(June 11 - June 13)
I make it to the DC area as scheduled on June 11. A special thanks to Dinyar Mehta and Emma del Real, Auroras Voice’s board of directors, for last minute donations pre-vigil. Also, friends Seth and Mary Noone, here in Bethesda, Maryland, have been very generous hosts, allowing me to stay in their home.
In the course of buying supplies for making daily picket signs, I do a few gut checks—am I really up to this?—I ask myself. The answer is Yes, everything checks out just fine on the conviction side.
Anon Guy, a political blogger, responds to my event announcement. He publishes an interview about my attempt to promote digital democracy.
Day 1: Wee the people
(Saturday, June 14)
I choose June 14 to start for symbolic reasons: it is Flag Day and the flag is a nice symbol of unity from diversity, something I envision the P-poll to be.
I commute from Bethesda to Washington—takes about an hour to get in. Upon first arriving, I want to surround the building, to get my bearings and to know where I am.
When I get around to back (the west face) I find a pool of shade beneath some magnolia trees. I pull out a piece of poster board and start making a sign. Two officers are upon me pretty quickly.
—So what are you doing?
—Making a sign.
—You need a permit to do that.
—Yes Sir, I know. Officer Nichols processed my paperwork. I’m with Auroras Voice.
—OK, we’ll check it out. So what’s your protest about?
—Actually, it’s a demonstration.
—I am trying to make the will of the people visible . . .
He takes a brochure.
A young couple approaches me, asking: —What does your sign mean? We talk.
Later, a journalism student asks if he can take a brochure.
—Sure. And can you do me a favor?
—What is it?
—Can you take my picture and send me a copy?
—Actually, I took some pictures of you already, but I can take some more.
He does. I have not received them.
It rains lightly in the afternoon, but I don’t get wet thanks to the tree.
Home of your voice in U.S. government
Day 2: Honor thy founders
(Sunday, June 15)
A young black man walking by speaks the words “Honor thy founders” and then he says to his companions something like “the founders never honored me.” Young man, remember that the founders include Dr. Martin Luther King. (You don’t get a monument on the national mall for nothing.)
A Peruvian man who is a U.S. citizen engages me in conversation. He believes people are for offshore drilling. He is interested in holding government more accountable. I explain that a national opinion poll is the best way to do so. He likes it, takes a brochure.
A teenage girl asks what it’s about. “We want to connect U.S. Reps to citizens via the internet through online polls and make the will of the people visible to hold the representatives more accountable.” She gets it instantly.
Seth, Mary and daughter Ava (2) stop by as part of an all-day bike ride. They are with friends Dan and Candace and their daughter, Sienna.
A Chinese American woman, an old man, a father-daughter and many others comment.
Day 3: P-poll now
(Monday, June 16)
Establishing something of a routine. Set up in the morning between 9 and 10 a.m. in a patch of shade, near center of the building, on the west terrace, close to the fountain. Around 12:30 – 1:00 p.m., when that shade disappears, I move out of there. I take a bathroom and snack/lunch break in the Botanical Gardens.
Today lots of people wonder aloud: “What’s the P-poll?” Some ask me directly. I answer with a brochure, explaining that it’s a way to make the will of the people visible. A few ask me what the poll is about. I have a nice talk with a grandmother visiting with her husband and grandkids. Rain. Light at first, it soon lets up. Starts again. My umbrella attracts a few people. I pack up and head out. A wicked storm kicks up and catches me 2 blocks from Union Station. Soaking wet. Fortunately no major casualties save for the portfolio. I get a replacement.
Day 4: Your voice hear
(Tuesday, June 17)
Early on the day’s slogan doesn’t seem to be pulling. Eventually it picks up nicely.
A young girl (high school?) gets a friend to photograph her with “this very exciting sign.” In fact, people are taking my picture all the time, many from a distance, but some up close. A Capitol worker leaving the building reads aloud “my voice hear” and it occurs to me that this is a public display of poetry, and that is just what it should be, partly. In trying to make the will of the people visible, I try to act as a mirror. My sign reflects what I hear, what people feel.
A woman asks me, smiling:
—Aren’t you missing a ‘d’? Shouldn’t it be ‘heard’?
—Yes, your voice should be heard, all the time, not just during elections (et cetera, et cetera . . .)
Nice couple (father & daughter) from Utah. God talkers from Indiana are attentive to my message and talk to me.
Day 5: Right your rep
(Wednesday, June 18)
Kids say “I wanna right my rep” and “What’s ‘rep’?” One woman gets a big belly laugh out of it. Another nice couple (father & daughter again), from Seattle this time. A U.S. Capitol police officer comes over: “So I gotta ask you, me and my colleagues are trying to figure this out: do you mean ‘write’ as in ‘write’ (mimics writing with his hand) or are you just out there?” A young man, putting it another way, comes up with a nice phrase: “So this is a way to keep them in check.” “You got it, yes.” A young woman with a boyfriend asks: “Do you mean turn to the right or correct?” Correct. One young man, after hearing the plan, asks, “Where do I sign?” and says “Thanks for doing this—this is awesome.”
A foreign woman makes me understand by gestures that she wants me to take her picture. She gives me a dollar.
By now this is feeling a lot like a trade show.
Day 6: 435 decide 300 million pay the price
(Thursday, June 19)
Judy and her daughter Alaura from Fairfield, Iowa are very interested and very perceptive. Judy is working against genetically modified food. They practice transcendental meditation. They take a picture with me.
Austin, on a spiritual mission, stops by for the second time. He is praying for me and doing missionary work in D.C. He takes pictures and sends them to me.
A Capitol police officer recommends talking to Representative Bean, says she is working on implementing accountability through internet technology.
I rent storage space at Union Station, making the daily commute much more convenient.
Photo by Austin, with his friend Mike
Day 7: click and tell
(Friday, June 20)
In Union Station, my subway stop for the Capitol, I run into Donna Brazile. She was Al Gore’s campaign manager. I say hello to her. She is tired but listens for a minute, accepting a business card from me. She says she’ll check it out online.
A 2-person Univision television crew is out hunting for interviews. “What does it mean to you to be an American?” is their question. Interviews are in Spanish. They don’t have many prospects. They interview me.
I speak to several people throughout the day. They come from diverse places: San Francisco, Vietnam, North Carolina. Some people ask me what I’m taking pictures of.
Conclusion: positive feedback = better product
Early on, I have a lot of interaction with Capitol police, some of them expressing interest in the concept. I do not approach people; I let them come to me. Sure enough, every day curious people approach me and ask what I’m doing and/or what the sign means. All respond positively, saying digital democracy sounds like a good idea. Some take a brochure with them. I picket every day almost all day, from around 9:30 – 5:30. One way or another I make an impression—many people read my sign’s message aloud as they pass by and some stop and want to talk to me. The easiest way to explain this opportunity is as digital democracy. Talking to people teaches me how to deliver this message better. This digital democracy business really is one bit at a time.