The DRAFT LESSIG Challenge

The DRAFT LESSIG movement — to encourage Prof. Lawrence Lessig to run for the U.S. Congress from California — is off to a quick start. Then again, if it’s going to happen, it has to happen fast: the special election is April 8. The Facebook group we set up a few days ago now has over 2,000 members. Supporters have come out of the netroots from every angle. There are fund-raisers pledged in 6 cities.

One of the common critiques of Net politics is that it’s meaningless just to “join a group” to support a candidate or a cause. I don’t buy it, especially since I think that joining a cause or writing about it often leads to further action.

In the case of the DRAFT LESSIG movement, we ought to prove that there’s something different going on here with politics and the net. In the process, we’ll make it clear to Prof. Lessig that we’ve got his back — that ordinary citizens will contribute the funds needed to run his campaign and that it can be run without support from special interests. Let’s get 1,000 people to donate to his campaign (or otherwise commit to volunteer if a campaign is organized) in the coming week. We’ve set up an ActBlue “draft” account, so you can give money now, to be turned over to the campaign if it materializes. If the campaign does not happen, the money is given in full to Creative Commons. You can’t lose. Please join me in donating now.

DRAFT LESSIG

It’s high time we had our first true Free Culture candidate for public office. Who better than the movement’s founder and hero? I have no reason to believe he’d actually do it, but I think we should send a message to Lawrence Lessig that we’ve got his back if he were to run for the Congressional seat that the sad death of Cong. Lantos has opened up in California. Prof. Lessig happens to live there. It’d be the perfect way to take his message of anti-corruption, and pro-creativity, to the seat of US power.

The special election is April 8. I’ve set up a Facebook group (join us, and please invite others!) and a DRAFT LESSIG web site to aggregate would-be supporters for a run. I will be delighted to hold a sign for him in sunny California between now and election day if he were in fact willing to take on the challenge.

The Daily Kos had the rumor of it a few weeks ago. My friend JZ has more…

How Does a Foundation Program Officer Decide How to Make Grants?

At the Berkman Center’s lunch speaker series, Gary Kebbel of the Knight Foundation is with us today. I’m not sure that I’ve ever seen such a public, open discussion by a program officer of a foundation about how they do their work in funding great projects. The Knight Foundation has been running the News Challenge for a few years, and they seek to learn and improve their processes each time. This year, they doubled the number of applications and, even more impressive, they reached out successfully to a global set of applicants (good news, we think, coming from the Global Voices-style perspective, as we do here at the Berkman Center). Knight has also continued to innovate with ways for people to submit public or private applications to the consideration process.  One thing I learned: News Challenge applicants are free to read these comments, in the case of an open application, and then go back and revise and improve their application. They’ve also got a blog on PBS called Idea Lab, part of the PBS Media Shift blogging empire (hey! there’s David Ardia).

In the spirit of our interest in young people, Digital Natives, doing innovative things online: The most interesting experiment, from my perspective, is their work with MTV and MTV International on the Young Creators Award. They set aside $500,000 for this award, geared toward those 25-years-old and younger. Of the new young applicants, almost half are international.

Some of the upticks that they are seeing in the applications to this year’s News Challenge: Facebook applications, use of GPS-related tools, and place-tagging for wireless.

Grant-seekers and innovators and young creators around the world, watch Gary explain how the sausage is made when it comes to grant-making at the Knight Foundation. Watch also for commentary from uber-bloggers Ethan Zuckerman and David Weinberger and Lisa Williams, who are in the room here in real-time.

Sunlight Foundation event on MLK, Jr., Day at HLS

The Sunlight Foundation has kindly chosen the Berkman Center at HLS as the venue for an all-day session today, “Political Information in an Internet Era.” We’re grateful to a dedicated group of civic activists who join us today on their holiday.

The frame for the event, as Zephyr Teachout and her team put it, is this: “All of us, in different ways, are trying to use the internet to improve citizen’s access to, and use of, important political information. Since so much political information is tied to local politics and local media, we are focused on the people working at the state level to educate and engage citizens in public affairs – using everything from new tools to new techniques to new voices on simple blogs.

