May 112012
 

With so many traditional industries and social practices transformed/upended by the Web, the American political system still forces you into one of two political silos, represented by the two major political parties. Ruck.us aims shatter this arrangement and let people to connect to and organize with like-minded people. As described in Mashable:

Ruck.us was launched by Nathan Daschle and Raymond Glendening in late 2010 to help people break free of what they consider a restrictive two-party political system, which they believe is no longer relevant to 21st century Americans.

“Parties are really antiquated systems,” says Glendening, the chief strategy officer. “Politics is the last sector of American culture that has yet to be revolutionized by technology. When you look around, every sector of our lives has a plethora of options except for our outlets for political engagement: We still have these two binary options.” 

Ruck.us’ 20,000 users are first empowered to figure out the essence of their “political DNA,” or core beliefs. Then, they are matched with similar users to take collective action around an issue, such as deforestation or election reform. All of that action happens outside the traditional party structures, in groups called “rucks.”

“I think this is very reflective of where American society is moving,” says Glendening. “People are increasingly saying, ‘I don’t fit into one of these binary silos,’ and lifelong membership is just not a realistic view or expectation of what the consumer wants out of his political engagement fulfillment.”

An interesting idea though the problem still remains on the larger scale that governing requires the support of more than small interest groups. In some ways, the parliamentary system in Europe is less siloed – or more correctly, there are a greater number of silos with a multi-party system. But in the end coalition governments are arrangements worked out by party leaders in closed conference rooms and not by the voters themselves (just ask people in Greece).

Ruck sounds like a good idea, but it will at most transform grassroots politics and remain a vehicle for activism and not something that results in actual governance. That’s not a criticism, but disruptive change is sorely needed at the structural level. There’s been profound transformation of the political world with the use of technology in campaigns (the Obama 2008 campaign) and in limited aspects of government itself (e-petitions – which have tremendous potential but seem to be mostly for show at the moment),  but it hasn’t happened at all in the voting booth. About the only change has been the use of an open or nonpartisan blanket primary (a “jungle primary”) – where everyone runs without party affiliation - in some states for local and state-wide offices. That solution actually predates the technology revolution and has had mixed results at best.
Ruck.us Screenshot

Aug 042011
 

ePetition Website

The UK’s new experiment with participatory democracy in the digital era went belly-up today as the new ePetition website went down in an avalanche of traffic. Inform people that they have an easy way to make their voices heard and that petitions with over a 100,000 signatures will be eligible for a debate in Parliament and you might want to have a few extra (virtualized) servers and bandwidth ready. Curiously, it does seem a little under-supported as there are not that many petitions up at the moment – as of 4:00pm EST on August 5th, there are only 14 screens with 19 petitions on each (or little less than 270 total) though perhaps many more are in process. And if you look at the voting, there are only three with over a thousand votes (the top vote getter at the moment at 4,200), though again, perhaps large numbers of people are just browsing.

More curiously, it seems that anyone can submit an ePetition. You must be a UK resident or citizen, but it did not appear that the site is automatically verifying citizenship or addresses. Indeed, I submitted (just curious, you know) to see how it works and got an email confirmation. Are they then checking this information (I used a sample address found online) manually? Are they verifying addresses of those who sign the petitions already approved? ePlatforms (if there is such a word) to foster democratic participation are a great idea, but they need to be well thought out in advance.

Trending at the moment are competing ePetitions to restore or ban capital punishment and one to legalize cannabis. It will be interesting to see what Parliament does with the first one to make the cutoff. If I could, I’d vote for the one to allow satire of the House of Commons, especially after Jon Stewart’s piece, “Parliament Slight,” on censoring a Daily Show episode in the UK the other night. Unfortunately, it’s only got 22 signatures so far.