys. In the United States, journalists are entitled to certain protections under the law, such as the right to confidential sources. As such, many argue that blogging should qualify as journalism because independent writers deserve the same legal protections as corporate employees. In Russia, however, earning a place equal to mass media means additional regulations and obligations, which some say will lead to the repression of free speech.

GO

Politics for People: Demanding Transparent and Ethical Lobbying in the EU

Today the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency and Ethics Regulation (ALTER-EU) launched a campaign called Politics for People that asks candidates for the European Parliament to pledge to stand up to secretive industry lobbyists and to advocate for transparency. The Politics for People website connects voters with information about their MEP candidates and encourages them to reach out on Facebook, Twitter or by email to ask them to sign the pledge.

GO

monday >

Security Agencies Given Full Access to Telecom Data Even Though "All Lebanese Can Not Be Suspects"

In late March, Lebanese government ministers granted security agencies unrestricted access to telecommunications data in spite of some ministers objections that it violates privacy rights. Global Voices reports that the policy violates Lebanon's existing surveillance and privacy law, Law 140, but has gotten little coverage from the country's mainstream media.

GO

friday >

In Google Hangout, NYC Mayor de Blasio Talks Tech and Outer Borough Potential

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio followed the lead of President Obama and New York City Council member Ben Kallos Friday by participating in a Google Hangout to help mark his first 100 days in office, in which the conversation focused on expanding access to technology opportunities through education and ensuring that the needs of the so-called "outer boroughs" aren't overlooked. GO

thursday >

In Pakistan, A Hypocritical Gov't Ignores Calls To End YouTube Ban

YouTube has been blocked in Pakistan by executive order since September 2012, after the “blasphemous” video Innocence of Muslims started riots in the Middle East. Since then, civil society organizations and Internet rights advocacy groups like Bolo Bhi and Bytes for All have been working to lift the ban. Last August the return of YouTube seemed imminent—the then-new IT Minister Anusha Rehman spoke optimistically and her party, which had won the majority a few months before, was said to be “seriously contemplating” ending the ban. And yet since then, Rehman and her party, the conservative Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N), have done everything in their power to maintain the status quo.

GO

The #NotABugSplat Campaign Aims to Give Drone Operators Pause Before They Strike

In the #NotABugSplat campaign that launched this week, a group of American, French and Pakistani artists sought to raise awareness of the effects of drone strikes by placing a field-sized image of a young girl, orphaned when a drone strike killed her family, in a heavily targeted region of Pakistan’s Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province. Its giant size is visible to those who operate drone strikes as well as in satellite imagery. GO

Boston and Cambridge Move Towards More Open Data

The Boston City Council is now considering an ordinance which would require Boston city agencies and departments to make government data available online using open standards. Boston City Councilor At Large Michelle Wu, who introduced the legislation Wednesday, officially announced her proposal Monday, the same day Boston Mayor Martin Walsh issued an executive order establishing an open data policy under which all city departments are directed to publish appropriate data sets under established accessibility, API and format standards. GO

YouTube Still Blocked In Turkey, Even After Courts Rule It Violates Human Rights, Infringes on Free Speech

Reuters reports that even after a Turkish court ruled to lift the ban on YouTube, Turkey's telecommunications companies continue to block the video sharing site.

GO

More