The vast majority of the blogs we write can be summed up with three words: Technology Is Cool. It’s why several of us have been in this business for so long, making a career out of manipulating 1s and 0s … it’s both exciting and challenging to solve customer problems with new innovations and be good stewards of the resources it takes to do so. Plus, it’s fun to see what other people are doing online to provide innovations of their own, be they for productivity or fun, and apply them to our own lives.
But once in a blue moon somebody in the tech sector does something truly game changing. When one can not only say “This Is Cool” but also add “This Is Important” is when the world must stop and take note, and then get on board or be left behind. Whether it was the laptop, the MP3, the Blackberry, the iPad, Facebook, or even Google Docs the best innovations are daring and do even more to stir the imaginations of their users than the architects of the technology itself.
Our government has not been known for leading the way in technology, but a new crop of civil servants have stormed Washington since the start of the Obama administration and are pushing the government to use the Internet the way the people do, fostering two-way communications between agency and citizen. The competing pressures between evolving at the speed of technology and showing restraint and patience with a process that requires one “do it right the first time” have led to some innovations, streamlining, improvement of the way things are done. Advances have been made, but nothing mind-blowingly groundbreaking has emerged.
With the release of “We The People” — a petition application unveiled this past Fall on WhiteHouse.gov — President Obama has undertaken that Bold New Step that is forever going to change how the government engages with the public, truly realizing his promise of Gov 2.0, and setting a new gold standard for accountability to the republic for whom it serves.
Make no mistake, this is cool AND this is important.
The First Amendment guarantees “the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances,” the cornerstone of our Bill of Rights. That fundamental right is what sets us apart from so much of the world, allowing us everything from light satire to sharp rebuke to effect change in how we are governed. Our Constitution guarantees that right, but makes no provision for government to actually provide the forum for doing it.
The President has taken public feedback one step further, building for the public the digital equivalent of a new wing on the executive mansion — indeed the people’s house — and inviting us in for a conversation, a swap-meet of ideas and ideals, and the chance to gather around those that are best, finding a solid voice to petition him on the issues we find most important. It is a virtual town hall, freely open to the public to enter, climb the soap box, and rally others to a cause.
The big thing that sets this apart from other petition sites: Successful petitions will actually earn a response from the administration and the chance to actually shape policy, rather than being just another voice in the wilderness. This isn’t your grandmother’s Contact Us form. This is crowd sourcing at its most powerful.
Consider the power this tool has and what it means for politics in general. No President enjoys sky-high approval ratings throughout an administration. There are ups and downs, with flames fanned by a media determined to tell a story that sells. So the decision for a President to open the floor for debate during a time of national discord puts principles before politics. Whether you’re on the partisan fringe or a middle-of-the-roader, President Obama has given us a place to come together and demand change in his own back yard. And that, in these uncertain times, is no greater example of government of the people, by the people, and for the people. “We the People” will allow us to BE the People.
Screen shots from We The People: