Hacking democracy, Canadian style

A broad progressive (neo-progressive?) movement is emerging on the web, rallying Canadian netizens to defeat the Harper Conservatives in the October 14th federal election.  Dozens of sites and groups have suddenly emerged in the blogosphere and on Facebook with a single unified goal – to defeat the Harper government.

I’m helping with one of these campaigns, AnyoneButHarper.ca, which is a viral media and strategic voting campaign launched from a Facebook group in less than two weeks.  The idea is to create, distribute and share viral media that will drive anti-Harper forces to take action in the form of strategic voting.  The campaign includes videos produced by community members that are hosted on Vimeo and YouTube and a strategic voting widget hosted at Widgetbox.

The strategic voting widget is a democracy hack response to the current situation that progressive Canadians face. Today, the Conservative party can achieve a majority government and push ahead a neo-conservative agenda with only 38% of the popular vote. This is due to the first-past-the-post electoral system and a splintered centre-left  composed of four parties lined up against a united right wing Conservative party. Other approaches to hack this situation include sites and groups that facilitate strategic vote swapping between progressives living in different ridings supporting different centre-left parties.

Meanwhile our friends at Fair Vote Canada are creating a home for Ophan Voters – voters whose votes do not help elect anyone in a first-past-the-post system. They hope to raise awareness of the need for electoral reform, but they are challenged in building the momentum they need when the beneficiaries of the current system control the path to reform. It appears that fundamental reform is not gaining sufficient traction, certainly not in the short term.

Why now?  I think this activity can be seen as the result of some underlying forces:

  1. The social web and the technologies of so-called Web 2.0
  2. The experience of MoveOn.org and the Obama campaign in the U.S. election
  3. A frustrated and digitally enabled electorate, looking for change but lacking a galvanizing leader (like an Obama) to rally behind

Can regular Canadians, using the tools of the web, work around the limitations of first-past-the-post electoral system to snatch a progressive outcome from a system otherwise gamed in the favour of the incumbent Conservative party?

This emerging movement is going to try. It remains to be seen what it can do in the short three weeks remaining in this electoral cycle.

SaveOurNet.ca Fundraising Campaign Launched in Toronto

Yesterday in Toronto, I co-hosted and facilitated an open forum on the future of Canada’s open internet with Matt Thompson of http://savetheinternet.com and Steve Anderson of http://saveournet.ca/. The intent of the gathering was to engage Toronto’s tech/web/media community around the issue of network neutrality and to launch a coalition and campaign to preserve and enhance Canada’s digital future.

In March, the net neutrality issue finally made the front pages and broadcast media in Canada, triggered by news of Bell Canada’s throttling of third-party Internet Service Providers’ peer-to-peer traffic. The unilateral action was seen by advocates of a neutral and open Internet as anti-competitive and a dangerous precedent, and it triggered a backlash against Bell Canada. Bell confirmed advocates worst fears in May, when it launched its own online video store after having throttled P2P traffic, much of which is dedicated to video – both legal and otherwise.

Thompson provided some excellent background on the issue drawing from his experience on the U.S. campaign around network neutrality, which is well advanced compared to the debate in Canada. Matt shared the U.S. focused viral video, Save the Internet!, which won a 2007 Webby People’s Voice Award:

Thompson presented a clear description of the principles underlying the neutral and open web and its importance to Canada’s future as an innovative economy and a free society. He also articulated a nuanced understanding that the last-mile monopoly providers (principally Bell and Rogers in Canada) aren’t evil, they are merely doing their job and lobbying for rules that are in their shareholders’ interests. He described that what is really missing in Canada is everybody else – all the many stakeholders that are damaged by a set of norms that currently allows for discrimination of content on the web by these monopoly providers.