“Our goal is to help those who are on the ground, using the web to improve political information on the local level. We also hope to foster connections that last beyond this meeting.”

Ellen Miller, Micah Sifry and Mike Klein came to Berkman last year at the time of the kick-off of the Sunlight Foundation. We were blown away then and we are blown away now by what they are up to. They’ve been congratulated many times on the extraordinary and fast progress they’ve made over the past several months, but it’s worth echoing here again.

One of the primary questions that the Sunlight Foundation’s work raises, and the subject of this meeting, is one that is core also to the work of the Berkman Center. Are people using Internet in a way that improves politics? Put another way, are people using Internet in a manner that strengthens democracies? The answer lies in the distributed group of people, some right here in this room today, and in other rooms like it around the world. The answer is that it’s “you.” Time Magazine got it right.

But there’s a ton of work still to be done.  For those on the contemplative end of the scale, there are also a lot of puzzles to be worked out. Three things on my mind by way of issues that one might consider in the context of this big topic:

– At the pre-meeting dinner last night, it was plain that the prevailing views on politics in America among people in the room ran a pretty short gamut, from skepticism and cynicism. As one shines more light on more injustices — on more corruption, to use a word in Z’s agenda — is there a way to calibrate the impact of this sunlight? Is there a realistic fear that more sunlight may lead not to more civic engagement, but rather lead to pushing more people from skepticism to cynicism? The answer, of course, is not less sunlight. But the question seems to me a genuine puzzle.

– The Sunlight Foundation’s project, and the projects of many of the participants in the room today, are focused on the United States. No doubt the United States, and our disparate local and state parts, need the help and the focus. All the same: how do we act locally when we know the issues we are tackling and the network we are using are global? How do we inform ourselves, share our work, learn from others, connect to others — in such a way that we are truly acting within a global framework?

– One of the cool things — perhaps even approaching a “truth” — about Internet & politics is the extent to which it’s both essentially about the individual (in Benkler’s terms, “autonomy”, for those who have read the extraordinary Wealth of Networks) and about collective action. There’s a beauty to that tension, and also a challenge, to each of us, whether as individuals and as members of a collective. What is our greatest point of leverage, as individuals — limited in our political activism only by our own imagination and the 24 hours in a day? Again, I think so many people running so many extraordinary projects related to Internet & politics are answering that question by how you spend each and every day — and the rest of us can learn a thing or two from that.

Patrick-Murray's Transition Web Site

One of the questions that’s always bothered me is why candidates who use the Internet to get elected seem to use the Internet much less effectively as they are governing. Deval Patrick, governor-elect in Massachusetts, and Tim Murray, the lieutenant governor-elect, are off to the right start in this regard. They’ve established a transition web site to collect ideas (and CVs) from those interested in participating in a new state administration. Here’s hoping this trend continues.

The Day After: Got Democracy?

Confetti is still being swept up from the halls of Democratic victory parties across the country. In Massachusetts, the celebration has been a long time in coming. The election of Deval Patrick as governor — a first of several important kinds — is a shot in the arm to those tired of a state managed by Republican governors since Michael Dukakis left office a decade and a half ago. And the US House, now to be run by US Rep. Nancy Pelosi, it seems.

So: did the use of the Internet have much to do with the process or the outcome of the 2006 election cycle?

John Bracken replies to my question of yesterday about the changing (?) nature of politics in the era of the Internet(s): “Two years later, is there evidence that we are more energized, are there signs of semiotic democracy? Certainly, the war, Katrina and corruption scandals may have energized liberal voters, but I don’t attribute much of that energy to the internet. I suspect that the election news junkies among us would be just as junkified, with or without the Internets. I am reminded by frequent exhortations by a non-blogging, a labor organizer friend that shoe leather on-the-ground is more important than bloggers and bits. I’ve argued this over with him several times, but some of tonight’s results may bear him out. (As of this writing, certain bloggers are notably quiet on Lamont’s apparent loss– or saying such claims are merely an “MSM” thing.) But what does the research bear out? Yes, we can use information ourselves when we can access it and there are some cool tools for covering the poltical process and actual voting. But has our ability to maintain ‘a more active relationship with information’ changed the way our governments do their work and deliver services? Not yet, not from where I sit.”

