Building a More Democratic Discourse

By: Harry Waisbren

In my post, Questioning Obama on the Patriot Act, I described how Attorney General Holder’s discussion of the “conversation to be had” about modifications for civil liberties concerns could help dictate our response. In particular, I cited our open letter to Obama last summer as instigating a conversation of sorts with then Senator Obama by way of his follow up post directed to us, and asked whether or not it is time for a follow up–based on our own precedent–through writing another open letter.

As we take steps forward by working together on our collaborative effort to draft a new open letter, we must recognize the enormity of what we did last summer. Our organizing of Obama supporters in a group on his own social network,, was an example of a crowdsourced action that set an entirely new model for communicating with our government. Critical acclaim abounded, as we were cited as part of Fast Company magazine’s rationale from Ellen McGirt for ranking the Obama campaign as the “top startup company of the year” as well as an example of an innovative lesson the Obama administration learned and exhibited in Jeff Jarvis’s book What Would Google Do.

Our precedent, and the innovative model for citizen engagement it exhibited, was explained by Alan Rosenblatt in his post Will They Rise Up and was recently reemphasized during The Progressive Revolution Will be Tweeted edition of the Internet Advocacy Roundtable.

I found this aspect of his post to be particularly poignant:

“when citizens are included in the decision making process, at least in terms of seeing it transpire and having a clear opportunity to engage with government leaders in the process of the policy formation, they become more connected and more supportive……at the core, democracy is about compromise and working together to solve problems for the good of the whole society. When the whole of society feels they are part of the process for solving the problems of the day, they become shared stakeholders, rather than opponents.”

Personally, I know that Obama’s direct engagement with the Get FISA Right community and recognition that we were “shared stakeholders” made me a greater supporter of his, despite any of our ongoing disagreements. I privilege the discovery of new methods for citizens to engage their representatives extremely highly, especially in light of my wholesale agreement with Chris Bowers’ The Medium is the Movement concept. The Get FISA Right experience inspired me to engage with other efforts to communicate in this manner, including’s Ideas for Change and the collaborative Ask the President effort, and I view the relaunch of Get FISA Right to be an extension of this ongoing effort to improve the way our country engages in democratic discourse and makes decisions.

As we take steps to follow up on our open letter with a new one, we must recognize that we are not only pushing to reclaim our civil liberties. Rather, we must see this as another opportunity to, once again, lead the way in helping innovate new means for citizens to engage their elected officials through tools that our founding fathers only could have dreamed of!


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