Canada needs a plan. Thompson made a passionate plea that the real underlying issue is that the government of Canada’s laissez faire approach (“we don’t regulate the Internet”) shows that Canada has no plan for its digital future. It has no vision about the infrastructure for everything else, and how we’re going to compete in a global digital future when other countries have long passed us by in terms of broadband policy, infrastructure speed, access and costs. Compare this situation against Barack Obama’s Technology policies. and it’s clear that there is a political opportunity to show leadership on the technology file.

SaveOurNet.ca promises to be a vehicle for everybody else. SaveOurNet.ca is intended to act as a broad, inclusive coalition of strange bedfellows: freedom of speech activists and technology entrepreneurs; unions and third-party ISPs; large technology companies and broadcasters.

SaveOurNet.ca needs our community’s help. Effective awareness campaigns like the Save the Internet video, coalition building, media relations, community engagement, participation in CRTC hearings and direct lobbying of elected officials requires dedicated resources – volunteers alone won’t do it. Big players are being lined up to support the effort, including major public sector unions and companies like Google Canada and Teksavvy.

But the campaign needs a vote of confidence from Canada’s web/tech/media and other communities of interest to trigger the pooling of additional resources from larger organizations and foundations. In fundraising terms, SaveOurNet.ca is looking for Angels.

What You Can Do:

  1. Sign onto the coalition at http://SaveOurNet.ca/, either as an individual supporter or as an organizational supporter.
  2. PLEASE DONATE what you can to the seed fund for SaveOurNet.ca, and then blog about it, share it on Facebook, send to your networks and communities, talk about it.
  3. Contact your MP’s office and arrange for a sit-down chat about the issue during their summer hiatus from Parliament. Just booking the appointment will force your MP to get briefed on the issue, which is the first step in educating our elected officials and raising it on the political agenda come the fall.

A Great Transformation

iStock_000004882942Small.jpgAs my own work enters a new and exciting phase, I find myself considering three intersecting and co-evolving forces: the Obama Moment, the New Great Transformation and the Social Web. I see signals in these forces of a new resilience just when we most need it.

The convergence of these forces in the context of tremendous global economic, environmental and political uncertainty signals an opportunity for renewal by change-makers, social innovators and social entrepreneurs for the benefit of us all. The complexity of the world requires better solutions, and we know from the open innovation literature that the ideas we need today do not live within a single organization.

Is this a truly transformative moment at a critical point in human history? Is a new social, economic, environmental and cultural resilience possible, or will status quo forces reassert themselves?

Full essay after the jump…

Continue reading “A Great Transformation”

Pedro talks about social tools and social change

I missed this from my earlier post about Pedro’s wonderful workshop at LIFT, but thought I would share it now.

Pedro talks about the possibilities of social software tools and online communities and the possibilities of technology enabling social change. We are working on this all the time, and my practice is more and more focused on the use of both online communities and events linked to social innovation goals. I hope that we can get Pedro to come to Toronto for Mesh, I think he’d be a great addition to MeshU and a panel conversation.

What does collaboration feel like?

We know it when we experience it. The fluid coordination of many disparate parts. It can be like jamming or improv. But sometimes you need planning and a choreographer. While I have an interest in the self-organizing nature of creative communities, we must recognize that the application of skill and talent in a more formally coordinated fashion is the only way to experience the seemingly effortless flow of collaboration like this (via Luis Suarez):

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Toronto Transit Camp: “Trojan Pony”

(“Trojan Pony” reference courtesy Will “Community Guy” Pate)

Toronto Transit Camp went off even better than our wildest imaginings. We even got great press in the “traditional media”, with more to come. Here’s the CityTV coverage [YouTube]:

We had an amazing group of creative problem solvers who braved the bitter cold and an early morning start (Superbowl Sunday, no less!) to take on difficult design challenges while advancing the work of the TTC, developing their own skills, learning, getting to know some new people and having a great time doing it. It was a new community emerging from the nursery. Jay and I are proud new dads looking forward to baby’s first steps.