I’m inclined to agree with John (admittedly, I ordinarily do). His argument is well-framed. But a few things I see slightly differently:

– The main addendum I’d make is to point to the use of Internet as empowering the grassroots not just to chatter and to provide information to voters, but also to organize itself and to be trusted to carry the campaign’s water effectively. There’s no doubt that the extraordinarily energetic, well-run Deval Patrick campaign was the most effective of any campaign for governor at using Internet for organizing, productivity-enhancement, fundraising, and messaging of any of the candidates in the race, start to finish. The back-end tools that were provided to volunteer organizers were terrific. The campaign was highly decentralized. The leadership of the campaign is to be congratulated for trusting the base — the grassroots — that got the campaign through the rough primary and powered the overwhelming victory in the general election over Kerry Healey. You might in fact think of many of the bloggers on the left as volunteers working independently of the campaign. Massachusetts has Blue Mass Group, with 3 leaders and 2000+ members, as well as a range of locally-focused bloggers who kept up the conversation in remarkable fashion over the past two years. They provided an authentic set of voices telling, by and large, the pro-Patrick story throughout the primary and the general. Better to have the online crowd on your side than not, at a minimum.

– I’d add to this productivity point also the fundraising power of the Net to raise small contributions — key, I think, in the primary here in Massachusetts, where Gov.-elect Patrick’s opponents were better funded from the start and small contributions kept him on the air and in the mix — and also the ability of certain bloggers to amplify the positive messages of the campaign and to draw voters into the process.

– The last particularly cool thing I’d note about the Patrick campaign was the use of Patrick.tv. When I first saw his convention ad, with an amazingly powerful soundtrack, I was pretty certain he’d be the next governor. I’d be interested to know how many people saw that video — on the web as well as on the campaign trail, at the convention, at the inspiring Boston Common rally during the general election — and what impact the campaign thought it had. If you are wondering why he won, just click here and play the ad.

– All that said: I suspect that the strongest reasons for the overwhelming Patrick victory were the charisma, leadership, and energy of the candidate himself; a serious shoe-leather campaign throughout the state to talk to people face-to-face, make what’s thought to be a record number of GOTV calls; and a well-run classical campaign.

The bottom-line answer to Bracken’s comment still hangs in the balance. Will the way our leaders govern be any different? It seems to me possibly more important what happens next. I have every faith that Mr. Patrick will trust the same grassroots — those he celebrated and led to victory last night — as governor, just as he did as a candidate. How that makes him a better governor, and Rep. Pelosi a better speaker, and so forth, seems to me the primary open issue.

(A side note: the Healey campaign has got to go down in history as one of the nastiest, race-baiting, Willie Horton-invoking campaigns in our state’s modern history. It was awful. Someone should preserve her TV ads as a prime example of going way, way over all manner of lines of decency, taste, tact, and citizenship. I am not sorry to see those ads off the air forever.)

Bravo to everyone who took advantage of the cool new tools to post, comment, and otherwise get their hands dirty in the citizen’s conversation during election 2006!

Happy Election Day, and Come Blog the Vote at Berkman with BMG and others!

We’re delighted to welcome anyone blogging the vote today at the Berkman Center at Harvard Law School. The Blue Mass Group team have taken us up on it, live and in person, along with others swinging by, which is terrific.  Seth Flaxman of Demapples was here until he had class. Anyone and everyone of any political stripe is welcome. Just bring your laptop and we’ll provide the wifi and some things to eat and drink. Our address is 23 Everett Street in Cambridge, on the north side of the Harvard Law School campus. It’s a yellow-frame house. We’re up on the second floor. A map is here.

Each election day makes me rethink a hypothesis from 2004 on Internet & politics. There’s no doubt that more people are getting involved in politics through Internet activism than in previous cycles. The outstanding question, it seems to me, is whether or not Internet is making a difference in the political process. I’m inclined to say it is. And seeing those who are live-blogging the election here makes that case pretty clearly to me, anyway.

Our friends at the Center for Citizens Media and Stanford Law School have released an Election Guide for Bloggers, just in time to be useful.