From Grassroots Movements to Politics 2.0

While proponents of the Austrian Greens are seeing their own party moving away from grassroots democracy due to the Voggenhuber case, US President Barack Obama tries to use the grassroots movement that has brought him into office for his new role.

According to Wikipedia, a grassroots movement is a movement “driven by the constituents of a community” that is characterized by the fact that “the creation of the movement and the group supporting it is natural and spontaneous, highlighting the differences between this and a movement that is orchestrated by traditional power structures”.

So, the US President builds particularly on the spontaneity, creativity and collectivity of those 13 million people that he can reach by email (not to mention those that the can additionally reach through traditional media and social media channels such as YouTube or Twitter).

In particular, he wants to use information and coordination meetings that people organize themselves at their homes to make people aware of the consequences of the economic crisis, to gain broader public support for his actions and to urge other politicians to act. But, of course, the story doesn’t stop at this point.

Obama also wants to accompany people on their way out of the economic crisis as they share their problems with politicians and other people and document the positive effects of Obama’s stimulus plans. This is also an integral element of his broader program to foster political transparency, citizen engagement and public cohesion. Providing open information on political processes and decisions as well as getting feedback from organizations, businesses and individuals are two cornerstones.

The enormous potential of two-way communication and people’s eagerness to bring in their ideas instead of refraining from politics was recently highlighted by the impressive response to a call for ideas of the new Middle Class Task Force with more than 35,000 comments within 1.5 weeks, ranging from general definitions to concrete proposals for political action.

While the Austrian government apparently isn’t interested in using new technologies to foster political participation and the parliamentary initiative meinparlament.at also doesn’t enjoy much interaction, the US shows the opportunities of  Government 2.0, the interest of think tanks and the huge public interest in the face of booked out Government 2.0 and Transparency barcamps.

Moreover, initiatives like Recovery.gov show how governmental transparency initiatives foster new public transparency initiatives such as Readthestimulus.org. This increases the transparency of political decisions (especially when it comes to the use of taxpayers’ money) and public interest, which in turn leads to “higher public attention, stronger reception of political information and higher willingness to participate”.

For author, blogger, and political advisor Don Tapscott, so-called “digital brainstorms” have the highest potential when it comes to civic engagement, as he explains in an extensive and interesting blogpost“The goal is to have a conversation in which people become engaged in political life; think about issues; get active in improving their communities; and mobilize society for positive change. Politicians and citizens alike would become more informed and learn from each other. And collectively we would take a step away from broadcast and toward participatory democracy. As an exercise in government 2.0, it could show that power can be exercised through people, not over people.”

So, we can only hope that such beliefs, ideas and discussions will also reach Austrian politics, especially as the governing parties have again essentially stopped their web 2.0 efforts after the elections.

Posted on February 20, 2009 in Democracy

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About the Author

Andreas Lindinger is a Vienna-based business consultant, sustainability expert and urban thinker passionate about livable cities, sustainable transportation, renewable energy and civic engagement. Andreas offers a transdisciplinary business, finance and sustainability background, industry expertise in energy, mobility and environmental consulting and broad international experience gained in Vienna, Vancouver, Berlin and Dublin. Make sure to also check out Vienncouver.com and to follow @lindinger on Twitter.

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