In addition to press we also had the attention and participation of the TTC from the staff to executive to the political levels. They were wonderful, really open, helping clarify facts of reality while holding back the hard reality enough that creativity could emerge. Eli Singer, Jay Goldman and I briefed the TTC prior to the event. I think they benefited from a clear understanding of the event structure, the nature of the TorCamp community and the rules of engagement. They appeared very happy with the results.

This was an experiment in bringing BarCamp event practices, social media and online collaboration tools and community stewardship practices to the rest of the world – the real world. Web 2.0 obsessed technologists (this means you DemoCamp) often forget that technology is a means, not an end. Transit Campers were challenged to become city-builders and at the end of the day an amazing new community was born armed with tools and practices to start making an ongoing difference in the shape of our city. That’s a good thing.

It needs nurturing, but there seems to be a great pool of people to look to within the Transit Camp community for stewardship. The TorCamp community’s role is to help the Transit Camp community solidify, continue the conversations and start some specific projects.

This is part of an emerging new paradigm of civic participation and peer production that we’re calling Open Creative Communities, which are part of OpenCities. Expect to see much more on this file in the weeks and months to come.

So many people to thank. Big thanks to all our amazing organizers, participants and supporters, and especially our sponsors. Thanks to Robert Oullette of ReadingToronto for starting this crazy thing. Buy A.M.’s cool ambient electronic CD inspired by subway sounds, “Underground“. Hire Misha for your next Open Space event and then book the Gladstone. Get your bags and t-shirts at Stitchy Lizard. Signup for ZipCar or Autoshare to haul your stuff around. House your social enterprise startup or social mission organization at the The Centre for Social Innovation. Be nice to Radiant Core, Navantis, Cundari SFP, Tucows and ONESTOP Media Group. And definitely get all your GPS bus tracking systems from Grey Island Systems.

Admit it, you know you want one.

More LED Fun

In Montreal, a private-public partnership developed a remarkable lighting design for Quartier des Spectacles. Toronto’s a bit different….less bold, less centrally organized, more conservative but with a thriving counterculture that sometimes shows a wonderful spontaneous anarchy.

I’m looking forward to Radical Illumination, an art-mob graffiti event at Spadina/Queen in Toronto on December 8th @ 11:11pm. Featuring throwies, glowing sticky devices that can attach to any surface, participants can join in the fun and participate in a temporary art experience reclaiming public space. Throwies were developed by Graffiti Research Lab, whose motto I love:

Dedicated to outfitting graffiti artists with open source technologies for urban communication.

Join in!

Andrew Sullivan on U.S. Detainee Bill

During my recent convalescence, I’ve been reading Andrew Sullivan’s blog a lot. In this appearance on Anderson Cooper’s show in September, Sullivan gives an impassioned plea for caution and an attempt to bring attention to the radical consolidation of executive power, permanent suspension of habeas corpus and embrace of torture in the recently passed U.S. Detainee Bill. It’s intelligent, thoughtful punditry:

COOPER: Why do you think, though, this story, this — what is happening really hasn’t gotten much traction? I mean, people don’t want to hear about it. I mean, I know the ratings for this segment are going to go down because people turn this stuff off.

SULLIVAN: That’s how it always happens. People always, when these things occur, look the other way. People think it’s always going to happen to someone else or they think that these people are somehow all terrorists. They’re terror suspects. 90 percent of the people we detained in Abu Ghraib were innocent, it turned out, as the U.S. admitted. Dozens of people in Guantanamo were completely innocent, as the Army and military subsequently admitted. So, there is no process to determine who is innocent or guilty in these matters. They’re being detained without charges.

This video clip goes on to describe the case of Canadian Maher Arar as evidence of the risks of this path.

And now to add evidence as to why torture is a flawed intelligence tool, we find out that some of the faulty intelligence used by Colin Powell at the UN (to make the argument that Sadaam was working with al Qaeda as justification for the Iraq invasion), was evidence extracted by torture.

A dangerous new chapter begins.

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