Democracy Evolving

September 4, 2008 | Leave a Comment

Category: Activism, Future, PJEP, Society, Web

How would an Obama presidency look if he continues to encourage and utilize the personally empowering, horizontal social networking infrastructure created during his campaign?  As a person observing an important step in our evolution beyond capitalist democracy, I seek evidence of this kind of profound systemic change.

The Peace, Justice and Environment Project (PJEP) came together almost a year ago as several members of the Illinois Coalition for Peace & Justice (now called the Illinois Coalition for Justice, Peace and the Environment) needed a separate organizational infrastructure to grow and mange the quickly expanding concept as it bridged to other states.  The initial focus was to seek practical ways for small, local Illinois grassroots organizations to become increasingly politically empowered by offering them easy online access to each other so that they could form temporary ad hoc coalitions while at the same time making available a number of unique online resources.  At this time, almost 1000 organizations in 29 states are integrated into the network.

In its first year, PJEP concentrated on bringing resources and tools down to the level of the local organization or the chapters of national organizations by providing them the kinds of online capabilities reserved for national organizations with paid staffs and budgets.  Our goal now is to lower the level of authority to the scale of the individual.  We seek to flatten hierarchy and empower those lowest down.  PJEP is now lowering the level of authority even further by offering unique social networking software able to provide users an ability to observe their indirect influence on the online campaigns that they participate in.  SNAPAP (Social Networking and Political Action Propagation) users are able to view detailed lineage charts displaying people they brought into a campaign (petition, boycott, eletter, fundraiser).  This is followed by users viewing the indirect, second-tier participants brought into a campaign, followed by the next level, on and on to multiple degrees of separation.  Activists can note in their personal SNAPAP page that though they directly influenced maybe 3 people to sign a petition or make a contribution, perhaps 50 people were indirectly influenced to participate as a result of that one individual’s efforts.

PJEP activist volunteers performing programming, research and facilitation are creating opportunities for individuals to experience that they have influence.  Few things encourage creativity more than a successful experience of sharing what has been made.  We believe that politically empowering the individual nurtures creativity, spawning an environment filled with people confident that they will achieve deep and lasting social and political change.

The software guiding this project is designed to empower individuals by providing them information never before available, their exact place in the vast, horizontal, interconnected webbing of their social time and place.

The Obama campaign has been guided by a similar vision.  Though obviously informed by the ancient patriarchal, hierarchical frame of reference (with the one-to-many communication characteristic of a leader-driven campaign), the campaign is infused with process tools providing an experience of empowerment for those using the online social networking features.

What will the effect of Obama social networking be upon an Obama presidency?

Observers have written that Obama has unique leverage to be able to email this most passionate constituency of millions to lobby their elected representatives to cooperate with presidential initiatives.  Other more subtle forces are in play.

One of the most formidable barriers to change is that the young are almost the only age group intimate with social networking and the power of horizontal communication.  It is probable that many older people will be introduced to social networking software through the Obama interface.  It’s difficult to absorb, but this section of the Democratic Party is encouraging the use of skills and tools integral to social and political revolution.

Though it’s the one-to-many communication that is most obvious to observers from the outside, the many-to-many communication characteristic of social networking provides a fertile environment for the creation of new ideas and their lightning fast dispersal.  In a capitalist democracy where corporations control most media, powerful reverse-flow currents of influence and information will come as shocking and unexpected.  Imagine Youtube, but in a political environment, where ideas and allies are congregating and then focusing on local and federal elected officials.  It will begin with Obama encouraging the process as he seeks support for his own legislation.  At some point, a grassroots initiative will arise where the Obama social networking users will outgrow the agenda of its creators.  I have a suspicion that a focus will be popular fury at the behavior of the government of Israel.

When the Democratic Party behaves in a more revolutionary fashion than the Left, and the Left and the Democrats don’t know it, we have graduated from interesting times to extraordinary times.  Observing processes, not issues or positions, it’s clear that a major shift has already occurred.  It may be a while before we realize what happened.


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