During the 2008 Presidential election, Barack Obama used a well-known tool for garnering support across the board – grassroots politics – in an unconventional way: online social networking. By effectively massing support through a well-financed national campaign, Obama was able to encourage dedicated individuals to flex their political muscle on the local level. Of course, other candidates had an online presence, yet no one else reached into the homes of individual Americans like Mr. Obama. In a sense, there was neither top-down pontification of political platform, nor an outright manipulation of ideology, trying to fit what the polls indicated.
There was, however, a meeting of opinions in a virtual atmosphere which allowed Obama and his supporters to voice their views in a forum and creatively craft a consensus. Obama’s campaign involved all the major social networking sites and tools, continuous twittering and blogging, posting all his speeches and interviews on open, free domains, and in short becoming an online as well as an offline presence. Supporters responded in kind: they participated in online discussions and campaigning, and also became engaged in local politics.
Though I’m no great political analyst, it seems obvious to me that the real winning point in Obama’s campaign was the voice individual supporters had. Obama made his campaign open and accessible to everyone, not only enabling full participation at every level (grassroots, state, national, even international), but also building a consensus which will hopefully continue in his presidency. It was so open in fact, that his own campaign website allowed people who disagreed with his policies to voice their opinions as well as those who were avid supporters.
Where It Might Lead
President Obama has indicated that he fully intends to allow all interested parties to voice their opinions on whitehouse.gov via the newly formed Office of Public Liaison & Intergovernmental Affairs, a division within the Executive Office of the President. This and other similar developments in our government indicate a contrast from some the policies of the Bush administration. Transparency and participation are the buzzwords of opensourcing, and it appears that steps are being taken to allow more of it in the executive branch. Washington is not the only place where open participation via Internet is encouraged – many local communities have online forums and enable their local citizens to view town council meetings via webcasts and other tools. If these trends continue, citizens will have more tools at their disposal to be apart of making their communities, not just residing in them.
Hopefully, this spirit of opensourcing will enable each of us to continue to play our role, not only as members of society, but as engaged citizens of our communities, states, and countries.
See also –
Diane Rehm Show: Government 2.0