Day 8: Digitall Democracy
(Saturday, June 21)
Alexander Moll, director of Civic Engagement at the Public Forum Institute is attracted to the concept. His group is working on a national forum series for citizens across the country. He invites me to the project’s first meeting on Thursday evening. His friend takes our picture and he sends it to me.
Colin, cousin of Alan Viero, a friend-of-a-friend from college, stops by with his girlfriend to say hi. He says Alan is thinking of coming to the vigil for a day.
An Iranian woman says that digital democracy is a noble idea. A woman from North Carolina, after I give it to her in a nutshell, says, “I can see why it says ‘Digit-All’.” Venkatesh, an Indian man, calls it a good idea. A young woman from Montana says, “Thanks for being here.”
Alex Moll with Pablo
Day 9: Link to me
(Sunday, June 22)
A short-lived vigil—at noon I am off to New York City for a book launching party. My essay, “The Digital Will of the People” was selected to be part of a new anthology about government and technology called Rebooting Democracy. Other essayists include Newt Gingrich and Joe Trippi. I take the train up from Union Station. Nice party in the Bowery. I meet some like-minded people and get my free copy. The organizers of the event announce that the next day the 5th Annual Personal Democracy Forum begins and we are all invited to attend, but I have to get back to Washington. Philip Gillich, my sister’s close friend since college, puts me up for the night. Thank you, Philip.
Day 10: Can we talk?
(Monday, June 23)
By the time I write and publish the Week-1 update from Philip’s apartment, it’s already 10:30 a.m. I head to Penn Station and get a ticket on the express train at noon. I am in DC and at my post by 3:00 p.m.
A family from Texas talks to me. A foreigner says, “Why can’t you talk?” Wan and his friends and family are Chinese visiting scholars at Harvard University. Wan is studying the political participation of minorities in American democracy. We talk. We have our picture taken. He sends it to me promptly.
I talk with a man from Moldova. A woman sees the sign and says, “That’s great—are there any ‘Impeach Bush’ people here?” She works with Code Pink (Women for Peace) and several other activist groups. She is here to visit her congressperson.
Wan Xiaohong with Pablo
Day 11: Vote here
(Tuesday, June 24)
—So what are we voting on?, a woman is asking.
—Digital democracy. I give her the spiel.
—What a concept.
A group of history teachers from Oklahoma loves the concept. They take pictures, brochures and cards.
A girl from St. Louis picks up on my delivery quickly and says, “But we don’t want mob law, right? I mean that’s kind of their job, isn’t it?” she says, referring to why representatives don’t poll us as is. “Absolutely right. They should always be able to vote however they want, but how can we tell how well they’re representing us if we don’t take some measurements?” “Interesting . . .” she replies.
The brochure outside & inside
At lunchtime, I break from my routine: instead of going to the Botanic Gardens, I head to the Library of Congress Madison Building. As a publisher (Aurora Press), I registered P-poll: are you happy now? with the Library of Congress Preassigned Control Number program. They require a copy of the books that receive a PCN, so I drop of a copy of P-poll: are you happy now? with Schamell Padgett, my contact. I eat lunch in the cafeteria. They charge by the pound. I pay $10 for rice, beans and vegetables.
Later that afternoon, a tour guide waiting for his group currently inside studies the brochure. He is taken with the idea of digital representation—“it’s a fascinating concept.”
Day 12: U.S. Reps: poll your constituents
(Wednesday, June 25)
Throughout the day I hear children say “What does ‘constituents’ mean?” Luckily, they are asking their parents and not me. The parents do a good job explaining.
I am obscured by some Russian tours. A daycare teacher from Florida is up in DC for training. She laughs when I ask her if her U.S. Rep contacts her: “You know the answer to that.” I’m feeling sleepy. A small group of international exchange students wakes me up a bit. A young woman, a Minnesotan, upon hearing the concept, gasps “Fantastic! Keep up the good work.”
Day 13: Want to be part of history?
(Thursday, June 26)
Dr. Donald Noone, father of Seth, the friend I’m staying with, is in town. He suggests a slogan: “Do you want to be part of history?” I go with it.
A British chap is intrigued. He sees many sides of the issue very quickly. I tell him his countryman, Edmund Burke, had it pretty well figured out. I give him the gist of Burke’s famous statement, but here is all of it:
"It ought to be the happiness and glory of a Representative, to live in the strictest union, the closest correspondence, and the most unreserved communication with his constituents. Their wishes ought to have great weight with him; their opinion high respect; their business unremitted attention. It is his duty to sacrifice his repose, his pleasures, his satisfactions, to theirs; and, above all, ever, and in all cases, to prefer their interest to his own. But, his unbiased opinion, his mature judgement, his enlightened conscience, he ought not to sacrifice to you; . . . Your Representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgement; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion. (Edmund Burke, speech to the Electors of Bristol at the Conclusion of the Poll, 3 November 1774.) Of course, the problem is he doesn’t know your opinion.
In the evening, I attend the first Public Forum Institute new initiative meeting. Alex has assembled a group of about 10 volunteers. He says he wants to come and vigil with me on Saturday. “That would be great,” I say. It looks as if Auroras Voice and the Public Forum Institute may be able to partner in some way.
Day 14: If MLK were alive today...
(Friday, June 27)
A man walking by completes the line: “He’d never stop throwing up.” He doesn’t stop to talk. A boy from Alabama asks, “Can you elaborate?” Martin Luther King tried to get more power for average citizens in his day. We think he’d be doing the same thing today through digital democracy. A little black girl responds to the sign: “I’d be happy.”
I set up after lunch. A light rain comes down in the form of a sun shower. Thunder. I am out of there. I know how this story ends and I am not about to tell it again. I make it to Union Station without a problem. It doesn’t rain. I stop in Chinatown to buy some ear picks for Mary and Seth. I get a shoeshine while I’m there. I go into a bar and have a beer. I call my wife. I miss her.
Conclusion: an idea is a seed
Digital democracy continues to be well received but it’s just an idea. I don’t know how to make it a reality. I do know it will take a lot of people, but I’m not sure what else to do. For the moment, my focus is to complete the vigil. This event won’t change the world but it will change me and that’s about the same thing: every human being is a world in the making.